28 May 2005

Sea Life. 1951. The Modasa. Midnight to Six.

First draft:
I lay in my bunk still wide-awake, or did I doze at times? A tap on the cabin door startled me. "Sahib, sahib, time for watch". It was one of the night staff, with a cup of milky chae... tea, and a plate of sandwiches. I quickly dressed and sipped my chae between sandwich bites; I was hungry. At midnight I walked round in the warm night air to the radio room door, entered, switched off the Auto Alarm and switched on the communications receiver once more. The soft buzz of Morse greeted me, not as busy now as it was on my earlier watch, but even so ship to shore and visa versa messages were still being exchanged. It was a balmy quiet night and I had noticed as I had come on watch, the often-stormy Bay of Biscay was like a millpond. The only sounds were the swish of the bow wave and distant tinkling laughter from one of the lower decks. I sat in my chair listening, and feeling now, a little sleepy. The motion of the ship as it gently dipped with the oily Biscay rollers and then the slight roll of the ship following, was lulling me to sleep I thought. I got up and walked around, then on to the deck for some fresh air. After a while I came back in to the radio room. There was nothing for me to do at this time of night, no telegram messages sent up to me from passengers via the Purser's office and nothing from shore either. I eventually sat down again. Again I became conscious of the motion of the ship. I said to myself "don't go to sleep, what ever you do!” Then I debated what to do, get up again and walk or should I practise reading the faint distant Morse signals through the static? There it was again, I again became most conscious of the ships slow roll and dip. I felt queasy, I could taste the sandwiches and milky tea in my mouth and it suddenly dawned on me. Was I feeling seasick? I thought about this for a while and now I was wide-awake. I sat tight ready to run into the spare adjoining cabin... there was a sink in there I had noticed earlier. The queasiness didn't get worse nor for that matter better, I just sat tight and after a while I forgot about it. This was the one and only time during my time at sea I felt seasick.Next thing I noticed it was 01.45 A.M. already. I must wake Jock for the news bulletin. I slide his door back and heard his slight snore as he expelled air. "Chief, Chief" I said. There was no movement. I repeated it louder with no response. I then shook his shoulder gently and I managed to get a grunt. Eventually I woke Jock enough for him to say "Och, the news, I'll be there in a minute. Tune it in." A few minutes later Jock staggered through in his pyjamas with hair standing on end. He pulled the old typewriter forward and made himself comfortable whilst waiting for the news transmission to begin. The rhythm of the Morse suddenly changed and Jock started to type, pounding the keys with 2 fingers. The steady pounding of the typewriter lasted about 30 minutes I suppose and Jock said "that's it, give it to the boy when he brings the chae" as he ambled off back into his cabin and sleep. I looked at the neatly typed copy of the newssheet, all the headings were in the right place and the punctuation seemed spot on too, as I read the news myself. The Purser's office would read the news over the ships radio system in the morning and duplicate copies for those who wanted them. I felt bored just sitting there with nothing to do but listen, fill in the log, listening closely during the silence periods or copying the traffic list when it came through, wishing there may be messages for us. There was not, not at 3 A.M. in the morning! I made a note to myself, 'bring a book', perhaps a hobby? Eventually I heard 8 bells ringing on the bridge, the clatter of feet as the 3rd officer came off watch and the 1st officer took over the watch for his 4-hour stint. It was 4 o' clock in the morning. There had been a break in the routine at 3 A.M. when the night steward knocked on the door and came in, uttering, "sahib chae". I remembered to give him the news bulletin.

Eventually 0600 A.M. arrived; I heard 4 bells being struck on the bridge. My watch was over. I had had the longest 6 hours of my life, or so it seemed. I was tired; I couldn't face an early breakfast as I went to my cabin. All I wanted to do was sleep. I tossed off my clothing and tumbled into bed, sleep came almost immediately.

No comments: