Saturday, February 20, 2010

Morse Code - A Blast from the past

Hi Lionel

Thank you for your email. Glad to hear from you.

It looks like only a couple of weeks since we left the old rusted freighter SHIGEO NAGANO (though it's two decades ago) where we had to still hit the Morse Key to communicate with the world after we had left the port. Today the communication revolution has brought us this far - in the sense that I can type an alphabet on my machine and it will display on your screen, that too half way around the planet. We can even see each other as we talk today - thanks to the revolution, yet we are sad, and miss our CODE.

Today when I look at it RADIO OFFICERS sounds like it is older than the dinosaur... Gawd, what did we do wrong.... We worked so hard, and we were rewarded as we were the only chosen few who would make it to the finish line before getting our stripes, and yet even though we are alive, we are history that no one even bothers revisiting. There is no more mention of Morse Code and the code bearers anymore in the world except for a few web sites, and those of us who walk around with pride and conviction that we were the flag bearers of the past generation of communication. Deep down inside we still hear Portishead Radio sending out the traffic list - don't we? or is it Bombay Radio ?? or is it the static in the air...

daah did did did did did did daah did daah daah daah did did did ....

It's only 5.30 in the morning and am sitting out in the balcony patiently waiting for sunrise, and I already need a drink! (Even though I haven't had one since new years eve...) - It's nostalgia creeping all over me..... Between this typing - I can look out into the outer anchorage of Port Khalid aka Sharjah port and see ships waiting to come inside, thanks to living on the 20th floor. Time and again I would secretly wish I could live on the beach and look out of my bedroom to see the ships docked in port and feel safe in my cocoon of my maritime days....

Those were the days, yeah! Those were the days... The days when ships were held hostage and couldn’t leave port without us Radio Officers, they would patiently wait till we boarded the gangway. Those were the days that upon docking we would be declared FREE and would hit the nearest and probably the only seaman's mission where we would send out our post, get a haircut and hit our first beer. We would go out ashore wander around even in lonely places like Sullom Voe (Shetland Isles), Come by chance, Cape Town and even to Lyttleton in far away New Zealand.... No matter where they are, they were home away from home. Nobody would know us, recognize us or even talk to us, yet they would be like our family!

Today we toil in an industry devoid of the code, the decorum and the comforts of the rank. We walk on hard ground without having to bother to lash up things and getting ready for sea. Instead of the rolling and pitching we suffer from the inner turmoil of the office politics. And from years of egg and bacon for breakfast - we suffer from diabetes, cholesterol and high blood sugar, and we wish we can attribute all this to the demise of the Morse Code...

Yes, the Morse Code, is (was) the center of our universe... The bloodline on which the Maritime industry thrived, or even existed. The planet and it's inhabitants were dependant on the ships calling their shores for their daily existence. It was the CODE that took us to the right place at the right time! Samuel Morse & Marconi were our unseen but revered Gods. Yet all this has been consigned to the deep annals of history, whose custodians don't even feign knowledge of these important facts.

We took things for granted and life went by. We ignored the warning signs of the arrival of GMDSS and believed that nothing could replace the CODE and the code bearers. We argued that satellite technology wouldn't fall into place even after we retired. And deep inside we harbored the fear that all this will not be true. When INROC sent out the initial salvo of missiles warning us that Inmarsat-C would be an active component of the distress structure, we argued endlessly against the folly of that thought process. In the meantime the satellite engineers toiled away in the background making GMDSS a reality, and the ship owners grabbed the opportunity whole heartedly, and consigned us into the darkened pits of un-employment.

Today we wish, that we can go with our coffee mug with a hot steaming brew, stand out in the bridge wing and get the fine spray on our face. We close our eyes and feel the gentle roll as we steam across the Atlantic ocean at a steady pace. We would think of home and those whom we left behind, and wonder what they were doing. and we would wish that we will not forget to pick up the next weather report and navigational warning. All these are just wishes today.

