My Friend The Sea
My Friend the Sea is a story about growing up at sea, set against the background of ships and the beauty of the oceans. It's a tale of ambition, adversity and dealing with prejudice. Packed full of adventures and stories of traveling the world on ships, visiting far off lands, and meeting all manner of people, including eccentric distant relatives in Australia, a drunken captain, another who was a tyrant, and natives in Fiji, plus shipboard romances, a mutiny, and a growing need for the author to change the way he lives.
I am a doctor, but when I was young I spent 10 years growing up and travelling the world as a seaman in the British Merchant Navy. When I was a boy I wanted only one career – to be an officer in the Royal Navy, and to go to sea and live life like a man and travel to faraway exotic lands. But on the advice of a family friend, I opted instead for the Merchant Navy. It was a choice I never regretted, as it gave me a much broader experience than the Royal Navy.
I started with two years on the training ship HMS Worcester, a specially constructed school ship reminiscent of Nelson’s navy, moored at the mouth of the River Thames, with the famous 19th century sailing clipper Cutty Sark alongside it. The ethos of the Worcester was ‘to produce fine sailors’ by teaching that ‘Before a boy can command he must learn to obey’. This was achieved through discipline, with three blows of a stick across the backside if you were caught disobeying the rules of the ship. It was a Spartan existence. There was practically no furniture on the Worcester, and the food was diabolical. But I did not mind, as I was full of idealism and had but one purpose, to go down to the sea in ships.
After two years on the Worcester I was apprenticed to the sea and to Shaw Savill and Albion, a premier British shipping company, trading primarily with Australia and New Zealand by routes such as the Suez Canal, South Africa, and the Panama Canal. My indentures bound me to faithfully obey the lawful commands of all officers of any vessel on board of which he may be serving. When the ship was near land I kept watch on the bridge and assisted the officer-of-the-watch with the navigation of the ship. On long ocean voyages, I went on day-work and worked on deck like a member of the crew, chipping paint, painting the ship, splicing ropes and sewing canvas covers.
I did not like being an apprentice. Although there was another cadet on the ship, I was often lonely and felt isolated and oppressed by the anti-Semitism to which I was subjected on account of being partly Jewish at a time when anti-Semitism was not far beneath everyday life on the ship and also in British society. But there were compensations, such as my continuing ambition to be the captain of a large ship, and the aesthetics of a sailor’s life manifested by the beauty of the sea in all its moods, and the lands and peoples I was seeing and visiting. In Sydney I visited an eccentric old uncle I came to love, and a femme fatale who had fallen on hard times. In Melbourne I fell in love with a beautiful Australian girl. In Auckland in New Zealand, I visited friends who had emigrated to Titerangi, meaning Fringe of Heaven in Maori.
After three years as an apprentice, I decided that I no longer aspired to the lonely life of a captain on long ocean voyages and that I needed to change my career. Eventually I lighted upon the idea of becoming a doctor. But first I wanted to get my master’s certificate (captain’s licence) and to save enough money to sustain me at medical school. So I continued my career at sea as an officer, and had a great time, visiting Japan, and Fiji, where on a wonderful day, I wandered off on the motorbike I carried with me, and celebrated the New Year with a hundred primitive natives. On other ships I visited the remote island of Pitcairn, famous for the Mutiny on the Bounty, and served with a captain who was a tyrant who made Captain Queeg of the famous story The Caine Mutiny seem like a gentlemen. Another captain I served with was an alcoholic from whose pores gin seemed to ooze at times. On yet another ship I experienced shipboard romances, and later on the same ship, was involved in quelling a mutiny that had kept the ship in port for several days. Finally, I obtained my master’s certificate, and aged twenty-five, left the sea on the crest of wave to start a new career. I had been lucky. I had been at sea when seafaring had been at its best. I had been housed and fed like a fighting cock and, despite certain difficulties, had had a great time.
My Friend The Sea and it is available on Amazon as a paperback and on Kindle.