July 24th 2014
1. Once a Mariner always a Mariner!
I am a seagull. I like to glide, dive and fish on hands-free. A seagull has to fly with the flock; almost a regimental routine. I am certain there will be many in merchant marine trade who imagine that flying alone or gliding peacefully away from the regimental pack is the way forward at some stage of life. Flying the conventional way all the time appears harsh or boring – an impediment to freedom, a curse on individuality.
A merchant mariner’s life is a mix of both. He has to work as part of a crew (the team man), but the long voyages and periods away from family and friends trigger deep inner desires. He has to be equally prepared for both – safety of ship and his own safe progress in life as an individual. He is similar to, but not with compulsions of a Naval officer. Merchant vessels carry cargo for commercial use, which makes him a civilian with wider choices at disposal.
There lurks an aspiring landlubber (one who wishes to leave ship and work ashore in similar or different industry) in every mariner, but he may not show it!
This article is a chapter from my own journey from Mariner to Landlubber and what makes me convinced in the adage – “Once a Mariner, Always a Mariner”, supposedly an age-old myth now proving true for me; more than two decades since my last association with “SHIPS”.
I was no Jonathan Livingstone seagull either – story of the black swan who was scared of flying with his ‘flock’. I am ‘Braveheart’, created so by my own flock of friends, relatives, fellow countrymen, associates of my ‘global village’ and of course, by the macho and ‘ruddy’ profession I carried once upon a time with élan; brass and elegance of it’s might and pride.
Thank you all for that. Yes, even today I am ‘global’ all right, but thankfully without being ‘lost’ at sea. I have taken up so many professions in life, I feel I can tailor myself to any kind of a flock, the way a Mariner must to any kind or size of a ship that he is assigned to.
To me, a marine engineer (what I am by basic qualification), is always ‘lost’ at sea – technically, because he is always ‘below’ the sea-surface and psychologically because he must survive against many odds on land and place he calls home. I was even warned by a rich uncle who had made good too early in life, “Join my business young man; you want to be in blackened dungarees 20 feet under sea surface?”
But then, I was a very proud public school produce to have listened to him then. That is what I wanted then with all my passion and desires. I did it and never for a moment have I regretted to date. In fact I could do it all over again!
Also you may not notice so early into my essay, that this by itself should substantiate my topic of the day, “Once a Mariner – Always a Mariner!” It’s the way we get tuned to think early in life and to experiences along the way that make us act the way we do at any stage of life. It doesn’t need wisdom of Plato to prove life is unpredictable and small twists and turns are enough to chart our widest detours from prevalent wisdom and that whatever happens is for larger good.
The headlines on my CV have not referred to my Maritime origins in a long time, thanks to the curse of Human Resource specialists who nowadays are studying too much about average brained human beings in a particular stream or profession to justify times of Google search enabled self-learners. They create postulates, rules and guidelines where smart job seekers tailor CVs to match job profiles while the headhunters track catch words and phrases on websites that match specific job descriptions.
Who cares for have-been marine engineers who have a lot more in them and deep-down desire to run power plants or uplift mismanaged projects by virtue of their diversified experience, repertoire of knowledge, ‘don’t-say-die’ and ‘run-ship-come-what-may’ spirit and training? Changing a career needs advance contacts, good timing and lots of good luck and maybe much more.
- Early influences – triggers for aspiring landlubbers
So all you aspiring landlubbers be warned. This is by basic logic, a reason why ‘once a mariner – always a mariner’ hits you unawares soon as you decide to quit life out at sea. Being educated, smart, world-travelled, knowledgeable, diversified and having contacts only work after you have immunized yourself from odd questionnaires that will pinch your wrong sides. Even situations may crop up so you must compromise on many unexpected issues and expectations from an alternative job and way of life can often defeat very purpose of such change.
If you are leaving ship for fear of running into Somalia pirates and ports of unrest, just walk on streets of New Delhi, read about rapes, man-made disasters, horror of rural folk gone nuts as their lands are grabbed or they becoming perpetrators of new kinds of crime that could eat into your investments or way of life. Worldwide, the transformations on land are so rapid with changing equations, climate change and what have you, that guarantees of safer living are only theoretical.
In my case, I had to figuratively re-blood myself, as it took me many years to terms with life where there was no ready ‘next ship to catch’ and when ‘lots of banked money’ earned from sailing foreign flags got spent on my higher education to facilitate the ‘change’. I felt like fish out of water without two mandatory shore-leave worth of ‘dollars’ safe in bank as I had got used to. I have even seen some maritime friends count their savings backwards from the day they sign off from ship or was it just me, I don’t remember.
But then, who in this world is comfortable without money? Money once you are earning it seems less important than our heart’s desires and mental aspirations and becomes crucial to meeting just these very desires.
In my case, having gone through at the Maritime College (DMET) in Kolkata, then on to my last ocean going shipping vessel as a qualified Marine Engineer, I was always yearning for a career ‘somewhere else’ in the future, as world started shrinking and new possibilities came before my eyes. My own logic to my newfound desires was never quite clear, but I am certain it was about ‘grass being greener on the other side’ and the fact that maritime upbringing coupled with confidence of higher salaries at early age can make us irreversible adventurists seeking new frontiers to explore and conquer.
So, with all kinds of influences at back of my mind, in the end I never did attain status of a Chief Engineer, in-spite of very nearly sitting for the C/E exam. Just around that time, I opted instead for passage to a seemingly higher qualification within maritime fraternity then – as a Naval Architect with a ‘University of Michigan, USA’ tag to boost my future CVs.
