Monday, August 21, 2017

...and just like that...

Damn, that went quick! I'm in my hotel room in Brooklyn, and tomorrow AM I'll be headed back to the HQ for another fun romp around the block.

 All in all it was a successful trip home. Most of this time was spent supporting family things- on the upside, I got to spend time with my family. On the downside, we spent a lot of time having to be productive. I was able to help my wife with one of her bigger projects, and navigating that series of events and the paperwork involved kept us both running. In between productive stuff we had time for family stuff, and did some traveling just around Florida, exploring our new home state. Good stuff, although after that, my last week was spent firmly at home. I needed some time sleeping in the same place for a bit.
Why I moved to Florida. One of the few upsides to being in a gated community.

 I got to work on my little boat, and that was VERY relaxing. Beyond having a cigar and a glass of whisky out on my patio, I'm finding the work on the little boat to be about the most relaxing thing I can do. My shop time was limited this particular time off, as there was lots to do and some non-fun work to be done in the shop, too. Work-work. All to the good, and this was one of the more well-balanced trips off I've taken.

 Looking ahead, I'm not sure what the next month will bring, beyond more of the same sort of cargoes that pay the bills. I'd rather be home and ruin my liver, but sadly, no one is paying me to do that. Yet. So, off I go.

I'm having a slight issue with reading blog comments on my phone. I'm pretty sure I was relatively sober at the time, but on several occasions I've fat-fingered the comment review button and deleted shit I meant to post. I prefer to blog on my laptop, but I do have a habit of clearing out the cache while sitting on the hopper. An old friend left a fairly stark comment that I was going to have some fun with, but nope, fat-fingered. Probably for the best.

 Oh, and seeing an eclipse from a plane sucks. Parallax issues. It pretty much never happened for us, that we could see. Planes just don't roll that deep. I couldn't even see a change in the overall brightness of the sky. Oh well. I saw one in 1984. Good enough. On the upside, I didn't have to deal with any of the hoopla.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Assholes everywhere

Well, I'm enjoying my time at home, and I saw what's going on with the riots, but I couldn't bring up too much empathy for anyone involved.

      When assholes carrying nazi flags clash with assholes carrying communist flags,'innocent' people choosing sides can reasonably be painted with the same brush.

 Far as I'm concerned, unless they're picking them up off a battlefield, anyone picking up either of those flags deserves to be wrapped up in them and burned along with the flags. There were simpletons who thought that everyone on the right was was a Nazi. There were alt-right non-racist people on the nazi side of the street, too, who believed everyone allied with Antifa on the left was a commie, but as soon as punches were thrown and peaceable assembly ended, it was time to leave, and the people who stayed on either side got what they had coming, many of them. The cops who were killed are the only real victims, and they should be sailed down a river of blood provided by the participants of the violence in a Viking funeral.

    Most Americans who aren't idealogues are just tired as hell of this BS. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

last watch

I think the last 3 times I volunteered to work a 10-week hitch here, I said it was the last time I'd ever do that.

 So I'm not going to say that this time, but I feel like saying it. This sucked. It took the joy out of working on the water just a little bit more for me. Anyhow, it's the last watch, day 70, and in an hour, we'll head to a terminal to load up, but by noon, God willing an' the creek don't rise, I'll be on my way up north for a few days to visit family before heading back home to be with mine.

 I feel like a timer has started counting down on how much longer I'll be doing what I do. I've been very complacent in enjoying the stability of my position, but my personality used to be that of someone who was always pushing to rise, always looking up and forward, and somewhere along the way, I plateaued voluntarily, got fat (ter) and happy.

 Well, no more. I signed up for some more classes to up the tonnage on my captain's license. I'd be crazy to leave my current position given the job market in the maritime sector, and have no plans to do so immediately, but I also can't sit and warm my thumbs in my own exhaust too much longer. I need to start looking up and ahead again, see what's out there.

 In the short-term, what's out there will be visiting the people I love and enjoying my life for a few weeks prior to earning my crust of bread.

Friday, August 4, 2017

lubes and looks

So yesterday I got to have a watch off, and it was glorious. Gave me the opportunity to do 90% of the end-of-tour paperwork that needs to get done, plus I got to go out and do some elementary maintenance- greasing fittings.

