Smoko v’s Sea time

Oct 29 2013

I was at a meeting last week where I bumped into someone I’d sailed with more than 20 years ago. Many of you will know how it goes at that point; drop in standards, blah blah, things not like the good old days, blah blah, etc.

One discussion will always be how the loss of the bar removed a focal point for many ships (especially before the evening meal) where many of the arrangements onboard, particularly between different departments and disciplines were made. Less often discussed is the loss of the dynamic that used to exist at smoko.

A typical smoko from 10.00 – 10.30 and 15.00 to 15.30 was a great place of learning onboard ship for a cadet or junior officer. While the galley is often referred to as the centre of gossip, smoko, which would be held in a room just off the pantry or in some other suitable room onboard, was where the storytellers gathered.

We all learn from experience, both our own and others....

In the first 10 years and 3 companies that I was with at sea, the average serving time among the officers at smoko was typically >10 years. While this was an opinionated bunch, they were incredibly experienced. Now imagine the discussion after an incident, cargo problem etc on another ship in the company. By the time you took 3 engineers, a cargo engineer and an electrician you had >100 years’ experience in the group - and they would all have thoughts and opinions on every matter.

The crowd at smoko could tell you all about the actual ship where an incident or problem had just happened, relating it to similar incidents, findings and remedies. These accounts were so vivid that, on reflection, you realise what an education they were for a young and keen cadet (you may well have been less impressed at the time!) If you think back on your college education, it is often only the vivid 'war' stories and anecdotes that your lecturers told you that you remember.

While we often point to reduction in sea time as one of the factors that reduces the skills of a seafarer, perhaps it is only now that we are realising how much of that sea time was spent learning at the table at coffee time.