Life at Sea, Going Ashore, a Mariners Life

Shore leave for the modern seafarer:

Is this your experience as well?

I wonder if the rig was flagged somewhere and the crew would have had to be cleared by customs and families certainly couldn’t just walk onto a foreign ship

Definitely. But it was before Internet was available on ships apart from those in the oil field 10 years ago. The crew were on 12 month articles and went on the Mission shuttle to the Mission to Seamen centre purely to email their families.

That video makes me feel sorry for those guys. That is if that is all they will see of a country. On Dutch ships we were free to go ashore in our off time. We had to report it but that was all, no permission required.

In those days going ashore in the US was difficult only because we were dirt poor because of the exchange rates of 3.60 Dutch Florins for one dollar so we had little money to spend.

It is not surprising that there is a Dutch windmill in the town of Nederland, Texas because it was founded by Dutch immigrants in 1897.

Here is a little example of shore leave then. I remember one occasion that we were in Port Arthur that we heard from the shore crew that there was a town called Nederland close by. So some of us decided to go there and have a look. As we had already been in some other US ports we had only quarters and dimes to spend so we had to walk. We misjudged the distance and it was sweltering hot wading through the empty beer and other cans which were thrown out of car windows onto the side of the road. There was also the occasional snake among the rubble. After a while a car stopped and the driver asked us what we were doing there. We explained our situation and intentions and the guy was so good to take us on board and drop us at Nederland but that was mainly because white people, as he explained, should not walk along a road like that in the middle of the day. The town didnot amount to much and after having one Budweiser, not Heineken that was twice the price, in a bar we hitched a ride back to Port Arthur.

It was just a small adventure but surely many times better than visiting a Seafarers Centre on a desolate container terminal.


when we were working the Libyan offshore fields ( from Malta) back when gaddaffi was there, they had no restriction going ashore, less Americans were not allowed off the vessel, but we never had any.(company had no rules), it was all so quiet ashore.
In Tripoli that had no security in the port, hard to believe it blew up, just shows you he ruled with an iron fist.

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That was then, this is now. Today’s reality is short stays in ports, usually far from towns and with restrictions on shore leave put by governments, companies or terminals.

You can be glad you sailed in the “glory days of shipping” when it was still an adventure to be had, at least occasionally. Seafaring today is a job, period!!

But don’t forget the hard and sometime dangerous work and lack of air-conditioning in hot and humid conditions in the tropics.

PS> Slow steaming around Africa on tankers couldn’t have been much of an adventure either??

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Thought the GOM feudalistic Acadian mentality had dissipated since I left, apparently not. So along with being displaced by cheap foreign labor by cut-throat operators as the Chouest syndicate, mariners are still being denied shore leave…unbelievable.

The good thing about the smaller companies (outside the GOM) is that we can still go ashore. It’s nice to meet up with friends in town or from other boats, go out to eat, have a beer, get a haircut, buy a few things, see what the place looks like, etc. Waiting for weather in some places we can go hunting and fishing. We can also do some trading with the Natives. It’s nice to have plenty of halibut, salmon, deer, and moose meat in the freezer.


No, it was not, but no slow steaming for us! I copied this from another topic:

I sailed on the sts ‘W. Alton Jones’ for 14 months, the only voyages we made were from Philadelphia to Mena al Ahmadi in the Persian Gulf and vv, rather boring to say it politely. Loading in Mena took 12 hours and discharging in Philly 24 hours. On top of that after the Suez Canal crisis we had to sail around Cape Good Hope. We did that non stop with extra bunkers in cargo tanks. A round trip took six weeks with no shore leave, not allowed by the local authorities, in Mena al Ahmadi and only 24 hours in Philadelphia. It is true that we were never overtaken by other ships on that busy route.

You got right…kind of like my experience in the Navy actually…it was fun at first which outweighed the “non-fun” parts…by the end, they took all the fun out of it. Same thing is/has happened with commercial shipping.

Only thing that keeps me here is the money…like most people with regard to their job I guess.

You got that right. They say your suppose to love what you do, which I do however, I pick the right 6 numbers and I’ll retire the next day


My first job on the water was aboard a BC salmon gillnetter. The owner/captain was always bitching about expenses. He was fond of saying that if he won the lottery, he would continue to fish until the money was gone.
As to the op: the romance and adventure in sailing deep sea disappeared with stick ships.


A Dutch maritime saying is that ashore nobody knows how seamen live on board ships and I found it to be quite true. My own father was not amused at all that I went to sea. That lot were for him drunks and womanizers at best. He never once asked what life on board really was about, he could not care less. On the other hand I was not in the slightest interested in his opinion. When somebody asked him where I was working he used to say testily: " My son doesn’t work, he is at sea."

The quality of shore leave depended mainly on the port where one arrived. Most ports in South America and the Caribbean Islands scored high, especially the Dutch Island of Curaçao with the large refinery which was a little bit ‘home’ for us. We could go to a Shell beach club or go sailing. Officers could dial a certain number from the ship and order a Shell cab which would bring you to any location on the island at no cost. Venezuela, which is a dirt poor mismanaged country now, was once relatively rich. In a port like San Lorenzo on the lake of Maracaibo or in Punta Cardon Dutch villages were built for Shell employees. The same could be found on the islands of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago. All nice pieds-à-terre for us and free of charge. They had swimming pools, golf courts, soccer and tennis fields which we were free to use. In Buenos Aires we were sometimes tied up in front of bars which was troublesome as part of the crew at departure time had to be dragged out… Mediterranean harbors, that is the European part, were okay but the North African bakshis part was to be avoided.

