I’ve been reading through my Uncle Boomer’s diaries recently. Some of the entries from his seafaring days really are evocative…
Tuesday 11th October 1977
The ship rocks gently as it breaks through choppy waters, funnels belching diesel smoke in the dawn light. I stand on deck and exchange nervous glances with the rest of the crew as we wait for the Captain to address our hastily arranged gathering.
As the Captain emerges on deck a few minutes later, closely followed as usual by the First Mate, a helicopter swoops in and lands. A sharply dressed man scurries from under the spinning rotor blades and makes his way to stand with the Captain and First Mate. He eyes the crowd with an inert gaze and hollow, shark-like eyes.
The Captain speaks to us while the First Mate, stood behind his right shoulder, talks quietly into his ear. It appears that we have fallen foul of the shipping company. Our cargo figures are down and there are too many officers. There are going to be big changes. With a few exceptions the Officers face a simple choice: drop down to a job as a rating or take a pay-off and disembark for good when we reach port in a few days’ time. A harsher fate awaits the ship’s surgeon who is to be cast adrift in the lifeboat.
My fellow ratings and I are safe but only because we are cheaper to keep on than to replace. If the company could find a way to pay us less then they would do in a flash, make no mistake. I have been through this once before on another ship, although that time the senior officers got the chop too. This time there was no protest from the Captain or the First Mate. A sailor has to know that the Captain is acting in his best interest. Once that trust goes then it is time to go – the sea is a dangerous enough place to be without having to watch your back. Time to straighten out my affairs and find another berth.
Troubling times indeed. I can see why he gave up his life at sea not long after this…