Racing down the snow-covered mountainside in the moonlight wasn’t too terribly difficult.
On the way up we were climbing alongside each other, scrambling up the rocks and other things. The moon was out, but it wasn't a particularly bright evening.
I do remember sitting at the top for a few minutes, looking down at the rest of our friends standing around the makeshift campfire. It couldn’t have been much higher than several hundred feet above the base.
Going back down, I remember seeing some details, but also loosing many others.
The sky was overcast and the sea an impenetrable dark-blue.
Because I was an engineer, I knew that there wouldn’t be
anyone looking for me out on the foc’sle. So there I stood, eye glued to the
viewfinder and fingers quickly manipulating the aperture and shutter speed.
During that part of the trip I was mostly concerned with the regular crowd of
sea birds following the ship.
It was here where I made my first strides in photography.
Out on the deck, with the whine of the turbines at my back and the wind in my
“We’re in drydock, it’s not like we are going to flood while
we’re up here,” he protested humorously.
“Maybe, but we still need to go over this stuff. We aren’t
going to be here forever.” I replied, continuing with the class.
I’ve seen a lot of strange things happen while working in
shipyards, and that night was no exception.
As I stood there trying to rationalize why we would teach
flooding control during drydock, two compartments at the bow of the ship were taking
Unfortunately I had now way of knowing that at the time of
“Now R&A Team, lay to the boat deck!”
I remember receiving the instructions that we were going to
go onboard the vessel and extinguish the fire. It was supposed to be a simple affair,
using chemical extinguishers.
“There’s no way we are getting on that boat,” I said,
looking out towards the horizon.
The boat, a sixty-five foot wooden fishing vessel, was
completely engulfed in flames. The boarding team had definitely underestimated
the danger of fires on wooden boats.
Several hours later the fishing boat was at the bottom of
It was cold and gray, the sort of steel beach you only attend out of spite.
By that time just about everyone else had given up on the idea of sitting around in a beach chair on the weather decks, I remained a loyal steal beach attendee.
On this particular occasion, the wind was blowing and the ship was racing along at fifteen knots.
With one fell-swoop my cherished hat was taken from my head and dashed against a stanchion. I remember freezing as it sat there for a moment before being thrown overboard.
I could only watch it vanish.
Walking back to Soda-Catharine’s I knew where I was supposed
to be picked up.
Earlier that day I used a combination of body language and
broken English/ Spanish to arrange a water-taxi pickup at 1600. Although the
arrangements were haphazard, I had no reason to doubt they would work.
On this particular peninsular there was no phones and I had
no idea how to get back to the ship, aside from the taxi. So it was quite the
jolt, when I found the dock was sitting out of the water and the taxi was
no-where to be found.
“Which street do we turn down?” I asked, trying to keep up.
“I don’t know, the it’s got to be soon,” replied Will.
Continuing down the road, in a now-sober jog we were
desperately trying to find the boat. In a small coastal town, you’d think it
easy to find the water, but alcohol will do funny things a person’s ability to
navigate. Every turn we took brought us to another road, with the boat lost in
I can’t remember how we found it, but after a long drunken
run, we made it back to the ship.
I’d like to say that I always climbed the forward mast
before chow, but that simply wasn’t true. It would be more accurate for me to
say that, on several occasions, I climbed the mast before chow.
One of those particular times was while we were in a bank of
fog off the coast of Maine. For some reason I was absolutely determined to
climb that morning, so I did.
Not taking into account the slippery condensation on the
bars, I had quite the frightening time transferring from the ladder to the deck
of the second platform on the mast.
“What’d you get?” I asked enthusiastically.
“Some cereal, and fruit.”
“That’ll work, the fruit would go bad before he got around
to eating it anyway.”
The ship rolled from port to starboard as we carefully added
the new food to the stock in the mini-fridge. The electrical shop was hidden
within the lower decks and seldom visited by anyone, thereby making it the
perfect place to store emergency rations.
Being away from port for weeks has a pretty significant
impact on the food supply and neither of us could sit and watch good food spoil
at a time like that.
“Are you sure that we’re allowed to go to. . . wherever it
is we’re going?” The Ensign asked wearily.
“I’m sure, they never said we couldn’t, besides it’s almost
the same distance as Pattaya and they’re cool with that.” I replied, with a smile.
