When I was sixteen all I ever wanted to be was a ship’s captain. I spent three and a half years as a cadet, just six months as third officer, and not long after I turned twenty years old I was promoted to second officer (second mate) just two promotions (and quite a bit more studying) away from my dream.
My first ship as second mate was the mv Dunstanburgh Castle: A 100,000 ton bulk carrier. The DBC, as she was affectionately known, generally carried cargoes of coal or iron ore. She spent most of her time sailing between ports, and very little time alongside loading and discharging. In nearly seven months serving on the DBC I experienced one voyage lasting sixty days, and another of forty-four days. We only visited ten ports, most of them for only a couple of days. We did enjoy two weeks in Yokohama while in dry dock.
The captain of the DBC was an old and difficult man who seemed to gain pleasure from making the third mate’s life a misery. From my point of view as the officer responsible for planning navigation the captain was an absolute nightmare because he kept changing his mind about routeing, and interfering with equipment. I once came on the bridge to take my morning sight to find that the captain had covered the sextants in oil. But although working with the captain was challenging I always felt that the ship was in good hands because of the quality of my fellow officers.
The captain on my next ship was much younger and significantly more competent. The chief officer (the mate) was a different kettle of fish. The main issue was alcohol. The mate would come off watch at 20:00 hours and regularly spend the next eight hours in the officers’ bar. Close to the end of the 12-4 watch I would telephone the mate’s cabin to wake him so that he could relieve me on the bridge. Whenever the telephone was not answered I would telephone the bar instead. The mate would arrive on the bridge at 04:00 hours in no fit state to take over the watch so I used to stay on the bridge until 06:30 when I knew the captain would be getting up. In short I covered for my drunken incompetent colleague.
Because of this I started to worry about the responsibilities of command. Perhaps I did not want to be a captain after all? How would I sleep at night if I didn’t trust the officer of the watch? I recalled a similar experience on another ship when I was a cadet when the captain insisted that the mate always had a cadet on watch with him because he was aware that the mate was rarely sober.
Which brings me back to life. How easy it is to forget that God is at the helm. When things appear to be going wrong and the ‘ship’ we are on seems to be heading full steam for the rocks God is there. I am reminded of a group of Galilean fishermen who had Jesus in the boat with them in a storm and wrongly assumed that a sleeping Jesus would allow them to sink. He didn’t, and God won’t allow us to sink either. But the storm may seem as if it is never going to end.
Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.
The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27 NLT)