Empty Ocean


Four days on the Arabian Sea without sight of land or another ship and  I felt like the Ancient Mariner: ‘water, water all around and all the boards do shrink.’  Although I’ve read some of the literature of shipwreck and survival, I had no appreciation of the vast emptiness of the open sea; the terrible loneliness of a castaway sailor.

This afternoon, on the far horizon, just abaft of the starboard bow, I sighted the silhouette of another vessel. I felt like singing, calling out, waiving my hands.  Then, an hour later, a pod of porpoises joined us, grinning and playing  in our bow wave for twenty minutes.  Surely, these events auger good things.

And, at five o’clock there was a knock on my cabin door. I was invited to join the crew on the fantail for a barbecue.  We had skewered meats, fried rice, Tabasco Sauce, Coca-Cola, and ice cream.  A boombox played unfamiliar hits and we all took pictures of ourselves and our shipmates.

The Filipino crew sat with me and shared photographs of girlfriends and family.  I admired their tattoos while listening to a ballad entitled  ‘Be My Red Light Woman Tonight.’  Small talk was restricted by our language difference and the volume of the entertainment, but good intentions were enough.  I was welcome.  

As I watched the sunset ignite towering cumulus clouds I was reminded of the barbecue scene in ‘Apocalypse Now.’  Lonely young men sailing an empty sea.

When I was ready, Randy, the mess steward and hardest working man on board, guided me through the labyrinthine bowels of the ship to the elevator.  He asked if I were lonely traveling by myself.  I confessed ‘sometimes.’  He showed me a photograph of his three year old daughter, Rafaella.  He misses her and his wife, but said ‘We have to make sacrifices for our families.’  Randy is a stand-up papa.


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Copyright Jack Kelleher © 2014.