The expression ‘the docks’ re-examined

The expression ‘the docks’ re-examined

Glasgow Docks, oil painting (1886+) by English Victorian-era artist John Atkinson Grimshaw
Courtesy of Sotheby’s via Wikimedia Commons

British English has a certain flavour that can make it quite pleasant to hear. The plural noun “docks”, for example, means the man-made structures for the mooring and loading/unloading of boats and ships. But when Brits say “I’m going down to the docks,” they refer to the area of water where the docks (quay walls, piers or wharves) are located and the offices and warehouses around them. John Atkinson Grimshaw’s painting (pictured above) illustrates the point.

Interestingly, Filipinos, who speak English of the American variety, never use “docks” as a noun. Instead, one will hear local maritime journalists, port officials and ordinary folks say “the port area” or “Pier 4” if they want to be more specific. How stodgy and colourless!

Men of the Docks, 1912
George Bellows (American, 1882–1925)
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the National Gallery, London via Wikimedia Commons

Some examples of the use of ‘docks’

In journalism:

A striking lattice-work tower has sprung up at Leith docks in Edinburgh as a pioneering energy storage demonstration project gets off the ground. — Ilona Amos, The Scotsman, 11 March 2021

Once the capital’s lifeblood, London’s docks have long since faded to little more than a garnish of maritime nostalgia on riverside real estate. — Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian, 15 September 2015

In literature:

Going down to the docks, I met our wooden first mate, with his partner, the second mate. — Philip D. Heywood, An Ocean Tramp (1888)

In the time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable sea-port would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war’s men or merchant-sailors in holiday attire ashore on liberty. — Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative) (1891)

I was not, as a matter of fact, down at the docks to “look for a berth,” an occupation as engrossing as gambling, and as little favorable to the free exchange of ideas, besides being destructive of the kindly temper needed for casual intercourse with one’s fellow-creatures. — Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea (1906)

~ Barista Uno

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Three memorable poems about mothers for mariners

Three memorable poems about mothers for mariners

Three memorable poems about mothers for mariners

Mother with child at the beach, 1854 steel engraving/etching by Dutch artist Willem Steelink (I)
Click on image for a larger view.

A seafarer may be grateful to his alma mater for his education, to his shipmates for their camaraderie at sea, and to his spouse or partner for being faithful in his absence. But the one person to whom he owes a boundless debt of gratitude is his mother. To those who know the hardships of being a mother, there is no need to explain why.

Here are three poems about a mother’s selfless love for her children. The last one, ‘The Consecrating Mother’, speaks of the sea as the great Mother before whom the narrator stands in awe.

Mother o’ Mine

by Rudyard Kipling (English, 1865-1936)

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

The Negro Mother

by Langston Hughes (American, 1901– 1967)

Children, I come back today
To tell you a story of the long dark way
That I had to climb, that I had to know
In order that the race might live and grow.
Look at my face — dark as the night —
Yet shining like the sun with love’s true light.
I am the dark girl who crossed the red sea
Carrying in my body the seed of the free.
I am the woman who worked in the field
Bringing the cotton and the corn to yield.
I am the one who labored as a slave,
Beaten and mistreated for the work that I gave —
Children sold away from me, I’m husband sold, too.
No safety , no love, no respect was I due.

Three hundred years in the deepest South:
But God put a song and a prayer in my mouth .
God put a dream like steel in my soul.
Now, through my children, I’m reaching the goal.

Now, through my children, young and free,
I realized the blessing deed to me.
I couldn’t read then. I couldn’t write.
I had nothing, back there in the night.
Sometimes, the valley was filled with tears,
But I kept trudging on through the lonely years.
Sometimes, the road was hot with the sun,
But I had to keep on till my work was done:
I had to keep on! No stopping for me —
I was the seed of the coming Free.
I nourished the dream that nothing could smother
Deep in my breast — the Negro mother.
I had only hope then , but now through you,
Dark ones of today, my dreams must come true:
All you dark children in the world out there,
Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair.
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow —
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.
Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver’s track.
Remember how the strong in struggle and strife
Still bar you the way, and deny you life —
But march ever forward, breaking down bars.
Look ever upward at the sun and the stars.
Oh, my dark children, may my dreams and my prayers
Impel you forever up the great stairs —
For I will be with you till no white brother
Dares keep down the children of the Negro Mother.

The Consecrating Mother

by Anne Sexton (American, 1928–1974)

I stand before the sea
and it rolls and rolls in its green blood
saying, “Do not give up one god
for I have a handful.”
The trade winds blew
in their twelve-fingered reversal
and I simply stood on the beach
while the ocean made a cross of salt
and hung up its drowned
and they cried Deo Deo.
The ocean offered them up in the vein of its might.
I wanted to share this
but I stood alone like a pink scarecrow.

The ocean steamed in and out,
the ocean gasped upon the shore
but I could not define her,
I could not name her mood, her locked-up faces.
Far off she rolled and rolled
like a woman in labor
and I thought of those who had crossed her,
in antiquity, in nautical trade, in slavery, in war.
I wondered how she had borne those bulwarks.
She should be entered skin to skin,
and put on like one’s first or last cloth,
envered like kneeling your way into church,
descending into that ascension,
though she be slick as olive oil,
as she climbs each wave like an embezzler of white.
The big deep knows the law as it wears its gray hat,
though the ocean comes in its destiny,
with its one hundred lips,
and in moonlight she comes in her nudity,
flashing breasts made of milk-water,
flashing buttocks made of unkillable lust,
and at night when you enter her
you shine like a neon soprano.

