Mariner Training

Hello, it’s 2022 and I don’t have a good photo for this article but I have a DALL·E invitation. Please enjoy one output for the prompt “A man very proud to be rowing around in a large lifeboat by Winslow Homer.”

First off, sorry about that week I skipped there. It wasn’t intentional, it is just that the family and I went off to grandma’s house and it is very easy to sit there reading Hemingway and imagining myself as a writer and that kept me from actually writing. I did get a lot of reading done, however. In the week long vacation to grandma’s house I managed to get through The Sun Also Rises, The Book of Luelen, a book on K-Boats (creatively titled K Boats), The Warriors, and a book called Land Below the Wind which was a memoirs of Agnes Smith. Agnes Smith married a member of the British civil service and moved to Borneo in 1934. I am a sucker for most any book published between 1930-1960, especially ones about Oceania, and more especially written by adventurers, and most especially of all those written by women adventurers, so when I spotted this book in the Annapolis Bookstore there was no way I couldn’t not buy it, which I tried to do. I highly recommend it.

My major project as of late has been trying to get a license as a 3rd Mate and a 3rd Engineer. Of the many career options I have available one of the more attractive is working on merchant ships. This option is attractive because it pays fairly well, lets me grow a beard and stare steely-eyed into the sea, and allows me to apply many of the skills I acquired over my illustrious naval career. I do get a whole lot of credit for the things I have done in the Navy but to qualify to sit for either of the exams for 3rd Mate or 3rd Eng I have a few more classes I need to take. In an effort to get these completed as quickly as possible, I’ve concocted a fairly quick schedule that takes me to nearly every maritime training institution in the mid-Atlantic region. A started a few weeks ago at the Chesapeake Maritime Training Institute, and then the next week at the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy.

These classes have been an, um, experience. Prior to these classes I have had exactly zero experience with the wide world of civilian maritime. With that being said, the biggest thing I’m getting out of these classes isn’t so much the subject material itself but a feel for the background of it and what is the “norm” on civilian ships. In a lot of ways it is very similar to what I saw as a submarine officer (having looked into civilian requirements and experienced military requirements, it is very obvious the military requirements for being in charge of a sea-going vessel are written with the civilian requirements very much in mind), but I need to learn how the civilians do it. For example, I am learning what the hell it is that people like Chief Mates and Chief Stewards do. I also learned that there exists a thing called a “Navy Nozzle” that I had never heard of, despite being in the Navy. There are lies being spread somewhere and I don’t know if the fault is with the civilians or with the Navy.

The most entertaining day so far, however, was our on-the-water day in my lifeboatman course. This course was all about lifeboats: when to get into one, how to get into one, and what to do once your find yourself in one. As part of this course, we rowed around an open lifeboat. This is the kind that the Titanic had,so you’re familiar with it. Leading the class and teaching us how to row a lifeboat was our instructor, who in sunglasses had an uncanny resemblance to a low-rent Sylvester Stallone. The rowers were a rag-tag bunch of people from all levels of our exotic maritime industry. A big part of the day was learning all the various rowing commands. These strike me as a bit of a lost art, seeing that we invented motors, but it is comforting to know that if I were to wind up in 18th-century England I could land a job as a coxswain. It was less comforting to learn that rowing an open lifeboat was terrible, and I just kept trying to imagine how much it would suck to be stuck in one in anything resembling weather, especially with 30 other people who I liked a lot more before I was stuck in a lifeboat with them. I think I got a brief glimpse into how it is that people contemplate cannibalism. With a lot of “TOSS OARS” and “OUT OARS” and “GIVE WAY TOGETHER” and other such things we managed to make our little lifeboat go around the harbor. We also made several more or less graceful pier landings and only crashed once or twice. The power of teamwork! The major compliment I received that day was “you’re a deck guy, right?” and the major lesson I learned was “don’t let your ship sink.” These were important things to take to heart.