By John Petersen

Back aboard, yet again. She doesn’t get underway for at least another six hours, maybe a couple more, yet her mission cannot be fulfilled if I’m not here early, I need to ensure she’s ready to go at a moments notice. Gave the wife a kiss, and one lightly on each sleeping child, and silently slip out the door, hoping traffic is light so I can make it to the ship on time. Already have everything I need stowed away in my rack, so I’m good.

Got to the ship early, gives me some time to put a few things away, the photo album, the snack stash from the wife, good luck charm from my daughter who knows I’ll be away for a long time. Had the good fortune to enjoy some midrats, and after a plate of sliders and fries with some cherry bug juice, I’m ready to go. A few minutes on the fantail, and down to the hole I go.

No sooner than I hit the deck plates I hear the order given over the 2JV from main control to light fires. My watchstanders are on deck, as top watch this I’m required to ensure, therefore as fires are lit on the other side of the bulkhead we are making preps. Cracking condensate drains, ensuring lube oil flow in sight glasses on the mains, bringing up the evap as steam pressure builds to feed hungry boilers. Main and aux steam lines pound angrily as they heat up, steam begins to replace water in the drains. Bring up the SSTG, performing the overspeed trip as required, maintain vacuum by feathering the gland seal at .5 to 2 psi. Within two hours, the shift from shore power to ships power. Just the beginning of a long six-hour watch, hours before she gets underway.

Dawn is upon her, her shadow grows small. Illumination gives way from fluorescent to natural, throughout this luminescent transition those not already aboard do so, rested and eager to go. A good healthy breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast, life is good for those who made it aboard before the brow is lifted. All the lights and air conditioners and computer screens work as they expect, for without their proper planning and plotting our job would be nothing more than practice. Yet that is not our concern, we are the heartbeat and life’s blood of her, and without us we go nowhere, we’ll steam inport indefinitely if needed.

We’ve performed every check required, spun the mains both forward and astern per the SOP; ensured proper flow in all lube oil sight glasses, we’re ready to answer all bells. Hearing the call over the 1MC, “Underway, shift colors”, our lives take on a completely new level of business. This is the real thing, shipmates, no time for lollygagging or horsing around. In this engine room, the six of us are the ones who will make this girl go forth, to answer her orders. From now until we embrace our loved ones again, we’ll rely on our brother BT’s on the other side of the bulkhead to give us steam, so that we may push this ship continuously forward, give those above decks fresh water to drink and ensure proper hygiene, and above all else keep the lights on and radars going. In return, we will not allow the Evap’s to salt up, for in doing so will shut down the boilers, therefore rendering this ship useless. Not gonna happen on my watch.

I am the top watch. I am the one that is looked upon to ensure that this engineroom runs as efficiently, safely and smoothly as would be required. I am the one that knows that each of my watchstanders; messenger, lower level, upper level, evap, throttleman, the lone electrician off to the side, is fully trained and aware of the responsibilities they are entrusted to perform. I give my knowledge to them knowing that, with this knowledge, they will have the experience and fortitude to, should the need arise, save not only themselves but all of his or her shipmates. They will have gained through my endless training and required answers the ability to one day lead a group of snipes in their own engineroom. It is my responsibility, and mine alone, to guide my young and eager snipes and mold them to become a shadow of myself, For if I, the topwatch, should ever fail in my duties, so then will those who look up to me, and in the end the mission of this ship will fail as well.

I, for one, as the top watch, flat out refuse to allow this to happen. Can’t wait to get home! I own my engine room, I will make her sing!

MM1 Petersen


5 thoughts on “Topwatch

  1. Richard Honaker BTC says:

    Been there done that many times out of my 30 years total service. Seems as if the BTs and MMs are always the last to leave the ship and the first ones back when time to get underway. Went in many times at 4 AM to lite fires to provide steam for the enginroom so we can get ready to leave port. You know I miss that since being retired. I would love to do it one more time.


  2. Jon M. Lodi says:

    Great dedication shipmate! Thanks to our Snipe comrades, for keeping the rest of us moving, and living comfortably, in our vessels. ….MSCM Jon M. Lodi, USN, Ret.


  3. John Gove, MM1 says:

    Only a snipe would say that throttleboard looks beautiful. BECCE drill for a LOLP and listen to the turbine scream. Tens of thousands of horsepower. Could find every valve in the dark.
    When this Covid mess is over I’m going to Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA just to sit in the engineroom of the Kennedy and remember when … And remember those I served with.


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