Ship’s Log: Day Four (Melbourne to Tilbury)

Second day of the Tasman crossing.

Despite the insistent westerly wind and driving rain, it remains a relatively smooth Tasman crossing. The day came to a close with one of those astonishing moments at sea: the clouds opened for a few minutes and a full moon threw a couple of patches of glistening light directly before the bow of the ship.

Earlier in the day I had finally managed a chat with the captain. From Kotor in Montenegro, a walled city that once had its own fleet like Dubrovnik a little to the north, he comes from a long line of seafarers. So strong is the tradition that sailors from elsewhere in Eastern Europe (he mentioned Russia) come to Montenegro to study and train. But with a wife and two small children he finds it difficult to be away for up to five months at a time. I mentioned that he would have been born in the former (or ‘ex-’ as he called it) Yugoslavia and asked about languages. Now Montenegro claims, he told me, to have a separate language, at least since independence after 2008. But they all know it is the same language – Serbian, Croatian, Montenegrin – with regional variations within and across countries. I also asked what he thought about the breakup of Yugoslavia: everyone wants his own little kingdom, he said. And the possibility of centripetal forces bringing Yugoslavia together once again? We are beginning to realise that small independent states are quite weak against the multinational companies and powerful states around us, so there are some moves to cooperate and present a united front.

During the late afternoon watch I and the third mate were alone on the bridge, so after discussing the charts and times through Cook Strait and arrival in Napier, I turned the questions around to him. By third hand I had gained the impression he was a bit of a pain, a stickler for safety regulations, reluctant to allow passengers out on the deck, not much of a conversationist. But now he opened up more. This was his first voyage as an officer – he had been on two before as a cadet. He was obviously as proud as can be, prosecuting his tasks with the youthful zeal of newfound responsibility and keenness to impress. Did he love the sea? Absolutely, except for when the ship rolls heavily. That was not so pleasurable. Does he have a wife and children back home? No, he is too young for that yet, which is perhaps why he can enjoy the life of a seafarer (minus the rolling).

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