At age forty-two, Marlowe sits drinking with four other Englishmen who began their working lives in the merchant service. Most have other work ashore now, but they share the bond of seafaring men. He tells them the story of his first trip to the East, when he was an adventurous young man of twenty and had hired on for the first time as an officer, second mate on an old freighter bound for Bangkok.
Engraved on the stern of the ship was “Judea, London. Do or Die,” a grandiloquent motto that appealed to the youthful enthusiasm of her youngest officer. Her skipper, John Beard, was also on his first voyage as captain, but at sixty years of age, he was an old hand in the merchant service. The first mate Mahon was also an old man. Much of the underlying irony that pervades this adventure is the implied contrast between what such an experience meant to a high-spirited young man and what it must have meant to the old captain. The storyteller, now midway between the ignorant youth he once was and the sorrowful but dignified old man, appreciates both perspectives.
The ill-fated Judea had nothing but trouble from the very beginning. She had not even reached the port where she was to be loaded with coal, when her ballast shifted dangerously in a murderous North Sea storm. Everyone began shoveling sand ballast to right the listing ship. It took them sixteen days to get from London to the Tyne, where they were delayed for two months because they had lost their turn at loading. When at last all was ready, they were rammed by a steamer, requiring further repair and three weeks’ delay.
The Judea actually made it out into the Atlantic when another storm brought on an even more desperate struggle with multiple leaks. The crew pumped water furiously from the leaky hold for days and nights as the ship began to break into pieces about them. Only with great difficulty did they flounder back to the English coast, where the ship was unloaded and put in dry dock for repair.
The crew departed in disgust at that point, and the frustrated officers had to bring in another crew from far away because everyone around had...
(The entire section contains 576 words.)
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