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Article: Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

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    Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

    2 Comments by Doc Vernon Published on 7th January 2020 04:12 AM
    THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE
    The sea has many unseen secrets, well hidden under bottomless and unknown waters. An area with the most mysteries is the Bermuda Triangle. It is situated in the western part of the North Atlantic and is designated by Bermuda, Miami and San Juan of Puerto Rico. Aircraft and ships are said to have been mysteriously lost in this area. They did not sink but disappeared and were transported to another dimension.
    Stories and myths have attributed these disappearances to paranormal activity, and this is the reason why many scientists claim that this is a myth because, after investigations, no evidence of paranormal activity was found.
    However, the incidents that took place are many and unexplained and for this reason this location is also known as the Devil’s Triangle.
    There are countless theories about the mysterious disappearances, some relating to natural and others to paranormal phenomena.
    The inhabitants of this area have their own stories about the mysterious disappearances, their own versions about the Bermuda Triangle and call it the witches’ place because of strange evidence that was found in the sea. The wreck of a metal ship that went down with all hands aboard stands at 300 metres depth unaffected and in the same good condition, sitting for many decades on the bottom of the sea in an unnatural position, and scientists cannot explain why it remains unchanged by the passage of time and the wear and tear in salt water. Many stories are being told and, because the instances of disappearances in the area are countless and increasing, the infamy of the Triangle relating to passed shipwrecks and mysterious disappearances are starting to be analysed under the light of myth and paradox.
    The crew of the ship had a discussion regarding the surreal and paradoxical stories of events that happened as told by many seamen. During this time the shipping company of Stavros Niarchos, my employer, had entered into a contract to carry out a number of routes for the transportation of petrol from Libya to Freeport in America.
    I had finished my service on the ship “Eurenie S. Niarchos” and was immediately recruited on my fourth ship of the same company. It was the “World Knowledge”, a huge tanker both in size and tonnage, the third largest in the world. It could take 350 thousand tons and was over 500 metres long. Because it was too big to tie up in ports it usually anchored in deep waters and loaded and unloaded from platforms. This was the ship I happened to be working on at the time.
    Our route started from the terminal in Libya and after sailing the Mediterranean, we entered the Atlantic Ocean. With the Bahamas as our destination, we passed through the dangerous waters of the Bermuda Triangle and arrived in Freeport to discharge our cargo.
    On official maps the area of the Bermuda Triangle is not mentioned as such nor is it recognised, it is simply mentioned orally as an imaginary area created by people. Despite this, the mystery around this area is real, and so are the aircraft and ships that were lost.
    It was a quiet winter night, the sea was calm and the sky was covered in stars. There were no clouds covering their brightness.
    The only thing reminiscent of winter was the sharp cold and all of us who were not on shift gathered early in the warm sitting area to watch a film the reels of which we had secured at the previous port. It was a documentary about the dangerous waters of the Bermuda Triangle, precisely where our ship was sailing at that very moment.
    It was a very interesting documentary with quite a mysterious theme, covering the strange and inexplicable things that happened in this sea, and it made our imagination run away with us, allowing a feeling of fear and unease to take over. Strange thoughts entered my mind and as I was very young, I was easily influenced and fell into a spiral of fear and paranormal theories on the strange phenomena taking place in this sea. I started thinking that maybe it would be our luck and the same would happen to us, if not during this voyage, maybe during the next, or the one after that, or another, since the ship was to carry out several voyages through this sea.


    With worrying thoughts swirling in my head but also a lot of curiosity, after the film was over I went out onto the stern deck to see the notorious Devil’s sea where so many inexplicable things had happened and upon which it was our fate to be sailing at that very moment.


    I saw the sea all black and dark, the stars unable to light it with even a little reflection of their brightness. It looked like bitumen, exactly as it would be if it were the Devil’s. Even the waters churned by the propeller were not white but also remained dark. I thought it was weird and unnatural that, under the bright light of the stars shining in the sky, the sea remained so incredibly dark. Something did not seem normal, something seemed to be in the atmosphere, something paranormal, something out of this world. Something that was probably only in my thoughts, but which affected my imagination and caused me to have worryingly scary thoughts.


