As promised, something about my own career:
I grew up in the American Midwest – farming country – a long way from any ocean. But for some reason, I always thought of the sea – I read volumes about it and dreamed about becoming a sailor. The flat fields of the Great Plains seemed confining, and I couldn’t wait to escape!
My first view of the ocean happened just after graduating from high school – my best friend and I took an ailing Volkswagen Beetle (you had to push it to start it) on a trip to Florida.
After a number of misadventures on the way down, early one morning we arrived at Daytona and drove out on the beach, thrilled to see the sea at last.
Ah, the ocean! How vast, how blue! The ocean . . . and the beach! So hard, so smooth, wonderful to drive on – they used to race cars on this beach, y'know . . . yeah, the beach . . . hey, wait - what’s becoming of this beach? It’s getting narrower and narrower as we drive along . . . the water almost covered that last ramp . . . it HAS covered this ramp . . . uh-oh, we’re trapped!
And we were. Coming from the rural Midwest, we’d never figured on the effect of tides – maybe I slept through that day in science class. Back home, the lakes and ponds politely stayed where you left them most of the time, they didn't go crawling restlessly up and down the beach that way.
Unable to get the VW off the beach, we tethered it to a telephone pole up on shore and let it ride out the flood tide. It floated (they said it would, and it did) but it didn't do it any good. It didn’t run for six weeks, during which time we hitchhiked inland and found work as migrant workers, irrigating the orange groves (and, for a few desperate days, setting smudge pots in the groves to fight a freeze – there was a battle!) We earned enough money to buy a used engine and install it. Then, chastened – and cold, because sand and seaweed from the VW’s float on the ocean had blocked her heating vents – we drove home in time for Christmas. So that was my first brief ocean voyage – in a car.
We told the folks at home that we’d had a wonderful time.
The Vietnam war was getting hot at that point, and I signed up and volunteered for combat duty. I spent 13 months in Vietnam on a patrol boat. It was the first time I’d ever actually lived and worked on the water, and it was a challenging job. I learned that even in that environment, scared half the time and experiencing the loss of friends in combat, that I loved being on the sea. I was hooked.
So as a young civilian I started in tankers, peeling spuds and cleaning up in the galley. When an opportunity offered I moved to the deck department, earning my AB ticket, and eventually working my way up to Bos’n.
Then I studied for my license, and became Second Mate (my license & ratings are on the Professional page of this website). I worked on a Bludworth ATB that traded to S. America and Asia. Had some unique adventures on that S. America run, but never made the Asia trip.
Then – it happens to almost every man – I fell in love and got married. Wanting to be nearer home & family, I took a job as Mate/Relief Captain on a research vessel operating on the US east coast. From there I moved to tugs, working in ship assist as Mate & Captain, and later coastwise towing as a Captain. Ambitious to become a Pilot, I got my federal Pilot's license for Baltimore Harbor, but ended up moving into the office instead. I’m now General Manager for a towing company in the Chesapeake Bay region.
One of the aspects of our industry that I like so much is one’s ability to try new things, to grow, to find something entirely new within your field of expertise that will challenge you and teach you something. It’s certainly been true of my career, and I'm sure its true of yours.
Let me know what you’re doing and what you plan to do! And don’t forget to send your photos and comments for posting. It’s an interesting big world out there, and mariners are some of the luckiest people in it!
See you next time,