He walks down the long pier to the familiar boat at the end. His seabag is light on his shoulder. As he crosses the brow saluting the colors, the watch directs him aft with a half-hearted wave. Down the slotted deck he goes, feeling at home once more. At the deck hatch, he reaches down and pulls it open... The smell, that wonderful smell wafts to his waiting nose. Smiling he yells, "Look out below!"
After dropping his bag to the deck below with a heavy clothing thud, he yells again, "Down ladder!"
Sliding down the rails, back against the CRS shield he hits the deck below with a grin. Turning he sees familiar faces among the men sitting there. The messhall seems over crowded somehow. He speaks to several and then they're back catching up on people and boats in their pasts.
Leaning against the sink by the coffeepot, he listens to the banter and bullshit of a happy crew. Even the bitching has that carefree, don't give a damn, you cant piss me off, go to hell happiness that is priceless with a good boat. Filling a cup with coffee and adding canned milk and sugar he nods to the cook as he sips.
"Good mud Boof, you finally learned the idiot messcooks how to make it right."
"Crap, what does a snipe know about good coffee? I remember when you'd think the bilge was good if it had enough sugar in it."
Grinning, he goes forward to get checked in. Handing his orders to the Yeo, he is surprised to be told to go to the after room and pick out a rack.
"That's it? Just go pick out a rack?"
"Yup, you want it to be difficult?"
"Okay, if you say so."
Heading aft with his seabag, he is happy but confused a little at the relaxed air in the boat... Something just isn't right. But he is pleased to find his old bunk and locker unused and so stows his gear. He introduces himself to the guys he doesn't know, and says 'Hi' to the ones he does. Wondering why there seems to be so many in the room but says nothing, unable to put his finger on the real difference. While changing into dungarees, he hears old familiar sea stories and new ones never heard before. Its obvious they are all connected somehow with this boat and some go clear back to the war and even beyond. It leaves him with a strange feeling he can't quite put his finger on to examine.
After changing, he heads to the engine room. Ahhh, he thinks, now I'm really home again, looking around the spotless shining compartment. The gleaming painted engines shining like he always remembered. Everything is clean and properly stowed, no oil spots or loose gear anywhere.
Damn, he thinks whoever is in charge here is got it really done right. Where is everyone? At that, he turns to see Bill his old oiler come in with two blond and sweets in one hand and a box of Krispy Cremes in the other. Sipping the coffee and eating donuts, they laugh and reminisce about old times together. Liberties pulled in far away ports, shipmates blowing off steam together. Practical jokes pulled on non-quals, green ensigns and old-timers alike. Working long hard hours to fix something at sea because it was a point of pride to not come into port on less than 4 engines on this boat.
After a time, he is surprised to hear the engine order bell ring and looks to see a start bell rung up. Bill asks, "Where we going?"
"What we gonna do?"
"When we gonna be back?"
"Why are we going out?"
"Don't ask me I'm just a snipe, the CNO didn't cut me in on the big picture this week."
They both go through the familiar ritual that started the first time they sailed together and continued for almost a year.
After lining up the valves to start the engines, he rolls them both with air to check the cylinders clear. The wooshing rattle of the rolling engine clears his head of doubts for the moment. Caught up in the familiar motions of lighting off with his heart pumping, he grabs #1's throttle and pulls it into the start position. When the familiar sound of an engine rolling at its peak on starting air is reached, he yanks the fuel rack lever up. Rewarded with the sweet sound of cylinders firing and engine speed coming up, he is happy. Soon #2 is rolling then firing and climbing to idle speed for warm up. He and Bill grin to each other at the smooth sounds, sights and smell of power.
Checking gauges, all is well and everything is running nicely. But what is different?
Something sure is.
"Bill, something's not right. Why are you still my oiler? You made throttleman as I left, right?"
"As you got out, yes I took your place."
"Well? Bill, What the hell is going on? Why am I back then?"
"Remember, how Percy used to talk of the silver submarine in the sky when the end comes?"
"Yeh, how could I forget, at the end of the golden pier."
"Well this is it."
"This is our Valhalla, where old bubbleheads go for the rest of forever."
Sail in Peace Shipmates .