Watchkeeping

At 3:40am the watchkeeper pokes her head into my cabin telling me to be on the bridge in 15 minutes. I pull myself out of bed, get dressed, pour a cup of cold coffee from the day before and head up to the bridge. I check the radars for ships and other obstructions in our vicinity and then take my seat in the chair above, eyes scanning the pitch black horizon in the company of the mate on duty.

At 5am I make my first round of the ship and taking a flashlight and vhf radio to stay in contact with the bridge, make my way first around all four exterior decks and the bow looking for hatches left open, lines chaffing or any other items that may have come undone in the night and smelling for anything unusual like smoke, fuel or ammonia.

Next I head inside, first going below into the engine rooms looking specifically for fire and water and then continuing through the rest of the interior of the ship still making sure that everything is as it should be. After the round is completed I’ll finish the rest of the laundry, put away the remaining dishes from the dishwasher and stock the messroom fridges with the basket of crackers, juice and milk the cook’s left out the night before.

I’ll do two more rounds on the hour before the end of my watch at 8am and by the time I’ll have finished will have probably walked over a kilometer and ascended at a minimum 42 flights of stairs. Granted most are shorter flights than in a traditional house, yet a house’s staircase doesn’t heave up and down like happens on a pitching and rolling ship!

About halfway through the watch the sun will begin to rise over the horizon behind us. That’s the great thing about the 4-8am watch–the sunrises!

Though once it’s light the cleaning begins. Everyday the watchkeeper mops the sweeps and mops the bridge yet there’s often other cleaning as well–wiping down all the surfaces, cleaning the windows, scrubbing the exterior deck outside the doorways. At 7:30 I head down below waking the rest of the crew making sure to get a response from each person before moving onto the next cabin. There aren’t alarm clocks aloud on-board seeing as someone’s always sleeping and 15+ alarm clocks would make quite the racket in the morning so there’s also no snooze button–you’ve got one wake-up call and if you fall back asleep you’re in trouble.

Also in this picture, note the size of the wheel! In case you can’t find it, it’s the tiny little black thing in the bottom center of the picture–ridiculous!

At 8am my watch is over, I shower to get the layer or salt and sweat off that’s already drenched me and climb back into bed to try and get a couple of hours more sleep.

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