by Mike Hemming

Snipes, the ones that made the boat go, helped to put the pedal to the metal. On smokeboats they were the EN's, MM's, EM's, and IC men. The ones that took fuel and turned it into power that moved the boat. They crawled in bilges and battery wells, sweating, joking and cursing, making it go. Tearing clothes and skin off knuckles, burnt by heat and battery acid, in the cold North Atlantic to the hot tropic seas, the boat kept moving. Not all were gorillas carrying tools as big as they were, some were small and slight. Some brighter than most ending up as doctors and college professors. Jokers and grouches, clowns and serious, white, black, red, yellow and brown.

Snipes, because they wanted to be.

They tended their hot noisy machines, crawled though small nasty places, shocked and pinched and thrown about. Wet and cold, wet and hot, wet and oily, humidity always at 100%.

They worked 20 or more hours straight sometimes to get something fixed. Living on cold coffee and jelly sandwiches eaten with greasy hands. Cigarettes were smoked only half way down before being forgotten or becoming to nasty to smoke from the oil on their fingers.

Sometimes, things would be done with delicate skill and other times with the force of large hammers and pry bars. Outboard or down below, they lifted heavy weights in spaces too small for the two men needed to do the job easily. Stuck their hands in places where electrons might wait to kill. Bent over in awkward positions, they toiled, fixing things placed in strange positions by sadistic designers and evil yard birds.

Their badge of office... Torn or acid-eaten dungarees and their hands always black with grease in the pores and cracks of their skin.