I am that clumsy human
on the shore
loving you, coming, coming,
and wish to put my thumb on you
like The Song of Solomon.

~ Barista Uno

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The wonder of water: A photo challenge

The wonder of water: A photo challenge

The wonder of water: A photo challenge

Servizio fotografico (Roma, 1962) / Paolo Monti (Italian, 1908–1982)
Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) licence. Click on photo for a larger view

I am inviting all and sundry to submit their best photos for an upcoming Marine Café Blog feature about of water. It is my hope that the selected pictures will remind everyone of the immense importance of this natural resource to a world threatened by global warming.


Guidelines for participating photographers


1) The photos should focus on the theme ‘The Wonder of Water’. The subject can be a fountain as in Paolo Monti’s above photograph, a landscape showing a natural body of water, or even a simple glass of water—anything suggesting the beauty of water and its life-sustaining value.

2) All photos submitted should be at least 1280 pixels in width. Titles or captions are optional.

3) You may submit a maximum of three (3) photos by email ( or on Facebook by PM or as comments to my posted announcements. DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: 5th of June 2023, 10:00 PM GMT

4) Photos will be chosen according to the following criteria:

     a/ originality

     b/ composition

     c/ handling of light

     d/ atmosphere

     e/ overall impact

5) All photos published with the upcoming feature will remain the property of their authors. This will be indicated by a copyright symbol before the photographer’s name.

~ Barista Uno

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Five of the biggest ironies in today’s shipping world

Five of the biggest ironies in today’s shipping world

Simply put, an irony is an aspect of a situation which is contrary to what one would normally expect. A seagull perched on a No-Fishing sign (shown above) is thus ironic. The incongruence between expectation and actuality, which frequently happens in the world of shipping, can be jarring.

  IMO demanding strict compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) but refusing to give seafarers and everyone else free online access to its full text

  Seafarer unions enjoying a cozy relationship with shipowners and manning agents who may not be the most honest of the lot

  The shipping industry all het up about ship emissions as cows and other livestock roam freely and contribute significantly to global warming

  Charities advocating for seafarers’ mental health while openly peddling their wellness training programmes

  Maritime media organisations bestowing awards on companies they are supposed to write about and even scrutinise objectively

~ Barista Uno

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The sailor’s life: Four notable memoirs of old salts

The sailor’s life: Four notable memoirs of old salts

‘English: Twilight, Evening Star and Crescent Moon, with Sailing Ships on the Horizon, Oahu, Hawaii’, 1925, by Lionel Walden (American, 1862–1933)

Most retired sailors, I suppose, would not bother to write and publish a book about the years they spent at sea. Those who do are fortunate. When they kick the bucket, they would have left behind a lasting legacy, not just their DNA.

The following memoirs are recommended reading for anyone who loves nautical books. The narratives are engaging, and they open a window to the maritime past. To present-day readers, they also serve as reminders of the dangers and hardships as well as the joys and fulfillments of the seafaring life.

Title: Recollections of a Sea Wanderer’s Life: An Autobiography of an Old-time Seaman Who has Sailed in Almost Every Capacity Before and Abaft the Mast, in Nearly Every Quarter of the Globe, and Under the Flags of Four of the Principal Maritime Nations

Author: George Davis (born 1821); no other details available

Year published: 1847


Many times have I spied with great interest the white canvas of some vessel while rounding the point of the Isle of Orleans, and watched it until it should “come to” and furl sails abreast of the citadel on Cape Diamond, lower its gig, manned by bronzed seamen, who made the spray fly from their oar blades as they brought their captain ashore. How I gazed with awe at all — captain and sailors — who had brought from remote lands spices, silks, perfumes, and strange-looking fruits. (from Chapter I)

Title: Life on the Mississippi

Author: Mark Twain (1835 – 1910), American humourist, journalist, lecturer, and novelist who was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River

Year published: 1883


The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it has a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking that you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. (from Chapter IX: Continued Perplexities)

Title: The Mirror of the Sea

Author: Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924), Polish-born British novelist, short story writer, and sea captain

Year published: 1906


Nowhere else than upon the sea do the days, weeks, and months fall away quicker into the past. They seem to be left astern as easily as the light air-bubbles in the swirls of the ship’s wake, and vanish into a great silence in which your ship moves on with a sort of magical effect. They pass away, the days, the weeks, the months. Nothing but a gale can disturb the orderly life of the ship; and the spell of unshaken monotony that seems to have fallen upon the very voices of her men is broken only by the near prospect of a Landfall. (from the essay “Landfalls and Departures”)

Title: Home from the Sea

Author: Sir Arthur H. Rostron (1869 – 1940), captain of RMS Carpathia that rescued hundreds of passengers from the Titanic.

Year published: 1931


I wonder whether shore people ever pause to imagine what it is to be months at a time with thirty-odd men, including captain and officers, in the narrow confines of a comparatively small vessel surrounded by the ocean in all its moods. Long days of glassy calm and warm water in the tropics with a blazing red-hot furnace of a sun beating down. Other times with the ocean heaved up into mountains of water—cold at that—tumbling and roaring, each sea seemingly bent on overwhelming the ship. (from Chapter III : Into Steam)

~ Barista Uno

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