The Sailor Man in New York

Invisible seafarers in a city still addicted to shipping

The crew of the QM 2 at least tie up in closer proximity to New York City's attractions than do cargo ships parking in New Jersey.

In real terms, this is what that boils down to: Instead of a ride to the Jersey Gardens Mall with missionaries, the Cunard Line provides a free shuttle to the Fulton Mall.

On a recent afternoon at SIH, Drege sits in his office, his desk stacked high with gifts for a "Christmas at Sea" program. They're bags filled with socks, woolen gloves, and hats—things sailors shipping out from the tropics tend not to have.

Pastor Marsh Luther Drege drowns in some of the 2,000 “Christmas at Sea” gift bags SIH will give away to seafarers.
Jackie Snow
Pastor Marsh Luther Drege drowns in some of the 2,000 “Christmas at Sea” gift bags SIH will give away to seafarers.
Retired seafarer Murray Barr has volunteered at SIH for 45 years.
Jackie Snow
Retired seafarer Murray Barr has volunteered at SIH for 45 years.

"A lot of times, seafarers don't pack enough warm clothes," he says.

With Christmas approaching, he recalls a seafarer he was particularly close to, a Brazilian named Joao who had lived at the house periodically over 15 years. He stayed here as he fought liver cancer earlier this year, before he ended up in a hospice.

In Joao's final days, Drege spent a lot of time with him. "We listened to 'The Girl From Ipanema,' " which reminded Joao of his home, "and we'd just sit together," he says. Joao had not wanted his family to know he was dying, but after some persuading, he allowed Drege to contact his relatives in Brazil. They arrived just in time to see him before he died.

"A lot of seafarers go to sea because they want to be untethered, they want to be unmoored. They like the freedom that comes with a life at sea," Drege says.

At the time of his death, all of Joao's belongings fit in a couple of bags in a locker at SIH, but there were fellow workers from around the globe at his funeral. "You should have heard the stories," Drege says. "These guys really build a life for themselves out there."

The Seafarers & International House is the last of its kind, a place for the ever-transient to rest for a moment.

"There are times, even for a seafarer, when they do need to be tethered, they do need to be moored," Drege says.

"And when they do, we're here."

sthrasher@villagevoice.com
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