Life and death drama: sea rescues in art

Life and death drama: sea rescues in art


In a previous article, I shared some works of art to highlight the noble tradition of saving lives at sea. I felt that that was too meagre a serving for such a great topic. So here’s a sequel. I trust that those who love art will find it as flavourful as the one preceding it, if not more so.

The Wrath of the Seas, 1886
Ivan Aivazovsky (Russian, 1817–1900) / Wikimedia Commons

The sea often wears the terrifying mask of Death. However, in this painting Russian marine artist Ivan Aivazovsky has transformed the terror into something beautiful, even sublime. The boatload of shipwrecked people are desperately trying to reach the shore, but whether they would make it is uncertain. Aivazovsky keeps the viewer in suspense and terrifed.

A Ship at Sea, mid-17th–early 18th century
Ludolf Backhuysen (Dutch, 1630–1708) / The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ludolf Backhuysen’s drawing of a sinking ship graphically illustrates the meaning of the common expression “for dear life”. The members of the crew can be seen holding on to stay alive as a small boat sails by in the distance. One can almost hear the doomed men crying for help or praying to the Almighty.

The Lifeboat, 1874
Ivan Aivazovsky (Russian, 1817–1900) / The Athenaeum

Sea rescuers are stout-hearted. Their heroism amidst a storm at sea can be described as epic. Aivazovsky pays tribute to this special breed of men in a painting that is unforgettable for its haunting atmosphere.

William and Grace Darling Going to the Rescue of the SS ‘Forfarshire’, 1838 (?)
Henry Perlee Parker (1795–1873) / RNLI Grace Darling Museum
Published in Marine Café Blog under CC BY-NC 4.0 licence

Grace Darling, shown in this painting with her father, William Darling, is known for her role in rescuing the survivors of the 1838 Forfarshire shipwreck. This lighthouse keeper’s daughter died of tuberculosis at the age of 26. She had never married and had no children. Yet, she left behind a legacy women all over the world can treasure. For more about this legendary figure, visit the Grace Darling Website.

Shipwreck of the Apostle Paul at Malta, 1712
Jan Luyken, printmaker / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The upside of marine disasters is that they can — and often do — bring out the best in people: compassion, courage and sense of community. The Bible (Acts 28:1-10) recounts how the natives of the island of Malta showed Paul the Apostle and his companions “unusual kindness” after they were shipwrecked. The islanders’ spirit continues to live on amongst all those who rescue people at sea.

A Crew Rescued, 1894
Michael Peter Ancher (Danish, 1849–1927) / The Athenaeum

To criminalise ship captains who save lives at sea, as one witnesses in present-day Europe, is to subvert the maritime world’s noblest tradition. Sea rescuers, including fishermen, are heroes even more than soldiers who kill during war. For they help reduce human suffering whilst the latter compound it by so many degrees.

The drowned boy is brought ashore, 1913
Laurits Tuxen (Danish, 1853–1927) / Wikimedia Commons

The sight of a person who has drowned can tug at the hearts of even the most seasoned of rescuers. In this business of saving lives at sea, one can never really be indifferent.

The lifeboat is driven through the dunes, 1883
Michael Peter Ancher (Danish, 1849–1927) / Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark)

A throng of fishermen is going down to the coast with a lifeboat which is pulled by some horses. One may be reminded of a religious procession. In lieu of the statue of a saint, the centrepiece of Michael Ancher’s work is a lifeboat. The latter can be seen as a symbol of redemption in the same manner that saints are believed to help in the redemption of men’s souls. The snow blanketing the dunes, the dark blue-grey sky, and the fishermen’s drab clothes all make for a sombre atmosphere.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Filipino maritime cadets as modern-day slaves

Filipino maritime cadets as modern-day slaves

Most people will find it hard to imagine a maritime cadet being tied to a rope as in the circa-1848 watercolour drawing (pictured above) attributed to Afro-Peruviain painter Francisco (Pancho) Fierro. The indigenous slave depicted is balancing a plate on his head as he follows a Peruvian soldier on horseback. The truth is that the things Filipino cadets do as unpaid office help for the manning agencies and seafarers’ unions in Manila are no less egregious.

What could be more demeaning for a would-be ship officer than to be ordered by a secretary to go out and buy pizza for the company staff? Or to be made to wash dishes and clean the office toilet? Yet, many go through such indignities for the chance to go to sea and complete the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship required for graduation. It could be many months before they finally get the big break.

