Underway Writers Workshop 1

[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]

May 5

There were initially sixteen students in what I called my Underway Writers Workshop. I confidently expected that number to drop by half after the first class, especially since it wasn’t for credit and class time was at the mercy of ops and as such, well, fluid.

They stuck with it, though. I taught them first lines, setting, character, plot, and dialogue, and I made them practice, practice, practice writing, in class and out of it.

At the end of the last class, I challenged them to write me a story about life underway. If I liked it, and the Captain permitting, I’d post it to the blog. Nine of them stepped up. I’ll post three daily for the next three days. Enjoy.


Leaving for Work
YN1 Matthew Sayers

YN1 Matthew Sayers and Little Man

“I love you, little man.” I said.
“I love you too, Daddy. Why are you crying?” Like a knife straight to the heart.
I glanced at my wife. Can you please help me out here?
“Daddy is just sad because he’s going to miss you.”
I grabbed my last bag and walked it out to the car. Fuck, here we go again. Come on, Matt, suck it up. Let’s just get it done.
“I’ll be back before you know it, little dude.” Getting down on one knee, I gave him one last big hug and kiss. “Be a good boy for Mommy, o.k.?”
“O.k., Daddy.” Like I was going out for milk. Kids. Gotta love their perspective on life.
Standing up, holding my son’s gaze as long as I could, I turned to my wife. “I love you, babe.”
“I love you, too. Be careful and email me as soon as you can. Go, we’ll be fine. Do what you need to do.” Women. God bless ‘em.
Day one underway is always the hardest.
Arriving Munro
YN3 Dorothy Davies

SK3 Dorothy Davies

She wished the ride from the Oakland International Airport would never end, but the van came to a halt all too soon. The salt smell of the sea air was overwhelming when the door opened.
The streetlight lit up the name USCGC MUNRO. The seamen tried to give her words of encouragement, but she couldn’t hear them over the thumping of her heart.
The ship grew larger with each step forward. The day that was so far off was actually here. She climbed the stairs leading to the brow. The weight of the green sea bag pulled her back, as if to tell her not to go.
The watch stander stood and smiled. She reached out her hand and said, “Hello. I am YN3 Dottie Davies, reporting as ordered”. He signed her in and the seamen led her down into MUNRO.
She walked into the berthing area and saw where she would sleep for the next two years. She smiled shyly at the other females, trying to make a good first impression with her new roommates. She unpacked, showered and lay down in her rack.
She wanted to hurry and go to sleep, in the hope that when she woke up she would not be there.
First Day Underway
SN Jessica Roberts

SN Jessica Roberts

“Now, there has been a report of fire in the engine room. All hands man your General Emergency billets!” I pulled out my WQSB and for G/E it said Bridge-Lookout.
It was my first day on board Munro, and I arrived at what most people referred to as the worst time possible, during TACT. TACT is a three-week long training evaluation where the crew is evaluated by the Navy on our proficiency and ability to react and perform during fires, floods, man-overboard, abandon ship, and refueling at sea, just to name a few.
No one had time to take me through the ship and show me where everything is, and there was no time for me to get familiar and settled in. This cutter is 378 feet long. During the first week, 378 feet seems like 378 miles. I had no idea what TACT meant. I didn’t realize that this was just a drill. Not only was I lost, but I thought the ship was on fire and I was scared for my life.
“Where’s the bridge?” Someone in the passageway laughed at me and said “Are you serious?”
Someone finally said, “Forward of the Wardroom, and up.” I yelled back at him “Where’s the Wardroom?”
He rolled his eyes and pointed down the passageway. Ah, okay. But I’m not an officer. I’m not allowed to walk through the Wardroom. So I “walk with a sense of urgency,” one of the useful phrases we learned in basic training, as opposed to running, through Chiefs Country, which I find out later than I’m not allowed to walk through, either.
Luckily the person ahead of me was on his way to the bridge, too. I finally arrive and someone throws me flash gear. Flash gear consists of a fire retardant hood, gloves and red long sleeved shirt. We were in San Diego, and the temperature on the bridge was eighty-something degrees, and they want me to wear all this?
I put it on and the Conning Officer said, “Seaman Roberts, you can lay to the flying bridge.”
“Um, where’s that, sir?” I think everyone on the bridge laughed at me. Someone took me out on the bridge wing and pointed to this terrifying little ladder that went up to a small weather deck above us. I have to climb up that? And go up there?
Ever since falling down a ladder during a high school play, I had suffered from a fear of ladders, and a fear of heights. I didn’t know that living on a ship meant climbing a ladder every time you need to go anywhere.
We were about fifteen miles off the coast from San Diego and the sea out there is very calm. I don’t know if it was the ladder, or the fact that I was fifty feet above the surface of the water, or the fact that I was surrounded by ocean for the first time. After being on the flying bridge for maybe two minutes, I had to vomit. I climbed back down the ladder as quickly as I could, entered the bridge and said, “Where’s the nearest head?” Someone told me to go down the ladder where there was a head for watch standers. I opened the door to the smallest bathroom ever and threw up into the toilet.
After cleaning up I went back up the ladder to the bridge and was greeted by the XO and Chief Hays. The XO asked me if I was okay. I told him that I guessed I was seasick.
He laughed at me. “This is nothing compared to the Bering Sea.”

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Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

8 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Wonderful pieces. I wonder if taking the class while actually having the experience created some kind of synergy. Of course they have an excellent teacher as well 😉 Keep up the good work!

  2. Matthew is talented; his few chosen words for “Little Man” were more powerful than a whole chapter. We know his loves his family and is called to his job and struggles to make it all work. Bravo!

    Dorothy writing in the third person leaves the impression she is still tentative about this adventure. Her “thumping heart” description reminds me of my scary first days too. Merci!

    Jessica made me laugh out loud and feel like I was on that ladder with her going green. Well done!

  3. all is well when our protectors of our shours can also project visuels in words like they did –do we get to read the other six in thanks

  4. Couldn’t post earlier, too busy crying after I read Leaving for Work. Can I blame it on the after pregnancy hormones? The baby’s only 8 months old (lol). It’s easier to just not think about it, but makes it emotionally all the more powerful when you’re confronted with something so evocative. It describes every one of us, our lives, and we have to live that moment so many times. Syntha

  5. Either you are an inspired teacher who hand picked her class or the Coast Guard harbors many great writers. Suspect the teacher drew out this talent. jean

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