November 21, 2005

Underway: This Ship Rocks!

Hatched by Sachi

"Secure all your items. We are expecting rough seas." The Project Engineer, a no-nonsense former Navy chief, warned us repeatedly before this voyage about how bad it could get where we were going. But this was my fourth underway (hey, I'm an expert!), and I had never experienced anything worse than little bit of wave action. None of my equipment had ever so much as shifted. He's being a little overcautious, I thought.

Then, on the fourth day of our voyage, bang, it happened: the ship began doing some sort of acrobatic manuevering. It rolled violently, and unsecured stuff started to cascade to the deck, crashing and smashing and bouncing around the room where I was monitoring some equipment.

A huge ring binder full of paper, weighing two or three pounds, tumbled from above me. It would have crashed directly onto my head -- except that the "unsecured" lawn chair I was sitting on started to slide across the floor with me in it. The binder thumped to the deck exactly where I had just been sitting.

I was sliding so fast, I was afraid of slamming into the bulkhead, which had a number of pointy things sticking out. I grabbed hold of the handle of a piece of equipment and jerked myself to a stop. That was close.

On previous ships, I've seen a chief ream a sailor out for having an open liquid container inside the computer room (or a loose item anywhere). The chiefs always seemed unreasonably anal about this... until that fourth day. But I want to make one thing clear: the unsecured items that fell in my workstation were not mine. My stuff was totally secure... except for my lawn chair and myself, that is!

(I have to bring my own lawn chair, because all the chairs in the room are bolted down, and none is bolted down next to where I put my equipment, of course. So unless I want to stand for hours at a time, I have to bring along one of our fold-up lawn chairs that we use when we go horse camping.)

My work on the ship is not especially physically demanding; I don't have to haul heavy equipment across the ship or bend steel with my bare hands. But just walking around inside a vessel underway requres you to be reasonably fit.

Counting from my work station, the bridge is five decks above us. The stairways connecting these floors are steep, almost like ladders. At the top of the each stairway, there is a hole called the scuttle, about the size of a manhole. Every single time I went up the stairs, I banged my knee on the edge of the scuttle.

Sometimes, the scuttle is closed, and the stairs are not accessible; you have to use actual ladderways. If you thought the staris were steep, the ladder is, well, vertical. Before exiting, you have to spin a wheel or move a latch to heave open the very heavy hatch above your head. Throughout the course of a day, I go up and down these stairs and/or ladderways many times. Since I have weak knees, I have to watch out.

Travelogue detour: Once, I was hiking in the Grand Canyon, along the South Kaibab Trail from the south rim down to the Colorado River (about 4000 feet of vertical descent over seven miles). I was wearing a pack that was way too heavy. Steps had been carved in the trail, but not for us humans; the steps were there to make it easier on the mules that also used this path. They were mule-sized steps, which means very much too large for people.

Not knowing any better, I went down the steps. Worse, I stepped down with my right foot every time, instead of alternating. Dafydd was walking around the mule steps, but he didn't think to warn me and I didn't think to ask him why he was doing that. After a few miles, my right knee started to ache so bad, I could hardly walk. So naturally, I started thumping down with my left foot each time!

You can guess what happened: by the time we reached Bright Angel campground (just near Phantom Ranch), both my knees were in total agony! They didn't stop hurting for days. When it finally came time to hike out back to the rim, I said "thank God we're going uphill for a change." Everybody thought I was very strange, but my problem wasn't lack of strength or running out of breath; it was my knees, and especially banging down on them while descending. Going up just didn't hurt so bad.

So the moral is, when you come to mule steps, just walk around them. But let's get back to the ship.

The passageway is very narrow. Two people cannot walk side by side; therefore, when someone approaches going the opposite direction, one of you has to flatten himself to the bulkhead. But you have to be careful where you do this, because pointy things are usually poking out from the wall. If you're not carefu,l you can stab yourself in the back. Since my berthing, where the ladies' head (bathroom) was, was far from my work station, I had to negotiate this narrow passageway back and forth a lot.

I kind of enjoyed this little bit of exercise. When you're stuck in the bottom of the ship, it's good to get out and walk around sometimes.

But it does get a little tricky when the ship starts to roll. Walking on a rolling, pitching ship gives you a strange sensation: as your foot comes down, you expect it to hit the deck at the certain time. However if the ship is pitching up, your foot smacks the floor sooner than you expect, and it feels like you're climbing a hill (and you are). When the ship tilts downward, you step out, but suddenly there is no deck! Untill you get used to the rythm, you stagger around like a drunken sailor.

Taking a shower in rough seas is also interesting. There is a handle inside the shower stall; I often clung to this bar and braced myself against the back wall.

I've heard that Japanese ships of this type have huge Japanese-style bathtubs. I don't see how they can use that; wouldn't the water slosh out with every roll and pitch? The waves would be worse inside the tub than out on the ocean! But since all Japanese military ships ban women anyway, I'll never find out.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, November 21, 2005, at the time of 12:11 AM

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