Thursday, May 28, 2015

gray in sky and soul

I normally wake up ready to face the day, and, if not always cheerful, it's a damn rare day when I wake up grumpy.

 Today I woke up with the fuckits. I don't give as much of a shit as I should. Hopefully this will wane as my caffeine levels increase from overnight low to morning manic.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

bad accident on deck

I mentioned just the other day that I like painting and find it calming.

 With a few hours free today, I thought it would be nice to get up early and roll some paint out on deck for an hour or so. By 0600, I was breakfasted and caffeinated and was running a push broom across the area I was going to paint- the deck itself.
        So I grabbed a 5-gallon bucket of paint, mixed it up, and added a gallon of fine sand, and a pint of coarse sandblasting grit to make the deck a nice nonskid surface, so it doesn't turn into a skating rink in the ice and snow of winter.

 I rolled out the first bucket in an hour. I told you, I dig this shit. I was in the zone- mellow and enjoying the cool but sunny quiet morning, not a soul to be seen.

 So I mix up another 5-gallon bucket. While I'm walking to where I left off with painting, I trip over something, possibly my own two feet, and the paint bucket goes flying, and I follow it, end up in the rapidly growing pool of $500 worth of paint and sand now on deck. And, in trying to quickly get up, I slip in the wet paint, go down again, and roll right through the entire pool.

 So I sort things out, crawl out of the wet puddle of paint, and get up, start tidying.

 On the upside, the 3 cans of ether I used to clean myself off had a very calming effect. I was very zen about being in my underwear on deck, and took a dispassionate, philosophical view of  the fact that my taint is now a non-skid surface.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Don't sail and be stupid

In recognition of the annual slaughter of pleasureboaters that always occurs this weekend in the US, I submit these photos taken 2 years ago, when an idiot in a brand new two-masted sailboat sailed directly under my bow and had his boat smashed to shit, necessitating rescue and salvage.

EDIT: One of the senior captains in my company reminded me that I should mention exactly how the owner of this sailboat turned the derp up to 11: At the time this happened, we were not moving. In fact, we were moored securely to a bog floating mooring ball, itself about half the size of the sailboat. It's not like he misjudged my speed. Ever run into a parked car while jogging? That's pretty much how it went down.

Friday, May 22, 2015

deep thoughts

Click photo to embiggen

        We're transferring mad diesel oil here at the 'Q, as a side-effect of the rapid expansion of ECA (Environmental Control Areas)'s that happened on Jan 1 of this year. Essentially, sulfur-laden heavy fuel oils that power ships have been restricted to use on the high seas in most areas now, and the cost of stripping heavy fuels of the sulfur content is about in line with the cost of diesel oil, so the cleaner-burning diesel, which also has the virtue of providing faster throttle response to the house-sized engines in many ships, is a viable, if pricey option when it comes to how you get from the deep blue sea to alongside the dock.

   The 'Q is now approaching maturity for her class. The new bunker barges that are coming out are compliant with always-evolving construction regulations brought about by the US Coast Guard in the name of keeping the Coast Guard in control of jobs that other nations relegate to private interests safety. The new barges are Swiss army knives, able to do more, but the HQ, in my opinion, is a Greyhound- less versatile, but more able within her purview.
   The one thing that strikes me in this photo is how open my decks are up forward. There's less steel projecting above deck, which means less rust and fewer things to trip and fall over- and let me tell you, there are damn few days where someone doesn't stumble while walking around any working boat out there. It's also why the HQ looks so damn good and surprises folks when we talk about her approaching 8 years in service. Well, that and my fetish for painting.
  Honest, I love painting. It relaxes me. I like being able to turn my brain on standby and lose myself in the work. There's a zen there, which makes the month of grinding though cargo much more tolerable.
    Painting season is well ahead of schedule, which scares me. The old HQ went from looking like a Pakistani hospice to a Cadillac in the 18 months I had her. The interior had custom cabinetry, a tasteful paint scheme, brass everywhere and potted plants hung. It looked like a home. As soon as we were wrapping up the massive project of beautifying and undoing 5 years of benign neglect, the old HQ got taken away, and the current HQ, which was in a similar state of looking like she had some city miles on her, was given to us.
   We haven't modified the interior of the current HQ. Bad juju. They might take her away or break up the band if we do. We're superstitious now. Plus, I hate the idea that some filthy caveman will be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor and let the whole operation go to shit while they sit on their asses and be allergic to the pride of taking part in proper seamanship. A shitty-looking boat is either the result of a shitty owner or a shitty captain. My employer likes handing out paint, so there's no blame there. We're not oceangoing, so there's no problem with having an inch-thick layer of dried salt everywhere, either. I'm not pointing fingers here, except that there's a subclass of tankermen out there who are pretty gross human beings. This is endemic to merchant mariners in general. One time I threw a chicken wing in a shipmates' bed and he didn't notice for 4 days.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

To question oneself

I've had some good moments on this trip, as we start week number three here on board HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Gas N' Go.

    One of the great parts of being secure on your own decks is that the whole operation becomes an extension of your will. If you need a tool to be set to hand, you see to it that the tool is housed where you want it, and kept there. If your personal pet peeves are being triggered (for me it's loud voices in the house and anyone disturbing me while I'm on watch. For that reason, I tend to discourage visitors and surveyors looking for somewhere to sit while waiting for a job to finish, and, more than anything, I hate anyone who isn't on the DOI (Declaration of Inspection, the document that says that the vessel is safe to move cargo) opening their fucking mouths when it's my John Hancock on the signature blank).

 So, when the operation is running smoothly, even if it's a shitty day in other ways, the de facto position of the 'Q is that things are for the most part the way I want them, and that's pleasing.

 Take yesterday, for example. Yesterday we had a large cargo being discharged, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why it was going so slowly. Everything was set up right, and I kept going back to the setup on deck, wondering why we were only moving oil at about half our normal speed.  I never did find the answer, and I checked everything. At a certain point, I had to say "A deiu va" ("To God it goes," the French way of ordering a crew to tack across the eye of the wind, a high-skill evolution from the days of sail) and just get the damn oil out of the tanks as best I could. Which we eventually did. Turns out the oil was just sludgy. So it goes.

   My opposite here on board, Big B, is like minded, though we are very different people. Still, we tend to agree on so many procedural items, we tend to up each others' game, making the operation run better and improving our own efficiency. Synergy, pretty much. People can go their whole lives and not end up sailing with a close friend, but it seems that I've been lucky.

 So why am I feeling restive? Things are running well. Next license renewal will be my 5th, I think. My first three licences never expired. I expanded my tonnage limitations long before the 5-year renewal date came up. But that's stopped now. My captain's license has stopped growing, and I'll have to go back to school for more classes if I want to up it, and there's not much point if I stay here. My next stop is an office job if I stay with my employer. Or I can stay and muscle through the next 25 years doing what I do now. I could do that, and be OK with it.

 Need to think more. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Crew change day today, but not for me. Screw Change day is always busy, and always a little more work than most other days... yet despite this, I made this tub my bitch today, got mad maintenance done while we were delayed between jobs, and then we went straight back to work.

 Obviously, this calls for a reward. I made venison-stuffed peppers, and they were wicked good.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Summah's heah!

Yup, first sign of summer. No, not hot weather. Being weatherbound by thunderstorms. For obvious reasons, we don't want to transfer oil whilst ye olde electrical fluid is jumping around outside.