Great quotes for seafarers about the joy of reading

Great quotes for seafarers about the joy of reading

What seafarer has not suffered from a bout of loneliness and boredom? These twin monsters can creep in like the tide after one’s watch is over and there is little else to do. Some seafarers may plunge into depression. One maritime charity group seems to think that a two-day online course on mental health costing £125 per participant will address the problem. What a silly idea! Why not promote instead the love for reading amongst seafarers? As the following quotes suggest, books can do wonders for both mind and spirit.

Books are the greatest and the most satisfactory of recreations. I mean the use of books for pleasure. Without books, without having acquired the power of reading for pleasure, none of us can be independent, but if we can read we have a sure defence against boredom in solitude.

— Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Recreation Address at Harvard University (1919)

The first time I read an excellent book, it is to me just as if I had gained a new friend. When I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting with an old one.

— Oliver Goldsmith, The Citizen of the World; or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher, Letter LXXXIII (1762)

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

— W. Somerset Maugham, Books and You (1940)

When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me.

— W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage (1915)

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and at the bottom of the Spanish Main… and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.

— Walt Disney, Walt’s Quotes, Walt Disney Archives

Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.

— Hermann Hesse, ‘The Magic of the Book’ (1930)

All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of Books. They are the chosen possession of men.

— Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship (1840), Lecture V

He hath never fed of the dainties that are bred in a book; he hath not eat paper, as it were; he hath not drunk ink: his intellect is not replenished; he is only an animal, only sensible in the duller parts.

— William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost (c. 1595-6)

The young watch television twenty-four hours a day, they don’t read and they rarely listen. This incessant bombardment of images has developed a hypertrophied eye condition that’s turning them into a race of mutants.

— Federico Fellini, I’m a Born Liar: A Fellini Lexicon (2003)

Reading is to the mind, what exercise is to the body: as by the one, health is preserved, strengthened and invigorated; by the other, virtue, which is the health of the mind, is kept alive, cherished and confirmed.

— Joseph Addison, The Tatler (1754)

Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.

— Gustave Flaubert, letter to Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie (1867)

It is true that we get nothing whatsoever except pleasure from reading; it is true that the wisest of us is unable to say what that pleasure may be. But that pleasure — mysterious, unknown, useless as it is — is enough. That pleasure is so curious, so complex, so immensely fertilizing to the mind of anyone who enjoys it, and so wide in its effects, that it would not be in the least surprising to discover, on the day of judgment when secrets are revealed and the obscure is made plain, that the reason why we have grown from pigs to men and women, and come out from our caves, and dropped our bows and arrows, and sat round the ?re and talked and drunk and made merry and given to the poor and helped the sick and made pavements and houses and erected some sort of shelter and society on the waste of the world, is nothing but this: we have loved reading.

— Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read a Book? (1926)

Marine Café Blog has a growing number of books in its Downloads section. And they’re all FREE.

~ Barista Uno

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Hard, hard times but not  because of the pandemic

Hard, hard times but not because of the pandemic

I recently came across a traditiional folk ballad called ‘Hard, Hard Times’. It is light-hearted but has a serious social message, so I thought I should share it with the readers of Marine Café Blog. The song is part of the James Madison Carpenter Collection of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. This London-based organisation ( has been doing a wonderful job of promoting English folk music, dance and related arts.

‘Hard, Hard Times’ talks about dishonesty, greed and hyprocrisy in society at large — the same ills that plague much of the shipping and mannning sectors and bring misery to those who work at sea. Indeed, it reminds me of some maritime folks who are far from being admirable. Listen to the song as performed by Hazel Askew, a singer, musician and workshop leader based in London:

Hard, Hard Times

by Hazel Askew / English Folk Dance and Song Society

Hard, Hard Times

(Collected from Mrs. Katherine Stirling in Alicesville, Alabama, USA)

Come listen my friends and I’ll sing you a song
Concerning hard times and it won’t take me long
When everybody is striving to buy
And cheating each other – I cannot tell why

And it’s hard, hard times

First there’s the merchant, so honest we’re told
Whatever he sells you, my friend, you are sold
Believe what I tell you and don’t be surprised
If what’s worth a dollar will now cost you five

And it’s hard, hard times

Then there’s the lawyer, you plainly will see
He will plead your case for a very large fee
He’ll law you and tell the wrong side is right
And make you believe that a black horse is white

