Life at sea is not a bed of roses — neither for the seafarer nor for his wife. Becoming an accomplished seafarer is not an overnight process; it takes years to understand the sea in all its moods. You can read all you want about exciting tales of maritime adventures, and listen endlessly to the enthralling experiences of people who have been at sea, but until you have hands-on experience, you will never be able to comprehend the wiles of the sea.
A sailor’s life is unique, and so is that of his life-mate, who has to accept and accustom herself to his alternate presence and absence. As a journalist, work kept me fully occupied, with the result that even after almost four years of marriage, I had never been on board ship. That changed this year.
May 2015. After all this time, we finally decide to sail together. My heart is filled with trepidation. My first thoughts: Will I like it? What will I do on board ship? Will I get bored? What if I feel like coming back within a week? Shrugging away these unwelcome thoughts, we get down to the nitty-gritty of an international sea voyage. A string of bad luck with the paperwork dampens our growing enthusiasm. I am beaten and upset when informed that I cannot sail with my husband. I would, however, be able to join him later. I have no option but to accept the situation.
July 2015. He is due to sail today, and I have to begin counting days once again, but for a different reason this time. I impatiently wait to embark on my maiden sea voyage. My excitement knows no bounds as I begin the task of packing for the ship, and let me tell you, it can be a real challenge. If you forget something, you cannot run up to the local store to get it! I also start to connect with friends who have sailing experience. Needless to say, all of them are sweet enough to give helpful advice and share their packing lists.
August 2015. My tickets to Uruguay finally arrive. I am thrilled and nervous at the same time — thrilled, obviously because I am joining my husband and adventure is in the air, and nervous because I have to go through a 22-hour flight all by myself. Just for the record, I have never travelled alone before. I board the flight and after an excruciatingly long journey, reach my destination. The day has finally arrived for me to set foot on board Saga Andorinha!
At sea: A seafarer’s wife must necessarily hold safety and security in high regard while on the vessel — which is why on Day 1 I was appraised of all the safety regulations. I took a tour of the vessel, and familiarized myself with its various spaces. Next, I unpacked and began settling down in my new home.
We set sail the same day and headed for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was completely floored by the vastness of the ocean. The sheer beauty of the dancing sunbeams on the shimmering blue waters made me ecstatic. My heart overflowed with an insatiable desire to sail across the endless ocean to the farthest corners of the world. Words are insufficient to describe what I went through. Most of all, I enjoyed being there with him, as they say, ‘through ‘thick and thin’, or rather, for me it was through the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
I tasted the joys of a life so far removed from the mundaneness of terrestrial existence.
Ships go through their own share of problems — from crane breakdowns to technical snags in the engine room, from the discovery of a damaged anchor to carrying out a medical evacuation. All in all, life at sea is all about survival.
I soon realized that the weather on the ship is as changeable and unpredictable as the sea itself, and I was completely swept off my feet. Cool and pleasant with gently falling rain one moment, to being warm and sunny the next. The shift can be dramatic, with sunny afternoon skies turning into frightening thunderstorms, accompanied by high winds, flashing skies and incessant rain. While friendly weather can greatly add to the enjoyment of a sea voyage, a sudden thunderstorm could turn that wonderful summer’s day into a nightmare. I struggle to capture in words the might of the wind, rain and sun that I had the good fortune to witness while at sea. It is a ceaseless wonder, and humbling too.
It’s fantastic to stand at the bridge of the ship with the wind blowing through your hair, and the gentle spray of salty water on your face. I managed to get some breathtaking glimpses of whales, dolphins and ocean-wandering sea birds; some of the latter are found nowhere else in the world.
Whales are relatively easier to spot — you know they are frolicking around somewhere close by when a jet of water suddenly shoots up from the sea. Dolphins announce their arrival with a mass of bubbles intermixed with clicks and whistles, and then, suddenly you see them all around — swimming past, inches away from the vessel. They tend to come closer to the ship because of their friendly disposition. These encounters with nature, were brief but intense, and their memories will leave an undeniable and long-lasting stamp on the mind of the viewer.
Seafarers face a tough life, living under harsh conditions and spending interminable months of painful separation from their families. The crew members aboard serve extremely long contracts as compared to deck officers. Many of them sign up for the love of adventure, but in most cases, that fades away soon. Seafaring is a career like any other with perks as well as disadvantages, but the main benefit is that it allows the person to offer substantial support to the families back home (to a much greater degree than they could hope to do on land). In exchange, the common sacrifice made is a life of separation, punctuated with all too brief spells ashore.
When at sea, surrounded by water with no land in sight, a week feels like a month. And after three-quarters of your journey is complete, homesickness gets the better of you. Isolation is the biggest punishment one can face; a ship at sea is like a remote island disconnected from the rest of the world. Everything becomes larger than life. Faults and flaws get magnified, trust does not enter easily into relationships, because the merchant navy is all about competitiveness and evaluation. Friendships aboard ships do not gel with hierarchies.
If, however, you are a person whose spirit of adventure overrules all obstacles, then riding the waves could very well be the life for you.
The author is a freelance journalist.