    I looked intensely towards the length of the horizon trying to distinguish something there apart from the absolute darkness, even if just a shadow. I needing to pacify my affected thoughts and convince myself that we were not sailing over an unnatural sea in another dimension to which we were possibly transported by paranormal phenomena happening in this damned sea of the triangle.


    I looked up at the stars in the sky and I was taken over by an even bigger worry because I saw some of them fade slowly and unhurriedly, gradually becoming extinguished and dark, allowing the solid darkness to take their place. The whole ship was immersed in darkness and the only indication of light was the sliver of brightness shining through the crack of the metal door leading inside the ship.


    There was no indication of any natural threat emanating from the sea, it was just a deep feeling of fear within myself that was born from stories told by people who claimed these had happened, weird and disturbing stories that upset my subconscious and caused phobias to grow within my conscious mind.


    I leaned on the railings and stood immobile like a statue, feeling a threat permeating the atmosphere. My imagination was galloping out of control and bringing to the surface of my memory stories about this place that I had watched previously in the documentary. I shivered with the fear that I felt was slowly going through me. I tried to convince myself that the impregnable darkness that had just enveloped us was not due to unnatural or paranormal phenomena taking place in the area but was probably due to the weather and that fog and cloud had covered the stars and the sea creating this absolute darkness, this bottomless, black colour of the night which suddenly covered us and brought terrible thoughts to my mind that, like the ancient Furies, upset my whole existence….
    I am not aware of how much time passed, but my bad thoughts had caused me to stay immobile for a while, until at some stage I was made aware that the darkness was fading and was being replaced by the rosy light of dawn, while the black colour of the sea also started turning blue, the natural colour of water and sky.
    It was the beginning of a new day, an ordinary day like so many others and, as the light disbursed my dark, bad thoughts, I realised with relief that they were most possibly creations of my mind.


    ENGINE REPAIR IN ROUGH SEAS
    Since ancient times liquid cargo, mainly oil, wine and grains, was transported from one country to the other in amphorae and later barrels. This lasted until World War I. As man progressed, his needs increased, so easier solutions needed to be found.
    The Greek captains and ship owners thought, “why load products in barrels onto the ships and not build ships like barrels, with tanks in their cargo holds?”
    And so, the Greeks were the first to build tanker cargo ships. Firstly, they were small but later became much larger.
    During the reign of Onassis and Niarchos, beyond all logic, they built tankers exceeding a 350 thousand tonnage.


    The “World Knowledge” was a 350-thousand-ton ship and it was carrying us across the Pacific to our destination, Korea. The sea was rough, but the huge ship tore through it with ease.


    I thought it was going to be an easy voyage without problems and without any serious incident in the engine room as the ship was quite new and all machinery was automatic and of the latest technology.


    We were heading to the port of Seoul and a few days into the voyage we entered the Yellow Sea of China where we found rough seas that were worsening fast.


    The Yellow Sea took its name from the colour of silt and sand carried down into the sea by rivers. It takes on a yellow colour during the strong storms that frequently hit it. So, the sea was yellow, and the atmosphere had changed. The wind picked up and the day became darker.


    As if the deterioration of the weather and the yellow sand from the deserts of Chine in the atmosphere were not enough, one of the engine’s pistons decided to break.


    The engine had eight huge pistons that moved the propeller. It was not easy for it to move with only seven, because this would cause even more damage. We needed to anchor and change the broken piston. The ship carried all the necessary spare parts and the senior engineer officers had good knowledge on how to proceed with the repair of the engine. Had we been in port, we would receive assistance from shore but as we were in the middle of the sea and in a raging storm, all the hard work needed to be carried out by us. The problem we were facing was the roughness of the sea that was getting worse by the minute and a ship, without a working engine, is out of control and at the mercy of the weather.


