Galley Girl: A Woman of the Sea

Under a Bodrum Moon

Bodrum Castle across the harbour
Bodrum Castle across the harbour

There are moments in a galley girl’s life when time stands still and she dreams of romance and glamour, of dashing pirates and swashbuckling captains, and the chivalry of old fashioned manners. Johnny Depp, of course, is responsible for a lot of that.

However, unlike Captain Jack Sparrow and his amoureuse, I don’t live on a galleon. This season the skipper and I are on a motor yacht – a big 70′ power boat – in Turkey. Despite the modern concept of a life afloat with the aid of 5,000 hp engines, last night I almost had one of those romance and glamour moments.

It went like this. The skipper was away collecting guests from the airport and I thought I’d take a break from the galley and see what was happening on the pontoon. It was a starry night under a pale Bodrum mooon and I was stepping off the boat along the passarelle – that’s a modern version of a gangplank – when Franco, one of our Italian sailor neighbours, came to chat along with a new crew member, another Italian. They stood next to the steps at the end of the passarelle. Franco’s new mate held out a gallant hand to steady me. “Not necessary,” said Franco. “She’s a ‘donna del mare’ – a woman of the se

Now, while is it nice to be considered a tender member of the fairer sex who requires protection offered by a gallant seafarer, I was also really flattered that Franco thought of me as an able and agile seafaring woman. Clearly, I thought, a siren in his eyes.

We sat on the steps and chatted for a bit while mosquitoes danced and supped on our ankles. We watched the navigation lights of a big yacht, at least 120 feet long, as she turned to prepare to berth stern-to against the pontoon. We could hear a lot going on with crew shouting instructions in the dark and calling distances. As she reversed in somebody on the yacht threw the first stern line which was picked up by the marina guy waiting on the pontoon. Before he could get the line on to a cleat a second line landed on the pontoon with a quiet thud. The rope started to slither backwards across the decking towards the edge of the pontoon, inevitably to drop back into the water, ready to foul the yacht’s propeller.

I looked at my gallant Italians. They looked at the thin snaking rope. Nobody moved.

Well, if I was going to be a woman of the sea now was my moment. So I jumped up, grabbed the line and started taking it in. Now this thin line is attached to a very thick and heavy mooring line, far too heavy to throw, more usually hauled in by a burly deckhand. I looked over my shoulder at the Italians. Bearing in mind that I am 5’1″ and a little over 50 kg I was sure that one of them would step in and take the rope. More hauling and squatting in the sumo position, more straining and puffing, until the fat rope slowly crawled up from the water and bumped up over the edge of the pontoon like a bad tempered conger eel. A truly enormous Turkish deckhand clapped me on the back, grabbed the rope and wrestled it on to a cleat before it could escape. It dawned on me that something could have been lost in translation this evening: I wasn’t sure how either chivalry or the siren part was fitting in here.

Franco turned to his new crew proudly and jerked a thumb at me: “Did you see that? What did I tell you? – a woman of the sea.”

I think I’ve gained Franco’s admiration at least. I am a woman of the sea. Who wants to be a siren anyway?

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