Away for the Holidays
December 24, 2005
In 25 years of going to sea, I have spent many holidays away from home.
My first was Thanksgiving when I was 18 years old, away from home for the first time. As much as I missed my mother and sisters, I was sailing with, and for my father, the Captain. So the feeling of leaving childhood behind and joining into the camaraderie of a crew at sea more than filled the void. The building of a new kind of bond with my father, as a man instead of a child, as well as the bond of shared purpose and commitment with my shipmates, instilled a new and equally meaningful flavor to the holidays.
The great hardship of holidays at sea is that of missing loved ones left on the beach. No event out here puts the loss of time together into focus like a big, family oriented holiday. We, all of us aboard the ship, have sons, daughters, wives, husbands, parents and siblings that know the loss of separation as well as we do ourselves.
But also, for each of us that choose to go to sea, there is an understanding between our loved ones and us. They understand that we are here because of a love for life, for a way of living and working that defines us in who as well as what we are. That we could not be the people we are without our life at sea.
Sailors generally divide holidays at sea into two groups. The less, typically un-observed holidays - Labor Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day - are usually just another day at sea. It is the big family holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July - that have an important enough status to be marked at sea by some sort of celebration.
Typical ways we might celebrate include a special meal, a day of light duty and relaxation (or as much as the ship will permit), or maybe even a BBQ on the fantail. Also, these days often are major enough milestones in the course of a voyage to warrant some of the trappings of the beach. Fireworks brought aboard well in advance and stowed in the pyrotechnics locker are lit off. Satellite phone calls are made home to wish friends and family a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year. These few, special days when the sea routines will be broken, even if just a bit, mark a special occasion.
Our Christmas at sea this year has become the most festive that I have ever known. The members of the science gang have gone above and beyond to bring a feeling of fun and joy for all hands.
This is one Christmas at sea I will always remember. Fondly.
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