Tonight I take up a mug of coffee and walk the decks in darkness. For a long while I stand on the stern, amongst the rusty free weights, a broken stationary bike and the ship’s refuse bin. A sliver of moon cuts through the approaching clouds in a freshening wind and I can just make out the low growl of the stern thruster, brought up from the depths in the thousands of bubbles germinated in the thruster’s cavitation. Lightening occasionally lights the distant clouds. Lights of a half-dozen oil rigs on the horizon twinkle like stars come to earth.
Eventually, the wind shifts, I catch the scent of the refuse bin and it is time to leave. Strolling up the port side, bathed in the yellow running lights, I look for flying insects and find none. Peering over the side in hopes of catching sight of a shark, or even a few flying fish, I see the water is nearly calm, with only a few ripples like one might see in very old window glass. It seems the closest life is several hundred meters across the still water; our sister ship sitting on DP and waiting for word from shore, just as we are tonight.
Most of the ship is painted white, but looks a dirty yellow in the running lights. It’s not pleasant to look at. In places it is crusted with crystals from the dried salt spray that seems to melt on your skin, leaving a sticky residue. Night dew from the high humidity coats the deck and my steel-toe boots squeak on the wet metal. They say that spending your life walking on steel breaks down your feet, ankles and knees. Mine all hurt, but I’ve injured them all before coming to sea, so who knows? All I know is that they hurt out here more often as I get older.
Despite the futility of such a search, I still seek a quiet spot. Even the quiet areas of the ship are not without noise. There is no refuge out here. Thrusters at the stern, hydraulics on the back deck, gear clanging from inside the open hatches on the port weather deck, unknown pumps throbbing at the bow and the roar of the engines in the mess and day room. To get to the ship’s laundry you walk through the blast of the engine room exhaust vent; taller than a man and a good four feet wide, like the hot breath of a dragon, just before he burns the knight to cinders in the old children’s stories that have been replaced with movies the likes of Shrek and Spy Kids. I curse it, every time I pass through.
So, I just keep moving, from deck to deck until the dregs of my coffee are cold and I pitch them over the side. Eventually, it is back to the noise and the cold, dry of the air conditioners, mixed with the cooling fans of several hundred computers, routers, servers and tape drives, humming like the low whine of insects on the edge of the swamp I have hunted for the last 17 years. There too, are the stories of my crewmates, heard a dozen times over the past 12 months and just this once, I will take a pass and don my headphones to write this down while I listen to some Gaelic instrumental music from an album called When Juniper Sleeps, by Seamus Egan. It is soft and quiet, like a lullaby and an imperfect escape from here, but it will have to do.