The Cold Iron Watch
By: John Petersen
You’ve been at sea for months, your routine has become a rut.
Get off watch, eat, sleep, train, maybe a shower,
then back on watch, but there’s that weird feeling in your gut.
Home port is near, time to prepare and arrange your brain,
for all those months at sea have been nothing but a drain.
Finally, the last line is secure, all shore services connected!
Another successful switch, your friendly EM has shore power selected!
The main engine is locked, evaps brought down, and then as a closer,
“Test the over speed trips on the SSTG’s, this pm was due in October”!
As luck would have it, (or maybe not), guess what? You have duty tonight!
Checking the watch bill you realize the night will not be alright.
You’ve been awarded after all the months of hard, sweaty work,
the first cold iron watch, from midnight to four,
No homecoming party with your buds to attend, no night on the town,
just you, lonely snipe, touring now silent spaces that cool down to their core.
Remember that feeling? The one in your gut?
You’re reminded of that as a door somewhere above is slammed shut.
As you check these spaces now growing cold and still,
you stop at each ladder and entrance, and get this uncomfortable chill.
There’s no more noise, no constant and steady hum and mechanical beat,
of all the things it takes to ensure this vessel is never in fear of defeat.
Descending several decks to the port shaft alley for readings and such,
that long narrow space can’t possibly be that bad, for some four hours back,
this huge shaft was turning strong, giving no slack.
Now it is still, as is your heart,
for there is no noise, until that pump down the ally,
goes into auto start!
Down in the aft engine room, things get really strange you see,
for every screaming turbine is now still and rumored boogums are unleashed and set free.
Every sound is heard, every creak, groan and slight squeal,
you swear you saw something move, upsetting your previous meal.
Roaming the upper level can be enough to give anyone a start,
yet that lower level in an engine room when cold will stop the saltiest heart.
Four hours of anxious, nail biting watch standing, in the middle of the night no less,
Does nothing for your sense of wellbeing, not to mention your shorts, you confess!
And as if things weren’t bad enough, in the port shaft alley towards the end of hour three,
Whatever sense of security you have left, decides it’s time to flee.
While checking the shaft seal, several decks down and all the way back,
The lights start to flicker, suddenly the world goes black.
Now for all the sailors of this mighty vessel who live life above the waterline,
A loss of power would be a mere inconvenience, it’ll come back on in due time.
But when you’re the poor snipe stuck deep in the bowels of this storied ship,
The sudden darkness and silence stokes fear and quivers the lip.
It matters not what your rate, rank or level of seniority, I will tell this:
Standing the cold iron watch will make you a man, and those shorts you will not miss!
A native of Nebraska, I have lived in Southern California since 1970. I graduated high school in ’81 and went straight into the Navy, Machinist Mate being my trade, all commands I served on were Pacific theater. After 12 years active and 22 years inactive reserve, I now manage a dry ice plant for Airgas.