November 07, 2013

Kissing toads

I would love to sail again.

I miss what is out there. I long for the sound of the water lapping the hull and the sight of the tens of flying fish that appear out of nowhere in a tropical calm, skidding together on the surface of the ocean like a dozen flat stones launched by a celestial schoolboy. I miss the zillion stars above me at night that remind me that I am no more than a speck in nature’s scheme of things. I miss the cold and bracing breeze of the North Atlantic as much as I miss the balmy Mediterranean. I long for the sight of the solitary seagull circling a ship. I pine for the first sighting of the cliffs of Dover or sunrise over Istanbul or the lights of Rio or the soul-cleansing appearance in the water of two whales- or twenty dolphins. I miss the million other things that I have seen and felt at sea, each of which is impossible to experience on land. 

I miss much of the work too, and the pride associated with it. That tired feeling of accomplishment after doing a dozen ports in as many days. The fatigued elation-after-stress feeling one gets after doing a difficult job decently. The discovery of internal reserves- mental and physical- that a sailor did not realise existed within him. I miss a hundred other things that are routine in a sea Captain’s job- and that I will never experience ashore. 

I even miss bad weather. Cautiously said, that, because this sailor knows enough to treat the water with wary respect. But the sight of the sea in its full glory can, as any sailor knows, shock and awe and arouse and create the kind of wonderment that can never be duplicated sitting on the sofa watching the National Geographic channel.

So, like I said, I would love to sail again. 

But I won’t. 

Let me tell you why.

Around the time I went out to sea as a Cadet, a Master looking to sail again after a long-ish break would have had to do little else except look for a job and pack his bags once he got one. If I want to sail today, however, I will first have to do two things I despise: a) go and suffer some more (new and improved!) useless ‘STCW training’ courses to add to the countless useless ones I have suffered earlier and b) deal with the kind of people- both in government and in the private sector- that I hold in more than a little contempt. Before I meet prince charming, I will have to kiss a lot of toads.

I will have to kiss toads later too, starting with managers who will try and drown me and my crew with a rain forest’s worth of paperwork, and who will want us to do-gratis- clerical work that belongs ashore. I will have to deal with the bean counters who can count pennies brilliantly but who couldn’t sail a paper boat in a small bathtub- but who still want to override my authority and responsibility by telling me how to move a 200 metre long floating hunk of steel. I will have to tolerate a system that loves to scapegoat the likes of me to hide its own shortcomings and an owner who wants me to break regulations and then take the blame for it. (I will also have to be willing to go to jail for doing nothing wrong). I will have to kiss an industry whose only response to systemic shortcomings, new regulations and dangers is to want me to pay with my own money and time for even more useless and euphemistically called ‘training courses.’ 

Once again, I will have to deal aggressively when dealing with almost everybody not from my ship- including owners, managers, inspectors, surveyors and the little boy down the lane- or else my crew would be exploited or at physical or mental risk. I will have to remind the toads once again- before their kiss of death- that it is my job to protect my crew.

That is why I won’t sail again- I am done with kissing toads. So I won’t go back to sea, even though I would almost give my right arm to do so.

I will lose something by not sailing again, I know, and shipping will lose too: it will lose a presumably competent seaman who has held command since the turn of the nineties. But that is not the main issue. Actually, the crux of the problem is that the men and women in shipping do not care if they lose a thousand sea Captains that still love to sail. They do not care that everybody loses, including themselves and including shipping.

Those men and women just want to be kissed, is all.


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