Claudia Barba’s Monday Morning Club

I had the privilege of seeing many tall ships at full sail down on Philadelphia’s waterfront during the bi-centennial celebration in July, 1976.  I was even able to go aboard the USS Constitution while on vacation in Boston one year.  And, as the child of a Navy man, I have a special appreciation for this edition of the “Monday Morning Club”:

My husband and I like to explore tall ships, and the Balclutha, a 19th century square rigger, is a new favorite. When we poked around its compact captain’s quarters recently, I felt very much at home, and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was the efficient, wood-paneled rooms, so much like our RV’s. Maybe it was my fondness for classy brass portholes. I was very sure it wasn’t the porcelain chamber pot. Then I discovered, framed on the cabin wall, this passage from an old sea captain’s book.

“A captain’s position on shipboard at sea is a peculiar one. . . . All on board, except himself, have companions; the crew have each other to talk with and confide their feelings to; the cook and steward fraternize; the first and second officers can confer, or even talk amicably together . . . The captain, if he has no companion, stands alone, isolated, in a certain measure, from all on board.

“Although he may converse with his first officer on all matters pertaining to the ship, and even unbend and talk about side affairs, yet he must never forget  . . . the claims of his position in any way that might be misinterpreted or taken advantage of. . . . So, I believe, if the captain is married, and his wife is in good health, enjoys travel, and is not afraid of the water, it were better that she should accompany her husband on his voyages as one to whom he can always turn for companionship and confidences at sea. Woman’s influence on shipboard, if she is a true, good woman, is felt for good throughout the ship. . . and there is certainly no place where more respect and courtesy will be shown her than on shipboard.”*

If I ever met a sea captain’s wife, I would recognize her as a sister, for I too am traveling with my husband–on a lifelong voyage of ministry. Aboard his ship, I often help hoist and furl sails. I am a proficient polisher of brass and an experienced swabber of decks. But that is not why I’m along on this crossing. My commission is unlike any other sailor’s; I alone am companion and confidante to the captain.

When I do my job well, my husband’s “position on shipboard at sea” becomes less peculiar than pleasant. No matter how wild the waves or deep the deeps, he’ll never feel alone with me standing by his side–hardy, happy, and resolutely pretending I’m not one bit afraid of the water. The truth is, of course, that I’d rather be moored in a snug harbor than tossed in a tempest, but even when I’m feeling sort of seasick, I’m still delighted to be with him on this passage. And he seems like to like it, too.

Somewhere out there, you– a true, good woman-are with your own husband in his journey over wide seas. When your ship passes mine, shout “Ahoy!” We’ll smile and wave a while through our classy brass portholes and then turn back to the wonderfully satisfying task of being an influence for good aboard a husband’s ship.

*From Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days by Captain John D. Whidden (1908)

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