Saturday, January 26, 2013

Southward we go...

We have been making way through the Arabian Sea and the Lakshadweep Sea, on
a rhumbline course of 132 down the face of the Indian Ocean. Ahead of us in
the night sky is Scorpius, with the red star Antares, and to our right is
Crux, also known as the "Southern Cross." Next to Crux are the Large and
Small Megallanic Clouds, the other two galaxies that are visible to the
naked eye (the other is Andromeda, next to Cassiopeia).

I mentioned the fantastic bio-luminous display in my last post- but it got
one-upped the next night when I watched fish swimming in spirals in the same
never-before-encountered phosphorescence. Just when I thought it couldn't
get any more friggin' rad, a school of dolphin showed up and made my head
explode. They played and cavorted right below the bridge wing; the liquid
trails they created when they swam appeared like some strange, high-voltage
plasma from the laboratory of Nicola Tesla - a hybrid combination of neon
lights and comet trails - punctuated with explosive bursts as they leapt
from wave to wave. The only thing missing from the scene was a unicorn.
Maybe a rainbow.

Venus cycles red and white when it rises, the different colored lights
flashing at different frequencies like a star. I did not know that.

So far I have been unable to prove or disprove the existence of the green
flash caused by the rising sun, though I continue to try. I have taken to
watching the place where the sun rises each morning with the binoculars but
the humidity here near the equator is too great and there is a clear,
uninterrupted slice of sky between the horizon and the rising sun (mirage
distortion called "looming") so I am thwarted in my quest each morning.

The Indian Ocean has been comprised of waters the color of obsidian glass
that churn a smoky jade. The overall sea has been the color of the sky, but
two days ago the colors were so exact, the horizon so smudged by humidity
and haze, and the sea state so calm, that it appeared there was no sea at
all and that the ship was suspended in the sky.

Four days until we arrive in Singapore. On my list: haircut, chiropractor,
a decent trackball (or a good mouse if one isn't findable), three pounds of
coffee, and more barbequed bacon.

The Chief Engineer and the 1st Engineer, whose nicknames include "Slash,"
"Encino Man," and "Turd Ferguson," continue to be the lightning rods of ire
to the crew, as if they are diviners after water, getting closer...
closer... The Chief has recently attacked the cadet and the Chief Cook.
Where I come from you never, ever piss off the person who makes your food.
You just don't do it. It fulminated into a shouting match in the galley
between the Old Man, the Chief, and the Cook... the Chief accusing the Cook
of "holding back" the "good food" for the "Cook's favorites," which include
the Captain. The Reefer has "quit drinking," apparently, and has stayed out
of trouble.

A quick note to say- this Old Man and Mate are top shelf. The respect they
show the unlicensed deck crew has translated into more work being
accomplished in two weeks than in the entirety of the last run (70 days).
They authorize the overtime and sign the paperwork without fuss and the
results speak for themselves- allowing the deck to work unimpeded is making
everyone look good.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

UAE again and the Irritant

Emerald green waters churned the color of Spanish moss as we rounded up from
the Arabian Sea and into the Straits of Hormuz. As our visibility increased
with the lessening humidity and the claustrophobia lifted from my psyche,
those unrecognizable constellations I rarely see in the equatorial
declination (opposite Orion, that rat Taurus, and the Canlises) rose above
the horizon on our bow after the sunset during my evening watch as we
steamed north at 21 knots.

True to my declaration that my 4x8 watch is the "helmsman's watch," I took
us in to Jebel Ali. The port is a straight shot in. The tugs are modern
twin nozzle affairs that remind me of Fantasia's hippo ballerinas due to
their squat size and nimble nature. The ship is backed into place between
the container berths and an LPG (liquid petroleum gas) dock deemed too
dangerous to be on shore but not too dangerous around which to maneuver
66,000 ton ships in reverse. And of course the deck was like a well oiled
machine, sending our spring lines first, our offshore lines next, and a
single inshore line with an inshore "softline," which is a dock line not
kept under constant tension on a winch, but rather a dock line that gets
tensioned on a capstan which requires a second line made up to it with a
"Chinese stopper knot" to hold the tension before it is released and it can
finally be made off (given "three round turns, three figure eights, and a
stovepipe" on the bits). The softline is there should the constant tension
hydraulics fail.

