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Some immortal lines about the hard life of seafarers

Some immortal lines about the hard life of seafarers

Who can truly know what a seafarer’s life is like? Surely, none but a person who has spent some time at sea and worked his ass off on board a ship. But thanks to nautical writers, the curious landlubber can have an insight into that life and perhaps feel a bit of empathy with seafarers.

The following are excerpts from some of these writers. Although they describe conditions faced by sailors in earlier times, the quoted passages should resonate with present-day readers. The truth is that the sea is still a dangerous place, and life is still hard for many mariners — notwithstanding all the noise about their rights as workers and as human beings.

I can utter a true song about myself, tell of my travels, how in toilsome days I often suffered a time of hardship, how I have borne bitter sorrow in my breast, made trial of many sorrowful abodes on ships; dread was the rolling of the waves. There the hard night watch at the boat’s prow was often my task, when it tossed by the cliffs.

— from ‘The Seafarer’ (prose translation by R. K. Gordon of the old Anglo-Saxon poem, 1926)

Nothing is more common than to hear people say, “Are not sailors very idle at sea? What can they find to do?” This is a natural mistake and, being frequently made, is one which every sailor feels interested in having corrected. In the first place, then, the discipline of the ship requires every man to be at work upon something when he is on deck, except at night and on Sundays. At all other times you will never see a man, on board a well-ordered vessel, standing idle on deck, sitting down, or leaning over the side. It is the officer’s duty to keep every one at work, even if there is nothing to be done but to scrape the rust from the chain cables. In no state prison are the convicts more regularly set to work, and more closely watched.

— Richard Henry Dana, Jr., from ‘Two Years Before the Mast’ (1899)

Seascape, 1876
Charles-François Daubigny (French, 1817 – 1878)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

To a man locked up in a steel ship all the time, the sea is too much like a woman. Things like her lulls and storms, or her caprice, or the beauty of her breast reflecting the setting sun, are all obvious. More than that, you’re in a ship that mounts the sea and rides her and yet is constantly denied her. It’s the old saying about miles and miles of lovely water and you can’t quench your thirst. Nature surrounds a sailor with all these elements so like a woman and yet he is kept as far as a man can be from her warm, living body. That’s where the problem begins, right there – I’m sure of it.

— Yukio Mishima, from ‘The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea’ (translated from the Japanese by John Nathan, 1966)

Lhootse Station on the North Sea, no date
Albert Rieger (Austrian, 1834–1905)
Courtesy of Dorotheum auction house via Wikimedia Commons

…then the wind went round to the sou-west and began to pipe up. In two days it blew a gale. The Judea hove to, wallowed on the Atlantic like an old candleboc. It blew day after day: it blew with spite, without interval, without mercy, without rest. The world was nothing but an immensity of great foaming waves rushing at us, under a sky low enough to touch with the hand and dirty like a smoked ceiling. In the stormy space surrounding us there was a much flying spray as air. Day after day and night after night there was nothing round the ship but the howl of the wind, the tumult of the sea, the noise of water pouring over her deck. There was no rest for her and no rest for us.

— Joseph Conrad, from ‘Youth’ (1898)

Miserable dog’s life is this of the sea! commanded like a slave, and set to work like an ass! vulgar and brutal men lording it over me, as if I were an African in Alabama. Yes, yes, blow on, ye breezes, and make a speedy end to this abominable voyage!

— Herman Melville, from ‘Redburn: His First Voyage’ (1855)

A French Sailor, 1897
Christian Krohg (Norwegian, 1852 – 1925)
Courtesy of Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo

~ Barista Uno

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The art of Gustave Doré: Spicing up a classic sea poem

The art of Gustave Doré: Spicing up a classic sea poem

Excellent poetry, it could be argued, does not need to be complemented by art. This seems true in the case of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a mariner who unleashes a chain of misfortunes after killing an albatross. In a 2009 review of the poem published in the British newspaper The Guardian, Carol Rumens spoke of its hypnotic power: “The scenery remains thrillingly hellish, while laced with photographically realistic meteorological effects, and the narrative drive is irresistible.”

