Life at sea is sometimes monotonous, sometimes challenging, and always memorable. These sometimes conflicting impulses are certainly well documented in Indian River author and longtime salt Lon Calloways new book Salty.
Calloway, a Well-Seasoned Seadog, is a longtime captain and crewmember, having sailed throughout the United States and beyond on a long list of vessels, from tugboats to ore freighters, and even Mackinac Island ferries.
Salty is the compilation of Calloways regularly raucous, periodically harrowing, and always entertaining stories originally penned to share with family.
For years Id be entertaining my family and friends with sea stories, Calloway says from his part-time home in Sault Ste. Marie, near the famous Soo Locks. And theyd say youve got to write these down.
Eventually he wrote out his stories, sharing them at a family cottage in Wisconsin. Calloways cousin Jill Loree brought her publishing experience to the book, compiling and arranging the stories to highlight the sometimes monotonous, sometimes life-changing experiences of his high seas adventures.
Out of high school, Calloway intended a career in teaching, spending three years at Michigan State University before enrolling at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City. He soon left there for the Coast Guard, however, in part because they promised duty in Alaska, something he considered a gift, but which he soon learned others considered a penal colony.
Calloways first shipboard job actually came when he was still a college student, when he took a brief stint as porter on the Irving S. Olds, a 625-foot iron ore carrier, part of the U.S. Steel fleet. In his chapter on Greenhorn Blues, he explains that when he first boarded the ship, I was frozen in place, mouth agape, watching the hustle and bustle around me.
He soon knew a proud moment on the Olds came when he showed John, a fellow crew member, the Monkey Fist knot he worked hard to perfect, which was tight as a bankers heart and pretty as a mermaids smile.
Calloway soon realized there was more to the shipping life than working for the same company or crewing on the same boat season after season, so he carved a career instead as a relief. He took temporary assignments when and where he could, which included captaining a Mackinac Island ferry boat, sailing first mate on an Alabama tugboat, and many more too.
To be successful at that game, you had to maintain and create a relationship with a dispatcher with all these different unions, he explains. They had to know I would accept a bad job every now and then to get a good job. He says good jobs included working on a university research vessel in Hawaii.
There are disadvantages to a life at sea as well, Calloway admits. The tradeoff is missing a lot of family events, he says. As well, Everybody out there was divorced; it was an occupational hazard, he adds. Sailing relief allowed a bit of a hedge from this downside, however. I was fortunate that as a relief guy I was able to maintain more of a family life, he says.
Over a career that spanned more than 40 years, Calloway says there were many interesting crewmates as well, though some who are memorable for all the wrong reasons. In his chapter One Flew Out of the Cuckoos Nest, he explains how many times you discover youre trapped on a steel island with guys who should be in a mental asylum, such as Stevie, who was certain other crew members were stealing his mail.
Because he more than pulled his weight on deck, the crew overlooked the tinfoil lining in his helmet and his constant efforts to convince whoever he could corner that aliens walk among us, Calloway explains. When Stevie informed the FBI about the imagined mail hijacking, however, the tables turned and the Feds concluded, We found the squeaky wheel on this bus.
In addition to the Calloways colorful tales, he uses the Appendix to include some of the emails he once exchanged with a fifth grade class in Salisbury, Maryland as part of the Adopt-A-Ship campaign sponsored by the Propeller Club of America. Here he tells students about traveling the Great Lakes and visiting such spots as the Welland Canal and the Soo Locks.
From the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska, Hawaii and beyond, Calloway says he enjoyed a career that allowed for flexibility and adventure. I loved the novelty, he says. It was so much fun for me; I still miss it.
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