How the Shipping Industry is the Secret Force Driving the World Economy

What percent of goods are shipped via the sea? It’s much higher than you think

Ninety percent of all goods travel via the shipping industry. (Evan Leeson)

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You approach the boat in a really romantic way – your prose certainly reflects that. You also invoke a lot of literary figures throughout the book, especially Joseph Conrad. Is there something about the sea that begs to be written in that style?

I had been on a container ship for ten days, but I didn’t know what it was going to be like being on there for over a month. I didn’t know what the crew was going to be like, I didn’t know what the captain was going to be like—it could have been an absolute disaster. But I found that I had a great crew, I had a wonderful captain who treated me with grace and kindness, and he liked to teach me things, like the principles of the sextant and how to watch for things at sea. I am romantic about it because, even though it’s a heavy industrial machine, you’re still in the middle of the ocean, you’re still surrounded by immensity on all sides. You can’t not be romantic.

I mentioned Conrad a few times because he’s just the best writer about the sea, and I took a load of sea books with me because I had a lot of reading time. But I just didn’t find anyone better than him to describe it. He’s also really good at describing the emotion of people who are at sea.

I really loved looking at the ocean, or watching the bow slice through the water, I never tired of watching that. I loved it when the dolphins finally turned up. But I also loved being with the crew and hearing their stories, and learning to run in the gym—I’m very good at running with a 20 degree sway each way. I just liked being on that peculiar environment, where it’s just you, on a machine, in the middle of hundreds of thousands of miles of water.

For the people who work on the ships, and live that life, do they maintain that same sense of romanticism?

Oh no, god no. They think I’m mad. I kept trying to ask the captain, “Don’t you love the sea?” And he liked to pretend he was very practical and pragmatic about it, but he did love the sea. He used to, because I said to him, “Why don’t you walk on deck more?” And he said, “Because I’m here all the time.” But he did go out to the bridge, and he did stick his head out, and he did just kind of greet the ocean, and he greeted the ship everyday. And he was more romantic about it then he let on.

But most of the ship, they're just too tired to have any romantic feelings about it. What they want, they call it “dollar for homesickness.” They want to earn their salaries, get home to their families, have as much time with their families, and then get back to sea for however many years they’ve calculated they wanted to be at sea for. But none of them wanted to be at sea, none of them loved their job. It was just a job. But that said, sometimes I’d go on deck and I’d meet a couple of crewmembers and I’d be like, “What are you doing?” And they’d say they were just looking, just looking at the sea. So I think that sometimes—I don’t know if they were being just hard-nosed with me—but generally they're so exhausted, and they’ve got such a punishing schedule, I don’t think they’ve got time to be romantic. If you see the way they eat, for example, there’s no pleasure in eating, its just fuel and then they leave. They just want to get the job done, and go home.


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