Why publish such a powerful poem with illustrations? It’s a reasonable question to ask, to which one could reply: WHY NOT, if the artist happens to be Gustave Doré (1832—1883)?

Read more about the life and works of Gustave Doré here.

The 38 wood engravings this French book illustrator made for the 1876 edition of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ are mind-blowing. They are noteworthy not only for their fine detail. They convey an atmosphere that greatly enhances the verses. Doré’s ultimate achievement in these illustrations has been to put flesh on the intense emotions which Coleridge depicted in the poem — fear, anxiety, panic, hope, anguish and remorse. The following sample artworks from each of the poem’s seven parts show a perfect marriage of poetry and art:


And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! —
Why look’st thou so?”— With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.


Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea


Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a DEATH? and are there two?
Is DEATH that woman’s mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night–Mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
“The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!”
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.


I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to Heaven, and tried to pray:
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
my heart as dry as dust.


They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do:
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools —
We were a ghastly crew.


And the bay was white with silent light,
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colours came.

A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were:
I turned my eyes upon the deck —
Oh, Christ! what saw I there!


“O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!”
The Hermit crossed his brow.
“Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say —
What manner of man art thou?”

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

Download a free copy of the illustrated ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Click here.

~ Barista Uno

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10 standout maritime websites that are worth a click

10 standout maritime websites that are worth a click

In this day and age, maintaining a website seems imperative for most businesses. But it’s not just a question of having one as some people might think. The following are 10 maritime websites that stand out because of their design and, more importantly, the way their content is organised and presented for the benefit of site visitors. They call to mind the words of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, as quoted in an article in The New York Times: ”It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Criteria for selection

In choosing the websites to include in this article, I took into acccount the following:

  • Aesthetic appeal of homepage
  • General design and layout (including choice of fonts)
  • Mindful use of photos and other images
  • Content and the way it is organised
  • User-friendliness and ease of navigation
  • Website security (e.g., use of the https protocol)

In no particular order:

Australian Maritime College

National institute for maritime education, training and research at the University of Tasmania

PSA International (PSA)

Global port operator with flagship operations in Singapore and Antwerp

UK Chamber of Shipping

Trade association and voice of the UK shipping industry

Maritime news portal of Singapore-based Asia Shipping Media Pte Ltd


Italian manufacturer of marine cranes based in Minerbio, city of Bologna

Also in Marine Café Blog:


Seven of shipping’s catchiest slogans

Neptune Lines

Vehicle logistics provider for manufacturers and shippers of cars and high & heavy cargoes

Dream Cruises

Cruise line owned by Genting Hong Kong Limited, a holding company that operates cruise and resort businesses.

Ocean Technologies Group

Global learning and operational technology company comprised of Coex AS, Marlins, MTS, Seagull Maritime, Tero Marine and Videotel

Optical Ocean Sales

Underwater photography equipment store based in Seattle, Washington, that carries leading brands

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Museum that seeks to broaden understanding of the whaling industry and the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, through art, history, science and culture

~ Barista Uno

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Steamships and steamboats: A lost age reclaimed in art

Steamships and steamboats: A lost age reclaimed in art

In mid-June of 1819, the SS Savannah sounded the death knell for the Age of Sail when it completed the first steam-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. True, the historic hybrid vessel relied on its sails for most of the journey. But this was the start of something big. Steamships and steamboats would eventually become ubiquitous — making passenger sea travel easier, expanding commerce and even changing the nature of naval warfare. The maritime Age of Steam would also fade away but not completely, thanks to the artists who drew inspiration from it.

