And The Sea Shall Yield Up…
The NS Eileen McSorley plowed her way through six foot swells, her decks remaining steady beneath the crew’s feet as if the rolling ocean were calm as glass. Granted, measuring in at just under eleven hundred feet in length and sporting a beam of one hundred twelve feet, the ore carrier presented an imposing challenge for the typical summer squall lines to which her captain and crew had become accustomed.
Tonight however, the “Mick” was far North of her familiar waters. A fresh contract had the venerable freighter plying a different route. That morning, they’d taken on thirty-nine thousand tons of taconite, a hardy grade of iron ore that was finding a new use as the foundation material for numerous manmade island projects. After leaving Bergen, she rode her heading southwest, toward a distant cay envisioned by developers as the spaceport link to a massive resort complex. “Another playground for the rich,” old Edwards laughed as his younger counterpart mused over the volatile weather in their path. “And lots of overtime for us.”
Yuri didn’t exactly see it that way, but he wasn’t prone to argue philosophies with his boss. Better still to share this moment at the stern rail before another descent into the bowels of the old ship. Tomorrow, their course would take them south of forty-five degrees. The “Roaring Forties” were the perpetual battleground upon which warm, moist air from the tropics rose to clash with descending cold bursts from New Melbourne’s polar icecap. The resulting weather could come up with little warning, and build rapidly to excessive violence. Even a tough old iron boat like the Mick could not claim immunity when Neptune rolled the dice.
“I should cycle the main pumps,” he observed, before drawing from his pipe.
Edwards chuckled. “Skipping out on reactor watch again?”
“Those midships stress cracks,” the younger replied. “I saw the torque in the main deck on our way up….”
“By design,” the chief engineer cupped his hands over the match’s flare. He drew deeply on the cigarette, the blessed smoke filling lungs pronounced cancerous during his last physical. “I’ve been on this boat for twenty-three years,” he replied. “The Mick flexes a bit more than she used to, but she’s a tough old gal.”
“But we are running an aux pump nonstop, Chief.”
“Yes...and that’s keeping the bilge steady at a half inch,” the Engineer countered. “Always fretting, Yuri!” he admonished the mate with a clap on the shoulder. “A day and a half in the forties, and then we’re in home waters. You’ll be back with your girl in Pensacola this weekend.”
“I don’t have a girl.” Yuri puffed at his pipe, mindful of this code in their discussion. Chief didn’t want to discuss this anymore. Time for a story, instead.
“Damn shame,” Edwards shook his head as their conversation slipped into more comfortable territory. “Good lookin’ young fella like yourself? When I was your age...hoo boy! There was this time in New Mobile. I met these sisters…”
Yuri leaned against the rail, his eyes cast downward as the old man settled into yet another telling of The Sisters of New Mobile. The churning ocean in their wake had disturbed teeming hordes of luminescent plankton. Even on a night like tonight, when the moons were hovering above layers of scudding cloud, their tiny neighbors cast a glowing trail that stretched aft for a good mile.
“...and then Magnolia says, ‘hope you brought enough to share,’ she says...”
”Oh, I got enough,” Yuri clinched down on his pipe to avoid the disrespect of mouthing the oft told response. The yarn would take a more graphic turn from here, with then youthful Edwards’ exploits and prowess building to fantastical levels. Yuri took the pipe smoke, enjoying the subtle flavor as he considered his options. The control rods and mod blocks were overdue for replacement. Reactor output was down by thirteen percent. The Mick could still generate steam for her customary twenty-five knots, but if they were fighting a heavy sea and a head or cross wind, she’d lose that momentum. The reactor was running at capacity, with only two rods inserted for moderation....a worrisome setting in a very delicate ballet of physics and chemistry. He’d increased the cooling flow, which aided the balance and steadied output. So far, so good…
“...heard tell them sisters walked bowlegged for a whole week!” Edwards laughed.
The tale was ended. Now, the necessary adulation. “Never in my lifetime,” Yuri shook his head. Praise for the chief's narrative thus given, he could now expect Edwards to reciprocate.
“Tell you what, son. I’ll have Chrissy give all the pumps a good going over on the morning watch. That settle your nerves?”
“Sounds good, Chief…” A sudden gust of cold wind tore at their clothes, whipping shirtsleeves and trouser legs as both men instinctively huddled.
“Brr!” Edwards stubbed his cigarette into the red “Smoko” bucket. “Shoulda worn my foulies!”
“Same.” Yuri emptied the last of his briars into the pail. He was officially off watch, but one more look at the reactor couldn’t hurt. “I’m headed below,” he said.
Chief Edwards made for the galley door. “Thinkin’ another slice of that pie would suit,” he replied. “See you at oh-seven-hundred.”
……………...To Be Continued……………….