pilot boarding san francisco

A San Francisco Bar Pilot boards the MSC Anna as it enters San Francisco Bay. Photo credit: Abner Kingman

Captain Livingstone: Troubled Waters

George H Livingstone
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April 20, 2021

By Captain George H Livingstone –

Anyone who works on the water understands both the practical and elemental connection between water and life. We earn our living, feed our families, and live our lives while working on the water. We witness daily occurrences that would make most others pause. Risk is ever present. The term, “I found religion at sea,” is no misnomer. The wonder and the danger merge into one, bringing mystery to those who heed such things. That mystery connects to the greater idea of a universal presence.

As for accidents, we understand they will happen, but any loss of life brings it home. Every day, all over the world, thousands of ships’ bows dive into and over every swell. Every day, hundreds of thousands of mariners believe, with a certain heart, those ships will take them home again. This is the awful part: we believe we will see home again, even during the tempest. We intellectually recognize the dangers involved, yet emotionally believe it will still end with a homecoming.

There is a mystical, religious connection between the sea and humans that goes back before recorded history—from the book of Genesis, to Pima Indian legends:

“In the beginning there was only darkness everywhere, darkness and water.

And the spirit of God moved over the waters and God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

I have encountered very few mariners who would argue that connection. Anything of a mystic nature introduces the unknown, and along with that comes understandable caution and fear. The fear derived from the very vastness, immenseness, and unpredictability unfolding before all who travel the ocean trades.

I was fortunate in my 45 years—from academy to retirement—that I never went into the sea due to accident. It crossed my mind more than once over the sixteen years of ocean towing I did. It was the stuff of nightmares. The idea of going down in a vessel is nothing less than terrifying. The kind of terror that makes you wake up with a start, heart beating too fast, thinking, Oh Jesus, it was just a dream.  

As soon as I saw the images of the capsized Seacor Power off Port Fourchon, La., those nightmares came to mind. It is jolting and haunting to see an upside-down view of a marine vessel that should be right side up. Prayers for the crewmembers and their families did not seem enough. This column is for them, their families and loved ones, and all who have gone down in ships.

 “I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea.  And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same amount of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood…in our sweat…in our tears.  We are tied to the ocean and when we go back to the sea—whether it is to sail or to watch it—we are going back from whence we came.”  –JFK America’s Cup Dinner, Sept 14, 1962

We live in an incredibly instantaneous world, and I worry that most people detach from the human stories flashed daily across the Internet. We see the headline and move on in an almost unconscious rush. But the story of the Seacor Power is the story of each crewmember and their families. These stories are the stuff of life: the good, the bad, and ultimately grace-filled. If only we would listen just long enough to really hear the stories. Anyone’s story. Perhaps, just maybe, the world would be a better place.

We toil alone,
one thousand miles from shore.
Gale blowing near storm,
green water ripping by the house,
the constant hammer blows of the sea.
She seems to want to stop and rest,
well, stop we might but rest? No.
Just teeth clenching, bone jarring
reverence for the new day


To more arrivals than departures—

Captain George Livingstone is a *former* San Francisco Bar Pilot, co-author of ‘Tug Use Offshore’, contributing author of ‘IMPA On Pilotage’ and a regular contributor to gCaptain.

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