Saturday, July 30, 2016

"...if this catches lobster, Bob... I quit."

This is a repost of a blog entry from 6 years ago, documenting one of my favorite adventures with The Notorious B.O.B. when I was a commercial fisherman as a yoot.

"if this catches lobster, bob... I quit."


I wish, I wish, I wish I hadn't lost so many pictures from my days on the lobsterboat RITA C.
I fear sometimes that the seven years I spent aboard her as deckhand and eventually as captain will be the best memories of my working life. I fear this because the RITA C is no longer the RITA C. She changed hands earlier this year.

I've been through a few storms where the 700-foot ship I was on seemed too small, and had to play Texas Chicken in Houston, where my loaded oil tanker and another ship regularly went head-to-head in a narrow channel, but nothing challenged or rewarded me like lobstering did when I was home.

I've been saving this story for a long time. This is the story that The Notorious B.O.B. (the captain, and eventual owner) and I would retell each other in later years while we were sitting at the dock drinking of a Friday night, something we did on a pretty regular basis, both being single at the time.

The B.O.B.'s dad owned the boat. The B.O.B. was captain. I was the sternman, the deckhand, having been made miserable, poor, and ready for a life change (thanks to grad school) to go fishing, thus achieving my childhood dream of being both a marine biologist AND a fisherman. Sorta.

Anyhow, the lobster dealer we sold our catch to was trying to give a little back to his suppliers, and he occasionally secured us free lobster bait, which is both disgusting and disgustingly expensive to handle and acquire.

makes me want to throw up just looking at it. This isn't the RITA C, BTB.

Anyways, we needed half a ton of bait a day to fill the 400 traps we would haul.

So, one day the B.O.B.'s dad tells us that he's gotten four pickle barrels of salmon skins from a fish processor (Pickle barrels are big barrels with a screw-top lid), gratis, courtesy of Timmy the lobster dealer...only the barrels are in the back of the truck, too heavy for one man to wrestle down, and have been in the sun for a couple of days, so we have to use them fast, before they go completely bad.
When the day was done and the B.O.B. and I were back at the dock, we met John, the B.O.B.'s dad, who, with hand flourishes, introduced us to the four barrels that were attracting a serious cloud of speculative flies. The truck was loaded DOWN. Those barrels were straining the suspension.
The B.O.B. and I got in the truck, and with much groaning and straining, got the thing to the tailgate. We removed the tailgate, assuming that the weight of the barrel and us would be too much for it. We got the barrel to the edge of the bed of the truck, and the three of us then carefully muscled her closer and closer to the edge, when an odd thing happened. The 400-odd pound barrel suddenly slid like it was greased, and the barrel rocketed to the ground and up-ended, blowing the top off the barrel, and unleashing hell in the process.

I can't describe it to you. You know the sound of a beehive when they're doing movie sound effects? That was the sound of every fly in North America suddenly converging on us. And the smell... fish, and sugar, and shit and burnt cooking oil... all of us, hardened fishermen, gagged audibly for a few seconds.

Did you see that picture of the bait up above? I'd eat a ham-and-cheese with pickles, surrounded by that on a sunny day in July, no problem. And we were all channeling Ralph for a few seconds from the smell of this bait.

Like I said, I can't describe it to you. Salmon has a fishy smell of it's own. Not unpleasant at all. That hunger-inducing smell was still there, but so was the smell of corruption, and the 2 or 3 gallons of rancid Omega-3 fatty acid that collated at the top of the barrel was scattered across the dooryard of the dock. Fly heaven.
Anyhow, chastened, horrified, vaguely bemused, we muscled all the bait into the refrigerated bait shed for use in the morning. Then we washed down the dooryard with water and bleach and had a beer before going our separate ways. It was a 90+ degree July day, and the heat and salmon skins ruined an otherwise good opportunity for drinking beer.

Friday, July 29, 2016


I agreed to help out a friend and cover for him for 5 days while he went home to take care of some things in the middle of his tour... and then, after buying the necessities and coming aboard, discovered that no, I had agreed to stay 12 days, an entire extra week. I'm familiar with the charter that his barge is on, so that helps a lot, especially as the charterer is notoriously cranky.

 This is what happens when you are absent-minded and don't use your calendar.

  Anyhow, the problem isn't that I've only brought 5 days' worth of food and laundry... it's the caffeine supply. Even with rationing, I've got 8 days worth of caffeine.

