Neither Here Nor There

23 May

Professional sailors are not usually romantic souls. We are practical types given to discussing weather forecasts and wondering when we’ll next be in phone range. On a clear night, officers of the watch will be thinking about getting a bearing of a celestial body and working out the compass error, not gazing skywards and hoping that loved ones are looking up at the same moon and missing us. I’m not saying there isn’t time for homesickness but it passes and then we turn back to the conversation we were having with our watchmates about rust-buckets we have worked on, bastards we’ve sailed with and pubs of the world we’ve got drunk in.
I hesitate to use the word ‘earthy’ to describe a waterborne community but that is what we are – earthy. And salty. The language is definitely salty.
Outsiders – landlubbers – have no concept of shipboard life and tend to view us through Johnny Depp/Leonardo di Caprio tinted glasses. Or, they confuse us with the grey funnel line and ask when we are being deployed to the Gulf.
‘Merchant Navy. Mer-chant. Not Royal.’
‘Oh. Is that different then?’
‘Yes. We’re like lorry drivers, only wetter. We don’t do fighting – well, not sober anyway.’
‘Right. I see,’ say the landlubbers, with truly blank expressions. They don’t understand us, but that’s OK, neither do we. Ask any sailor why they do it and the stock answer is, ‘It’s just a job, innit?’ Well yes, it is just a job, and yet. And yet…
For those of us who stick at it, those who haven’t graduated to a cushty, well paid job ashore, it’s more than just a job. Not that we’ll admit it. The most we can say is, ‘once the sea is in your blood…’ then we shrug. Nuff said. In other words, we’ve thought about giving it up, we’ve tried to give it up but we can’t. Is the sea addictive? Should there be a government health warning on every dock, pier, seaside promenade? I don’t know but it will come as no surprise that I have contemplated my navel about this. My merchant navel, of course.
There’s a saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and whilst this is often true, it doesn’t quite capture the mindset of seafarers. We know that just over the horizon the sea will likely be just as grey, just as rough and just as uninteresting as it is right where we are. The lure of foreign ports wears off quite quickly and we all have homes to go to but we insist on being far away and out of reach.
I once read that a lighthouse is neither of the sea nor the land but exists in the margin between them both. (I could be wrong but I remember this as something Terry Pratchett wrote) I have taken this to heart because I believe that some of us sea-going types are exactly that. We are marginal creatures. We live ashore but we do not belong there. We work at sea but we long to go home. One foot may be warming in the hearth of the family home but the other is always ankle-deep in salt water. Why? I really don’t know. Perhaps some of us are always on the way to somewhere else. Maybe that state of flux is what some of us need before we can pick up our pens. Sailor or landlubber, if you have a sense of disconnection and are both observer and participant in any situation, I’ll bet a pound to a bent hat pin that you are writer.


4 responses to “Neither Here Nor There

  1. Observer 40

    May 25, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Phew,at last imput ,!!Thank you.

    • Lorraine Gouland

      July 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      There may be gaps between posts – and then three come along at once – but I’m always thinking of my next topic. Honest …

  2. John

    July 16, 2012 at 7:34 am

    What about the food? Endless discussions on what we had for lunch and what’s on for dinner and why we don’t think the cook should be allowed to breed and produce more of his type.

    • Lorraine Gouland

      July 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      Or indeed why the cook is certain he isn’t responsible for the terrible bout of food poisoning going around the ship. Funny you and I never chose to become cooks!


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