This is one of my favorite notebook addict submissions, because these notebooks are truly full of stories!
“My name is William, last November marked 20 years for me as a ships agent. Indirectly my notebook habit began in the US Army. A very instrumental part of infantry basic training is you are required to keep a pen and one of those green government issued memorandum pocket notebooks with you at all times. After the Army in 1995 I began working in shipping as a ships agent in the Port of Baltimore. At the time, we had these great bound pocket notebooks in the supply closet. Before smart phones, PDA’s, emails, and heck a 56K digital rolodex which cost $89 back then and was considered cutting edge, there were notebooks. During the course of my duties as a boarding agent, I was required to keep track of an array of numbers, times, dates, ships water drafts, bunker oil, water and cargo quantities, and coordinate with a never ending trail of issues that required jotting down phone numbers and details on the go. Common to those in this field, either ships mates, or cargo surveyors, a pocket notebook to keep up with all the details of the job is fairly standard issue. Time is money in shipping and each and every figure has a dollar figure significance to the report or document it will ultimately be transposed into. In some cases, a wrong time, or missing time, could ultimately cost someone 1000’s of dollars if recorded wrong by the ships agent.
Somewhere in my parents attic is the first 5 years of pocket notebooks I used then. Around late 1999 I began working with a new fleet of Norwegian vessels, I really liked the European notebooks the vessels officers used and would occasionally barter some new ones away for a magazine or a quick shopping trip in trade. As I moved up in the ranks, with more administrative duties building, I moved to larger notebooks, first composition, then Red & Blacks, next Moleskines, and currently Leuchtturm is preferred, but have added in a new mix of Clairfontaine and Rhodia pads. Aside from the possibly missing boarding notebooks of the earlier years, I have yet to throw even one of them away.
My boarding notebooks hold a wide record of ships passing in the night, ETA’s to far off places, phone numbers of overseas contacts, biographical details of sailors, stowage plans, and cargo quantities of large shipments of oils, grains, coals, and ores. Once and a while, even a ships official stamp was placed as a souvenir of the time onboard.
Some unique memories in these books, boarding the M/v “Tampa” on her return trip after rescuing 100’s of refugees off Christmas Island which resulted in an international standoff between the Norwegian and Australian governments. Emergency contacts collected after the passing Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans communications. Arrival details of the “Scotia Prince” which was chartered by FEMA to house emergency service workers in the devastated St. Bernard’s Parish. They contain details of 100’s of ocean going vessels sailing to and from ports far around the world. Hopefully my wife is not reading, they may even include a few phone numbers of wild nights gone by. These notebooks were always in my pocket as it’s a 24 hour job and your always on call, they were in smoky ships offices with taking times from Pakistani officers, engine rooms, bar rooms, restaurant tables, dropped in the mud, carried in the rain, up ships ladders, even written in while sitting on the toilet.
These days I regretfully don’t board a ship very often, I am now vice president of the company and we grew from 2 offices, to 18 offices and now attend about 4000 port calls a year. But when training new young agents, I always explain to them, despite all the technology, wireless devices and cloud based systems available to today, no better organizational tool exists then a pocket notebook and I make sure a quality supply of them remains in our supply room for them today, just as there was 20 years ago for me. Today my notebook as a mix of to-do lists, daily planning, conference call notes brainstorms, employee reviews, and meeting notes from here in Houston, to NYC and far as away as Geneva.
Being left handed, I always required some sort of bound notebook and my handwriting style is that of a doctor. First with mechanical pencils, now a new love of fountain pens, ultimately it was proved my notebook habit was best served by better quality paper. I am not a “in the lines” type mind and prefer blank or gridded pages. Despite best efforts to keep in a particular direction, depending on the stress level of the day, the pages contain a wide away of chicken scratch, rough calculations, lists of times, phone numbers, neat and structured meeting notes, or rapid shorthand and even some timeless scribbles from my kids who love to grab them and leave their own mark on my day.
I do however still keep a pocket notebook with me at all times, be it the waxed canvas cover with Field Notes for weekends, or the leather cover and Moleskine combo I use on those few occasions when get to board ships, or the pocket Leuchtturm that I use when traveling to keep addresses and arrangements quick at hand. Despite being a HUGE Evernote addict, the paper notebook is first and foremost, often pages of which are scanned into Evernote for easier archival access –vs- the old box in the garage where they ultimately get placed to rest.
The world is an increasingly fast paced driven by electronics, apps and phones get smarter. The ability to organize and collaborate get easier, or does it ? Nothing replaces the mind-clearing peace, or retains the moments of the day exactly like placing pen and pencil to paper.”
A big thank you to William for sharing both his notebook addiction and his adventures in the maritime world!