With December quickly approaching I thought that I might help shed a bit of light on life at sea over the festive season and what it’s like to be away from home during the holidays, I’ve also dug out a few pictures of Christmases I’ve had over the years.
Since I started working at sea I’ve had 7 Christmases and new years eves away and one at home and I really made the most of that one, which happened to be last year, it was amazing to be home and to have Christmas with many of the children in my family most of whom have never had me around at Christmas, we ate, we drank and we played board games, it was just like how I always remembered family Christmas except this time I could grow facial hair and could drink more!
Being away is quite a different story; it is almost, just almost a normal day! We get up the same time, we work a full day and generally still don’t socialise. Naturally every ship is different and some trips are better than others, I’ve had some good Christmases onboard but of course I’d rather be at home.
With the explosion of social media and the installation of internet on ships these days it would be easy to assume that it makes being away much easier but personally I’d say it has been quite the opposite, it is quite difficult checking your social media profile and seeing everyone with their families, children with arms full of presents, a great big turkey on the table and there’s you… at work, far away from home and not able to join in. Of course when working at sea we miss things all the time; birthdays, anniversaries, births etc. but Christmas is the time everyone gets together and you see all of your favourite people at once and get to see the most smiles, it’s difficult and quite often distracting when working, definitely a day to leave the mobile phone in your cabin. Obviously their are others who have to work over Christmas such as emergency services personnel but as sailors it’s not just about missing the actual day but also missing the entire festive period, watching the children get more and more excited everyday, the Christmas lights on the local houses and of course the influx of goodies to buy in the shops.
There are of course small things that we do to make the festive season a little brighter onboard. Personally I have my own traditions no matter what ship I’m on, I make sure I have an advent calendar and Santa hat with me and I always make time to take the sextant out and blow the dust off of it. Most ships will get the cadet or third mate to put up the Christmas tree in the mess room with a handful of decorations and the cook will generally make a bit more of an effort with dinner. But as I’ve said… it’s basically just another day.
There is one thing that really makes a difference to a sailors day on Christmas day…receiving post! I absolutely love getting it! of course if we are on a costal or ocean passage it is not possible to get post, so some pre-planning is required. To this day I still have presents and cards waiting for me in the agents office in Singapore due to some bad planning and some bag luck! When I was working in the Antarctica I jokingly put our agents address and a present plea as my Facebook status… I was amazed at how much I received, even from people who I hadn’t seen in years. My 3 closest friends clubbed together to send me 2 bottles of my favourite beer, Tusker. The postage was over £100 and the value of the package was less than £15 I was amazed and obviously very very grateful.
I’m very fortunate that I have family and friends who will put the time and effort in to send me gifts and cards etc. but more often than not I find that the crew that I’m sailing with are lucky to receive a phone call let alone a present and I’m going to finish this column by thanking the seaman’s missions all over the world who are making huge efforts every year to try and provide each and every ship that comes to call with small gifts such as wooly hats and t-shirts and providing chaplaincy to those who would like it. Their work is really appreciated and if those of you are reading are feeling particularly festive please look up your local seaman’s mission and make a small donation or better yet ask them how you can help during the holidays.