Saturday, August 16, 2008

Force Twelve's

We've crossed the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and are less than a hundred miles south of Halifax under a full moon. We saw a pod of long finned Pilot Whales, fifteen or twenty adult males and females on the prowl a few days ago. They were on a crossing course with us but unlike Dolphin turned away at the last moment to avoid the hull. They are a peculiar looking animal in large groups, their big round dark heads bobbing in and out of the water, curved dorsal fins popping up on each dive.

The issuance of NAVTEX warnings from Virginia Capes to New Jersey to Gray Maine last night of a quick moving front with heavy thunderstorms was a prelude to this morning's severe weather. When I took the watch the wind had just died down from a gale as we were enveloped in the fog typical for Newfie waters. 

When I was relieved six hours later the glass had fallen from 1007 to 991 millibars. During the course of the watch three separate squall lines passed over us unleashing torrents of rain and continuous lightning. I unplugged my iPod from the stereo for fear of it getting fried.

By eight in the morning the barometer had bottomed out at 986 millibars dropping almost 30 millibars in ten hours! The wind again picked up as the day started, veering from the southeast to the northwest and increasing to a hurricane force of seventy knots. The 70 metric tons of ballast water I had pumped to port to compensate for 5 degrees of starboard heel had to be pumped back with an additional 80 tons for the port heel.

Fortunately the blow only lasted for a few hours so the confused seas never had a chance to build as we passed under the lee of Cape Breton Island and away form the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. It was pretty exceptional weather for an August day ruining any hopes of fishing.

I'm making the last push to get all my responsibilities onboard wrapped up and ready for a turnover. Relief notes are a headache but if you plan on coming back to the same ship next time than they are vital to keep things flowing the way you hope they do.

I never count days until the last week when the anticipation becomes real. There's nothing like knowing you're days left are getting down to the single digits. The feeling is probably akin to waiting to get out of jail, except I get a paycheck at the end of my confinement from society.

The 4 to 8 AB this morning addressed me by my surname, an unusual formality, but it made sense when he later asked me if I had a brother that sailed. I said I did and then he asked me if he was a chief mate and triathelete and I immediately knew he was asking about my father, who yes, in his leaner meaner years was in fact a triathelete. Lydell, a Designated Engine Utility at the time, had worked with my dad on an old chemical tanker and had nothing but good things to say. I think that had been was my dad's first Chief Mate job running chemicals from the Gulf of Mexico to the East Coast and Puerto Rico. I love having those encounters out here with people who've run across the seafaring members in my family. My dad made a lot of friends over the years who continue to profess their loyalty, even to me. It's not such a big world, especially when you have the monosyllabic last name I do.

My mind is full of to do lists and scheduling for the first hectic month back at home. I have a dozen ideas of how I want to spend my first 48 hours of freedom. On the top of the list is breakfasting at Bentliff's American Cafi in Portland after an all nighter. The hash and/or waffles are out of this world and the Bloody Mary's wicked stiff. I'd also like to have a proper dinner, at dinner time, rather than sleeping through it, seventy nights of the midnight shift is enough. Then, after eating all that food I'd like to jump on my road bike and put twenty or thirty miles under the tires zipping up and down the hills around my house. After that I might get to the to do lists, or maybe I'll just go swimming and get ready for my own triathalon.

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