Day of the Seafarer

Ship's Wheel

Today, 25th June, is the International Day of the Seafarer – a United Nations observance day.

Many will know the quote from Kenneth Grahame’s book The Wind in the Willows when Water Rat (“Ratty”, who is actually a Water Vole!) says to Mole:

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

What is less well known is the adventurer, Sea Rat’s, speech:

“And now,” he was softly saying, “I take to the road again, holding on southwestwards for many a long and dusty day; till at last I reach the little grey sea town I know so well, that clings along one steep side of the harbour. There through dark doorways you look down flights of stone steps, overhung by great pink tufts of valerian and ending in a patch of sparkling blue water. The little boats that lie tethered to the rings and stanchions of the old sea-wall are gaily painted as those I clambered in and out of in my own childhood; the salmon leap on the flood tide, schools of mackerel flash and play past quay-sides and foreshores, and by the windows the great vessels glide, night and day, up to their moorings or forth to the open sea. There, sooner or later, the ships of all seafaring nations arrive; and there, at its destined hour, the ship of my choice will let go its anchor. I shall take my time, I shall tarry and bide, till at last the right one lies waiting for me, warped out into midstream, loaded low, her bowsprit pointing down harbour. I shall slip on board, by boat or along hawser; and then one morning I shall wake to the song and tramp of the sailors, the clink of the capstan, and the rattle of the anchor-chain coming merrily in. We shall break out the jib and the foresail, the white houses on the harbour side will glide slowly past us as she gathers steering-way, and the voyage will have begun! As she forges towards the headland she will clothe herself with canvas; and then, once outside, the sounding slap of great green seas as she heels to the wind, pointing South!

And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass, and never return, and the South still waits for you. Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!!”

The expression, running away to sea, like running away to join the circus, speaks to us of a desire for adventure, for shores anew, and for a life lived to the full, despite, or even because of the elements of danger. Life, and work, at sea can still fulfil these desires, and dangers remain – the sea is an unpredictable force of nature, personified by the ancient Greeks and Romans as Poseidon and Neptune respectively. Seafaring for work is, by definition, a global enterprise, and around 90% of goods are transported by sea. The International Maritime Organisation is marking today’s Day of the Seafarer with its 2020 campaign, “Seafarers are Key Workers” to acknowledge the work that they do, and continue to despite the pandemic, and how they play an important, if often unseen, key part in all our lives.

Learn More

Learn more about the history of seafaring:

(by Learn for Pleasure on 25th June 2020)