Sign On

From the first contract to our third, every one has been different. Full of surprises, worry, sleepless nights, and fear. Every sailor’s life is hard without any doubt, it is the hardest job in the world that they do, but so is the life of the sailor’s wife at home due to her love and devotion for him. Nothing comes harder though than when the sign on date finally arrives.

As every sailor’s wife does you support your sailor unconditionally and their dream of going to sea. Once the confirmed date arrives you automatically go into action and that organisational mode we perform so well takes over. Writing the packing list, which I do even though I am so far away in England right now, the shopping which we do together via video calls (stopping off for treats along the way as he knows me so well!), checking we have everything, that the suitcase is ready, and finally the padlocks are shut.  Most importantly though is making sure time has been spent with family and that the last family meal has taken place.

The goodbyes never get any easier though, in fact for me they get harder. Each sign on day comes too soon and you are never ready to say goodbye. Once all the chores and packing is done, that is when it hits you and reality sinks in. He is going again and will he ever come home. Your sailor knows, and it leads to a conversation that no wife wants to have with their husband but life at sea means it is required. The conversation that consists of one sentence “ I will come home to you, but if anything happens remember I will always love you”.

The first contract I remember I cried every day for the week leading up without telling him and tried to avoid conversation. Making excuses he should be with his family and rest. Why? because I had never been in this situation before and I was scared he wouldn’t ever come home. He was understandably excited and I didn’t want to dampen that. This was his dream about to become reality, everything he had been working incredibly hard towards. I was so proud of him for everything he had achieved and to get to that moment of joining his very first vessel. At the same time, when you love somebody as much as I do him, it felt like my whole world was falling apart. I didn’t know what to expect over the coming months. It was a whole new world we were now facing.

The second however was different, despite the experience of the first this time I couldn’t stop the tears in front of him. On video call at the airport, sat waiting in the departure lounge in the early hours of an English morning I was overcome with emotion.  There was no hiding it this time. I didn’t want him to leave. Although you support your sailor in all he does, you miss him and worry about him, causing me to utter those words of “Please don’t go”. He turned his head and couldn’t look at me, and then I saw him wipe his eyes and it was in that moment I realised it was just as hard for him too. Neither of us could say anything, we kept the call running whilst he boarded the plane and enjoyed those precious moments that bring you even closer together. Those moments in which no word has to be mentioned for you to understand what each other is feeling.

Thinking back to last October and the third contract sign on day, these moments were missing for two reasons – time and distance.  I was excited for him joining the new ship like always, having finally been given a vessel name after various were mentioned back and forth between the company departments. The thought that this one would be coastal sailing eased my worry after the last one. My excitement was tinged with a lot of sadness and anger however. The promised months off had became only a matter of a few weeks before he was gone again. The last contract being incredibly tough, highly demanding in both the work and the conditions faced at sea, I felt he needed more time at home. Time at home which being honest had already proved hard.

See, when your sailor has been at sea for so long, had their contract extended, faces continuous rough weather and long voyages, it takes time to adjust to home life again. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to be at home, of course they do. But they go from an isolated life into all the noise and movement within their home environment which can be overwhelming and distractions are needed. At the back of their minds, the sea life is always calling them even when they have just got home, and they cannot settle.

During leave he also had exams to be passed, requiring travel to and from Bombay and Lucknow, whilst I was dealing with family issues and trying to complete my Master’s dissertation which I had neglected. When you are a sailor’s wife they are your priority from the very start, a commitment is made that you will be there whenever they need you day or night. You meet their needs because you love them, needs which understandably do vary according to the contract. Hence, my promise of studying well had been broken this time, but it was a sacrifice I had to make for us. Just like he does for our future every day. We are a team.

Looking back, I should have realised the pressure, the rushing, being unsettled during leave had made us distant from one another. This is the only time where I know I didn’t manage juggling our life and unknowingly neglected him. Hence when the sign on date came, it felt far too soon and everything had to be done in a rush. There was no time to fully digest what was happenng. I was left feeling guilty with regret that we hadn’t been able to spend the time together we had planned and needed, so I was also angry at myself.  I didn’t want him to go, but my heart knew despite the tears that the sooner he would go then the sooner he would be back again, or so I thought.

What transpired following meant the rushed leave and sign on date set the scene for how the rest of the contract would go.  A contract that has been unlike any other not only for us but for every seafaring couple. What was a 6 month contract is now approaching its 8th month with no end in sight. It has been the hardest of them all, and I had thought long voyages and pirate zones were hard enough to deal with! Life at sea continues to surprise you and teach you. I wish I could say when he will be home, but I simply do not know.

One thing I do know though is that through it all it has made us stronger and my pride in him could not be any greater. Every seafarer has been vulnerable during this pandemic, left exposed and made to feel forgotten about. But the way they have all managed is to be admired. They are true heroes, I know my sailor is definitely mine.

C x

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