Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Not a super auspicious start

Well, I'm at LaGuardia airport in New York, and like it always does on crew change, it's rainy and windy. I'm up to SIX flights in a row that have been delayed or cancelled on me. So far I'm only delayed an hour, though the three airports that serve NYC are the three worst airports in the US for delays, so I'm probably fucked. So it goes.

          I'm searching for a zen moment here. It started off pretty good. My relief showed up at the same time as our tugboat to charioteer us to the next job, so I called a car service and bugged out. The road to the lay berth we were at this morning floods during rains, however, so I get to enjoy wet socks and pants for the 8 hours I had to wait for my flight- I never know what time I'll actually get relieved at, as it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours for my relief to get to me from the company HQ, depending on my location and availability and accessibility of a ride by land or sea. So I usually get a late-afternoon flight, although my relief showed up 2 1/2 hours early to be sure I could get off at the relatively convenient lay berth in Brooklyn,  rather than at an oil terminal in New Jersey, our next stop.

    So far so good, right? I happened to know my taxi driver pretty well, too, so I got to chat with the guy, catch up a bit which is nice. At the airport I got breakfast and changed to an earlier flight- 1pm instead of late afternoon, so I'd only be here for 5 hours instead of 8-9. But with the shitty weather my flight will back up as all flights to and from NY do when the weather isn't pristine, and in the end I'll have paid an arm a leg and half a nut for 2 hours more time at home.

 Screw it, worth it. My late afternoon flight is already showing a 4 hour delay. So far I'm winning. I might get out of here just 2 hours late.

 I'm not sure exactly why I have had such a bad run of luck when it comes to flying in and out of here. After 4 years of this, it's been unusually bad the last 6 months. Long as I get home, I'm moving in the right direction.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

One year

It's hard to reconcile with my memories, but my mom passed a year ago today.

    In most ways, it seems longer. My life has changed quite a bit since then. Handling the disposal of her estate I guess was good closure for me.

 Despite all the changes, and all the details, I still get the urge to call and check in, which was my habit. Until I was 40, when I was home, I stopped at her house 3-4 days a week to check in. Not doing that left  a pretty big hole in my life. It feels like a lifetime since she passed away, but in many ways it feels like just a few weeks have passed. I can't really reconcile that part of my life. 
    Well, I'm not too messed up today. Of course i miss her, and I probably always will. But she and my dad busted their balls raising us, and did a good job at it. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, but they gave us enough emotional stability to weather it.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

It's a Mads Mads, Mads Mads Mads World

If you've been following recently, my marathon tour here at work this past summer and fall had some ups and downs. One of the ups is that I discovered watching boat restoration Youtube videos. I've been able to reach out and ask questions from some great pros and great amateur boatbuilders and restorers. Guys like Andy from Boatworks Today and Leo Goolden of Sampson Boat Co.  and  Acorn To Arabella. Watching these guys work and build really helped some fairly unhappy days go by, especially on days where I stood watch, then corresponded with the Coast Guard about the various endorsements I added to my license, and then going to bed and rinse, repeat 8 hours later.  Taking 30-45 minutes to watch other people make progress on their own dreams certainly helped me relax and sleep and inspired me to keep planning on my own little projects when I get to go home. 

 So this month I've been watching "Sail Life" 

 Mads Dahlke is a guy from Denmark who took a life-changing accident and turned it into life changes where he persued his own dreams- in his case, he sold his house, bought and restored an old small sailboat and moved aboard her with his dog... and then bought a much larger sailboat and has been restoring her in preparation for sailing all over the world. 

     What is unique about Mads is the man himself. Aside from his flawless near-accentless English, the impression you get is that this is a really nice guy, a classic Late Bloomer. When you see his early videos, you see a seeming friendly but introverted man with some latent DIY talent sharing some ideas and trying to reach out into the world a bit as a means to connect with others and become part of a community- despite a very upbeat nature, the guy was probably fairly lonely at the beginning- and this resonates with people. A community of commenters formed, and over the last couple of years, binge-watching the videos, you see him become more confident, interacting with viewers, and meeting his now-girlfriend in the comments section, in fact. 

 Along the way, Mads has been making his sailboats rugged and strong and beautiful, and the successes and screwups are there to be seen, as well as his response to good and bad days, which he faces with a very upbeat personality and a smile, so occasionally hearing him swear in English or Danish is jarring in a very funny way, like hearing Sally Field dropping an F-bomb  kind of funny.  
 At any rate, if TV was this entertaining, I'd probably watch TV.  What is most endearing is that he obviously values the comments, and a lot of people tune into his channel once a week to take part, and you tend to walk away impressed and happier than you start out. Pretty cool stuff. 


