A girl in every port. The expression sums up the popular image of the sailor: an inveterate womaniser and skirt-chaser. The reputation, I think, is not wholly undeserved. With their pockets filled with dollars, seafarers get to meet women in all shapes and sizes around the world. The temptation to have a fling can be too great to resist.

Some maritime Casanovas never change. They go on with their merry ways long after they have grown older and quit sailing. On the other hand, there are seamen who may have sown their wild oats but eventually settled down and remained faithful to their wives. I have known both types. Many seafarers, I am sure, can identify with the men depicted in the following artworks:

Black eyed Susan, 1848
Hand-coloured lithograph by Currier and Ives
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

Inscribed on this print is a poem entitled ‘Black Eyed Susan’:

Oh Susan! Susan! Lovely dear.
My vows shall ever true remain.
Let me kiss off that falling tear.
We only part to meet again.
Change as ye list ye winds! My heart shall be
The faithful Compass, that still points to thee.

Sailors in Port, circa 1903
Oil on canvas by Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863–1944)
Image courtesy of Munch-museet via The Athenaeum

Matrosbalen (Sailor), 1912
Oil painting by Eugène Fredrik Jansson (Swedish, 1862–1915)
Image courtesy of Sjöhistoriska museet (The Maritime History Museum), Stockholm

Sailors’ Furlough, 1927-1928
Oil on canvas by Isabel Lydia Whitney (American, 1884-1962)
Image courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The Sailor’s Return, 1799
Hand-coloured etching by Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1757–1827)
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Sailor’s Family, 1787
Etching by Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1757–1827)
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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