Channel fever is a unique malady that afflicts only seafaring men. Its symptoms are acute anxiety, depression, melancholia, or sometimes, fear. This ailment has many causes and they are as diverse as the psychological make-up of the sufferers' personalities. Though it had existed since man first sailed the seven seas, it is not contained in any of the existing dictionaries and medical manuals.
Towards the end of a long cruise, it starts to manifest itself. Quite unnoticeable at first, but it gets worse as the ship gets closer to her homeport and reaches its peak when the faint outline of land breaks over the horizon. Few, if any, are not victims by that time.
As land draws near, it is not unusual to see men engaged in whatever activity the limited space on board could afford, at hours usually considered ungodly. Some just sit along the catwalks and stare across the channel while listening to whatever broadcast their portable radios could pick up. Others play cards and stashes of liquor are broken out. Just a short while back, liquor was a commodity relished selfishly and with little or no regard for comradeship. The vessel becomes a beehive of activities, some of which step beyond the bounds of naval propriety. Acts that normally draw reprimands or punishment are ignored as long as no one, or the ship, is placed in jeopardy. The officers seem to prefer maintaining an atmosphere of permissiveness. After all, they too, are sailors and in the grip of the fever.
With the majority, it is a feeling of time standing still. The clock just does not seem to move fast enough. Their eagerness to see wives, sweethearts, children, parents or perhaps, just the familiar sight of home, pumps their adrenaline at a rate no timepiece could keep pace with.
With some, it is a feeling of impending disaster. They might have been indiscreet in sowing their seeds at the various ports-of-call and are now apprehensive of possible consequences. Maybe it is a feeling of guilt; maybe it is feeling of sadness.
The cruise like any other common endeavor can create and cement friendship, and its conclusion brings about a feeling of sadness. Perchance, contrary to common perception, the returning sailor is not going home to a loved one, but is pining for a love left behind across the pond.
When the ship is finally moored and her brows lowered, the fever is broken and the epidemic is over. The resulting pandemonium created by the mad rush of greeting well wishers and departing sailors is like a sigh of relief from the pent up emotions of the previous hours.
After the last trickle of men is gone and only those on duty are left behind, the pace settles down to normal in port routine and a well deserved rest. Jim Waltz