The Long Trick is the worst

Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson, 

The general day-to-day schedule of a warship, better known as the ship’s routine, cycles around working, eating, and sleeping. A ship operates round the clock, and sailors must be available to do the jobs required 24 hours a day, normally split into seven work periods called watches.

Two four-hour daytime watches occur on either side of the noon hour and are aptly named forenoon and afternoon. These are followed by a pair of two-hour dog watches named the first dog from 1600 to 1800 and the last from 1800 to 2000. The shorter dog watches allow for cycling of the daily watch schedule. The name is derived from ‘dodge watch’ since it allows the crew to dodge the same watch daily. Since a dog watch already represents a shorter than normal period, if a sailor wants to say something will happen quickly, they might say it will take half a dog watch.

When a ship rotates on a three-watch system, one of the best watches to stand is the first watch from 2000 to midnight. Standing the first watch allows for the special treat called all night in, or all-nighters, meaning you miss the inglorious undertaking of standing the overnight watches, namely the middle, midnight to 0400, and morning, 0400 to 0800.

The middle watch is the worst for interrupting a sailor’s sleep. Often referred to as the mids, another nickname for this awful watch is long trick, a trick being a short spell of duty on a particular job, e.g., a short trick on the helm. Midrats, short for middle rations, is a light meal served to those about to stand a middle watch; the leftovers are usually a treat for those coming off the first watch, consumed before they head to their racks.

Historically, the ship’s bell was used to coordinate the passing of time, and to regulate the watches, as the bell would be rung to mark the progress of time. In a four-hour watch, the bell would be struck on eight occasions, every half-hour, increasing by one strike every time. The end of a four-hour watch would culminate with the bell being rung eight times; thus, the term eight-bells became a standard to mark the end of something.

The term rang eight bells may be said of someone who has passed away, suggesting the end of their watch. A slow eight is often part of a naval remembrance service, where a ship’s bell is rung eight times over two minutes of silence, with two low-intensity strikes every thirty seconds. It is an old naval custom for the youngest member of a ship’s company to ring the ship’s bell sixteen times at midnight on New Year’s Eve, signifying eight bells for the New Year and eight bells for the old.

Passing the time is a general distraction for any sailor at sea. The term days and wake-up is often used when counting down the days to an event; e.g., ‘We will be back home in six days and a wake-up’ means the homeport will be reached in seven days. Somehow, it seems to make the wait feel shorter.

You will find over 4,000 examples of Jackspeak in my book Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy (2nd ed.)..

The author of Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy and Whiskey 601, Mark Nelson developed a love of the Navy’s language and lifestyle over his 26-year career in the service. After retiring as a Chief Petty Officer Second Class, he now works as a library systems specialist at Red River College Polytechnic in Winnipeg, Man.

Follow Mark on Twitter @4marknelson

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