Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I can see the lights in the distance...

...trembling in the dark cloak of night.
Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing
A waltz on All Soul's night...

So, Happy All Hallows, All Saints, All Souls, Samhain, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, or holiday of choice to you. ^_^

We're back at sea again after a grueling sprint in Jebel Ali; we pulled in Wednesday last for a light load of cargo, planning on pulling out Saturday. Thursday we loaded more than we'd expected, working steadily throughout the day; Thursday night, some shipmates and I went out on the town, hitting various clubs until eventually ending up at a place called the Seaview, known for its live music. The band was decent, not as good as The Rock Spiders (see my entries for November of last year), but they knew how to jam. The bass player was especially good, switching instruments to the lead guitar for an excellent cover of Guns 'N Rose's "Sweet Child of Mine" as the finale. Friday was a lazy day; I'd put in a leave chit, hoping to finally drag Wally off to the indoor ski ramp at the Mall of the Emirates, but unfortunately we were both well burdened with hangovers. Ended up spending the entire day at Elmondo Internet Cafe, a good eight or nine hours stuck in the Wired - I regret nothing. While we were chilling at the cafe, one of our shipmates came by and mentioned that the sailing board had changed - rather than sail Saturday, we were now sailing Sunday, as the USNS Lewis & Clark wasn't going to make it into port.

At first blush, this sounded like an invitation to roll out and drink heavily again that night; but we were both still a bit hungover, and at any rate, I had duty the next day, and I'd been taking too many weekends off lately anyway. So, the next morning I woke up and headed out to work. Good thing, as I was on the cargo POD - doing a BS job, namely netting cargo. Unfortunately, at 6'3" with dirty blonde hair and a copper red beard, I stick out pretty well on deck - so when the bosun assigned all the otherwise unassigned dayworkers to go back and net cargo, the unrep bosun grabbed me out of the crowd to run elevator 6. Running the cargo elevators on deck is a boring, tedious, and pretty undemanding job; the elevator comes up, you flick the switch to 'stop', lower the safety net, and move it out of the way. The forktruck driver loads cargo onto the elevator, the operator replaces the safety net, switches the elevator to 'run', and pushes the button for the destination. Then you sit back and wait until the elevator comes back up, at which point the cycle repeats.

What was supposed to be a fairly light cargo load, a liberty port stop, suddenly turned into a marathon sprint, loading hundreds of pallets of cargo - everything we were originally scheduled for, everything the Lewis & Clark was scheduled for, and a good deal of other items besides. Scuttlebutt whispered that the security situation in the UAE was about to blow up on us, and all American ships were pulling out; discreet inquiries to the mildet, or to the security detachment, were met with a flat "I'm not at liberty to discuss that". Around 7:30 at night, they called deck department fore and aft - we were shifting berths from Shed 66, cargo loading, across the river to Star Energy - fuel loading. I'd been running the elevator all night, with a quick break when our fork truck died to grab some food - one of the steward utilities had ordered pizza. When I came up out of berthing, the bosun stopped me and said that he needed me to remain behind.

Remain behind?

Apparently, several people hadn't made it back to the ship yet - the sailing board had changed while they were out in town, and they weren't aware that the ship was shifting to Star Energy tonight, or leaving early the next morning. So, in case they made it back before we left, the ship was leaving a couple of people behind at Shed 66, along with the ship's agent, and a hired van and driver. I was volunteered as one of the stay-behinds.

It's a peculiarly lonely feeling, watching your ship pull away without you. Sure, the van was right there - and they were only going across the river, at any rate, so it wasn't like I was lost. Shed 66 has hordes of security - Navy MAs, hired Gurkhas, and probably layers of defense I'm not entitled to see - so it's not even like I was anything less than completely safe. Still, a lonely feeling...

Round about midnight, the guard at the gate paged me over his PA, asked me to stand by. Well, I'd been 'standing by' for the last four hours. No skin off my nose. Turns out the ship had called the pier guards, and asked them to send me home. Well, 'send me home' apparently got turned into 'bring me home', 'cause the next thing I know they're escorting me back onto the pier, giving me a safety briefing, taking down my personal information for their records, and slapping a life jacket on me. I rode across the river on one of the Navy security boats, climbed a short ladder up to the pier at Star Energy, and strode down the sandy stretch to the gangway. The watch looked at me, slightly goggle eyed, not expecting anyone to come aboard at half past midnight at a pier with restricted liberty. I shrugged as I walked on.

So, to wrap up a long story - that was my weekend. I slept in, Sunday - Monday and yesterday both have been a long stream of unreps and moving cargo around, and today promises to be more of the same. All well and good, keeping busy makes the time go by - unfortunately, I seem to have picked up one hellacious head cold somewhere, and my foggy sinuses and fuzzy head are making me pretty miserable. It looks like a busy week, more underway replenishments in the offing, culminating with a stopover in Djibouti, Africa, to pick up cargo. I spent last summer in West Africa (Liberia and Ghana); I can't say I was expecting to go back to the continent, but at least it's East Africa, something new, this time. The schedule still seems pretty torn on whether or not we'll be returning to Jebel Ali, or the UAE at all, this deployment, but they still seem pretty firm on our return to the World this December. I have in for the first of the month off, although it looks like my earliest opportunity to leave would actually be sometime later that week, and things aren't really clear as to whether they'll spend the money necessary to fly me home, or merely pay me the (much cheaper) overdue for relief fee upon putting into Earle around the late middle of the month. Either way, I should be home in time for Christmas - I'm keeping my fingers crossed. >_<

Midnight tonight marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, and I am well and truly pumped for it. Finally settled (somewhat) on a title; the tenative working title is going to be "Toy Soldier's War", sticking with the same story I was thinking of for WANI and have spoken of here before. I have plans to either stay up until or wake up at midnight tonight to write; probably not too much, given how sleep has been a fairly elusive partner for me lately, and my dreams have been troubled and disturbed. I don't have nightmares - haven't since I was five years old, and had one so horrible it burned the terror out of my night time excursions since - but I've been known to wake up in the morning with a groggy, "What the hell was that all about?"

But I suppose I've rambled on enough for one entry, and although I'm on the most private computer in our little library, I can still see people peeking over at me as if wondering just how much longer I'm going to monopolize the internet.

Happy Writing to everyone engaging in the great adventure this November. ^_^

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