A few weeks ago I returned to Naval Station Homeport aboard the USS First Ship, the finest frigate in the fleet, completing my first deployment abroad in defense of hearth and homeland. I literally left on the eve of my 24th birthday and returned a changed man.
Life at sea is completely different from anything I had experienced prior. It’s truly something special, holding its own secrets and mysteries to be unlocked through ancient practices and long midnight watches spent wooing the sea. And truly, the ocean is a lady; no other creature could be as temperamental and loving.
Now that’s all something you’ve heard before, dear reader, repeated to the point of delirium by old, crusty mariners as they slug back their gutrot rum and swap lies. Even I failed to appreciate it until I found myself on the starboard bridge-wing, alone save for my fellow watchstanders inside the pilothouse and the rest of the crew below, soundly asleep or wishing to be. As I stood there sipping my coffee and staring at the twinkling lights of the Algerian coast on the horizon it finally struck just how unique the experience was.
There’s a sense of calm in a moment like that. It to balance out the excitement one feels as the ship rocks and rolls in heavy seas on a pitch-black night and all you can do is watch as the inclinometer approaches the magic angle of dangle at which the superstructure is designed to tear away from the hull, saving the ship, and sending everyone on the bridge to the briny deep.
But the sea is temperamental and she balances every high with a low and for every moment of terror she rewards those brave enough to face her storms and swells with days of placid steaming with water so clear that you can nearly make out the sandy bottom. And like a schoolteacher, the sea seeks out men and cultivates a special relationship; bringing them to her and separating the wheat from the chaff. The coastlines of the Atlantic are a testament to the men who were found wanting.
She’s a harsh mistress, but I’d have it no other way.