Portrait of the captain as a god.

Posted on 12 July, 2012

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What is a captain? When you board a cargo ship you meet the captain. He may be drunk in the poop deck or guiding his large family around the ship on a nautical tour. He may show you around the ship or leave you to your room and porthole. He may be young as rain or old as the sea. Whatever he is he is always this: the broad-waisted god of the ship and like a god his word is law. He is untouchable, allusive, moody, unpredictable, nonsensical, all knowing. If the captain was an animal he would be a god – a Pan, bringing terror to his crew. Except that the word panic derives from Pan and the captain is there to install calm. His supreme rule over the ship seems sublime but there are places a captain does not go. You will find the captain everywhere between the bottom ‘poop’ deck and the top ‘bridge’ deck. On ever stair the captain treads, he knows about every room and has a key to it. While staring out at the blue landless arc through the porthole on our most recent voyage the phone rang and a voice very much like the Governator’s bellowed through the earpiece.
‘Laura do you by any chance have the port hole open in your room? Well please (splutter) please don’t. It’s stuffing up all the air conditioning.’
‘How did he KNOW?’ I asked, hanging up and shuttering the hole – glancing around the white cabin for the pinpricks of hidden cameras. How did he know?

Only the outside areas, those long empty hallways between the containers, the strange rooms full of paint and dummies, the dazzling deck over the prow where the waves come at you like ghost trains that smash and melt around the metal in the final moments: these are the places a captain doesn’t go. These places, and in the interview. One captain told me ‘I don’t want to be a facebook star’. Another just avoided me like I was a little sister he didn’t like much. The captains in my mind and in my words have started to unite, godlike, warped as water.

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