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When George Cuthbert and I joined the mv Sheaf Royal as first trip cadets in October 1973 we had no idea what the next five months would hold. We didn’t know what ports or countries we would visit, what oceans we would cross, what rivers we would navigate, or when we would return home. Joining the Sheaf Royal in Gothenburg, Sweden was the first time either of us had ventured out of the UK and was a real eye opener as we engaged with two different cultures – maritime and Swedish. Two weeks later we sailed for the USA where New Orleans triggered even wider eyes. Rotterdam was our next port, after which it was Christmas at sea prior to navigating the River Orinoco to load in Puerto Ordaz in Venezuela. George and I had never seen anything quite like Puerto Ordaz. We then visited Mobile, Alabama and Beaumont, Texas, before transiting the Panama Canal and crossing the Pacific Ocean to Nakhodka, a port in the Soviet Far East that we had never even heard of.

The Hokkai Hotel where I spent my first night after paying off from the Sheaf Royal in March 1974

The port that brought our first trip to sea to an end was Otaru in Hokkaido (Japan). Otaru was only a day’s steaming from Nakhodka. We anchored close to the port. Two hours later reliefs boarded the Sheaf Royal and two hours after that ten of us were transported to the dock by launch and from there by taxi to the Hokkai Hotel, where we ate our first decent meal in weeks! George and I spent the following morning exploring Otaru, where once again we found ourselves wide eyed at yet another culture, and one so different to that of the Soviet Far East, although the two were so close geographically. One more treat was in store as we travelled home, flying first from Sapporo to Tokyo. This was a stopover in Anchorage, Alaska as we flew on the polar route from Tokyo to Amsterdam, from where we boarded flights to different parts of the UK. The stopover meant that we could say we had visited Alaska, even if our stay only lasted two hours!

I have spent two hours of my life in Alaska – at Anchorage Airport en-route from Tokyo to Amsterdam, homeward bound after five months on the Sheaf Royal.

It is far too easy for the wonder to fade, for the new to become old, and the different to become mundane. Unbelievably, I joined my second ship, the Irish Wasa, in Rotterdam, a place I had visited on the Sheaf Royal. The radio officer from the Sheaf Royal also joined the Irish Wasa in Rotterdam. During the next four months the Irish Wasa loaded iron ore in Port Cartier (Canada) three times. Port Cartier is nothing more than a place to load iron ore very quickly. There is nowhere to go ashore and no time to go ashore even if there was anywhere nearby worthy of a visit. Not all ports we visited were that boring but the wonder of being in foreign parts was certainly beginning to wear off during my second trip.

Followers of Jesus often face a similar wearing off as the initial excitement of coming to know Jesus fades, and Jesus gets pushed back into second, third or even last place in our lives. Despite travelling the world for all of my adult life I have only scratched the surface in what I have seen and experienced. There are so many places I haven’t been and so much I haven’t seen. Likewise, I know that there is still so much more travel required in my journey with Jesus. The challenge is to never lose the wonder, to stay thirsty for more, and to keep Him in first place.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13 NLT – Jesus talking to the woman at the well)