Monday, November 20, 2017

Routine routine

NOW I'm back in the routine.

 My first two cargo discharges went off badly this tour. This happens, especially when we work with engineers and ships that don't normally visit the US. In this weekend's experiences, it was a matter of routine on my part and inexperience on the part of the engineer, at least when it comes to how we bunker vs. how the rest of the world bunkers a ship.

       From start to finish, our focus on safety and honesty in what we do is not the usual M.O. when compared to many places in the world.  AB's are surprised and often unhappy at the number of mooring lines they have to heave for us and that we expect everyone to move quickly and instantly when it comes to evolutions like making fast or unmooring.

Great example- in a pretty decent current and swell and 25+knots of wind, we caught two of our 6 lines and lined the barge up with the manifold area of the first ship, but the crew disappeared and we waited to catch more lines. They were given another task to do or wandered off, and it took some tooting of the tug's whistle to get them back to work. Meanwhile our tug captain was sweating bullets trying to keep in position without straining our lines. Time being an issue, I let the AB's know we needed more speed ("Let's go, girls, the captain is struggling to keep us in place and you're up there f*cking the dog now."). I do make a point not to directly insult foreign deckhands. I don't want to get brained by a monkey's fist in the dark and they do pay us to get fuel, not to be shitty to them.
        What follows is the usual mess. Letting the ship get organized enough to connect the diesel and heavy fuel hoses, praying that whoever is directing me while I'm at the crane and working blind is good at their job, and waiting for the engineers to come down.
            Newly-arrived foreign engineers expect me to attempt to screw their company out of oil and or money. They're wary. Some give us the benefit of the doubt, and wait and see if we're out to screw them, some will preemptively try to screw us. It's how they work, elsewhere, and I hate it.

            The one thing that these folks don't expect is utter honesty. I WANT them to measure the volume of oil in our tanks, before and after we pump fuel. They receive an exact accounting of how much fuel they took, out to 2 decimal places in barrels, which is about 3 pints. So, they might get a million gallons of fuel, but what's on the bill is accurate to within a soda bottle's worth of volume.

 This is a double edged sword. These guys expect us to dick around and to have the ability to dick around when it comes to the numbers.   The first ship we dealt with this weekend wanted me to convert everything to metric and then round things up to whole numbers.
 Me: "No."
 Then they wanted to negotiate the volume listed on the Bunker Delivery Note.
Me: "No."
"Well, we won't sign for anything but the exact volume we requested. No decimals."
Me: "Yes you will."
"Well, we need you to round down to an even number, then, for our computer."
Me: "No."

 It went on like that. I was feeling pretty patient, so I eventually said we don't negotiate and we don't cheat anyone, including the ship or the supplier, so the numbers are the numbers. Eventually they get the idea. Usually they threaten to give us nastygrams, Letters Of Protest they're called, which are used to establish details in an official record should arbitration be required at some point by a court. What they don't expect is that we like these. "Yes, sir, please send the letter down and I'll be happy to sign it."   What the hell do I care? I know the right thing was done on my part, and they're being dicks more often than not as a pro-forma exercise.

    To their credit, these two bad jobs took longer than they should have to perform because of shipside foolishness, but no one tried to outright steal, and no one was unbearably rude on either side. So it goes. While I always hope bunkering goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn't, and that's part of our routine, too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shaking out the first reefs

Well, I made it back to work a few hours ago. Back to the routine.

 My mom's funeral and burial was yesterday. We laid her down at the closest national cemetery, alongside my dad. The funeral and interment service was lovely, and we closed the night by eating together, just family, just under 30 of us. After 3 emotionally exhausting weeks up north, I would have preferred to go home for a few days, but practically speaking, it was time to go back to work, according to my wallet, and so as our family dispersed last night, my own nuclear family went back to the house one last time, and long before sunup this morning, we said our goodbyes at the airport, my wife and son to head home, and me to head to NY.
        I'm tired, in a way that is somewhat unfamiliar. Physically, sure. I've been on 5 hours a night for 3 weeks straight. Making final arrangements and herding family members towards resolution on planning and carrying out things is work too. Overall, I hope that with a couple of decent sleep cycles and getting into a routine that is familiar, things will turn around a bit inside my head, which is currently a slightly unfamiliar place too, somewhat more dark than usual.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Changes

