Holidays and celebrations on board

When you are at sea, far away from home and your loved ones, the 20-22 members of the crew become your second family for the duration of your voyage. Together with them you travel on calm and rough seas and spend sunny and rainy days, quiet Sundays and white nights in the crowded ports of the world, holidays and celebrations.

Christmas or New Year’s Eve, Easter or another religious celebration, a birthday or a wedding anniversary, all of these are always good reasons to celebrate and sometimes even to start a party for. If the weather is nice, these parties take place outside, in a special and well organized space – in the aft station or on a superior deck.

Because everyday meals are served in close spaces and in separate areas (one room for the officers – Officers’ Messroom –  and another room for the rest of the crew – Crew’s Messroom) – an open air barbeque is one of the few moments on board when everybody gets together in one place to eat, drink, socialize and have a little fun.

Outside place for barbeque

 

If the weather is not very friendly, one of the Messrooms can become the perfect location to host the party and even if the space is a little too crowded the fun is always guaranteed.

Birthday party indoor - HS Liszt

Since I started my travelling on board container vessels, I had the pleasure to meet many people and to spend interesting weeks and months, on the Oceans and Seas of the world. Some of them became very good friends of mine, others will always remain in my memory and will always be remembered with joy. I will be forever grateful to all of them for making me feel so welcomed and being part of this beautiful family is one of the biggest happiness of my life.

BBQ party on board HS Bruckner

At sea, days are always different, scenes are changing around you from one day to the other, sunsets and sunrises offer you incredible moments, always unique, the ports which come in your way are waiting to be discovered and everyday life on board can bring different challenges at every step.

Most of the days, you loose track of time and only after checking the hanging calendar on the wall you realize that Christmas is coming … although this can look a little strange taking into account the 35 degrees of the thermometer. You will get used even with this and try to enjoy the magic of the winter holidays as much as possible, although your beloved family is very far away and under the Christmas Tree from home somebody else will place the presents for your kids. All the seamen would like to spend Christmas at home with their families, but this is not possible every year. As much as you want to find yourself in a different place and not on a vessel in the middle of the sea, you are sometimes forced to celebrate Christmas with people who do not belong to your family, not even to your country or religion. You may feel sad and melancholic, but, watching always only the full half of the glass, you have to try and find happiness in every moment and every opportunity life is offering you.

Christmas on the vessel is usually celebrated with a Christmas Tree (always a plastic one), a party in the evening before and a real festive lunch on Christmas Day.

IF– Christmas Tree on board Ital Oceano

IF– Christmas on board HS Scott –

For the luckier ones, Santa Claus may come with little gifts to lift up the spirits and bring joy in the hearts of the believers.

The same thing happened on the vessel I was travelling with, almost three years ago, when I celebrated Christmas in South China Sea, together with a crew made up of 6 Romanians and 16 Filipinos. It was one of the most emotional and excited Christmas Eves of my entire life.

Extract from HS Puccini diary:

“Everybody worked a lot to make this day a special one, like it deserves. All had a designated role, from washing and arranging the tables and chairs and decorating the Christmas tree to fixing the playlist with Christmas carols and music belonging to different genres. A special and delicious food was prepared in the kitchen and I took part in this process myself – preparing some meals I always prepare for celebrations like this when I am at home. At 1 p.m. the fire was started and the suckling pig took its place on the grill, under the constant surveillance of the bosun and with some of the guys taking their turn in rotating the big wheel.

Roasting the suckling pig for Christmas on HS Puccini

The festive dinner started at 5 p.m. when everybody came to the Barbeque area very nicely dressed and eager to enjoy the evening. After admiring the arrangements I made and not before taking lots of photos, everybody sat down and started eating in a very joyful environment, with Christmas carols on the background.

Celebrating Christmas on HS Puccini

Merry Christmas - HS Puccini

The evening went by without even noticing it and everybody enjoyed the good food, the music and the calm and relaxed atmosphere.

Christmas on board HS Puccini

Santa Claus on HS Puccini

Around 9 o’clock, Santa Claus came with a bag full of nicely wrapped up gifts and after everybody received his present, the party went on with lots of music, dancing and Karaoke.”

