Around the World with Marine Navigator by Farzaan Ahmed
Explore the world, countries & continents from the vantage point of the Sea with a Marine Navigator
Ever felt the wind blowing through your hair? the breeze tousling the strands, caressing your scalp ever so gently, pacifying and invigorating in turns and all that costing nothing? In fact you could be getting paid to exactly do that for several hours a day! That is merchant navy, my life for you.
Just when we thought that all careers today required being locked up indoors staring endlessly at computer screens or answering calls in stupefying accents, here is one that offers an outdoor experience combined modern technology in all its varied forms.
Well, the inspiration to join the water world doesn’t have to come from a single person. It carries its own rich history behind it, one of the most ancient and curiosity generating professions in the world with the legacy of globally renowned explorers and navigators like Ibn Battuta, Magellan, Marco Polo, Vespucci and others being responsible for the discovery of many nations and beginning the era of worldwide trading across oceans.
Is Marine Navy Life For You?
Let’s keep the history aside for a while and move on to the modern world; people who can fit the bill. If someone likes to include the elements of physical challenge with team work and travel, then sea life is waiting right here. Here is an insight on how it’s different and unique from rest of the mundane chores we do in land:
- We get to work in a clean environment (health benefit).
- We don’t have to commute to work (saves time).
- When we get back home during vacations, have free time to develop other interests.
- Last but not the least; I believe merchant navy pays well.
The merchant navy entails the transportation over water of goods. Nowadays it also includes elements of the offshore and cruise industries. Not to be confused with other navy whose main purpose is territorial defence or other similar national interests.
On board the ship
Now let me take you on board the ship, which is typically manned by a Captain, 7-9 Officers and 10-12 ratings. The captain’s post is through deck officer’s stream. Presently I’m sailing in the rank of THIRD OFFICER in command and I am part of the deck navigational team on board.
The Best Part of My Work
What interests me the most in my work of exploring and navigation is that whenever we make a passage plan to a new country on a chart, I get very excited. It’s one of my dreams to travel across all the 7 continents and sail over all the 5 oceans.
Not very long ago I still remember my 1st port of joining the ship, New York, USA. Well, the journey had begun, the initial hard days of my training on the ship as deck-cadet didn’t deter me and every day of my life on board made me a better person. In the 1st few months I sailed mostly in the North American Territory, New York City, Savannah-Georgia in USA, Kingston in Jamaica; crossed over from the Atlantic Ocean via Panama Canal and went onto the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast to Long Beach, Los Angeles & Oakland, San Francisco in California.
Then there was a long voyage across the Pacific Ocean of around 20 days towards East Asian Ports of Shanghai, Shekou in China, HongKong, Keelung in Taiwan and Pusan in South Korea. The tides and roughness of the sea, the surging ocean waves, the rolling and pitching of the heavy seas made me realise that all that glitters is not gold.
The rough weather with the Gale storm that I had to face approaching the Coast of Halifax, Canada in Nova Scotia Islands is still my worst experience at sea. Wind Force in beau fort scale 9, rain, hail, frost and the -15 deg Celsius in the snow storm made me sick. Then we crossed over and sailed through the North Atlantic Ocean from Canada into the Mediterranean Sea calling the ports of Barcelona in Spain and Genoa & Livorno in Italy; those were the few times we went to Europe.
Next port was Haifa in the Middle East and then onto Asian and African coastline. It was not easy for me to survive as the extreme cold temperatures in most places where I went at that time were new for me and difficult to adapt because I hailed from a tropical climate.
Brief observations on some of the places I visited
My work has taken me to many places. They include the Ice-peak slopes of Canada, unspoiled wilderness and world famous cities of USA. Western Europe with Spain and Italy was more classical and conventional, whereas Haifa and Jerusalam was a mixed bag.
Navigating in East Asia which includes China, Hong Kong, Taiwan & South Korea was the toughest from a navigator’s point of view due to the heavy traffic density of fishing boats and ships. It is also being one of the world’s busiest transits for shipping trades. Hong Kong’s coastline with a cluster of tiny small islands looks like shining Diwali diyas on the sea shore.
Let me begin with my first port of call; the most sought after, ethnically diverse and multicultural nations of USA. Natural parks and places of unspeakable beauty and virtually everything in between. New York City, the city that never sleeps is the centre of North American Commerce and Culture. On the west coast, Los Angeles mountains, beaches and of course the traffic. People seem to be busy in their fast life, but are kind and friendly too. The Long Beach Port had a fabulous restaurant ‘Chart House’ where the sea food I had was simply exotic, ‘Shrimp Fresca’ and ‘Fish Fillet’ was one of the best meal I ever had.
Halifax, Canada was a roller coaster ride on ice in sub-zero temperatures. As the port operations were delayed the shipping agent took us to a Ski Club for skiing, my 1st shot at adventure sport. Interestingly I found people not only speaking English but also chattering in French. The agent explained to us that French plays a substantial role in Canada as does Spanish and Latin in other parts of North America. You could also here several other immigrant languages like Mandarin, Cantonese & Tagalog.
There is some difference between North America and Central America regions compared to the Caribbean. Panama is the Nexus between North America and South America. Unlike in North America, people here do not have the glamorous lifestyle with the luxuries; they are instead more indigenous, generous and traditional; sticking mostly to their roots.
Although I haven’t sailed a lot in the Mediterranean, but the memories of my days in Europe are still afresh. City of Barcelona in Spain with the prolific Soccer Team from La Liga had the streets full of its banners, jerseys, posters and merchandise from the club have left vivid memories. Very near the Port, you could take a walk in the City is which reflects the cultural history of the country.
