I was stumbling about the internet the other day when I came across a quote from Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness (published in 1902). Conrad’s main character in his story, Charles Marlow, is a down-on-his-luck Englishman who finds himself working as a river boat captain in Africa. Upon Marlow’s first arrival in Africa, he finds his steamboat broken down and spends the next three months repairing it before heading upriver on a treacherous journey.
It is believed that the story is based on Conrad’s real life experience, when he served as the captain of a dilapidated steamboat on the Congo River in 1889.
Conrad writes about his steamboat,
“She was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.”
I have to admit that I’ve never read Heart of Darkness in it’s entirety, only excerpts such as this one, but this quote struck me as holding quite a bit of truth. In fact, it struck a chord that reverberated for a while as I thought about how the human condition has remained relatively unchanged, even after the more than one hundred years since Heart of Darkness was published. I laughed at the similarities between Conrad’s story and my own story, and his affectionate and critical descriptions of the boat’s qualities.
In Conrad’s story, Marlow spent three months working on his ship before steaming up the Congo. When we bought our fishing boat last year Zed spent four months repairing her before setting off through the Gulf of Mexico, the Panama Canal, and the Pacific Coast.
I’m going to take a chance and make a claim here, that probably most boat owners (and quite a few deckhands as well) can relate to this quote. The work itself is horrible, but it pushes a person to their limits, and then past those limits, to a point that the person didn’t previously realize they were capable of reaching. This is what is so unique about commercial fishing – there is something about being on the water that challenges a person and strips them down to their human core. The ocean is cruel, uncaring, and unsympathetic to your pains, and can kill you in an instant if given the chance. Yet somehow the stress, and the long days of work with little sleep, and the closeness to death, manage to make a person feel more alive.
Of course, none of this is coming from personal experience – I’m a landlubber- my opinion on the matter comes from the observation of my hard working husband and our community of commercial fishing friends. Commercial fishermen are the hardest working bunch of people I know.
I would be interested to hear from some commercial fishermen and boat captains on this topic… does this quote strike a chord in other people as well?