Anyone with an ounce of moral discernment will see that making cadets work without pay is not only exploitation. It is a form of slavery. Surprisingly, manning agents and even some seafarers find nothing wrong with this shameful practice. They say working for free in a crewing company or a seafarers’ union is voluntary on the part of the cadet. Moreover, the cadet can learn certain office skills he or she can later put to good use as a ship officer. Those who make such stupid arguments overlook or ignore two important points.

First, the cadets who serve as unpaid flunkeys are forced by circumstances to do so. They have very little choice. The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) requires aspiring officers to complete one year of apprenticeship at sea. Alternatively, they can join a vessel as able seaman, wiper or oiler. However, they will have to serve in these capacities for three years versus 12 months for an apprentice officer. That is assuming they can be hired in the first place.

Second, there is a huge difference between servitude and internship. The latter is a legitimate practice accepted around the world and in many professions. It enables the intern, who may or may not get paid, to gain some work experience or satisfy certain requirements for a qualification. Buying pizza for the office staff (some cadets to it whilst wearing their white cadet uniforms) can hardly be called internship.

Interestingly, cadets who are taken in as slave labour by manning companies are referred to as “utility”. The use of the term even by certain academics is very telling. Like the infamous buzzword the human element, it shows how language is used to objectify seafarers and rob them of their humanity. But what else can one expect in maritime Manila with its crass commercialism and decadent culture?

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Visual delights: Dutch models of ships and boats

Visual delights: Dutch models of ships and boats

Ship models may never have the emotional or imaginative power of a seascape painting by Ivan Aivazovsky. Even so, they can be a delight to look at. Dutch models from the 19th and 18th centuries are so well crafted that they bring to life real ships and boats that have long passed into oblivion. They are living specimens of Dutch maritime history, making us imagine what it was like to sail on these Dutch-made vessels and hear the sound of the sea and seagulls.

The following is a small sampling of what the Dutch have achieved in the art of modelling. Click on the captions for the technical details (in some cases, historical notes are also available). For more Dutch models, visit the Rijksmuseum website.

Model of a Koff, anonymous, 1854
Photo courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

This model represents a koff that traded between the Scandinavian countries and Russia. The Dutch are credited with having developed this historical type of vessel in the late 17th century. The koff is a testimony to the shipbuilding skills of the Dutch and their adventurous life as seaborne traders.

Model of a Polacre, anonymous, c. 1815–c. 1850
Photo courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

This model of a three-masted polacca (or polacre) exemplifies the high degree of technical skill and attention to detail required of a modeller. The Rijksmuseum catalogue entry suggests that it could represent the Daedalus, which was built in Germany and sailed on the London–Amsterdam and London–Bremen routes.

Model of a 46-Gun Frigate, anonymous, 1775–1800
Photo courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Dutch were once a great naval power. This enabled them to conquer and colonise foreign lands just like the Spanish, the Portuguese and the British. In a sense, this model of the two-deck warship Theresia Maria is a tribute to that glorious, bygone era.

Model of a Gaff-Rigged Gunboat, anonymous, 1835
Photo courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Dutch thirst for naval power helped fuel Dutch ingenuity in the design of various types of vessels. This charming model of a single-masted, flat-bottomed gunboat is noteworthy for its detailed craftsmanship. The catalogue entry says the deck comes complete with a capstan, a chimney for the galley, hatches, a deck light, a binnacle, loading gear for the guns, a mop and bucket, four oars, a round shot and two anchors.

Model of a Gentleman’s Yacht, anonymous, 1828
Photo courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The word “yacht” may not immediately call to mind the Netherlands (Holland), but it is Dutch in origin. The model shown above is a scaled-down replica of a yacht designed and built in 1828 by Folkert Nicolaas van Loon, a Dutch shipwright, for Baron Van Tuyll van Serooskerken van IJzerdoorn (data from the catalogue entry).  

Model of a Lifeboat, Adriaan Rosel, c. 1870–c. 1876
Photo courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The simplest boat model such as this 10-oared gunboat can be beautiful and elegant.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Fabulous feminist quotes for the shipping industry

Fabulous feminist quotes for the shipping industry

In June 1916, the Minerva Café opened in the headquarters of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) in Holborn, London. It served as the meeting place for suffrage activists and anarchists. The name of the coffeehouse was significant. In ancient Rome, Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, handicrafts, the professions and war. She is beautifully depicted in the 1688 painting, Story of Minerva – Minerva Watering her Horses into the Sea (pictured above) by French artist René-Antoine Houasse.

Some advocates of women’s rights may well adopt Minerva as an icon — a symbol of female strength, courage and intelligence. I am not sure, though, if that would be doing justice to the goddess. Some feminists can put off even men who symphatise with their cause. They can be too loud, too aggressive, too angry. On the other hand, who can argue that women ought to be treated as men’s equals? I trust that both men and women in shipping will find some inspiration in the following quotations.

Read more: 21 great quotes for maritime women

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute. ~Rebecca West, British author and journalist (1892–1983)

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. ~Marie Shear, American writer and feminist activist (1940–2017)

If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend. ~Charlotte Brontë, English writer (1816–1855)

Sirens, 1902 painting by Ferdinand Max Bredt (German, 1860–1921)

The poets and writers are trying to understand the reality of woman, but up to this day they have not understood the hidden secret of her heart because they look upon her from behind the sexual veil and see nothing but the externals: they look upon her through a magnifying glass of hatefulness and find nothing except weakness and submission. ~Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese-American poet (1883–1931)

Ought not every woman, like every man, to follow the bent of her own talents? ~Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, French woman of letters (1766–1817)

…her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly. ~Simone de Beauvoir, French writer and feminist, (1908–1986)

The Dizziness, 1908 drawing by Léon Spilliaert (Belgian, 1881–1946)

The woman who is determined to be honoured amongst an army of soldiers can be. ~Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish writer (1547–1616)

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work. ~Adrienne Rich, American poet and feminist (1929–2012)

By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. ~Virginia Woolf, English writer (1882–1941)

Victorian tradition of womanhood, a carefully trained conscience, a sheltered youth, an imperfect education, lost time, blasted years— were still there and always would be ; we seemed to be for ever slaying them, and they to be for ever rising again… In one sense I was my war; my war was I; without it I should do nothing and be nothing. If marriage made the whole fight harder, so much the better ; it would become part of my war and as this I would face it, and show that, however stubborn any domestic problem, a lasting solution could be found if only men and women would seek it together. ~Vera Brittain, English writer, feminist and pacifist (1893–1970)

The Knight Woman, 1909 painting by Vardges Sureniants (Armenian, 1860–1921)

To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. ~Mahatma Gandhi, Indian political activist (1869–1948)

Surely we must free men and women together before we can free women. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands — the ownership and control of their lives and livelihood — are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. ~Helen Keller, American writer and social activist (1880–1968)

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Watch your language! 12 great quotes for maritime folks

Watch your language! 12 great quotes for maritime folks

The way language is used by the maritime community has always been of great interest to me as a writer. I believe I was the first to criticise the buzzword “the human element” to refer to seafarers. Back in 2012 — when the shipping industry had swallowed the phrase hook, line and sinker — I wrote that the use of the term was unfortunate. It sounded too cold and was reminiscent of the periodic table of elements invented by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

It all boils down to a question of human relations and sentiments. But who cares about such things in the mechanistic world of shipping? The 2019 ‘Day of the Seafarer’ celebrations and the continuing blabber about wellness training have once again shown how easily maritime professionals are swayed by platitudes and slogans. The consequence can be disastrous when rhetoric pushes reason aside. The following quotations should serve as a reminder that language is important and that people should examine how they use it.

The second-rate mind is in command of the ponderously spoken platitude.

~C. Wright Mills, American sociologist (1916–1962)

He utters empty words, he utters sound without mind.

~Virgil, Latin poet (70 BC–19 BC)

In all labor there is profit, But idle chatter leads only to poverty.

~Proverbs 14:23, New King James version of the Bible

His very words are a fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes.

~William Shakespeare (1564–1616), in Much Ado About Nothing

Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.

~Mark Twain, American writer (1835–1910)

Words are magical in the way they affect the minds of those who use them.

~Aldous Huxley, English writer and philosopher (1894–1963)

In conversation avoid the extremes of forwardness and reserve.

~Cato the Elder, Roman statesman ((234–149 BC)

The skillful class of flatterers praise the discourse of an ignorant friend and the face of a deformed one.

~Juvenal, Roman satiric poet, (c.60–c.140)

We sometimes think that we hate flattery, but we only hate the manner in which it is done.

~François de La Rochefoucauld, French writer (1613–1680)

Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society… The fact of the matter is that the “real world” is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group.

~Edward Sapir, American anthropologist-linguist (1884–1939)

The phenomenon we know as political correctness thrives on people’s permitting themselves to be intimidated by the people who are the enforcers of these norms and orthodoxies.

~Robert Peter George, American legal scholar and political philospher (born 10 July 1955)

When did political correctness ever change reality?

~Frankie the Sage Cat (born circa 2010)