Many of my friends and acquaintances wonder aloud at how I and my fellow mariners deal with the holidays while at sea. It’s inconceivable to them that being away from home during the holidays is something we can accept. To those of us who are at sea during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, the day is like any other except we can expect (or at least hope for) a large meal with the trimmings and a nice overtime addition to the paycheck.
Since I started in the early seventies, I’ve missed way more than half of the “big three”, much to the chagrin of my family and friends. For the past 54+ years it’s how it’s always been for me and my family. My Dad was home or away, we seldom knew for certain whether he’d be home or not since work was the priority. For my own little family, it’s been more of the same.
In 1980 I was a new mate with Exxon Shipping Company’s East Coast Branch and I was assigned to the Tug Exxon Pelham and Tow #1. It was supposed to work out that I’d be home for that Christmas and be able to celebrate with my wife and 3 year old daughter, but a schedule change forced the cycle in the wrong direction. I found myself on the tug waiting for orders in the Constable Hook Terminal in Bayonne NJ on Christmas Eve, far from home and more than a little blue. Of course, it was snowing.
My wife was showing a brave face over the telephone, and luckily my daughter hadn’t a clue. I walked back from the pay-phone and at the 1800 watch change the Captain walked in and asked how far away home was for me. I was only about 80 miles away but it might as well have been 800. I had only been working with this captain for a couple of hitches, but that day he proved to be a kind and decent man. He promptly told me I should go home and spend the holiday with my family since we weren’t going anywhere for at least 2 days. I was reluctant for about 10 minutes being the “new guy”, but he convinced me it would be okay, I agreed to take him up on his offer. When I asked what I could do in return, he insisted that I should return the favor by doing the same for my mate somewhere down the road. Captain Paul Lewis made an impression on me that endures today. I have since returned his favor a couple of times with the same request that it was made of me all those years ago.
Being away is tough but it makes the coming home that much sweeter. My wife always makes the holiday for us when I return and we celebrate regardless of the date. It works out well for us, our friends after all these years understand and appreciate the situation. It actually makes things a bit better when one doesn’t have to race from one set of relatives to another on the same day. Too hectic.
The holidays are always considered and we make commitments based on our schedule. We swing the hitch every year to spread the holidays out so everyone has a chance at least once every other year to have the “big three” at home. In the past the hitch swing wasn’t all that common, but it has become part of the annual scheduling process for us on the east coast. Most of us anyway.
So as you raise a glass this holiday season remember someone is always at sea, 24/7/365.
Have a safe, healthy, and happy Holiday Season.