Friday, June 27, 2014

Changes at Sea, 1970- now

The role of women In the sailing ship days of lore, the Captain’s wife was the only women on board. Far from idle, she was the nurse to officers on board. Mrs. Mary Patten was one such wife, who cared for her sick husband while helping the remaining officers with celestial navigation. She had a Liberty ship named in her honor, as well as the USMMA’s health clinic. Later on, as voyages shortened, and captains left their wives at home, the women aboard were passengers. Acknowledging the salacious desires of young deckhands and grease-monkeys, only officers (who presumably had manners) were permitted to talk with passengers. In the days before insurance liability and port security, local women were often invited onboard during the extended ports of call. Many sailors found wives this way, and these “port brides” were often interracial marriages in an age when it was rare. Today, women are found in all positions aboard ship, in the Steward and Deck departments. It was a struggle to tear down the masculine wall: though the Coast Guard had no restrictions on licensing women for sea, the USMMA was the first Maritime School in the US to admit women to a “licensing” major, beginning in 1974. The other schools would join by 1981. Even more remarkable is the entrance of women into the Engine Department. (But old barriers linger: Most women engineering graduates of the USMMA still pursue alternatives such as military service or government work ashore). Today, all deck officers are proficient in terrestrial and celestial navigation before graduating maritime school or getting a license. Food on board: predictable today. Dry staples garnished with local meat and vegetables. Hasn’t been lacking since World War Two. For food safety purposes, shipping companies plan to stock enough fresh food for a roundtrip voyage. Non-perishable milk cartons are taken for the trip. The steward knows better though, and he or she will ensure that fresh vegetables are brought onboard overseas. Today, the Coast Guard requires 2300 calories. Since last year, these calories must be part of a well-balanced diet, thus formally ending the long-gone days of bread-and-water rations as a punishment. Eating the dog Out of respect for the host, it is obligatory that you have a bite of what is offered, even when it is man’s best friend. “I’d never pay for it, though”, said one captain. Today, ports stays are shorter, so there is less interaction with locals. And those locals who interact with crewmembers, such as the port agent, understand American cultural norms: dogs are friends, not food. On my trip to Korea, lamb skewers were a staple, but the dogs remained no more than pets. More to Come Later...

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