I always like karaoke and, even I never sing (due to my complete lack of music ear), I enjoy listening to others while they sing or play musical instruments. The Filipinos are very good singers and players and most of their parties include karaoke music – at home and on the vessel. It is like a hobby which can be practiced by everybody, regardless their actual skills. Some of them have really good voices, but most have only the desire to sing and perform in front of a big audience. It is even more curious for me since most of them are quite timid in conversations and do not speak English very well, but they can sing with passion. I don’t know how their repertoire looks like when they have a private party at home, together with their families and friends, but I am always amazed to find very difficult and mostly romantic songs on their play list. They sing these songs with great passion, thinking of their wives and loved ones, sometimes getting very emotional, close to crying. When singing in their own language – tagalo – the singers are always accompanied by all the others members of the crew who join in happily, so you don’t even know who the singer is, who started the song and what the words mean. As I found out, all these songs are also love songs which are sung even more passionately and loudly than any other songs.

There are at least 2-3 good singers on each vessel and a karaoke will always end a party, regardless the place of happening- outdoors or indoors.  My only regret is that I am not able to join them, nor even accompany them using the guitar or other musical instruments.

Karaoke singing– Karaoke on board HS Bruckner

IF– Karaoke on board HS Debussy

Two years ago, I celebrated Easter on board, together with 5 Romanians, 2 Serbians and 15 Filipinos. We celebrated Easter after one week of anchorage in the beautiful port of San Antonio Este, Argentina. The very nice weather allowed us to have a barbeque outside with music, good food and karaoke.

Extract from HS Liszt diary:

“ Although we didn’t have painted eggs and other traditional Easter food, the party was a real success. The food was different from the one I usually have for Easter celebration, but everybody on board seemed to like it. How couldn’t they? The tables were full with all kind of goodies which replaced the traditional Easter lamb and everybody had a great time. Music was good as always and the singers with real singing skills.

Easter on board HS Liszt

Easter party on board HS Liszt

The best of all was our Filipino chief officer who, apart from being a very good person and a very hardworking and professional seaman, has one of the best voices I have ever heard on board. He is also very charismatic, enjoys singing and likes to entertain the others by making jokes and smiling all the time.  ”

Religious holidays are not the only events that can be celebrated on board, but also the birthdays of the members of the crew ( I even had the privilege to celebrate the birthday of a seaman’s wife or kid, the wedding or engagement of some of the officers’ sisters or best friends and even the passing of a very difficult exam in the student life of some of our officers’ children.)

Usually, during a four month voyage, at least 4-5 members of the crew celebrate their birthdays and this is a very good reason for me to organize a small surprise party. In most cases, the whole ‘party’ is reduced only to a birthday cake (or more) which proves to be quite enough to bring a smile on people’s faces and to diminish (as much as possible) the homesickness – at least for a few hours. Everybody has the right to feel special at least once a year and being the center of attention for one day can only bring happiness and strength to carry on with your duties for the remaining of your contract.

During the years, I had the opportunity to prepare many birthday cakes on the vessel, celebrating the anniversaries of many officers, cadets and other members of the crew.

Birthday cake - HS Bruckner-Birthday on board HS Bruckner

IF

Birthday cake on HS Bach

I am very far from being a good cook and I do not even enjoy cooking at home, under normal circumstances when I rather let the others be in charge of this important aspect. But things became so much different since I started sailing as I came to realize that cooking can be fun, especially when it is done for pleasure and not under pressure. And what can be more fun than preparing a birthday cake (ok, a very big birthday cake) for somebody who does not have the possibility to prepare or buy one himself?

In the first years, the cake was quite a surprise and the ‘birthday boy’ was really taken by it, sometimes feeling deeply moved and very touched.

Now, almost everybody found out about my ‘habit’ of preparing birthday cakes for celebrations and the element of ‘surprise’ almost faded away, but I will never disappoint anybody and I hope never to miss any important celebration. For this reason, as soon as I arrive on the vessel I check the crew list and I put down all the birthdays which will take place during my stay on board, making sure not to forget any of them.

If weather and time allow it, the birthday can be celebrated with a real barbeque party with food, music and karaoke.

Birthday party on board hS Bruckner– Birthday party on board HS Bruckner

IF– Birthday party on board HS Debussy

If the vessel is alongside and everybody is busy working, then the celebration takes the form of a glass of wine accompanied by a slice of cake.

IF– Birthday on board HS Bach –

If on open air party is not possible, there are some other ways of celebrating. A small get together event can be organized in the Officers Recreation Room where officers can share a drink and enjoy some pleasant moments or in the Crew Recreation Room where the Filipinos always transform the event in a real party with karaoke music, their favourite hobby.

Birthday party in the Recreation Room - HS Bach– Birthday party in the Officers Recreation Room, on board HS Bach

Birthday party indoor - HS Bach– Birthday party in the Crew Recreation Room, on board HS Bach

Sometimes, all the crew can get together in one of the Recreation Rooms or Messrooms and enjoy a pleasant evening, with good food and nice music. Although the place can be a little too crowded for 20 people and the microphone a little too powerful, the music sounds really nice and spirits are very high.

