It was the fall of 1980. I was a deck hand aboard the 134 foot landing craft, Krystal Sea (now the Arctic Seal). The midnight to 6AM shift was the most difficult. My job was to check engine gauges once an hour as well as tighten turnbuckles and make sure all the heavy equipment fastened to the ship deck was secure.The last thing you want is a five ton bulldozer flip flopping around a ships deck when seas get ugly.
We had been at sea for three weeks and were at our final port of Kodiak Alaska before heading back to our home port of Homer. The NOAA marine forecast reported that we would be bucking heavy seas on our way home. The normal 6 hour journey turned into 48 hours as two hours after leaving shore we found ourselves in 40 foot swells. I was pleased at that moment that neither my mother (nor I) knew that the Shelikof Strait had the highest rate of non returning sea vessels of any where in world.
Each swell passed above our wheelhouse which sat four stories above the water line. Two times that night we got turned sideways to the swell. The boat was picked up like how a pro wrestler picks up their opponent slamming them to the mat.
My Skipper seemed to enjoy it. He chuckled and quipped; “bend over and kiss your ass goodbye” as he headed off to bed.
I was petrified! The next thing I knew I was standing in water, it was my own.
Little did I know so was First-mate Rick whose job it was to pilot the boat when the skipper was off shift.
Just past 3AM, Rick began a panicked pounding on the Skippers stateroom door as the seas were more nasty then he was qualified to handle. In total darkness my skipper stood quietly, confidently behind the ships helm in only his t-shirt and boxers restoring confidence and comfort to his crew.
I learned that night that anyone can steer a ship when seas are calm. However, when circumstances are at there most challenging what each of us need is a true leader.
In daily living each of us is tested by circumstances that challenge our ability to lead. Those challenges may come in the form of how we lead ourselves, our family, our company, our church.
I believe the question that each of us needs to continually ask is; “Am I truly a leader or one that simply knows how to steer a boat?