Morning Watch

Previously on this website, i have commented on my habit of rising early.

i did it again today, got up just past five, fed the cats, took out the trash, put up last night’s pots and pans, took out the trash for pickup, added to and tended the compost box, watered the gladiolas, checked the vegetable boxes, set the table, and then sat down at this infernal machine to cuss at all of the blockades to doing anything productive — the genies who dwelled in the evaps (distilling plant) and gave me grief, only allowing the evaps to produce good water when they felt so inclined when i was the chief engineer on the Hollister; well they jumped on my shoulder and rode with me until they leaped into my computer, moving each time i got a new one to torment me to the gates of hell with their insidious, prankish, really evil shenanigans — while the rest of the house and neighborhood slept except for the cats who pestered me while i cussed at my desk.

It is a routine. i do not know how i got into it. i don’t know why i arise early, but i suspect it’s because of the morning watch.

i have written of the morning watch before, but this morning, i am so inclined to write of it again. The morning watch was my favorite watch. It hardly ever started as my favorite. The messenger of the watch would show up in my stateroom beside my rack around 0315, 3:00 a.m. to landlubbers.

Messengers of the watch were circumspect in this duty of waking up officers for the mid and morning watches. They had heard of the one who had difficulty in arousing a rather burly LTJG from his rack, finally grabbing his shoulder when the young hard sleeping officer jerked hard and kicked out, whacking the messenger in the head driving him into the locker on the other side of the stateroom and breaking his nose. If calling the officer “lieutenant, lieutenant, wake up, wake up, it’s time for the morning watch” didn’t work, they would get at an angle, ready to leap away, and gently prod the officer.

i never lashed out, but i did grumble a lot. i would rub my eyes, shoo the messenger back to the bridge, put on the khakis i had prepped on the small fold-out desk across from my rack, splash my face with water from the shared sink at the entrance to our stateroom, hit the head on the way out, all with my red-lens flashlight on to guide me through the passageways and up the ladders to combat (Combat Information Center or CIC) to get the operational picture of what was happening before reporting to the bridge and announcing to the off-going OOD (Officer of the Deck), “i’m ready to relieve you, Sir.” It would be around 0340. In five minutes or less, i was briefed, saluted, and announced to the OOD so all could hear, “I relieve you, Sir,” to which the OOD would respond, “I stand relieved,” and the Boatswainmate of the Watch would echo, “Mister Jewell has the deck and the conn.”

It was only then, i appreciated the morning watch. The rest of it was just irksome stuff i did mechanically, reluctantly.

But then, i was in my world. For years, it was with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. On my last two ships, the cigarettes had left me. i was usually in my world of darkness standing at the center gyro compass, peering out into the darkness with not much going on. When the ship was in company with other Navy ships, i might see their running lights sparsely glowing in the surrounding waters. They too were quiet: never too much going on as far as formation changes or information exchanges. All of the elephants were in their racks. Junior officers ruled the  decks, the seas, their universe, and at that time of day, they were not inclined to much other than leaning on their gyros (i have some other sea stories about disliked seniors (elephants) screwing with OOD’s and even CO’s on other watches).

The first signs of the morning came in the aromas. Somewhere on 0430, i would get another cup of coffee and weather permitting, would go out to the starboard bridge wing, lean over the gunnel with my cup of coffee. The galley would be stirring a couple of decks below. Starboard, not port side was where to catch whiffs of the coffee, baking bread, bacon coming up to greet the morning.

Following that, about 45 minutes before actual sunrise, came my joy, my moment of silence, my spiritual moment. First light. It would creep into my awareness, slowly lightening the black sky of a million stars with the stars fading away as the lightness gradually infused the sky, allowing me to discern the horizon, a sharp line between the shades of the sky’s grays and the dark Navy blue of the sea (you see, there is a reason for the color of “navy blue”).

Then, the inevitable rising of that lucky old sun. i didn’t even mind the pink auras of sunrise as mariners know “red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Renewal. New dawn. New day.

Better yet, it was a short watch. Relief would come by 0700, allowing the off-going watch time to be the last in the chow line for enlisted and the last three or four to join the wardroom table. All of the other watches, except for the two hour dog watches designed for three section watches to rotate and accommodate the evening mess, were a solid, unrelenting four hours.

Once relieved, my day would come with a rush. Chomping down the bacon, eggs, and toast while reading the morning message traffic, rushing to quarters to pass  the word to my division, taking on the morning duties, paperwork, inspections, paperwork.

Fading around 1000, nearly always. That’s when the rack monster would start calling me. You see, the beginning and the end of the morning watch was not joyful. By the noon mess break at 1130, i was stumbling, eyes burning. Most often, i would skip the wardroom mess and head straight to my rack: a nooner, a long nooner, and what i later came to know as a “NORP,” Naval Officer Rest Period. Good hard sleep, even in rough seas.

On several of my ships, my rack was a couch, for some reason nearly always red faux leather in the daytime. The back would fold down to disclose a mattress in a metal frame. For my rack in rough seas at night or for a NORP i had a system. i would put clothes or blankets at the back of the seat, fold down the frame until the clothes, blankets, etc. left the frame at an angle; then i would pull the mattress outward until there was a crevasse between the mattress and the bulkhead. i would wedge myself into the crevasse where the ship’s rolls had less effect on my NORP. Good hard sleep. An hour, maybe a bit more.

i don’t think i did, but i like to believe i dreamed of the morning watch.

i would continue this sea story, but i have just realized it’s time for a NORP.

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