For the next few stories, Kumusta, Kabaro? Kumusta, Kaibigan? will focus on the veterans; the seafarers who have a world of experience on their shoulders.
Daniel Torres Jr., Captain and MAAP Dean of Academics
I was gifted with a mechanical mind. When I was in highschool, my father’s jeep broke down. Since it always takes our repairman a long time to arrive, I pulled that old engine out, studied it, took it apart and put it back together. With machines, everything follows rules and programs. Everything moves like clockwork.
I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Mapua Institute of Technology in 1973, but my seafarer father wanted me to become a captain like him. I entered the academy to become a marine engineer. By the time I retired from active seafaring 16 years later, I made captain too. As both a deck officer and engineer, I can apply my mechanical mind and manage systems all the same – because this school is one big machine.
I’m the Dean of academics and relish teaching – but most cadets don’t know that I have a few war stories of my own.
It was the 1980s and I was on a cargo ship plying the northeast coast of Taiwan, where there are uninhabited islands contested by Japanese and Chinese fishers.
A typhoon blindsided us at night and our captain steered us towards one of the islands for shelter. Suddenly, the wind shifted and we kept getting smashed by monstrous waves. Just monstrous. We ran aground and we knew it was just a matter of time before our hull would breach and take in water. Everyone was panicking. To calm myself, I went down and wore my then-fiancée’s engagement ring. I needed all the luck I could get.
But I realized we were no longer moving. I shouted at our chief engineer that we’re atop an island. Sure enough, when we switched on our lights and went on deck, we realized we had hit a rogue rock several dozen meters from the island itself. We lowered a ladder and a brave Waray seaman jumped down with a rope. Waited for a big wave to sweep him towards the island and he swam the rest of the way. It was hair-raising but we all got off safely that night.
We stayed on that island for two full days before a rescue plane droned above. Good thing that Japanese fishers built and stockpiled a hut with canned tuna, mackerel and king crab. We aimed a flare at the plane and waited for what seemed like an eternity before it dipped its wings to acknowledge us. Those days are seared into my memory forever. You know what? I’m pretty sure that ship is still there
A new visual series by Seafarer Asia, Kumusta, Kabaro? Kumusta, Kaibigan? gives viewers gritty glimpses into the lives of Filipino seafarers and their kin. True tales of love, pride, sacrifice, failure and success weave a living tapestry and an oral history of life at sea. The subjects are given free rein on what to share and how they wish to be photographed. The series is inspired by the popular photoblog, Humans of New York.
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Gregg Yan is an award-winning writer and photographer who covers marginalized groups and environmental conservation issues. His work has been featured by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, CNN plus over a dozen books – including Into the Wild, his first coffee table book. He also has a monthly magazine column on wildlife.