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

Seventeenth day of the voyage; tenth day of the Pacific crossing.

At 400, in the early hours of the morning, we crossed the equator: the water in the toilet and plug holes began rotating in the other direction; the southern cross disappeared and the pole star appeared – the great navigational device of timid Euro sailors who feared to pass out of their own comfort zone.

Up on the bridge in the dark of the first hours in the northern hemisphere, the quiet captain was obviously ready to chat on all manner of topics: work at sea, home and money (the temptation to spend freely at home and not trace the amounts); the Balkans, the war, religion; Kotor, history, cliff roads and the stunning coast. Kotor is like Dubrovnik, he told me, a walled port that dates back to Roman and even pre-Roman times, with a long and proud maritime history. Once, Greek and Roman triremes docked, as did the ships of the crusaders, Arabs and medieval traders, each leaving their mark. And it is only 45 minutes along a winding cliff-top road from Dubrovnik.

But his comment about the Balkan war struck me. He too felt that Yugoslavia had worked well as a socialist country. And he had witnessed its destruction, the NATO attacks, had served for a year in the army, although a senior officer had given him a non-combat role since he was so young and at the maritime college. I asked, ‘what was the war like?’

After a pause, he said: ‘We didn’t know what was going on’.

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