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LJ Idol 09: Marching Orders

One would think that eight people sharing a cabin the size of your average walk-in freezer would warm the place up pretty quickly. But no. Eight people, all bunking down around the same time in the black nights of December on the Columbia River, when the weather is in unpleasant single digits, tend to insulate themselves very well. We wore everything we owned - two pairs of leggings under snow pants; three pairs of wool socks; four, five, six shirts; a hoodie; the warm blue stocking cap knitted by a friend who was currently enjoying Arizona sun, curse her name - and piled what we couldn't wear on top of our sleeping bags. Even the duffle bag, wrapped snugly around our feet. We kept every scrap of heat we could for ourselves, and so the cabin remained cold as long as we tried to fall asleep. Breath hovered in scarlet-lit clouds around the safety lights to either side of the ladder, condensed and froze along the heavy wooden beams above us.

It was the breath that would finally warm the place up. The hatch, our only ventilation, had to be kept firmly shut to keep ice from forming on the ladder, our only exit. So we slept there, breathing in each other's exhalations. The temperature rose slow, but it rose sure. Five hours after the last light went out, like clockwork, those of us who weren't from California would wake, toeing layers of thick socks off in the sweaty depths of nylon sleeping bags, scraping hats off against our pillows, trying to peel off a sweatshirt or a pair of jeans without rustling too loudly and waking the sounder sleeper below us. Then it was back into an uneasy, tossing sleep behind our curtains.

The first breath of fresh air came at six, when the cook stood halfway up the ladder in her thick slippers, braced her shoulder against the heavy hatch and pushed it upwards to break the seal of ice that had formed around it as we slept. Light sleepers woke and sighed and sank back to oblivion. Heavy sleepers took a deep breath, clearing throats at the sudden oxygen, as cold as it was welcome.

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here

At a quarter to eight, the cook sang us awake, answered by a chorus of groans. Feet began to hit the deck with soft but heavy thuds. Slow and lethargic, we emerged one by one from behind our curtains, scratching and stretching. From any upper bunk would come a hollow thunk of head to fir beam and a sudden groan or oath. Cold, harsh sunlight shone in through the now-open hatch and dry, icy air sank in from the uninsulated world above. No one had to get dressed for the day - the idea of baring any skin to the fog that formed in our humid cabin was laughable. At the most, we switched out the pair of socks that had been worn closest to the skin for dry ones, stuffed our feet into shoes, found the hat that had somehow managed to lose itself under our pillow. Slowly, one by one, we began to haul ourselves up that ladder, out of the cabin and up on deck. Breakfast was getting cold, and the day's orders were waiting.

This entry is nonfiction, and was written for therealljidol: Week 9: Marching Orders. Constructive criticism is always welcome, and I'd love to know if anyone is interested in a series of posts like this, detailing daily life on board a tall ship.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2011 05:12 pm (UTC)
I really loved this. :) Great imagery and ending!
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:48 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's an oft-repeated scene, probably something I'll remember forever.
Jan. 15th, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed reading. I can picture that welcome sunlight and fresh air.
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)
It felt so good when that hatch opened every morning.
Jan. 16th, 2011 06:29 am (UTC)
Did, I mention, today was 74 degrees and sunny sunny, here in Arizona?

Great imagery! I didn't know it was /that/ cold on the Columbia, to make a sheet of ice on the deck and seal the hatch! Makes our summer sail seem all the sweeter.

Jan. 17th, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)
45 and rainy, here in Anacortes.

Not a sheet of ice all over the deck, but there would be water in the seam between hatch and combing, and that would freeze.
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:35 am (UTC)
I'd like more ship-life posts.
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:50 am (UTC)
I will endeavor to make them!
Jan. 17th, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
Wow I am very interested in anything to do with tall ships. I went and saw them when I was a kid and there were a bunch stationed in NYC, I loved walking around on them and meeting the crew.
Jan. 18th, 2011 08:09 am (UTC)
Working aboard one is an experience like no other. If you ever get a chance, jump for it with both feet.
Jan. 18th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
This was really interesting. I enjoyed it.
Jan. 18th, 2011 08:11 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was an interesting time of my life.
Jan. 18th, 2011 12:22 pm (UTC)
I'll bet it was. I want to know more. You seem so interesting.
Jan. 18th, 2011 01:12 am (UTC)
Agree with a previous poster that I'd love to read more about life aboard the ship like this, if you find opportunities to write them -- this was a great read! :)
Jan. 18th, 2011 08:12 am (UTC)
I'm sure it won't be hard to fit more topics to the ship. :3
Jan. 18th, 2011 08:07 am (UTC)
Aaand then of course meanwhile in the main hold I was freezing my ass off and it never got any warmer /:
Jan. 18th, 2011 08:09 am (UTC)
Perks: Not breathing in everyone else's swamp-breath?
Jan. 19th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC)
I enjoy maritime entries. More! more!
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )