Midwatch In Verse

A new book explores the obscure poetic tradition of sailors in the U.S. Navy writing the first deck log of the new year in verse. As explained by the NW Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

For the average person, the deck logs of the U.S. Navy are what Dave Johnson would call mind-numbing and indecipherable.
The records, quasi-legal documents, were a requirement of each ship to note various bits of technical information -- ship speed and direction, even the number of propeller rotations and other things that would only be useful or make sense if you were in the Navy.
But one time of year, sailors were allowed to deviate from the benign record keeping and exhibit creativity with brief storytelling. During the first watch of the New Year, from midnight to 4 a.m., the Officer of the Deck could record in verse.

No one is sure when, or why this tradition began. The earliest known example (reproduced below) dates back to 1926, but the tradition was apparently already well established by then.

More info: midwatch-in-verse.com

I stand on the deck at midnight
As the clocks are striking the hour
And I’ll keep the watch until morning
To the best of my humble power.
We are anchored in Pedro harbor
Tho there isn’t much of a lee
And why they call it a harbor
Is something I never could see
But our hook is in hole A seven
And our center anchor chain
Has forty-five in the hawse pipe
And a very gentle strain.
When we anchored our trusty leadsman
Made a very careful cast
Finding eight and a half good fathoms
As the bugler blew the blast.
And down below in the fire rooms
Which the black gang ought to man
The steam is blowing bubbles
In number seven can.
All the battleship divisions
Swing nearby on the blue
Except the West Virginia
And the Mississippi too.
The Senior Officer Present
Floats peacefully in his sleep
On the good ship California
The guardian of the deep.
At one fifteen Roskelly
A pill rolling pharmacist’s mate
Returned from his leave on schedule
He’s lucky he wasn’t late.
That’s all the dope this morning
Except, just between us two
If the Captain ever sees this log
My gawd what will he do?

E.V. Dockweiler,
Ensign, U. S. Navy

     Posted By: Alex - Fri Jan 20, 2023
     Category: Military | Books | Poetry

Never heard of this. When I was in the Navy, stationed on Oahu, mid-watch was 1600 to 2400.
Posted by F.U.D in Stockholm on 01/20/23 at 05:05 AM
'Twas midnight on the ocean . . .
Posted by Phideaux on 01/20/23 at 01:21 PM
From the link: In fact, the Captain did see the log and approved it, adding the following note: “The Captain is glad to see that the old Navy custom of writing up the first watch of the year in rhyme is known to the younger members of the Service. The watch stands as written.”
Posted by Virtual in Carnate on 01/20/23 at 02:44 PM
The tradition had its heyday in the 60s and 70s when New Year's Day deck log poems appeared in hundreds of logs. By the late 2000s, the number of poems dropped to fewer than 2 dozen. The Naval History & Heritage Command hoped to increase participation in this tradition by running a competition for best poem over the last few years. BTW, I'm the first author on this book. 😊
Posted by Dave on 01/21/23 at 07:07 AM
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