The Sheaf Royal sailed from Beaumont, Texas on Monday 21 January 1974 bound for Nakhodka in the Soviet Far East (Russia). That was the last day I was to set foot on dry land for six weeks. We passed through the Caribbean, and then transited the Panama Canal and that was it. Just the Pacific Ocean and us. We passed the Hawaiian Islands on 11 February 1974 and crossed the International Dateline the next day. Then on 22 February land was visible again as we approached the Tsugaru Strait (Straits of Japan). We finally anchored off the port of Nakhodka at 03:53 on Sunday 24 February. It was another week before we went alongside and began to discharge our cargo of grain and I finally got the opportunity to walk on land again.
It is possible during an ocean passage to see nothing except the sea and the occasional bird for days on end, particularly when crossing the North Pacific. After passing Kauai (Hawaii) we discovered that we had company in the form of a couple of large birds. I thought that the birds were albatrosses, but the chief engineer told me they were bosun birds. They were magnificent creatures with significant wing spans, and they entertained us by catching flying fish as they flew close to the waves.
Unfortunately, the birds and their behaviour had attracted the attention of our Chinese chief cook. He organised a few of the crew who attached floats fitted with fishing hooks and covered in silver foil to a length of fishing line. The line was deployed over the side and the crew successfully caught both birds and heaved them onto the deck. They killed one before the chief officer intervened and ordered the crew to release the second bird. When this bird was eventually freed from the fishhook in its wing it was unable to fly because its wing was too badly damaged. It managed to jump over the side but landed on the water, where I guess it eventually perished. The other bird ended up in the pot and I believe that our Chinese crew ate well that night.
That incident saddened me. Although we were far from shore there was no shortage of food on the ship. Watching the two birds was a source of pleasure for the officers, who were all British. But the Chinese crew only saw the birds as a potential meal. A meal that they didn’t need. There were obvious cultural issues at play with the Brits aghast at what had happened, while the Chinese were unable to understand why they shouldn’t catch and eat a couple of seabirds.
How often do we want things we don’t need and like the crew on the Sheaf Royal take them anyway? David, the famous Hebrew king once took another man’s wife, despite having more than one of his own already. When this lady became pregnant, King David sent her husband to die on the front line in a battle. David was subsequently challenged by the prophet Nathan who told a story that resulted in David realising the serious nature of what he had done. How could such a good king with a hotline to God fail so badly? Envy? Desire? Stupidity? Lack of self-awareness? Lack of self-control? But it’s not just David is it?
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. (Romans 12:1-3 NLT)
The full story of David, Bathsheba, Uriah and Nathan may be found in 2 Samuel 11: – 2 Samuel 12:24