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Getting a souvenir tattoo

Halifax tattoo artists talk anchors, swallows and other ways for sailors to mark Fleet Week


Fleet week is here, and sailors want new tattoos.

Danny Bartlett at Kara's Urban Day Spa (5980 Spring Garden Road, 422-3900) says that he's already inked a few sailors. Anchors are popular, or laurels to represent a rank, or the number 100 to commemorate the centennial. Guys are even doing "Pier 21 stuff, images with the building, ship names and departure times."

Despite it being a big week for Halifax, Greg Marsden of Adept Tattoos (6267 Quinpool Road, 405-4009) says "sailors don't get a tattoo to represent the port they're in, they want to represent the time they had in that port."

A good time is what thousands of seamen will be having, and Marsden expects most sailors will want something traditional: the anchor, a nautical star or a pin-up girl. A swallow is popular, to indicate having sailed 5,000 miles, or 50,000 miles---accounts conflict---or because it always finds its way home, or if because if you see one it means you're near land. Some sailors even get tattoos of pigs and chickens on the ankles, because those animals, often kept in crates that float, will survive shipwrecks. But again, the stories vary depending on who you talk to or the navy you sail with.

"There are so many of them," says Marsden of images relating to sailing. "And it depends where [the sailor is] in their career."

In the past, tattoos had to be on body parts hidden by a uniform, whereas these days the regulations have been relaxed. A Canadian navy man we spoke with says that tattoos inked on hands and necks are no longer a keelhauling offence, and even chiefs and higher ranking officers can be found with sleeves. Controversial images---such as swastikas--- would earn a chastising, but a visible tattoo is no barrier to promotion.

So, say you're downtown at a bar. Maybe you're a sailor, or maybe just a civilian looking to meet a sailor. A tattoo does make for a decent conversation piece. What's the etiquette in these situations?

Bartlett says tattoos are an open invitation to chat. "If people don't want to talk about it they cover it up," he says. Derek Hill of Oceanic Tattoo (121 Portland Street, Dartmouth, 466-8828) says if you ask, most people will show you their work. "It's just a matter of being polite and not grabbing them."

Marsden concurs on the accosting. "I've had tattoos most of my life. You'd be surprised---the etiquette is to walk up and touch the person. 'Damn dude, I got a bubble and you just popped it!'"

Check out our Fleet Week events listings!

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