The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

At Sea

The most overwhelming memory I have of my travels in the Navy are olfactory in nature. Beyond the visual, beyond the tactile, the fragrances and odors were sometimes the most impressive experiences.

The sea is a strange environment. There are times when it appears solid enough to walk on but, peering closely, you realize it is translucent like a masterfully waxed floor. The illusion of depth in the tile is no illusion on the ocean. The depth is real, almost unimaginable. I didn't find it to be blue, as in the "deep blue sea", rather more a deep green tinted black. It's impossible for me to describe, there are no words or phrases which capture it. The color does not exist anywhere else.

A sunset at sea can be one of the most magnificent sights you could ever see, rivaled only by a sunrise. The ocean reflects the reds, oranges, and yellows, the sky deepens into very deep blue with the hint of maroon. I have seen sunsets where you would think the sky was on fire, the other ships just large black shadows.

At night, the stars are simply incredible. A Navy ship operates in a darkened condition. Only red light is allowed. The idea is to not provide a target to an enemy vessel. Whether actually at war or not, this condition is maintained. Once far enough offshore, without any light from a coastal city, the sky is brilliant with stars. The only places on land that compare is somewhere far out in the desert or on a remote mountain. Even then, I'd say the view of the night sky at sea is superior.

On rough seas at night, the phosphorus creates a glow all around the ship. On calm nights the glow is mostly at the stern, in the wake, and along the bow. The glow is actually from plankton, roiled up, "excited", by the vessel's churning of the water around it.

The ship is "alive" while at sea, the constant vibration of the engines, and from the movement in the water, makes the steel deck feel soft. Once in port, tied up, with the engines shut down and silent, the deck becomes hard as concrete. The ship feels "dead."

At sea, the smell of salt either disappears or is so pervasive that the nose ignores it most of the time. There is no fishy smell, like in a harbor or along a seashore. It is clean and fresh. On a Navy ship, you smell the ship; the odors of cooking, of the diesels, sometimes the steam escaping from the laudry or the boilers, sometimes the fresh paint, the smell of sweat in the compartments, the ozone in the electronics spaces, and coffee, stale and fresh.

As you approach a port, if the wind is right, you smell the land almost before you see it. A place like Hawaii smells like a subtle, powerful, perfume. It is a mixture of flowers and soil similar to what I used to smell when the wind came from the west, over the land, in Florida. A sweet, rich smell, but not overpowering like a florist's shop. That changes as you enter Pearl Harbor. Once inside the harbor, the scent is overwhelmed by the oil, fumes, and garbage; the stench of harbors all over the world. But the perfume is always there in Hawaii, no matter, always in the background of all other smells.

Even harbors have their individual smells. A port in Taiwan, like Kaohsiung, is a working port with small shipyards all around, as well as multitudes of small fishing boats and ferries to bring sailors to and from their moored ships. The scent would be of garbage, welding, diesel and gas fumes from the many small boats, occasional gunpowder from the celebration of a boat launch. You quickly become inured to the stench as it permeates the ship and is eventually ignored. In town, there seemed to be an equal number of restaurants and bars, the odors mingling.

Arriving in the Philippines, the experience is very much like Hawaii. It is a lush tropical place and it floats out to you as you enter Subic Bay on the island of Luzon. And then the aroma is pushed aside by the stink of oil, garbage and diesel so that it just lingers in the background to be pushed back into your nostrils by an occasional breeze from the right direction. In town, Olongapo, the smell was mostly of food cooking on open grills. There were street vendors cooking chicken and beef and pork and the aroma filled the air. Fragrant, appetizing, essenses spilled from the doors of the many restaurants while beer and alcohol soured the air around the much more prevalent bars.

Between each port, time at sea would cleanse the nostrils of the port you just left. Each approach to land would, therefore, seem unique and new.

About the only port that seemed uninviting was our home port of Long Beach, California. As you neared the coast, before you could have seen land, you saw the brown cloud of smog that envelops the Los Angeles Basin. The smell is of refineries, mostly. A atmosphere full of hydrocarbons that dulled the senses and ruined the appetite. There were many men aboard that welcomed it, it meant home, girlfriends or wives they had left behind months before, families they missed.

But, for me, it was a sad time, an end to the adventure.


Anonymous said...

Fabulous post Douglas, I could smell those smells you spoke of. Your posts have been getting busy of late, I am having problems reading and digesting everything. Started work yesterday (officially) and boss wnats his ounce of blood again, so I had better dosist.


Douglas said...

Yes, I am suffering a bit of writer's diarrhea. Which, of course, means my readers suffer even more.

Tell your boss to get his own blood. Wait, that won't work... Most bosses are bloodless.

Jonathan Bert said...

I am not a water person. I have seen two oceans but never sailed on one. Your story kind of makes me want to try it some day. What's the closest ocean to Wisconsin?

Douglas said...

Jonathan - It's a bit far in any direction. Lake Superior or Lake Michigan might be viable alternatives. And they are both "middle of the road" in terms of oceans...

redchair said...

I think your post is really beautiful Douglas. I went on a ship from New York to Portugal when I was a kid, but know only the smallest tiny tiniest inkling of what you describe.


Michael said...

Your readers (me, at least) because as AV mentioned, it's a weekday where we have to go to work/school.

I love the ocean together with the beach. Nobody would understand why I like the feeling of sand all over me or my hair soaked in seawater. You mentioned all the colors and the textures of the sea's surface, and that is exactly the stuff that I want to jump into and swim in.

It's just water, a lot of water, but wow, isn't that an understatement.


Douglas said...

Vikki - Thanks, there are many more feelings about the sea to be expressed. That was just a dip of a toe into the waters.

Michael - For 2 years before I enlisted in the Navy, I got into surfing. I was indifferent to the ocean before that but I came to love the sea during that period. I never liked the beach so much as the ocean itself.

Jonathan Bert said...

I am not a water person. I have seen two oceans but never sailed on one. Your story kind of makes me want to try it some day. What's the closest ocean to Wisconsin?