Klaus the seaman

– One of my many non-careers –

Just out of highschool – I think it was barely a few days after graduation – I went to Hamburg and looked for a job on a big ship. “Where do you want to go, young man?” they asked, looking me over with a knowing smile. “As far away as possible.” I said, “and how about tomorrow?”

 This was my ship: MS Regenstein.

(Norddeutscher Lloyd – 12740 TDW – 1960   Stückgut – Australien/Deutschland)

 And Australia was the destination.

The roundtrip was going to take almost half a year.

My first day out on the ocean (English Channel). I had already traveled quite a bit (click here for more) but never been on a real ship before. I was so excited, I somehow forgot to get seasick. Later I did a bit, but it was never a problem.

The first stop was Rotterdam; at the time the biggest harbor of the world. Look at the forest of cranes; all the cargo, boxes, crates and pieces had to be lifted and lowered into the holds of the ships one by one. The big universal containers  were not around much yet.

 Cargo came often in barges from all the rivers in Europe.

 My bunk bed for about half a year.

 Learning to be a sailor involved many things…

My work was simple but very diverse. Washing dishes was about the least favorite one. I was a “Moses” – a disparaging term for the lowest member of a crew, a ‘go-for‘ who was supposed to do everything, if it wasn’t quite clear if it was really my job it was mostly considered to be at least good to learn.

 Washing the deck, cleaning gear and greasing cables…

… was much more interesting.

The engine room was fascinating, but my job was always only the dirty work. I didn’t mind, I learned a lot.

A little fire in the engine room while we were riding out the first storm off France in the Bay of Biscay. The engine actually broke down several times during the entire trip and we sometimes floated helplessly for days before it was repaired.

The rocks of Gibraltar. Entering the Mediterranean Sea.

Marseille /France. So much to see. A new world in each port.

Genoa/Italy. Markets, strange fruits, noisy people I couldn’t understand. I remember when my new friends of the crew introduced me to a transvestite in the streets. I had never even heard of something like this and simply thought they were all pulling my leg, until the poor “guy” who looked so absolutely feminine showed me his penis. A powerful lesson!

 Livorno /Italy and of course the leaning tower of Pisa near by where I pretended to be a tourist.

So far I’d only read about volcanos. At the southern end of Italy, entering the Strait of Messina, we sailed by the little island Stromboli where its volcano was just erupting. I couldn’t take my eyes off this show.

At Port Said we entered the Suez Canal.

 You could see big ships as if they were sailing through the sand.

 The elegant Arabic dhows down in the Red Sea.

And then, past the sweltering heat in the Red Sea – the first time I ever experienced real heat – past Aden and then the last tiny island of Socotra we moved into the vast Indian Ocean.

Clouds: More than the vastness of the ocean the immense cloud-scapes traveling over the sea took my breath away. We could see torrential down pours from far away coming toward us, drenching us that you barely could see 30 feet or so, and wandering off, giving room for sunshine within 20 minutes.

At first we had calm days and incredibly still nights. In those nights – all the stars were completely unfamiliar for me down there in the southern hemisphere – something changed in me for ever. I slept outside on deck, but I couldn’t sleep, I was so profoundly affected by this unimaginable space around me. I saw bioluminescence on the Indian Ocean, a milky, eery glow on the ocean as far as the eye could reach,  fantastic gigantic glowing geometric patterns, moving like “Aurora Borealis” (Northern Light), miles and miles across. Something I hadn’t even heard of ever. We sailed right through it, leaving a luminous trail behind us, glittering stars above and below. The slow pace of the ship, the ceaseless slow movement, the constant low vibration had become part of me by now. There was the ship, our little world, and the horizon, far away, never-changing, no matter how we traveled, how days and nights came and went, the horizon: illusive, a fictive limit, following you like your own shadow.

 

Then the wind came. Somewhere near the equator.

Wind that broke all the rules I had known until then. Our steady, docile ship became a helpless cork, tossed around in gigantic waves, shivering from bow to stern when it slammed violently into mountains of moving water. It was scary, to be honest, especially when I saw the serious look on our captains face. But it all only added to this new feeling of oneness with the universe in me.

 

I even secretly climbed up on one of our masts to get more of the violent movement, I got soaking wet even up there.

* * *

After 12 days beyond Cape Guardafui of Somalia, continuously surrounded by empty horizon, we finally arrived in Fremantle, the port of Perth in West Australia.

 And across the Great Australian Bight we did business in all the ports and reached Sydney.

 We got a star-docking-place right next to the harbor bridge.

 This was 1966, the great Sydney opera house was still under construction.

Australian soldiers coming home from Vietnam. They were treated a bit better than Americans coming home then.

We went around all the way to Brisbane. I managed to take a few days off and did some exploring inland (hitchhiking). For the first time I saw these strange black people who fascinated me:

* * *

On the return trip, almost a professional by now in all my little roles on the ship, we hit another hurricane. Out in the flying seawater all the time I caught a serious eye infection. In the little port of Bunbury on the west coast they dropped me off and left me in a hospital. Suddenly all by myself at the end of the world, pretty miserable with one eye shut down, I felt a bit lonely and depressed in my bed. The young nurse who cared for me in these few days must surely have seen this. I couldn’t communicate much with her, my English was still very poor. One night she came over and kissed me and laughed and left. Wow, this was pretty sweet, I thought, and my blues vanished completely! Each time then when she came to carefully put some drops into my eye she sealed it with a kiss. She wasn’t there when I left to get on a bus and catch up with my ship in Perth.

I kept the label of the ointment as a lovely souvenir.