And it’s hard, hard times

And then there’s the doctor, I liked to’ve forgot
I believe to my soul he’s the worst of the lot
He’ll tell you he’ll cure you for half you possess
And when you are buried he’ll take all the rest

And it’s hard, hard times

And last there’s the preacher, the worst of them all
Preaching for money but not for the soul
He rides his circuit some twelve times a year
And if your soul’s lost you’ll be sure he don’t care

And it’s hard, hard times

Nota Bene: The audio recording of ‘Hard, Hard Times’ by Hazel Askew as well as the song lyrics are the intellectual property of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They are published on this website for educational, non-commercial use. For all other uses, permission must be requested from EFDSS (

Additional information: There are other versions of the song, including William James Emberley’s ‘Hard, Hard Times’. Emberley adapted an older song to describe the plight of Newfoundland fishermen during the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

~ Barista Uno

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10 easy ways to exploit seafarers and justify it

10 easy ways to exploit seafarers and justify it

Those who exploit seafarers — and there’s a legion of them — have no need for a guide. The thing comes naturally to the greedy and the shameless. But if there were such a guide, it would probably include the following items, the first seven of which pertain to manning agents:


Use maritime cadets as unpaid office and domestic workers. It’s a great way to break them in. Besides, they’ll get to sail eventually as apprentice officers even if it takes many months before they are given the break.


Send seafarers to enrol in training centres that give kickbacks to crewing managers. What is wrong with this when you’re doing the training centres a favour and you’re not stealing from seafarers?


Require ship officers to undergo training or re-training even if they don’t need it. This is good for their career and their professional growth.


Shortchange seafarers on their remittances. Use a forex rate lower than the prevailing market rate in converting the dollars to local currency. It’s a small service charge, which the dollar-earning seafarers would not mind.


Delay the release of seafarers’ family allotments. Invest the dollars and earn from the interest before giving the families the money. They won’t starve because of the delay.


Blacklist seafarers who report shipboard malpractices (double-payrolling, etc.) to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). This will discourage other seafarers from doing the same and getting ships interdicted by the ITF. Such interdictions hamper the flow of global trade.


Delay the release of health or disability benefits. Question money claims from seafarers before an adjudication body through your company lawyer. Doing so protects the interests of your foreign principal (shipowners comprise the membership of the P&I clubs, so any moneys awarded ultimately come for their pockets).


If you are a maritime charity, offer courses on mental health and depression for a fee. Better still, campaign for mandatory wellness training for seafarers. Depression at sea is a serious problem, and it needs to be addressed.


If you are a union, collect union dues from seafarers and forget about the tangible benefits they deserve to receive in return (e.g. hospitalisation, housing loans, etc.). A union fights for seafarers’ rights and that ought to be enough.


If you are a maritime lawyer, accept cases from seafarers on a no-cure-no-pay basis but get a sizeable chunk of any moneys awarded. Thirty percent plus out-of-pocket expenses (court appearance fees, etc) sounds fair. After all, you spent years studying to become a lawyer, and you are performing a professional service.

~ Barista Uno

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Battle of Manila Bay in art, none by a Filipino artist

Battle of Manila Bay in art, none by a Filipino artist

I have just spent several days searching online for artworks that depict the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay (also known as the Battle of Cavite). My search yielded a good number of interesting pieces. However, I found none that was created by a Filipino artist. This comes as no surprise. Although Filipinos pride themselves in being a “maritime” nation, the country has a paucity of marine art. Indeed, it lacks a tradition of such art — the kind of tradition that one finds in England, the United States, the Netherlands, Spain and other traditional maritime countries.

Still, it is dismaying to know that such a pivotal event in Philippine history has apparently been ignored by local artists. The Battle of Manila Bay signalled the end of four centuries of Spanish colonial rule in the country and the beginning of neary 50 years of American rule. That the battle was really a sham should not detract from its historical importance (see The mock battle that ended the Spanish-American War).

Here are seven works which depict the Battle of Manila Bay. The last one is by a Japanese artist, which should not surprise anyone as the Japanese, unlike the Filipinos, have a rich heritage of marine art.

