Michelangelo Balestrieri is a seasoned captain who has sailed across the world working on tanker and passenger ships alike. His wisdom and photos show a life of learning, understanding, and adaptation to the world around him. We met in his cluttered office on a Monday afternoon to talk about life at sea.
Greg Kamradt: So you were a sailor and a boat captain? How long did you do that for?
Michelangelo Balestrieri: Since 1972, I am still working today. Now I go from Ischia to Napoli but before I worked on a tanker ship. So I went around the world before.
GK: What is your favorite spot in the world?
My favorite? Caribbean Islands. I went three times to the Caribbean
GK: Why did you like it?
The sun, the quiet seas, the weather
GK: Do you have any stories from the sea?
I had a man on board who was bleeding from an accident. We had to speed across the Atlantic Ocean to the west coast of Africa to get him to a hospital. After 5 days he was still alive. After the 3rd day he almost died. I had to give him a cardiac massage and artificial breathing.
GK: So you saved his life?
Yes, me and my colleague did.
GK: How many times do you go to Napoli today? Do you still like it? (Very popular route to and from the Island)
I go maybe 2 or 4 times a day. Ha yes I still like it.
GK: Is it hard to become a captain?
Yes it is very hard because you must handle any type of weather. The rough seas, the weather. But you also meet a lot of people. Sometimes they are good people, clever people, but other times not clever. But you must talk to everyone. Lots of tourists that come internationally. Sometimes tourists from Napoli too. They are very difficult sometimes.
GK: Ha why are they difficult?
Because they make more noise and have more energy.
GK: Do you reccomend that younger people become a sailor/captain? Would you advise it?
Thats very difficult to say because some people have the personality to be a captain. To become a captain/sailor you must sail internationally and meet many different kinds of people. It is very difficult to be in the minds of all different people. It also depends if you wish strongly to become a captain.
GK: How come tanker ships and not cruise or yachts?
Well tanker ships pay more, so I started working there. Plus with passenger ships or cruise ships, you spend more money to enjoy yourself ha.
GK: What is you favorite thing about being a captain?
I think my favorite part would be the times out at sea that the air is clear. It more natural than the city.
GK: What have you learned about life through being a captain?
The first thing is the the seaman has a very hard life. You cannot see your wife, your family, your children. When I first stated I worked away from home for a while and I could not see my wife. Now I worked on Ischia so it is easier for me to see her.
The first thing you must do (when finding people to work) is when you meet someone, you must check their personality. You must speak to people in a way that they will understand you. You cannot offend other people. Sailors from different countries are very different and you must understand that.
I had a panamanian crew on board. These people were very close together. Very tight group because they were not integreated with the italian people. But when we went on shore I would go to the bar and drink with them. I would bond with them. So when we were on board and we would be in the kitchen eating I would be the only person they would not have a bad interaction with. Other people who were not so integrated could not go in this room. They would fight with broken bottles. I would enter the room when they fought and they would stop. They appreciate when you bond with the regardless of your class or rank. This is one way that I like to manage people. It is better to manage people like this instead of using punishment.
After the interview Michelangelo showed me a photo album of his sailing career and there were some absolutely amazing old school pictures of him and his friends enjoying the good life on the boat. He then pulled out a book of business cards that people have given him over the years. I had to give him mine to take the interview full circle.