My mom passed away yesterday. It was gentle and pain free, and the hospice nurses and medical team that made her death as peaceful as possible were absolute angels. The entire B clan came together for the first time in years and spent days together in her home. It was exactly what my mom wanted, for her children, great grandchildren and family to be cemented together in order to ensure that we don't drift apart overmuch upon her passing. We were all there when she passed. It was hard but I managed to say something intelligent for once. Something like, 'I'm crying for me, for us, for what we've lost, not for her. She's free and at peace, finally."

 In the 24 hours since her passing, it's been a whirlwind of activity, but the enormous level of support and caring from our friends and community has been humbling. Our cups runneth over, as does our refrigerator, freezer and beltlines.

 I still don't know exactly what I'll be dealing with beyond feeling a touch lost and more than a touch like I'm being carried by the rest of my family. I'm still always on the verge of falling apart but never falling apart.

 My parents were married for 48 years. My mom died yesterday evening. Today was my parents' wedding anniversary. Their marriage defined their lives, and my mom's only real statement this past weekend on what she was thinking about when she thought about her last day was "I hope your father is there to meet me."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

more important things

Nothing quite works to plan with me, and that's OK. Things tend to work out right, if on a longer timeline than I'd often prefer.

    I never did go home. While I was visiting my mom, she brought us all together to let us know that she was stopping medical treatment and wanted to come home to finish her days among the family.

      It's been a long time coming, and while my mom now is sleeping and no longer conscious, we had some wonderful days, and our entire family has been gathered for a final watch, and it's been an opportunity to reconnect with everyone, and it was all done on my mom's terms.

 We're down to hours, not days I think, but everything is taken care of, and the tears are less common than they were, and there's more laughter at all of the great memories.

Even at difficult times, when surrounded by loved ones, the mutual support makes such a difference. In my own family's religious context, funerals are noted as celebrations of life, not of death. Call it a remnant from the Irish Wakes we no longer practice.
    My mom's dog, a little neurotic rescue dog who is ugly as sin and absolutely cute because of it, cut the tension yesterday by cutting the cheese. My uncle must have fed the dog some people food. In the early afternoon, at a particularly low moment, an unbelievably foul, mephitic smell hit us one at a time. We all assume my uncle, a lifelong bachelor, crop dusted us, and we cried foul to his cries of innocence.

 It happened again when we were all around my mom, later on, after we finished praying together. I noted my mom's dog scuttling like a little crab out of the room, shamefaced, and recalled that she had done the same when we had blamed my uncle.
 From then on it was on. It was too cold to put the dog out, and she'd go ballistic locked in any of the other rooms, so we just tried to shuttle her to where the people weren't, but she got out and has a gift for stealth.

 She snuck by when we were eating Chinese food, bombed the whole kitchen, to cries of horror, nausea and laughter. An hour later, in the living room she did it again, all the while scuttling crablike, and as the 10-12 of us went from room to room escaping an 8lb dog's utterly toxic ass, she'd eventually follow and SBD us again.

 So, it's my hope that when my mom is gone, and we recall these funny moments at hard times, the little moments, like everyone yelling and laughing at the dog while bolting from a table full of Chinese takeout, we'll be able to take comfort from it and remember that with a family together there can be little rays of sunshine that break through so many dark clouds.

 I don't expect I'll update this blog until after my mom is gone and at rest, and I'll be back at work and back to a routine.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

looking ahead

Well, I'm entering my last few days of what has been an emotional tour here at the HQ. Rage is an emotion, shut up.

___________________________

 So, hopefully I'll be headed to my own house after a few days up north, there to enjoy my own family, who I have missed terribly in all this, notwithstanding 20ish years of being practiced at dealing with difficulty while away. As I said, it was an emotional tour.

