Some folks might think that cadets studying at Marine College were learning to drive ships. I suppose we were, but we also being taught a lot of other stuff. Deck officers might spend eight hours a day keeping watch on the bridge of a ship at sea, but navigational watches formed only part of their duties. In port deck officers switch to cargo watches to supervise loading/discharging, deballasting/ballasting, etc. Driving a ship was more complicated than driving a car, hence the college time and a set of fairly tough examinations at the end. In addition to the written exams there was a signals exam, and the dreaded orals in which seafarers were quizzed in person for anywhere between forty minutes and a couple of hours by an old sea dog (retired captains employed as examiners).

Somehow and despite the long college hours I managed to learn to drive a car while on my first college phase. My father negotiated the purchase of a ten-year-old Vauxhall Viva for the sum of just £25. I took three lessons in South Shields before coming home for Christmas in 1974, and another three at home. A friend with a driving licence then drove back to South Shields with me. My first attempt at passing my driving test in February 1975 resulted in failure. The examiner was not comfortable in my old Vauxhall Viva and was even less comfortable with my ability to drive the Viva safely. This prompted a rethink, and I realised that I did need a few more professional lessons as opposed to lessons from mates with not much more experience than I had at the time.

My old £25 Vauxhall Viva

After three lessons with a driving instructor I went for my test again – in the instructor’s very new Vauxhall Viva. I took my test three days after my six-months block at marine college had ended. When I found that I had the same examiner I was worried. So was he. The colour drained from his face when he saw me, but partly returned when he realised that I was in a driving school vehicle rather than my own car. I passed. He commented that I was a very different and much improved driver. Then we had a good old chat when I found out that he had been at sea as an engineer with the same shipping company as the one I was training with.

A couple of weeks later I sold my Vauxhall Viva for £40 and went back to sea. I was now a third trip cadet but still very much at the bottom of the pecking order on board. I might have passed my driving test, and I might have spent six months at marine school, but I still had so much to learn. One thing I have learned in life is that the older you get the more there is to learn. Especially in my spiritual journey. There’s only one textbook and only one teacher. But no examinations. Just a need to keep on going and keep on growing.

So get rid of all evil behaviour. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like new-born babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. (1 Peter 2:1-3 NLT)