It’s the holiday season. As we always hear, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! But could this be also true for seafarers who spend Christmas on board?
Throughout my seagoing career, I celebrated nearly half of it at sea. Some were pleasant while a few were like any normal day and that is B-U-S-Y.
Yep, busy and business as usual. We have to keep the oil moving so many of you on land will enjoy the holiday with your families.
My First Christmas On Board
My first Christmas as a seafarer happened way back in 2009. Perhaps, this is my first Christmas away from home.
And it’s quite awkward as I only have vague memories of it. Probably because it’s the “usual or normal” celebration on board happening every time.
We dine in the messroom, drink beer, sing karaoke, and retire for the night.
I did take some pictures but my backup hard drive got corrupted.
Anyway, the New Year that followed was actually quite memorable, and that I’ll always cherish.
Christmas in Port
As I mentioned, there are “business as usual” Christmas celebrations.
I had this one last 2012 under a time charter contract somewhere in Europe. Can’t really help it since we’re having 2 to 3 very short voyages a week!
When Christmas is held in the port, we don’t get the usual dining, beer, and formalities since everyone is busy managing the cargo.
It’s hard to be merry all day when you have to perform your jobs and focus on the operation.
Meet and Greet
But it’s the usual “meet and greet” with the visitors at the gangway or the crew in the mess hall or day room. Then you hear merry greetings over the walkie-talkie just to give you a feel for the season even for just a bit.
For some, this could be heartbreaking knowing too well that other ships are partying on this important day and seeing families or friends back home do the same. But I learned to live with it and only focus on the job at hand.
After all, Captain also likes to celebrate Christmas and this would be made when we are back at sea or at the anchorage. However, it may come later than usual.
Yup, we do celebrate late Christmas. What else would we do to the suckling pig that he ordered two weeks ago?
Christmas at the Anchorage
Spending Christmas while at anchor gives more freedom than while in port. Every crew gets the chance to prepare the ship for Christmas Eve.
Some are in the galley helping prepare the meals. A few setup tables, decors, and arrangements in the mess hall.
This is a special event and even if we are busy with the preparations, we also have to keep in mind the safety of everyone on board.
However, there’s a caveat especially if you are loaded. The berthing prospect could come at a moment’s notice. We’re just a “Channel 16” call away! This could derail that marvelous preparation of spending a wonderful Christmas on board.
Thus, some Captains only prepare if he is sure that the ship won’t go inside the port during that time.
Christmas at Sea
Perhaps, one of the best times to spend Christmas on board is when the vessel is sailing provided that the weather is good with no traffic.
Most of my Christmases happened that way.
There is less pressure on deadlines and “what ifs” because nobody can bother you in the middle of the sea. You have a definite time frame as to when the ship arrives. This alone provides comfort for the mind even if you party all night.
We Have Gifts Too!
In many cases, we have gifts from our companies. Though we got it a few days after Christmas or Christmas Eve, we still enjoy the celebration in our floating home.
Even the oldest, most serious crew on board gets to smile after receiving a present from the company.
So it’s not all bad and not all good either. I always look at the good in every situation I’m in. Being a seafarer gives me the benefit of both worlds or many worlds in my case. One is celebrating Christmas at home, and another is on board.
Experiencing this season from different parts of the world- well mostly in Europe, is the price I pay for not being with my family.
Various places have slight differences in carrying out the spirit of Christmas. There was a time when I received lots of gifts from a Seaman Center in Dublin, Ireland!
Flow of the Celebration
Celebrating Christmas on board follows a defined route.
During the day, the crew prepares the food, decor, and venue for dinner. Headed by the Bosun, a few of us prepared “lechon” while the rest of the galley department made some surprises.
The celebration starts with a dinner on Christmas Eve between 1830H to 2100H. Everybody except the duty mate gathers at the messroom or galley- wherever the food is best arranged.
The Captain would make a small speech and the grub starts immediately. On a normal day, dinner starts at 1700H but since it is deferred during Christmas, expect everyone to be extra hungry.
Beer, Wine, and Karaoke
After dinner, the crew gathers inside the Dayroom to continue the party. This is true for most Filipinos on board.
It’s in our blood to sing wherever we are. And knowing that the next day is a non-working holiday, this is like a mini-freedom in our seven-month contract.
Since beer and wine are sold on board, this is one of those instances where the Captain gives them for free. But not all ships have alcohol.
There are companies with ZERO Alcohol Policy implemented in their fleet so they replace it with non-alcoholic beer (NAB). Don’t worry though. Someone might have already sneaked out a couple of vodkas!
Shortly Before Midnight
The watch officer is usually left alone at the bridge with short bursts of surprise audience from the Master.
Depending on the setup, other officers or the Master himself relieve him for dinner. His watchman is also sent to party with the crew especially if the traffic is very light.
But shortly before midnight, all the crew gathers inside the bridge. Captain prepares sparkling wines and gives them to everyone.
When the clock strikes 0000H, the whole crew toast their glasses and embrace one another while wishing a Merry Christmas.
In fact, the whole bridge gets “noisy” as the people broadcasting on the radio also participate in our celebration.
Closing the Night with a Party or Slumber
Those with watches in the morning usually retire to sleep after the “Christmas Toast”. Meanwhile, others go back to the Dayroom and continue partying until the break of dawn.
There would be posts and chats to family members during this whole time. It’s also normally common for everyone to disappear into their cabins for a quick video call or chat with their loved ones.
The internet is not always free depending on the ship. Others rely on mobile data like Three UK or Vodafon if you are in Europe. If this is the case, you would see the crew gathered in the area where the signal is strong.
After greeting their families, a few return to the Dayroom to continue the party.
It’s normally like this every Christmas. But there are variants depending on the ship and crew on board. I experienced one time wherein we had lots of games.
We were all very happy and everybody enjoyed the night.
At that moment, we forgot we were still on board because we had so much fun. I think that was my best Christmas celebration.
May the winds be in your favor.