The Asphalt Commander will be fondly remembered as long as I live, anyway. It was during a period of subcontracted RMO work on the Commander, in a Curacao shipyard, that my husband proposed to me - the shock of my lifetime - and still the best event of that lifetime. El Segundo may be a romantic at heart, but our Commander experience may hold the record.
As to the Phillipino crew aboard then, I will not forget a young Phillipino man, who was as sharp as any young mariner I’ve met, of any nationality. He was interested, asked questions - intelligent questions - worked hard and willingly at any task, was well mannered and respectful. The American crewmembers were unused to a female aboard, but were courteous, respectful and thoughtful across the board. I’m not uncomfortable with crews and understand the life/lifestyle better than most, so they were still lively and largely able to behave pretty normally around me, but they conciously restrained the subject matter or terminology of an all male audience when I was present. I’ve wondered if they ever knew that I recognized their efforts as the act of respect it represented. I remember only one crewmember with less than what my husband and I consider proper work ethic: an American who normally sails steamships. But the Captain - now he was one of the most interesting facets of my Commander experience. Young, amazingly skilled both as a captain and as a crew manager, he understood, the charm, if you will, of the Asphalt Commander experience. He led by example, taking the challenges of the old ship in stride, as perhaps the cost of admission for the pleasures of sailing to fabled ports in some of the most beautiful places of the world. He was respected, deservedly, as the Captain, appreciated for his talents and the wisdom beyond his years which obviously made sailing the Asphalt Commander something many past crewmembers will fondly remember. It could have been miserable, or just what it was for them; and I think the crew mostly had enough experience to recognize how much the captains affect crew experience. It was my pleasure to be trusted with conversations about the girlfriends, wives or even families of these men, and often our discussions centered around he challenges of finding the partner who understands the life of a merchant mariner, much less one capable of honorably engaging in a serious relationship with one. It takes a strong relationship to weather frequent and sometimes extended separations.
The young Russian aboard then, particularly deserves mention for his efforts made to provide some comfort during the very few hours my husband (now my husband; I said yes when he proposed) took a break from the 24/7 work schedule required to put the Commander back to work on time.
The crew was magnificent, save one. I’ve been exposed to a number of crews on various ships as a result of working with Lloyds and then my husband’s company; I’ve been treated well and I’ve been treated poorly. The age or condition of the ship has no bearing on the men who sail it; it is their personal character and the captain’s capacities for the art of crew management - which establishes the basic attitude of the ship - that make the difference.
For my money, it is sad news that the Asphalt Commander is gone. Obviously, for us it is unfortunate that more Enterprise engines are lost - and, by the way, the Enterprise engine is one of the most forgiving ever built. Properly maintained and operated, most Enterprise engines would provide years more reliable service if the two main parts providers were honest and reliable or timely and technically careful, respectively. But it is not the lost Enterprise engines I feel primarily, it is just sad to know that the happy ‘pirates’ of the Asphalt Commander can be no more! I thank the Asphalt Commander Captain and crew for my memories of you and the ship. She was old, she had suffered from lack of maintenance, but all of you were diligent in keeping her going, in bringing her around as much as possible, and you have made for many a pleasant conversation between my husband and me in the years since.
Perhaps, in a sense, it is just as well that time and ‘progress’ make changes; it puts perspective on our past experiences. Since crews change, the captain from that time has been gone for awhile, what I remember so fondly was already gone.