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.