 Obviously I'm stressed. Socially acceptable addictions aside, I'm already dealing with a big change in plans. If I can't get my fix,  Ima get all emotional.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

all that and more

The world's a mess, the pope is a pussy who is channeling Evita, and I'm disheartened by everything I read lately. Don't cry for me, Argentina. The wolves cut the throat of a French priest today, and the fucking pope feels bad for the killers.

 Other than that, things are great.

      A whistleblowing captain on one of the larger us shipping lines got a $1 million award in a suit the other day, and well-deserved, for having gotten fired after reporting continuous safety deficiencies on board his ship.

      Guy's blackballed, obviously, and $1,000,000 is a little on the low side, but that was the maximum the judge could impose, so he did, and that's good to hear. You can read the story here:

       Again, this makes me happy about where I am. I view additional safety measures with all the enthusiasm that I view prostate exams and dental cleanings, but that doesn't make me less inclined to follow them, with the exception of the use of some forms of extraneous PPE which are onerous and offer no safety benefits except being a dog whistle in transferring blame for accidents from management to operations. But, even though I don't like prostate exams or dental visits, I do them because I have to and because they make sense, mostly. News like the suit above makes me glad that I have something to complain about. At least my employer gets on safety issues like white on rice, especially material ones.

 In other news, what happened to the National Hurricane Center's prediction about this year being a nightmare of hurricane after hurricane?   It's been downright placid thus far, and for that I'm VERY thankful, but it sure as shit makes me question who the hell they pay to make these predictions.
       Maybe it was Miss Cleo, RIP. 

Obligatory- if they can't predict storms that happen EVERY FUCKING YEAR, I'm not going to entrust them to predict the weather in the next century, either. That's just a front for institutional racism by the people who gave us eugenics, anyhow. Lord knows no one wants the source of cheap global labor and unskilled work to compete with their lords and masters... you know, for their own good.


Well, laughter being the best medicine, I do like to laugh. I enjoy humor based on word play, especially. Although I'm not as articulate in the scientific language as I once was- minds, like machines, rust when idle, I still pride myself in being able to use language as both sword and shield, and that applies to humor like this:

 So I'll leave you with that fine imagery. Bon Appetit!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

everyone needs a barber like this

This morning started off warmer than usual. We're at our preferred lay berth in Brooklyn today; last night we finished up bunkering the last job of the week just before sundown, and were all fast at the berth by 2200. Big B promptly went out for a walk, the weather being nice and temperature more comfortable with the sun down. A 50-something year old man, Big B was a former marathon runner until his health made that impossible in his early 40's, but he's still a walker, and he was out collecting Pokemon until midnight, for which I pointed at him and laughed and can anticipate continuing to do so for some time.

   I was at my desk playing FARCRY 3, so pot...kettle.  At least I was sniping  pretend mercenaries in my game.

 This morning I was up and out the hatch by 0720. For once I was thankful for the buildings of Brooklyn and the shade they provided. I walked the 1/2 mile to our office, weighed in (19lbs gone this tour so far. I'm being healthy again, having grown tired of struggling to buy pants at nicer stores), and walked just under 5 miles before returning to the floating HQ.
   Along the way I stopped in to talk to the middle eastern cabbies we use for transport, again getting my belly slapped and hand shook for being out walking. I'm getting to know the men better and better as time goes on.
     I stopped in and talked with Mikhail, my barber, as well. A Kazakhstani Jew in his early 20's, Mikhail has the demeanor of a man 30 years older, and, along with his wife and his brother David, they have a small shop in a trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn; I stop in just to say hi- I tend to have them buzz my head in the summer, so I only need a haircut once every 3 months.  We talked about nothing in particular, but when I mentioned that I was planning to buy a ticket for the lottery today (it's up to 400 million), David walked with me to a local bodega so we could get our tickets.

    I imagine that mornings like this are an example of the Brooklyn of 50 years ago, when neighborhoods were communities in a truer sense.

 At any rate, the heat was fairly brutal, and I had to shower when I got back to the HQ before I could head out on deck and do a little painting.

 I'll walk again tonight, probably on the same route, though it will be after hours and I'll exchange familiar foreigners with upper-class leftist SWPL's with lamentable style, hopefully bookended by more interesting people to look at as I soak through another set of street clothes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

crybaby cry

The downtime we had last weekend gave me the opportunity to speak with our shoreside support staff and my port captain, as well- this is a good thing, checking in. We had pole position- right on the dock, so pallets of stores came out on forklifts and got loaded by crane on deck, and garbage, scrap metal and some old hawsers came off and headed for the trash and scrap heap.