    Doing routine maintenance and daily walkarounds is one of the most potent ways to proactively care for a vessel under your command. Strictly speaking, I make a point to do maintenance that routinely gets palmed off on the second man elsewhere, but my point in doing that is that it's MY eyes on scene, and I get to see a million little details overall, on wear and tear.

            With a whole lot of valves on board and many many moving parts, mostly made of metal, we go through a lot of lubricating grease on board. Every two weeks, I head out on deck with a grease gun and lube up the cranes, pump PTO's, valves, cargo crane, anchor windless, capstans, electric motor drive units, hydraulic fendering, stuff like that. It doesn't take long, maybe 30 minutes, and I could do it in half the time, but it gives me a chance to kick the tires and look more carefully at odd spots on board, little things like our emergency pump stops, a long series of cables that enable us to shut down our cargo pumps from anywhere on deck simply by tugging on a wire, like calling for a stop on a busy bus.That comes to mind because last time I lubed up, I spotted a damaged section of wire and got it replaced. This is important because we pass a rope tied to the emergency stop to other ships when we transfer fuel, so they can kill our pumps too, if something goes tits up on their end.

    Well, anyhow, taking the time to take time is one of my best habits to try to keep ahead of problems. Every large vessel has problems and upcoming soon-to-be-problems. That's just the nature of the beast- things that Need To Be Watched, which generally means that they're coming to the end of their life or slated for replacment or service... but not yet. Doing routine inspections and getting dirt under one's nails provides a focus, a driver, to supplement motivation as the tool that keeps your ear to the ground when you're feeling bummy or lazy.
      A good PM program provides multiple layers and opportunities for this. One other example is that every two weeks I have to physically inspect every coil of mooring line on board. I think we have 16 in service at any one time. I also have to do an anti-pollution walkaround, look for potential sources of oil that could get in the water, and document that. Plus my daily walkaround, pre-cargo transfer inspection, things like that. It keeps you out there and on top of things, but even when you're on your game, there are still surprises. A scupper plug left open, a line chafed part way through during the overnight... There's a chicken-and-egg question when it comes to getting and maintaining a gestalt for the deck, to get to the point where situational awareness includes semi-consciously being aware of the thousand little things that you want to be just so under your purview... and things can still get by you, which is where having a second set of trained eyes and good rapport with watch partners and subordinates becomes critical. It just takes that ONE time, you know? We've all been there at some point, where a confluence of unlikely events gathers together and just ruins your day. I'm certainly not immune to it, and giving enough of a shit to stay on top of things becomes increasingly difficult when, say, morale is low or distractions are prevalent. For me, this is part of why I like to keep lubing up the deck fittings as something I do towards the end of a tour. It keeps me engaged, and helps get me over the motivational hump that comes when you've been too long away from nice things.

EDIT: Thanks to the anon commenter who pointed out my inaccurate phrasing. It's since been corrected. You're sweet.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


Welp, we're getting there.

        We've been working steadily here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ discount brothel of the mind. I'm just about ready to go home, and, fortuitously, I will do so in a few more days. I think today is day 65?  They all start to blur.

          I've got another writing project that's been sucking up blogging time now. There's just only so much free time to be had lately- in fact, there's goddamn little of that. I haven't been able to go for a goddamned walk in Brooklyn in I think about 2 months. As I tend to do, I overeat when I get stuck on here, and without the exercise, I've blown up like a damn balloon. Luckily I had been doing well a few months ago, health-wise, so while I'm just feeling pretty gross lately, I haven't set a new record or anything, but I've undone a lot of hard work.

 So it goes.

        Workwise, the pattern continues. We're busy as all hell on the east coast, bunkering ships, and the rest of the small-parcel trade is stagnant and shitty still. For the first time since I was in like 4th grade and wanted snow days off from school, I'm praying for a harsh winter in the northeast, to pick up business.

     Now, I AM seeing a lot of product tankers, handysize and barely medium-sized, all smaller than Panamax, in tiers like 20,000 tons and 40,000 tons... it seems like I'm seeing a fair number of them. Are they carrying crude oil out of the US? I'm not sure. I don't seem to see them on the way out, and still, most I see on the way out are heading to sea empty.

         We bunkered three tankers today. The first, where I tied up before sunrise, was heading to Portugal after they topped off their tanks. They're doing a transatlantic trip in ballast, which... no thank you.  Third ship headed for St. Petersburg, as in Russia not the suburb of Tampa, and they were heaving anchor as soon as we sailed tonight.

