merchant mariner families

...a highly unusual, sometimes maddening,
but mostly comical way of life.

merchant mariner wife...andrea phillips

    Andrea Phillips has been an emergency room nurse for approximately 30 years and currently resides in Vermont with her family.  She's been married to her merchant mariner for 25 years and they have two children, Mariah and Dan.  Andrea's husband, Richard, was taken hostage in April of 2009, off the coast of Africa by Somalian pirates.  He was rescued by the Navy after spending 96 hours on a lifeboat with his captors and has written a book about the experience, 'A Captain's Duty'.

CM:  So, Andrea...what kind of things do you like to do?

Andrea:  Oh, cross-country skiing, snowshoe in the winter, sewing, knitting, gardening.  I really enjoy the outdoors.  My family is close by so we spend a lot time with them, spend time with friends as well, and of course, our two kids, Mariah and Dan.  I also work part time now as an ER nurse...I've been in ER nursing for about 17 years.

CM:  So how did you meet your merchant mariner?

Andrea:  At a bar in Boston while I was in nursing school...where else do you meet a sailor but at a bar?  

CM:  Does he still ship out?

Andrea:  Yes, pretty much around the world.  You know, after the piracy incident, we talked in depth about his going back to sea and ultimately agreed, it's what he does-he goes to sea.  So back he went.  

CM:  Did his being a merchant mariner affect your decision to get involved with him?

Andrea:  Not really because I didn't know that much about merchant mariners then.  My only frame of reference was Humphrey Bogart movies!  But, I remember talking with Richard about it and he told me this wasn't a life for sissies.  I know he saw me as a pretty strong and independent woman who could handle it, I don't think he would've gotten involved with me if I hadn't been.

CM:  So do you think you were suited to this life?

Andrea:  Well my mom was a very independent person, I came from good stock.  I was one of six kids and grew up in a time where you just do what you have to do, you know?  No complaining, just do it.

CM:  On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself as a merchant mariner spouse?

Andrea:  Um...I'd say an 8 since I've had lots of years practicing!  It still has it's moments.

CM:  When Richard comes home, what's the adjustment like for you?

Andrea:  It takes about two weeks to really get back in the swing of things.  It's funny, over the years we've tried a bunch of stuff to kind of change that, but in the end it still takes about two weeks.

CM:  What about when he leaves?

Andrea:  The next day.  (Laughing)  There are times that I actually ask when he's going back and it might only be a month into his being home!
Today Interview

CM:  What things, if any, do you worry about in his absence?

Andrea:  I don't really worry, I can't dwell on the possibilities.  I think being an ER nurse really puts a lot of that into perspective.  And he always says to me "I'll be back" when he leaves, and I always believe he will. 

CM:  Have you had any particularly tough times (besides the hostage crisis) when he left and what did you do to get over it?

Andrea:  Yes, there are always tough times, but you learn to handle them.  Before the internet it was harder, I think, because there was no one to bounce things of off or help to problem solve.  Now, I can send an e mail and get his input or advice, which helps to ease the situation.  There are times I get to vent a little, too and his comeback is always the same..."You are amazing, don't know how you do it all by yourself."  It's his attempt to defuse me and to get me to laugh a little, too!
      You know, you can't be afraid to ask for help either. I have family close by, thankfully, who help out a lot and that was actually one of the considerations when we started our family.  I told Richard that was something I needed, was to be near family, if I was going to live this way.

CM:  Have you ever thought I can't do this, I'm leaving?

Andrea:  Oh yeah, I think everyone has those moments.  Even when we were first dating and he would be gone for three or four months, there would be times where I thought, I'm not doing this know, out of sight, out of mind?  But then I'd get a postcard from him and I was back in!

CM:  How about any Beady's Law stories?

Andrea:  Plenty!  But there was this one time a couple of years back, we'd had a really bad snowstorm up here and of course, Richard was out to sea.  I had to get the snow off of the roof, which I did with the help of my sister, but while I was up there I'm thinking, "I have four younger brothers, a husband, I'm 50 years old, what the hell am I doing up here!"  (Laughing)  You do what you have to. 

