I came across a diary maintained by a mariner that spoke about the hardships and the agony the seafarer goes through being away from home for long periods of time. He had everything written from his point of view, somewhere I felt that this officer didn’t understand that his wife faced the same and much more as she had to manage her family and children all by herself and be concerned about her man too.
I am married to a master mariner and have many friends in that profession, I also know quite a few women married to seafarers. I understand the profession to some extend by now. Generally seafarers work with different shipping companies and the employment is on contract. For Cadets the contract can be for 9 months, for junior officers its about 5 months whereas for the senior officers the contract is generally for 4 (+-)1 month. They have the option of re-joining the same company or going for afresh contract with some other shipping company.
The job is tough, they see only the sea for months. The team is the bare minimum that the company can think of . A large vessel may just have about 20 people to manage the entire show. Captain becomes the teacher /philosopher / trainer/ mentor and the ‘Buddha’ and in some cases the doctor too. Bosses are extremely demanding and the same moves downwards. The agony is explaining the situation onboard to people (experts) sitting miles away in some other continent, at times the expert advice that they get can be the most illogical one.
This is the tricky stuff that the captain needs to handle, making a choice between obeying orders or doing what’s the need of the hour. The faint hearted may hang their boots even before they get worn out. The job is demanding no doubt and not everyone’s cup of tea… oh the sea sickness gives me goosebumps! The sea itself can get hostile as pirates operate in certain stretches of the oceans around the globe. Everything comes at a price will be so true here.
He at sea and the better half on land – the communication
Today if I need to communicate with my husband I can video call him, drop an email or a text message need be even try calling the vessel number in case of an emergency. He can be contacted within a few minutes. They may not have their internet connection active throughout the day but the vessel connects to the internet regularly to communicate with their head office or charterers. The message will certainly reach him.
I remember when we got engaged, during our courtship as well as early years of our marriage hubby was Chief Officer then. He had limited access to the internet,(in fact he didn’t want to use the captain’s computer for accessing his emails) so didn’t receive emails from him at all. But he would call using the satellite phone or make calls from the local number when the vessel was at a port.
In the olden days it seems communication wasn’t that easy, people had to write letters. When I listen to the ladies who wrote letters to their husbands and would wait long to hear from them, I feel we are blessed to be having such efficient technology at our disposal. I know of ladies who send emails to their husbands, at least one everyday, just letting them know of the happenings on the home front or how the kids are growing up, or sharing special moments concerning their children. These ladies keep the communication healthy. They know what their husbands careers demand and are playing their roles of being the better halves the best that they can!
Some of them feel that their husbands are away for 4 months, but they’d be there for them for equal number of months. That’s great quality time with family. If you look at today’s corporate world there’s not much time one gets to spend with his family; one can’t manage more than 21 days of leave in a year. The vacation becomes an incentive for the seafarer, an incentive for having spent days in solitude.
Life of a seafarer’s wife
Every marriage is a package deal, there are issues that need to be addressed and managed. The solution lies in the understanding that the two individuals have about each other and how they adjust and adapt themselves to make things work for them. It’s not about compromises but adjustments is the key.
The relationship journey for a seafarer’s wife may begin with adjusting in anew environment if the man joins work soon after marriage; she needs to understand the family and fit into it. Some girls find it difficult. Some who do not pursue a professional career have much time at their hands and don’t really know what to do with it so they join kitty party groups and form a circle of similar friends. Spend time at these parties, go shopping, visit salons etc. The weekends might be spent with their parents if they are close by, they often feel bouts of loneliness. Some choose to join their husbands and sail with them, infact there are some ladies I know who enjoy this. It’s a good getaway from home (responsibilities as well). Whereas for a career woman this is not possible.
Things change when children become a part of the family. Even that is an experience in itself and adventurous one. Some of them go through the entire pregnancy all on their own. Handling morning sickness, visit to the doctor and the long wait there. They get emotional when they see the other ladies accompanied by their husbands. Some may have gone through the delivery without their husbands reaching home, as no one can predict the exact date of delivery and in spite of planning things well in advance the seafarer may not have been able to make it for the D day. The new dad feels the same emotions but he may never express it. The mother is there welcoming her child and the little bundle of joy is with her but the poor father is miles away from home, missing the big moment and worrying about his wife and child.
She single handedly brings up her children. Initial years as a young mother are quite trying, the child falls sick, gets cranky and needs more attention as he too misses his dad. She tries to be a good mother at the same time fill in a bit of the father’s shoes too. She handles the birthdays, the school admissions that are like missions to Mt. Everest as it is extremely difficult to get into the most sought- after schools in the city. School lives of children bring their own challenges; she’s there on her own for all school meetings as well as other functions and activities. As the children grow up she needs to match their energies and it is not easy either.
So for the mariner who felt that life was quite tough for him, his better half deserves the same appreciation for her efforts. It’s not about comparisons and who scores above the other but it is all about valuing each other, respecting and appreciating the efforts put in by both. Marriage is after all a partnership that is strengthened by mutual trust, good communication and camaraderie.
I personally feel that seafarer’s are very simple people, not much in touch with the happenings around. They spend so much time away from home. Most of them start their careers at 18 years or so and then they are away most time of the year. They don’t make many friends as they might have not been to a regular college, missed the college fun and socializing during their student years and thus missed opportunities to build great friendships. When they have the time while on leave the others are busy juggling their homes and careers.
The balancing act
One of my friends mentioned that one had to be a very strong woman to be married to a mariner. I think all women are strong and deal with issues. Be it your maid in the house who juggles to make the ends meet, the woman who works at the quarry or the one assisting her husband who is building the road, taking care of the little child who she takes along. The same is the case with the wife of a corporate honcho who works round the clock and has hardly any time for the lady or the family for that matter. I come from the defence background and I have seen women who manage everything on their own when their husbands are away on duty.
There’s an old saying, ‘A sailor has a wife at every port’… C’mon if you see the way modern ships work and the sailing patterns that they follow, they hardly have any time at ports, most often they are standing far in the sea on anchors. Vessels pay to stand at the port, so they are there only till the work of loading or discharging of cargo is taking place. Poor men handling one wife at home port is all that they can manage in one lifetime! I still wonder where this saying came from?
To the mariner who thinks that he has the toughest job on earth, please pause and look at the lady in your life who deals with all that and more. To the lady who feels being married to a mariner is the toughest thing and that she is a ‘Superwoman’ look at the things that the seafarer does to make life comfortable and easy for you and supports you emotionally. He may not be there with you physically but he is always around in spirit and with his whole heart.
Cheers to the brave men who choose careers at sea and the women in their lives who match them in every possible way!