Reflecting the nation’s deep Mediterranean roots the cuisine is mostly seafood; the Basque style –cod, Albacore or Anchovy or the Galician Octopus-based Polbo ‘a’ Feira and Shellfish dishes. The colourful La Rambla Street near the bay has a huge market place with plenty of artefacts and souvenirs to buy. There are also many street performances that entertain the crowds always.
Another country I went in that region was the land of Pizza & Parmesan cheese, Italy. Livorno, port in Italy is a modern city in this medieval country. Reputed for the charming fashion labels such as Gucci , Prada , Versace , Armani , Dolce & Gabbana , Valentino to name a few; had display houses in every nook and corner. Undoubtedly it is considered as one of the world’s main fashion capitals. I even got myself one of dose expensive ARMANI leather jackets to keep it in my priced possession.
Leaning Tower Of Pisa is a 3 hour drive from Livorno. To witness one of the wonders of the world is truly a breathtaking experience.
Haifa and Jerusalem
Got a chance to go to the Haifa port. I had more time to go out explore there since the ship stayed there for a few days. There were stringent security checks and measures in most of the areas which does not help when you are a tourist. Nevertheless, Jerusalem due to its religious significance is the place to visit.
Most speak Arabic and Hebrew, but frankly for me both of them sounded very similar. Along with Masjid Al-Aqsa, there are lot of monasteries, churches, mosques built all around Haifa and Jerusalem which depicts the religious diversity in the architecture of the nation. The cuisine is a mix of Arab, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, comprising of Pita Bread, Hummus, Shakshouka, and Zaatar, which I am quite familiar with on board.
Sailing in Asia was mostly in the South Eastern Part; China & Hong Kong. I was more comfortable in Hong Kong, because most of the people speak English along with Mandarin and Cantonese. Hong Kong city looks so small on the map, but when you take at the city from its central subway station it looks like the centre of the world with all its hustle and bustle. Several inhabitants from the subcontinent, made me once feel like I was in India. Hong Kong being the largest of the mainstream cities in China is fabulous for shopping. Consumer goods are available at a very reasonable price.
My Chinese colleague Chen Jinming took me for sightseeing tour to Shanghai. We had a great time taking pictures of the Shaolin temple and other monasteries. Buddhism and Taoism are the main religions in China. A visit to the Zhuangzu Wushu Martial Arts academy was exciting, just to witness the globally popular and ancient Chinese self defence art of Kung Fu. Our stay in China was cut short, otherwise I would have gone to see the Great Walls. May be next time.
The best part of my seaman’s life so far, began when I sailed down to the Southern Hemisphere for the 1st time to South America. Past three years I’ve been going there frequently. The culture of the people mainly reflects the Spanish and Portuguese influence. African culture derived from their long history and the influence of United States as the neighbouring continent also has a substantial impact in their development.
Soccer in South America
Soccer being the prominent form of Sports in the continent, famous players like Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo and Messi are their heroes. Kids in Brazil , Argentina , Peru, Ecuador , Columbia , Chile , Venezuela , Uruguay , Paraguay all were playing football in the streets. It is indeed their 1st passion.
I joined the ship in the port of Santos, Sao Paolo, Brazil. It is the largest city in the continent. While on shore I left along with the agent to various places like The Santos F.C., football club for which their current superstar Neymar plays. Then we went on a long drive to Rio. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro is the main attraction for all the tourists who come to there. Portuguese is their mother tongue. It is the only nation that speaks Portuguese, rest of them speak Spanish and latin.
Brazil is set in the fabulous backdrop of lush green Amazon forest, which I have tried to capture in my photos, while navigating in the channels between the islands.
San Lorenzo, Argentina, is the home ground for their superstar Messi. I also went to the stadium, where the Argentine played when he was young. I also tried the Argentinean traditional beverage; the herbal tea called Mate
and to drink it in bombisha
, the small kettle cum container. Also managed to pick a few packets of the tea as souvenirs.
Peru & Chile
Port of Callao in Peru with Machu Picchu sanctuary is another world wonder. The sheep wool cloak also called machu picchu is a collector’s item. The handicrafts and knitted woollen wear is the speciality of the country. The Magellan Straits, which come under the jurisdiction of Chile has snowy peaks and active volcanoes that are part of the Andes Mountain system that shades the length of South America on the western edges. While there is no common consensus on one single national dish here, the Chilean cuisine comprises of Empanadas, Caldillio de congrio (soup made from eel, tomatoes, onion, potatoes and spices).
Ecuador & Venezuela
Guayaquil in Ecuador has influences from Peru. Puerto Cabello in Venezuela made me like French croissants’ and Pasticho which is the country’s version of lasagna. Cartagena in Columbia had beautiful gardens and vivid wildlife bird sanctuaries with colourful parrots, fierce pelicans and falcons 2 eye-hawk which you cannot see in India.
All in all, truly South America is a holiday destination and one of my favourite.
The difficulties of a Seafarer
I’ve been to countries and cities I can’t pronounce and places on the globe I didn’t know existed. A seafarer’s life is not just all about adventure, exploring and worldwide travel. It is not easy for the faint hearted because we sacrifice a lot and do our best to overcome all the odds and challenges we face at sea. Maintaining relationships, homesickness, seasickness, superior & hierarchy differences, unpredictable accidents and deaths, hard Jobs, no proper sleep, less rest and not the least, the unforgiving weather conditions of the ocean are some of the challenges you have to face.
But my passion to survive and triumph in my quest of exploration is larger than those challenges. The determination and perseverance to sustain in tough conditions on board makes mariners, different men altogether.
I’ve been on a journey, on a roll but sometimes I got to close my eyes just to open my soul. I still have to discover few more continents like Africa, Australia and Antarctica.
By: Farzaan Ahmed
A Marine Navigator