    We anchored and got to work. It was a difficult job, and dangerous, because the ship was rolling and pitching, and this did not allow us to work. The broken piston was huge, so huge that, when we removed it, we hung into the cylinder where we fitted with ease and started polishing it. It was an arduous task that exhausted us, and the constant rolling and pitching kept changing our direction of gravity. While hanging in the cylinder, we needed to maintain a steady position and balance, with our knees resting on the walls, in order to have the necessary strength to scrape the petrified soot caused by burning fuel.


    There were only a few members of engine crew because the ship was state of the art and automated.


    Everything was operated from a control room within the engine room which was a huge room with consoles, boards and panels covered in all necessary indicators and switches which, with the correct handling, gave the relevant message to the engine and auxiliary machinery. All of us, even the First Engineer, got down to work. The risks were high, the sea was getting worse and, in case the current turned us against the weather, and we were hit by a large wave from the side, we could sink.


    Three days and nights, we all worked very hard without sleep or rest. Others were rubbing the heads with emery powder and others were preparing the new piston that was stowed for a long time next to the engine. It took a lot of work to clean, polish and prepare it. However, the difficult work was carried out in the cylinder. We waited for hours until it cooled down, and then we had to remove huge amounts of petrified soot that were attached to the walls because of the damage. Only one man fitted inside at a time, so we took it in turns to hang, and using scrapers and cutters, we first scraped and then polished well, without leaving any trace of any substance on the interior metal.


    The first engineer was a really cool guy, a man with an imposing personality who did not use yelling and anger but only good manners. He had a foreign sounding name, Gatagas. It’s the only first engineer’s name from my entire nautical career I still remember today, after so many years, because we never called the first engineer by his name as it was customary to address him with the English term “Chief”. He was always polite and approachable and was highly appreciated by the entire crew, and especially us, the engineers.


    He summoned us all in the control room and calmly described our situation. He explained that shutting down the engine in such rough seas was a great risk, but we could not do otherwise. For this reason, we needed to surpass ourselves and work without rest in order to change the piston as fast as possible before a big wave took us under.
    With the threat of imminent danger and with great responsibility we all set to work under the guidance of our first officer. The second and third engineers, the junior engineer (me), oilers and cleaner, we threw ourselves into the hard battle against time to beat the weather.


    The day passed, and so did the first night. We held out well and withstood. We ate on the go, we practically forgot what coffee was, and did not even stop for a smoke.


    The second night came upon us and we had not yet finished. Our worry increased because the weather was getting worse and fatigue started leaving its mark upon us. When we entered the cool air of the control room for a coffee, no matter how hard we tried not to fall asleep on the chair, our eyes would close on their own accord. I remember it like it was yesterday; I would force my eyes to remain open with my fingers. I remember well that I allowed one to close and rest, and then the other, while with my fingers I held on to my eyelids, in a desperate attempt not to sleep. Despite the effort, however, I remember that for a few seconds, Morpheus would get the better of me and would throw me into a few seconds of sleep, full of disturbed dreams, some nightmarish and some pleasing. In split seconds I had glimpses of dreams containing real and imaginary events, parading in front of me as if real, like a cinematographic film in fast forward mode. I saw us teetering on the crest of a wave and then diving into deep darkness, I saw us immersed in murky waters unable to breathe, and, as if moonstruck, would jerk awake trying to catch my breath. I even saw us floating in calm waters under a blue sky with low flying seagulls, a good omen, a sign that we were approaching our destination. And me, standing against the railings and gazing into the horizon trying to catch a glimpse of dry land.


    The second night passed, dawn was upon us and at last, we finished. We tightened the last bolt and made a final general check. The First Engineer informed the captain and received an order for “ahead slow”. Crossing himself, he pushed the parallel control and started the big engine. Everything was OK, we slowly picked up speed and at the same time we felt the ship steadying itself and the pitching and rolling reduced. The mighty engine was turning the axel effortlessly and the propeller pushed the water back and thrusted us forward, hurriedly leaving behind the rough sea in anticipation of entering the safe harbour of Seoul.

