Midwatch
by  Fred Schuster
26  Aug  2014
I wake in a sweaty mental fog after the room watch rouses me to relieve the 8-12PM
lookout watch.  It’s hot – it’s always hot in the Caribbean, even with the boat’s A/C.  The
after torpedo room is making lazy horizontal figure 8’s as the rudder moves left and right
combined with the rise and fall of the sea.  The propellers are quietly swishing as they
rotate through the foaming surf.

The steering motor is humming and intermittently I hear the smooth slide of the hydraulic
steering rams.  The Fairbanks-Morse diesels are hammering in the distance as I peel
myself from the green oilcloth flash cover of my bunk.  No need to get dressed – I sleep in
my dungarees and chambray shirt like everyone else. Just need to find my shoes as I
clamber down from the upper rack.

Walk forward into the maneuvering room and see the electricians responding to the engine
order telegraph requesting all-ahead 2/3.  I stagger left through the passageway into the
after engine room and my ears are assaulted by the whine of engines #3 and #4 with their
blowers running full tilt.  Duck through another watertight door to the forward engine room.
Engine #1 is shut down, but the 400 cycle fire control generators are whirring where
engine #2 used to be. The fresh water stills sit silent on the port side as I head for the
watertight door to the after battery.

Not much going on before midnight in the crew’s mess. A few guys gulp coffee trying to
wake up before watch and maybe grab a snack from the mid-rats platter.  Not hungry, but I
gulp a cup of cold milk from the milk machine on the chief’s table and drop off the empty
cup in the mess sink.

Duck through the watertight door past the radio shack and the high pressure air manifold
into the red glow of the “rig for red” night lighting in the control room.  Climb up the
stainless steel ladder into the conning tower, the two periscopes intruding into the
compartment like shiny telephone poles.  Stepping up behind the helmsman, I look up the
open conning tower hatch.

“Request permission to relieve the watch, sir”!  “Relieve the watch” yells the officer of the
deck.  I scurry up the ladder to the bridge and relieve the starboard lookout, grateful that I
came 15 minutes early so he can go below to get some extra sleep.

I put the binoculars up and make a sweep of the horizon for contacts.  Some are so far
away the only thing visible is the ship’s range light, looking like a twinkling low-hanging star
on the horizon.  We are cruising at a leisurely pace on station, waiting for aircraft from
Pensacola to play cat and mouse with us the next day.

A low full moon on the port beam is reflecting off the sea - a sparkling silver highway
shining all the way up to our ballast tanks.  We watch the phosphorescent plankton
sparking off the hull as the sea washes in and out of the limber holes. The diesel exhaust
is bubbling exuberantly through the water mufflers astern in high and low tones as the
swells alternatively cover the exhaust ports.

The Caribbean night breeze buffets my face and occasionally a sweetness in the air drifts
across the water from one of the nearby islands. The sea is a soft swell tonight, and the
boat rocks with the easy gentleness of a baby cradle.

This is one of those nights that will not be forgotten……………..
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