 Summer is traditionally slower here in the northeast for bunkering- while we do have 10 or so cruise ships visiting a week, winter time we're feeding home heating oil into the national infrastructure using foreign ships, and those ships need fuel, so we spend much of winter feeding them.

 Yesterday I said goodbye to G-Ray, my longtime right-hand man, who left the nest to take over a bunker barge in Philly. Very proud of him, but I'll miss the dynamic we had on board. Really, to be surrounded by coworkers who are also very good friends is a rare blessing. The odds of that happening again are slim.
 Even so, later this morning G-Ray's replacement will come aboard. We're slightly nervous, of course, with the learning curve and the new dynamic to hammer out. It'll be a while before I can sleep soundly. It's hard to get rested when you're not 100% sure that the new guy can handle anything that comes up. This is an opportunity, too, of course. I'll be able to assess my ability to do my job in a slightly different way, based on how well I can integrate a new subordinate into a supervisory position. 

 One of the more interesting aspects of the conversation that I had with my port captain is how much effort has been needed fleetwide to deal with personality clashes among crew. I was amused by it, to be honest. Sailors are contentious often enough, and my own job, where a small number of people live and work in unusually close quarters often in isolation... well, even for sailors, it's not so easy. The subjective experience varies, even separate from the job. In times of  very low workload, there are idle hands and minds for the devil to mess with.
          When Big B and I butt heads, which happens of course at times, even between very compatible personalities, I like to go and paint for a bit and cool down. I like painting, in fact, he does too, so we tend to get painting done during the summer downtime. That's part of the reason we rarely argue- preemptive treatment. Not everyone does that, and guys who hate to pick up a paintbrush seem to be a little more costive this year. I pray that doesn't happen to us with the new guy.

Monday, July 18, 2016

weekend update

It was a good weekend here on the HQ. We had no bunkering to do, so I got to get caught up on paperwork, serviced our generators and pumps, and did a little painting, plus I got to go for daily walks in Brooklyn.

 Yesterday I crossed paths with actor Peter Dinklage, of Game of Thrones fame, who was out walking his dog. Nice guy. Softspoken, very polite. His dog appeared very well trained, which I see as a positive thing, and also very unusual for a New Yorker.

 There was the usual collection of assholes with man-buns, dirty people (seriously, why the fuck do so many foreign people in New York spit everywhere, and do so constantly? They don't have a dip in their mouths that I can see. It's gross, and I resolved that anyone who did so within my personal space would get a good hard shove, but I pussied out and just dipped a shoulder and lightly checked a guy to make him stagger. Kind of a dick move, but what the hell).

      The neighborhood I walk through is a mix of upper-class SWPL and the last vestiges of a Jewish-Italian neighborhood. Great for people-watching. The most obvious thing I see is a very unusual number of pregnant white women. Seriously, lots of waddlers, which I credit to the neighborhood being famous as a liberal bastion for the relatively well-do-do. This is the same neighborhood that inspired a piece in the New Yorker about a lesbian couple's fear that their adopted daughter would turn out straight.

    I also walked by the office of the car service we use as taxis for the airport trips and grocery runs. Middle Eastern men, mostly, many of whom I know somewhat, so I stopped by, said hi, and the older guys took turns patting my gut and congratulating me on getting out for a walk.
    Slightly embarassing, but what can you do? I get around as much a possible, but I do have a gut. Good guys.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Stand down day

It's been a hell of a week. In the larger world, terrorism, a failed coup. CNN focused on a piece about Mark Zuckerburg's jogging stats in the meanwhile, which is why you only see CNN in airports.

        Learning about Turkey's military secularism protections has been interesting. You should check it out.

   Here at the HQ, we're standing down for the day. We're ideally located, as much as someone who hates New York can be ideally located, in Brooklyn where it's not too congested and the nearest hipsters and trust fund douchebags are a 15 minute walk away.

 G-Ray has transferred 5 years worth of stuff to his car,  and is winding down his tenure here as right-hand man. His replacement dropped off a couple of bins of stuff here this morning, in preparation for moving on board next week. We got to talk a little bit about expectations, idiosyncrasies, etc, all the little stuff that is so important when strange grown men live and work at arms' reach from each other in a little box for months at a time.
      Really, I dwell on it, but I'll be spending as much time with this man as I do with my wife and son. It's a strain to do so with a stranger or someone you don't like, so one of the things that I look for is a person who is personable, can do the job and has the potential to become a friend. While that last part isn't a requirement, it sure makes life easier.