Friday, March 26, 2021

What I Learned in the Merchant Marines.

If you are the good and wise citizen of the world I suspect you to be, then no doubt you have been watching the situation in the Suez Canal and thinking to yourself: So basically our entire world-wide capitalist system is moving closer to collapse because one ship got stuck??? Good system. Smart economy.

To be fair to the people driving the ship, there was apparently a huge dust storm and I imagine it is hard to steer a boat that big through a fairly narrow canal when you can’t see anything. I don’t know what kind of collision alarms a ship like that has, but I’m guessing not many because those things are so god awful big that by the time the alarm goes off, simple physics would dictate that there’s nothing you could do to avert the collision.

None of that is what’s interesting to me about this though.

Last night I saw a picture of all the shipping traffic that is now diverting down around the Cape of Good Hope in order to avoid the Suez entirely. There are whole fleets of ships that diverted south, now racing down along the coasts of Africa like they’re 16th Century spice traders. 

The picture made me a little sad because there are just SO MANY ships and I immediately thought to myself (because somehow everything is about me), “Man, I would really like to sail around the Cape of Good Hope!” 

I used to tell people that after high school I joined the Merchant Marines for a few years, but not knowing much about the Merchant Marines, when they asked follow up questions I’d just say something like, “You know, some bad things happened and I don’t really like to talk about it.”

But if I HAD joined the Merchant Marines, I wonder if I would have gotten to sail around the Horn of Africa. I wonder how much of the world I would have gotten to see. I’ve resigned myself to the fact there are places I’ll never get to see, maybe that is one of them. 

I try not to dwell that much on the paths I didn’t take in life. Truth be told I’m happy with most of what I have done and the other stuff I have at least come to terms with, but it was a kind of funny feeling to look at all those ships, denoted as little arrows. I thought about how in reality each of those arrows was a gigantic steel ship with people working on it and sleeping on it, making meals, and drinking coffee and maybe absently gazing out the window through the rain to that dark little smear of land at the horizon, Cape Town looking back at them. I wonder if they think to themselves, “How amazing has my life been? Good thing I joined the Merchant Marines after high school, because otherwise I never would have gotten this job and so wouldn’t be getting to make this amazing journey.” 

Or maybe they’re sitting there sipping their coffee and thinking, “How for the love of god, did they get a ship THAT stuck in the Suez Canal??”




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