    IN SEOUL
    Since long ago and until today, sailors’ lives have been harder than those of land dwellers. The hardship of isolation away from dry land and people, and existing in an infinite expanse of water, lead to the development of various mentalities and ways of thinking.
    Man has the charisma of adapting to the difficulties he faces, by acquiring abilities, and developing particular behaviours and habits that he incorporates in his way of living as a means to make his life easier.
    Therefore, when a sailor spends most of his life on ships, when he mingles with a handful of people, namely his colleagues, his range of interests remains limited. When he lives away from his family for a long time, his desire to return causes nostalgia and sadness. So, it is natural to invent ways of breaking the monotony of his everyday life, ways that a land dweller would not turn to because of having alternative solutions that are unavailable to a seaman. Some seamen, while battling with the unworldly elements of the sea, acquire boundless knowledge because, as they sail all the seas on Earth, they become omniscient philosophers, and with wisdom though experience, pass onto others, knowledge about things and undiscovered wonders that are hidden in the oceans’ depths.
    Oceangoing ships undertake voyages that take many days and their crews anticipate the few hours when they tie in a port somewhere, and desperately seek means to entertain themselves and let off steam.
    So, at each port there are places for the entertainment of seamen. Knowing the intense wish of their customers to let off steam and freely spend their money, some clever businessmen have adapted entertainment to fit the needs of sailors, and in particular, Greek sailors, as in those days most of the ships were Greek. In many countries with big ports with a capacity for many ships, there were Greek entertainment establishments. Cape Town, New Orleans, Costanza, Rotterdam, everywhere.
    The monster tanker “World Knowledge”, my last ship, tied up in the port of Seoul during the early hours of the morning. By then, I was on the ship for about ten months. Life on this ship was good, it had every comfort. There was a large library with all sorts of books and a beautiful area to relax, where I sat during my endless off duty hours, leafing through and reading books. During the voyage to Seoul, I looked up Korea and was informed of the country’s history.
    Seoul is the capital and the largest city of South Korea. The city served as the capital during old dynasties and after the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948, became the capital once more and was considered the main city of the nation. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
    Korea had been taken over by Japan in 1895. The Japanese occupation was brutal, it forced the population into forced labour and the women into obligatory prostitution for the needs of the occupation armies.
    A little before the fall of Japan, Russian and American troops invaded the country and agreed on its division.
    The Communists settled in the North of the country and the western forces settled in the South. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea starting a civil war that lasted three years in which Greek troops also participated, as allies of the USA.
    The war ended after three years with a treaty, basically leaving things in the same place as they were when it had started, without victors, but having been a terrible tragedy with many victims and no benefit to either side.
    Since then, there is a cold war in progress between the two sides, an unproclaimed hidden war of provocation and altercation.


    At the time of my voyage to the country, America was more dominant in the world than the Soviet Union, but this did not give us a great feeling of security because Russia was still the super power that supported the dictatorial and unpredictable regime of North Korea.
    Therefore, as we were advised by the Captain, we ventured into the town cautiously, looking to do some shopping and have some fun. While the city is one of the most densely populated cities of the world, there was little traffic on the streets. The shops were meagre and had no wares of interest to us. We walked the streets without finding anything of interest. We passed a hair dressing salon two-three times and the two girls inside smiled at us. On our third time, the electrician and I decided to go in. We had just shaved on the ship, but since they were inviting us in such a nice way, and since they were also beautiful girls, we went in.


    Immediately the little hairdressers welcomed us and sat us down on the chairs. The spoke very little English, so understanding each other was difficult. I was young and hardly had a beard and while aboard the ship I only shaved every now and then when we were in port. During this voyage, my only blade turned out to be blunt and this resulted in me scraping my skin and I was now in pain. However, the young girl was very good at her job. She first applied cream and then compresses to soothe the skin and lessen the pain. Afterwards, with great care she cut the hairs one by one with an old fashioned and very sharp blade, with her soft and skilful fingers and hands.


    The shop was not busy, and our treatment lasted quite a while. We felt we were in good hands and relaxed. They treated our face, our hair, the nails on our fingers and toes, they even gave us a light massage with their experienced hands. We really enjoyed the treatment.


