Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Riding the Wave

"Come along Boats," say's the new Warrant Officer in charge of our division, "it's time to inspect the decks."

He gives me a patronizing look, but the ship heaves to the side and slams him into the bulkhead. I sigh. We use to have a real Bosun's Mate in charge and now we have a signalman, a flag flyer, an outsider.

I wait, as three hundred and seventy eight feet of sleek sided metal, pitch and yaw in the following waves, then get to my feet. This ain't no cruise ship and Captain closed the decks for a reason.

Quigly fastens his yellow slicker and tightens the strap of his rain hat. He looks like a Gloucester fisherman minus the burly build and bushy whiskers. He looks at me and arches a brow.

"Okay," I shrug, "I'll just get a safety line. One for you?"

He declines with a wave of the hand, but I'm not going out in the storm without one.

"Get your foul weather gear." He snaps as I disappear below decks. When I return, he glares, but doesn't make an issue of my bare forearms. Yes, it's winter in the Bering Sea, but I suspect this won't take long.

This isn't your average storm and waves are cresting as high as the flying bridge, some forty, fifty feet in the air. The ship pitches to starboard just as Quigly and I shove against the port hatch. For a moment, it doesn't move, then wind rips the steel door out of our grasp and sucks us out toward the rail. I attach the safety hook just as the ship slams to port and waves crash up to create a solid wall of icy blue water between our deck and the one above. We are in a narrow corridor of gleaming white metal and raging sea.

Heart slamming in my chest, I'm still awed by the power and beauty of the moment. Once again we pitch to the right and get a glimpse of leaden sky. I grip the rail and turn to Quigly just as a wave slides in from the stern, lifts him several feet in the air, carries him down the length of the ship and deposits him by the galley door. Like a mad cartoon character, he leaps to his feet and turns to me. "We're finished here," he shouts, "get back inside," then he disappears into the ship.

Oh my gawd, he could have been swept out to sea. For a split second, shock holds me in place, then I bark a laugh, slip inside and secure the door. Neptune, I think, just tossed him back.