chapter  9
25 Pages

Mariners

A race apart? The inability of the landsman to comprehend the maritime world is a deeprooted conviction among sailors. Underpinning this strong belief is the undeniable fact that to go to sea is to enter another element, unpredictable and dangerous, and that to sail the seas requires special skills and knowledge. The working world of the seaman is largely unknown to and unseen by the landsman, whose encounters with the sailor ashore are rarely conducive to mutual understanding or sympathy. Speaking ‘the thick, imperfect language of the seamen’ and stinking of pitch and poor-john (dried fish), according to the playwrights Beaumont and Fletcher, they were easily persuaded to part with their earnings once they stepped ashore, as the seventeenth-century Dutch verse complained:

Als sy komen te lande syn, Soo is haer eerste werck, Te drincken Tobak en Brandewijn; Gaen wenigh in de Kerck . . .1