Collective nouns for ships

Posted on 6 March, 2012

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The collective noun for the group of ships that one is waiting for is ‘an uncertainty’. With three days to go before we ride the ocean from Melbourne to Auckland we are certain only that our ship will be leaving ‘about 9 March’. Here are a few other things we know:

• We were originally leaving on the 10th.
• Our ship travels Melbourne to Auckland VIA Adelaide.
• We cannot disembark in Adelaide.
• There is a dock strike in Auckland – we probably can’t get off there either.

The uncertainty isn’t any fault of the ship or the company it works for. No. This is the very nature of ships and why the actual noun for their collection is fleet: transient. Fleeting: floating, shifting, fickle.

To catch a merchant ship is to enter another country, where berth and dock replace gate and airport, where time is exact to a number of days, where information is gathered through binoculars and the captain – there is no internet, no phone. To catch a ship is to admit to the size of the world.

I have a friend who insists that after you catch a long haul flight (how mere 12 hours seems in shipping time!) it takes a day or so for your soul to catch up. I imagine my soul racing ahead of me over the water – unused to moving so slow – while I wander around the decks like some siren-lost sailor, eating cold cuts, practicing my Croatian*, watching for whales.

* The Natalie Shulte is a German ship traveling round trip from and to Long Beach, US, staffed by a Croatian captain and Filipino crew and flying a Cypriot flag.

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