My first period of leave passed quickly. Having arrived home on 22 March 1974, it took my employers exactly one month to send me joining instructions for my second ship. This was to be the mv Irish Wasa, an ancient (compared with the Sheaf Royal) 16,045-ton iron ore carrier. The Sheaf Royal was one year old when I joined her. The Irish Wasa was fifteen years old, and it showed. She was a rust bucket. My cabin was roughly half the size of my cabin on the Sheaf Royal, with a wash basin only. I had an en-suite on the Sheaf Royal. The cadets’ bathroom (one toilet and one shower) was a walk down the alleyway and was shared by up to three cadets. It wasn’t luxury.

My palatial cabin on the mv Irish Wasa viewed from the alleyway and featuring borrowed guitar. Not visible are wash basin (on right next to desk) and full height locker (behind open door)

I joined the Irish Wasa on 28 April 1974 flying from London with Jimmy Clark, who was a junior engineer. I’m not sure what either of us thought when we caught sight of our new home. Later in the day the other cadet arrived back on the ship having been ashore for the afternoon. Martin Valender was one of the best friends I made at sea. Martin was somewhat laidback, which might have been due to growing up partly in Kenya, where his parents were Methodist missionaries.

Although Martin was a couple of years older than me, this was his first trip to sea, meaning that technically I had reached the dizzy heights of being the senior cadet! Big deal. This just meant carrying the can when things went wrong. As they did, especially when some of Martin’s short cuts were involved – like leaving flags to soak in a mix of bleach and water instead of using elbow grease to get the flags clean. The chief officer was not happy. Fortunately, we were not made to pay for the replacements. Then there was the task we were given of repairing the canvas lifeboat covers. Martin felt that using a sewing palm and needle was taking too long and began sticking patches onto the covers with glue. The chief officer was not happy. When told to paint the emergency fire pump in the fo’c’sle head the chief officer failed to specify a colour. Martin opted for a rainbow effect. The chief officer was not happy. We had to repaint the pump in our own time.

mv Irish Wasa – loading iron ore. Not sure where. Too long ago!

Being senior is not all it is cracked up to be. Being senior cadet means little more than being one step up the scale from the lowest form of human life on a ship. I have sailed with a few people who loved titles and uniforms and lording it over others. For some reason such folk also exist in church. This is despite the example set by Jesus who in washing His disciples’ feet, ably demonstrated that being a leader means being a servant. When the crew went on strike on the Sheaf Royal the captain gained my immediate respect when he donned a boilersuit and went down in the hold with a broom (click to read post). Many captains would never have dreamed of doing this, not having reached the dizzy heights with four rings of gold braid on the sleeves of their uniform jackets. Jesus didn’t wear a uniform. Everyone knew who He was. But not everyone was pleased with the example he set. It’s a big challenge to follow such an example, but if we claim that Jesus is our Captain then that is what we must do. Following Jesus is not about reaching the dizzy heights, but whether we are able to serve as He served.

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 NLT)