A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor

Otis Daniels_Finck
Windhoek ∙ Monique Adams

Marek Lipowski never saw himself working in an office or sitting in traffic; rather, he always wanted to work outdoors and away from the busy city life. Working at sea was his first choice and if that failed he would have gone into forestry, but it didn’t fail.

After completing matric in 1979, he joined the merchant navy with Safmarine and travelled to all the continents for eight years with them.

After that he joined the South Africa Agulhas for one year and five months, during which he travelled to Antarctica, Marion, Gough and Tristan da Cunha islands.

Then he did De Beers sailing on the Shearwater Bay, Douglas Bay, Louis G Murray, Coral Sea, Grand Banks, Debmar Atlantic and for the past 24 years on the Debmar Pacific.

In total he has been at sea for 42 years and five months.

Lipowski says his days as a cadet were carefree and enjoyable with minimal responsibilities, but as one moves up the ranks, so does the responsibility grow, especially when achieving a senior rank.

“My aim when going to sea was always to advance to the rank of Master and end my career in this rank. I have never thought of changing to a career ashore, nor have I regretted my career choice,” he says.

He has many memories of being at sea, of which losing three anchors in the space of three days is one of the less pleasant but more memorable, Lipwoski recalls.

On that day they were working in a particularly rough seabed area and a gale-force wind and high swells parted the remaining forward anchor.

He says the one anchor had been recovered previously so the vessel swung around on the remaining aft and they had to pay the entire wire out and sacrifice the anchor to avoid lying with their stern to the sea and swell, which would have damaged the stern and the rudders.

“Luckily I had recovered the drill string before the weather picked up otherwise we would probably have lost the drill. I had also disconnected the wire from the drum so we could slack the wire over the side with no delay. But for these two actions I suspect that we would have sustained major structural damage and possibly injuries as well,” he says.

Lipwoski reflects on a humorous moment he had at sea, during the time when they used to steam 50 miles offshore to refuel from a tanker. The navigating officer on one vessel (not his) managed to work out the courses to the rendezvous position incorrectly and ended up in a position about 10 miles away from the correct position. The navigating officer then proceeded to accuse the tanker of being in the wrong position and from that day on he has had the nickname ‘Barthole Dias’.

While being at what he missed the most was his family, pets and his fishing. Once he retires, he will definitely miss his shipmates and being at sea in command of his vessel. On his bucket list he wants to travel extensively, catch a fish larger than the previous one, and to taste as many wines as possible.

“My advice for anyone that would like to follow my career path is you must expect to work long hours. You learn how to work as a team with a group of people that depend on each other and are pulling in the same direction with the same goal. Secondly, there is no better way to see the world and get paid to do it. Thirdly, you will not spend 15 percent of your life stuck in rush-hour traffic. And lastly, when you get to my age and retire you have a lifetime of memories and endless stories that you can tell your children,” he says.