Christmas aboard Union Taylor in Tacoma means suckling pig, presents and calls home to The Philippines

Delayed by a slowdown at the Port of Tacoma, the seven officers and 11 crew members of the log ship Union Taylor were able to spend Christmas Day docked along the Hylebos Waterway.

“We have a peace and happiness here. We are in port. No more headaches,” said Capt. Jaime Tinapay, who, like all of his shipmates, is a native of the Philippines.

“We are lucky,” he said. “It’s really a holiday for us.”

A holiday, however …

“It’s sad, lonely, a longing,” crew member Ariel Saranillo said.

Of his 22 years as a seaman, Saranillo estimated that he has spent a total of five years at home with his family.

A late-morning Christmas dinner 6,600 miles from home helped ease the loneliness.

A suckling pig lay beside a tray of baked lamb, beside turkey, beside noodles, rice, salads and spicy sauced shrimps. A decorated sheetcake awaited a knife.

After the meal there were gifts provided by the Tacoma Seafarers’ Center, gifts in colorfully wrapped packages that were opened to reveal knit caps and salty snacks, toothpaste and soap, candy, lip balm, hand lotion, shampoo, playing cards, notebooks, pens.

Fourteen years a captain and 34 years at sea, Tinapay said he had one regret about being at a U.S. port over the holiday.

The crew must stay aboard.

The Union Taylor — owned in Greece, registered in the Marshall Islands — arrived from Japan on Monday and will be bound for China in the early days of New Year loaded with 32,000 metric tons of de-barked logs.

“Tacoma is really our best port,” Tinapay said.

And being tethered to dry land is better when it comes to a celebration.

“At sea, celebrating Christmas is the worst,” the captain said.

Thanks to the delay, he is not at sea.

“Here in Tacoma, we are provided with Internet. We have all communication with our families,” Tinapay said.

Crew members had earlier contacted wives and children via email and Skype.

Tinapay speaks with his own wife and daughter daily, he said. At 55, he intends to remain a captain, earning a salary, until his daughter graduates from medical school.

But life aboard a ship moored at a U.S. port, especially during the holiday season, is not idyllic.

“I don’t like that the crew cannot go outside,” Tinapay said.

He and his first officer can legally leave the ship, but others in the crew cannot, not without the proper visa or shore pass.

It’s been like that since just after 9/11, said the ship’s cook.

But the captain has been ashore, shopping, visiting Walmart, Best Buy and Costco fulfilling lists from the crew. While here, over the next few days, he said he will go shopping again, this time for recreational boxing equipment.

Professional flyweight boxer Armando Atillo is among the crew.

Over in the lounge, Tinapay begins calling out numbers and distributing the presents. He offers a comment for each package.

“I think this one is empty,” he says with a gentle shake.

The crew laughs.

“This is good hospitality from Tacoma,” said Tinapay of the gifts from the Seafarers’ Center.

“It is the spirit of Christmas.”

Soon the crew members disperse, returning to duties in the engine room, in the galley, on deck, on the bridge.

Tinapay expects his current assignment to last eight months. The crew will last 10, traveling the Pacific Rim calling at ports in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China and the United States.

They will not travel alone.

Up on the bridge, appropriate to the day, the ship’s patron saint, Nicholas, watches patiently within a halo of gold.