INCIDENTS OF My TRAVELS to
NEVER SEEKING ADVENTURE YET ADVENTURE FINDS ME
Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean August 2012
Years after the installation of new diesel propulsion controls on a couple of transports the maintenance fell on us. The intent was for these ship crews to maintain their hardware but all engineering mates were mechanical. None was adept in the computer programming required to run the engines. Therefore, with my familiarity, I was constantly called out to maintain the systems. Not that there was a need, of all the thousand components that makes these ships move, the computers were low maintenance.
On one such maintenance call, I arrived on a Saturday for a quick routine. I was assigned another project so volunteered my weekend to comply to the request that Saturday. I had a return flight set for that evening’s red eye.
All was fine until I heard the revving of the engines. I would seek the Chief Engineer (CHENG) asking why so.
We are just sailing out to the edge of the jetty he tells me. Nothing to be concerned about. So, naively, I return to the bowels of the engine room to continue my one-day preventative maintenance procedure on the propulsion computers.
It takes me a few hours to notice that the engines still pokity-pockita'd away outside my confined shack. Noisily churning shafts to the aft and the sway of the ship more than that of shallow shores of the dock allowed.
Hmm. I looked for the CHENG but he is not found anywhere on the three storied engine. So I climb three more stories of stairs to the deck to find myself in a watery desert, no land in sight!
Going to the bridge, I find the Captain and the CHENG in conspiracy.
What gives? Where are we?
Well...their sheepish reply. The decision made, since I was available, to give the ship a five day shakedown in open waters.
... I open my mouth but nothing comes out...
But, but. I have another service call on Monday. I protest. They merely shrug. The decision made No turning back now.
I’ve been Shanghaied!
The prospect excited me more than the concern really. The mere thought that they would go through such a costly endeavor because of my unique and available skill set was humbling.
The excitement short lived. Suddenly I realize that here I am stuck at sea, for what seems to be a week now, and I don’t have fresh skivvies for more than this day. Oh dread.
The first night.
The sway of the ship interrupted my sleep. Given officers’ quarters (no shared bathroom), I was made comfortable in my Shanghai. I stroll to the bridge where I find a low ranking officer stuck on the night shift.
Conversation was minimal because she was tasked with keeping an eye on the radar and steer us clear from possible schools of whales typically found at these latitudes. Her face bathed in the green glow of sonar monitors I leave the mate with furrowed brow to her concerns.
I step out to the salty breeze of the Atlantic. We are running dark (no exterior lights lit) so the sky is ablaze with too many stars and planets in the absence of pollution, enough light to guide my path. I climb to the roof of the radio shack, the highest point of the ship. Only rotating radar antenna equipment there is higher. I avoid them and stay well outside the yellow warning marks in their radius.
There is a lighted compass in the middle of that roof. It matches the one in the bridge below. Indicating our bearing of south-southeast. I compare it with the bright point in the sky that is Venus.
"Yup! Southeast alright." My statement, to no one, made it official.
The air was not silent. I heard the breeze emanating from American shores miles west of us. The gentle splash of ocean against this behemoths hull. In addition, even so far above, the hum of powerful diesel engines pushing us along. Burning, so I am told, thousands of dollars of fuel per hour.
However, the one sound that brings me out of my reverie was the whir of motors rotating those antennas.
"Wait a minute" I suddenly realize, “…don't these detectors emit radiation?"
Whoa! I back off quickly, cupping my junk as if protecting the boys from possible sterilization! A hasty retreat down to the officer’s deck ensues.
The concern dissipates as I arrive to my cabin and settle in on my bunk, rocked back to sleep by the gentle sway of the ship on the Atlantic.
Sometime in between
The energy is frenetic, crew coming and going from the engine control room doing their monitoring and maintenance. Each assigned their own individual procedures for the collaborated benefit on one action, keeping the engines running properly. Suddenly everything shuts down and everyone is looking to CHENG for answers as he is on the phone with the Captain.
The sighs and grunts of disdain are the new sound in a silenced engine room. We must now float powerless until the encountered leviathans decide to mosey along their way. Could be an hour, could be a day. We are held hostage until then.
Though now running silent, the echoed hum of the engines still rattle my bones, my ears buzz with the memory of their din like a phantom limb. The sensation is odd.
The last day
The sway of the boat is now imperceptible. The body has acclimated and that fact will be evident days later when on dry, stable land as my equilibrium wobbles in anticipation of an absent swing. I will stumble like a drunk departing after ‘last call’.
The days mundane, my propulsion computers dependable and without faults, for the length of this cruise they require little of my attention. I distract myself by reading repair manuals for mechanical parts of the engine room. Enough reading to eventually assist the crew on their maintenance routines. Even once I ‘drove’ the ship at the Captain’s request when his call to the engine room could not yield a crew-mate. I am commanded to put the main engine from ‘Slow Ahead’ to ‘Half Ahead’. With an “Aye Captain.” I shift the telegraph forward in response. A linked alarm will buzz in the bridge to advise the pilot to match their telegraph to my commands. My console buzzer will cease when they have done so. I am briefly giddy with the power.
I visit the deck often. The view reminds me of a passage I have read once in my youth:
"Well, then, just step forward and take a peep over the weather-bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there".
Going forward and glancing over the weather-bow, I perceived that the ship swinging on her anchor with the flood-tide was now obliquely pointing toward open ocean. The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see.
"What did you see?"
"Not much," I replied- "nothing but water; considerable horizon though..."
"Well, what does thou think of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can't ye see the world where ye stand?"
Conversation between Captain Peleg and Ishmael
Moby Dick - Chapter 16
On this vessel, the size of up to three football fields, you feel small. Insignificant against tons and tons of sinkable steel welded and configured so it defies logic with its buoyancy.
Now consider that beast in the vast expanse of ocean. So small and insignificant in a sheet of only water and horizon. No matter how fast we travel the same monotonous view meets us for days.
This, I assume, is what Captain Peleg tried to point out to Ishmael.
But sailors are an optimistic bunch. The appeal to seeing the world is not what is immediately in front of them but the anticipation of what they will eventually encounter.
About the Author
I have always ended up in unexpected places. So I present a collection of my tales told over the years. Places that due to circumstances I might never go on my own accord.