Ninety Percent of Everything

IMG_4295The other day we took a walk around downtown Sebastopol and stopped in the local bookstore. It always fun to walk up and down the rows of books and find something new. The children got some Curious George books, Gavin got a book about fonts, and I got Ninety Percent of Everything by Rose George.

The book chronicles George’s trip aboard the Maersk Kendal as it travels from Felixstowe, in southern England, to Singapore. Ninety Percent enlightens the reader about life at sea, and various aspects of the shipping industry.

Gavin says I’m a “bit of a boat geek.”

He’s not wrong, and I did insist we visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center on our honeymoon, although to be fair, there was only so much we could walk to from our hotel in Galveston.

PICT0733I come from a long line of boat geeks, my grandfather was a Mississippi River boat Captain, and later President of the New Orleans Steamship Pilots Association. My father, grew up around river boats, and later transitioned into marine surveying.

A private marine surveyor may be asked to carry out a wide range of tasks, including examining ships’ cargoes or onboard conditions such as fuel quality; investigating accidents at sea (e.g., oil spillages or failure of machinery or structures which are not considered to be critical); and preparing accident reports for insurance purposes, and conducting draught surveys to analyze how much cargo has been lost or gained.

I spent many summers (and weekends, and school holidays) as my dad’s gopher, and later driver. The day would start around 6 in the morning and end around 9 or 10 in the evening. I’d be paid $100 a day (cash, don’t tell your mother), meals included. My responsibilities included making sure we had everything we needed — snacks, water, sunscreen, appropriate layers, hard hats, boots, protective gear, cameras, binoculars, extra pens, measuring tapes, more business cards and anything else he/we might require during our day in the port.

I got to visit exotic locations, like Calcasieu where a barge had run aground. Aransas Pass where the entire family lived in an RV for the summer because that’s where the work was. The Port of Houston and surrounding docks more times than I can count. I got to go on tug boats, barges, container ships, RORO boats, and bulk cargo ships.

I was often the only woman* in the yard, and I was usually treated with the utmost respect by the crews — both on the ship, and the stevedores and other men working in the yard. I had a few occasions were someone hit on me, but once they realized that I was not of legal age (I’ve always been tall), or I was the surveyor’s daughter they quickly backed off.

I really enjoyed Ninety Percent of Everything, as it filled out the story of where everything goes once it was loaded into the ship, and the very human aspects of the shipping industry. George talks about the day-to-day life of the crew, the risks of being out on the open ocean (pirates, weather, poorly maintained ships), and the very real issues seamen face and what is being done (Seaman’s missions, international laws). It touched on issues that I’d heard in the abstract, such as piracy, loss at sea, and traveling through the Suez Canal, and helped make them a bit more real.

Final verdict: four stars, would read again, will insist Gavin reads it, will keep and make the children read when they are older


* For lack of a better term to describe my 13-20 year old self, there were other women around, much older than me (mid-30s-50s), but they usually worked in the office as a receptionist or secretary. There were very few women on the docks themselves.


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