Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sea Stories

As I write this we are two days out from our port of departure, New York, and we have 2 more days to go before we arrive in Halifax, our next port of call.

This is the first time in months that we’ve been out of cell phone range for so long, so It’s been days since I’ve seen the all too familiar posture of man walking in circles with a cell phone to his ear. Not one laptop opened on the galley table, not one Face Book update.

The satellite TV doesn’t work because we’re a couple hundred miles from land in a disturbed sea.

Because of the lack of entertainment or electronic distraction, I have been witness to actual conversations between crew members and I even saw one guy reading a book. Yep, that’s right, reading a book. (On that subject, I’m reading a great book called “Three cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson. If you want to be inspired, check this story out.)

I fully acknowledge I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to those being responsible for the ruination of the time honored tradition of seaman sitting around after work and telling sea stories for entertainment. As I think about it, it really is true. Sea stories are a thing of the past. The sea story looses it’s natural rhythm when the teller stops 3 times to answer or check his Blackberry.

Back in the day, as they say, the day in my case being 1973 when I first stepped foot on a ship, after eating a usually very satisfying dinner, the guys would meander out onto the poop deck to sit around, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and listen to the sea stories get told. There would be 10 to 15 guys on any given evening on the poop deck passing the time away. That was basically the entertainment for the evening. (The poop deck could be compared to a house back porch or patio. It’s where everyone gathered on breaks and after meals.)

And not surprisingly, these sessions had some unwritten rules. The oldtimers told the stories and the new guys just sat nearby like seagulls, listening. If a new guy started to interject something into a story, the old timers would turn on him like sharks in a feeding frenzy. It wasn’t recommended.

As the ships wake would disappear over the horizon, the stories would be told with a setting sun as a backdrop and then a few hours after dark the gathering would slowly break up as the guys would head off to their rooms for the night. A bottle of whiskey might appear in a room as 3 or 4 guys gathered for a drink or two. After that, the alleyways of the ship were deserted, quiet as an office building after hours, as everyone settled in their room with a book.

And that’s how it went for days on end until the next port, which was just fuel for more stories down the line. Those new stories would play out again and again on the poop deck for as long as they were needed.

Around the early eighties I transferred off the ships and onto the tugs. One of the things I missed the most after that change was those poop deck gatherings with 20 people or so. The fact that half those stories were probably lies and the other half were definitely exaggerated just made them more fun to listen to.

In the mid eighties I bumped into an old friend who I sailed with previously on the ships. We chatted for awhile, and I mentioned to him I miss the ships because of the quantity of people and the different things that went on. He informed me it had all changed. The ruination of this tradition began with the popularity of the VHS player. He said “everyone now brings their own VCR to the ship and immediately after dinner they head to their room to watch movies. Those gatherings and bull sessions are the thing of the past.”

Now, we jump to 2009. When we’re in port, everyone is online with their own laptop. You can’t walk around the boat once without bumping into someone with a phone to his ear. Our satellite TV is on constantly. I check my Face Book and Blog daily. I email someone about something every day I can.

Is it better now, or was it better then? I don’t know. I love the fact I can be in contact almost daily, somehow, with my family.

But those days on the poop deck listening to Yak-Yak, Tiny, Fubar and Shinner were priceless.


dcpeg said...

What! No scrimshaw work?!!

You wrote a wonderful story and I enjoyed reading about the good ole days.

We all have fond memories of life before electronics took us away from each other. It's sad that the old stories are no longer shared.

The one good thing is your connectedness with your family, even when you're hundreds or thousands of miles away.

I wonder how WWII would have played out had troops been so closely connected. I'm thinkin' it wouldn't have lasted so long. . .

Mark said...

Ahh, I forgot the scrimshaw story!
I did sail with a great scrimshawer?

Ill save that for later time.

beth said...

neither way is/was perfect....but i do love an evening without any electronics and just good old talking and laughing and stories and jokes....