About the Colony

Welcoming a new year in poetry

Lon Allan
Lon Allan

It was 50 years ago Tuesday night that I honored a U.S. Navy tradition of writing the mid-watch log for my ship, the USS Cavalier (APA 37). I requested to be assigned the midnight to 4 a.m. watch as officer of the deck (OOD) on my ship, which was tied to a pier in San Diego.

It is a longstanding tradition in the Navy that the first log of the new year is written in verse. Whoever writes that log is also bound by Navy regulations to enter in the information that is customarily required of any watch, such as which mooring lines are out, ships present, sources of electric power, steam and water, and more.

While at sea, the budding poet must also enter such factors as the ship’s course and speed, condition of readiness and even the ship’s mission. If there are any special requests of the captain, that, too, would be a part of the log.

In addition to writing the log, the author, generally a junior officer, tried to pay attention to those attributes that make a piece “poetic,” such as meter and rhyme. I’ve never been a fan of free or blank verse.

I chose to write my log based on “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

It started like this, “Listen my shipmates and you shall hear/ the midnight log of the Cavalier / Moored starboard side to Pier Number Three/ Standard mooring lines rigged with a boatswain’s glee.”

OK, I know it was no Robert Frost or Maya Angelou. In reality it was more like Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee” — “There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold. ”

I like poetry with rhythm sounding like the little four-cylinder engine in my ’46 jeep climbing a hill.

According to my copy of the Navy’s “All Hands Magazine,” of the 14 poems published in 1964, the top three were written by officers of the deck on ships not moving — like mine, in port. I can’t imagine trying to write the log in verse on a ship underway at sea.

For my efforts I got an honorable mention, my log was published in the Navy’s magazine, and I earned a “well done” memo from the ranking admiral in San Diego.

So I’ll close with the words I wrote a half-century ago: “The aim of this log, if it isn’t too clear, is to wish all our shipmates a Happy New Year.”