Friday, April 3, 2009

Size does matter

We're skirting the edge of an imaginary line hemming in all the "Known
ice" in the North Atlantic to the south and east of Cape Race
Newfoundland. The ice limit line is established by the International
Ice Patrol, a group tasked with keeping tabs on the type and amount of
ice spotted by ships and planes in the Canadian Maritimes. From the
satellite telexes it appears there is a heavy flow of ice making its way
down from Greenland this spring but we probably aren't within a hundred
miles of an ice cube. Still, it makes you peer at the radar in open
ocean with a little more scrutiny.

Our speed has been good in fair weather so we expect an on time arrival
in Northern Europe. It appears that despite the slowing of transoceanic
trade Germany is still experiencing a pre-Easter rush and berth space is
tight. I actually had forgotten that Easter was just around the corner;
no one is expecting an onboard Easter egg hunt. I may have been Santa
Claus this past Christmas leaving charitable gifts outside everyone's
cabins but candy filled eggs? That would just be weird.

The crew is a funny mix this trip. The deck officers are all thirty or
younger with the exception of our Captain who is not too far past forty.
The unlicensed on the other hand are teetering on the brink of ancient
with one exception. The engine and steward's departments are, and I
don't mean to speak ill of my shipmates, for the most part either well
beyond overweight or obese. This is troubling for a couple of reasons.

First I really do feel it presents a safety issue. I don't like the idea
that someone could be prohibited from doing a job because they don't fit
a certain physical mold but there are many potential instances where the
size of an extra large sailor could prohibit them or someone else from
performing a vital task at an inopportune time. Fighting fires comes to
mind but also boarding our free-fall lifeboat, evacuating an injured
person by winch or small boat transfer (This occurred last voyage but
the fellow was a feather) or escaping from a confined space for

Additionally, being at sea is a great place to loose weight if you can
keep to a diet and have the will to fit exercise in (And I don't
consider 6 hours of OT a day to be exercise). But for persons who are
already accustomed to a lifestyle which leads to being really heavy
there are no dietary supports out here or stewards who cater to special
dietary needs.

Worst of all there is no incentive to exercise onboard. Actually the act
of exercising onboard is commonly looked down upon. I don't know how
many times I've heard "You must not be working hard enough mate if you
have the time to run." That statement recently came from a chain
smoking, crap eating person who hasn't considered the hours upon hours
of company time he's spent smoking butts in the machine shop "Working".

Another time I was running off some stress from a shitty cargo watch in
Corpus Christi when the relief Captain pulled up in his truck wanting to
know what the hell I was doing running down a dirt road with
rattlesnakes and tumbleweed. I declined a ride back to the ship and
heard about it later.

You might be saying, "Why should it be the companies job to motivate the
crew to stay healthy and fit?" We'll maybe it's because I feel that the
old ideas of crew comfort, ice cream sandwiches, DVD's and cheap cartons
of cigarettes in the slop chest have gotten us to where we are now. It
took an act of god and a lot of arm-twisting by our Captains to get our
one single piece of cardio vascular workout equipment onboard the ship.
Do you think it's on the top of the companies priorities that we're
cooking in tran-saturated fats or consuming meat that's only served in
two places, at sea and in prisons?

Probably not.

For some contrast the former operators of this Scandinavian built ship
had a program set up where a tally was kept of every half hour a crewman
spent in the gym exercising. At the end of each month the points were
emailed to a crew welfare desk ashore and the names from the entire
60-ship fleet were entered into a lottery where the more you worked out
the more entries you got. Prizes were then drawn and sent to the
individual seaman. It probably wasn't much, maybe company sweatshirts
and tools but at least it may have created an atmosphere where working
out is something not just for loafers and pretty boys.

When one of our Captains proposed a fleet wide walk-a-thon for charity
where the company would match dollars earned by the crews for every mile
walked or run onboard and then donated to a charity in Baltimore the
responses from the ships were dismal. Yet the worst came from the home
office where I believe the response was something like "Captain, we do
not even know how to respond to that."

Unimaginative, shortsighted and regressive would be a few good
adjectives to describe that response. What's going to happen when all
these career mariner's get disqualified by the National Maritime Center
because their body mass index is too high and no matter how many Fit For
Duty letters the union doctor writes them they still won't be allowed to
set foot on a ship? Maybe then when the hiring halls are empty an idea
like a charity walk-a-thon will garner a better response.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post back there. I totally agree with you on the outlook at sea that looks down on people who actually try to stay fit at sea. I've faced similar outlook myself.

    Keep posting and sail safe