Saturday, November 3, 2018

On being social on board

I'm just getting older.

 I was introduced to my company's new daytime bunker dispatcher the other day. It was...a mixed review, but an honest one.

"This is one of your best guys here in New York for bunkers. The (the actual name of HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Fusion Center for Hypertension and Getting The Hell Off the Lawn) is run by a pair of really crotchety guys who will get the job done if you leave them alone."\\

 Hell of an intro. But he's right- not about B and I being good or not- I mean, I hope we are, but about us being crotchety, perhaps more than the norm.   B is one of my closest friends, and I suppose it makes sense we'd end up with similar traits since I spend more time with him than I do with my wife. Among the reasons why we're good friends is a matter of compatibility and work ethic- get the job done with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of efficiency, represent the charterer and the company well, and (and this is key) DO NOT DISRUPT THE PROCESS.  This creates repeatability and reliability. The Process (with a Capital P) is what defines efficiency, and also what sets our standards for operations, and through that, safety, too. Paying attention lets you catch things like maintenance issues before they're breakdowns, and things like that- if you have a system and it works, and in the process it helps you maintain good performance, don't change it.

 This sort of philosophy at work is sort of delicate- it isn't always possible, so flexibility is required- sometimes we're asked to do things way out of the norm, and if we can, we do them. We are little  teeth on a larger gear, at the end of the day.

 As we've evolved our system of working together and working the HQ to get the job done, we've become more sensitive to disruption, though, and that's where B and I have gotten labeled as 'crotchety.'  After 10 years here and being happy and I hope a good employee, I came very close to quitting my job 2 months ago when the HR lady put a trainee on the HQ, and that's with a trainee who I knew personally and who I really liked!  Training people disrupts The Process too much for me. I spent two days talking with my wife discussing whether or not to walk off the job over the issue.  A few years ago, when my port captain told me that I should be training guys and told me ecactly how many dollars this would earn me in every paycheck, I offered then and there to give him that money out of my own pocket to NOT give me a trainee at work.

 OK, yeah, crotchety. Would I really quit over it? I would. And I'd be really sad about it. That's actually kind of ridiculous, but it's so.

 I was warned by my first port captain that going from an oceangoing ship to bunker work was going to make we weird. He had been there, he knew, and he was correct. It just took a little time.

 If you know me in meatspace, you know I'm fairly social. I talk kind of a lot.I'm sure the guys in the office would be happy if I didn't chew their ears off when I get ashore. BUT, put me on the HQ, and I prefer to look and listen. I don't like to talk much, and I don't like being talked to. I don't even like using the phone. I email if I can. Talking interferes with my thought processes, with seeing that things are in place and in order, and that everything sounds ok (sort of an understatement- many of the most important things have a sound that is right and a sound that is wrong- a cargo pump hits an air bubble, a chain clinks in a right way or a wrong one, a mooring line sings out when tension changes, and vibrations that are right and wrong happen too, transmitted right through the soles of your shoes. Talking interrupts the flow of information that tells me the state of things on board, under our system.

 B and I can sit and talk for hours at the galley table. We can also sit at the galley table for hours and NOT talk, just as comfortably. That's part of why we are friends, and also part of why we don't want disruptions, as two people who NEED quiet more than most, in order to enjoy peace when we want peace. That's actually a pretty rare thing, to be able to sit quietly and be perfectly comfortable in close proximity... but it's also the exact opposite of what a trainee needs, and the opposite of what most people like, too. Oh, we have friends here who visit, and sometimes we'll have a dinner on board with friends, too. That sort of social activity brings happiness for its novelty. We don't drink alcohol and don't smoke or gamble. The monotony of the job is absolutely draining at times, and how you compensate without cultivating bad habits affects your mind and your performance on the job, too. Given the work and the schedule, our social lives on board the HQ are more than 50% of our social lives,  which is something that shoreside management rarely gets. To be unhappy on board means spending a majority of my life unhappy, period. B and I have had a fantastic team of shoreside support who understand that and who tolerate our quirks as a price to be paid for what I hope is adequate performance. They don't mess with us nearly at all, and it's wonderful. Doing a good job to ensure that just gets that much easier.

 Well, Ed, my first port captain here, was correct. The job does make you weird. Makes me satisfied, too, though, so long as I'm left alone to do it, anyhow.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

too much hate

Maybe it's a coward's way out, but I find the best way to deal with turmoil, especially when my own mind is uneasy for the moment, is to put my head down and be productive with other work, then to re-engage with a clear mind.

