‘Always seek your Dolphins”
On one of my many trips to Russia, one which I really don’t remember much of, apart from this one little moment in time which I’m about to share with you all.
We were taking eighteen, or so, thousand head of Angus heifers and bulls to Russia for a breeding program they were undertaking. On this trip, was myself, 80ish Pakistani and Filipino crew and 8 other Australian stockman. You see on these trips, there was the crew, the crew would have the job of feeding and watering the cattle, they would also do the washing of the ship. When the cattle are loaded on the ship in Australia, the ship is spotlessly clean. Not one drop of shit, not one straw of hay or one pellet of fodder was left on these ships when returning back to Australia. One trip I did, we waited at the port for 7 days before we could load the cattle into it. The reason being was the Australian Quarantine And Inspection Service (AQIS) sent the ship back out to sea because it wasn’t clean enough and didn’t meet the AUS standards.
(I’m about to digress from my story, but when you think about it this is a fun fact which many people don’t consider when thinking of live export. )
As soon as cattle are loaded onto a ship, they start shitting, and that shit piles up, and up, and up, until you are 5 days into the trip, with 18,000 head of cattle taking roughly 8 shits a day. My quick math tells me that it’s roughly 90,000 tons of dry matter in the form of shit, hitting the deck per day. Then, add in all the water they drink, which I think would be around 20 liters per day for each animal, which also comes out the other end. 5 days of all that, and you are literally covered in shit from head to toe by the time the day is finished. When it comes time to wash that shit out of the ship, the crew jump on the end of the fire hoses, the same ones that are there to wash pirates off from the side of the ship (see here for the pirate story) and start washing.
When the crew starts washing the ship out of all the hundreds of thousands of tons of shit on board, it gets messy, like, really messy. There were times on the ship when you would be absolutely, from head to toe, covered in cow shit. Then, you would have to race through waterfalls of watery cow shit that would be streaming down from the top decks to the bottom deck where massive bilge pumps would pump all that watery shit out into the ocean to feed the fish. If you looked out the back of the ship, you would see a long brown line that would trail off into the sunset on those shitty wash days.
I feel I could take up three whole pages just on stories of how much shit was actually on those ships.
(Back to the story)
So, working with these 8 other Australian stockmen, on a ship with 18,000 head of cattle, would see us split into teams of two. Our job was to maintain the welfare of the animals from the minute they stepped onto the loading ramp of the ship in Australia, to when they were discharged from the ship in whatever country we were going to. We would be finding and treating sick or wounded cattle, manage the feeding and watering regiments and instruct on when to start the wash down.
Working, sleeping and eating with 8 other people, in such tight quarters for 15 – 55 days (my longest trip) was not easy. And when it comes to spending time with people, I like to spend my time with nice, genuine, quality human beings…. It was tough, after a while, some of the stockmen would start to hate each other, form their own little groups, get annoyed at one and other and all the other things that go with living out of each other’s pockets for any length of time. I look back now and feel I could have navigated through this better then what I did, but to cut to the chase, I was miserable, unhappy and homesick as fuck. I was 19 at the time, all the other Australian stockman were in their 40s to late 50s. So there was a bit of an age gap there. I think we were in and around the Greek islands somewhere when the dolphins saved me.
After a few weeks of putting up with all the shit going on, I was pretty unhappy, I couldn’t wait to get off the ship. Couldn’t wait to fly home and see my friends, see my family, and get away from every other Stockman on board that ship. Shit, I was excited to get to my hotel in whatever country we were in just so I could connect to wifi to talk to my family, yes that’s right, no wifi, no contact with the outside world whilst on these ships.
One day, after finishing up just before lunch on the top decks of the ship, when all the other Australian stockman went in for lunch, I went out to the very front of the ship. Mostly to whale in my own sorrows, and to snatch some alone time which was hard to find when bunking with 3 other humans. After standing there for a few minutes, I noticed the birds soaring around the front of the ship. There was no flapping of their wings, just soaring in the wind keeping up with the speed of the ship perfectly. Then they would angle straight down into the water and take a massive dive, to come up moments later with a fish. Oh, how I wished I could fly like those birds and head straight home.
Then, the dolphins appeared, not one, not two, but hundreds… Jumping with the front of the ship, swimming and diving ever so elegantly, for a moment, all my worries were forgotten. They were all huge, beautiful mammals. I saw big dolphins, baby dolphins, dolphins with fins missing, all swimming, jumping and playing just meters away from me. For at least 5 minutes, I witnessed hundreds of the most beautiful creatures on this earth, swarm around me. Before I knew it, it was the scene from Titanic, apart from there was no Rose, just Jack standing there with his arms outstretched in all his glory. With the birds over his head and the dolphins underneath. And then, just as fast as they appeared, they were gone.
All of a sudden, after what was probably a total of 5 minutes, the world wasn’t so dark. The shadow had been lifted and the light was streaming in. It was truly amazing, after a brief moment in time, I witnessed my world completely flip. Doom, gloom, and dread were completely left in the dark and a new world of possibility, ambition and wonder were brought to life. Just like that, in a matter of minutes. One blissful moment was all it took, I had a spring in my step that lasted until I touched down back in Australia.
What are my learnings from this??
Who you spend your time with determines how you view your world. You are definitely the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. The power of proximity, this is a good lesson to learn, and earlier the better.
Secondly, things can change in huge ways in just a few moments. So don’t lose hope or give up, you are one moment away from seeing the bigger picture, or putting shit things behind you and focusing on the good things in life.
If you ever find yourself in times of doom and gloom, have a look around for those dolphins, in whatever form that is for you. Wheather that be family, friends, or even your dog. You may not even know what or who your dolphins are. But a sure way to find them is that they pick you up, not bring you down.
Oh… Ps… When I was up on the bridge, (top of the ship where the captain and officers navigate the ship) a few days after my wonderful experience with the dolphins, I saw that there was a live camera filming right where I was standing, broadcasting it to the people navigating the ship… I can just imagine the officers standing there watching me Titanic the shit out of the front of that ship….