Sometimes sailing was dangerous for instance the ten trips we made from Singapore to an American airfield near Saigon fully loaded with kerosene. At certain bends in the river, where we were very close to the shore, we were shot at by the Vietcong, lucky for us not with heavy weapons. Vietnamese soldiers, which we picked up at the pilot station, fired back with machine guns from the bridge wings. The most dangerous part was when after discharging and lying high on the water we sailed down the river literally as a gas filled bomb with many tons of kerosene slushing around in the tanks.

Some crew members wrote a letter to Shell Tankers demanding hazard pay but Shell answered that there was no reason to do that because the Dutch were not at war with Vietnam! Quite a ridiculous argument but it saved them a few bucks. Writing to the Union, I was not a member for good reasons, did not help either as I had already anticipated.


RE: was this my experience? well, thankfully no and yes I pity the good crews who just want to look around but are watched like terrorists.
I quite often got to rent a car and rack up major mileage in record time which is a feat being in eng dept.
The only port I had trouble in was Key West I think it was, (US anyway) where they would not recognize our newly issued “go anywhere card” AKA that TWIC thing! nope, they wanted us to buy their ‘special’ taxis and pier guards etc.
being a govt. ship I think the capt. read them the riot act and we all ended up going ashore.

Shell did provide some nice amenities for their employees. The old man (he was relatively young at that time) stood in for me and I went to the Shell club at Pulau Bukum in Singapore. After having the same cook for 7 months onboard the simple meal I had was one of the most enjoyable I had ever had.
The Caltex ships were rarely troubled in Saigon ( the area manager was later found to be high up in the Viet Cong). One T2 did get hit with a rocket which failed to explode. The rocket wiped out the electrician’s head.

Shell (and probably others) paid protection money for the tankers under their charter entering Saigon River and for their installation at Nha Be. If payment was late the VC would lob a rocket or two in their direction. One tanker that got hit in the forepeak got a letter of apology from VC.

They did pay risk bonus to the foreign officers on the small tankers that distributed aviation gas (JP4) to other installations in the delta and around the coast.

PS> Ships on USAid charter all had large green funnels to ensure they were recognised as such. When they chartered in a Korean ship that had a small funnel she was required to be fitted with a large dummy funnel for that purpose.

This is hard to believe! They fooled us. I am shocked. But this is how the rabbits run as we say…

A lot of us were fervent book readers, also due to lack of other entertainment. On Dutch ships we used to carry a ‘book chest’ which a Dutch Seaman’s Welfare Organization used to bring on board in Rotterdam and other harbours. This chest was exchanged by another one at certain ports through the aid of the ship’s agents.

The books in the book chest were read by all the ‘readers’ aboard in no time at all also because the books were censored by the prudish ladies of the Welfare Organization so that no harm was done to the sensitive seaman’s soul. We used to buy a lot of paperbacks in the US etc., but there was a constant demand for new books.


The W. Alton Jones lying alongside the pier in Mena. Aft there was a fitness room with all kinds of equipment. We had no idea what it was for in those days. The occasional party was thrown there.

Mena al Ahmadi was for a sailor the most unfriendly ‘port’ and I am afraid that I came there much too often too my liking. The only advantage was that when I was free of duty in Mena I used to collect the English language paperbacks in a carton box and climbed on board the other ships lying alongside the pier to exchange the books. I often came back richly loaded with books. In between I liked to visit for instance a French ship. They didn’t read English books, I knew that but they always were very friendly and in no time all sorts of French wine were opened… Back on board they wanted to know why I looked so happy…

The only other things was the film box which contained three 16 mm full length movie films which was exchanged in the same manner. And, very important, there was always the possibility of listening to short wave radio stations such as the ‘Voice of America’ which could be received almost anywhere in the world. Mister Tony Bennett, Miss Lena Horne, Miss Peggy Lee etc and orchestras like Ray Anthony’s, Duke Ellington and many more. In the GOM it was a totally different music scene. Mobile Alabama was our favourite station. The standard broadcast receiver in those days on medium wave and short wave was a Hallicrafter like this one:

Hallicrafters receiver S-85.

In the Atlantic the AFN network on the Azores had a range of about 400 miles. There was then Arthur Godfrey always promoting an acne medicine, I forgot the name. He also advertised Chesterfield cigarettes. Buy them by the carton, he used to say. He stopped when he became a cancer patient himself. He became a fervent anti smoker activist but died of lung cancer in 1983. He also was a Colonel in the Airforce reserve and had flown any contraption that could fly, a curious man.


Bringing back memories now. I remember buying a radio in Hong Kong that had two shortwave bands in addition to AM and FM. Books, too, of course. I never read so much as I did than when I was sailing. I still read some, but not to the tune of two or three books a week like I used to. The first couple of ships I sailed on had movies on film, but that quickly switched to video tape cassettes.

I guess some of my favorite ports were Keelung and Manila, where it was a short walk to adult entertainment, so to speak. San Juan, Puerto Rico wasn’t bad either. When hauling petroleum products domestically in the US, Port Everglades was a good port. In the days of lax security, there were some holes in the fence allowing quick transit to the local joints. I liked it so much, I even moved there, and lived in Lauderdale for a number of years.

He was playing for the wrong team. 4 out of 5 doctors recommended Camels.


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