Night Transit

by Mike Hemming

The boat surfaces at 2000 hours after a long day of ping time. Doing different things at different speeds and depths. A long, boring, hot stale-air day for the whole crew. It must even bore the hell out of the skimmers and airdales above us. But now they have gone, the airdales back to their nest and then the 'O' club for steaks and martinis. The tincan back to port for SlimJims and beer, while we transit to nowhere and have horsecock sandwiches and green bug juice.

I have the 20 to 24 in the forward engine room and I fire up my rock crushers for the battery charge. In the after engine room, they light off to answer bells on two main engines. While charging batteries we are off, standard on two. Off to where? Not many on board know, and none of us care. It’s another night transit, one of many.

We are blessed with a warm and calm sea, so we are happy. It doesnt take much, but with the milk gone, red bug juice would be a pleasant change.

So the four hours on watch pass, boredom lessened only by the decreasing load on the engines. After 3 hours, I shut down one engine, but the 5 minutes to do that add nothing meaningful to my, or our existence.

Watch over, I turn it over to my equally bored but still watchful relief. While the boat cuts through a night sea with only a slight roll, I head forward for mid-rats. The same damn stuff as last night and the night before. Except the bread is a little more moldy and the mayo skin in the can is a little tougher. I long ago gave up eating Navy mayo and opt for mustard since it doesn’t change in taste or consistency on day one at sea, to the last day. I have another baloney sandwich for mid rats, but I do however, add some thick slices of onion. Strong and pungent, it turns my breath into a blowtorch. My shipmates who havent showered for weeks, will never know in their own little clouds of stink. My personal smells will never be able to penetrate their thick miasmic shell of smell.

I watch the nightly poker game start, but I am broke so this chance for even the minor excitement of losing is denied me. Others around me sit waiting for something, but something never happens. The movies on board are so stupid, we wouldn’t even pay a dime to see it ashore. Skin books all read or still busy in heads or corner bunks, and there is nothing new to read. A grease stained, ratty and tattered 3-week-old Time magazine no longer holds any useful info. No news may be good news, but it's boring as hell.

I am too bored to even start a ping session on the new night messcook. He has not yet learned to not rise to the bait. Last night we worried him for an hour over some imaginary fault just to watch his reaction. Finally, the night cook said,

"Knock it off, let the kid work."

But until he learns to take it in stride, the messcook will have a tough time. Mean maybe, but it’s our way of passing the time and it helps us separate the ones that can hack this life from the rest. Most of our recreation in this sardine can existence is verbal. We have no room for anything else except words. But words elude us now and we are just bored. Have you ever tried to listen to or feel your hair and toenails grow for something to do? Too many night transits, and you will try at least once in your life.

Jokes retold too many times, sea stories worn out, we need some liberty to find some new ones. Sea stories are the lies that tie us together into a crew. But we are on a night transit going nowhere, slowly.

Going forward looking for something to pass the time but there is nothing. Men on watch have that 'don’t bother me' far-off stare. Shipmates awake close their eyes or roll over in their bunks to avoid conversation attempts. Men stare through bulkheads transporting themselves back home to ride free in a convertible. We want to snuggle against a wife or girlfriend thinking of anything but our foul smelling all-male existence.

We will dive in the morning and surface again that night. After a few more days of this, we will night transit again. To where? No one will care unless it’s toward homeport. We amble across the sea from one imaginary point to another. At that point someone will sail into view and have us do this or that thing for a bit and then they will sail off.

Night transit... Even if we could see the ocean, one wave looks like the next 10,000, so no one looks. We sail through a calm sea that closes over our wake while the air dissipates the faint smoke we leave behind, leaving the ocean unmarked by our passage. Night transit by a lonely gray ghost in the dark, wondering by now if we are forgotten out here.

I turn in as we all do, passing the time in sleep when possible, to kill the boredom. The boredom of a night transit by a galloping gray ghost, going nowhere and back again.