Nova Scotia to the Gulf
On leaving Nova Scotia we did a round trip each month stopping every time in either New Orleans or Lake Charles, Louisiana. From there we would sail to Coatzacolcoz or Minatitlan on the Veracruz River in Southern Mexico and back up to New York, berthing at Linden New Jersey. We visited other ports such as Philadelphia and Hopewell, Virginia on a less regular basis on each direction of the journey.
One of my first impressions of sailing down the American coast was of hearing Billy Graham on the radio. Knowing he had been to England and reading and hearing so much about his ministry, it was amazing to me at the time to be able to listen to him preaching every day on the radio while I was on the ship. I would also listen to Oral Roberts. I actually worked for Oral Roberts Ministries in England when I was 16.
Having this spiritual contact meant so much to me as I began to reconnect with the faith that had been such a sustaining influence in my life. My own relationship with God took on a new dimension as a result and I was becoming spiritually active again. I longed for fellowship with other believers but this wasn’t going to happen for quite some time. It was just me and God which is all any of us really have in the end. I didn’t have the spiritual maturity that would make a noticeable difference in my life, but I was on my way and trusting God.
We also could keep up with the election debates between Kennedy and Nixon.
As the ship plodded through the waves, there was always a heavy swell down the East coast which caused the ship to roll heavily, I settled again into the routine of a less traumatic life on the ocean than had been my experience crossing the Atlantic. Sea life certainly had its ups and downs and I don’t want to give the impression that it was all excitement and activity. Not so, some days were totally boring and repetitive when time hung heavy and dragged.
Interspersed with the monotony, moments of interest and excitement arose. Apart from visiting ports which I will tell you about later, at this point I am trying to project a picture of my daily life at sea. As mentioned in the last chapter there was always my daily visit to the bridge, meals in the salon, afternoon siestas, sunbathing, reading, knitting, embroidery and Scrabble, but now that the weather was mostly good I would spend quite a lot of time on deck.
I enjoyed leaning over the front bow, not quite as dramatically as Kate Winslet in the film Titanic, watching the dolphins jump and play as they followed the ship. A school of dolphins can stay with a ship for days. It was also quite something to see flying fish landing on deck. We had an Indian 4th engineer and he used to cook them.
Then there was the day when the great liner of the time, the Queen Mary passed us. Not to be forgotten were the times when we needed to dodge hurricanes. Nor the time when we were actually directly in the path of a hurricane and had to shelter behind Cuba until it passed over. Being in the eye of a hurricane was spectacular, absolute calm and quiet with nothing but birds and insects flying around, but with a great sense of foreboding for what was to come. There was also the time we saw the beginning of a storm in the form of a large waterspout in the Mexican gulf.
A rather unpleasant and recurring non-natural event was the presence on the ship of an alcoholic seaman. When his supply of alcohol ran out and further supplies were prohibited by the Captain, he would sneak into guy’s cabins and steal their shave lotion to drink. This was a serious problem and it ended up with cabins and cupboards having to be locked. The resulting cold turkey that this guy suffered was not pleasant for those around him. His first trip ashore after that ended with him being so drunk that he lay on the deck all night and by morning was a very sorry sight when he was found absolutely covered in mosquito bites. I guess there would have been more than a few tipsy mosquitoes that night.
Another serious and unpleasant episode was when the second mate put his fingers into the gears of the steering cogs, something he never should have done. When Alan was called to investigate why the steering had jammed up, he found the second mate on the floor and the steering cogs jammed up with bits of bone and flesh. We were passing Florida at the time and had to sail towards to Key West where a pilot boat came out to take the casualty to hospital. It was very hard for us to understand why the pilot insisted on knowing who was paying before he would take the injured man on board his boat. This would never have happened in England.
Looking back, the trip couldn’t have been easy for Alan. He was the only one on board with a wife to take care of and there were so many extra things he needed to do to make life at sea, on such a small ship, more comfortable for me. Away from the galley which was at the other end of the ship, the only drinking water available was from a tap some distance away. As this water came from a storage tank I was not at ease just drinking it so he would go to the galley and have it boiled for me. It was not so easy for me to do this as it entailed negotiating a ladder between decks which might be rolling and pitching with the seas coming right over the side. I was only 21 and at times quite nervous of being left alone and I sometimes got fearful and weepy when I realised how long I was going to be on the ship. During Alan’s previous years at sea he had been used to the companionship of the other guys and with nowhere to go and nothing to do; leisure time at sea was usually spent drinking. After one episode early on in the trip when I had to put Alan to bed fully clothed as he was so drunk, he began to realise that he was now married and even more that his new bride was on the ship with him. From that time on he made every effort to be with me and limit his drinking, so it must have been somewhat lonely for him too at times. We were still getting to know each other having only met about five months before we embarked on this voyage, not an easy start to any marriage in many people’s eyes but it became normal to us and by God’s Grace we did survive it. At the time of writing we have clocked up 48 years in a few weeks.
I guess overall for me it was a roller coaster of romance, trauma, fun, excitement, fear and panic and learning. Also an experience I would never want to have missed and probably would never wanted to have repeated. In the next chapter we will be revisiting the various ports as we continue on the voyage.