Canada, Meh Love Yah Lang Time!

Fun Memories of My Younger Years Upon This River, As A Merchant Marine Following A Hurricane.

I’ve been thinking that this might be a great place to kick off the tour with my new album. This mighty yet enchanted Saint Lauren River and I have a very, very long history that dates back to 1977, following that dreadful and destructive hurricane Greta. I was still a teenager, acting all mature, ’cause I was in charge of the kitchen. As a matter of fact, that was perhaps my very first assignment on a ship as a chef. I was 18, with already three years of fully experienced and well-trained sea legs, with three ships under my belt; I had been trained and mentored by some of the best at sea.

Yes. That is how we did it back then, a la West Indian Style. We had no time to mope around, nor complained about what we didn’t have, nor ask why our parents couldn’t afford it? If you wanted it bad enough, then you grab a ship and head out to sea. As a matter of fact, you’d soon realized that you now had an opportunity to bring some awesome and unique stuff back home upon return for your mom, siblings, nice neighbors, and other family members.

All of my previous training, coaching, and mentoring would now have to all be put to a test. I didn’t realize how significant of a challenge it’ll be until I boarded the ship. Perhaps my first substance abused patients, in what would later turn out to be a long career in mental health.

I’d been gifted with two of the crazies galley help, whom I now had to supervise fully. Both of them were a bit older, early twenties, one being my chief cook assistant from Aruba and the other, was my officer’s mess man from Curaçao.

Of course, they both spoke Papiamento, to which I was totally unfamiliar with at the time. However, they were both always high on weed; they’d appear high at six in the morning, as I opened up the galley to prepare breakfast, as I’d often wonder aloud, “whom in the hell smokes weed this early in the morning?”

The sad thing is that they often stumbled upon that green-ass weed that made them lazy, lethargic greedy, as to where they just want to eat everything in sight. All were meanwhile speaking I. Papiamento among themselves, as fast as they could breathe. Of course, when being that high, to them, everything was rather funny. Although I’d often ended up doing most of their work, it was indeed a pleasant crazy, and fun place to work.

Our ship, the S\S Themos, all Greek officers, but our Jamaican third engineer, led by Captain Petros Psomas, whom was in command of this large diverse crew, of Latin Americans, Jamaican, etc. We were on our way back from a long west African voyage, upriver into Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we’d delivered our African cargo and swiftly reloaded, heading now up north to Three Rivers (Twa Rivieri), Walton, and St. John Canada.

Of course, communication during such times was rather sketchy, limited. These sea captains were these tough old birds, built specifically to fight rough weather and the sea. Not sure if they’d been updated properly with the weather report, if he’d been offered special bonuses or if if it had been shared guts for him to take such a trip. So we sailed out of the Mississippi River and enjoy perhaps our last bit of calm for the next 15 days.

As we dropped off the river pilot and entered the Gulf of Mexico, we faced hell front-on. Hurricane Greta met us almost head-on as it headed up the Florida coast. Not sure if it had entered into New Orleans and then came back out or if it had gone straight up the Carolinas to meet us right in front of Cape Hatteras. That hurricane beat upon our ship for about two or three days straight, as if it had been mad at us snd definitely wanted to but us down beneath the seas, once and for all.

Most of the crew had been exhausted, seasick, and beaten down. Cooking became all but impossible. My Dutch West Indies assistants had gotten a hold of some bad weed down in Louisiana. They had been puking their guts out and unable to work since leaving the mouth of the river and entering the gulf.

One of my first jobs on the ships had been steering, learning to navigate, while trying as a quartermaster. Of course, as our now exhausted, beaten, and seasick deck crew requested relief, Captain Psomas, after consulting with his chief officer and second mate, had realized I was well trained, dependable, and could be trusted alone on his navigation bridge. And Since my cooking had now been reduced to basically handing out apples, crackers, lemonade to the other crew members to stock our pantry, making these available as needed.

He offered me the opportunity to make some extra overtime on the bridge by steering the ship. And that was basically the last time I actually held a position as a chef. As we headed up the Saint Laurence River, all beaten down, our hatches and our mast badly in need of repaired, as we pulled alongside the dock and our agent jumped on board to embrace our captain in a long, long hug.

In his heavy but rather pleasant French accent, he’d display his appreciation while reminding us of how lucky we’d been since there were about four other ships we’d later learned had never made it through that storm.

We weren’t lucky; in actuality, the captain knew what he was doing when he took the risk. Our cargo up to Canada had been a powdered chemical called caustic soda. As the waves shifted the ship, our cargo cemented itself to further served as a stabilizer. Our ship was also an old leftover refurbished junker from WW2, these ships where not welded, but rather double riveted, built to adjust with ocean 20 to 30 foot waves, as those we encountered.

Although fighting that helm was hard, My arms were sore for days. However, this helped me to realize that o was good on the wheelhouse. That I had a gift. A talent. A passion for something I’d really loved. I was good at cooking but didn’t really enjoy cooking for frothy, fifty crewmen throughout the holidays. Besides, I was young enough to return to further my career toward an officers track, to then moved on to becoming a captain. So I did finally made it as an officer but abandoned ship life at age 23 to then study on land.

So perhaps as I’m sitting there on my birthday, ready to enjoy the boat ride, as my wife took this picture a few years ago. I glanced upon it today, as it resurfaced into my Facebook memory roll, as I remembered our crew and how much fun we had in Canada during that first trip so long ago. I thought about perhaps a tour while playing my music as I assembled my band up the river to jam for old-time sake. And as my Jamaican I gin, friend and shipmate, third engineer, Tony Brown would utter aloud, as he blew the smoke inhaled from his splifts, which would appear to be exiting through every porous and orifice along with his head, “Canada, meh love yah Lang time!”

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