Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I can still hear myself screaming inside.

Well, I made it home after THE worst travel day I've had in years. Now I regret bitching about most of them, as holy shit, not much went right.

 It started off with promise- we would finish discharging alongside a ship in Pt. Newark, NJ, about 3am on Tuesday, then sail at 4ish to our lay berth in Brooklyn, where we'd lie from about 5-to- 11:30 am, when we'd leave for the next load. About 10am, we'd crew change, and I'd be on my way with about 3 hours to negotiate traffic and get my flight. By Monday night it was all arranged with my relief and my company's dispatcher.

 Tuesday 3:10 AM, I'm finished and ready to sail. But the night dispatcher, for some reason, sent my tugboat to do another job that another boat was supposed to do (the other boat was available, not like it was an issue). We didn't get off that  ship until 5am, and got stuck behind a ship transiting under  the Bayonne bridge.

 FINALLY, at 7am, we're off the dock at the lay berth, and the tug captain calls me and says there's a change of plans, we're going to the next job, right now. I get annoyed, obviously, and call- the night guy says that the terminal wants us at the dock right away.

 So, no shit, we tie up at the dock where I'm supposed to crew change, and the tug shifts position to go into the next dock, and we sail to the dock. At 0730, we're there.

 Oh, along the way, turns out there was an engineer standing by at the layberth in his truck, there to diagnose an issue with a generator we have which likes to die in the middle of the night for no reason. I waited a damn month for the guy to finally get time to look at that thing. He was pretty pissed, too, having set aside time for this.

 And the pisser is that at the terminal, the dockman asks why the hell we're 4 hours early, as they didn't want us there, there was other work to be done. The night guy was just being an asshole, apparently.

       At any rate, my relief rushed in, and got there early because now there's an unplanned-for boat ride involved, and it ruined his morning, and we crew changed, finally. The cab company was pissed off, as I held up their guy for a long time with the change in plans.

    OK, so this sucks, but whatever, it happens when you work on boats.

      I get to the airport, and I'm there earlier than I planned for- 4 hours. OK, no big deal, too. I can have a beer, read my book. But my flight has no gate assigned, so I can't check in. They won't let me. Jetblue is weird. I swore I wouldn't use them after they fucked me in the past, but here I am, and I saved $200 on a round-trip ticket.

 Well, my flight gets delayed 2 hours. The weather is bad, but this happens- rain and fog, and NY's airports are overcrowded and prone to delays anyhow. But they didn't announce a gate until I had been sitting at check-in for 3 hours.

 I get to my gate and play the waiting game. I have a glass of whiskey, and it helps.
     I finally get on my plane, with the insane cattle call that Jetblue likes to use. Waiting to board, there are 20 or so people in wheelchairs because I live in Florida. This takes, no shit, 30 minutes just to get them loaded on the plane. The Caribbean girls who move the wheelchairs are fighting and yelling into walkie-talkies, and also fighting with whoever is on the other end. The ladies in the chairs are complaining, and some of them have little dogs which are trying to escape.

 Eventually, we do get on the plane, and we sit. And sit. Some of a group of ladies behind me, 50-70ish, some of whom were in the wheelchairs, are walking back and forth to the bathroom, and the pilot tells us that we won't move until everyone is seated and buckled in. One of the ladies, who is in the row behind me, Sylvia, is complaining in a very strong Brooklyn Jewish accent, about the delay, to her husband Bernie, who is complaining right back to her, both failing to notice that it is their group who is causing the delay.

       We take off, and it's turbulent as hell- and it stayed that way the entire time. It did calm a little, and one point, enough for the rude and dirty stewards, one very large black lady and two very petite very gay men, to fling doritos and sodas to those what wanted them. I got mine. It was warm.
 Anyhow, about 2 hours in, the turbulence crescendo'd. The ladies behind me were all complaining every time there was a bump, so, call it every 4 seconds. "Ooooh my gawd, this is awwwwwful. Patches, calm down for mommy (the dog was whining and digging for all it was worth, before peeing on the floor and stinking up the place." Oh, baby, you're shaking! Eddie, look at my poor dawg, she's shaking. Ask the girl to turn the heat up, the dawg's cold, and so is everyone."
I was not. But sure enough, the ladies behind me complain, and suddenly I'm sweating.

