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Bibles to Condoms

“The Untold Tales of a Sailor at Sea”

by L.C. Tang

Never judge a book by its cover or at least don’t prejudge.

When I first heard of LC Tang’s book I did a little googling and thought that this book might not be my cup of tea. Most sea-going adventures are written by seadogs of a certain vintage like myself and have had a similar experience of life at sea.

This book comes from a completely different viewpoint.

My heart palpitates with excitement as my hand sweats with nervousness.

I remember the feeling well as I climbed the gangplank 48 years ago. For Lincee almost fifty years later it is a whole new world that she is entering for the first time.

Finding her cabin below the waterline she is shocked by the constant sound of the waves and the coolness of the cabin. Of course, as a mere member of the crew working in the entertainment department, she has to share this rather small and hard-to-find cabin with another female crew member.

Her first days at sea on this mega liner and she is totally lost at times trying to navigate the 1-95 (main working alleyway of the ship) and seeks the help of a Croatian deck officer to help her find her way. This sleaze bag pins her against the bulkhead and physically attacks her, ripping her uniform and abuses her. The ship newbie has heard tales of bodies disappearing over the side and keeps details of this attack to herself, not realising how behaviour like this should be reported. Male crew members greatly outnumber the females on board and little does she realise that from the moment she stepped on the gangway she was regarded as New Meat and would be a target each day for the sex-starved crew members.

Tee Total Lincee clutching booze and fags to be used for black market dealing

- Illustration by Oscar David.

Back in the 1970's entertainment hostesses were given officer status but it appears that times have changed and Lincee is classed as “Staff Rank”, all new to me but equivalent to leading hands as l knew them with some passenger privileges. The food quality for crew food seems to have declined over the years and a trip ashore to McDonald’s is a treat to many crew members to escape the monotony of the crew mess.

One thing that has not changed much is the high costs of phone calls from the ship. I only ever called home once a trip for very special occasions, like birthdays or Christmas. Phone cards were available to Lincee to use once the ship is in dock but rather hefty at $10 for thirty minutes. Phone cards at sea were a black market currency and could often be earned by doing someone a favour, one way or the other, use your imagination.

Lincee finds it hard to make new friends on the ship and finds solace in playing the piano in her spare time and by attending the Christian Bible study group and looks forward each week to the Sunday Christian fellowship meeting. It is not long before she is called upon to open the meeting with a prayer, which in turn leads to her holding the service and preaching the sermon.

Doing the Dhobi is another task that proves difficult for female crew members onboard ship. With only four washers and dryers available for crew use, it is a marathon to get the dhobi done. First, you have to queue for a washer and then a dryer. If you disappear while waiting for the machine to finish and you are late in returning your laundry would be ceremoniously dumped from the machine awaiting your return. Much to Lincee’s distress, she returns to the laundry to discover that some of her underwear is missing and she is left with only one set of underwear to last until she arrives in Juneau for a trip to the local Walmart to replenish her missing garments.

Acquiring bottled water could also be a challenge at sea. As it was only available at certain times. Personally, I have never been an advocate of bottled water and have always drunk water straight from the tap where safe to do so, this includes all the ships I have sailed on. I hope that modern ships now have bottle filling points around the ship to cut back on plastic waste.

Lincee’s strong Christian faith help her through many difficult situations during her career at sea. Before her life, at sea, she was often called upon to fill in as emergency pianist in different denominational churches and as such enjoyed all the different styles of services and sermons of the various churches she visited. I particularly like her explanation for the different styles of holy communion. Lining up at the altar rail and taking the blood of Christ from the same chalice, she called this the drive-thru method. As a youth I served at holy communion in the C of E and now realise we used the drive-thru method with me following along in my red cassock with the tray of wafers. According to Lincee, some churches provide little cups filled with wine along with the wafer and all the congregation would partake at the same time - The take-out method.

The Captain invites Lincee to the bridge - Why ? You will have to read to the book to find out - Illustration by Oscar David.

Before life at sea Lincee was a fitness instructor at a local gym, after every contract at sea she goes back to this life but soon realises that she cannot live the shoreside life and returns to the oceans for another contract. I believe she got a taste for junk food at sea which does not bear well for a fitness instructor.

When I started to read “The Untold Tales of a Sailor at Sea”. I thought Lincee’s experience of her first trip would mean that she was a one-trip pony and this would be her first and last contract, but as I read on I realised that like the rest of us the sea had got into her bones. Even after a terrible experience in Venice where the ship is almost turned over, holed fore and aft and mustering at the lifeboats she is not put off and does many more contracts at sea.

At this point in the book, I was beginning to think that some of her book was fiction as this stricken ship was back at sea the following day, it was then that I realised some of the tales were from different contracts and did not necessarily follow on from each other.

Emergencies at sea are always a frightening experience and within this book, there are quite a few that are documented. There is a whole range of coded announcements that indicate to the crew what is happening and what action they should take, while the passengers are left unaware. Lincee tells of a poor sailor that loses an arm when he becomes trapped in a watertight door. Which brought back to me the horrors of a sailor on Pacific Princess when I was at sea that sadly lost his life in such an incident.

On another occasion, Lincee is suspected of being a Drug Mule and has to go through the embarrassing ordeal of giving a pee sample to a customs officer while 200 crew members wait for the result. Have you ever tried peeing to order?

Christmas at sea can be a very special occasion. A call to the Cruise Director's office just before Christmas and Lincee is asked to perform the interdenominational services on Christmas eve and Christmas day as head office has decided not to send a clergyman on the cruise to carry out the service. It does not take long for her to say yes to this request. Lincee turns to God for help and delivers the services to packed lounges of passengers and officers.

Just when you build up your impression of Lincee, she shocks you. On one occasion she is dealing contraband of passenger food for a milkshake (not allowed) or black market noodles for $2 delivered in a laundry or sick bag. Before you know it she is stealing all the free condoms from the medical centre to trade for phone cards and bottles of water and gains the title of Condom Dealer.


Committed Christian she is

Ms. Goody Two Shoes she is not.

is available from AMAZON and in the UK also from WATERSTONES


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