Today it's all over. All we get to do is stand out in our balcony and look at those ship's that are far away, wondering what is happening inside. we know exactly what is happening, yet we wonder.... and we wonder where today's technology will take us tomorrow...

All we do is wonder and wonder.... even wonder what the old whalers are doing today....

Let the CODE be with you....

Best Regards


  1. your morse code post will be picked up and excerpted on gCaptain's Maritime Monday column.

    It will go up Sunday night at midnight, eastern USA time.

  2. Dad

    First off, I'm honoured ()definately humbled to be part of this discussion of experience and intellect, and to be allowed into that part of your life that only few can relate to (through experience).

    I always wondered how your years at sea were, and how much you missed it. I was never fool enough to assume your whys behind leaving your life at sea. I guess I knew you were forced into erconsidering. And that must have been a big decision to make, especially since you spent more time in sea than you did onm shore...until recently. It was a way of like with its own laws and codes, its own hierarchy and funtioning. And honestly, I wouldn't blame you if you woke up one morning and wished youself back there. I think I wouldv've loved to do some of the things you did. Sadly, though, my generation will never know what it's like to live the life osd a sailor - old school style. We have too many things propping us up and too little to challenge us out of our comfort zome.

    Technology sure has changed communication. Phenomenally. Things are becoming faster - we are getting more impatient. things are getting easier - we are getting lazier. With the way tech companies are packing up multiple funtions into tiny devices, in no time at all we'll all be one-man armies. We'll ahve everythign we need inthe palm of iour hand, but no purpose to use any of it. Right now, global corporations are whinging and panicking over cutting out the middle man and reducing employment. Soon, eberybody'll have a job but have no occupation. And GCs got one thing right: the currency of the future wwill no longer be money, it'll be information and attention. Services won't be a problem coz there'll always be a new gadget 'round the corner to do what we want it to. No more worries of being deaf, dumb, blind, handicapped or even plain stupid (ahem. I mean mentally retarded - as if that sounds any better!). Science and technology will take care of it all. Hell, we'll even be able to determine the male/female population ratio, the colour of their hair/eyes/skin, their level of intelligence, and all that blah. We'll be Gods. Without purpose. 'Coz what do you give a person who has it all? What do you tell a person who knows it all? Better yet, why would you even NEED anothe peson? Even recreation (of life) will be a one-person job. No need for intimacy. No need to reveal insecurities. No need to know others. Yet, on the other side of thee gladd, there'll always be someone who'll want to control it all. Experiment with lives like they're pieces on a board game. Another person who'll want to be God of the Gods.

    Whew! That was a big one. Now that I have that off my chest...

    You say you blame it all on the death of the Morse Code, and I'm forced to agree, because we all have our own code, our own channel of communication, our own way of life...and we're slowly but surely losing it. Russel Peter's said "Soon..everybody'll eb beige". But it's no over. The fight has been fought, but teh war hasn't been won - by anybody. The Code will evolve. The need will rise. Another group of trained officers will come forward...and through them the code will live on.

    But it won't be you, it'll be them. And so we march...

    S (A.K.A. JustCoz)

  3. Hubert,

    Brilliantly put is all I can say! Work of genius! Brings back a ton of memories and makes me very nostalgic for the old days!

    Don’t know what else I can add at this point!

    Take Care and keep in touch!


  4. I had to read this twice and at the end.. there were tears rolling down ... I can imagine your plight... Aye Aye Master... all on board.

    Cheers to the beers

  5. Hi Hubert,
    Nice post
    The good old days of Bergesen are as fresh as ever thanks to you.Take care dude.

  6. Hi Godfrey,

    So glad to hear from you after such a long time, and nice of you to post your comment - which is well appreciated


  7. Though the elapsed time of my R/O carreer did not last more than 30 months I am missing it all the same. 73´s OM´s

    Adolpho Porta

    Ex-PPR (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

  8. Adolpho Porta

    Thank you for your post - am glad I found a person from PPR


  9. Hi Hubert,

    Well written post, came across and connected. The relevance to GKA, and the memories. Indeed, those were THE days.

    David Whithorne
    Come By chance...