The life of a sea captain’s never been an easy one. Oh, I get mad as a hen-turtle thinking about all those music-hall wax hits making it out to be such a lark. “Jenny Won’t You Come Be A Sea Captain With Me (It’s Easy In July),” “Put Down Your Coal And Sail,” “Pack Up Your Troubles Behind The Mast,” “Why Won’t You Go To Sea, Papa,” “I’m Afraid To Come Home In The Dark Unless There’s A Lighthouse On,” and “Oh! It’s Awfully Jolly To Captain A Ship With You” make all the stage-door swells and Salvation Army Johnnies rush out to the nearest inlet with a broom and an ash-pan, trying to harness the wind with their belts, but how many of them would top the binnacle if they knew just how many years it takes before grizzling sets in? Who minds the pale young sea captain? No one at sea, not from bobstay to bolt-rope, and it’s a mighty long way from pale to grizzled, even with the bite of the salt spray to help you along.
There’s not a sea captain alive would call any man grizzled before fifty, and some not even then. First you’re fresh, then pale, then a pink-and-white, then green, then sage-green, then jaundiced, then keen, then tinder-fresh, then seasoned, hard, midship-hard, sea-hard, salt-hard, deep-hard, dead-hard, keel-hard, then Hank, then Easterly Bob, then tidemaster, then quartermaster, then half-master, then mizzenmaster, then shoeleather, then salt-dog, then salty seadog, then old salty seadog, and then, if you’re lucky, you’re grizzled. Before that, you’d better not even think about trying to take your meals in the captains’ mess – they’ll laugh you right out of the room, and the laughter of a bunch of grizzled old sea captains sounds like a dozen rusted-over buzzsaws. I know. I’ve heard it.
Oh, it’s difficult being a young sea captain, without a grizzle to my hair, a salt streak to my beard, or a rash to my name. The other sea captains don’t respect me. Oh, they say they do, but they certainly don’t mean it, and they’ve certainly never said it. Just look at all the ranks a sea captain’s got to go through before anyone will even think about calling him grizzled:
Some of the boys try to paint on an extra layer of salt-crust when they’re in port, in the hopes of bypassing a stage or two. Everyone can tell, and it’s awfully embarrassing. I wish they wouldn’t do it. It always means at least another six months of getting called “Captain Short Pants” by all the other fellows. Gosh, I wish they’d let me on the boat.