Friday, December 8, 2017

Uncle Paul and the Young Salt

 One of the coolest things to happen to me out here is that I was able to get my youngest nephew a job as Ordinary Seaman on one of our tugboats, and we regularly get to work together. Even better, his watch officer allows him to stay on board and visit with me when time allows for it, when they're not underway. He's been here a little under two years, but this is his last tour with us for now. In a few weeks, he'll be starting college.

     My oldest brother lives an hour from the ocean, west of Boston, so my nephews haven't grown up on the water like I did. When T came aboard for the first time, at age 18, it was his first day working on a boat. Everything was new. By 18 I had over the 1,080 days at sea needed to be rated Able Seaman. I had a lot of advantages, and a bit of confidence from it. My nephew did not. At 6' 5" and underweight, he'd get knocked over by a stiff breeze. He was so fortunate in the next months to be trained by some excellent tug captains, and even though it was overwhelming, and he was still an overgrown child who wasn't used to an adult's job and an adult's environment, he was excited and motivated.

  My nephew came aboard the HQ this morning- his watch officer calls me 'Uncle Paul' over the radio, too, screwing around with me. We had a great visit, and when it came time to get underway, he was utterly professional, utilitarian and precise, acting as an extension of the mate's eyes and hands- and I was very proud of him. He's put on at least 25lbs of muscle, and speaks and acts as a man acts, not as a suburban 20-year old. When I woke up again before dinnertime, he was here again, and we had another visit. Looking at our schedule, it's doubtful I'll see him at work again.

     I often wish I had run away to sea before going to college, before impoverishing myself with a debt from grad school that would gag a goat and isn't worth jack shit to me while I'm on a boat. But the fact is that I DID do those things, and they may come in handy. I have options. If I lose a leg, I won't be homeless, hopefully. I choose to be here because I prefer to be here.
      My nephew might be back. We might have ruined him. He's a big, cerebral kid with a penchant for complex math and a warm personality- he'll do well in college if he treats it like a trade school. He'd do well on a tugboat, too. He knows enough to keep his mouth shut when his captain gets a case of the ass, and when to bark back, now, I hope. He'll have options, too, after this.
   And really, after working on a tugboat, college is going to be easy. Sit, take notes, study, drink, find interesting-looking women, repeat. He's going to have to deal with his peers being mostly kids. I'd imagine that'll be a touch lonely at first.
 Going to be lonely for me too. It was so nice to be able to have time with family out here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

10 seconds

    It isn't that my job is boring, or that it's repetitive. It can be those things.

 It isn't the salary, or the stability, either.

    Despite my near-constant worry that somewhere, elsewhere, there is cool stuff going on and I'm missing it, every here and there I get a 10-second burst of "This is why I'm here," and it carries me through the doldrums.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Welcome aboard, new people!

If you're coming here for the first time from John Ringo's Facebook page, Welcome, and thank you for the spike in traffic! I am Paul B. I used to do something else for work, and could wear nice clothes and talk with nice people about interesting things... yeah, it was awful. Instead, I ran away to sea and have been a commercial fisherman and merchant mariner and hemidemisemiprofessional tankerman since. . I write about the things that happen, many of which are my fault. The last months have been something of a challenge, and blogging has suffered accordingly, but I have been up and writing again as I can.

Friday, December 1, 2017

signs of life

Today was a dock day here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Centres for Excellence in Breaking Important Mechanical Stuff.

         I went to bed after midnight yesterday, and after 30 minutes or so of reading, had slept for all of 30 minutes when Muscle Man, my OS tankerman, knocked and poked his head in my door.
      "Hey, cargo crane won't swing, man. I can't get the hose back."

   The part of me that stays conscious of sea state, pump and generator load and list and trim of the hull while I was sleeping told me that we were done pumping cargo, and that the hydraulics had been on for a while.
       When the swing motor doesn't swing, and there isn't an explosion of hydraulic fluid, I know that we sheared off the 2-inch thick short shaft in the swing motor unit on the crane. We've done this before. The crane was replaced with a boom 10' longer than the original that came with the base, and the increased torque this causes when there's a ton or of 100 feet of of oil hose hanging and swinging around 60' away can be too much on the swing motor's shaft, which acts as a brake when the hydraulic motor is not in gear. The swing motors last about 2 years. First time it happened to me, I was lucky enough that I had just handed off the cargo hose to a ship, and when they disconnected the hose sling from the headache ball at the #1 (the wire at the very tip of the crane), the boom swung rapidly like a giant propeller, completely unstoppable... only thing to do is to raise the boom vertical, take away the momentum.
     Last night, when I walked out on deck, and saw the hose leaning against the hull of the ship we wanted to sail away from, I knew we'd lucked out... and I got to make Muscle Man think I was either psychic or an insanely old salt. I told him to drop the #2 headache ball (which was holding up about a 25' loop of cargo hose), and listen for the clunk of the 25lb piece of steel scrap that would fall into the inside of the base of the crane when I swung the crane manually.

