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

Eleventh day of the voyage; fourth day of the Pacific crossing.

At first the invitation went to Christina (who had already been to an earlier party) and then eventually to me: the third engineer would have his birthday tonight, so we should come along. By the time we arrived, the massive whisky bottle had already been broached, the karaoke machine cranked up. We entered when the festivities were slowly under way. A middle-aged man, the loquacious second mate, sang a slow love song in a high-pitched, soprano voice.

‘We have a rule in the Philippines’, growled the man to my left. ‘If you don’t sing, you dance’.

‘I can dance’, I said.

‘No you won’t’, said Christina.

Glasses on, I studied the massive list of songs: titles from the 1930s to the 1990s, hymns, folk songs, national anthems, and a good chunk of songs I had simply never heard of before.

The drink flowed; cigarettes were passed around; delicious Filipino food concoctions massed on the tables; I sang.

‘Down Under’ by Men and Work was a moderate success. I bellowed, missed the words, was off key. ‘Not bad’ said the machine.

‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ was much better, after I learned not to bellow and how to read the damn machine. But after that I faded a little, with few songs to choose apart from Boney M’s ‘Rivers of Babylon’, which came through rich and fruity.

Christina stunned them, however, soon settling into a groove that scored her 90+. The catch was that her voice was lower than some of the men, who kept choosing those slow love songs, crooning and squinting with up-turned faces, the massive microphone jammed in their mouths.

Some sang very well, all sang sensuously, which prompted thoughts about friendship and bonds and sex on long voyages by sea (more later). But more importantly, I realised that I had experienced something limited to a very few: feeling like a complete tool, singing karaoke (my first time) with a Filipino crew in the middle of the Pacific.

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