Do you ever wonder why we use the term ‘drunk as a sailor?’ Or why so many sailors tend to get legless when they arrive on shore? Maybe not, but the psychologist in me has. When I woke up at 8 am on Friday morning, I could see the islands of Pico and Faial (The Azores) in the distance with their majestically volcanic beauty. It was a partly cloudy day, but the sun was shining. I was looking forward to having an explore, a few drinks with my crew members to celebrate an amazing 12 day journey and then SLEEP! I wanted an early night so that I could wake up to the sun rising and do a full yoga session, instead of the seated and lying down routines I was doing during the sail.
When we knew that we were going to be on land in the next 24 hours, the deckhand expressed her interest in drinking herself “into a coma.” The other crew members agreed they were also looking forward to a drink. I was cool. One or two was all I needed since I had such a great time in a peaceful place and really liked the state of mind I was in. The Captain and Engineer were talking about getting shitfaced and the chef and other delivery crew were looking forward to a party. I sat there thinking how I would probably be the only one rested, with a clear and pain free head on Saturday.
Let me just tell you something you probably already know, states of mind change. I too was hurting on Saturday. We got to land and when I was ready to turn my phone on, I was bombarded with messages. I had actually debated on staying off social media since I told everyone I would be offline for about three weeks. I was just going to send my family an email saying I was the happiest I’ve ever been. Then I took my selfish hat off and realised that there were other people who would really like to hear from me too and I didn’t have their email so I should go on social media. For me, it’s an adjustment and slight shock coming back to society after being outside of it, I mean totally outside of it for a couple of weeks. I just replied to what I could handle and then went off.
I can only imagine how the sailors of the early days felt when they hit land. My conditions are brilliant. I have a huge comfy bed, a nice big shower with endless water (we have a watermaker), fresh gourmet food that’s cooked for me, clean dry clothes and a dry boat. Back in the 1700 and 1800’s, they had leaky boats where they were constantly bailing water out of the bilges (worst job on a ship), no showers, limited water and dried food that lacked variety. Many people became sick and I don’t even want to imagine the smell inside those boats. They carried live animals, were damp, musty and the scent of body odour must’ve been overwhelming. I can imagine why the first thing sailors of those days wanted to do when they got off a boat after months or sometimes years of being on sea, is to get drunk and have sex. Makes sense.
For me, it was almost a mourning of leaving a beautiful place. Even if people were crabby or there were tense situations, I stayed in my own bubble of happiness and deflected the negativity. Being on land, I receive so much more energy that I have to deflect and most often times, fail at. It leaves me low on energy and sometimes struggling to keep afloat.
Anyway, I went off with the deckhand exploring the beautiful, quiet and quaint town of Horta. It’s not very big so it didn’t take very long. She has a degree in fashion so we went into some shops and she was teaching me some things about how clothes are made. Then she said, “I want a drink.” I did too. We had two mini beers and thought it was weird we weren’t feeling the effects of alcohol after two weeks of not drinking. We had another mini one and a shot of the local liquor and thought, “Oh ok. Now we are.” The rest of the crew had gone off to do their own things, so we had all agreed to meet in Peter’s, the famous sailor’s bar that most people go to when they arrive. We merrily made our way there in the rain, debating on whether or not to stop off at some more local pubs. We decided they may be wondering where we went off to, so we splashed through the rain to meet them.
Everyone was already there so we joined them at the table where they quickly discovered what our Horta tour consisted of. The captain ordered some big beers and a round of tequila shots to celebrate our safe arrival on land. Let’s just say it went uphill from there. Even though we spend all this time together on a boat, we don’t really get much time to chat. We are all on different schedules because of the watch pattern. The odd times we did eat together, it was a quick meal and then one or more usually went off to bed. At the pub we were busy chatting with lips made loose from alcohol about life stories we may not have shared otherwise. There was lots of laughter going around, lots of funny little dares to do. I would pop outside now and again and start chatting with whoever was outside smoking. It was great fun!
The deckhand and I went out with another sailor to a club somewhere. That’s all a bit hazy. I remember being in a car thinking I should probably be going to bed instead of out dancing. We got to the club and I remember thinking it was cool and how I really was quite legless. The deckhand told me we both spilled more beer than we drank, a good thing for us! Then we decided that the rest of the crew needed to join us, so we went back to the boat to round them up. The dock is a lot lower than us, like about two meters, so how we managed to stand on the wobbly steps and jump up to the boat without falling in, is a mystery to us!
We struggled to unlock the door for about 20 minutes and as I was about to pee my pants, the Captain came up behind us to say that we were opening the wrong door. We laughed hysterically as it took him three seconds to open the right door. Next thing I remember, I woke up the next morning wearing only my pyjama shirt and underwear, my clothes strewn everywhere on the floor and the shower door open. I guess I thought I needed a shower to wash off the alcohol!
The next morning we all slowly woke up and have yet to fit all the pieces of the evening together, but we had great fun sharing the parts we remembered. I had fun hearing what I missed after I went to bed! We suffered together as we worked on the boat so that we could sit down and rest again. There was talk of going out again. Only the two people who managed a nap that afternoon went out again. The rest of us stayed in pretending that we were going to go out while we curled up on the sofa watching movies.
I guess that doesn’t really answer why us sailors engage in drunken debauchery, but it’s a little glimpse into it! Perhaps it’s our way of acclimatizing back into society, relief that we didn’t die at sea or maybe to fill a guilty conscience of being away and out of contact from family and loved ones for so long. Or maybe those of us that engage in it are secret alcoholics who have to make up for all the days they lost at sea! Who knows, all I know is that it can help bond crew (sometimes probably break them too!) and as long as no one gets hurt, makes for a fun way to celebrate making it to land safe and sound. Let’s hope the arrival in Palma is just as positive….