An interview with Dana G., long-time partner of a respected maritime professional
This is the fifth on the Futureoftheocean therefore it is in its kind a small anniversary.
Fifth is a handful and exactly as the thumb will make possible for the other fingers to do a lot of useful activities, for example to hold something, the intention of this fifth interview is to go beyond of professional life into what complete our lives: our partners and our families.
As my high school class master used to tell us, the two mast of our sailboat (brig, brigantine or schooner) are our family and our profession. She used to tell us that you can still sail with one if one breaks but… definitively it is better having both when one is in a storm or in a race.
I know that this is a very delicate and sensitive task; our lives outside profession are our private domain; therefore I looked around with big care and for this interview I asked the collaboration of the most stable, strong but also life bursting partner of a maritime professional I know.
Dana is the wife and the long run partners of Eugen.
Eugen is a former Chief Engineer and now a respected Ship manager. I met Eugen more than 10 years ago when we both moved in North East of Scotland and I also met Dana shortly after she arrived after their two boys completed the school year.
On long run I was impressed about their relation and their family – two different personalities, two different styles mixing together in a perfect harmony… sometime giving me the impression of improvisation and chaotic charm of a high class jazz band.
Dana is also a respected professional with a diploma in health and beauty from the local University, a long-time volunteer with the local branch of Citizen Advisory Centre and also finding time (God knows how) to manage the cafeteria of a voluntary organization.
I was extremely grateful that she found time to discuss with me at a virtual coffee, both of us respecting the social distancing requirements.
Here we are, with our WhatsApp (thank you WhatsApp!) running on our mobile phones and having both a cuppa of fresh made coffee so let’s our discussion start.
Thank you very much Dana for accepting to discuss with Futureoftheocean about such a sensitive and personal topic: the life of a partner of a maritime professional.
These interviews start with… the beginning so where and how is yours beginning?
I believe that nothing in life happens by chance or coincidence. Everything happens for a reason and it is influenced by people we meet. Sometimes their influence can be life changing…..In my case, it really was.
I was born and rose in Constanta which is Romania’s port at Black Sea, so the city to be if you were looking to become or if you already were a Romanian sailor.
As child the stories told by my mum’s cousin were fascinating me. He was a sailor at that time and I remember we were visiting him between his voyages. Every time he came with new stories, about exotic places, customs and people … I’m not so sure if they were also about exotic adventures (Dana smiles). Sometimes he was also having gifts for us… I still remember the Chinese tea cups he brought us…They were made from such a thin material and they were decorated not only on the outside but on the inside bottom too. To be able to see the image from the inside bottom you should have had a clear liquid in the cup and because we were not familiar with tea, we were serving hot tzuica (traditional Romania spirit distilled from fruits, commonly grapes or plums) from it 😊 The liquid was revealing on the bottom some Asian ladies … Absolutely fascinating… I think that in my subconscious I still dream to drink a good tea from such cup (Dana tells me looking to the cup in her hand what definitively was not exactly that type of cup).
I remember very well that I was 11 years old when I wrote in my diary that I will marry a sailor….(she smiles again). It was a promise to myself, to my older self.
Despite the fact that I am not so keen to travel, I was and I still am fascinated to discover the world, new places, new cities, to meet people. I know that it sounds a bit strange knowing that I’m not interested in tourism but to make it clear, I’m not interested in regular tourism. I am not willing to pay money just to see frugal and superficial places, only reason being to add them on a list. I am interested to visit places hidden of the tourist’s eyes, to observe and understand people’s day to day life, their culture, to touch at least for a second their soul and spirit. But this is difficult, isn’t it?
Yes indeed, this is difficult. In my experience, at least two years are needed just for starting to understand where nicest places in a city are including, or better said, mainly the best places for eating and drinking with family and friends.
I think that a sailor has no time for something like this, or maybe one will start discovering a place if the voyages bring one more than one time in that place…
However, let’s return to your story.
You fulfilled later this promise to yourself…
Just to be very honest with you I have to add, as a bracket, that if I would have been a man, definitively I would have been a sailor by now. But I was born a woman and back in the 90s a woman would not have had a place on a ship. Fortunately I married Eugen who at that time was a sailor… a young and handsome one 😊
I was really young when I met him and it was kind of love at the first sight. Unfortunately he was more on the sea than at home so it took few good years until we’ve got married. Looking back I realise that this was my chance to understand how my future life will be.
