Russia is cold.
It seems strangely appropriate. I mean really….when you think of Russia you think of fur hats and bundling up in Siberia. You think of Dr. Zhivago….snow, trains and arm muffs….am I right?
Midnight watches suck when it is snowing sideways. When you step outside and get a face full of snow….the kind of face full of snow that hurts all you can think is, ‘what the hell am I doing here?!’.
Snow blowing sideways and below freezing temperatures make me feel guilty that I’m a Mate. I spend the majority of my watch in the cargo control room. I go out on rounds about the deck however; I do two rounds an hour. My watchstanders spend the entireity of their watch on deck. Our ship doesn’t spend much time in very cold weather which means that the deck isn’t outfitted for cold. There are no heated spaces outside of the house.
I joined my first ship in Seattle, Washington at the end of November (I was 22). She got underway the next day for Alaska. I spent 4 months aboard as an AB and realized exactly how brutal winter at sea truly is (a cold day ashore is nothing compared to even a chilly day at sea). I was working on getting time on a tanker because, I didn’t have the credentials to allow me to sail officer on a tanker….only other types of vessels. Sailing AB was probably the best thing I ever did – it gave me some experience but, most importantly it gave me a little perspective….like, how cold you get when you stand a deck watch.
Being back in cold weather has me reminiscing about Alaskan winters. One of my biggest reasons to leave Alaskan waters was that I truly didn’t want to do another winter. I soon found myself enjoying a Persian Gulf summer and decided then and there that I’d take an Alaskan winter any day over a Persian Gulf summer…..now that I’m back in the cold I’m wondering if maybe I should revise that statement!
I didn’t really expect to be really cold this trip. I didn’t bring my fleece neck warmer. Do you know what this means? It means that I’m wearing a coral colored pashmina around on deck. It’s bad enough that I wear a fuschia colored carhartt jacket….but paired with a coral colored scarf….talk about a shipboard fashion faux pas! I’m pretty sure my shipmates (and the dockmen) think I’m freakin’ crazy. (I won’t even tell you what it means that I forgot my waterproof gloves. Think red vinyl….seriously.)
Being cold in Russia is making me yearn for a fur hat….you know the exact style of hat I’m referring to. I bet if I wore a Russian fur cap no one would even notice that I was wearing a pashmina! If only I had a fur hat like that when I was up in Alaska….
Wanna know another thing about being cold on a ship? It has this magical ability to bond the crew. Everyone is cold…and everyone knows that everyone is cold. Before you know it people are pitching in to help one another just a little bit more. Team work is slightly more prevalent. Shipmates start taking care of one another just a little bit more…..because they secretly want to get taken care of. I’m also amazed by how suddenly people are ready to have fun. You’ll see way more joking around…way more horsing around….way more chatting in rough and severe weather. It’s as if suddenly people realize that they have the ability to create fun. Spontaneous snow ball fights on deck? Yes please!
So, Russia, thank you. Thank you for helping me remember just how awesome a shipboard winter wonderland can be. Thank you for reminding me of the days where I came into the house so cold that I had to start rewarming my toes with cold water and slowly increase the temperature. Thank you for validating the purchase of 30 dollar wool socks. Thank you for reminding me that at one time I was just another young pup on deck who got nervous when they had to tend the lines when they got icy. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to wear all the cold weather gear I packed….it makes me feel so much better about my heavy bags. Thank you for reminding me how amazing a cup of hot cocoa can be. Thank you for reminding me that there is fun to be had – and that snow ball fights are never a bad idea. But mostly, thank you for reminding me that at one time I was an AB whose Mate sat in the cargo control room (which is the polite way to say: thank you for helping remind me to not be a douche bag Mate to my AB’s).