 Some new and interesting things are happening at home. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is in classes during the day for the next few months, so I will have my house to myself for the most part. I've got a honeydo list longer than my crank to deal with, so I'll be able to handle some of that, and after 8 years of sitting on my ass, I'm going to up the tonnage on my ticket, too, for work, come December, so I have to study for that. I'm just rusty as hell there. Not much call to practice navigation plotting when you spend as much time huffing oil fumes as my work requires. So that'll keep my busy.

 I've got my model tugboat to work on too. I should have time to get a lot of that taken care of, which is a good thing, as I've got another lined up for after, and I find the whole creative process fun, especially as it gives me  a chance to work on fine motor control issues, which is a thing for me. Courtesy of having gotten my hands crushed as a teen, and having lived with persistent infections from lobstering for so many years with open cuts on my hands, things like writing my name are pretty painful, which is why I type so fast. Needing sub-mm accuracy is challenging to me, but it's also helpful, as my shaky and sometimes weak hands do well in response to fine work. Not that my work is super-fine, mind, just that the discomfort goes away.

The pace at work continues to be very rapid. We're still running almost all-out, and I'm still not used to it. Finding time to handle maintenance isn't an issue. I can get up early to do things that I can't get to in our occasional off time while we're waiting for berths or a tide. Coordinating shoreside engineers and mechanics to come aboard and handle things I can't do myself isn't as cut-and-dried when you don't know where you're going to be 12 hours from now. I guess the days of having our schedule set up three days out is long gone, now. Things change constantly. I don't like or do well with chaos, so it's a burden, but one that is going to be lived with now.

 I feel as though there are changes that I need to make. What's that line from the poem about Provisions must be made... and I have made them... something like that. Except I haven't made them yet.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Father Goose

It's been a busy damn week here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Center for Second Thoughts About Career Choices.

      While I'm still working through my own family issues related to my mother's health, my right hand hand man O had to extend his time off to deal with a health emergency involving his own mother, who, thankfully, is now on the mend. He came in last night, but in the meanwhile I had 5 days of fill-in tankermen.

 The HQ is about the best designed bunker platform I can think of. Though not perfect, of course, her design represents the pinnacle of a balance between usability, safety, utility and ease. She's a one-off, having been rebuilt and altered at the deck level from a common design that my employer had built 10-12 years ago and still uses. My employer gets a lot of use out of us, and our safety and job completion record shows that she's a right good 'un, and our injury and lost-time injury record is a testament to her fine ways, too. 
    Not to say she's idiot-proof. We are known as the Hose Slayer of New York;  at least our port engineer calls us that.  Blind spots at our crane controls, and catch hazards on deck when working at low angles means that we've killed off more cargo hoses than most. At $5,000 a section, we went through 5-6 hoses in our first two years aboard, and although it's been a couple of years, it can still happen. But she's comfortable, I believe she's the most user friendly barge that my employer owns by a wide margin.
   ...If you know her little ways.

 If you don't know her little ways, the HQ is a handful. The cargo crane can turn a heavy fuel oil hose into a wrecking ball or a grappling hook, and does, to those who don't know. A seemingly-perfectly lined-up position with a dock or a ship ends up being way out of the crane's ability to spot the hose, necessitating a phone call, bringing a tugboat out, sliding one way or another and adjusting or resetting mooring lines, and then being slut-shamed by dispatch, the tug crew and the people on the other side waiting for the hose.

 Unfortunately, most bunker tankermen, when they get off their own barge, want NOTHING to do with a strange bunker barge. They know better. In the search for warm bodies to put meat in the seats, our crew scheduling ladies take a perverse pleasure in putting gasoline bargemen on board to fill in when a bunker tankerman is out. Think about what happens if you put a taxi driver behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.