I guess that been the young wife of a young sailor was a little bit of shock.
Yes, of course. Despite my early dreams about marrying a sailor I must say that I had absolutely no idea about how our life will be in reality. It was not dating anymore. It was like suddenly I found myself in business as apart of going to work for 8 hours/day, now I was having a family, lots of responsibilities, managing the family’s business, taking care of a child (soon two) 😊. Once having the children my tasks and responsibilities have increased even more as apart of being a mom I had to figure out how to fill up the emptiness left by their father’s absence. It is not easy to raise up two boys when they have a ‘’part time’’ father 😊 but I managed all well while scoring dates out of the calendar and counting days to Eugen’s arrival (Dana smiles).
On the other hand in a time when you could still feel the effects of communism in an East Europe country, when a woman wouldn’t have a place on a ship, I was intrigued by stories about foreign and especially exotic places, dreaming to visit them one day.
All the stories told by my husband were amazing to me. All his pictures were having in background either an amazing gulf or a tropical garden, impressive buildings, or native people. Some pictures were taken on wonderful streets or terraces of exotic Asian or African restaurants… Not to tell you that in my imagination all these famous ports were having also large streets packed with marvellous all day and night lighted shops that I have seen only in movies. I was wondering myself…..hmm....what kind of life this could be? A life of continuous wander and enjoyment, a bohemian life… I was terrible jealous.
Although at home we were having a life much over average, taking all the above into consideration I was considering my husband a lucky man who was living the big dream.
I know now that my perspective on his life was completely wrong. I was seeing only a side of the coin therefore I was not properly understanding my husband’s life as a sailor. I had no idea about the continuous work on board and I never imagined that the pictures from harbours were done in the rare moments, when the routine tasks allow some free time.
I thought that he knows nothing about my daily struggle, about the rivers of tears I was crying because I was missing him. I thought that it is very convenient for him only to pick up the fruits and miss the planting and wetting as I was taking care to be everything perfect for the time when he was at home between voyages. But never thought that in fact he was suffering too because he was missing the most of the magic moments as…first word, step and smile of his children, Christmas, Easter or New year night without his family around….
I know now that all these are a heavy burden but if carried right, they could be a strong foundation to build a life on.
How did you changed. What happened?
I don’t think I have changed but the way I started seeing things changed. After seven years of marriage I had the chance to visit Eugen on board and accompany him on a voyage so I had the chance to see the other side of the coin.
It should have been a short voyage but due to various reasons it became a six months voyage… and it was a dream!
It was a dream! This is quite interesting, how could be a voyage with a working ship a dream?
It was a dream because I had the chance to be together with my husband for the longest period of time within seven years.
Apart of the time when he was in the engine room, where of course was his kingdom, all the other time when he was out of duty he was only mine.
I don’t know about the size of the rooms on ships today but at that time, on a ship of the Romanian fleet a chief engineer was having a small apartment allocated on board and that was just perfect for the two of us.
Because I was all this time close to my husband I was able to see his passion and dedication for the work he was doing and understood that I was not married with a regular sailor but with one in loved with his profession. I also started to understand his personal struggle and concerns…In the brackets being said, being in the middle of the ocean and having a problem with the engine is not something you would wish for but it can happen and it happened.
I have seen my husband anxious because he didn't have a part in the spare warehouse while the machine was showing signs of breaking down or because things were not down in the machine exactly how he wanted them to be. I have also seen him worried for my safety when we passed throughout the Suez Channel and we, as all the other vessels who were transiting that area, had to be prepared for an eventual piracy attack. Getting ready for such an event was part of the normality and as far as I understood later on it was not the only dangerous water they were sailing on. However, this time was a bit more complicated as they were having a woman on board so all the crew had brainstormed how to keep me safe and find the best place to hide me in case of something happens during the channel transit. I was not a treasure but as a young woman I was probably worthing few camels…😊) They were all strong men but their only weapons were few fire hoses…
One more time it became clear for me that all the nice pictures sent or showed home were just the nice but short part of a sailor’s life. It was not only me wrestling with the daily problems…it was him as well. The problems were just different. Definitively the romantic and bohemian life I thought that every sailor has, it was just an illusion, just my imagination.
Ok, I got it but it is still something what I don’t understand about how was this life a dream.
