Aboard ship some of the most interesting characters are young seamen fresh out of high school. They turn to the sea for reasons of adventure, avoidance of responsibilities (or punishment!), financial reward or the appeal of solitude to a feckless sole. Regardless of reason they are ALL green.
Now since I’m writing this from 10,000 feet I don’t have access to the internet’s wealth of etymological resources but I can suspect a reason for the color association. Some possible origins might be seamen green with expectation for the weekly draw, green for the poker table at which they loose draw money, or maybe green in envy for the bosun’s salty demeanor. The most likely reason, however, is weather. As a wise Chief Mate told me amidst a calm, pregnant and expectant North Atlantic Sea, “You can always tell the new hands from the seasoned mariners once the weather fax starts spitting pages. The young are giddy with anticipation while the rest of are thinking ‘Shit, here we go again.’” Yes, green with sea sickness is the likely origin.
Since Neptune first stirred the sea with his trident or (insert personal belief set) the term Green Sailor has meant just one thing to the rest of us; opportunity for a laugh.
Now each ship has different methods of “mentoring” young seamen but my personal favorite occurs in but one location on earth; 20 miles off the coast of Canada’s Pacific Shore. This location is important due to its proximity to Canada’s Coast Guard air squadron.
Housed in a hangar ashore is a C-130 aircraft. The winged bohemeoth is equipped with radar scanning equipment that can not only detect a ship’s radar but, if the aircraft get’s really close (think the spilled coffee scene in Top Gun) can fingerprint the ship’s radar emission. Why is this necessary? I can think of 1000 reasons, none of which make any sense. Ostensibly Canada wants to make sure you are who you claim to be… for National Security reasons.
The year was 2001 but months prior to any larger security concerns. We were heading north to load crude oil in Valdez Alaska aboard a 300+ M VLCC. This particular day I was standing bridge watch when the Chief Mate called to pull my lookout for “operational concerns” and replace him with a brand new ordinary seaman. The kid was so green in fact, it took him 20 minutes to find the bridge (no he wasn’t a smoker). The mate also gave me strict instructions to tell the Captain in person once the aircraft, nicknamed Buzz Saw, was spotted. Being new to the ship myself and uncertain this OS could detect even a SOLAS flare shot from the bow, I glued myself to the bridge window.
A good 30 minutes passed before a distant object appeared through the clouds. Expecting to be back in short order, at least well before the kid spotted the flight, I announced “I’m stepping down to the Captain’s office for a minute, don’t touch anything, just shout if you have a problem.“ He nodded…. nervously.
As I walked down the ladderwell and into the old man’s office I was unexpectedly greeted by the entire crew.
“Close the door” said the bosun. “Mike affix the bucket!” Mike, a fun loving AB of 25, scurried up a ladder and affixed a bucket of sea water precariously above the door.
Admittedly dense and still unsure what was happening I said, “Capt, the plane is three minutes out. I should get back to the bridge before the kid soils his pants”
“Nonsense, just standby” Captain Krueger replied with a grin.
The room became dead still and within moments you could here a distant rumble followed by a voice from the bridge.
“Uh, Mate…” “Mate!” “MATE MATE | HOLY SHIT | CAPTAIN!!!”
He must have slid down the rail because we never heard footsteps. “C-A-P-T-A” SPLASH (Immense laughter from the peanut gallery) “IS THIS A JOKE?” yelled the confused seaman.
The bosun quickly answered, “A lesson my boy. Never let the mate spot a target before you. Now back to work, all of you!!”
I can’t remember if I was more amused by the situation or thankful the Captain didn’t think it was wise to play this joke on officers but I can tell you the story has been effective each time I’ve noticed future watchmates staring aimlessly at the clouds