Permission to Come Up

by Mike Hemming

"Permission to come up?"

Asking so I can emerge from a cramped smelly world into the clear night sea air of the one above it. The OOD must always know how many are on the bridge in case we dive, hence asking permission to do so. It’s the other world of smokeboat submarining, one I don’t see often. On some trips, I cope with the sea time by never going forward of the coffeepot. . . Submerging myself in a tiny world of engines, messhall and after torpedo room sleep. Never acknowledging the outside world at all for that cruise. Not this time. . . A beautiful tropic sea night, sweet salt air laced only with the single engine ahead 1/3 diesel aroma.

Moving to one corner of the tiny bridge, I hand the OOD and lookouts the steaming coffee cups and fresh cinnamon rolls I balanced in one hand on the way up. My offering to spend some time here is not necessary, but its 0300 and its been a while since they had the comfort of a cup. Except for the soft rumble aft, it's silent and clear. . . Light breeze, no moon but zillions of stars. The kind of time that makes a man glad to be a sailor.

The OOD Mr. Moyle, knowing that all is clear all around, allows some banter and talking to go on between us. Even though the lookouts must keep scanning the horizon at all times. After the usual greasy snipe, deck ape stuff, the talk turns to the beautiful night before us for a bit, before we fall silent again. It’s a good time to be alive and at sea. A few others come up for a bit of chat about nothing, fall silent and then lay below.

Mr. Moyle and I talk of engineer things, as he is the engineering officer, but it’s mostly time-passing chitchat, for the night is too beautiful to really intrude upon. Wanting to grab a smoke, I ask permission and its granted, so the lookouts can shield their eyes - That’s so they don’t lose their night vision. Even I close both eyes too, so I will not have to readjust and lose the beauty of this night.

As a reddened, rising moon kisses the sky, again we fall silent at the calm beauty all around us. One of the lookouts asks how could I give this up to hide in an engine room. I laugh that January in the Caribbean is often followed by February in the North Atlantic, so I’ll keep what I got. The other lookout will be converted to join the snipes before we sail again.

Time passes, we could be the only men on the whole ocean, surrounded by a dark smooth sea and a star filled sky. Nothing else exists except our boat and us. Quiet now, we are bonded to each other and to our beautiful world. Refreshed as to the beauty of our world and that all is well in it, I am ready to return to the little world I have chosen to live in for now.

"Permission to lay below."