    Plane full of discontented anxious old people and their dogs. It's about 80 inside, and I'm sweating. It smells of warm used diapers and scared dogs. You know that smell they get? Like ammonia and old bologna.  There's a couple of dogs yipping and yelping and whining because of the turbulence, but it's hard to hear them over the sound of elderly discontented Jewish stereotypes come to life.

 ... and then the announcement that we're only 15 minutes from the airport, but there's a thunderstorm passing by, so we have to wait. Well... fuck.
      We wait. We finally land, and it's a brutal landing, the plane just was getting borked all the way down by turbulence, and the pilot dove for the deck like he was trying to catch the #4 wire before doing a go-around.

 And then we stop at the end of the runway. Because there was a thunderstorm just passed by, they had reopened the runways, but not the taxiways, and, this is no shit, it's 20 minutes before they get us moving to the gate. But there's another plane at our gate. My local airport is a ghost town at night, there are 20 gates, of which usually 3-5 have something happening. I look out the window- there are 2 planes in the terminal, and they want to use the gate that is occupied. It takes 10 minutes for the plane to get out of there.
         We get to the gate. We're here! Oh, wait, for some reason, the wheelchair people get to leave first. No shit. I never saw that before. We have to wait 20 fucking minutes before we can get up and leave the fucking plane. They get off, trailing dogs who are pissing in the aisle because, poor little bastards have been on a plane almost 5 hours  after being delayed for a couple hours BEFORE leaving the ground in NY.

 I've been in Florida for over an hour when I get off the plane. I didn't have a checked bag, I just make a beeline and get my grumpy ass to the curb, and wonder of wonders, I put my bag down, and there's my wife's car swinging to the curb. I get in the car, get a kiss and my wife says "Hi amor, welcome home, why you face is so color purple?" She then wrinkles her nose and says  "Hohnee, you smell no good, like wet dog."
 I got a good laugh out of that, and explained a little- but by then it didn't matter, I was of the plane.

 So fuck air travel generally, and JetBlue specifically. I have to take them back to NY in 2 weeks for the second part of the round trip I paid for.

 Fuck it, there's a reason I guess why other airlines are more expensive. Because they're worth it. I said before that Jetblue is a flying trailer park, and I stand by what I said.

 By the time I got home and into shorts and my bare feet and a beer in hand, I was already calming down. I can still hear the screaming, however, that I was doing inside my own head for about 16 hours yesterday. NOT ONE THING went right, right up until I locked eyes with my wife, but even though It took 14 hours to get home where normally it takes about 5, door-to-door, I mean, it did end very well.

Friday, April 29, 2016

More great luck

This was 1987. The old timer is on deck, and me in blue, and my old roomate Johnny Sparks were up on the bow. This was a few years before he sold the ALGIN II, before she was revamped, modernized and renamed into the ISHMAEL

   You can see more of her here from yesterday's post.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Great luck

      This was a reminder of one of those good but tough to truly explain life lessons that my son and I have talked about: finding your passion, and deciding what to do with it.

        For me, it came when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. My friend's father bought a new boat to go lobstering. A semi-retired businessman, lobstering was something he loved to do, but he had his businesses to run (gas stations, an auto body shop and he sold tow trucks, too). I knew the moment I first saw the boat that I wanted to work on the water. In the 33 years that have followed, I've been a commercial fisherman, a marine scientist, and a merchant mariner, but catching lobster was the best job I ever had. It just didn't pay well, and having come of age after my dad (another life-long professional mariner) was already disabled, I have a deep fear of having to struggle financially, so I try not to.

    My son is very creative; I am not. He can draw, paint, cook, and is raring to try sculpting. He also enjoys puzzles, and, at age 13, is already part way through high school math. He and I have been talking a lot about figuring out what he wants in life, and balancing desires and practicality (and when not to!). He's got a good headpiece. While he enjoys outdoor sports like shooting and fishing, he's not passionate about it like I was- and that's very good, in my opinion- he's his own man already in that regard. I'm very proud of him. I hope he'll pursue a career to capitalize on his ability with math and logic puzzles, but I hope more that he'll have a good balanced life and be happy.

