Knowing the historical and cultural context of a song can lead to a better appreciation of it. In the case of Soon May the Wellerman Come (The Wellerman, for short), it is in fact necessary . This whaling song which has gone viral (it is not a sea shanty) makes specific references to the whaling tradition of New Zealand and to whale hunting in general. To know the meaning of some of the words and phrases used is to understand what the song really tries to convey.
Boat models may not look as magnificent as a scaled-down replica of a Spanish galleon. Even so, they can exude a certain charm that would delight the viewer, especially one who loves the sea and watercraft. In addition, they can open a window to the maritime past of certain cultures.
The English language is sprinkled with idioms that have a nautical origin. Some people may use them routinely without being aware of the fact. The following are 10 such idiomatic expressions. They illustrate, not only how the shipping world has impacted on everday language, but also how it has helped unify peoples across the English-speaking world.
The use of the catchphrase “the human element” to refer to seafarers has always bothered me no end. It sounds too cold. It calls to mind the periodic table of elements invented by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. But more important, the term degrades seafarers to the status of mere objects.
“I take it that what all men are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace,” wrote Joseph Conrad in his 1911 novel, Under Western Eyes. How true! Yet how difficult to achieve. Like the sea waves crashing against the rocks, life is an unceasing struggle: of man vs. nature; of man vs. man; and sometimes, of man vs. himself.
In April this year, a Romanian captain died at sea and was kept in the ship’s walk-in freezer for six months because 13 countries refused to have the body unloaded. The story may no longer shock as strange things have been happening during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it raises some very disturbing questions.
Modern eyes have been spoiled by colours. Who would still want to use a mobile phone with a black & white screen? Even old films are being colourised to suit the contemporary viewer. Seashells, however, are just as captivating in a monochrome print or drawing as they are in an oil painting. Undistracted by colour, one can admire even more their wonderful contours and textures.
What better time to indulge in some poetry than on a weekend — when the noise of the work-a-day world has subsided, and you can sit quietly to savour the words of a poem like a cup of home-brewed coffee?
Power drives the shipping world — not money, although everyone seems to be preoccupied with it. The desire for power (and control) is what really spurs the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to issue more and more regulations for ships and crews.
The same motivating force is behind the mistreatment of seafarers by abusive ship masters and rogue shipowners; the use of cadets as unpaid labour by manning agents; the muscle-flexing by seafarer unions; and the inspection visits by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
What would shipping be like without tugboats? In the same vein, what could ask: what would the world of marine art be without tugboats?
These mean little machines exude a certain charm as they tow barges up and down rivers; nudge ships into position at the wharves; and pull disabled vessels to safety. When one looks at the tugboats in the following artworks, the caption of a movie poster for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring might resonate: “Power can be held in the smallest of things.”
Sailboats held as much as fascination for French Impressionist master Claude Monet as water lilies and haystacks. He made several paintings of them. The following, in my opinion, are his most splendid works on the subject. They spotlight not only the beauty and elegance of sailboats. More importantly, they show Monet’s inimitable handling of colour, light and atmosphere.
As a rule, anything in excess is bad. Overtonnage can wreak havoc on the shipping market, particularly for ship operators. Too many players in the field (e.g., ship manning) can lead to cutthroat competition. Too much red tape can slow down the processing of seafarer documents. There are other things in the world of shipping the excess of which, although seldom or never talked about, is undesirable.
The spirit of serenity, which Zen Buddhism seeks to cultivate, is a key aspect of Japan’s tea ceremony as it is of traditional Japanese art. In his iconic The Book of Tea, art critic Okakura Kakuzo drew a connection between the world of art and the world of tea :
“The tea-masters held that real appreciation of art is only possible to those who make of it a living influence. Thus they sought to regulate their daily life by the high standard of refinement which obtained in the tea-room. In all circumstances serenity of mind should be maintained, and conversation should be conducted as never to mar the harmony of the surroundings.”