Someone pointed out to me that we mariners are indeed a lucky lot that we are able and get to see enchanting sights, vistas and panoramas even the most frequent air travellers will never get to see in their lifetimes. I didnt quite catch his drift until he explained that some scenes can only be viewed at sea level where only mariners are privileged to enjoy.
As a first year cadet on board a ship at sea, I remember clearly the first time we sailed into busy New York harbour in mid winter en route to the port of Newark, New Jersey. Passing Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty ( of "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"), the sight of all those tall and majestic skyscrapers in Manhattan against a backdrop of clear icy blue sky, is something I will never forget, ever.
On my maiden voyage to Hong Kong, for instance, first impressions on making port at dusk with ships anchored and moored to buoys in the harbour; brightly lit men-o-war dressed to the nines; ferries, junks and bum boats bobbing in ships' wakes and planes landing and taking off from the old Kai Tak Airport are still firmly etched in my mind after all these years.
For me especially, and I am sure for many Malaysian seamen, Muka Head on the northwestern cape of Penang Island bring special memories. The sight of the old lighthouse flashing in the distance against the dull glow of sunrise is pure magic. It never failed to bring a tear in my eye, the same way I suppose that the white cliffs of Dover will produce a lump in the throat of many an English Jack Tar, especially after many months at sea. Or on entering Tokyo Bay, the view of snow capped Mount Fuji gleaming in the distance even to the most travelled Japanese seaman.
Indeed, Muka Head for many of us simply means 'home'- the promise of nasi kandar breakfasts, a visit to the barber for a much needed hair cut, and phone calls to loved ones from the Mariners' Club in Light Street ...
Oh ! dream of joy ! is this indeed
The light-house top I see ?
Is this the hill ? is this the kirk ?
Is this mine own countree ?
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Home is the sailor, home from the sea:
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
the plunder of the world.
- A.E. Housman