   So, what brings on this sort of deep thinking at 7am on a Thursday? A no-longer-young man who I once worked with put up some pictures of his boat on Facebook.

 I remember Mike's very first day on the lobsterboat. He was 13, I believe (EDIT: he was 17, and too many years have passed- I should have remembered that he went full time just a year or so later after graduation), and he loved it, and was already a good junior sternman (the crewman on a lobsterboat) by the end of his first day. I think that was  16-18 years ago.

 Let me backtrack. When I was 16, I had already been working on the ALGIN II, my neighbor's boat, for 8 years, I believe. The old timer had his youngest son, who I was friends with,  late in life- he was in his late 50's I believe. At any rate, he was in his 70's when he finally gave up fishing. The last few years, we just went out twice a week for a few hours. He was well-to-do. Without much time or money from not fishing too often, I ended up also working for one of the teachers at my high school, who had a smaller boat, but worked more intensely, and after school and on Saturdays, we fished. I never could love his boat, though. Small and narrow beamed, I was intensely seasick when a wind got up, like it does 5 days a week in the fall in Boston, and the captain enjoyed explaining in great details to his classes, which contained some of my friends from school, just how I barfed over the side all day, and half the time the wind eddied and blew it back all over me.
 I hated that fucking boat, truth be told.

 At any rate, the old timer sold his boat to my teacher, who I called Mr. D, or just D. He modernized the boat, changed the rigging around a bit, and added GPS and a color sounder, which was new to me at the time.  And, being an English teacher, he renamed the boat ISHMAEL.

       I fished with D through high school and most of college. Mike joined us at that time. He fished alone with D when I was traveling or working elsewhere. I cried like  a bitch on my last day fishing, the day before I left for grad school. Embarrassed myself at the time, but now, no. I truly loved that boat, enjoyed most every minute with the people I worked with, and the job I was doing, for that matter, and I was leaving it behind, I thought, forever.

 I made it about 3 weeks before I was fishing again, 2 boats down on the MARTHA E for Chuck Z, another townie. Just one day a week, but I was driving 2 hours each way to go. Couldn't give it up. Eventually, I realized that being a scientist or lobbyist just didn't tickle my pickle, and I went mostly full time back to fishing, staying with Chuck for a year, giving it up to design and build a tilapia farm for a few months, and ending up on the RITA C and with the Notorious B.O.B, for 6 more years, fishing April-Jan, and sailing on a tanker in the winter.

 The other day, Mike, who is in his 30's and is captain of his own boat, (being a small world, his boat was built by the Notorious B.O.B.'s older brother), plus still working with D, who is still the captain of the ISHMAEL, and now the same age as the old timer was when he swallowed the anchor and gave up fishing. But D's still going. Man's a machine- missing organs, had more bypasses than Tom Brady has Super Bowl rings, and he's still getting up and out at a job that is the most physically demanding form of labor I've ever experienced.

   The ISHMAEL is now 33 years old, and looks better than ever. She's small, with a hard chine (makes for a bumpier but more stable ride), and a very deep keel for her length, and built heavy. She could be good for another 33 years. How the hell did I get this old so fast?

Launch day

Springtime- setting the first 60 pots for the new season.

They'll repeat this 12 or 13 more times before a full load of gear is in the water. Up to 800 pots and 15-20 miles of rope. 

Like a Timex.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

On Limits

I'm running up against an intellectual wall here.

          Across the board, I'm starting to hit my limit on being able to intelligently comment on issues of economics, current events, and even subjects that are more esoteric but closer to my heart, stuff I don't share here for professional reasons. I'm not talking about my work on the water, but things I am sometimes paid for or politely asked to look over and discuss, in the VERY few issues upon which I'm a legitimate subject matter expert or competent analyst.

 I'm being superannuated, as I'm not in the mix so much anymore.