I have little favorable to say about the United Arab Emirates except to
marvel at the efficiency of modern slavery- cargo operations there are a
marvel to behold. The equipment is new and uniform and visible as far as
the eye can see. All the cranes were in place before we had the gangway on
the dock, and the only time the fleet of trucks stops is at crew change-
which is done at a run by little brown men with fluorescent colored vests
and hardhats- if you blink you miss it. The lashers are primarily Indian
and Pakistani, but I can only assume the crane operators and truck drivers
are, too.

And not an Egyptian in sight: apparently on an adjacent dock, whose cranes
can be seen looming in the Arabian haze from our weather deck, there is a
mosque that services the Islamic slaves and it gets used, quickly and
efficiently, when the call to prayer is blared over the loudspeakers at the
proscribed times. The temperature was mild even by my standards, a
comfortable 80 and nowhere near the 130 it was 4 months ago, which I heard
all about. Repeatedly.

This time in the UAE I was reminded I find it a depressing place with an
oppressive air and I opted to sleep instead of going into the walled slave
town or taking the train into Dubai. I have some video shots of cargo
operations and some photos of my view of cranes and views into the cargo
holds (I still get floored by the scale of this ship sometimes), but it will
have to wait to be uploaded for a week or so when we get into Singapore.

My toilet has been messed up, a repair handled by the junior engineer.
After working 17 hours, right smack-dab in the middle of my 4.5 hours of
available sleep, I awoke to use the toilet, which promptly began to run
after flushing. I had another hour of sleep left before my alarm was set to
go off at 0315 so I closed the door to the head and went back to sleep.

When I awoke I wrote a note explaining the problem to the delegate and then
went to my shift. The delegate woke up at 0500, read the note, and went
down to the engineers to let them know there was a problem. The chief mate
sent me up during the middle of my watch to let the chief engineer and the
1st Engineer have a look at it (everyone else in their department was
ashore) at 0530. The Chief asked me how long had it been running... I said
"since last night," meaning my night of several hours ago.

Well, not to let a mere molehill escaped exploitation as an irritant, the
Chief Engineer made some snide comment about how that was our "drinking
water," turned off all the water to my head, then closed it all up and left.
On the board appeared a note saying "Do not wait 17 hours to notify the
engineers if your toilet is running- that is our drinking water going down
the toilet!" The delegate (Peaches Warrior Princess) promptly changed "17"
to "4" and I revised "that is our drinking water going down the toilet" to
read "that is our toilet water going down the toilet."

Fortunately, this guy has soiled his nest repeatedly, and everyone (the Old
Man included) is sick of him. The Captain apparently lost his cool and went
New York ballistic on him in the officer's mess tonight but I missed all
that action. The Chief managed to piss off the cook (bad move), insult the
cadet (for what?), and further alienate everyone aboard this last port so my
running water story is just par for the course- I am waiting, waiting,
waiting for the shoe to drop with gleeful anticipation.

Does he get pushed under the bus or over the rail? Will it be retribution
from a thousand cuts? How? How does this guy have the epiphany that leads
him to decide he'd rather be on the beach than on this ship? Will there be
foul substances on his door handle or in his office drawers? A rare case of
food poisoning that strikes just him? I just don't know- what I do know is
there are over 20 pent up and pissed off sailors and one lightning rod. The
Wrestler told me some interesting advice back on day 1 aboard this big old
motor vessel: "Don't be the lightning rod." Chief Engineer obviously didn't
get the same advice.