For one, in my times the only one Maritime college in India did not give even a degree for Marine Engineering. Secondly, it supported my astrologer’s predictions (yes, I am Indian!) to work overseas in the United States of America, early in my life and I had a time of my life in the ‘land of opportunity’ facing new kinds of myriad challenges and experiences that have made me what I am today – and well, ‘different’!
My CV today is hotchpotches of unrelated trades and qualifications, which contribute to its headline – “Power Sector Professional”. I am sure, this became possible only because of the varied duties onboard ships and diverse subjects we studied under ‘marine engineering technology’ repeatedly certified by Marine Superintendents.
Thankfully, it was the practicality of engine room operations on worst of vessels that I was assigned to during my brief career, which reinforced the principles of technical prowess and mastering ‘basics’ of electro-mechanical engineering and a cool-headed approach to tough situations. Honestly, the last of these is taking longer to reinforce; since I am not truly a seagull.
These experiences with ‘hard and dirty work’ support me even today in my diversified consultancy as ‘solutions provider’, and knowledge of the ‘global village’. As luck would have it, I had worked mainly on cross-global general freight vessels where the work was so filthy that I lost my hair and nails. The latter grew back, but the former has only gone worse due to non-availability of Heavy Oil in general stores ashore (that was a joke!).
I remember many conversations in younger days with batch-mates from DMET or fellow engine-room inmates at sea. One such visionary on board was a 3rd Engineer in my time who even went on to say “just think……one day this deck cadet will be lording over you as the Master on some ship!” Of course, I wonder how many Marine Engineers who sail ever think on such extremes and most likely it was in light humor, but what an effect such talk can have on young impressionable minds!
- Challenges for aspiring land-lubbers
Coming back to the original stream of appreciating nature from the deck of a ship and finding oneness with seagulls; the beautiful white seagull, majestic in demeanor, soars far away from the flock all alone looking for food or fish. I still believe that seagulls are dead sailors who couldn’t keep away from the seas.
Decades down, I have not seen the ocean real close except from the shores or a ferry trip at best. Yet I imagine that seagulls are hovering closer to the land than the point where vessels switch to heavy fuel oil and go “Full Ahead” to their destinations.
There is logic to my aspiring writer imagination too, for we are surrounded by pollution, environmental degradation and irresponsible industrialization. Just get down to YouTube to catch hair-raising videos and images of seagulls soaked in oil from ship wreckages or just plastic bags strewn off shores!
So are the new Mariners getting used or grooving into new kinds of challenges on perhaps quality ships with high ended technology. Life in any sphere has become a kind of a leveler. You save yourself from one and fall prey into another. You can have best of opportunities that were never there ever before and yet be sucked into handling too many improbabilities when a tiny mishap can make a world of a difference; in spite of all kinds of certification courses you must go through periodically.
So, in the end the net result from past or present and mariner to landlubber, remains same – equivalence in satisfaction and frustrations. It is for us to strike the best balance.
Lessons from a seagull, lessons from maritime days.
Likewise, this Seagull has option to choose the shores for easy pickings from the garbage dumps ashore or to dive for fish in mid-sea. The latter takes a lot more work nowadays, in times when illegal fishing supported by growing corruption has caused near extinction of good fish nearer ashore.
A smart seagull can choose by instincts, but is not immune to spoils of greed. So like man, it stands risk of death by poisoning, because crazy, as it may seem, he has forgotten his Marine Engineering safety routines in a new avatar!
Similarly for me, only continued love for the sea goes into making me a continued Mariner as I regularly soak in websites with information on shipping, logistics, etc. for commonalities to what I now do in my profession. I have recently been faculty at at a Maritime Institute in Ethiopia; 25 years after my last maritime assignment and it was exhilarating!
So now, I too feel like the seagull. Standing near the shore, I can simply stare at the infinite ocean. It triggers new ideas, music, prose, poetry, etc. and the journey from mariner to landlubber keeps adding to new pursuits without tiring easily. The love of travelling and exploring new shores, new technology keeps me optimistic and younger. All kinds of people in the world are my friends; very much akin to mixed crews that we got tuned to work with on ships.
There is no demarcation for ‘hostile land’ as so often I travel through remote locations for project survey and investigation and was even in Amazon jungles in South America. Unknown dangers lurk everywhere in varied forms and ferocity in today’s uncertain world with potential akin to “Somalia-coast” situations we read about.
On other hand, adverse impacts from environmental bottlenecks, scams like ‘Coalgate’ and (un)natural disasters on Himalayan rivers bring insecurity to my trade, when I wish I could exchange my US degree in Naval Architecture for a Chief Engineer’s license, so I can make a sailing contract. Whatever we may opt for in life, we can end up being prisoners of our own choices!
But on a promising note I often feel confidence to take up tough challenges. Just like during my early days at sea, we successfully replaced a cracked cylinder of the ship’s 6000 HP B&W Engine on a rough sea as the crew made it steady with unimaginable scaffoldings and deeds that I can only picture as heroic and near impossible for any crew I have worked with on land.
Oh yes, we did ‘those’ kind of things on ‘those’ kinds of ships back then – where the mind was without fear and the head had to be held high, come what may. Because…..
WE ARE ……THE MARINERS!
Yogesh Bahadur, email: firstname.lastname@example.org