*Names are changed in our stories to protect our contributors.
Trigger Warning – This story contains descriptions of sexual assault which some readers may find distressing.
This has been a difficult to story to write. Of course a blank screen or paper is intimidating. I have questioned why I am doing this? Are my motives good or am I just seeking some attention? As this is about honesty I can say it’s mostly the former and a little of the latter.
My personality thrives on attention. It was hard wired in during my childhood. I learned this at a well renowned management institution my excellent employer at the time sent me to. Thank you to them. I then learned more from the therapists I’ve worked with these last 10 years. My current practitioner said recently “cut that 16 year old (me) some slack, stop giving him a hard time”.
At 60, I’m now in a better place mentally and physically than I have been possibly ever. I love my life and my friends and family. The learning and development goes on, without that what are we but atrophy.
My story starts in an industrial UK town in 1961. The decade of Cuban missiles, the Kennedys, Beatles & Stones, and the development of my personality.
My first memory is of a plane journey to North America. I was 3 years old traveling with my father. He was sat in the smoking section I presume. I recall looking out of the window, seeing ships below. A woman was next to me. My mother was at home looking after my 3 younger siblings and my dad’s business.
My second memory is of a male baby sitter, bringing me down stairs, I was around 4 years old. He enjoyed touching and feeling me. He told me “not to say anything to my parents”. I didn’t
At 16 I joined a well-respected and long standing shipping company. Along with the officers and 4 other cadets, I joined my first ship in the Far East. At the baggage carousel after a long flight with free alcohol, not for me – too young, a senior officer publically, colourfully and loudly questioned my sexuality because of the jacket, shirt and tie I wore.
We overnighted in a hotel ahead of boarding the vessel. Something I’d not experienced before, certainly not on my own. It was wonderful. I recall the enjoyment of all the free things in the room, the pool side location of a little round cabin and the warmth after cold England.
After going to sleep, the next thing I remember was the senior cadet banging on my door shouting, expletives not included, “get out of bed and join us, you are keeping the Master from his vessel”.
Rapidly getting my things together, my dashing jacket, shirt and tie on of course, I lugged two huge cases to the lobby in 30 degrees of heat and high humidity. Arriving in a pool of sweat and turmoil, the Master, an aged and massive veteran said “What the f**k do you think you’re doing sonny?”
Whilst my mangled brain tried to think of an appropriate response, the rest of my crewmates looked on enjoying the entertainment and that it was not them on the end of this tongue lashing, the Skipper answered his own rhetorical question.
“Keeping me waiting for my ship. That’s what you’re f**king doing. Get on the bus and shut up”.
I recall being the last on the bus and walking down the aisle to a free seat near the back and lots of sniggers.
Being young, I soon started to recover my “joie de vivre”. My heart rated reduced from about 120 / min and I enjoyed the scenery. “Where’s my wallet? “ came the unbidden thought. Rapid searching of pockets found nothing. It was still in my room. Not having the courage to stand up and request a return to the hotel, still pondering that, I made a request of an officer to investigate once we were aboard the vessel. “I’ll get the agent to check”.
I never saw my wallet again. It had £30 in it from my mum. I never told her. She always enjoyed saying she’d made sure I had cash in my pocket when I went to sea. It was about a month’s wages at the time.
The senior cadet was a drunken bully. My day started with my cabin door being kicked, shouted and sworn at and sent to do mind numbingly dull tasks like chipping decks, painting things, counting lashings and getting whacked if jobs didn’t go to plan. Being skinny and weighing about 6 stone when wet, I wasn’t in a position to retaliate.
The hours were often long and the trip was not enjoyable at all. Around Christmas time a month or so after joining the vessel, the senior cadet arrived in my cabin with a few beers and a smile. The former was frowned on, the latter highly unusual.
I was happy to have cordial company and accepted a few beers even though I’d not started to drink at the time. It got later; he showed no sign of leaving. I got changed for bed. He joined me and tried to have sex with me. That hurt. I cried he stopped and left.
This was a pattern repeated over a number of months till I told him to stop. He did but he was still a bully and horrible to work with. We were all very happy when he flew home early after an accident ashore.
After that life changed. We first trip cadets worked as a team instead of being played off against each other by the departed senior. Productivity and quality of work shot up. I suddenly started to enjoy life aboard ship and have not looked back since.
I will give no advice to the young but I will give it to these in charge of young people entering this wonderful industry that has supported me for 45 years and my family for over 30.
Young people are outwardly resilient and will seem to be able to take the hard knocks. That is not the case. They are resilient to a point. Having made the grade to go to sea will try to make the best of it, even if those who should help them do not, but they are easily hurt, must be treated with respect and nurtured.
Colleagues on-board vessel and ashore who work with young people entering our industry should consider the following. They have responsibility to this incredibly precious resource to:
- To watch over and guide them
- To protect them from other colleagues who may be behaving badly towards them or setting a bad example
- To listen to them carefully and spot signs of distress early
- To remember what it was like to be on your first trip
- To show compassion and leadership.
- To remember that there are parents or guardians back home who have put their faith in you and your company to look after their son or daughter.