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The previous post (Two Honeymoons) ended with the Geestland going to the rescue of two French yachtsmen in a particularly bad storm. A couple of days later the Geestland was back in Barry, where the Frenchmen went home. The sponsor of their trimaran, the Charles Heidsieck, had a couple of cases of their best champagne delivered to the ship. One case disappeared into the captain’s cabin never to be seen again. The other ended up in the officers’ bar.

The only problem with being back in Barry was that this marked the end of our second honeymoon.  Marilyn had to go home, and I had another twenty-eight days to serve, being joining Marilyn at home for twenty-eight days leave. I think that sailing back out of Barry in June 1979 was the hardest departure I had experienced in my life at that time. Our second honeymoon was over, Marilyn was home alone in the house we had lived in for less than two weeks since our marriage, and I was headed back to the West Indies. Again. That might sound like heaven to some folk, but for me it was work, and the monthly trip to and from the West Indies had already become a bit of a bus run. The honeymoon being over was a tough call for both of us. It was about this time that I realised that my dream of being a ship’s captain was probably going to have to take a backseat to my marriage.

mv Geestland – Barry Dock June 1979

When I came to know God for the first time I experienced the most incredible joy. I was twelve years old and at a Christian summer camp. I still had that joy when I returned home from camp, but eventually the honeymoon was over and I sailed off leaving God on the dock, just like a certain Jonah in the Bible. Fortunately God does not remain on the dock when we try to take a different way to the one He has chosen for us. He chases after us. Just as we have to work at a marriage – and sometimes make difficult decisions such as career changes, so we have to work at our relationship with our Heavenly Father. I feel extremely blessed to have been married to Marilyn for forty-two years. The blessing of walking with God for fifty-two years has been even greater. I am doubly blessed.

As the ship’s navigator I had to supply our twelve passengers with a daily estimate of the ‘days run,’ i.e. how many nautical miles the Geestland had covered between noon positions. A sweepstake was run in the passenger bar based on the estimate. Once the ship’s position had been established (by sextant and spherical trigonometry) I would supply the actual figure for the day’s run. I used to try and amuse the passengers by sending the day’s run down with or in a poem. The poem below was written when the honeymoon was over and I had sailed without Marilyn.

Last night as I lay on my pillow, last night as I lay on my bed,
I dreamed Geestland sailed into harbour, not Barbados but Barry instead.
Mr Geest said: “Well where’s my bananas, did you leave them behind on the dock?”
The mate replied: “We never made it, and they carried him off deep in shock.”

Never before had it happened, that a banana boat had turned back,
And although the unions protested, the mates were all given the sack.
But strangely enough they were happy, after the shortest trip they had done.
They had steamed round for one week in circles, and flogged every single day’s run!

The passengers complained to the office, they demanded their fares be returned.
They hadn’t seen one of the islands, and were pale still instead of sunburned.
Never again would they travel, never again would they sail with Geest Line,
For apart from a week on the ocean, the trip was a waste of their time.

But to a regular seaman, the moral would seem very clear-
You can’t take a man from his family, or replace them with whisky or beer.
So in future when sailing with Geest Line, you won’t go so far away,
But take a trip ‘round the light buoy at Breaksea, and be back at the end of the day!

Four months after I wrote the poem I resigned from Geest Line. I didn’t realise at the time how much God’s hand was in this decision.

Explanatory Notes:

  1. Geest Line was a family owned company that existed predominantly to import Geest bananas from the West Indies to the United Kingdom. There were four identical Geest Line refrigerated passenger/cargo ships. One was always in Barry in South Wales, one was outbound to the West Indies, one was in the West Indies, and the other was homeward bound.
  2. Mates are deck officers who are responsible for all navigation, safety, and cargo. The chief officer is typically known as the mate. He keeps the 4-8 watch at sea and switches to day work in port. The second officer/mate keeps the 12-4 watch at sea and 12-6 watch in port. The third officer/mate keeps the 8-12 watch at sea and 6-12 in port.
  3. Breaksea Light was originally a light vessel that was anchored 2.5 nautical miles from the entrance to Barry Docks in South Wales. The Geest Line vessels embarked and disembarked Barry pilots at Breaksea. A buoy replaced the light vessel in 1978.