Excerpt 3: Into the Bow

Into the Bow – 1974

Summer 1974. “Carlyle, go down into the bow,” Leonard tells me. “It’ll keep you out of trouble.”

“The bow?” I’ve heard Jimmy complain, it’s a tight spot.

“Yeah, the bow. We need to seal up the boat. Only you and Jimmy can fit.”

I gather my torch, chipping hammer, 1017 rods, and wire lamp for when I get in there. I climb into the boat and walk across to the corner. I lower myself down the steel ladder, one rung at a time. I peak in. Pitch black. “Alright,” I say to myself. “ Jimmy does it. You can do it.”

It’s a tight black space. I inch along, moving at an angle as my shoulders touch the wall. It’s stuffy in here. It’s dark in here, but I keep moving. I come to an even smaller space. I realize I have to crouch down, I realize I have to lie on my stomach and just inch along. “Oh boy,” I think. “Leonard can’t say I’m not earning my money today. In fact, we should get extra for this.” It’s not a long way, but the darkness crawls through with me. I stop for a minute to breathe. I smell soot. I give a little cough. The tightness of the space is a womb about to explode.

I crouch down, put a rod in the holder, put my helmet on, flip down the hood, and strike an arc. Fire comes through, light comes through, the white-hot intensity comes through. I weld bead after bead crouching low. I’m buzzing with the sound of the electricity in this space. It’s overhead welding and vertical. I have to hold my hand in place with the other hand. Weld after weld, molten pool after molten pool.  I realize I can’t stop for a break–come up for air. It would take too long, it would hurt too much to crawl out and back again, so I keep on welding. I keep on finishing a rod, putting up my helmet in the dark, and starting over again. Crouching in a corner in the dark. Crouching inside, holding the torch and making a bead across the metal plate–another part of me returns, the part of me that crawled underground.