ships do not a prison make – tales of filipino sailors – em01

Tales of Filipino Sailors


eastwind memoirs 09
by Bernie V. Lopez


without trust, relationships are fear-based
you sign a contract
there is an accounting, a quid pro quo
you are paid what is owed with interest
with trust, relationships are love-based
there is no contract
there is no accounting, only sharing
you are paid a hundred fold
relationships based on spirit
are free and flawless
relationships based on law
are fraught with dangers


conversations with odette, surf, fr kaloy
This is an excerpt from the book
WINGS AND WANDERLUST – The Art of Discovering Your Inner Self
(send the book as a Christmas gift to friends anywhere in the Philippines, Php450 all postal charges included, received via JRS in2 to 3 days, no credit card needed. Email request to


           The Filipino seaman is the most colourful mis-adventurer in Europe. On the road, I met them at most major ports, Bremen, Hamburg, Piraeus, Rotterdam. They are at once gentle and violent, lovable and feared.
           I have so many tales about Filipino sailors that I cannot possibly put them all in this book. I met a Filipino sailor named Ray in Athens, who brought me to his Panamanian ship in Piraeus. The entire crew was Filipino except for the captain who was Ger­man.
           On deck, a group was playing cards. A good look­ing but gay Filipino put down his cards when he saw us coming and winked at me, “Say, a new guy on board. Hoy, pogi. (Hey, you, handsome).”
           I ignored him.
           “Yes you, handsome. My name’s Yvonne. Wanna have some fun? My cabin’s over there. I’ll give you the time of your life.” The others laughed.
           My host, Ray said, “Ignore him. He’s just trying to be funny. Just follow me.”


           There were several tables and about a dozen Filipinos were drinking not retsina, the cheap Greek wine, but pure luxurious Black Label, double malt. We went around the table as Ray introduced me to everyone. They were a noisy bunch, fully inebriated. Ray and I settled in an empty table.
           “This is a crazy place,” he said. “Sometimes we have no women and we are on the high seas for one solid month.”
           “What do you do for fun if that happens?” I asked.
           “Well, Yvonne has the time of his… I mean… her life. She hops from one cabin to another and everyone accommodates her for lack of anyone else.”
           “Must be hard.”
           “Some don’t even see sunlight. They are in the engine room everyday for a month. When we hit port, they live like kings. I mean, you don’t spend a single cent on board so you are filthy rich by the time you get to port, right?”
           “Right. And sky’s the limit.”
           “Capetown was a mad place,” he quipped.
           “South Africa?”
           “Right. There’s this street full of bars. One side is for blacks, the other side for whites. So we browns, go any­where.”
           “And they don’t mind.”
           “Sometimes they do. But we manage. Once we entered a bar full of Japanese sailors in Capetown. They cornered all the women. When the women saw us, they excused themselves to powder their noses and didn’t go back to the Japs. They went to our table.”
           “Let me guess, the girls like you because you spend more, right?”
           “Right. Filipino sailors immediately order the most expensive champagne. They spoil the girls and regard them as royalty. I mean, real red carpet. Nobody beats Filipinos in spending, not the Japs, not the Koreans. Problem is we don’t care anymore how much we spend after one solid month in the engine room. The Africans are cheapskates. Even the Germans and Greeks are surprised at us. Problem is, we always get into trouble.”
           “Obviously, the Japs who lost their girls at Capetown were insulted. So there was a big brawl. I mean, one big crazy free for all. Sometimes, a guy gets killed.”
           “I thought that happened only in movies.”
           “It’s good to let off steam, otherwise you go crazy.”
           “Do you find girls who cheat you?”
           “There is this case, also in Capetown. The girls, after ordering champagne left and right, go to the powder room and never return. So we are pissed. So first, we get real drunk. Then we tear down the place. I mean, not a single glass was spared. After that, some bars in Capetown wouldn’t accept Filipino sailors anymore. We have developed a bad reputation as brawlers in Capetown.”
           “Well, we’re meek when we’re not drunk or when we’re asleep,” I commented.
           Suddenly, a dishevelled blonde woman appears from a cabin. She crossed the hall quickly to another cabin.
           “Am I hallucinating or do I see a woman on board.”
           “Oh, I forgot to tell you. Yvonne has competition these past few days.”
           “I thought women are banned from cargo ships.”
           “They are if you are caught. They say they bring bad luck. That’s non­sense. They bring pleasure.”
           “You guys are crazy,” I said.
           “We would be crazier without her. She is the lesser evil, my friend.”
           “How long have you had this girl?” I asked.
           “Oh, about a month and a half. We picked her up in Ham­burg but she is Danish.”
           “The captain knows?”
           “Are you kidding? He’ll kill us. He’s a Hitler.”
           “You mean you’ve kept this woman from the captain for one and a half months on board the ship?”
           “Sure. It’s easy. She just hops from one cabin to the other. We give her first class food.”
           “She must be earning a lot.”
           “She’s finishing off all our pay. In fact, she gives up sometimes. She can take ten guys everyday for four days but not for two weeks. She wanted to go down at Rotterdam actual­ly, but we’ve con­vinced her to jump ship at Copenhagen. She’s asked for a condition, though.”
           What, higher rates?”
           “Nope. She wants a maximum of only six guys a day, not more, and free booze. She also asked for a rest day a week. We agreed. We pitched in for three bottles of Black Label for her. Boy, can she drink.”


           Ray said, “Oh, I like you to meet Edgar. This is Bernie.”
           “Hi, Bernie. What ship?”
           Ray said, “No ship, Edgar. He is a consul from Den Haag.”
           I smiled and played the part instantly.”Hey, Edgar.”
           Edgar said, “I’m an engineer.”
           “How long have you been a sailor?”
           “20 years. (Leaning up to me, pulling out his wallet, and whispering.) But look at my engineering license. You can’t tell its fake. It’s well done, by a Sta. Cruz rubber stamp maker turned sailor.”
           Ray said, “How many times did I tell you, Edgar. Never boast about your 20-year-old fake license. You’re doing it again. One of these, somebody will turn you in.”
           “That’s okay, he’s your friend. He can be trusted.”
           “But he’s from the consulate.”
           “So what.”
           I said, “How do you get away with it.”
           “Easy. There are one to two other engineers in the engine room. So they teach me.”
           “For 20 years?”
           “Why not? Now, I now more than green-horn engineers coming in. Is there something wrong with that?”
           “I guess not.”


           I learned so much about the razor’s edge of life from Filipino seaman. They would put Zorba the Greek to shame. In spite of being prone to violence, they were gentle, warm, loving, passionate. We went drinking in a bar. I refused when Edgar wanted me to table a girl. He never let me pullout my wallet.


Read other past eastwind memoirs


Send the book as a Christmas gift to friends anywhere in the Philippines, Php450 all postal charges included, received via JRS in 2 to 3 days, no credit card needed. Email request to
in the winters of our lives
You bring the spring and thaw the icicles
of our darkness and despair, O Lord


for those who need healing,
visit the Mother Igancia Healing Center
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