The useful arts are but reproductions, or new combinations by the wit of man, of the same natural benefactors. He no longer waits for favouring gales, but, by means of steam, he realizes the fable of Aeolus‘ bag, and carries the two-and-thirty winds in the boiler of his boat.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Nature’, Chapter 2 (1836)

American S.S. Savannah, before 1925
Engraving by unnamed artist
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence

Tramp Steamer, 1908
Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Foggy Morning on the Thames, c. 1875
James Hamilton (American, 1819–1878)
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Steadily forging ahead to the beat of her paddles or the thrash of her screw, the steamer even of that day was far more dependable than the sailing vessel. The Lightning clipper might run a hundred miles farther in twenty-four hours than ever a steamer had done, but she could not maintain this meteoric burst of speed. Upon the heaving surface of the Western Ocean there was enacted over again the fable of the hare and the tortoise.

— Robert D Paine, ‘The Old Merchant Marine: A Chronicle of American Ships and Sailors’ (1920)

U.S.M. steam ship Baltic, Collins Line. Builders: hull by Brown & Bell N.Y.; engines by Allaire Works N.Y., c. 1852
N. Currier, lithographers and publishers
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Steamship Advance, The U.S. and Brazil Mail Steamship Company,
from the Ocean and River Steamers series (N83) for Duke brand cigarettes, 1887
W. Duke, Sons & Co. (New York and Durham, N.C.), publishers
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On the Steamer Bremen, off Nova Scotia, 1880
William Henry Holmes (American, 1846–1933)
Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Since the invention of steamships, distant countries have become like those that are near at hand. By means of steam one can go from California to Japan in eighteen days. Commerce has become very extensive since the invention of steam, and the countries of the West have in consequence become rich. The nations of the West hope that by means of steam communication all the world will become as one family.

~ Townsend Harris, US ambassador to Japan (in a December 1857 interview)

Steamboats in the Port of Rouen, 1896
Camille Pissarro (French, 1830–1903)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Steam Launch, Chelsea Embankment, 1888–89
Theodore Roussel (English, 1847–1926)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

“America”: A Steamship in Transit, 1861
Utagawa Yoshikazu (Japanese, active ca. 1850–70)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A Moored Steamer at a Busy Quay, 1890
Andreas Achenbach (German, 1815–1910)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

To appreciate the importance of steamships and steamboats, one needs to keep in mind that they were part of a technological revolution that started before the industrial age kicked off in the
late 18th century. Find out more in ‘History of steam power – The steam engine timeline’ .

~ Barista Uno

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A litany of sins against seafarers, on land and at sea

A litany of sins against seafarers, on land and at sea

There is never a dearth of news reports about seafarers being cheated, taken advantage of, oppressed and otherwise maltreated. The whole thing goes on and on, in spite of the many bleeding hearts in shipping. The following is a list of the myriad ways in which the rights of mariners are violated, both on land and at sea. Ironically, some are being overlooked or ignored by the maritime press and by those who profess love and compassion for seafarers.

On  shore

Imposition of unnecessary or redundant training courses

Substandard training instruction and facilities

Selling of training certificates

Bureaucratic red tape

Corruption in maritime regulatory agencies

Illegal exaction of fees by crewing agencies

Demanding gifts from returning seafarers

Use of cadets as unpaid office workers and domestic servants

Stonewalling on the release of death and disability benefits

Favouritism in the hiring of crews

Blacklisting of seafarers who report abuses to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

Short-changing on seafarers’ dollar remittances

Undue delays in the release of family allotments

Ambulance chasing by lawyers

Excessive lawyer’s cut in seafarer money claims awarded

Unethical practices by profit-minded doctors and medical clinics

Practice by some unions of collecting membership fees from seafarers without giving them tangible services and benefits in return

Unions playing footsie with manning agents to the detriment of seafarers

Empty slogans and speeches in praise of seafarers

At sea

Failure to repatriate in time seafarers who are stranded amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Inadequate food and poor accommodation on board

Non-observance of mandated rest hours

Overburdening ship officers with paper work

Usurpation of ship master’s duties and powers by shore managers

Late payment or non-payment of wages

Non-payment of overtime/holiday pay


Mistreatment of Third World crew members by foreign masters and senior officers

Manning of ships below the required minimum levels

Operation of unseaworthy vessels

Lack of safety appliances

Abandonment of crews by shipowners

Sexism and sexual harassment

Denial of shore leave

~ Barista Uno

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