CM: Andrea, how have your kids done with this?

Andrea:  Pretty well...they certainly didn't suffer, but they had their moments.  Dan kind of keeps things to himself, Mariah is definitely more vocal about when she's having a tough time.  But they really didn't know any other way of life, this was just how it was for them.  Richard did miss out on some important events like Mariah's graduation from college and Dan getting his Masters, but he would always send along a note telling them how proud he was of them, how much he loved them.  It made a difference.  
        And when we were a younger family, Richard spent a lot of quality time with them when he was home.  I kind of backed off so he could do that and would work more often so it was just the three of them.  He'd make these special pancake dinners for them by candlelight, mainly because that was all he knew how to cook, but it was so good for the kids.
CM:  What kind of things did you do to keep them connected with Richard?

Andrea:  Well, we always had pictures of his ship...and we talked a lot about Dad being on the ship, and we'd often take out the globe to see where he was at.  It was a great way for them to keep up with him.  And I also remember when Dan's class was working on longitude and latitude.  Richard would actually send Dan his coordinates so the class could plot it out.  They followed Richard's entire journey.  The teacher still remembers that and often tells us that was one of his favorite classes to teach.
      But, you know, really the biggest thing was showing them they can't hold resentment.  It's not as if Richard doesn't want to be home, he'd love to be there and I tried to always make sure they knew that.  He's going to miss stuff, it can't be avoided, so you just kind of have to support him and support the kids with that in mind.  It's tough sometimes.

CM:  So, what's the best thing about this lifestyle?

Andrea:  It keeps the relationship very fresh.  And I love that I get my "Girl Time" when he leaves.  Every woman needs that, it's so important to remember who you are.  You have to feel good, secure enough about yourself to live this way, so having time to yourself is really helpful.

CM:  What about the worst?

Andrea:  The most trying time for me was when we had a younger family.  With two toddlers, there was no hand off, you know?  I was it, had to do it, no one else was there.  

CM:  Any advice for spouses, partners?

Andrea:  Let's see...yes!  You have to have trust both ways in this relationship.  Very important.  And to keep a sense of humor! And you can't seriously complain about this lifestyle, you just can't put that on him.  Like I said before, it's not as if he doesn't want to be home.  You have to remember throughout this, and especially if you're considering marrying a mariner, that if things need to get done, you're it.  You have to be okay with that.   

CM:  Okay, so let's talk about "the incident" as you refer to it.

Andrea:  Well, what's kind of funny is that we'd just been talking about it before he went back to sea that time.  We were with some friends and the topic of pirates came up.  I remember Richard saying it wasn't a matter of if anymore, but when they would take an American ship. 
     And this may seem silly, but we have our routines about what we do when he leaves and that was actually the first time I didn't walk him into the airport when he left.  I'd always done it, but that time, no.

CM:  How did you find out?

Andrea:  A merchant mariner who lives up the street.  He called that morning and asked me what the name of the ship was that Richard was on.  Of course I asked why, what had happened and he told me the ship had been taken by pirates and that he'd be right over.  He's actually the one who got the ball rolling here.  Getting the company on the line, setting everything in motion...getting me the people I needed to speak to.

CM:  How did you react?

Andrea:  Well, the first day was pretty much a whirlwind, I wasn't getting much info, but I kept thinking it would work out.  We'd talked about it in the past, the m.o. was to wait it out as negotiations went on..eventually a ransom would be paid and the crew would be released.  I guess that's how I thought it would go, so the real turning point for me, the emotional piece, was when he was on the lifeboat with the pirates. 
       And of course the media frenzy.  I didn't know how to deal with that, none of us did.  They were all over the place...they were just all over the place.  Eventually, I remember thinking I'd actually go out and make a statement to them so they'd leave.  A rep from Richard's company called before I did that and asked how I was doing.  I filled him in and told him about my plans with the media as well.  He told me I didn't have to say a word, that I could ask them to leave.  I hadn't known I could do that (who would?) so we sent someone out to do it and they left.  That was good.

CM:  How many days was Richard held hostage?