 Well, I slept the heat of the day away today, the way the schedule worked out, but I finished stinking of sweat and bunker fuel, and with it sprinkling a bit and being steamy, I was absolutely gross. One of those showers where the water feels much hotter on your back when you stick your head under the faucet. That shower was one of the highlights of this trip.

 Anyhow, I still have 2 hours of free time this watch, so I'm going to work on my other project a bit.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Et Alia

One week to go. Today is day 63 at work.  I'm pretty beat. We're busy, too. We keep getting rinky dink small jobs, but they're jobs, and there are a lot of them. Good to have the money coming in, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Splicing with Manny

When I was an Able-Bodied seaman, I had an absolutely voracious desire to learn everything about being a merchant seaman. I started late, having spent my 20's between college, being a commercial lobsterman and holding some other jobs, some odd, some shitty (Highlight: buying black market hormones to make methyltestosterone and giving a sex change to 150,000 Tilapia. Lowlight: roofing. (Seriously, I fucking hate roofing.).

 So when I finally got aboard a ship for the first time, it was in the engine room of a steam ship. I proceeded to befriend the engineer, and work my ass off, build a rep over a few months, and learn what I could. I still regret not going engineer route at times, but I don't have the tolerance for the goddamn heat.

 On the next-to-last day of my first 120-day voyage on a ship, I worked outside for the first time. It was hot as balls in the engine room, but as luck would have it, we had just passed Cape Hatteras northbound, and it was April, so it was 68 and sunny outside, and I worked outside sitting about 12 feet up on some piping, chipping rust and enjoying the beautiful day. It was a watershed moment, and I knew I was going to be going deck after that.

     Fast forward through 2 years. My life at sea was enough to award me a rating as Able-Bodied Seaman, unlimited (a senior able seaman), as I had 3 times the requirement of 1,080 days at sea, and passed the exam to be rated able, which is pretty much the core Deck General exam that all officers take without the math and details, with a timed hands-on demonstration exam of marlinespike Seamanship besides. I had to splice and tie whatever knots a coast guard bosun's mate wanted while a stopwatch was running. It was fun.

 Now, the exams for marlinespike seamanship require only that the evaluee can make about 15 knots on demand and splice (eye, butt or short) 3-strand line.  Splicing was something that I could do from my fishing days, so that was no big deal.

 My Sea Daddy, Orlando, was a fantastic experienced Able Seaman. A native of Cape Verde, a natural polyglot who spoke seven or eight languages, and who knew how do do any job on the deck of a ship. He was the guy we sent aloft in a bosun's chair, one of the least popular tasks that had to occasionally happened. He taught me a lot and remains one of the finest human beings I've ever met. He also gave me my first Portuguese language lesson, to use on the girl I had met at a wedding, who I later married.

that's him on the right. 

     Manny, the Bosun, was another. Manny is larger than life. He's about 6' 6" or 6' 8", 300ish lbs, and is the strongest human being I've ever encountered. He was in his 60's, but physically looked 20 years younger. He was from Barbados, and had the deep black skin and mellow bass British-accented Carribean accent that is rightfully famous. Imagine James Earl Jones with an accent and you get the idea. For all Orlando's experience, Manny had sailed everywhere for even longer, on old-school style ships- boom-and-stay rigs, the traditional, complicated and difficult work that we avoided thanks to the proliferation of hydraulics. Manny knew his shit.


 So it fell on Manny to teach me how to splice hawsers.

 Ship lines are different from the rope you see at the hardware store. Instead of what you're used to seeing, 3 strand lines, like this:

 We had 8- or 12- or 24 strand lines, like this.

So it fell on Manny to teach me how to splice double-lay rope, like the stuff above. This shit is HEAVY.  One man (well, normal man. Manny could) can't drag these lines unaided off off an elevated platform, where they normally stay faked out (laid out for use, not coiled). Splicing involves a hacksaw, duct tape and a  wooden fid the size of your lower arm.

This was one of the last things I really had to master before I felt like I was a real sailor, and being able to splice cable- and hawser-laid line, along with being able to stay within about 1/4 of a degree while hand-steering a ship, was an important distinction for us among the unlicensed guys I worked with. There were other benchmarks, like being able to repair a needle gun, reliably work as stopper man when tying up, or 'rigonomics' (being competent at rigging and working aloft), but it was splicing that made me feel like I was finally an experienced merchant seaman.

And hell, there were plenty of lines to practice on.