The first thing I noticed on board ship was that something was not quite right. The ship turned and heaved under my feet in a way I ought to have expected, and my legs did not quite give me the same mileage to which I had been accustomed back on terra firma. But in the same way, time itself seemed to heave and turn in like manner, just as the ship would slowly climb a wave and then have it drop out from beneath her.
By the aid of my wristwatch, I soon found out the cause. The ship’s hourglass was biased in one direction. So every other hour lasted an hour and a half, but when you flipped the glass over, the sand flowed fast again and that hour only lasted about thirty minutes. No one else noticed; presumably they had adjusted to it in their minds, just as their legs now habitually compensated for the lolling of the waves. The time was never off by much, but it was not well-behaved either. It took some getting used to.
The ship had been christened the Regular Vein by some well-meaning duffer. In all likelihood he meant to say Jugular, in the same way a Yorkshire farmer will refer to the baby as having a Biblical cord. Whatever the reason, it was not a name that I liked and I spent many of the “long” hours pondering what the real context could have been and in what spirit the name had really been given.
Foget was the night watch, the quintessential nocturne. His eyes were round and big, and his pupils were somewhat dilated from peering out into the dark all the time. He kept a dogged watch. You couldn’t just let them sneak up on you, he said. He had read Poe’s Descent Into the Maelstrom and it had bored him out of his mind. Foget didn’t have the judgement to know whether the author had actually seen those things, but he knew Poe oughtn’t to have written such a rambling yawner unless he was trying for a legal document, and those aren’t usually set out on store shelves and marketed as fine reading for paying customers. But if something like this happened on Foget’s watch, he was fully prepared to take advantage of it. So he was always looking.
By day, Foget was a different creature. He let his eyelids down halfway over his big round blue eyes. If he was a watcher-for of phantoms by night, by day he was a disinterested listener-to of tales and sagas. Most of the hands’ tales put him to sleep, probably because he had read too much Poe and it had altered his tastes. Particularly when the Port-sands Mariner was narrating, he suspected the day-watchmen of always using the slow end of the hourglass (a theory that in his more wakeful moments he recognized as improbable). The Port-sands Mariner had been on the crew longer than he, and was known by that unhelpful title for some unknown original reason. He was often referred to simply as Port-sands. However, he managed to retain his full title, and not to let us forget that it was properly The Port-sands Mariner, by often referring to himself in that way when relating some extravagant and obscure history in which he had played a part – which is a long way of saying what the sailors call more simply, a Yarn.
Foget, then was most wakeful and clear-headed at night when there was no one to weary himself listening to; and Port-sands, he was most sleepy at night, when there was no one to talk to. So their personalities fit pretty well, and they were around each other a bit more than any of the rest. How funny it is that the most dissimilar fellows will seek each other out and keep each other company.
So now, in your mind’s eye, maybe you can picture wakeful Foget out on his nightly watch up in the crow’s-nest, being waved in the windy night as though on the end of a wand, and flipping over the hourglass every thirty minutes (if it was one of the fast hours), or every hour and a half (if it was one of the slow hours)…and, by turns, peering out into the darkness in expectation of a phantom (if it was one of the fast hours) or huddled down out of the wind, reading Poe by dark lantern (if it was one of the slow hours). Forty-two feet in the air. Sometimes he did get tired, though, and a salesmen or a lieutenant from one of Port-sands’ stories would get mixed up with Poe’s cats and ravens and tell-tale beating hearts.