And tonight I saw the most fantastic bio-luminescence of my life: a bold,
neon blue line that followed the wake and ran fore and aft the length of the
ship. The green glow was there, too, but it appeared dull and insignificant
in comparison to the vivid electric color, the display's cohesiveness and
uniformity, and the astounding brightness of this phosphorescence.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Ditch and The Yellow Egyptian Cat

I saw one more green flash before we went into the Suez Canal- the sun was
kind enough to drop below the horizon right dead-in-the-center of a hole in
the clouds which framed the brief green flash phenomenon in concentric rings
of fiery-lit red and orange clouds. That next morning the waxing crescent
moon rose directly on our bow above Egypt, followed by Venus a half hour
later rising in the exact same spot, followed by the sun another half hour
later, also in the exact same spot.

The trip through the Suez was quieter this time than the last two (perhaps
the new-to-me officers?) and I found myself not as physically drained at the
end of the transit. I also purchased an Egyptian SIM for my phone and
finally used the unlock code provided by my US service provider (the phone
is locked by default)... but which, in typical Egyptian fashion, didn't work
for the internet until I called the SIM company and had them modify it.
When the internet part of my phone finally worked, the phone part of my
phone stopped doing so. Long and short? I could click "like" on facebook
and upload photos to the blog but I couldn't make a single telephone call.
I have friends that assure me Egypt is a wonderful place, but the parts we
go through? Fascinating, yes. Wonderful... not so much.

The last time I was in Damietta I saw this yellow cat who lives on the docks
wandering around, deftly dodging the constant flow of semi-rigs, vehicular
traffic, and cranes of all shapes and sizes with an overall air of
nonchalance. He subsists almost entirely off hunted or scrounged rat, bird,
or the leftover pieces and parts of bait fish caught along the dock by
Egyptian fishermen- and he looks much better fed than most of the Egyptian
longshoremen (or "lashers," as we call them). I saw him again this last
time, too... it was fairly cold and he was following fishermen with nets at
a discreet distance until the sun came up, at which point he climbed atop a
container and slept for the next 8 hours in a sunbeam. I pointed him out to
several other crew and we all watched him wistfully unencumbered by anything
remotely resembling schedule, responsibility, security, or comfort. Last I
saw him he slowly meandered north along the dock until he disappeared in the

The Red Sea was, in its entirety, flat, black and beset by a haze that
limited the ship's horizon to our little claustrophobic 6 mile circle of
visibility. I had pumped up the cadet by singing the praises of the sky
above the Red Sea and giving him a copy of the only star chart he'd ever
need as a mate, of course... another bright mind, ruined by high

We have entered the troubled waters beyond the Bab el Mandeb, but troubled
though they be, the skies are still breath-taking. Where the skies above
the Red Sea were disappointing, those above the Gulf of Aden have so far
more than made up for it. I just now have returned from my stern watch,
where the incredibly rat-like Taurus and Gemini, the constellation that is
only recognizable by its proximity to Orion (admit it- Gemini is an
uninspiring box-like thing), blazed amidst the off-gas of galactic brine and
backscattered cosmos.

In previous posts I have laid out the story of how the engine department is
full of drunken meatheads who have tempted the Fates at every turn, and I
proposed how two such cathartic moments might play out. So far the reality
has been much more mundane: After much alcohol, the volume from the pool
got the attention of the Old Man, who went out on a higher deck and shone
his light down into the pool from above to verify who the troublemakers
were. The Reefer, seeing only the bright flashlight, immediately began to
call-out the Captain (who was invisible behind the light) as a "pussy" who
should "come down here with that [descriptive laden] flashlight" so he could
get his "ass kicked."

