Back in the seventies, when port congestion was a regular event in certain countries, ships could spend months at anchor waiting for a berth and the opportunity to discharge their cargoes. On one occasion we discharged our cargo of cotton seed oil into another of the company’s ships with space in her tanks rather than remain at anchor. Being at anchor is boring. Shore leave, if permitted, is difficult. Watches must still be kept, but the ship is going nowhere. Anchor watches could be used to catch up with some of the routine stuff on the bridge like chart corrections, but some watch keepers preferred to resort to idle chatter on the VHF to pass yet another four-hour anchor watch. The protocol is to call another ship on channel sixteen, and then agree another channel to use for a chat.
Despite being reserved for calling other ships and pilots, and for emergencies, there were officers who would talk to each other on channel sixteen, instead of another channel. There were also occasional idiots who would make animal noises on channel sixteen. I recall an occasion when one officer got very irate about the nonsense taking place on channel sixteen. This individual, whose first language was definitely not English, decided to tell all the fools to stop behaving like schoolboys and keep channel sixteen clear. Another officer with an equally poor command of English responded almost immediately with an insult. There then followed a lengthy and progressively louder exchange that went something like this:
“I report you. I know your ship.”
“You know my ship? What is my ship?”
“I KNOW YOUR SHIP!”
“What is my ship?”
“I KNOW YOUR SHIP!!!!”
And so it went on for several minutes, accompanied by various trading of insults. It was evident that the individual who had taken the high moral ground did not know the ship from where the animal noises were being transmitted. In trying to tackle the problem the officer in question was also in breach of international law by blocking channel sixteen with his own transmissions. What began as a somewhat amusing exchange eventually became tedious, and I guess the rest of the anchorage wished that the port authorities knew the identity of both ships so that action could be taken against them.
God knows my ship and He knows yours. He knows how long we have been stuck in the anchorage when we should have been moving on. He knows about the storms and lulls in our lives, and He knows where we are headed and He knows when we will arrive. God knows what cargo we are dragging around, and He knows about the times when we mess around making animal noises over the VHF instead of getting on with something more serious.
It is also important to know our own ships. As a young cadet my first task on joining a ship was to find out everything I could about that ship and write up the details in my record book. Difficulties often arise when we don’t know our ‘ships’ and we ignore problems in our lives that need to be addressed because they put distance between God and us. Do you know your ship?
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand. (Psalm 139:1-6 NLT)