Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back from Shore Leave

Reader Seasick Stephanie writes:

"There hasn't been an update to The Misunderstood Mariner since August 
1. What's the deal? Some of us have no lives and boring jobs and look 
forward to interesting reading. Have a little sympathy, jeez!"

Never let it be said that The Misunderstood Mariner is without 
compassion. And I apologize to Seasick Stephanie, Raingear Renee and 
all the other readers who noted my abrupt hiatus.

I have been working on a couple of other projects, traveling for fun, 
and even going to sea a bit. But I haven't been a total malingerer. I 
have several posts nearly in the can, requiring only some fact 
checking and proof reading. I have enough further ideas to last the 
rest of the year. And that's assuming I don't run across something I 
just have to address in the news, on the Internet, or in everyday 

If you have any specific questions you'd like answered, leave me a 
Comment below or email me at captrobearle@yahoo.com. I'll address them 
in a near-future post. Otherwise, look for my next regular post on 
September 5th.

Filed from M/Y Safari Explorer in Takatz Bay, Baranof Island, Alaska.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mariners in Review: Steaming to Bamboola: The World Of A Tramp Freighter

Christopher Buckley, son of National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr., is best known in his own right as the author of humorous political novels like Thank You For Smoking. In 1982's Steaming To Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Steamer, Buckley recounts a 1979 trip aboard the tramp steamer Columbianna, where he served as a merchant seaman.

Buckley paints the crew of the Columbianna with spot-on yet hilarious strokes. The captain and chief engineer who hate each other, the deckhands with their minor rebellions, the room steward who gets a little too nosy are all familiar types to merchant mariners. In fact, several reviewers of Steaming to Bamboola claim they knew one or two of these guys. Even if they didn't, they knew someone like them.

A lot of Steaming to Bamboola describes a world now long gone, of tramp steamers and strong maritime unions and ships that could load and unload their own cargoes. Some things never change, though, whether on clipper ships or container vessels: time is money, the weather frequently sucks, your shipmates can be hugely and disproportionately irritating. The book is mainly 200-plus pages of sea stories, some grim, some hilarious, including, I was surprised to find, the origin of an urban legend still passed from deckhand to deckhand:

Jones...could walk a cup of coffee (intended for one of the bridge officers) from the galley up the ladder to the conning tower without spilling a drop. The officers all marveled at this, and said, "Jones, how do you do it?" And Jones would say, "Shucks, I guess I was just born with sea legs, or something," and went on carrying cup of coffee without spilling a drop, and even went on to become a minor hero for it, until one day someone discovered Jones's secret. He would take a big gulp of coffee at the foot of the ladder, hold it while he scrambled up, and just before reaching he top, spit the coffee back into the mug. Jay-sus, said Higgin, was the captain in a mood when he found out about that."

There are similar helpful hints elsewhere in Steaming To Bamboola.

The book is out of print at the moment, but maybe with the success of the film version of Thank You for Smoking and a film version of Boomsday in the works, there may be demand to bring some of Buckley's older works back into print.

Similar first-hand accounts of modern merchant sailors include The Last American Sailors: A Wild Ride in the Modern Merchant Marine by Michael R. Rawlins and writer (but not professional mariner) Richard Pollak's book The Colombo Bay.

Buckley's father was an avid recreational sailor. When he died last year, Christopher wrote a touching and funny essay for the National Review called "My Old Man And The Sea." Find it at http://nrd.nationalreview.com/article/?q=ZGMxYjAzMTFlNDBjZTU2ZjMxY2JiYWI4NzkzMDA2MDE=. The elder Buckley himself wrote three books on sailing, the best being Atlantic High. The others are Airborne and Racing Through Paradise.