The Captain went down there the next day with a "Letter of Warning," much to
the Deck's amusement and delight, of course. That was a few days ago. The
Reefer is looking paler and thinner these days and he's shaved his head into
a fairly pathetic mohawk and I, personally, don't think he'll be able to
last long enough to get fired... if he makes it to Singapore, he'll hang
himself on the proverbial rope of overindulgence. He'll get publicly caned
for violating Singaporean Law or miss the ship's departure. Something... I
just can't see him making it all the way back to New York and I'm having so
much fun speculating his demise (while being unable to find the secret shame
properly executed schadenfreude requires) that I just can't be bothered to
stop myself.

Time for my sunset watch. I have more sunset/sunrise photos... I'll share
from Jebel Ali.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Suez Canal Photos

Early morning in Egypt

Sunrise over the desert

Modern Egyptian Monument

Anywhere Egypt as viewed from the bridge

View of the Suez Canal from the bridge wing

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Anchoring in the Suez pond

Dropping anchor about 20 minutes ago.

Best of the Sunrise Sunset Watch- Photos

Totally rad crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays. 

This is kind of a lame sunrise... but the color was nice.
Backstays of the Sun, indeed.  And the Eye of Horus.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Peeing In The Pool

I saw the green flash two days in a row, now... the second one was much more
noticeable than the first. And sunrises and sunsets for the last few days
have left me speechless (photos to come). The sea and water colors haven't
had as much variation as they did in autumn, but the hematite seas - whose
water range from obsidian to electric indigo and churn a
1960's-pastel-beach-bungalow-powder blue - have behaved nicely and pushed us
along at 21.5 knots while turning only 80 r.p.m. (that is good speed for
minimal effort).

Last night the engine department was raising hell in the pool again.
Apparently the reefer is one of the partiers and the Old Man called him at
0300 because it was 85 degrees in his quarters (the reefer is the
refrigerated container and air conditioning guy and hot quarters is never,
ever acceptable)...

So today I ran into the Old Man in the elevator. I asked how he was doing
and he replied, "Shitty. I just had to chew some people out. I hate having
to do that. They're not getting anything done- except partying in the pool.
They need to do their [string of expletives] jobs."

I proposed one very likely scenario in the last post of how the engine
department raising hell in the pool and flooding the deck was all going to
play out with the unlicensed deck department, but here's another possible
scenario: The pool gets emptied, the rest of the ship gives the engine
department hell for the duration of this trip (and you don't want the
Stewards Department angry at you, let me tell you), and the reefer gets
"ill" and quits in Columbo City, Sri Lanka.

In all honesty, neither scenario is terribly probable (even though quite
possible). But hell, that's all there really is to do out here. My
schedule this trip is like this: I work from 0400 - 0800 as a watchman
(sunrise watch), 0800 - 1600 as a dayman (overtime), and then from 1600 -
2000 as a watchman again (sunset watch). 7 days a week. I can't watch
movies (not enough time), I can only read in bits and pieces, and I have
only other people's music to choose from because I didn't bring any. So
when I see something going off the rails I brace for it... call it ingrained
survival skills. And I speculate. And bitch loudly and often, which is my
sovereign duty as a blue water sailor.

My camera is full of sunrise and photos to the point of comedy... I will
cull them ruthlessly and share as soon as the internets are within my grasp.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What I saw and what I didn't see

We passed the Rock today (Gibraltar) while I was chipping the port side
gangway area. I watched it pass from behind dirty goggles that kept
steaming up from the close proximity of my dust mask and amidst the ungodly
din of needleguns, chipping hammers, and 3-fingers on plate steel. It was
pure magic. Then the inevitable and much-feared event I have been dreading
since I first signed my articles came to pass: My C-3 went out while I'm
10,000 miles away from my chiropractor. Ouch.

I am going to call Dr. Wolf's office from Jebel Ali and ask them to find me
a referral in Singapore... they actually did a phone consultation with a
chiropractor in Statesboro, Georgia, and proscribed the manner of my
adjustment a couple of years ago, so why not Singapore? Meanwhile I'll be
popping anti-inflammatories and moving with the grace of a 1950's robot
super-villain. And cursing and gnashing my teeth.

