First off, you have to understand that life on a coastal tanker can be boring.
Life on our coastal tanker was less boring than most. The permanent crew (Captains, mates, Chiefs, 1st assistant engineers, pumpmen, bosuns and 3 of the AB's) (half of whom would be home at any one time, and the other aboard, of course) spent half or more of the year together, and our bunch was a tight knit group even so. We had plenty of characters; Eldon the pumpman was a Honduran who would eat anything; honestly, the man was half seagull, and never, ever said a cross word in all seriousness in the years I knew him. Juan the cook was an Argentinian with a similar attitude, who could boil a boot and make it look good. Ernie the other cook was trying to poison us most of the time, I suspect, as chronic diarrhea was the norm while he was aboard.
One of the chief mates is to this day one of my best friends. How the hell that happened I don't know, seeing as we first started hanging out in our off time while I was still an Ordinary Seaman. He lives in a remote place up in Maine, where I happen to have lived a worked for a time, so we knew some of the same folks. Kindred spirits, I guess. Regardless, after a few years of working together, we had adopted our own rhythm in working; stripping out the final cargo in a tank was always a race between us. Port and starboard, we'd work our way down the deck, and the mate would always goof on me if he was ahead, and become curiously silent if I was. There being other folks on watch at the time, I rarely said anything too risque, as truthfully it would be weird for morale to have an unlicensed guy buddy buddy with the mate, so we did a pretty good job of being professional, when we were working, anyhow.
When we weren't working, or when we were just talking, word games were the norm; finding synonyms for anything became high art, and figuring them out only less slightly so. Examples:
Up Spermforter= down comforter
New Hampshire valves= main valves
Exotic dancers= stripping valves
...just to name a few. Example: "Ask the bosun for the ditty scrote. I tore my up spermforter. On your way back, make sure the exotic dancers are all secured."
Now, any new guys would be mystified and possibly made uncomfortable. This was just how we passed the time. There's only so much that 20 men can do for entertainment when there's no drinking allowed.
Please remember in your thoughts and prayers the 400+ seafarers being held hostage and tortured by pirates in Africa, and join me in condemning all shipping companies who fail to report pirate attacks in an attempt to save on insurance costs.
SARAH HOYT: You can’t be safe by making people unsafe….
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