     Since I set the #2 whip about 40 feet from the base of the crane, there's a lot of leverage there, no matter how heavy the load on the crane. With a big loop of hose to drag on to, plus zero list on board, I dragged the loop of hose to the crane's boom cradle, and had O lower the boom and put the crane home. I heard the clunk of the broken shaft and the gear it was attached to as it fell out of the geared ring of the crane's base. Since we had no orders for later on, I just called the night guy and told him we were out of service until I could talk to a port engineer- we don't carry spare swing motors.
      BY noon we were all fixed and all was well again. The engineers used a shoreside crane to put the new swing motor up, and with access to the shore, it's given us a chance to get groceries, load up on supplies and offload waste and scrap, stuff like that. It's a rare chance- we don't get to the office dock more than once every 4-6 weeks, so since we're overnighting here tonight, too, tomorrow will be another dock day, too, God willing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

must get better

November was a pretty shitty month for me. I'm hoping December will be better. I'm sorta home for Christmas, well, I will be, but I have to fly back out to work on Christmas day, but we'll be doing our celebrating on Christmas eve, anyhow. My plan is to enjoy Christmas as much as possible. Thankfully, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is already prepping for decorating. I'm looking forward to things getting back to semi-normal.

 That's sort of where I'm hanging my hat. I feel... stretched out and worn, I guess. It's been a helluva time, so I'm going to lick my wounds, drink whisky, shoot guns and hug my family. Still got to get through the next few weeks here on the HQ, though.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

He did it again

If you don't read John C. Wright's work, you're missing out. A recovering lawyer and reporter, Wright can WRITE. Guy's an artist. On Thanksgiving, where I write with sarcasm and poor wit, Wright hits it out of the park with an immensely thoughtful post.

Most literate people of my generation know the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims. I will recount it in brief for those of you who went to public school.
The ship was blown off course by storms, failed to make port, and put it at Plymouth. Here they found fields already cleared, and maize stored up, but no people. Had these things not been here, or had there been any hostile Indians in the area, the Pilgrims surely would have died.
Even with this help in place, that winder, the colonists suffered a dramatic death toll due to disease and starvation. Half were dead, and the half a dozen hale and healthy folk in the colony tended to the others, dressing meat and cleaning and changing their soiled clothing for them: five or so nurses tending fifty or so sick and doing all the other labor of the colony besides.
They had seen no Indians save for a few who stood aloof, running away when approached, or who stole some tools left unwatched during dinner.
Winter ended. In March, an Indian came forth from the woods speaking perfect English. His name was Squanto. Befriending the Pilgrims, he showed them were to find fresh springs of water, where and when to fish, where and how to grow maize (which we Americans to this day call corn) and how to make popcorn.
His story is dramatic and terrible: for he and four others had been lured aboard an English ship, captured, enslaved, given away, used as a native guide, and abducted a second time to be sold to the Spanish. Squanto was saved by a Franciscan friar and set free, and spent years looking for a way home from Europe.
Meanwhile his tribesmen back home had come across sailors shipwrecked on the American shores, whom they slaughtered, except for three, whom they enslaved, and sent around from chieftain to chieftain to be tortured for their amusement.
The Europeans, however, carried diseases to which the Northern Americans had never developed any immunities. Before ever the first Pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock, the Patuxet Indian villages were wiped out by plague so swiftly that the Pilgrims found their huts still standing, eerie ghost towns, with the dead unburied. The surviving Indians naturally feared a curse and fled the area, so that by mere happenstance the one spot in America that was unoccupied was where the storm-tossed Pilgrims were driven ashore.
Squanto had labored for a shipbuilder in London and eventually made his way back to Newfoundland, and, later (on John Smith’s ship) to New England. Here found all his family dead and his tribe practically extinct.
So the storm just so happened to blow the Pilgrims into the only spot on the coast where there was food and cleared fields waiting for them, no enemies, and the one Indian on the continent who spoke perfect English happened to be living there.

     Read the whole thing. HERE Picking a selection was difficult. It truly doesn't encompass this lovely post. 


Friday, November 24, 2017

Season Saved

There were no plans for Thanksgiving across the entire B clan this year. 

 My mom's funeral and burial were a week ago, and none of us were in a celebratory mood. I know when I'm not at my best, and the past week at work hasn't been my best. I didn't make mistakes or anything, but neither did I truly do much beyond doing the necessary, which for me, isn't enough. I don't like or appreciate someone who chooses to do the bare minimum out here, and for me, that's exactly what I did this week.
         I cut myself some slack. It's been a shitty time.
         So, surprisingly, my watch partner and I put together a massive Thanksgiving dinner, 2 main courses, including the requisite turkey, several removes, sides, and dessert, too. And when we dug in yesterday, I was thankful for it. I felt pretty good after really filling up. I felt better. And grateful.

       My oldest brother and his wife, turns out, rethought Thanksgiving, too. Although when I left Boston they said there wasn't going to be a celebration this year, yesterday they opened up their home and filled it with B family members and had the full dinner after all, and everyone was grateful for it.

 Sometimes when we push ourselves to have a good time when we don't feel like having a good time, it's truly for the best.

 So I got up for anchor watch tonight, thankful that we've got the night off, and had leftovers for breakfast. It was still damn good. And we won't be doing much cooking, just reheating, for at least another 2 days.