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Rotterdam was the third port we visited on the Sheaf Royal during my first trip to sea. Arriving off Rotterdam on 15 December 1973 we found that the pilot service had been suspended due to bad weather. This meant time waiting at anchor, along with an increasing number of other ships that also needed a pilot. When we finally got our pilot we did not go directly to a berth but had to tie up to buoys in the centre of Waalhaven. This meant that we needed to take a launch to go ashore.

Interestingly, one of the first visitors to the ship was Rev. Wally Andrews, the senior chaplain with the Missions to Seamen (now known as The Mission to Seafarers). The Missions to Seamen operated their Flying Angel Clubs in ports across the world providing a greatly valued service to seafarers of all ranks and nationalities and all religions. In 1973 there were five such facilities in Rotterdam, which was considered the largest port in the world at the time. According to Wikipedia that title is currently held by Shanghai, although Rotterdam still claims to be the largest port in Europe.

Rotterdam (or anywhere) was a hit for The Beautiful South in 1996. Apparently, the lyrics were written in Rotterdam by Paul Heaton, while feeling distinctly unwelcome in a posh bar. I wasn’t aware that there were any posh bars in Rotterdam! The song was written in anger at the rich and the super-rich and the places they inhabit, such as this posh but unwelcoming bar in Rotterdam. It’s a shame that Paul Heaton wasn’t a seafarer because he’d have received a much better welcome in the Mission, where no-one is judged unworthy. Even after leaving the sea, I was welcomed into the Mission in Port of Spain when I was in Trinidad on business. While at sea I had frequented the Mission in Port of Spain almost daily while we spent two weeks discharging general cargo in the port. The fact that I was now an ex-seafarer made no difference to the greeting. I guess that the sense of belonging never fades. I was back where I belonged. Not in a posh bar in Rotterdam or anywhere.

I want to record my grateful thanks to those who served and serve with the Mission to Seafarers. Their service at all hours of the day, boarding ships, getting alongside crew members, and providing many kinds of support reminds me of the example that Jesus set in getting alongside those who were considered the least within the society of His day. I know that the chaplains get discouraged at times because the chaplain in Hamburg (who coincidentally knew my father) told me so. I was able to tell him of a Chinese second mate I had sailed with who told me that he was close to suicide after the failure of a relationship. He just happened to walk into the Mission in Hamburg where he just happened to have a conversation with the chaplain that literally was one of life or death. That chaplain saved a man’s life but didn’t know it.

This could be Rotterdam or anywhere
Liverpool or Rome
‘Cause Rotterdam is anywhere
Anywhere alone
Anywhere alone

And everyone is blonde
And everyone is beautiful
And when blondes and beautiful are multiple
They become so dull and dutiful

And when faced with dull and dutiful
They fire red warning flares
Battle khaki personality
With red underwear

This could be Rotterdam or anywhere
Liverpool or Rome
‘Cause Rotterdam is anywhere
Anywhere alone
Anywhere alone

(Partial lyric from Rotterdam (or Anywhere), Paul Heaton)