This ship should be sailing

Many moons ago my family was amongst hundreds of foreigners who arrived on Durban’s shores on the Europa from Trieste. I’m told that during the three-week crossing I kept my mom in shape as I moved across the deck at lightning speed on all fours, inquisitive to discover what was behind the tarpaulin on the railing (most often than not a few-storey drop to the ocean).  I even narrowly escaped a dip in a Venetian canal when, on a rare occasion that this sweet little baby girl was confined to her pram, I was almost tipped overboard by my mom, who still to this day has terrible nightmares about that near miss. 

On this trip, my 21-month-older sister, as many toddlers at this age do, had a penchant for wielding scissors. Her attempt to improve her beautiful head of curly hair resulted in a salvage visit to the ship’s hairdresser. And after her entry-level course on coiffuring, she decided to administer a bit of the same to unsuspecting me. My mom walked in to discover me prepped and draped in my high chair, with my sister hovering above me, comb in one and tailor scissor in the other hand, about to create a masterpiece… or to snip off my little ear…

I’m sure that, as on most ships, the seafaring complement on board the Europa had our best interests at heart – to feed us, provide medical support if required, entertain us, guide us, advise us, create a safe environment onboard, as well as grant us safe passage across the ocean… I’m guessing too that our fares paid their wages. However, there is no doubt that their responsibility did not extend to saving paying passengers from life’s little mishaps, or preventing their potential personal disasters.

Our captain on board would have been responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the vessel, and keeping his crew accountable. He probably had a chief mate, as well as a second mate. One of the chief mate’s key responsibilities would have been the stability of the ship. The second mate’s primary duty would have been navigational.  Had a third mate been on board, the primary role for this position would have been one of safety. And a third mate would also have meant that our captain would not have needed to stand watch. 

I’m assuming that everyone understood and embraced their role on our ship, or covered their inadequacies well enough not to negatively influence the journey, direction or fate of our liner. This is not a given, as apparently the worlds’ oceans are littered with about three-million, I kid you not, sunken or wrecked ships. The most famous of these must be the sinking of the unsinkable RMS Titanic, made even more epic through the 1997 movie. In fact, maritime disasters have been the topic of many movies – in the 2002 Ghost Ship a salvage crew comes across a cruise liner that has been lost at sea for more than forty years, and of course, as it’s a horror movie, what follows is not pretty. 

Despite the plus three-million littering our oceans, statistically it is purported that traveling on water is a relatively safe mode of transport. It takes a lot to sink a ship. An iceberg. An apathetic captain. A tardy third mate sleeping on watch. A band of pirates. A second mate veering off course to buy a cheap private island on the Panama coastline. A visit to Agra in Uttar Pradesh to take in the iconic Taj Mahal monument one too many times. An ‘unexpected’ discovery of a few stowaways, a nasty cargo surprise or an encounter with unusual forces of nature. Poor maintenance, running out of steam, being marooned with no fresh water… Mutiny. 

This chaotic ship we’re currently on should be sailing. A good start would be a trustworthy captain, a reliable crew, a well-defined route and a constitutional course. The passengers can take care of life’s little challenges – we can learn to swim and hair will grow back… although ears not so much.



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