Barbeques and Pay Phones. There was a time that those were a BIG DEAL for Sailors around the world. A BIG DEAL.
I was a Cadet about twelve years ago - not too long in the scheme of things. I have shipmates who have been sailing longer than I've been alive. Twelve years is a drop in the bucket.
When I was a Cadet I went to the Lounge every night. There was normally a group of people already there when I arrived - we'd select a movie together and hang out. Sometimes we'd play cards, listen to music and talk story. Every night. On Sundays we had a barbeque if we were underway. Everyone would meet up on deck around the grill. Thery'd be hotdogs, hamburgers, steak, grilled chicken - if we had it we were grilling it. There were fresh salads, and yummy treats. Every week. People would hang out on the Poop Deck and drink coffee together. Get some fresh air, enjoy a little sunshine. Every day at Coffee Time the deck and engine department would meet in the Officer Lounge and hang out. Sometimes they talked shop, sometimes they talked sports, sometimes no one talked at all. Every day.
When we got into port a line would form at the Pay Phone. People had calling cards and would use them with a quarter or call home collect. For days at a time there was no contact with home. Crew members could submit an email to the Captain and he'd send it on their behalf - if you received an email in return he'd print it out and post it on your door. Most people opted out of this service because really, who wants their Captain to be reading letters home? Fights are known to have ensued ove Pay Phone usage. Who wants to wait in line on their time off watch?
Today, my ship has internet (I mean, I'm blogging at sea for crying out loud!). I also have an iPhone which I have an International Data Plan for. I have two hard drives both of them are at least 1TB worth of storage - they're full of books, music, tv shows and movies. I'm quite certain that I'm the norm not the exception and that every single one of my ship mates is equally outfitted with enough to last them the voyage. Why go to the lounge when you can watch your favorite shows on your laptop in your room?
We recently had a barbeque - it's the first one we've had all trip. The grill was set up on the stern and there was plenty of food and good weather. When I came down there was not one person hanging out outside. The Steward was sitting outside alone at the grill! People had come to the barbeque - filled their plates with steaks and the like - and gone inside to eat in the Mess Deck! I immediately went inside and got all the Engineers to come eat outside with me. We ended up hanging around outside chatting and laughing for over an hour after dinner.
What I realized is that we're all secretly starving for some social interaction.
When I was a Midshipman at Maine Maritime I did a summer cruise on the Arctic Schooner Bowdoin. My most favorite memories are the evenings. We'd play cribbage, someone would get out a guitar, Capt. Chase would read us salt water ballads and we'd enjoy each others company.
The Engineers and I talked about this after our Barbeque and we all agreed - we need to get out of our rooms - we needed to make our lounge an inviting place to unwind in the evenings - and we needed to bust out the cribbage board.
It's strange to think that I look back on my Cadet shipping experience and think man, I miss having no internet, no movies and no kindle. If I feel this way in a twelve year period I can only imagine what a tall ship sailor would think of how we spend our free time aboard - or even my shipmates who have been sailing longer than I've been alive.
Here's to busting out the cribbage board!
J.G. mentioned in a comment that she liked relating the modern sailor to those of times past. It got me thinking. This one's dedicated to her!