The battle of Manila Bay, (delivering the last broadside), not dated
Artwork by Michael F. Tobin (Irish-American, c. 1844–1907)
Library of Congress, USA

The great naval battle off Cavite (Manila Bay), fought May 1st, 1898, 5:30 A.M. till 12:50 P.M. (noon), c. 1898
Chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison (Chicago, Illinois)
Library of Congress, USA

(Battle of) Manila Bay, not dated
Lithograph by Charles E. Pont (American, 1898–1971)
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Battle of Manila Bay, c. 1898
Artwork by Albert W. Holden (British, 1848–1932)
Library of Congress, USA

Batalla de Cavite, 1898
Oil painting by Ildefonso Sanz Doménech (Spanish, 1863–1937)
Museo Naval de Madrid
Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898, c. 1899
Oil painting by Dr. Alfonso Sanz (Spanish, flourished 1890–1907)
Library Trust Fund, The Army and Navy Club, Washington, DC

Battle of Manila Bay, c. 1900
Woodblock print by Yosai Nobukazu (c. 1872–944)
Library Trust Fund, The Army and Navy Club, Washington, DC

You may also like this article: Battles at sea: 12 artworks that pack a punch

~ Barista Uno

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What’s behind the enduring fascination with pirates?

What’s behind the enduring fascination with pirates?

What is it about pirates that makes them so appealing to many people? They are essentially dislikeable characters. Captain Jack Sparrow, the main protagonist in the Pirates of the Caribbean fantasy film series, may not be the murderous type. But he is a rogue, a trickster who uses subterfuge and bluff to achieve his ends.

Almost a century ago, American illustrator and author Howard Pyle raised the same question. The answer he ventured is spot on. In the Preface to Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates (published in 1921), he wrote:

“Courage and daring, no matter how mad and ungodly, have always a redundancy of vim and life to recommend them to the nether man that lies within us, and no doubt his desperate courage, his battle against the tremendous odds of all the civilized world of law and order, have had much to do in making a popular hero of our friend of the black flag.”

Pyle was quick to offer another explanation:

“But it is not altogether courage and daring that endear him to our hearts. There is another and perhaps a greater kinship in that lust for wealth that makes one’s fancy revel more pleasantly in the story of the division of treasure in the pirate’s island retreat, the hiding of his godless gains somewhere in the sandy stretch of tropic beach, there to remain hidden until the time should come to rake the doubloons up again and to spend them like a lord in polite society, than in the most thrilling tales of his wonderful escapes from commissioned cruisers through tortuous channels between the coral reefs.”


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Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates

There seems more to the pirate mania than just people’s thirst for adventure and “lust for wealth”, as Pyle put it. Bonnie and Clyde, the American couple who gained notoriety for their bank robberies, have also fascinated film-makers and songwriters. However, they have not had the same impact on the popular imagination as have real pirates like Blackbeard or Mary Read.

The difference has a lot to do with the sea. By serving as the backdrop for the derring-do of pirates, the sea gives their stories a certain epic quality. The pirates of old had to contend, not only with the law and other pirates, but with nature. As a result, their adventures seem much more dramatic and their characters, larger than life. Howard Pyle described the pirate’s life quite eloquently:

“And what a life of adventure is his, to be sure! A life of constant alertness, constant danger, constant escape! An ocean Ishmaelite, he wanders forever aimlessly, homelessly; now unheard of for months, now careening his boat on some lonely uninhabited shore, now appearing suddenly to swoop down on some merchant vessel with rattle of musketry, shouting, yells, and a hell of unbridled passions let loose to rend and tear.”

A life coveted

The average person may never get to live such a life of high adventure and danger. Most can only experience it vicariously. The great Basque-Spanish writer Pío Baroja expressed the same idea in Las inquietudes de Shanti Andía (The Restlessness of Shanti Andía), a sea adventure novella first published in 1911. Shanti Andía, a seaman and the main protagonist, opens the book with these words:

“The conditions in which real life slides make most people opaque and uninteresting. Today, to almost no one does something happen which is worth telling. Neither our loves, nor our adventures, nor our thoughts have enough interest to be communicated to others, unless they are exaggerated and transformed.” (translation from the original Spanish mine ~BU)

In the end, the lore of pirates, whether real or fictional, is a kind of necessity. It adds colour to life. In a humdrum, workaday world, it helps fill an existential gap.

Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930)

~ Barista Uno

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