Ship’s Log: Day Thirty Six (Melbourne to Tilbury)

Thirty-sixth day of the voyage; sixth day of the Atlantic crossing.

To stand on a bridge and silently watch an Atlantic dawn over the port bow is an experience impossible to express.

The first European birds join us, to spend a night or two on the ship as we head landward. The last part of a journey always has the curious pleasure of what comes to an end and beings, the knowledge that what you have is passing and the anticipation of what is to come. Much slower on a ship; on a train, for instance, it is the last few hours of a long haul, but on a ship it gradually builds over the last few days. The assistant cook, however, was hopping about the dining room today. Bounding out and beaming, he flourished his airline ticket home to the Philippines, talked of nine months and ten days at sea, his family – he couldn’t keep still.

A simple comment from the second mate has stayed with me. We were talking about pirates and their extent – from Port Said and the Suez to Indonesia and the South China Sea, from Madagascar to the West African coast. And then he said: 83 Filipino sailors are being held on ships right now by the Somali pirates, some for months. When it was a French or American captain and crew (on a Maersk ship), they rescued them immediately.

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

Thirty-fourth day of the voyage: fourth day of the Atlantic crossing.

The strange triggers of memory: passing along the Carolina coast, outside the string of islands that once hid pirates but now conceal ships from the biggest navy in the world (also pirates), I recalled the brief trip with an ex-wife and two daughters to the coast along here in 2004. I was teaching at Duke for a short while. A moment of rebuilding, a different reconciliation. And then, as we slipped by south of Cape Cod and touched the tip of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, I went back two decades to Montreal and journeys to the Cape and then the long summer trek out through Quebec, the Maritimes and fascinating, rocky Newfoundland. Only three children then, the third a new baby in nappies.

A different time but not another life (unlike other moments) for these are memories of profoundly formative times – and entirely unexpected on this voyage.