Birthday party indoor - Crewmess Room on HS Liszt– Birthday party inside Crew Messroom, on board HS Liszt

The best indoor parties ever I had on board HS Liszt, while sailing in the South Atlantic Ocean during the winter. The vessel had a very nice and wide barbeque place – which was successfully used for some outdoor parties – but the last month on board brought along very cold weather together with two birthdays and a farewell party, all taking place in the Crew Messroom. The space was very crowded indeed, but the food was great and the music fantastic. Most of the Filipino members of the crew took their turns in singing in front of the microphone, being accompanied by the rest of the gang. From time to time, a very skillful and funny guy was taking his part in the ‘band’ by playing the guitar and making everybody feel relaxed and even happy, for a while.

Farewell party on HS Liszt

Guitar playing on HS Liszt

HS Liszt - farewell party indoor

Another important event which must not be forgotten on board is the sailor’s baptism of one of the members of the crew. This event usually takes place when a seaman first comes on the vessel or when he/she is crossing the Equator for the first time.

This kind of baptism I experienced myself in 2007, when I was on board HS Scott. I was not for the first time at sea, but I was baptized for crossing the Equator  (from North to South) – a very important event in the life of every seaman. It was a special day for me and I will always remember it with joy.

Extract from HS Scott diary:

“Saturday, 24 November 2007

8:00 a.m

At one o’clock a.m. we crossed the Equator. I wish I had been on the bridge to see the GPS showing 00 and then going South. At 12 o’clock the baptism ceremony will be performed for three of us  – me and two cadets – who are crossing from the North to the South Hemisphere for the first time.

11:30 a.m.

The suckling pig is roasting on the grill, everybody is buzzing around doing something useful, food is prepared in the kitchen, the costumes are ready for the party, but I am not allowed to see anything. Everything must be a surprise for the three of us who will be the most important guests to the party. The vessel is stopped and drifting somewhere around 3° South, in the Indian Ocean, East of Somalia. I am very excited. I am going to my own baptism, aren’t I? The captain asked us to choose our names and my choice is ‘Agapi’ – meaning ‘love’ in greek. The party starts at 12 o’clock.

4:00 p.m.

We left the party because Christian has to work. It was a beautiful and emotional event for me and for the two cadets who were also part of the ceremony.

The show was very well organized and all the Filipinos took part in acting or only supporting the others. The real masters of the ceremony were the messman, Pepe, – who was the God Neptune – and another Filipino seaman – who was disguised as Neptune’s queen, wearing an Egyptian dress (which he had bought from Suez). Six or seven Filipinos were dressed like pirates – with swords, axes, wigs and even tattoos – and they were the ones who took us, almost by ‘force’ and brought us in front of Neptune. Their duty was to wash us with brushes and then offer us to Neptune as clean and brave seamen.

IF

IF

IF

After the cleaning was done – with brushes, soap and sea water – we had to drink a special cocktail prepared  with all kind of different ingredients mixed together (red wine, sea water and some spices) to prove that we are strong enough to take any difficulty and disserve being called ‘seamen’. I found out later that my drink was just a soft mix of red wine and water, whereas the others’ drinks were some unbelievable mixing almost impossible to swallow. Both of them had difficulties in drinking the glasses, but when they finally did it, they were happily applauded by the cheering crowds.

At the end, Neptune read out loud our baptism certificates, declared the ceremony over and handed us the papers with the new names and the recognition of undertaking the ceremony.

IF

IF

Everybody came to congratulate us and lots of photos were taken with different cameras belonging to most of the members of the crew. The food was very good and everybody had a great time.”

At sea, every day is a new challenge, every personal event can bring along a real celebration, the winter holidays may not have the sparkling magic from home, but they can offer you a moment of joy and the hope for a better future. You may enjoy the beauty of the moment, but your thoughts are always flying thousands of miles away, to the safety of your dear home where your family is waiting for your return.

On Christmas Eve, you raise a glass of wine with the other seamen fellows on board and make yourself the same promise you often fail to keep – because, as much as you want to be home for Christmas, this thing can not be possible every year… and years are passing … and a new Christmas will find you again on the vessel, away from your family.

Wherever they are – in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in the North Sea or down Tasmanian Sea – seamen will always carry their beloved families in their hearts and we – the ones left at home – are travelling in their thoughts on all the Oceans and Seas of the world. Sometimes we are lucky enough to join them on board the vessels and enjoy all the wonders the Blue Planet brings along the way .

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