It was warm and the sun was setting, as we continued down
the road in the open-air taxi.
“I really don’t think that we were supposed to go down here.”
He stated, nervously.
“No really, Ko Samet is like a national part or something, I’m
sure we’re fine.” I reassured, knowing better all the while.
It was a brilliant day, the sun was shining and the water
Earlier we had rented WaveRunners and had spent a few hours
chasing yachts around the bay. At some point, between circling the ship and
jumping wakes, my hat blew off and into the water.
I decided it would be a good idea to stop my ride and jump
in after it, no big deal.
Later we parked the WaveRunners on the beach and had dinner.
On our way back to the taxi, I saw the unmistakable silhouette
of a Hammerhead pass quietly beneath a bridge.
Rushing down I-8
at dawn, we were in the backseat of the limo. Legs drawn tight against the
seat, vision obstructed by the painting I bought the night before.
It was one of those things that only sailors do, buying
a painting on a port call and sneaking it back to the ship.
Regardless, there we were.
“Alright, so drop me off at this gate, thanks.” She
said, as the driver pulled the car to the side and let her out.
continued to the next gate and awkwardly walked onto the base at with a four
foot canvass painting.
Engine room watch was four hours.
One round to learn the machinery status, two rounds to exercise
and one round to wipe the oil off of the engines.
An old Warrant once told me that the engines were designed
to leak oil, so you knew they still had oil in them. I didn’t believe him, but
it sounded reasonable.
He was a Warrant after all.
Anyway, before the
last round, I’d always grab a bundle of clean rags for wipe-downs. Today, I
still associate the smell of clean rags with the last round.
Needless to say, I love that smell.
The area around the Grand Palace is great.
One day, after leaving the palace grounds, we ran
across people selling birdseed. There were birds everywhere and feeding them
seemed like the right thing to do.
I remember buying a handful of seed to distribute on
the sidewalk and grass.
I don’t remember Sarah buying any, but I’m quite sure
that she must’ve because she dumped it all over my back. Within a nanosecond
there were birds all over me. I can’t remember the details; perhaps it’s shock
that’s blocking the memory.
I’m sure it was quite a spectacle to see.
I remember the first time I saw a flying fish, it was sunset
and we were drifting on a glassy sea off the coast of Malaysia. The sky was
painted brilliant shades of yellow, pink and blue. An oil rig standing in the
distance contrasted with the mountainous coast.
Just then, as I was taking in the scene, a small fish zipped
across the surface of the water.
I was shocked, and then another. It was beautiful.
The next time I saw a flying fish, it was midnight on a
turbulent sea and the thing landed in my lap.
“Well, you’re about to make DC2. What would you do
about it?” asked my ignorant Chief.
I was on watch and it was probably 0130 in the morning,
I felt like being honest.
“Me? I’d try to convince him that the soundings are
very important and make him want. . .”
“What do you mean?” interrupted Chief.
“If you can’t convince him that they are important,
then perhaps they aren’t and we shouldn’t be doing them.” I replied curtly.
He didn’t say a thing and walked away, keys jingling,
towards the door.
Naturally he didn’t take my advice.
was a grey day and I remember there being a breeze.
walked down the pier and along the road to the exchange. It wasn’t much, but I
was looking forward to at least one day of liberty on the island.
after getting over to the small exchange. I was informed that we would be
leaving Kodiak in a couple of hours.
was the first port call of my first patrol, and we were already being recalled!
outraged, but that quickly faded as we left the pier and I found out why we
A 378’ Cutter is a slender
It drafts less than twenty
feet and is only forty feet across the beam. Underway, some people called it
the needle of death, in reference to the bow-camera that often played on the
If you were to look at the
video, it would be easy to see how someone could analogize the image of the bow
driving into the waves with a needle sharply making its way through successive layers of fabric.
Day after day, people would
watch the needle of death, all silently hoping that AFN would return. . .
It was sunny and warm, but the seas were choppy.
I hadn’t slept much it the past twenty-four hours, since we
first boarded the old wooden fishing vessel. I was there to help dewater the
engine room, but as that wasn’t really a full time job I took a turn at the
I know that the engine was running and the prop spinning,
but for the life of me I couldn’t feel the change when I spun the wheel.
