I’ve already mentioned this subject. I talked about how you’re basically homeless when you’re onboard during a contract. But there’s more to the story. You’re also homeless between contracts, especially then. That’s one of the major reasons crew members keep returning to ships and basically say goodbye to life on land.
A new start
Life on ships is far away from life on land. Not measured in kilometers or miles but by where your attention and energy are focused. On your first contract you’re going through many experiences for the first time, with strangers that go through the exact same experience. Because it’s the same experience for everybody, age, culture, language and ethnicity don’t matter anymore. Everybody has to deal with the same emotions. Nobody knows anything from the others’ past. This is perfect for bonding experiences. Everybody can relate to everybody. Life onboard is the same for everybody, no matter what position.
Celebrating Peru's Independence Day
In addition to everybody going through the same experience and sharing the same life style, there’s a strong sense of unity which is emphasized through a clear separation between guests and crew. Every crew member has a sense of belonging. That’s a beautiful feeling that (sadly) not everybody on land can relate to. As a crew member you know that you belong to the crew, you feel that you belong to the crew. If it weren’t for you the ship would not be what it is. The crew makes the ship, not the ports, not the infrastructure, not the food, not the captain, not the guests.
Some of my best and closest friends are from ships. We all live in different parts of the world. I have visited many of them and many of them have come to visit me. We took time out of our lives to meet up and spent money to travel across the globe, just to meet again. And I know that we’ll continue our great and unique friendships. We meet to relive some of the experiences we went through together, to share exiting updates from our lives and to create new memories together.
Visiting one of my best friends the Magician Manoj in his home country, India.
Too good to be true
Now this all sounds amazing, and it is. Life on ships can be awesome, people on ships are awesome. But here comes the but. After the contract ends you’ll be home. Like, the home you’ve been calling home for a big part of your life, ‘real’ home.
After the first contract the feeling I’m describing might not be as intense or as prominent, but as you do more contracts this feeling grows. I felt homesick after my 2nd contract and I’m not quite sure if it’s gone just yet. It might sound confusing to you, but yes, I’m talking about being homesick when you’re ‘home’ on land.
Friends since our very first contract, Charleston 2013.
Life on land moves on
When you work on ships you spend the biggest part of the year on ships and they become your new home. Life on land moves on without you. Your friends and family get used to only hearing from you once every couple of days (or in my case every couple of weeks). They move on with their lives just like you do. The longer you are on ships the further you drift apart.
It’s not just that you’re never there or never talk to them. It’s that people on land can’t relate to any of your experiences. That’s also why returning home after a contract, especially the first one, is so desperately disappointing. After the first contract you go home feeling like a hero. Like a hero from the ‘Heroes Journey’. You expect everybody to be excited that you’re home. You want to tell them all about ship life and your exiting new experiences, all the people you’ve met and all the things you’ve learned. But you won’t. Sharing ship stories with people from land is always a disappointing experience. Even if those people love you and really want to listen to you, at some point they won’t understand a thing you’re saying anymore, because they don’t understand ship life or ship language. It’s not their fault, they just don’t know ships.
Visiting guitar hero Federico Gironelli in Argentina, 2018.
Friends are busy
When you’re home on vacation, you’re home and you’re off. Your friends though are working their regular 9-5 jobs. They might take some time off to see you but most of the time you’ll be alone waiting for something exiting to happen.
This will leave you feeling lonely and lost. But there is a place where people are just like you and you can’t wait to go back. Even though it’s a lot of work, even though it sucks sometimes, even though you don’t get to do normal people stuff; ship people are just like you and understand you.
I know this TED talk talks about a very different issue, but some of it is very similar to what crew go through.
If you don’t know what the Heroe’s Journey is:
After a couple of months onboard you can't wait for your sign off day. Some crew members even count how many days they have left onboard. But the same thing happens when we're on land. We can't wait to go back to the life style ships offer.