by Nash Mahoney
I’ve been aboard The Oliver Hazard Perry for about five months, and that time has been almost evenly split between shipyard time and sailing on program time. I’ve been a deckhand as well as, briefly, a program manager. Working in both settings has given an important perspective on the operation of the ship.
When you’re doing one specific thing on program, like furling a sail, or performing bow watch, when you’re working for just four hours at a time, and looking to the future only to make sure you’re awake for a meal, it’s hard to step back and look at the whole picture, and the larger timeline of the ship fades into the background for you. Even your position in the crew at large is often reduced to your specific watch, meaning you only see about one third of the people aboard consistently.
Working in the shipyard is quite different. The whole crew works together all day; it’s a great time for us to get comfortable working and living with each other. Projects are worked on over months, rather than ship maneuvers that happen over minutes. Day by day, the new bow net grows a bit bigger, the rust gets busted, converted, and painted over. Working closely with all parts of the ship instills a real appreciation for it once she begins to sail again.
The shipyard does not align with the glamorous image of the ship. No sails billowing majestically in the wind, no beautiful landmarks passing by, no crew singing as they haul yards up the masts. Instead, she’s surrounded by concrete and construction equipment. The mud of the yard necessitates multiple daily moppings of the entire deck. Your hands are covered in tar or grease.
But the biggest thing is that shipyard time is all professional crew - no trainees aboard. As necessary as the shipyard is, there is a sense of counting down the days until the next program starts. So the whole crew was happy to finally bring aboard six trainees from the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy program. The ship works best when she is being used as a teaching tool; using and reinforcing the skills we’ve gained by passing them on to trainees is her real purpose. The positive environment of camaraderie that is not only ideal for teaching but required for it aboard this vessel renews the crew and gets us ready to go out sailing.
Just before leaving, we brought the trainees aloft. This is often the most stressful experience for new trainees, but each one did fantastically. The moment when a trainee gets confidently onto the fighting top, and realizes that they love it up there is probably my favorite thing I’ve experienced aboard.
Unfortunately, the moment the ship left was my last moment aboard. I cast off the docklines as she left the shipyard and stayed to watch as she became smaller and smaller in the distance. As disappointing as it is not to be on the crew as she gets out to sea, I’m happy that she can finally return to doing what she’s meant to do.