Andrea:  The whole thing took about five days.

CM:  Did you get any sleep at all?

Andrea:  A little off and on.  I remember, Richard has this fleece jacket and I wore it around the house through that entire time.  It made me feel close to him, it smelled like him.  I know that probably sounds odd...

CM:  Not at all.

Andrea:  I felt like I had him close by me in some way.

CM:  Andrea, how come you didn't lose your mind?

Andrea:  A lot of reasons. Well, I think working in the ER kind of prepared me for this and I had just an incredible amount of support from family and strangers, so many people.  And he said he’d be back, this is Richard.

     He's also a great storyteller and so funny, so I kept thinking, I can’t wait to hear his story about this. 

         But in the early mornings, I’d wake up and that’s when it would get to me...that this might not have a happy ending.  One of my very good friends stayed with me, we’d wake up each morning and talk.  Sometimes, just to lighten the mood, we'd joke, but it never worked out because that's when the tears would come.  Then at some point, we'd get it back together and end with, "Come on, this is Richard, he’s gonna make it home.”       

CM:  How did you learn he was safe?

Andrea:  Well, I wasn’t supposed to be watching TV because they tell you not to do that, it will drive you crazy.  But I went upstairs to get away for a bit and started watching it when I saw the news ticker flash that he’d been rescued.  I ran back downstairs and was asking, is this right?  Is what I’m seeing and hearing right?  We called into the company and got the info, it was incredible!
     I have to say though...that morning I’d had an epiphany.  I woke up hearing his voice, telling me he’s okay.  It was Easter Sunday morning, Richard's mom had just arrived at the house, and Allison, the company rep, went to Mass for me.  I was listening to the Mass through an I-phone when it started to snow, and I thought, “My God, he’s gonna be alright.”  Within two hours I saw that ticker flashing across the screen.
     And eventually he called.  When I got on the phone, he said, "Is your husband home?"  I said no, like we always do and he replied, "Great, I'll be right over."  Of course, I'm all tears, just hearing his voice.  

CM:  Walking through the front door to your home with him beside you for the first time, how was that?

Andrea:  You know, things went back to normal pretty quickly.  Although others mentioned I seemed really clingy, I don't remember that, but I do remember not wanting to let him out of my sight, I needed to know where he was at all the time for a while.

CM:  And so now there's a book, a movie, tell me about that.

Andrea:  Well the book is 'A Captain's Duty' and the movie, 'Captain Phillips' should be coming out this fall.  Richard really tried to highlight what it is merchant mariners do in the book, he wanted to shed some light on the industry. 

CM:  It must be strange, Tom Hanks playing your husband?

Andrea:  I was a little nervous about the movie, you know, because this is my life, who we I really want that out there?  But then, meeting Tom Hanks, I felt at ease after speaking with him about the project because he and Richard are men, funny, very grounded.  I thought it would be done well. 

CM:  Did you gain anything from this crazy experience?

Andrea:  Yes...I would say this experience taught me never to take things for granted, especially life.  And it renewed our faith in the human spirit.  We were both humbled by the outpouring of support from so many people across the United States, we truly live in a great country.  And we also got to meet some amazing people through all of this.  Richard and I made it a point to write back to each and every one of the people who wrote letters of support, there were hundreds.  We also made it a point to say this is not going to change us, that’s really kept us grounded.  And Richard's been able to do things outside of shipping to bring more light to what merchant mariners do.  That's been great as well.

CM:  So here's the final, but most important part of the interview, how would you describe your relationship with Richard?

Andrea:  He and I have definitely made an effort over the years to find times to be together just as a couple.  And well...we have this connection, a very special bond.  A long time ago, Richard had sent me a letter and in it said, if I ever miss him to remember that we’re always under the same moon.  It worked for the kids, too.  Mariah always called the full moon, ‘Daddy’s Moon’
CM:  Alright, last question...what's your favorite thing about Richard?

Andrea:  His ability to make me laugh, he's so funny.  I absolutely love that...


Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner


  1. Jennifer fantastic job, you got the tears flowing again, not from laughter this time. You are amazing.