Changing Watch

The night was black: no moon shone and the only light came from the binnacle where the amateur steersman tried to keep the Rose on her course; and a ghostly glow from the companionway showing the shape of the cutter Thorne in her chocks and the nondescript lumps that were members of the crew who had escaped from the fuggy sleeping compartments to slumber on deck. Looking aloft, one could see the great congeries of stars and the pale band of the Milky Way, sometimes occluded by the spars and three staysails. Far over the horizon to larboard, lightning flickered in the top of a squall.

Faintly, very faintly, the sound of seven bells came from the wall clock outside the galley, and the voice of the mate on watch said quietly, "Idlers. Time to rouse out the hell watch. Try not to disturb the rest of the ship."

There was a quiet padding of feet as the idle members of the current watch ran below to look for their sleeping relief.

"Eleven-thirty: time to rise," was whispered in several ears. A lack of response meant a shake, and again, "Eleven-thirty. Let's go." Grunts and groans, audible yawns, and even a little swearing; the creak of the steel springs in the racks, and slowly the now somnambulant hell-watchers made their way up the ladder to the heads, and thence on deck, some of them stopping in the galley for a cup of coffee, lemonade or tea.

By ten minutes before the hour, everyone was gathered round the capstan waiting to be sent to their stations. Everyone except one.

"Where's Roy?"

"I don't know." "He wasn't in his bunk." "Is he trying to sleep on deck? He's been complaining about it being too hot below." And so on. Then finally, "There he is, under the Thorne," and he was shaken awake. A small quadrupedal shape detached itself from the lump that was Roy and click-clicked away, down the companionway steps: the Captain's Jack Russell terrier.

"That damned dog!! Someone let him out of the Captain's cabin and he decided he wanted to sleep with me!" Roy was perturbed. "If it happens again, I'll settle that Jackal's hash!"

"What," said a shipmate, "make lobscouse of the spotted dog?"


1998 Bill Nyden