I have been really enjoying the new watch time I'm on (the 4x8
sunrise/sunset watch) and I can't wait to upload some of the photos I've
taken of sunrises and sunsets! I have crepuscular rays, anti-crepuscular
rays, multi-storied cloud layers and colors galore...

And tonight I saw the fabled "green flash" of the setting sun; like St.
Elmo's Fire, the Green Flash is a real phenomenon that this guy has seen
with his own eyes. It is caused by the same bending of light that causes
stars to twinkle, and twinkle with greater intensity and color separation at
the horizon than at the zenith; or rainbows, fogbows, and moonbows to form
(yes, these do exist) with the added prismatic-effect of moisture in the
atmosphere. At the very last moment of the setting sun (1-2 seconds), the
sun turns green. It's said to be rare, but only the number of times people
actually look for it in their life is rare- so on the next cloudless day
(sorry Seattle), at sunset, as the setting sun falls off the edge of the
world keep some binoculars handy and you'll definitely see it... but you
have to be looking for it.

Courtesy: I have been told it is the single most important quality in a
blue water sailor, above even marlinspike and navigational seamanship. I
have also been told there is nothing that will piss a sailor off more than
unrequited courtesy- which is very, very true. If you relieve a guy at 15
minutes before the hour every change of the watch for 63 consecutive days
and the next trip your watches reverse and he relieves you at 10 minutes
before the hour... well, that guy becomes the object of your ire. You can't
help it. You're not above it. You will seek for ways to make him pay.
You're petty and you know it, but that bastard won't do it again, end of

The engineers keep flooding the pool. Not a problem in theory- it just runs
off the deck, no biggie. Except the door seal at the end of my hallway
needs replacing and it keeps flooding my room and the room next to mine (the
Wrestler's). And each time I have to clean up my carpet it costs Bosun a
day of labor. And the Delegate is getting pissed. Last night the engineers
apparently cranked up the music in the gym above both Bosun's and the
Delegate's rooms, and below that of the Chief Mate, and woke them all up...
which, if there is any sin more reviled than unrequited courtesy, it is the
mortal sin of interrupting sleep. To top it off, this morning the Chief
Engineer basically told the Bosun to "piss off."

There is a saying out here that encapsulates the solidarity of the jilted...
a guy "falls" down and everyone says it when the "fall" is investigated: "I
didn't see shit." On these ships the crews are permitted to drink in their
off times- but should a crewmember "fall" or an argument ever come to blows
between crew, everyone involved gets the breathalyzer and those who register
anything at all are viewed, without exception, as the guilty party and they
inevitably take the walk. It is a zero-tolerance policy and no captain
would endanger the availability of grog to himself or the crew and then go
back to sea without a pair the size of (and armored like) coconuts.

So when someone- anyone, really- gets awakened or flooded next time by
drunken engineers raising hell in the pool area... well, you can imagine at
least one scenario of how it is going to go down: Confrontation,
altercation, investigation.

And I won't have seen shit.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Passed the Triangle

4 meter swells on our port quarter = 22 degree slow rolling, as if this big
old girl is lumbering her way across the liquid skin of the earth. The
North Atlantic in winter has a reputation, but the part you don't hear
anyone talk about is the warmth... I've been in shorts and a tee-shirt since
the first day out of Savannah (where I froze) and I washed my wool base
layer and stowed them for the next time we're off Labrador and the Grand
Banks. I just don't need 'em... hell, I don't need my jeans.

The seas are the same gray as the clouds, but the water is the wellspring of
blue dye that all other colors of blue are based on- I just stop every now
and then and look over the side and marvel. If I then go to the other side
and look, it'll be a different blue that's equally magnificent. From the
wheelhouse it looks different than at the bow, and the churned water at the
stern looks like the soft pastel blue that a new mother would be desperate
to paint her baby boy's walls.