What I don’t understand is the fact that you probably had no social life.
You are completely wrong assuming this. It was quite opposite – I had a rich social life although I was the only woman on board… When Eugen was on duty I was spending time on the bridge, with the deck crew. This is where I’ve met new people and I had very interesting conversations, obviously excluding this interview (Dana smiles so the small kidding was obvious… I have to admit that some I’m quite dull)
I have engaged with most of the officers as they had been sailing with Eugen for several years, so we kind of knew each other. They were sharing with me their thoughts on various subjects, stories about their families (especially about their kids. They must have missed them terribly) I was surprised to find out that sailing was not a passion for all of them as I thought, which was making things even more difficult for them. For some of them was just a very well paid job meant to help them raise some money and fulfil their real dreams. One of the officers, for example, was having a real passion for forestry. He studied it in his youth and his dream was that one day to have his own little forest. He even named his two daughters “Twig” and “Sprig”. “Twig” (Romanian “Crengutza”) is not a very common name but “Sprig” (Romanian “Ramurica”) is definitively something very original…
All of Eugen’s colleagues were great story tellers but the Captain was probably the greatest. A man of high culture, talking fluently in excess of ten languages, a real gentleman as well, and true leader.
He was visiting me and Eugen every afternoon and the hours spent in his presence were so precious.. He was teaching me Greek language and in return, I was serving him homemade ice cream.
This voyage was possible because he accepted to have me on board and I will always be grateful to him.
Beside the social life I have also managed to read a lot. I read history, geography and also literature about the places visited during the voyage. Well… for me they were ‘’places to visit’’ but for the crew they were only places where work must be done fast and without mistakes… So I did my best to prepare myself for what I visited and I have to say that I have been really lucky to see places hidden to the tourists’ eyes. Not to say that visiting Iraq after the bombardments and Basrah under embargo was not something that you could have been done as a regular tourist… None of the places visited were a touristic area, but ordinary places where I could see what everyday life is like for those who were living there.. Therefore I can say that I had access to places and experiences which would have been completely inaccessible in any other way. I have also wrote my thoughts about what I have seen, trying somehow to transform all the images and feelings into words.
I would like to take the chance and ask something what it is closer to my dreams and my vision about the future. It may be strange, definitively could be categorized as SciFi but I have to ask you so please let me first to introduce my question.
Thinking about the future of the ocean and at the 1st phase, Aquarius, of the Millennial Project “Conquesting the galaxy in 8 steps”, I think that the first real people of the seas will be the first generation of children born and raised on assets fix or floating into the deeps seas.
Considering the experience of your voyages and your experience of mother, do you think that this will be possible?
I don’t think that you ask the right person! I am the mother of two kids (quite grow up men now) but I was and still am an overprotective mother.
I don’t think that I would take children on board of a working ship – I would be terrified to know that my kids are on board. There are so many dangers on board of the vessels… piracy… abnormal waves…not to say about storms. I remember we sailed through a terrible storm. The water was literally sweeping the deck from one side to another. There were moments when the vessel was right in the middle of two giant waves, giving you the impression that on both sides were just two walls of water. All these mountains of waters were moving around us were looking so frightening……The ship was rocking really bad so it was difficult to keep yourself still. One of the scariest moments was when the ship leaned to one side so much that it made me slide with the chair from one side of the living room to the other one. No, definitively children have no place on a vessel.
Maybe I’m wrong and maybe safe areas and small life vests could be arranged but, as you said, for the moment from my point of view this is just SciFi…
Fair enough when children are in discussion but what do you have to say about adult couples?
Do you recommend this experience for adult couples?
Yes, I do.
I recommend a sea voyage to all partners of the sailors as it would help them to spend more time together and understand their halves better. This would be a huge benefit for the couple.
Before having the chance to sail with my husband I considered myself a victim and I thought that all these trips were for him nothing but bohemian adventures…
After my first voyage with Eugen my perspective of his work and his life during his time on the sea have changed completely and I think that I started to understand better his struggle. This experience changed completely the dynamic of our relation. The fact that Eugen was a sailor during that period of our marriage had an amazing positive effect on our relation and it consolidated it.
As soon as I returned from that trip, I decided that from then on to dedicate the time when Eugen is at home, only to us, as a family. So every period of time when Eugen's was at home, became a honeymoon.
