|Monday, January 24, 2011|
Just Another Shift
My toes feel cold and numb in the steel-capped boots. A fluorescent bulb above flickers almost too fast to notice, but just slow enough to be bothersome. The smells of diesel, exhaust, and hot oil mingle in the air. The machinery below hums along. I'm by myself, sitting in the engine control room staring at a panel of gauges six feet away. They're pointing to pressures, temperatures, revolutions per minute. Everything's within range. The alarm panel to my right remains silent on the wall.
The clock turns slowly. It's 4:15 a.m. Gauges don't tell the whole story, so I need to do a round, see everything for myself. I put on ear defenders, pull up my hoodie, and open the insulated door. It's colder and noisier in the engine room - big fans pull in frigid Antarctic air while fiery explosions continuously sound in the port engine's cylinders and the turbos whine.
My hands find the cold steel rails and I take the steps down. I'm below the waterline now, just a quarter inch of steel between me and the vast Southern Ocean outside. I do the round almost unconsciously. I'm only alert for the odd gauge reading, a strange smell, a trace of smoke, an unfamiliar sound, a leak.
Good - there's nothing unusual. My feet lead me back upstairs to the relative peace and warmth of the control room. Another round in 15 minutes, three-and-a-half more hours to go.