    With their little English and mostly with sign language, we managed to understand each other and when we asked them out on a date, they happily agreed.


    It was the afternoon and the young girls were coming off work in a few hours. To pass the time we walked around the city and at the agreed time, I met my date at a café-restaurant on the same street.


    A young man with long hair, most probably a hippy, was strumming an electric guitar and sang popular songs of the time. Next to him he had a classical guitar and I thought that he was probably a classic guitarist who, due to popular demand, also played an electric guitar.


    We had planned to eat, relax and listen to music and then, whatever the night brought.


    The food on the menu was different to the European food I was accustomed to, and so I ordered crab as a starter, and then a steak with a strange name in the menu, food I thought I knew. My new friend ordered her own, and, while waiting to be served, we continued getting to know each other.


    I was presented with a giant boiled crab in a huge plate. The taste was exquisite and gave me an appetite for more. After a while, the chef came out of the kitchen with two assistants and stood at our table. One of the assistants held a small frying pan brimming with hot oil that was still sizzling from too much heat and he placed it on a counter, inside a big plate. The chef picked up a monstrous raw beef steak and put it in the overheated oil and cracked two eggs on top. With grandiose movements, he then proceeded to serve me, wishing me Bonne Appetit.


    I watched the whole procedure incredulously but being in a foreign country I decided not to express any doubt. The eggs were cooked but the steak merely changed colour; when I sliced into it, it oozed live blood.


    So, I ate the eggs and left the steak untouched, as I preferred my meat well done, and not practically raw. In a foreign country where the Captain had advised we be careful, I decided to stay silent and not protest. In any case, I felt sure that this is how the Koreas ate their food.


    The crab and the eggs proved to be a full meal and my hunger was well sated. I ordered two brandy cokes and we leaned back in the comfortable chairs to enjoy the guitarist’s music. At some point, he started playing a Greek nostalgic song by Xatzidakis which left me listening ecstatically. The musician understood this and played another, then another and I was overjoyed, sang along with him and applauded enthusiastically.


    The musician was pleased to have found an audience and leaned over to pick up one of the score books scattered on the floor beside him. He picked up a thick one and placed it on the stand. He continued playing Greek Xatzidakis and Theodorakis music and the exquisite melodies filled the place. There were a few customers, but they also focused on the notes filling the atmosphere, a true sign that they were enjoying the lovely Greek music.


    The musician had abandoned his electric guitar and took the classic guitar in his hands, strummed it softly and beautifully as he played. I had never heard music being played so amazingly. He gave the songs such colour and his unprecedented execution together with the equally amazing Greek melodies bewitched our ears.


    The classic guitar is not necessarily a particular musical instrument. The term classic simply indicates an artistic creation that has a time defying and ecumenical value.


    The artist I came across in this faraway country was a brilliant virtuoso and as I listened, I was ecstatic and enjoyed the sweet melodies floating in the atmosphere. I dedicated myself to listening to him and ignored my date a little, but she also showed the same attention to the heavenly music.


    Greek music has a special place in all countries of the world, and I love it. Countless songs have been translated and sung in the most unlikely languages. Here as well, our virtuoso guitarist, mostly playing but also singing just a little, sang songs of Greek giants Hatzidakis and Theodorakis in his language.


    The hours slipped by and, while enjoying the music and with the help of some alcoholic beverages, as “wine gladdens the heart”, I reached a happy and pleasant state and told myself I wished daybreak would never come. It satisfied and lifted my soul which brought some feeling of relief to my immeasurable nostalgia for my country as I had been away from Cyprus for over four years.


    The kind musician did not stop playing at all, responding to the happiness that he saw spreading all over my face. He played Greek songs by the two composers non-stop until, oh no, the time reached twelve o’clock. It was his time to stop, but for me, he continued playing. With good will, I wanted to actively thank him, so I put my hand in my pocket. I had 200 Euro and I offered half to him as a tip. He didn’t want to accept it, but nobody says no to money, so with a little insistence from me, he accepted it with many thanks.


