[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
[a long time ago in a Central American port far, far away continued…]
The Captain has signed the new liberty policy but has decided not to implement it, although it is understood that the crew’s behavior here will determine whether it goes into effect at the next port. Nevertheless, each crew member must have at least one buddy he or she goes on liberty with, and they can’t switch buddies once they’re on shore. (The Captain and the XO constituted themselves my buddies, so no opportunity for me to wander off, get falling down drunk, pick up a local lothario and be seduced and abandoned. Ain’t gonna happen when you’re under escort by The Twin Towers.)
We arrive at the dock at 1000. Shortly thereafter the crew lines up in the main deck passageway for their biannual compulsory weigh in. Later they line up from the pier, up the gangway, across the flight deck, down the stairs to the fantail and in the back door to the galley to load supplies. Fuel tankers roll up and the A-gangers go to work.
For everyone else, liberty sounds at 1400. Five minutes later the first crew members in shorts, T-shirts and flipflops sign out with the Quarterdeck and show the OOD that they have their identification, their visa, and their buddy. They slide their name on the crew board from green to red and they are history. Many of them are renting hotel rooms on shore for the duration of our port call so they can take real showers and get away from the noise of the ship. And each other, insofar as ship’s rules allow.
The next day, the HA has arranged with a local agency to take 22 of us into the mountains, and at 0800 we muster at the end of the pier to be assigned ponies and head out.
A river through the jungle. An open-air restaurant for lunch with hot, hot salsa and cold, cold beer. A huge jungle swing. A waterfall cascading down a rock face into a deep forest pool. Steps carved into the hillside to a zipline ride through the canopy. Toucans. Wildflowers, lilac water lilies, a flaming red torch flower, deep pink hibiscus, magenta bouganvillea. A warm, torrential thundershower on the ride home.
Underway, you forget there is anything but the continuous rumble of the engines, the faint but omnipresent smell of exhaust, the sway of the deck beneath your feet, the forced intimacy with the rest of the crew. Everyone from command to the chiefs to the crew members themselves work hard to stay focussed, energetic, positive, but it wears on the spirit.
A day like this? It’s not just a day off the ship.
It’s a day out of time.
Many of these photos courtesy of SN Caleb Critchfield.
Click here to order a copy.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.