      I was fortunate this past week to have two nice and experienced gasoline tankermen come aboard for ballast to satisfy the COI. SInce I deal with 6 different fuel suppliers each with differing policies and needs and charter agreements, the devil is in the details when it comes to making them happy. Like Burger King, we believe our customers should Have It Your Way.
 Unfortunately, we've also been getting nastygrams from our pimp daddy saying 'quit fucking up the paperwork or you're going home' aimed in general to everyone working in the region. So I can either encourage our visitors to memorize a matrix of 50 procedures across 6 companies (and the ancillary paperwork requirements for each), or I can do the work and paperwork myself, mostly. There's no real choice. You can shave a chimp and make a tankerman out of him. Making a good tankerman takes time, and weeds out the monkeys with tails and also about half of the clean oil tankermen. Making a competent one takes more. Making an experienced one takes even more. You see where I'm going. It's not going to happen, and trying to teach detailed procedure and policy won't work if you're working for 3 different charterers in 36 hours, WHICH WE DID.
   So, I got to work with guys who took time to do their job to the best of their ability, which was actually pretty nice, except that they didn't know enough for me to really rest. I had to do that sort of sleeping where you stay aware of the heading, the state and RPM of the generators and pumps, and the trim and list, which means no REM sleep, so it gets tiresome, at least, if you give a shit about your job. In my own way, I was very fortunate to work with fill in guys who left their ego elsewhere, were pleasant and polite, and could make the oil go where it was supposed to go, and not where it was not supposed to go. I just couldn't sleep much. I believe that if I either gave less of a shit, was better at teaching or was a more sociable person, it could have gone more smooth, but overall it was good.
...and this is not to toot my own horn, either. I've gotten to the point where I have to restrain myself from lashing out when my comfortable ways of doing things have to be changed. I like the systems we have on here, and how well we all work together as a team. I am extremely fortunate to work with fantastic shipmates who are also good friends of mine, too here on the HQ, and to have a good relationship with the core group of tug crews who charioteer our ungrateful asses around. I can't take credit with any of that, as had they had to get to know me recently, they'd likely not be over fond of me. I am not what I was, in terms of being pleasant to be around. Too much shit happening on shore for me just now. I'm working on it, and I still basically like most people. I just don't want to interact with them.
       So it was with great joy to me that O, my right-hand man, flew in last night, and I slept the sleep of the innocent... well, actually I had bad dreams all night, but I was sleeping deep enough to have bad dreams, so that's progress. I'm looking forward to catching up on sleep over the next few days. We're working at about 90% of our maximum, getting a couple of hours off between jobs, which is somewhat more sustainable than going nonstop, as paperwork, filing and basic maintenance can be carried out. I still have a week on board to go.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When the world can't shrink down

When I get stressed or when there's a lot of things going on, I tend to compartmentalize. One of the ways I cope with stress in general is to shrink my horizons. Eyes In The Boat, like the old saying goes. I tend to try to work on things piecemeal, manage events and issues as they come, rather than doing so holistically. It works for me.
 Normally.

    Sometimes, when things happen that are not in our control, but which we are unable to cope with easily, it makes it harder to put ideas and issues, and feelings, too, in neat little boxes.

 My mom is getting ready to pass on. She's at the point where she'll soon be making the decision to stop fighting a progressive series of illnesses and age-related end-of-life challenges that are starting to add up faster than her ability to deal with them and enjoy a minimal quality of life. That time we all know can come for us who live long enough.

... and it's something that most every child of an older parent has to deal with. So many people have, and that includes me. I remember very clearly the day when my father decided that he had gone as far as he could with medicine, that it was time to go home and enjoy the time he had left.

 So why the hell am I sharing this? It's pretty private, even though I know some of my family reads this stuff. I guess I'm still wrapping my head around all of it. I'm saddened but not traumatized by it. Anyone can understand the desire to have time to surround themselves with loved ones and have a quiet, dignified death free of the indignities that sometimes come with life-extending medication that requires sacrificing one's awareness or ability to enjoy the last days.

 With all this, we don't know exactly what will happen and when, and that is where my being at work on the water, and my living 1,500miles from my mom gets second-guessed. I could have worked for the fucking aquarium or run a ferry boat or something. I pray I'll have time to be there, and that I'll be able to ferry my family north to do the same.

 At any rate, I'm not writing to collect sympathy, just to clear my own thoughts. Without being able to keep my mind in the boat and my eyes in the boat, it's not as easy to juggle the million little things we all juggle. I rely on my time at work to center me, I guess, and it's not working.