 * * *

Then, one day, Australia disappeared behind that horizon again. I should come back much later when this amazing life unfolded and check it out a lot more. (click for ‘Australia V‘ and previous, plus ‘Celebrating a Place)

The long haul back lay ahead. I was a full crew member now, still a “Moses” when it came to receiving orders, but belonging to the crew, to the ship.

This was one of the officers I made friends with.

The boatswain. More my boss than a friend, but he treated me well.

 

A sailor from Portugal who showed me many tricks how to take it easy.

 A guy from Bavaria who wanted to treat me like a dog until I took the courage to explain a few things to him.

This was the radio operator, a soft-spoken, pensive man; he would sit in his shop in lonely nights and listen for distant SOS calls.

Hein from the tiny island Amrum off the northwestern coast of Germany.

* * *

Back home I didn’t wait long to head out for another adventure, not by ship. All this was just a chapter, an episode in this great story called life. It was not the outset of a career, I’m not cut out for careers, I never really aspired for any career, I always found it confining. But it was all this too that set the tone for things to come. In those starry nights on the Indian ocean I felt the ultimate freedom to choose my life, to cast my fate into the wind and not be afraid of this freedom.

Here is a link to some great stories – in German –  related to the Regenstein shortly before my time, written down by Kapitän Jochen Pahl: http://www.kapitaen-jochen-pahl.de/?page_id=787

                                                                                       Klaus September 8.  2011

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12 Responses to Klaus the seaman

  1. Richard Thuillier says:

    Great stories, and pictures. You were ahead of your age in the fact that you took, and kept so many photos. I like your idea of linking segments to your other stories. Quite the time you had.
    As always I await the next instalment.

  2. ..and what a wonderful chapter it was!

  3. Selma says:

    What an amazing story. Your photos have blown me away. I am almost speechless at the wonder of your adventures. What sights you saw. Unforgettable and life-changing. It’s just brilliant you ended up in Sydney. It was fantastic to see the Opera House still under construction. Thank you for this. It has made my day!

  4. didta7 says:

    i really enjoy the story

  5. hazel says:

    great images klaus, seeing “youth” thru your eyes and hearing tales from the young man told by the old man!! still today you are a man unhampered by the modern world….

  6. troismommy says:

    What an adventure!!

  7. Kapitän Jochen Pahl says:

    Hallo,
    tolle Geschichten und noch tollere Fotos.Ich würde mich freuen,wenn wir unsere Seiten verlinken würden.
    herzliche Ostergrüße von der Insel Norderney in der südlichen Nordsee
    Jochen
    PS.: Gibt es eine Besatzungsliste von dieser Reise der Regenstein? War Kapitän Gotfried Clausen und sein Bootsmann Addi Hutz an Bord?

    • Peter B. says:

      Moin Herr Pahl, bin gerade auf diese Seite gestossen und kann Ihnen einige Anworten geben.
      Ich war zu der Zt. 4./ 3. Offizier auf der M.S. Regenstein. Kapitän war Capt. Tillack, 1.Offz.
      Völkers, war später Reedereiinspektor,2.Offz. Weser, 3.Offz. Linnemann und ich als 3b Offizier Peter Buschan. Chief war Herr Kracker, Bootsmann weiss ich nicht mehr so genau.
      War ca. 1 1/2 Jahre auf der Regenstein.
      Vom Moses, 1958 bis 1970 beim NDL gefahren. Als Ausbildungsoffizier und während der Fusion den Lloyd verlassen, mit weinendem Auge. Viele taten sich schwer, den Schornstein umgemalt zu sehen.
      Bin heute 70 Jahre alt, als Kapitän 1995 in die Seemannsrente gegangen.
      Vielleicht habe ich Ihnen mit meiner Meldung Freude bereitet, in diesem Sinne…schöne Ostertage, gruss auf die Insel von Nordseeküste…nähe Bremerhaven.
      Peter Buschan

  8. Steve says:

    Hi Klaus, I just read your post “Klaus the seaman” this morning and I have to say I found it really quite moving. The combination of text and photos is very evocative and brings the whole experience to life for the reader. It made me think of my own experiences in the sixties and brought back to me that sense of the limitless possibilities you have as a young person, even though you scarcely realize it at the time.

    I myself joined the army when I was 17 and was sent out into the wide world to see things I couldn’t have imagined existed. At that age such experiences can make or break you I’ve found, but I’d say that you discovered a sense of personal freedom that many would envy.

    It also made me wish I’d had a decent camera back then!

  9. Gert R. Boese says:

    Hi,I was As “Moses” on the REGENSTEIN” in 1962/3 and remember Kaspar Schibli (Swiss) as an other one. I think he is to seen on the Picture in the kitchen. By the Way: Addy Hutz and Captain Claussen were very fair to the Crew and Claussen was the Most impressive Master I ever had! (Albatros- Cap Hornier)
    Best regards-Captain Gert R. Boese

  10. Klaus says:

    Interessante Geschichten, noch relativ weit vor meiner “aktiven” Zeit als Seemann, u.a. auf der MEISSEN, einem DSR-Frachter.

    Viele Grüße aus Halle an der Saale
    Klaus

  11. Cathy says:

    I’d been trying to find out the name of the artist who drew the cartoon ship with all it’s crazy characters (shown on kapitaan jochen pahl web page), when I stumbled upon your glorious story and photos. Such adventures are only seen by a small percentage of our world, and I envy you! Hope you’re still doing exciting things! P.S. If anyone knows the name of that artist, please drop me a line. I have the same print from 1967 but cannot make out the artist’s name. Many thanks!

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