 I was in a discussion about the role of surface:volume ratio manipulation as a function of conserving energy in stressed chloride cells as fish transition from fresh to salt water.

 Esoteric, yes. But important if you like having fish be a thing. Lots of them do that, transition from fresh to salt water, or the opposite, in the course of their lives, and it's important midway in the food web, where feedstocks for higher animals need to be available for there to be higher animals.

 Anyhow, I was talking about the ecology of the internal environment of cells and issues of programmed energy conservation and terminal depletion (programmed death; so it can burn 100% of its' energy store and die off, but not until it reaches its goal).

 A young kid just blows my argument out of the water by citing research about which I was unaware. I withdrew my argument until I could read up on the citations. Which I never did. I ran out of time, interest, what have you. I don't WANT to change my opinion. I liked the one I had. And that shit ain't cool.

 I'm running into my limit in understanding the economics of international shipping, too. Granted, lots of people are spouting nonsense, as ever, and lots of economists are among that number. The fusion of an understanding of economic processes and an awareness of mitigation tactics that have been or could have been fielded helps, and not everyone has that down... and, now, that number includes me, as well. I'm seeing processes, but I no longer see patterns.
I formed an early predictive model for measuring the changes in impact on local economies over time as resource-harvest industries globalized. I used this in looking at salmon farming in isolated rural communities, but it could be applied to fishing, mining, just about anything where you take from the local economy (you can define ecology as an economy. Energy flows like money, if you want to keep the analogy simple), as it was a great meat-and-potatoes model. Nothing cutting edge, just a nice way to reduce uncertainties.  Anyhow, the results have held true, 15 years later, and they weren't nice, so nobody cared, but it's nice to be able to say "I told you so" to folks who pride themselves on appearing smarter than you sometimes. That may be why I present myself as I sometimes do. Hmmmm.

           At any rate, I'm getting to the age where I don't like arguing for arguments' sake, and I'm getting tired of keeping up with the cutting edge discussion in the fields where I once was a more dominant personality. My world is getting smaller, and I'm OK with that, for the most part, but in letting some of this shit go, I'm also saying no to educating myself, and that means I need to pipe down a bit, which I find hard to do at times.

        I'm watching what's going on in international shipping, which is the downstream end of globalized trade. I don't like what I see, as there's so much instability and the end results look good for the surviving companies and bad for everyone else, especially consumers... and you know, I can't articulate why I'm feeling so bearish about it, and that's weird. I'm not one to accept emotional arguments when there's science available to frame questions... and yet I'm OK with doing that here, because it's too complex for me just now to get into. I need a deeper understanding of economics than I currently have. Do I have the energy and desire, and hell, the raw ability, to further my education?

 Maybe. But I'll be home in a little over a week, and there's my family to enjoy, and guns, and fishing, and beer and whisky too. Economics is none of those things, and probably won't be addressed.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Being Virtuous

I feel as though I'm putting too much political material up in my FecesBook entries.
     I can't help myself, sometimes. Facebook is a crock of shit, for the most part, and like a drunk passing by his favorite bar, it just calls out at times.

     Anyhow, I'm trying to dial it back some, get back to my roots. You know, dick and fart jokes and the like. For the people.

          We're continuing a mid-season blitz, which I attribute to a drop in local bunker prices. It's certainly not the regional economy, which is about as healthy as a Pakistani hospice. The workload is not staggering- it's strange, in fact, how some little differences are present and notable, yet I can't explain why they're occuring- there's less advance warning about work than ever- where we used to get 24-72 hours' warning about a cargo being assigned to us, now we're lucky to get 16 hours' notice. It may be the larger ships we're working with as container vessel sizes increase, or the suppliers are attempting 'just in time' delivery to minimize the charter rates for bunker vessels working the spot market. I dunno. Human factors?

 What I do know is that I've been trying for over a week to get some fucking green stuff, and it ain't happening. No matter how expensive the gourmet market you shop at in NY, your greens turn to browns rapidly. I'm thinking that the logistical processes that get lettuce from farm  to fridge are more involved here than in smaller markets. Whatever the result, it's playing holy hell on my digestion. My popularity is waning on board.

