Author’s Note: To my readers:
This entry was delayed due to operational security, my terrible grammar, and recovering from a post dive hangover. That is not to say that I went diving then got inebriated beyond my control. I simply went diving in rather cold water on very little sleep or food after a long fifteen plus days of near constant operations. We came up from the dive, showered off, over indulged on tacos al pastor, had a very large fishbowl margaritas and promptly passed out in the van.
It took me most of yesterday to work though the dive fatigue and far too much spicy street food. My core body temp got lower than I thought and it taxed what reserves I had getting it back up. It was something of a system shock to go from eating low/no fat granola bars and Special K cereal for two weeks, to a half pound of rotisserie Mexican pork(?) with a quart of margarita. That being said, it was damn good food.
To quote Lazarus Long “Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.”
OS3 K. Aud
USCGC Active, WMEC 618
2016 05 18 Wednesday
The air was damp and heavy. It felt like the leading edge of a summer storm front. The ambient temperature was high enough to stave off the oppressive chill of the near one hundred percent humidity. It was 0500 and I was standing on the port bridge wing staring down at the bioluminescent thunderstorm playing out around us; light flashes in every shade of green, aqua marine, and blue. No single burst was bright enough to read by and would barely stand out on a half-moon night, but all together in the predawn murk with no moon, I could almost read by the glare. The bow wake was an undulating frothing green ribbon that curled out from us to fade into a dull swath of bubbles in the near windless morning. The swath of ocean we left behind us glowed sullenly green as we plowed forward.
An errant streak of light came hurtling out of the distance like a drunken meteor, its course bobbing and weaving as it approached. As it came closer it suddenly surged to the surface and I heard the tale tail burst of air and splash of a body hitting the water. The impact with the sea sent up a fountain of green light and the invisible creature continued is meandering glowing progress along the side. The dolphins had come to escort us into port.
Had dawn not been fast approaching the starlight would be overwhelming. The Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. I hadn’t looked at a star chart in a long time and I can’t recall which constellations I should have been able to see that time of year at that latitude. I could see the Southern Cross in Key West during the early evenings in the summer. I couldn’t begin to guess which cluster of lights overhead might have been it. The Eastern sky was only marginally lighter than the rest. The stars and sea still outshone the twinkling lights of our port call. Puerto Vallarta Mexico winked at us from miles and miles away.
I picked out a sharp scent on the wind. It is a smell I had come to associate with this part of the world. Thankfully that damp breeze was flowing away from the rising sun and off the coast. It blew the ever-present smell of exhaust out behind us. I had been at sea for so long at that point that I couldn’t pick out the tang of salt anymore. The scent that cut across my awareness is like the air from a humidor; the spicy odor of cured tobacco, cedar, and boiled linseed oil. Though I had become a bit jaded it still smells exotic to me.
Time passed as I made a slow circuit of the bridge wings. I watched the stars fade to gray and the false lightning storm of the sea life disturbed by our passage grew dim. The east is a little brighter now and the west is somehow darker for it. We closed the distance to land, and I could just make out cars moving back and forth on the highway along the coast. The port is waking up. That spicy sent came again and there was another layer to it. It is the smell of forest fires, acrid but faint. Someone must have been clearing land. As the sky grew brighter the clouds came into view and the delineation between the sea, the mountains, and clouds was finally distinct; or as distinct as three bruises can be on the same stretch of skin.
“NOW REVEILLE REVEILLE REVEILLE! UP UP ALL HANDS, HEAVE OUT, TRICE UP, LASH AND STOW. NOW REVEILLE!” I winced at the noise and squeezed my eyes shut, too late to clap my hands over my ears. Somehow I always managed to be standing under a damned loudspeaker when they make a pipe (loudspeaker announcement). I ducked inside the wheelhouse (bridge) before they could make another announcement and grab my coffee cup.
Time for chow.
A half hour later, after having eaten and prepped the OPCEN for entering port I was back on the bridge rail. It had gotten considerably brighter as clouds had almost completely burned off. There was a liquid gold corona of light around the edge of the mountains. It faded to a warm peach color then to pearl the further west I looked. Every time I turn around there seems to be someone else up here with me wearing officers’ insignia. As a general rule of thumb, I made it a point to leave a room when there are three or more officers present. There were at least six prowling around up there. It was time to be elsewhere. The sun still hadn’t broken the mountain range. I headed down one deck and through the secure door to the OPCEN.
Two new ensigns and my two fellow third class petty officers were already there. The screens were on and for all we could tell it may as well have been a total solar eclipse at high noon outside. There are days I truly resented that windowless box I work in. I’ve missed so much of the world working in such places. In a fit of belligerence, I crossed the narrow space, spun the wheel on one of our escape scuttles and gave the eighteen-inch-wide plate a solid kick between the wheel and hatch seam. The hinges sometimes rusted tight and needed to be “exercised” on a regular basis. The scuttle swung open about six inches before it jammed on the rust and salt grime.
Kneeling, I put my shoulder into it and heaved it the rest of the way open. I am just in time to watch the sun finally clear the mountains. Morning light the color of liquid gold poured into the room making the shadows stark and the fluorescents dim. The bay of Puerto Vallarta stretched out before us, nearly smooth as a mirror. We were well within the wind shadow of the mountains and there was barely a breeze stirring the surface. The pod of dolphins that were our escort were off playing in the distance, our slow progress no longer of interest.
I knelt there in warm glow and just took it all in, letting the sunrise reset a few of the breakers in my head.
At sea it is easy to lose track of the time of day, much less the day of the week if you don’t go outside once in a 24-hour period. Your circadian rhythm goes right out the window taking your sanity and health with it. While underway I marked the passage of time by sessions on the rowing machine, watch schedules, and coarse graphite tick marks on paper charts. Tick marks that got smeared as they transferred to a gray sheen on my forearm every time I made a new position fix, gave a course recommendation, and plotted out two more dead reckoning positions every 15 minutes. I couldn’t remember the last time I slept more than six hours straight…It felt like it’d been a day or two. I couldn’t remember the last meal I had before breakfast that morning… I think it was a bowl of granola… how many hours prior?
Bah, at that point in time, none of that mattered. I had just born witness to one of the most beautiful progressions I have ever seen in person. It was strangely refreshing I vowed to sleep when I died and eat when I had nothing better to do.
My stomach growled and I fought back a yawn. Then again, I seriously considered having a snack and a nap once we moored up and they grant liberty.
K.C. Aud has made a career of being lucky and has managed to find something positive in nearly every poor decision he’s ever made, even if it was only a new perspective on how not to do something.
Enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard in 2010 he became an Operations Specialist (radio and navigation) and did his first tour in Georgia guarding submarines from drunk fishermen. In 2014, tired of the heat and the bugs he transferred to a 210-foot medium endurance cutter in Washington state. The cutter then regularly deployed to the hot and buggy west coast of Central America to hunt down drug runners. Aboard USCGC Active he traveled 94,194 miles and personally handled enough cocaine to keep a small country high for a decade. Somewhere in there, he learned to write, if not spell.
Three years later, daunted by the prospect of spending the rest of his career in a windowless command center, he separated from active duty. After 13 different jobs ranging from beer brewer to dairy farmhand, to machinist, to Navy civilian contractor, he reenlisted in 2020 as a Coast Guard reservist, changing rates to Maritime Law Enforcement Specialist. When not helping the Navy assets in the Puget Sound troubleshoot radios, he’s on drill in Seattle doing water cop stuff and or flailing away at his keyboard. Though married and now a father, he misses the mission.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.