Sneak Peek

Excerpt: from the chapter titled "Dock Rats"

Sandy Kat was a pickpocket who got into prostitution because she realised that it was easier to steal a man's money when his trousers were off than when they were on. Sex was her way of getting closer to a mark to pilfer his money, simply a means to an end. She tried her luck at the clubs but was always chucked out for stealing. So she focused on the harbour, where she had greater access to the seamen's goodies. Once she got into their cabins, she could wreak havoc, stealing whatever she could get her hands on. From their rooms, she would take cash, watches, clothing, shoes - anything she could give away or sell for drugs. From the galley, she pilfered blocks of cheese, loaves of bread, packets of noodles, bags of fruit and bottles of alcohol. She preferred the short-stay ships because she could do her business and get away before anyone knew what was taken. By the time they realised they had been robbed, they would already be out at sea.

Sandy admitted that, with her attitude, she wasn't much of a lover. She didn't give a damn about her clients' sexual satisfaction; she didn't even pretend to be interested. Sometimes she'd yawn, look at her watch or even try to take a nap while the man was busy inside her. As he was in the throes of ecstasy, she was only thinking about how she was going to reach down to his pants on the floor and feel around for his wad of bills.

Many women took advantage of such opportunities for theft when they were on the ships, but there were lots of other pleasures to enjoy too. Ultimately most women didn't go aboard to steal but to make money through sex and have a party with the sailors. They didn't want just to get on and off; they wanted to hang out with the men and make themselves at home.

It used to be common to see women on the ships hanging laundry, scrubbing decks, lying about in bikinis and jolling with the sailors. The women were especially watchful for the Asian trawlers that would dock for a month at a time. Then the dock rats would scurry aboard and offer the sailors a full-service regimen - basically, they'd move aboard.

Caitlin, a 37-year-old dockside veteran who always made time to talk with me at the clubs, said that the women used to move from ship to ship for months at a time, sometimes without even bothering to return home. They would live on the boats, party with the seamen at the clubs, then return with them to their cabins where they would sleep together. Usually they paired up with one of the officers who could afford a month's worth of upkeep. This meant that a ship would often have four or five women living on board at a time. Though they sometimes participated in the domestic upkeep of the ship, such work was simply a bonus for the seamen, who were used to doing it themselves. The work also gave the women something to do, and they said that they enjoyed it.

Such long-term interactions lent themselves to building closer relationships. Many women fell in love with their clients on the ships. Even Sandy Kat once grew attached to an old Greek captain. He seemed to have felt something for her too, more akin to empathy than lust, and she responded to his selfless concern with total devotion. He even took her out to the South Atlantic fishing grounds for four months. Because she was with him long enough to see past his wallet, she started to care for him. "The one and only time in my life," she said.

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