Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Holiday at Sea
Celebrating Christmas on a ship, thousands of miles from home, family and friends is at it's best, a melancholy affair. Some years are better than others and the ship and crew play a big part in how poorly, or well the holiday season passes at sea. Some vessels/crews will choose to ignore the holidays completely, creating a serious and moody atmosphere, not at all the place you want to contemplate being away from your family on Christmas eve. Most, with what ever resources are available onboard, try to create a festive atmosphere and do their best to keep the crew happy.
In the 12 years I've been at sea, I've spent more than 5 holiday seasons on the high seas. Two have been spent on my current ship, including this trip. Two years ago, I sailed from Loyang, Singapore up into the Strait of Malacca-the world's deadliest waters for pirates. I spent Christmas eve on a windswept, darkened deck, standing Pirate Watch, alone. (Ironic, I know) Christmas morning, we exchanged gifts, had a decent meal and Santa even visited for a brief time. It was the best you could hope for-not too depressing.
This year again aboard the same vessel, but with much of the old crew now gone, it was quite a different story. The vessel was decorated much the same and the plan was as it was 2 years ago. At the noon meal, Santa would arrive, we'd exchange gifts and drift back to work, or sleep. However, with this crew things went a bit differently and this has turned out to be the best time I've ever had during a Christmas at sea. The meal laid out by our Kiwi galley staff was second to none. Click on the menu for a closer look...
I tried to sample a bit of everything I'd never eaten and failed, miserably. I decided I finally don't like mince pies, English pudding is still pretty good with custard and these crustacean thingies the Kiwis call "bugs" are better than lobster, though I had two whole lobsters and only one bug. I also put away ham, turkey, raspberry dumplings, a dozen oysters on the half shell, a handful of clams on the half, a pile of prawns a ton of fresh fruit, and approximately 7 desserts and a bon-bon.
After the meal, Santa and his helper, Grumpy arrived and entertained us with the funniest hour I have ever spent at sea. Words cannot describe...
The Party Chief said a few solemn words on Christmas, religion, culture and family, giving us all pause to contemplate our families back home and what they mean to us. Then, Santa and his helper got down to business, passing out gifts, insulting the crew and keeping us in stitches. I received a T-shirt, pen, duffel bag, Asian cookies and Wally, the Australian National Soccer team's stuffed Kangaroo mascot. LP has already been informed of him and is keen to lay her hands on him.
After the gifts were opened, a team treasure hunt was conducted, with the winning team receiving prizes. Bingo was up next and while I consider Bingo to be up there with golf and watching grass grow, I found it to be quite fun as many of the crew shouted BINGO!, only to be sent back from the caller's table, chastised for being unable to track simple, alphanumeric combinations and identify common shapes, as we struggled to fill straight-line, four corner, nine patch and cloverleaf patterns.
With the end of bingo, which btw, was called out over the ships radio network, allowing crew at their stations to play, came the end of the festivities. Crew drifted back to work, or off to their cabins to sleep off a huge meal. I retired to the sauna for an hour then hit the rack.
Today, the mood is subdued, except for the occasional gathering of crew to view pictures, or video of yesterday's good times. We are once again focused on fighting the weather and seas, repairing gear, monitoring systems, processing data, training and earning our paychecks.