It has long been considered that travel broadens the mind – so what better a life than that of a seafarer. Your home, life and workplace afloat and travelling as you work, rest and play. What about today though? Is seafaring still a way to see the world and explore, and can it bring self-actualisation and fulfilment?
The famous writer and fairy tale king, Hans Christian Anderson once wrote that, “to travel is to live” – which seeing as the Danes know a lot about both travelling and shipping makes you wonder whether his premise still stacks up today? After all, he also knew a lot about ugly ducklings too, so should we be concerned?
Travel is supposedly about the journey not just the arrival – but as seafarers express increasing doubts and concerns about shore leave, is a career at sea something which can emerge swan like from the brown feathers of fatigue, or is it just like the song… all about getting too quickly kicked out of town (“quack quack”)?
Back in the mists of time – shore leave really meant something; it was time ashore – getting to know the places and locals, experiencing other worlds. There was no Discovery Channel, so it was only really seafarers who had a window to the world.
Seafarers would arrive back after their travels with tattoos, tall tales, and things that those they had left behind had never seen before. From Sir Walter Raleigh’s spuds and ciggies, through to Scouse seafarers bringing the makings of rock and roll home – travellers, more especially seafarers, have shaped the world we live in.
Sadly it seems a far cry today to be a seafarer – there is a little that can be brought home which can’t be bought already, there are few tales which can be told which haven’t been seen on TV, and in our connected age news travels faster than people.
So combined with the lack of opportunities to get ashore, and certainly little chance to really get to know a place, what aspects of life at sea can broaden the mind and souls of our modern maritime adventurers?
What can seafarers do to feel the same wanderlust of generations gone before, and what can they bring home which will make them stand out once more as people who have been through so much, and whose stories are worth listening to?
What in short can make seafarers seem like adventurers once more? What can be done to broaden not just horizons, but the soul, and to bring the kind of self-fulfilment that this part of the Crewtoo seafarers’ needs triangle is all about?
One venerable old sea captain and writer, Mark Twain, once said “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” For seafarers perhaps those two days are the day you first go to sea, and the day you find out why.
So why do seafarers today go to sea? Well you might be surprised – the Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index, shows that they go because they care about many of the same things generations of seafarers before them have cared about.
They care about their profession, their skills, shipmates, and family – and of course they care about getting paid. These are all things that crew from centuries past would still recognise.
Sadly though, it seems very few today go to experience the world – to see other lands, and cultures. Ships have changed, cargoes have transformed and ports have altered too – so it seems that finding the little extra things that matter is much harder.
If it is increasingly impossible to travel to other places as a means of broadening the mind, and of fulfilment – what is there about the life at sea which can perhaps help? There must be things even onboard ship today which can make it all worthwhile.
Maybe, just maybe, in this crazy, fast paced, ultra connected world it is the chance for seafarers to find themselves in adversity and challenging times which provides the real opportunity to broaden the mind.
Ashore today, your average Joe and Josephine can read, watch, buy and do pretty much whatever their little land-lubbing hearts desire. Shops full of amazing things, devices packed with music, books, movies – everything is there to be used. Friends too – just a click, a like or a poke away. Satisfaction is sated, with speed and simplicity.
For seafarers, all too often life is not like that. Yes there are advances in connectivity, but still – to be at sea is to be away. Remote from the modern ease of gratification – seafarers still have a chance to want, miss and desire things.
So for seafarers – and while it may not feel it at the time – there is a mind broadening opportunity to still really reflect and think about what is important and what is wanted. Having the space and time to reason, ponder and imagine – well that is a pretty rare commodity these days.
Time with people is also something that seafarers have an almost unique opportunity to appreciate. Yes, industry studies have pointed to worrying trends of isolation and some lack of social cohesion onboard – but the Happiness Index saw response after response which said how important their fellow shipmates were to them, and the pleasure of working in a tight knit team.
So with an opportunity to spend time thinking, and to develop strong bonds – what else can the travel of seafarers provide? Well there is the opportunity to look out and to look up.
The ocean is still an amazing, awe inspiring sight – and that is something which seafarers can appreciate. Sprinkle in a few leaping dolphins and the odd passing pod of whales, and there is something very precious to behold. Looking up too – there are the stars shimmering in the darkest of dark nights. Most people ashore never get to see the shape of the Milky Way or the true majesty of a hundred billion stars.
Ok, so all this may sound a bit desperate – shore leave, meeting people, enjoying other places is the real reason why travel broadens the mind. But if that isn’t an option any more, then seafarers have to compromise, and to find their own answers.
They have to find the value in their life, and the fortune which may not always be in a wage packet, or in a shopping mall. To truly find the wonder of travel in shipping today, perhaps it is about thinking differently about what matters and how.
The erosion of enjoyment at sea has been a trend over decades, if not centuries. There has always been a dissatisfied voice that things used to be better then – whenever “then” may have been. Sadly it seems that things are only going to change negatively for seafarers. The growth of unmanned vessels will transpire, it is a when not if question.
So in the meantime, even if seafarers cannot get ashore as often as they should, even if they cannot get online as often as they would, then there are still some things which make seafarers different, lucky in their own quiet way. So look up, look out, look around and look inside – perhaps there are still opportunities to broaden the mind now as ever there were.
What do you think about life at sea? Can you enjoy being a seafarer or is it all about getting home as fast as possible? Let us know what you think