From a job in local television to a series of jobs sailing the globe. It’s not exactly the usual career track. But Scott Myers is not your typical professional. The Missouri native taught himself how to do a variety of jobs on ships and parlays the work into a means to travel to dozens of countries. We caught up with him as he explored India and he told us some travel secrets, including why he finds people with similar interests.
How did this all begin? You went from working in TV to being off on the high seas.
In 2004 I got called back to a TV station in Augusta, Ga. I was already out of journalism because I had gotten burned out. But it was only supposed to be two weeks to help out while they found a new producer. Well, two weeks became three months. Three turned into six and to make sure six didn’t become nine, I bought a ticket to Bolivia. While in Punta Arenas, Chile, I hitched a ride on a cargo ferry traveling to Puerto Williams, Chile (southernmost city in the world) via the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel. We got hit by a storm coming up from Antarctica and I’d never experienced anything like it. Instead of hating it, I really enjoyed it and that’s when I got addicted to the ocean. Upon returning to the States, I moved to Florida, took some sailing classes, and eventually started working on luxury yachts. It didn’t take long to go as far as I could with my new career. I couldn’t move up the ladder, so to speak, because it’s really hard to get a commercial license when you’re working on a recreational boat. The job market in 2009 sucked, so I went to Utila, Honduras to become a dive instructor. That got me a job on a live-aboard dive boat, which got me the sea time I needed to qualify for my first US Coast Guard certification. Getting that allowed me to get a job on a real ship – an oceanographic research vessel. Working there has led to more licenses and now I’m licensed to be the chief engineer on ships of no more than 4,000 horsepower and 3,000 gross tons. Basically those are small boats close to shore.
Explain the work that you do on the ships. How did you learn to do this?
I started out as a wiper. The name pretty much sums up the job – I wiped up a lot of messes and assisted other engineers with projects. Basically I was a well-paid and highly-traveled janitor. Currently I’m working as an oiler. It’s the next step up the ladder. I stand watch with a licensed engineer and assist with maintenance and repair projects. (The chief engineer license I just got isn’t valid for the ship I work on because it’s got more horsepower and weighs more than the limitations on my license. To be a “licensed engineer” on my ship you’ve got to have an officer-level license such as Chief, 1st Assistant, 2nd Assistant and, or 3rd Assistant Unlimited Horsepower. My license has a horsepower restriction.
I obviously didn’t go to university for an engineering degree. Growing up on a farm is where I got my training. There’s not much difference between a diesel engine in a tractor and a diesel engine on a ship except the one on the ship is bigger and uses salt water for cooling. It’s possible to start at the very bottom and work your way up with on-the-job practice and training. That’s what I’m doing. I have to acquire a certain amount of sea time before I am eligible to apply to take certain license exams with the Coast Guard. I have to study on my own to prepare for those tests. I can study when I’m not on watch while working on the ship.
Describe the rest of the crew and how you all play off of each other.
For the most part we all get along. There are a few personality conflicts, but out in the middle of the ocean we tend to set that stuff aside and focus on the job at hand. A couple of the guys like to travel, but most simply return home during their time off. A few are single and some have families. We’ve got 21 crew on the ship plus up to 35 scientists.
You switch off between vacations and work — what’s the time on and off?
We work seven days a week for three or four months at a time. My longest stretch was 148 days without a single day off. Therefore we work a rotation. I work for a few months, then get a couple of months off while someone else covers my position. There are three other oilers and we’re all assigned a number which represents our emergency duties (lifeboats, firefighting, etc). When I leave for vacation, another guy replaces me. But I might return before he’s ready to leave, so in that case I will take a different number and work a different watch period.
At this point, any idea how many countries have you been to?
India makes 57. This is a big trip, and Nepal will be 58, followed by Indonesia at 59.
I’m addicted to scuba diving. I’m carrying a full set of dive gear with me as I head up into the Himalayas because later on this trip I’ll be back in the tropics for some diving. I also enjoy hiking and taking mountain bike tours.
What makes you decide to journey somewhere?
A lot of it depends on where the ship is when I’m going to hop off. Getting cheap flights also is a factor. I’m a per diem employee, so when I’m not working I don’t get paid. Gotta stick to a budget, and airline tickets burn up most of it. Once I’m in a country I can travel cheaply. But getting there can be expensive if I’m traveling to some place far from the ship. Another factor is finding new places to visit. I often return to a country I’ve visited before because there’s always some new area to go explore as well as dropping by to visit local friends from previous visits.
You email friends and share your adventures with them — why do this and what do you get out of sharing?
Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to get to travel so much. I share my perceptions, experiences, and misadventures to help some friends learn about places they might never get the chance to visit. I take a lot of photos and write a journal to help me remember everything I’ve seen, plus share those stories and photos with my parents because I know they’ll never go to most of the places I visit. So it’s easy enough to cut and paste some of that into an email to share with friends. I don’t have Facebook.
What are those places even you haven’t been to yet?
I really want to visit Antarctica. I’d love to get a job at McMurdo Research Station and live there for six months or a year. Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to get a job as a field technician. While I want to work there, I don’t want to be stuck in the compound for six months or longer and never get a chance to see other parts of the continent. Field techs get to go out on assignments to places far from the research base. I would also like to visit more places in Africa, the Middle East, and some of the former Soviet states in central Asia.
Are you going to globe trot forever? What’s the allure for you now?
I plan to travel for as long as I can. There is a lot of amazing stuff to see and do on this planet, and I can’t wait to go see it.
What advice do you have for planning an international excursion with a group?
Find people with similar interests. If you like museums and ruins, don’t go to Rome with a group of people who don’t like museums or ruins. Or, if you’ve got a diverse group of people and few shared interests, pick a place that has something for everyone and that will allow each person to go out and have fun on their own. The group can always get back together for meals to talk and share experiences. Just remember to be flexible.