We were rafted up at anchor the other day and I got to catch up with some friends.
My old captain on the tanker NEW RIVER used to say that "AB's (Able Bodied Seamen, mariners who are rated as more skilled than baseline mariners) are like seagulls. They eat, squawk and shit."
I mean, yeah.
The squawking part is doubly true for tankermen. We talk. A lot. Even a quiet guy like me, who treasures blessed silence most of all, won't shut up once there's a few of us catching up. And the other day this happened out at anchor, and after greetings and pleasantries, the gossip started along with the complaining. Now, because this particular group was made up only of core guys who have been here for 10+ years and none of us under 45 (I think I was the youngest at 48), we're of an age where the natural course of doing this job comes with aches and pains for us, and so who was sore where was a pretty hot topic, but moreso we all took the opportunity to bemoan the state of the talent pool for help aboard.
I'm going to bet that this has been a discussion ongoing on boats and ships since Jesus was a greenhorn on his friend's boat (good guy to have on board when the weather turns foul) and maybe even before. You know Noah had a shitty crew. He ended up running aground, on the top of a frigging mountain. There's running aground, and Running Aground, you know?
Still, I'm going to bet that in the golden days of sail, there were crusty sailors and officers too who bitched that there weren't the same quality of sailors coming aboard these days as there were 25 years ago. I mean, complaining on a boat is an evergreen subject, where every day a bottomless mine of raw material is discovered. I'm sure that in the distant past, and maybe even not so distant, somebody talked about me and said 'Jesus, look at what we have to deal with. How can we make a sailor out of this sow's ear?'
Anyhow, we were in a group, like I said, talking, which means complaining, really, of course, and up comes a particular tankerman's name. Almost as one, we all said the same thing:
What followed was 20 minutes of stories of ridiculousness, things we experienced while working with this particular individual. In discussion, I realized that a pattern was revealed. The man in question, a real soup sandwich, if you know what I mean, had been placed at some point with all of us, and rejected, not because he's bad at his job (he is minimally competent, we agreed, able to work under modest supervision), or a bad person (he's not), he's just too weird for us, too Borderline Personality Disorder, where the disorders he's walking the line on are paranoia, autism and schizophrenia).
Do you know the type? Someone who's not insane or inane, but 'not quite exactly' as the old timers used to say. Depending on the severity of being not quite exactly, it can be lived with, or not.
So we realized that the man in question had been forced on all of us at some point, in the hopes that we'd settle him down and find a home for him, but this never happened.
I know several minimally competent tankermen. These are guys who have to be monitored carefully to ensure they're doing their job, but who can be trusted to do basic tasks. Often these are men who are universally liked, truly nice and kind, champion human beings, who are just not able to rise beyond where they are. These men rarely move around the fleet. They find a home and are best kept there for their own sake, but are pleasant company and know their limits, and not the sort to get into too much trouble. In the case of this man in particular, he was very much like having a flu on board. Unwelcome, likely to be passed on to someone else as soon as possible.
One of the most universal statements to be found on any boat is "It ain't like we're normal; if we was right in the head we could work on land." Weirdness is tolerated, even enjoyed if the weird person is skilled at their job. "That guy's insane. I like him." You hear that sometimes, too. But there has to be something to hang your hat on.
The conversation widened out into other people who we had issues with, and was a laundry list, as it often is. My partner B and I have been working together for 12 years or so now I think. We know each other, and as we're close, we can argue and be honest with each other, and so we own our own shortcomings, which makes it unnecessary to have to bitch about each other to 3rd parties. We keep it in-house. We're blow off steam and talk to our other partner, Big E, of course, and often it becomes humorous. I know I'm a messy eater, for example. I'll get crumbs on the ceiling after I eat lunch, I swear. I try to not let it impact my shipmates.
Listening to my friends talk about their personnel issues on board, it makes me very much appreciate what I have. What we have on the HQ, our shortcomings and complaints, are a deep well mostly of humor that refills on every tide. Even when we have a problem child on board, like our former partner who liked to microwave fish at 2am and make the entire house smell like a brothel in a leper colony.
And on that delicious note, I'll sign off.