Kingston upon Hull, England
It was my first day at sea and I am taking this opportunity to write, mainly because the other men are doing it and as you know, I am determined to do everything they do these first few weeks. It is dark here in my bed, a small bunk below the forecastle, and the ribbons of light come only from the midship, near the kitchen. We are all borrowing these streams to write to loved ones so there must be a port where mail is dispatched in the next couple of days. Soon our cook will be finished with his work and our light will disappear.
The skipper, the first mate and the engineers (who we are not to call officers, as Da did when he was a lad) all sleep aft, where the ride is smoother and the boat has better ventilation.
It was a rougher day than what I imagined my first day at sea should be. We spent nearly two hours trying to get Her Majesty (the name the Skipper has given this trawler) out to sea, into the wide ocean. We finally achieved it with great difficulty against a wicked nor-westener, whose winds were determined to keep us in harbor. I confess that tonight as I write my arms are sore from holding the ropes and clearing the deck. No motor is strong enough to war against the ocean and I learned from today that keeping her upright is its own challenge.
Ma, I could see the verdant hills of home over the shoulders of the crew as we tacked back and forth for hours. I knew it would be perhaps the last I saw of home for at least six more months. In my exhaustion, I thought of you and Da, back at our house and I tried my best to achieve any kind of order over my sore body just to make you proud.
I know you worry, Ma. I know you question whether I have made the right decision coming aboard this trawler to become a deckhand. To convince you of its merit may be impossible, although I can say this: I have to prove to myself that I can do this - that I can be my own man.
I am the only new hire on the boat and the Skipper assured the men this morning that Da was a weathered fisherman of good repute and I might have learned a thing or two from him. On days like today, I pray to God this is true.
None of the crew trusts me yet; Da said they won’t for awhile. They are all convinced that I’ll do something foolish and cause one of them to be thrown into the sea. No one wishes to befriend a possible Jonah, a superstition that makes itself known immediately on any boat. Once the crew sees that I am hard-working and respect the infrastructure of the ship, they may relax and allow me to be one of them. Until then, I must keep alert so that I not be chained down or cornobbled. The pranks deckhands play on one other are very different than the pranks those on land do.
I am determined to be like them, Ma. I will try not to speak at all for this first week unless an answer is required of me. I am not going to let on that I have had more than ten years of schooling or that I am familiar with astronomy. The skipper and the engineers seem to have no use for an instrument as outdated as a sextant and therefore the stars are unimportant to them. I can’t wait to be on a calm black sea where they all are stretched out like diamonds against the indigo velvet of the sky. On those nights I will volunteer for the watch and take my glass with me.
There are many things on the sea already that have tested me, Ma. I wonder how unstable my temper will be through desperate situations. I also wonder what will make me coil and strike another human being or whether that act will ever be something required of me. I must find out what really lurks beneath my skin, what will finally cause me, a simple boy with nothing but schooling behind him, to be a man. I have to stay the course of this trawling journey and make my way just as Da made his. In some ways, Da was luckier than I, having no formal schooling and therefore teachable in a way that I am not.
The cook is shutting the kitchen down now, Ma. I pray that you will not worry about me. I pray that Da feels better and is able to help you more. I will also pray that he stay away from the pub where all that foolish gargling happens, making him also a fool. I must do this, Ma. Please know that I am not abandoning you, I am only trying to locate the switch inside of me that will make me a man. Once I find it I will be able to go on with the rest of my life. After I do, I shall come home and give teaching a chance, just like I promised I would.
Do the best that you can, Ma.
Your Loving Son,
Simon Kelly Cooper