   There's been so much goddamn hate online in social media, even the social media that I consume, that I'm thoroughly sick of it. I tend to be a prick online, in comparison with what I do in meatspace (slightly less of a prick at work, relatively pleasant at home), and apparently so is everyone else.

   Well, I can, and have been productive at work, but the shittiness continues. I'm limiting my social media interactions to friends and interesting stuff, and not taking in too much politics and debate.
 At the end of the day, you can 'win' a debate with a dummy, but what do you gain? And you can debate with an intelligent person over matters of morals and behaviors, but if neither of you are willing to move, what's the point beyond wasting time?
 Well, wasting time is a thing. And time to waste for me at work is not always available, so when I do have it, I prefer to do something enjoyable, thus my diet on social media.  Instead I'm going to do maintenance, exercise a little and play video games.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ode to Cordage

So, it's time to order some new hawsers here on board HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Temple of Masculine Ideals.

     Mooring lines take up a lot of headspace in the bunker trade. We swap out tugboats constantly, and the cadre of experienced New York-based tugboaters is in high demand for their skills. While NY doesn't have the ripping giant tides of New England, neither does anywhere else in the lower 48, and compared to the docile rivers and bays of the south, where the current might be fast but is predictable, New York's rivers, bays and harbors are a crucible that purifies the skills of a tugboater, forcing the dross out.
 Or, you know, forcing employers to pay for all the destruction the dross causes, which is also a strategy.

 Well, we have a diverse bunch of tugboaters in our stable. The NY-based guys are in great demand, as they can moor and unmoor without crashing, or at least with controlled crashing.  The Out-Of-Towners are more variable. Some are excellent boathandlers no matter where they are. Others are just wrecking ball operators, treating their tugs like a Peloponnesian war galley.

A former Chesapeake Bay fisherman gently brings his tugboat alongside another vessel in Stapleton Anchorage NY

          So, for a couple of reasons, we've been having a lot of out-of-town tugboats moving us about in the past few weeks... and it shows. I think I spliced 3-4 lines after parting them in the last two years. Last week I spliced 8, including a few lines that I had just respliced the day before. Same fucking guy did it, too. He's not getting a goddam Christmas card from anyone on here this year, I can tell you that much. And before you read too much into that, bear in mind that I am not a tugboater. I was pretty decent doing the funky stuff from the wheel of a ship, a very different animal, and under the eye of a master,  and now I speak and critique from the comfort of my barge, and occasionally from the wheel of a private or workboat that is emphatically NOT shoving a floating bomb around in swirling current. I have seen some AMAZING boathandling these last 10 years. But I live on that floating bomb, and it falls on me to fix other people's oopsies, which as you might imagine, gets pretty old, especially when we have to wonder if someone in the office hates us.

 So, ropes. Yeah.  We have a lot of those, and prematurely aging lately.  One funny thing about tugs and barges is that mooring is often self-serve. There is often no dockman to catch your lines and put them on the bitts and bollards. As a result, a lighter line can be thrown further, which is very helpful, but a lighter line generally doesn't have the ass to deal with the force generated by current, prop wash and momentum.  I speak generally, as there are lightweight lines that are enormously powerful (Spectra for example), but often expensive and prone to easy chafing or UV damage. There are heavy lines that are enormously powerful, and affordable, too, with good stretching capability and with good chafe resistance, but too heavy to throw readily. Shoulder injuries have cut many deckhands careers' short, which makes the smart deckie unwilling to try for long-distance throws, which limits the utility of the lines.  There are strategies to mitigate this, of course, mixing lines by type and things like that, but outfitting cordage on a vessel is always a series of compromises between utility and cost.  Currently, we favor a lightweight synthetic line that is very strong, midpriced, but has little stretch modulus, which means that while sudden surges are fatal to the line, the line doesn't snap back much and thus is very safe for any person in the area. So we splice instead of going out on comp when Mr. Sulu up in the wheelhouse goes to ramming speed. A bit tough on the wallet, but easier on the insurance.  The downside is that we risk doing a brisk trade in cordage here on the HQ after times like last week.  So it goes, I guess, but we've all got 10 toes and 10 fingers on here still, although they're getting pretty callused from all the splicing.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Grind

Man, I'm in the doldrums already, one week in. Same shit, different day. Same shit, same day, in some cases. The first week passed by pretty quick, though, and that's cool. 3 more to go. I never really recovered from the last trip. There isn't enough joy in the work to keep up that sort of brutal schedule. I'm sure it'll be better now that I'm on a normal rotation for hopefully the next few months.