Mark Sikorski

Captain’s log: 0430 hours, underway in the South Atlantic Ocean, steaming northeasterly along the southern coast of Brazil. The phone ringing in my cabin awakens me; it’s the conning officer on the bridge making a report of a vessel that we have in sight approximately 12 miles away. The conning officer is guided by my Standing Orders, which is a compendium of actions to take when I’m not on the bridge. As directed, she is notifying me that the vessel is on a head-on collision course with us and we need to maneuver to pass clear of each other. Her recommendation to turn to starboard 20 degrees conforms with the International Navigational Rules; I agree and ask her to watch the vessel until it is well past and clear. At sea, this scenario is repeated numerous times every day. Safe navigation between ships is based upon simple mathematics … add the vectors representing each ship’s course and speed to determine if we are trying to occupy the same piece of ocean; henceforth known as a collision. We have several technically sophisticated computers that actually calculate the “closest point of approach” between our ships. Nonetheless, each conning officer uses some common sense to verify the computer solutions with what is actually happening. I have the final call on all maneuvers to safely pass clear of other ships.

0630 hours: My morning wake-up call and workout. Since it is Columbus Day, we are in “holiday routine”; no reveille. Weather remains very fair; it’s already 66 degrees with light northeasterly winds; barometer is holding steady; and the seawater temperature is 65 degrees. We are all very excited that the weather is turning much warmer; it’s a far cry from the howling gale we encountered as we exited the Strait of Magellan nearly two weeks ago. At 45 to 50 knots, the wind shrieked throughout the ship and was actually tearing off the tops of the 25-to-30-foot seas. The seawater temperature was 36 degrees! We beat ourselves up trying to work our way north; the ship was rolling 30 plus degrees. All kinds of things broke free, including a 1,000-pound box of free weights in the hangar and our 12-foot wardroom dining table. We came through a bit battered, but thankfully no one was hurt.

0730 hours: A second collision-avoidance report from the conning officer; another large merchant ship trying to occupy the same piece of ocean.

0800 hours: Breakfast, coffee, and lots of good conversation. Since we are on a rather long trek up the eastern coast of South America, the routine has settled down somewhat from the hectic pace of the previous three months. At the top of every hour, the bridge calls down to the Engineering Control Center to record the seawater temperature from an engine room gauge. To liven things up a bit, the engine room watch has calculated and reported the seawater temperatures in units other than Fahrenheit: Kelvin, Rankin, Celsius–the bridge didn’t think it was too funny. In a similar vein, several of the engineers have braved the elements by appearing at our daily all-hands gatherings on the flight deck without coats; only to be outdone by a petty officer who wore shorts through the frigid Strait of Magellan!

1100 hours: Voyage planning; calculating distances and fuel consumption rates to finalize port calls off the northern coast of South America.

1200 hours: Observed following daily customs: Received ship’s position report from the navigator. Current position is 28 degrees 19 minutes South latitude and 047 degrees 52 minutes West longitude (about 1,700 miles south of the equator). The conning officer reports that all small arms, ammunition, and pyrotechnics have been inspected. Traditional eight bells are struck.

1245 hours: Made a round of the ship. Clouds are thickening; looks like rain. We are making 13 knots on a northeasterly heading; the seawater has become bluer and has risen to 67 degrees. Engineering plant is operating well; temperature between the main diesel engines–Jake and Elwood–is 98 degrees; in the high southern latitudes the temperature was barely 80 degrees. The evaporator is supplying us with enough water to keep up with our consumption. Bilges beneath the operating machinery are dry and clean.

1300-1600 hours: Shuffled paperwork; reviewed reports and signed the ship’s official logs. Crew is enjoying a day of rest watching movies and playing in the Morale Committee-sponsored spades tournament.

1700 hours: Ate dinner in the wardroom.

2120 hours: Wrote Night Orders outlining supplemental instructions for the night watches to follow.

2300 hours: Engineer officer and I won our first round of the spades tournament.

0000 hours: Steaming under a canopy of stars, gently swaying to the ocean swells; glowing lights on a distant shore. Another day at sea is complete.