Last November, I was forced to take a leave from writing and other normal activities after I accidentally twisted my left foot. It came like a sudden squall. The shooting pain in my big toe was soon followed by inflammation around the ankle and numbness on the sole of the foot. I wanted to cry out and curse my fate. But then I remembered what Captain MacWhirr, the chief protagonist in Joseph Conrad‘s 1902 novella Typhoon, said to a young seaman…
Death comes in myriad ways to both men and ships. Some ships meet their end through an act of God; others, because of human folly. Many succumb to old age.
It may not be dramatic like J.M.W. Turner’s famous Fighting Temeraire, but ‘Meditation by the Sea’ is my favourite marine painting. As a writer and observer of the shipping world, I can identify with this work. I even see myself in it.
Like the lens of a camera, poetry can put reality into sharper focus and prod us to see the world with fresh eyes. The following poems written by three famous poets are about water, a subject many people tend to take for granted. They are notable for their effective use of rhythm, diction and imagery to deliver a philosophical message.
Most people fear death. Yet, they are, at the same time, fascinated by the subject. The following are four of the most captivating — albeit frightening — works of art that depict death on the water.
There is faith of the religious sort. There is also faith in the general sense — that is, immense trust or confidence in something or someone. It could be anything: a system, a particular individual, humankind, or life itself. Either way, faith is essential. A person without it is like a rudderless, anchorless ship drifting at sea.
Very old photographs are like time machines, transporting you to an era that has long vanished. Looking at them makes you imagine what it was like to live back then. But some vintage pictures, like the following photographs of islands, can do more than take you on a journey to lost time. They can unmoor certain thoughts. Suddenly, sometimes almost instinctively, you find yourself contemplating upon life and the human condition.
A harbour is often thought of as a place bustling with maritime commerce. The Britannica definition of the term reminds us of its primary function: “any part of a body of water and the manmade structures surrounding it that sufficiently shelters a vessel from wind, waves, and currents, enabling safe anchorage or the discharge and loading of cargo and passengers.”
“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.
What gives rise to the exploitation of seafarers? Is it greed or lack of empathy? Is it 21st-century materialism? Is it the predatory infrastructure that has been built around the seafaring profession through so many maritime regulations? Surprisingly, the answer was provided by the Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.
Time, it is often said, changes everything.. This is not exactly true. As the following pairs of maritime photographs show, some things change dramatically after the lapse of many years and others, little or not at all. The American-British poet T.S. Eliot was right. “Time the destroyer is time the preserver.” he wrote in The Dry Salvages, the third poem of his famous Four Quartets.
My dream project has always been to write a new code of conduct for seafarers — a credo that would lay down for them a path to self-realisation and a way of life, something similar to the Bushido of the samurai warriors. I am slowly working on it. This undertaking will take some time to finish. Meanwhile, let me share some words of wisdom from Confucius. Although the latter lived more than 2,000 years ago, his teachings should resonate with today’s ship officers and other merchant marine professionals.