On the upside, time is passing fast. 10 days to go, and I can go home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The slowdown ends

       Last month was damned slow here at HAWSEPIPER’s Afloat Global HQ/ adult day-care center. The weather was crappy, so our usual time-filling activity- maintenance- could only get done on the odd non-rainy/non butt-ass cold days.

      Seriously, that’s the slowest I’ve ever seen us operate in 7 years. I know that my own anecdotal experience doesn’t equal data, but I don’t figure that the business model accounted for us to be sitting around for days and days, in New York of all places, waiting for a cargo.
      And it wasn’t just us. Speaking to dockmen at the two terminals we visit most often, everyone was very aware that there wasn’t much oil moving. The small terminal that we most like to visit has just one dock, and averages 2 barges a day, and they were going 4-5 days between barges. The insanely busy and ridiculously slow-operating terminal that we hate to visit wasn’t insanely busy. Ironically, they were still slow.
             And then suddenly the logjam lifted somewhere upstream. In the past two weeks we’ve been  pretty damn busy. It feels hectic, because we just sat on our thumbs for a month.

  We’re actually relieved it’s over. When I first started with my current employer, there was 1/3 of the boats and barges that we have today. In Philadelphia, where I was working, we bunkered 3-4 ships a week, and sat around at least 3 days of the week. Being actual working mariners, everything was maintained and freshly painted, always, and there was a certain competition between crews as to whose barge was the best-looking and best-maintained.
           Growing pains- these days, 3-4 barges a week is pretty damn slow,  it’s all we can do to ensure that everything gets painted at least once every two years, and rust is a thing that we can only address sporadically, trying to keep down the worst of it until the 5-year shipyard period, when everything gets torn down and addressed. We’re a workhorse, you see. Courtesy of Coast Guard regulations and what I assume is a desire for versatility, my company is building Swiss Army Knife equipment (which can do everything, but is awkward and ungainly to use well), last gen tonnage like the HQ is a good reflection of the crew on here- we don’t WANT to pry rocks out of horse hoofs and there’s no wine opener, but damn if we can’t cut rope and meat, which is what a good knife does best.

 We’re busy, we’re moving, and while I no longer live aboard the nicest kept vessel in the company, far from it, we’re workmanlike and, if not Bristol Fashion, Shipshape, at least. And it is good, sort of, to be back working busily.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"...whether you like it or not..."

That quote above is pretty much what is going on.

      I turn 42 in a few weeks. God help me, I really had hoped that I would be more mature at this point, but there you go. The stars are in alignment- cognitive development, parenting skills, emotional stability... and yet I feel about 12 years old between the ears.

 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife love celebrating birthdays. Some native-born Americans are like that too, but Brazilians do love to find a reason to have a party, so birthdays are a great opportunity for them.

      I'm an American guy in his 40's, from a quiet WASP'y town in New England. The Calvinist is strong in this one, even if I'm neither an Anglo-Saxon nor a Protestant. So much frippery.

 If left to my own devices, I would mark my birthday by going to the gun range, enjoying time with my family, and splitting a bottle of champagne on the patio with my wife after my kid goes to bed. Pretty much what I already do all the time when I come home from work.

 So, of course, I have to find the right hotel in the right city in order that we spend money to sleep on a bed that isn't my own, which I already do 4 weeks out of 6.

 You'd think that after enough years together, as a husband and father, I'd be used to not doing what I wanted or getting what  we want? I mean really, of the fathers out there, how many of us actually want 'just socks and underwear' for Christmas? Yet that's what many men ask for. Because if you're going to have a heart attack come February when you see the bank balance, you really don't want the hospital staff to see you in an old pair of color-coded skibs (yellow in front, brown in back!) when they're reaching for the paddles.
    Seriously, I want a better table saw and a better radial arm saw. Not socks and underwear. But hell, some new Froot o' De Looms are a hell of a lot cheaper.

 As always seems to happen, though, after the fact I'll realize that I had a nice time on my birthday, doing what she wanted to do.

... anyhow, I've got some fresh drawers from Christmas on standby, just in case.