A trip to art site Fecal Face hawked up this post by Martin Machado, who works on cargo ships. He spends a LOT of time at sea, and the post is a fascinating insight into what must be a pretty bonkers existence. Pics and copy below are all his, but you really should read the whole thing (here) as there are more of both - I've only pinched a couple of highlights.
For almost five months now, I have been living and working as a deckhand on a 906 foot container ship making 57 day runs from New York to Singapore, while hitting many ports in between. We are importing/exporting goods from the Middle East, Asia, and America. As I am writing this we are making our way through the Gulf of Aden on what will be my last trip. Here is a little description of what its like to go to sea in the merchant marine.
On deck we tighten the lashing gear on the containers to keep them safe in rough seas offshore. While on watch on the bridge there is nothing but time to think, listen to music, stargaze, swap stories with the mate on watch, and just take in the scenery. As the coastal silt drops, the water becomes the most vibrant blue you can imagine. Further offshore you begin to see thick clumps of Sargasso Weed, flying fish, whales, and occasionally huge pods of dolphins. We will go many days without seeing any traffic at all.
The vhf radio, which here is not regulated like in the states, becomes a constant source of entertainment and misery at the same time. Some ship will transmit a Celine Dion song for way too long, then the audio from a fisherman's favorite porno will pierce the airwaves. There are a series of always touched upon racial taunts about the predominant seagoing nationalities; some imitate the formal call of a port control calling a ship. "This is port banana calling the Pilipino Monkeys, come in Monkey. How many tons of banana's do you have on board?" Then a Pilipino sailor will curse out the white bastards of the north and call his countrymen to join in. At some point someone will start grilling the Italians, saying "Maaaaaaarrrriioooooooo" in a long drawn out frog voice. No one is safe from the insults, and as Americans it is highly advised to stay silent because once they hear your accent you will not hear the end of the harassment.
As we enter the Red Sea the water gets really warm (which kills our ocean cooled air conditioning) and we begin to prepare for pirate country. There are designated lanes that are recommended for passing through the Gulf of Aden. This makes it easier for warships to patrol the enormous area and occasionally lead convoys for the slower ships. Still we hear reports of attacks all the time. Some are failed attempts, while others are quite successful. We rig large pointed metal bars on the stern, designed so that if a grappling hook was thrown, the bars would break free and fall on a pirates. As we enter the most dangerous area off the Somalian coast, the deck crew rotates lookouts on the stern throughout the nights. Pirates are known to have Rocket Powered Grenades; all we have are fire hoses that we rigged to the rails. We have not had any trouble so far, but it can be a bit frightening sitting there in the dark on calm night with nothing but a pocket knife to defend yourself.