For all I know, that cocaine-laden ship was spinning in
circles, totally blind to my steering.
Pretending was fun anyway.
“Do you speak any Spanish?” asked the driver, as we careened
down the bumpy road.
“Me, no. I really need to learn though, but I do know some
“Really, me too. What do you know?”
“Je m'appelle Chris.” I replied, embarrassed.
As we continued down the main road, he went off on a
beautiful sounding monologue, in French nonetheless.
“I guess, I don’t really know that much French.”
“No worries, it’s all good.” He said, as we broke into
conversation of other things.
It was an overcast day and we were heading towards one of
the hotels in town.
On a normal ship, out at sea, there is always noise.
On a normal ship, glued to the pier, there is always noise.
When the power goes out, there is no noise and below decks,
there is no light. It’s not like being in a house without power, it’s much more
intense than that.
It’s sense of missing.
Whenever you’re on a ship, underway or otherwise, you can
hear it, the hum that I’d call the ship noise. When the power goes out, the
ship noise is absent and you can feel it, right down to the core of you.
Throughout my travels, I’ve met exactly two types of people
that have been to Dutch Harbor, Coasties and fishermen. There isn’t much to
Dutch Harbor, but it takes quite a bit to get there.
Normally when you
hear Dutch mentioned in conversation, it is easy to tell if someone has been
there. It’s a certain look they give or a shift in stance. With few exceptions,
this has been true so, at that moment, you know your likely either talking to a
Coastie or a fisherman.
There’s quite a difference between the two, but the reaction
is always the same.
I had never ridden a horse before.
Shortly after leaving the compound we stopped the horses for
a moment. My horse decided to keep walking down the trail.
“Alto!” I yelled, as I noticed we were starting to venture
far from the group.
And she sped up, now walking a little faster down the trail.
Soon the brisk walk turned into a full gallop and before
long we had turned down another path in the Ecuadorian jungle.
Despite my repeated pleas to stop, she kept running.
With no remaining options, I pushed myself from the back of
that galloping horse.
The Log Office was a small compartment on the main deck.
Technically it was supposed to serve as an engineering space, used for work. In
reality it was a couple of computers with internet connections, which people
used to write e-mails.
We were sailing north, along the Baja Peninsular, when a
small sailing vessel let out a distress call. It was choppy and we were making twenty
Shortly after the ship received that call, I was lying on
the port bulkhead in the log office with one of those computers on top of me,
from the sharp starboard turn.
The universally understood signal for crankcase explosion
was a sharp sledge hammer hit to the bulkhead of main control. We used this in
drills and every Engineer of the Watch(EOW) understood what it meant.
One quiet, and uneventful mid watch, found the EOW slowly falling
asleep in his chair.
WHAM! the bulkhead shook as the security watch stander hit
it with the yellow sledge hammer.
"Bleh! Crankcase Explosion!" The EOW shouted as he
quickly sprang to life.
"This is main control we've had. . . belay that."
he said, realizing what had actually happened as mike walked into the
It was a short port call, but arguably the best.
Waking up at the Diamond Head with nowhere in particular to
be, we decided to hit the ground running.
The weather was perfect for a quick Oahu adventure.
First we drove east, through what looked like the end of the
world. After finding some beaches we continued north along the east side of the
We took the H3, back through the mountains and over to the
west side of the island. After driving up the Farrington past Waianae we found
the beach at Yokohama Bay and it was amazing!
Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain good communication with
the outside world during a patrol.
I’ve always found that several computers cannot serve the
e-mail needs of the entire crew. I’ve also found that it’s difficult to write a
meaningful letter while someone is watching over your shoulder, waiting for a computer.
My solution has been to write my e-mails in the middle of
the night, when most of the crew is in the rack.
To this end, each night we would meet. Typing away on opposite
ends of the world, desperately missing each other, but still thankful for this
It was hot out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The small
boat. "She Can't" as we affectionately
called her, offered little shade.
We were drifting alongside a panga waiting for permission to
What struck me was the desolation of it all. I could see the
mountainous coast of Columbia and I knew the ship wasn’t far over the horizon.
However, at that moment we were totally adrift.
Sun shining down, nothing to do but wait and count the blue waves.
I had never been to Columbia, but could think of nothing
more than going ashore.