After just ten hours in Port Cartier in June 1974 loading iron ore (my second ten hours in Port Cartier on the Irish Wasa) the voyage to Turku in Finland took fifteen days. Even on an old rust bucket like the Irish Wasa life at sea was full of variety for the deck cadets. We began the voyage chipping off old paint and rust and applying new paint, a job universally hated by cadets. Then as we left the St Lawrence via the Belle Isle Strait there were icebergs to contend with. Consequently, the chief officer assigned myself and Martin, the other cadet, to bridge watches as additional lookouts. During the first afternoon in iceberg alley, we encountered thirteen icebergs.
Two days later Martin and I were back on day work – chipping and painting winches and external alleyways. Other jobs we were given while crossing the Atlantic included putting away fire hoses, once they had dried out after a fire drill, and receiving instruction from the second engineer concerning maintenance of the emergency fire pump. After transiting the Pentland Firth (northern tip of Scotland), I found myself back on watch replacing a Portuguese helmsman who was unable to understand helm orders.
We arrived in Turku just before midnight on Sunday 7 July 1974. Monday was a day off and I went ashore. On Tuesday I was turned to at 06:00 hours to assist as the Irish Wasa shifted 180 feet forward on the berth. After breakfast I got the job of ballasting. Wednesday found me working over the side from a painting stage with one of the able seamen. Our task was to cover as much rust as possible with paint.
While many of these jobs might appear to be as mundane as ten hours in Port Cartier, they were all necessary. Someone had to do them. In his day as a cadet the chief officer would have carried out similar tasks. Now he was assigning them to cadets who would be promoted to junior officers in less than three years. It wasn’t just down to the chief officer. The Merchant Navy Training Board provided cadets with record books listing all the tasks they were required to complete on different types of ship while in training. Each task had to be signed off. This was more than a tick-box exercise as record books were inspected at examination time. Furthermore, our examinations included orals – a long grilling by an old sea dog now employed to assess whether a young cadet was demonstrating signs of competence after all this ticking of boxes. Orals terrified most of us. I still remember that fear!
I don’t think that the disciples of Jesus had record books in which Jesus initialled each task they were required to complete. But Jesus did provide three years of fairly intensive training followed by the equivalent of a passing out ceremony at Pentecost. Even then the disciples (now promoted to apostles) kept on learning. Not that they needed to tick any boxes. They just knew that being a follower of Jesus did not mean that they had arrived, but that they were on a journey, or in nautical terms a voyage. Plenty of what they experienced was not pleasant. But it was necessary. If they hadn’t continued their journey, then the good news about Jesus would not have spread and you and I might never have heard of Him.
Two millennia later the challenge is no different for followers of Jesus. Are we continuing to travel or are we of the opinion that committing our lives to Jesus means that we have arrived? Or to put it in nautical terms do we think we have gone directly from first trip cadet to captain? Even the Apostle Paul knew that he was still in training.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12-14 NLT)