We all have stories of the climb through the ranks remembering the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. The long cold watches we stood pulling hawser, stacking the tow for the downriver transit, or just hanging on for dear life while rough weather tried to claim our stomachs and all that was in them. Perhaps the most difficult adjustment to be made within ourselves and our loved ones was making peace with the time spent away from home for extended periods of little or no contact. At first a very difficult mindset to abide. It was a given that you’d have to deal with it, but few of us ever really had any instruction as to how to handle it. It was and probably still is, learn as you go.
I’ve given many a new crew-member the regular talk about cell phones, Ipods, and laptop computers. But of all the realities to be faced, the big one that must be acknowledged is; you’ve got to let go of what’s happening at home.
If you’re waiting to hear if your heavily pregnant wife is on her way to the hospital to deliver, get off the boat. You’re not here. Or perhaps the house needs a plumber, or the car has broken down once again. Or maybe, your significant other is driving you to distraction with heartache or that pining “I miss you so much” thing. Or maybe she’s been seen in the company of a rival, go home if you can’t shut it off (Please don’t leave an apprentice mate alone to cover for you).
The fact remains that a life aboard demands your attention, and for short periods of time all of your attention. If you’re burdened with heartache, health concerns for loved ones, or maybe just homesick, you need to either learn how to shut it off or go home. It’s not because we consider it unmanly, it’s because if you’re distracted by anything other than what you’re doing, it will surely get you or your shipmates killed.
Oh yes Virginia, there was a time I can recall before cell phones were everywhere:
It wasn’t so long ago on the boats that when you needed to call home, you waited in line while 4 or 5 other guys called their spouse, girlfriend, lawyer, or whatever. There was a certain code you were expected to follow if you were part of that gang. Don’t talk too long, and please talk low enough so we don’t have to hear it. It could have been last night or last week that you got to a pay phone in port, but that is how it was. If it was an emergency you had to use the Marine Operator and broadcast your situation to everyone else waiting to make a call, a very public call.
The days at sea with no phone or communication with home are no more, really getting away from it all doesn’t happen unless you turn the phone off. And turn it off you must, while you’re on watch.
I have the good fortune to be married to a woman who is self sufficient and capable. In all my years at sea I have only had 3 emergencies I’ve had to get off the boat to address. She has handled preparing for hurricanes, sick children, broken furnaces and dying relatives. I am blissfully ignorant of many issues that would otherwise be my concern were I at home. I’m lucky, my wife and I think alike in many ways and she’s well aware of how bad it could be if I’m not paying attention at work.
She and I speak twice a day if I’m in range and we tend to keep it short and sweet. It’s unnecessary for me to direct the business of the house since that is her milieu not mine. I’m asked for my opinion and perhaps preference, but the last word concerning the house, her house, is hers. Something one would be wise to face right up front.
I have a small support network of friends on call that will assist with any issue that may need muscle, transportation, or repair. Otherwise, she’s got it under control. If I had to worry about the boat and home at the same time, neither would be in very good order. It’s imperative that your head is here, not worrying about (insert problem here).
This brings me back to my advice; You’ve got to leave what’s at home, at home. If your head is 500 miles away, you’re going to step into a swinging boom, an open hatch, or maybe over the side. It’s necessary to be here.
Try and educate you’re significant other as to what your day is like at any given time and set aside an off-watch time to catch up. It helps if your S.O. is a grown-up, not in years so much but in mind. If they recognize what you face everyday, they will avoid the temptation of putting a burden on you that you can only worry about.
It easy to say, but not the least bit easy to do. None the less, your life may depend on it.