Friday, March 25, 2011

Easter Sunday

The Comet arrived at the entrance to San Francisco Bay early in the morning of Easter Sunday.  The pilot came aboard from the launch a few miles offshore, and the ship increased speed again to proceed through the Golden Gate and across the bay to Oakland.  The Comet had been here a few months earlier, when she was loading up for the long voyage to the Far East and back.  Despite the long hours of working cargo, the crew had enjoyed a good dose of shore leave on this prior visit.  The ship had been moored at the Military Ocean Terminal—the same spot to which she was now headed—right next to the toll plaza for the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.  While this was hardly a tourist attraction that visiting seamen would want to admire, it nonetheless elicited attention by virtue of its constant use.  At all hours of the day and night, there was heavy traffic going on and coming off the bridge.  It never stopped; on the contrary, I think rush hour lasted 24 hours.  One expected the loading of cargo aboard ship to last all day and all night, but not the traffic.  Then again, this was California.

But in the early morning of Easter Sunday, things were different.  A ship passing under a bridge is normally a noisy affair.  The overhead river of cars and trucks generates quite a racket, and this sound carries on the water.  Passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge early on Easter morning, however, the silence was conspicuous.  Aboard ship, where one day is pretty much the same as the next, the peace and stillness generated by the complete lack of vehicles crossing the Golden Gate as the Comet slid underneath made Easter Sunday seem like Easter Sunday.  A little farther along, the Comet passed beneath the Bay Bridge.  That span, too, was utterly devoid of traffic.  It was 6:00am, broad daylight, and no one was going anywhere.  For that matter, the entire San Francisco Bay was as silent as a ghost town.  There were no tugboats, no barges, no ferries, no sailboats, no motorboats—only the Comet broke the stillness of an otherwise pristine Easter morning.  It was almost like being in church.

In due time, the Comet arrived at the docks of the Military Ocean Terminal.  With a minimum of commotion, two tugboats materialized and nudged the ship into position alongside the pier.  A minimum of linehandlers quietly hauled on the mooring lines and made the ship fast to the dock.  Then both the tugs and the linehandlers disappeared as quickly and as quietly as they had arrived.  The pilot went ashore, stepped into a waiting automobile, and went away, too.  Then silence.  There was no traffic at the toll plaza across the pier from the ship.  There was no activity on the dock.   Nothing was happening.  The prolonged silence seemed monastic, ironic in a place that was normally madness and mayhem.

The Comet’s operational schedule called for an idle period of about three weeks following the arrival in Oakland.  There was no more military cargo to be moved just then, so the ship would remain moored in Oakland until needed again.  This meant plenty of time for a leisurely unloading, a general catching-up on maintenance, lots of fun ashore, and a quiet Easter Sunday.  With three weeks of down time, there was certainly no hurry to unload the ship just yet.  And the peace and quiet of the day would naturally lend itself to a contemplation of the miracle of Easter:

As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.  And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.  His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow; And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.  And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye, for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the lord lay.  And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see him.  And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.  And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail.  And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him (Matthew 28:1-9).

Then the Army arrived.  Because the Comet had been carrying military cargo on this voyage back from the Orient, the Army decided it must be unloaded as soon as possible.   To this end, a large group of reservists—weekend warriors—started coming aboard.  Soon there were hundreds of them.  They swarmed all over the ship, not just in the cargo holds, but everywhere.  A great cacophony of un-Easter-like noise rose up and overtook the quiet peacefulness that had previously prevailed as a fleet of trucks, jeeps, and tanks rolled and rattled their way off the ship and onto the pier  This din seemed all the more obnoxious and intrusive because of the serenity that had preceded it.  This uproar made a mockery of the Easter holiday and trampled it underfoot, as it were, from just after breakfast until well past dinner.  We of the ship’s crew expected, of course, to not be with our families at Easter.  But what of these Army reservists?  Was unloading a ship that was going nowhere more important to them than spending Easter Sunday with their families?  Or were they just obeying orders like good soldiers?  Probably the latter, which made us pity them.

When the day’s work was done, the Comet stood empty and silent alongside the pier.  The Army reservists went home to what little was left of Easter.  Monday, a business day, found the Comet quiet except for routine maintenance.  The adjacent expressway and toll plaza became their usual busy and noisy selves once again.  We did not have to listen to that for long, though.  With no more cargo to carry, the ship was moved to another, more out of the way berth, where it sat and did nothing for the next few weeks.

Why the big hurry, then, to unload the ship on Easter Sunday?  We never did get an answer to this one.

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