But the skies are gray and the whitecaps are keeping pace with us as we turn
for 20 knots and keep roll, roll, rolling along. The refer on the bridge
fell out of its cubby, drawers keep flying open, crap is all over the place-
the seas aren't even that remarkable, it's just that ships don't like to
ride waves on their quarters. Hell, my sailboat doesn't like it any more
than this ship does, come to think of it, and is why I put an oversized
tiller on my boat- specifically for leverage against the resulting yaw. I
will say that it puts me to sleep almost instantaneously, so there's that to
be said for it.

Other than that, Bermuda is behind us, the Azores to the northeast, we've
passed the waypoint where our navigational rhumb line has become a great
circle that will take us the rest of the way into the Med. I like this
captain and mate, my watch partner is incredibly relaxed, and there is a
cadet on this boat who is on our watch and he's a good kid. Already this
trip has gone by faster than the last (thankfully) and it is interesting to
see how much less uptight this crew is... at some point the flies in the
ointment will become apparent, but for now it's OK by me to pretend there
aren't any. Or is that cynical?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Madness and a New Year

Coastwise or Near Coastal- whichever you call it, to a sailor it means sleep
deprivation and overtime. That 200 mile delineation between what is
considered Coastwise and Ocean really doesn't mean anything when you look at
the sea itself, but to the licensing officials at the US Coast Guard...
well, they're different.

We arrived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, amid a mixture of rain and flurries and
sub-freezing temperatures. I steered us in at 0400 as far as the first
bridge (I forget its name) then my relief took over and I went aft. The
entire deck department was turned out to dock an hour-and-a-half too early,
leaving us exposed to the weather on the bow and the stern, impatiently
awaiting wrestling the 4" dock lines and generating our own heat. The only
saving grace was the hand-warmers that Clay hooked us up with in October-
people he's never met were praising his name. If you haven't used them- do.
12 hours of heat that fits in a glove is truly fantastic, and if you think
it's an unnecessary luxury- well, put on a hair shirt and STFU... I am now a
true believer.

We were still unsure how the longshoremans' strike would play out so we took
on supplies (yep, crane man, here), booted off the old captain and mates and
brought on the new ones, then headed south toward Charleston, from whence we
would depart for Damieta, Egypt. I steered us out of NYC at 0500. While
doing lifeboat drills on the way down the coast the new captain informed us
that the strike was delayed 30 days and we would, indeed, be stopping in
Savannah... but too late for Laura and me to put together a visit, and my
overall mood for the entirety of the coast reflected it- before the Savannah
news due to disappointment, afterward due to annoyance at the company.

I steered us into Charleston at 0430, then went aft for tie-up and got to
stand around in a torrential downpour that put about 8 inches of water on
the stern deck... enough water that the flaked and faked dock lines were
floating around on deck (fyi- faked lines overlap, flaked lines don't,
flemished spiral around and look all "yachty"). The Extraordinary Ordinary
stood on deck laughing, yes he did. It was one of those rains that
restricted visibility down to about an arm's length and it actually made the
monsoon in the Indian Ocean that nailed me while on deck seem a gentle
shower by comparison. Not really, but not too far off.
Just so you know- the heaving line is the line with the monkey's fist that
gets thrown to the line-handlers and is the exclusive pervue of the ordinary
seaman. God forbid he throw it and miss the dock. Even in the torrential
downpour I nailed it, but I had to throw it between the wheels of a crane
because that is what faced me at the dock- a wall of crane and a wall of

Soaking wet and tired, I was still on watch, so once the gangway was down
insult was heaped upon injury when no security was hired by the company and
I was left on deck with a radio to screen the longshoremen, raise and lower
the gangway as the ship rose and sank in the water with shifting cargo, and
direct the non-cargo specialists to the Chief Mate's office. The
temperature dropped an immediate 15 degrees and within a short time I was
frozen to the bone as well as soaking wet, pissed off, surly, and overall
beset by cantankerousness. Afterward I was off 4 hours, then I humped
stores until whenever (I forget- the overtime says 6 hours) then slept
another hour or two, and then took us back out to sea.