    And this is a seaman’s life, adapted to fit into the conditions imposed by life at sea, sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet.


    EPILOGUE


    THE SEA IS OUR MOTHER, OUR DESTINY, OUR LOVER
    It was the vastness of the sea that accompanied me together with memories from dry land, fairy tales and stories I heard about pirates and drowned seamen in the holds of their ships. It was that I survived great storms and fished huge fish, monsters of the sea. That I witnessed weddings of colleagues in foreign lands and new customs, morals and cultures. That I got to have different experiences in every port of the world, in heavens of depravity, enjoyment, excess and delinquency behind curtains offering anything the mind could wish for, as well as dangerous adventures for those who wished to seek them.
    It was my memories as a seaman that may seem unbelievable and cause incredulity, it was a period in my life that scarred me permanently and left upon me an indelible mark. Those who have experienced these difficult but sweet situations know. And yet, they continue to love the sea and fight it daily, saluting her mockingly and showing no fear.
    These however were not the only things that marked me, but my observation of the seaman’s life when, sailing on large tankers with the sea and the sky as their only companions for two, three months, they no longer had regular behaviour, but wanted to break their monotonous days that followed identical days containing the same boring, usual things, by creating intrigues and then sitting back to watch them and have something new to do. It was that I always had to be careful with what I believed, that I should never trust anybody, maybe it was a Law of the seamen that they should not love each other but only love the sea. So, I loved the sea and I was dragged by an invisible force to be near her.
    I sailed on my first ship without loving the sea, she tortured me at first in a small ship sailing the Black Sea, the same sea sailed by people in historic times, where the shores were crowded by ancient civilisations and modern cities, and where under the surface, in her bowels, opposing currents clashed and swirled causing currents that rocked the little ship and messed with my stomach causing me to spill my innards.
    Despite the difficulties however, the pull of the sea is great and whoever lives with her falls in love and cannot live without her.
    I sailed continuously for five years and, when I came ashore the thought of abandoning life at sea started to torture my mind. I decided to marry an old love and decided to become a home body and land dweller. At first, everything was good, and I was happy, there was love, I was in love, everything I ever wished for. After a while however, the love of the sea that was not extinguished within me, made me long for and reminisce the endless nights of total solitude on deck, the heavy thud of the ship’s engine in the engine room, the endless shifts where a cup of coffee in my hand, drinking it sip by sip, was enough until I was relieved and another came on shift.
    Until one night, at the small coffee shop of the village, I met an old seaman from the village who had just come ashore, we sat and drank, and talked about the sea and the ports. I felt the pull of the sea once more, I felt that my life ashore had no meaning. I knew that if I remained on dry land, I would be miserable, I realised that I would not manage to survive. With my memory running wildly to those times, nostalgia choked me, and I was taken over by sorrow. And under the influence of drink, I felt my longing becoming a sharp nail piercing my chest.
    So, in the stupor of alcohol, I took the decision to sail again. I knew it was not easy, that everyone would try to stop me. So, I would sneak off like a thief, I would tell nobody, and would let them all know once I was far away…..
    But I never took the big decision and remained a land dweller forever. The years passed, but I cannot forget the sea, I stand on the beach, gaze at the horizon and wonder whether I regret not sailing again, but I have no answer. The only thing I know is that the Sea is a song, an experience, a mother, our destiny and our lover. Those who love her and stay away from her miss her lullabies and her immense love.

    THE END


    I hope that you may have enjoyed Tale of the Seas as much as i have.
    Last edited by Doc Vernon; 7th January 2020 at 04:31 AM.
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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

    A very good post Doc, and probably most of us can identify with most of his thoughts. However, i don't think that i would have listened to a guitarist all night if i was on a date with a beautiful woman.

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    Default Re: Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

    Interesting bit about the Bermuda Triangle.

    On the cruise there was a gut giving daily talks on a variety of subjects,
    major disasters at sea, interesting ship wrecks and one on the Triangle.
    Also one on the most famous pirates of the 1750,s onwards.
    According to him the biggest pirates now can be found in parliament???????????
    All very informative and interesting.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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