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The lockdown ramblings of a very old "sea dog"​

I was asked by the European Aviation Wellbeing Community to write about my experiences at sea and how that may have prepared me for lockdown on land now.

At first, I thought it would be rather patronising of me to think anything I could say might help others but then I sat and thought about it and realised that we’ve all reached this very point through our own varied paths and it can never hurt to tap from the experiences others will have collected along the way. So here goes!

Firstly, I feel the need to set the scene. For those that weren’t around back in the seventies maintaining contact with friends, family and loved ones was very different. We had no mobile phones just landlines. We had no email just Royal Mail. Television was limited to terrestrial services which in the UK limited you to a poor (by today’s standards) three channels, two of which directly controlled by the state! No video cameras per se so any motion picture entertainment would be delivered by a cinematic reel to reel device which would chatter noisily away at the back of the room you assembled within to enjoy the experience. We managed well of course because we knew no different. It was a completely different era to today.

When we moved away from the family bosom we had to make an effort to stay in contact and benefit from the meagre means available. We could make it work but when those of us that elected to leave land to cross oceans it became what I imagine it’s like now to be aboard the International Space Station. Onboard we had HF radio but to make a ten-minute phone call using that media (a phone patch) would cost a month’s salary. So we resorted to sending letters. The thing is we could only receive the mail when we reached port, sometimes after six to seven weeks at sea. My family wrote to me every day so I was always blessed with enough to keep me going for the next voyage! The ships I was on were manned by a complement of 36. It’s surprising how many people can manage to find others they don’t get along with amongst such a small group but someone always managed! So it was a fairly solitary affair and we’d spend a lot of time alone in our cabins in “self-isolation” given the only option was another night at the bar! Every Wednesday and Sunday were movie nights but we had a limited number of films on board so on the longer passages we might watch the same blockbuster three or four times! That was often a source of conflict I can tell you! Once we reached port we might have the ability to swap movies with other ships and I remember well swapping a James Bond classic with the "Pompolitn" from a Russian coal carrier. His offering? “The Red Revolutionary Draws”. God only knows whoever came up with that corker but judging by the crackles throughout he was long dead by the time it found the red carpet aboard the MV Post Champion! I’m just now smiling as I recall watching those Russian sailors out on an exposed deck playing billiards. Every now and again the ship would lurch after a cargo shift and reset the bias of the gameplay.

So how did we “manage” lockdown at sea? For me, it was a mix of the usual, good books, writing, immersing in work, study. There’s no rocket science involved and of course no “one-stop fits all” that worked but the template is always the same. I always considered myself fortunate in comparison to my own father’s situation as a chief petty officer aboard one of her Majesty’s submarines. At least I had an adequate supply of that essential “daylight” and an abundant source of fresh air and water but then he and his would obviously find relief in regular barroom brawls when they finally hit port! There’s always a solution.

Fast forward to the current time I began by taking the precaution of temporarily suspending Facebook. That this platform would eventually manifest conflict was a no-brainer really. I certainly don’t miss it but do find myself reading an article of particular interest in the online news and feeling sorry that I can’t share it other than by WhatsApp or Messenger. Next, re-establish that passion for reading. I always found it a great escape and realise nothing’s changed in that regard. Get the guitar out, although that hasn’t happened yet as my wife isn’t a big fan. I’m sure for her it’s akin to giving the toddler a drum or that brief love affair the teenager might have with the violin! For me, it’s something I’ve tried to master since I was five years old but I do sympathise with her…… Rest assured it’s coming out soon!

Create! If you’re blessed with a skill set that enables you to build, modify, repair or create then there will always be something to do to keep you occupied. Having a 14-year-old son to nurture I’m enjoying passing on 45 years’ worth of experience in all things practical. The house will never be the same again! Find time for others.

Give whatever you can, it’s amazing how this little act can lift your spirits. There’s always someone who needs something.

Do something worthwhile! I’m helping a very good friend who is writing a book which will be very useful to the aviation industry when released. Watch this space. This makes me feel good not only through helping an old friend but also by playing a small part in making change for the better.

Find time to zone out. Music is my safe space. Clap the headphones over your ears and rock out, perhaps imagine it’s really you on stage, not Freddie Mercury. Sing your heart out!

Oh and one final thing – know when to temporarily abdicate the throne. Hand the crown over when circumstances require. We all need a break but more than that, we all need our time at the front too. It’s amazing how that can lift the other members of the team!

I hope this helps someone in some small way. Feel free to comment.


Author: Ian Kenyon

  • Captain Boeing 737

  • Ex Merchant Navy

  • Ex Fleet Air Arm

  • Ex Managing Director (Fire systems Engineering)

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