Friday, June 20, 2008

Solstice at Sea

The first day of summer and the passing of the solstice will be hard to
recognize in the fog of the Grand Banks. If we had a clear sky it might
be an interesting observation for the cadet to watch local apparent noon
occur with a sextant to measure the sun's maximum northerly declination
for the year. But the cold Labrador Current isn't far off so the air
temperature has moderated the dense fog that stagnates this time of year
off of the Canadian Maritimes has enveloped us. Last night we
encountered one eddy produced by cold water current and were steering
almost fifteen degrees left of course to make our track line for the
English Channel. Before we left the main girth of the Gulf Stream
sometime yesterday I saw a small sea turtle flopping around in the water
near us. The day before we saw two mammals, which were feared to be the
very endangered Northern Right Whale, which would have obligated us to
begin a lengthy and mandatory Right Whale Report. Fortunately for us it
was a mother Sperm Whale with calf alongside. How did I become such an
expert in identifying marine mammal species you might ask? A book the
third mate just brought to work told me so. Just like me, after years of
offering educated guesses as factual information to the guy your on
watch with as to what kind of whale it was you had just avoided striking
by mere meters the third mate desired a more solid form of species
determination. So he beat me to it and bought a mammal ID guide and we
will now avidly consult it every time a resting whale, playing dolphin,
or pod of porpoise appears.

The first week of the trip is just a blur now. The sleepless days in
port have given way to the regimented routine of life underway.
Thankfully that includes a full eight hours of sleep in the afternoon
for me. We are standing a modified or European watch onboard this ship.
When at sea I will wake up at 2320 and report to the bridge at quarter
of midnight to relieve the Third Mate. I stand a navigational watch from
0000 to 0600 and then take two hours off with which I prefer to spend
half an hour on the elliptical and another half hour with the free
weights. Then it's breakfast and back to the bridge at 0745 to relive
the Chief Mate who has just started his day. Two more hours of watch
finishes my 8 total and then I start my four hours of over time. Working
through the lunch hour, taking 15 or 20 to eat rather than a coffee
break lets me knock off by 1400. That gives me one hour to clean up and
wind down before getting into bed at 1500 to read for a half hour before
drifting off into dream land. This schedule works really well in
providing the required rest periods to watch standers in one big chunk.
In the years past the most I would sleep at once on the mid watch was
four hours which isn't as gentle on the biological clock. The unlicensed
watch standers still stand the traditional sea watch, four on eight off.
Once we are in Europe the Third Mate and I will take 12 hour watches
while the Chief Mate becomes a day worker. Overtime here is limited
while at sea to four hours a day. On my last ship I routinely logged
five and sometimes six hours a day. Legally you can continually work a
14 hour day and still meet the mandated 10 hours of rest a day. This
means you could theoretically make up to 6 hours overtime a day
legitimately if it was offered, but that is a rarity and the OT from my
last ship was somewhat exceptional due to her aged condition. Lastly the
12 hours off in port will actually give me a chance to get ashore, one
of the true luxuries of being anyone besides the Chief Mate who normally
never gets off. We expect to arrive off Germany next Friday and if luck
has it and a berth is available then we will have three overnights in
Bremerhaven and all of Sunday without any cargo being worked on or off
the ship.On to the beer gardens!

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