Dark, stormy night
It was a dark, stormy night. It really was. I was an able-seaman on the S/S Ocean wizard. She was an 11,000 foot oil tanker and the last of the American tramp steamers. Once, one of 3 sister ships that were the largest in the world. She couldn't fit threw the Panama canal. She was big and slow and built with out labor saving devices and was a bitch to work. God, I loved her. My watch was from noon to 4 and midnight to 4 am. Before watch I would polish her bell. It took over a week to get it polished the first time as it hadn't been done in years.
On my off-watch hours, I would lay in my bunk and listen to the sounds of her inner workings. Normally the last thing I heard was a mechanical switch turn on a pump below in the engine room. As the pump circulated what ever liquid, I would be lulled to sleep like a baby in the womb.
We were a week from shore being pounded by a storm. Headed for N.Y. from the Shetland islands in Scotland. I had a tooth ache so the liter of scotch I was drinking every day was being ignored and tolerated. The pain was maddening. Speech was difficult.
It was the perfect night.....
At 4 am, I finished watch and headed from the wheel house and down the 7 decks to my cabin. The elevator was very slow, so I normally walked down. I go into my cabin and remove my work boots. I don my foul weather overalls and put on sea boots. Grab my jacket and go listen by the door. "All clear" I crack the door and find no one outside. The door to the weather deck is dogged down so as to be water tight. I open it with the small pipe hanging on the door. As it creeks open I can feel the cool night air and smell the ocean salt encrusted on the outer seal and bulkhead. One last look behind me and I am out the door and dogging it back tight. I am on the aft deck in the "lee" and protected from the wind and driving spray by the house as the ship sails straight in to the weather.
As I round the house, I am exposed to the wind and it drives me aft. I all but run for the rail and grab on with both hands and arms. My hood was down the moment I turned the corner and my face and hair are already soaked as I plot my course to the bow, a 1,000 feet forward and up the ladder of the focsail.
Spray is refreshing. White water is invigorating. Green water takes you down.
The trek to the bow takes 20 minutes. Fighting the wind as my foul weather gear acts like a sail exhausting my efforts to advance. Hand over hand up the side rail of the ship, I reach the focsal and am in the lee once again. I take a much needed rest. I want a cigarette, but that would give me away to the guys in the wheel house on watch. The bow of the huge ship rides up on a wave only to dive back down. The sound is defining as she slams in to the next swell and white spray flies over my head and aft, driven by the wind. I wait for relative calm then scramble up the ladder and duck behind the anchor windless. As she slams in to the next swell, I dive to the deck behind the small truck sized starboard windless. I grab the chain and hold on as the green water drives me back towards the ladder. as I am about to lose my grip, her nose rises and the torrent of water lessens. The bow still rising, I jump to my feet but keep low and run for the bow and dive under the bulwark at the very point of the ship. As she dives down and plows the next sea, I am protected as the white water explodes over my head and drives aft harmlessly away.
Her head starts to rise back up skyward. Now in the lee of nothing, not even the next sea. I stand with one hand to port, one to starboard and face the storm. The wind howls, I bellow. The wind screams and I roar. (No quarter asked, none given)
She rides to the top of the swell and begins to fall. I wait one second to late duck below the gunwale to safety. The oncoming water dislodges my left hand and spins me backward to the right and slams me into a stanchion. The water, the pain and the adrenaline are intoxicating.
My ship slows with each dip as she tries to plow her way back on top. She climbs once more and I regain my feet and handhold. I feel no pain from my face or back. Just the cooling water mixing with the hot sweat inside my cloths. She starts to fall as I holler in to the wind............
I took 3 "knock-downs" that night. There is no joy in being slapped down to the deck. There is grace and honor in getting back up.