Eugen is now a respected Vessel Manager but this is an onshore position.
When and how happens for him the shift from sea to shore?
Is it a good moment to do this shift?
I can’t talk on Eugen’s behalf so you will have to discuss with him about this.
Anyways it was a moment in our life when things were kind of guiding him through a change in his career…. I was 7 months pregnant with our second child when I’ve got a strange phone call from him saying that he will be back home in about a week and not at the end of his contract as usual. It was strange as this never happened in the 17 years since he was sailing. Initially I was delighted to hear the news but then I realised that it must be a serious reason behind his decision so I’ve started to worry and question him about it. The conversation ran through few consecutive phone calls because he was giving me the news drop by drop. At the end of it I knew that due to an accident happened on the ship he was now calling me from a hospital bed. I knew that he was very passionate about his profession and that he was usually doing more than his role requests. Also I have seen him many times helping other colleagues with their tasks and yes, this time he has done the same…He was helping one of the guys when a huge metal piece broke, dropped and put him on the ground. I was sure that he was showing me only the top of the iceberg and as I found out later one, only a miracle could have kept him away from a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
I don’t want to go further in details about that time. I don’t want to complain, or to blame anyone.
The most important is that miracles are sometimes real and Eugen, by the grace of God, recovered amazingly well and this is all that matters.
It took him about a year to recover but the time spent with me and the children, the time when he was a full time husband and dad must have had a huge positive impact on him. He decided to go back to university for a superintendent degree so there were no more than 2 short voyages until he made the biggest change of his life. In no time he moved in a Superintendent position, which allowed him to be more present in my and our children’s life.
Over the next years, the time spent far away from home became shorter and shorter and allowed us to enjoy the life together.
I remember I have asked him on the first years of our marriage to choose between me and going on the sea. His answer almost shocked me as he said he can’t choose. He also asked me not to make him choose ever again as he is in loved with both of us: me and the sea.. I never thought I could be jealous on the sea but I really was and I didn’t know how to compete with she. I am happy it was finally his own decision to stop sailing. I know he is missing his (probably) first love but now, after 32 years of marriage, 2 children and 2 grand children, the sea has a very serious competition on his heart…😊
I know this is a happy story, still ongoing, and this was the reason to ask you for this interview.
If would be to tell something to another young partner of another young professional at the beginning of career and relation, what would you say?
I avoid giving advices as each person should have its own experiences in life but I did have a conversation with my elder son regarding to this.
Fascinated, probably, by the stories heard from his father, he flirted for few years with the idea to become a marine officer so I have asked him if he remembers how we used to spray his father’s perfume in each room of the house just to give us the impression that he is with us. I have also asked him if he remembers how he was sleeping holding tight his father’s pullover for the entire night, just to have the feeling that his father was around…
Anyways, in now days, things are a bit different and as far as I understood the voyages are now no longer than 2-3 months. You can’t compare this with the days when the sailors were on the sea for at least 4 months. For example the longest time Eugen was away from home in a voyage was 13 months.
In any case, anyone who decide to become a sailor, or to marry one, needs to know both sides of the coin and to be aware that they have to pay a price like missing the important moments from the life of their dearest ones.
Moreover, the relation with the partner must be based on confidence, strong communication, understanding and last but not least unconditional LOVE.
In the entry phrase of the novel Anna Karenina, Tolstoy was saying:
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
This phrase is acclaimed and quoted by many but I think that Tolstoy was only half right.
Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way same as every happy family is happy in its own way.
So the only valid advice I would give is:
Think careful and in depth before choosing to become a sailor or the partner of a sailor. You are unique, your circumstances are unique so the decision should be only yours and you are the only one responsible for how you live your life.
You can make it possible and enjoyable even if it is tough. Eugen and I can testify!
The front picture
Credit to Ramona Popa, picture of graffiti in Athens, 2019
Credit to Ramona Popa
Wall art in the Lobby of the hotel in Hamburg. (the sailor kiss)
“Dreaming about shopping”
Credit to Ramona Popa, picture of graffiti in Athens, 2019
“Scuttle glass and twig”
Credit to Ramona Popa, picture from a London waterway, 2019
Rig – night lights
Man and woman hands with red cross painted
Credit to Ramona Popa, picture of graffiti in Athens, 2019
“Dana and Eugen – this is our happiness”
Credit to Dana G.
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