Mind Your Helm

While growing up in New York, my Merchant Mariner father sought to teach me how to survive either ashore and afloat. Here are his rules:

• Always keep your wallet in your front pocket. It can’t be easily stolen from that location. Seeing a sailor running down the street in a liberty port pursued by a pimp who had cut his wallet out of his back pocket confirmed my father’s take on this.

•Be careful what articles and agreements you sign. Fairly obvious, but for a sailor, this one can be deadly. Near mutiny of the crew, except for the engine room, on my father’s first passage ingrained that in him, and subsequently in me.

•Tattoos are used by the police to identify you, and many people have the same design. My father had the usual eagle with fouled anchors that thousands of mariners had, so he knew.

•Sooner or later, every sailor winds up under the tutelage of some deck ape bosun. The bosun wants you to chip paint. So, learn how to chip a map; it looks like you are keeping busy. My father’s favorite was a map of Ireland. I assure you that this does not work when deployed against older mariners.

•When drinking in foreign ports with your buddies, buy a sealed bottle from the bar. Have the bartender open your bottled beer in front of you.

•Museums are generally a safe place for sailors to visit.

•Always walk like you know where you are going, look confident. Looking confused or lost is an invitation to a mugging.

 •Most importantly, “Mind You Helm” – the nautical equivalent of mind your own business.

Many of these are adaptable to current situations, the rules generally encourage you to be cautious and prudent.