It was early morning and I had lots of paperwork to do. It was my first watch on this ship, the Caroline, being transferred to it just two days ago. I sat alone on the bridge as she moved south-west through the Atlantic at steady twenty knots. The ocean was empty, with nothing on radar for hours now so I looked up at the horizon only every ten minutes or so, working dutifully on all declarations, forms and other sorts of paper torture devised by appropriate authorities and our corporate managers. It’s funny that in this modern age computers can steer a 6000 TEU box boat almost on their own but can’t really reduce the paperwork required by all those containers.

The door behind me opened and the captain entered the bridge. I was about to rise from my seat but he just waved to me to remain there.

– Everything alright, Jack?
– Yes, sir, goes ok. She’s on auto, everything’s fine.
– Good, good…

He walked past my seat and stood by one of the windows with his back on me. I expected some words but after a few minutes of silence I tried to resume my work. Yet somehow I couldn’t, I kept looking up at his motionless figure and then I followed his gaze. I wondered what he was looking at. In front of the bridge there was the ugly patchwork of containers of different colours extending for three hundred meters and then just sea and sky, now brightly blue as far as I could see. Nothing I could stop my eye on. “What does he watch?” I wondered trying to return to my forms and tables. I tried harder to concentrate and I almost succeeded when suddenly he spoke.

– It is beautiful – he said
– What? – I asked surprised,
– The ocean – he replied turning his head towards me with a smile – it is always beautiful. You never sailed before the academy, did you Jack?
– No, sir, I didn’t.
– No? And, do call me Mark.
– No. I didn’t. Somehow it didn’t attract me then. – I said, a bit uncomfortable without the “sir”.
– Uh, and it did me. I passed these waters some twenty years ago with a few friends on a 40 foot sail boat. That was different, you know, being closer to the ocean, slower and afraid of such giants as the one we are driving now. But it was always beautiful. – he said, looking again on the horizon.

I was lost for words, not knowing what to say. For me becoming an officer on a merchant ship was just a career choice, a well paid job more than anything else. I thought it was so for most others, judging by the short conversations we had in the mess. But here he was, a cool professional just daydreaming watching the sea from his bridge. I watched again. The thin line between the deep, almost black water and blue sky, nothing there, but those colours. I could see the waves, looking small, too small to be felt aboard Caroline. But at some point before us they were becoming just one smooth mass of water, seemingly limitless, serene and calm.

The captain finally turned away from the window and said:
– Don’t worry. It will come. With time, I guess. Have a quiet watch.
– Thanks, sir… Mark.

He just smiled and walked away through the door. I was again alone, with my thoughts in turmoil, looking at the table. I was afraid to look up, as if the ocean could pull me out of my seat through the windows. But in the end I did look again. I never regretted it.