I should back up a second, here. In New York I changed from the 12x4 shift
to the 4x8 shift. This is what I have come to think of as the sunrise and
sunset shift, but it should be more accurately called the steer the ship
shift, b/c I took the ship into NYC, out of NYC, into Charleston, out of
Charleston, into Savannah, and out of Savannah. I am actually starting to
get a feel for it, finally, and anticipate when to make corrections without
creating more work for myself. We call that "over-steering" or "chasing the
helm," and it'll wear you out just as quickly as climbing the lashing
bridges and swinging a wonder-bar all day.

After steering us into Savannah at 0400, my relief took over and I went to
the stern to tie up... but I was under-dressed by 2 layers, and later
learned it was about 30 degrees and I should have felt cold- because it
actually was cold. 20F with wind chill. Everyone else was better prepared,
and Peaches Warrior Princess and the Bosun were even sportin' their stylish
and functional handwarmers and praising Clay. The ordinary didn't get the
memo, apparently... he froze.

Bosun and I went to shore and we were ferried around by Clay to our various
places where we purchased our personal provisions- I, of course, got a 5 lb.
bag of honest-to-god coffee (from the Sentient Bean) and a burr grinder to
go with my scavenged French press... a cup of which I am enjoying immensely,
even as I type. We ate with the Jacksons at a place called "Vic's On The
River," which was fantastic, and we stuffed our pie-holes until we all were
stuffed. All in all a great time spent laughing and eating, and marred only
by Laura's conspicuous absence- the company owes me one. A big one. The
gangway went up 5 minutes after we were aboard (literally).

As I steered us down the Savannah River the "bells" alarm went off.
Harkening back to the days of early steam ships, the throttle of this ship
is controlled by "bells" rung by the captain that tell the engineers what
head of steam the bridge needs. The actual bells are long gone but the
terminology remains, and in this case, the bells alarm meant that the
"throttle was stuck wide-ass open."

As we increased in speed from 7.5 knots to 14 knots "made good," or "speed
over the ground," down the Savannah River (which looks like a ditch from the
bridge) the alarm claxons drowning out everything else, the captain and
mates huddled around the controls and spoke with the engine room via radio
(not bells) while they tried to figure out what was going wrong. The pilot
continued calling out helm commands, now very loudly, and I continued to
steer us outbound, but with a big grin on my face... the scene just tickled
my funny-bone. It still does. It is the kind of indescribable moment on a
ship where all hell is breaking loose and you're just along for the ride,
doing what you do and fulfilling your part in the grand scheme of things,
and the realization hits you that we're all just monkeys, hooting and
pushing buttons until food drops out of the shoot, and somehow- via the
marvel of collective inertia and dumb, blind luck, one of us monkeys hits
the right button.

Which reminds me of last night (New Years Eve)- I finished my sunset shift
and went to bed while the engine department got liquored up and rowdy in the
pool. They were climbing up to the upper decks, much against company
policy, and cannon-balling into the pool below and firing off huge
fireworks. Talk about monkeys... and yet they all survived. Unbelievable.
I have enjoyed describing, in a loud voice, every detail about eating a warm
stick of butter when any of them are around today... that color green is

Anyway, my room is below the pool deck. Because exhaustion is its own
reward, I fell asleep with no problem as they dragged their knuckles up the
stairs and then hurled themselves down with great aplomb while oversized
blue, green, and red explosions molested the night outside the inch thick
glass of my deadlight (window)... but this morning my room was flooded (as
was the one next to me) with seawater from the pool. I discovered it with
my socked feet. Now, after my sunrise shift and breakfast, I am about to
shampoo the carpets while the deck crew tries to figure out exactly how the
water got in in the first place.

Happy New Year! May you, too, live in interesting times.