My South Seas Adventures: On sailors

File:Mother and baby sperm whale.jpg
Source: Wiki Commons

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. “

Moby Dick or The Whale, Herman Melville

It had been a “damp, drizzly November in my soul,” and I had indeed grown “grim about the mouth”, and now here I was, poised to take to the sea. I was a man at a crossroads; the ocean beckoned.

I think many of us end up travelling through life on a trajectory, the direction of which we had little choice in or control over. I knew I was on the wrong path but knowing didn’t make it any easier to get off it. Doing a job I didn’t like and wasn’t particularly good at was a confidence-sapping drain. In the end, even though I was sure I wanted to leave, I wasn’t sure I was capable of doing anything else either – we get used to our cages. And then there was the issue of property ownership; how well I remember sitting on a deckchair in my building site of a flat, watching Sarah Beeny explaining how to do up a flat. I even appeared on the TV programme “DIYSOS” – a ridiculous escapade for another post. I had finally finished the renovations and the flat now looked lovely. Could I really give it up – step off that all-important first rung of the property ladder? A steady job and a mortgage are important stepping stones in life, but I needed a breathing space – some thinking time – and a chance to discover for myself what I really wanted from life.

I had what I would euphemistically term, a ‘troubled upbringing’ which caused, and still sometimes causes me, considerable personal difficulty. Those kind of experiences make you feel crap – abuse builds a mental architecture that says, I’m a piece of shit; I can’t trust other people; and the world is a dangerous place. It has profound repercussions and it takes a lot to overcome it, if indeed such a thing is possible.

It might not have looked like it from my grades, but in terms of my mental and emotional health, I had scraped through my A levels, scraped through university, and then spent the next years bumping along the bottom in a series of temporary jobs, finally culminating in an extremely dissatisfying career. As I hit the end of my twenties, I began to deal with what had happened to me and as a result, began to chafe against the constraints of the life I was living. I had tried once before to make a change, leaving a similar job at South West Water to travel the coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal in a van, surfing and working at a vineyard. I had a great time, but ended up right back where I started. I was in my early thirties, stuck behind another desk pretending to be interested in computer code while continually distracted by the paintings that I’d done and brought in to to see what my colleagues thought of them. I remember once when it was my boss’ birthday and we were decorating the office in his honour – I was drawing a caricature of his face in black marker pen on a party ballon when my colleague commented, “that’s the most I’ve seen you concentrate in all the time I’ve known you”. And then there was that poem…

I needed to make a change, I needed a new direction and that is what I sought when I headed for New Zealand – I remember telling myself over and over “just try things – keep on trying new things”. It was a huge decision to sell everything and leave, but I knew I had to do it. I wasn’t running away – I was running towards my future. This was the best decision I have ever made and the one of which I am most proud. I will be forever grateful to Soren’s then owners, Steve and Rosie Randall for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime, and to the crew mates with whom I shared the adventure, for making it such happy and memorable experience. We of the Soren Larsen were a motley crew – be it a thirst for adventure, a career move, or simply for a well-earned holiday, everyone has their reason for turning to the sea, and this was mine.

Next post – Let the good times roll: I join the Soren Larsen and learn the ropes!

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