Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Last watch, first steps

After a VERY busy month, the storm last week threw a kink in our routine... things have been a little more quiet here on the HQ, and that has made for a good final few days for yours truly. I was able to get all my end-of-tour business done, and I'm currently on anchor watch on my last watch here for a few weeks. Home later today to hug my family.

   I've been preoccupied this past month with planning out and carrying out a few projects unrelated to work which have required near-daily oversight. It's been a LONG time since I had to multitask at the level I'm operating on now. I've sort of stagnated these past few years in my position, which was easy to gloss over as I've been satisfied here, but minds and metal do rust with disuse, and I'm now working out the cobwebs and starting to get off my ass.

 I'm selling a home up in Massachusetts, and dealing with lawyers, bills, real estate folks, taxes etc etc. All things where I am not dealing from a position of strength. Working with a contractor to make the house sell well has been a trip. I'll be glad when it's done in a few months, hopefully. I have to be there personally to deal with some things, so I'm heading to my former hometown for what I believe will be the next-to-last time during this time off. I'm learning a lot, though, mostly about how I don't like dealing with lawyers, bills, real estate folks, taxes etc etc.

     The bigger deal for me is that I'm heading back for more training and to up my license tonnage.

     I started this blog 13 years ago. When I started, it was called "Blue Water: News of My Escape" as I had already transitioned from being a marine biologist to a commercial fisherman, and from commercial fisherman to merchant mariner, as I wanted to escape to a deep ocean job. A few years later when I got serious about pursuing an officer's license, I changed the blog name to HAWSEPIPER, which was what I was becoming. Eventually I did get a limited tonnage license, but I settled into a tankerman's position that played into my strengths- experience in handling fuel oils and liquid cargoes on tank vessels. 99% of my higher-tonnage sea time has been on tank ships and barges. In my off time I've been able to spend time on boats for fun, some work here and there in the wheelhouse of non-tank vessels, but not as much as I like.

      We get into careers to enjoy certain aspects of them. As we rise in position, we spend less and less time doing the things that attracted us there in the first place. That's a truism, and it's OK. Until it's not.

       I am hawsepiping again. I start classes this spring. I'll be staying at my job. I have a good gig, and while my company is not the close-knit and warm employer that hired me anymore, it's a good job and I work with some great people. I don't know what the future holds for me anymore, but I've been too long in brown water. I miss the deep blue clean sea.
A much younger me. I miss wearing white, too.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Battening down and stuff

Well, we got a nor'easter coming in, and that's going to be unpleasant starting this afternoon. I spent a few hours this morning doing a walk-around on deck, tying down things that might like to fly and doing a FOD check, as I have a habit of collecting flying bits of things in my damn eyes during wind events.
     As we're not heading to sea, this is more a pro-forma habit than anything else for me. Still important, of course, but it's easy to get complacent when you rarely go out where the horizon touches the sea. I think that's why I try to keep my chops up.
         I go home next week. I'm curious as to what's going on at my local gun range and such. I don't live too far from the recent school shooting, and my wife and son are close with a family who have a daughter at that school, who is thankfully alive and well, but traumatized, poor girl.

 How ugly and divided we are. I have a massive hate on for kabuki solutions, which informs my own opinions on dealing with school shootings. Rather than expound (seriously, who cares about my opinion?), I'll say that hurting me is not a solution to making others safe, and that's that for me. I'm looking forward to some bench time with my own guns and some range time with my wife and son.

 I have to leave home early, unfortunately, to go north and work for a week on some non-maritime projects, but I'll be in my old hometown, so I at least have time with friends and family. Not as good as a week sunning myself and having my nuclear family to hand, but necessary.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

I got nothin'

Well, we had a quiet weekend here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center for Excellence in Achieving Diaper Rash.

     We're in day 4 of rain. Seriously, I have and have always loathed working in the rain. Funny because I have always chosen to work outdoors, and sometimes, you know, it rains.
 But seriously, I'm tired of it. After a couple of soggy watches, you get baboon ass, running around with winter-weight foul weather gear on. So it goes.
 On the upside, we haven't had a cargo in 36 hours, which meant that other than being shuffled around (limited berthing space means that we raft up to other folks when we dock. In fact, the lay berth we're at now, we sometimes go 5 wide, which makes it a 10-15 minute obstacle course to go ashore if you are left along long enough to go ashore), we've been able to do indoor work in the generator room and house, which has been nice in terms of catching up on some maintenance tasks.

 We have a cargo fixed now, set up for after lunchtime today, so it's back to work, which is good.
 Yesterday was a loss for me. I picked up some sort of bug, but since we weren't working, I could spend extra time in the rack and in the bathroom (I think I split time there about 50/50), the time for which I was thankful, but time slows if we sit too much.

 I'm feeling uninspired just now, so I don't have much to report beyond that I feel soggy and tired of  rain and having diaper rash because my ass is damp 12-16 hours a day. 

True story.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


It's my turn to take the midwatch tonight, and I woke up just as we were finishing a cargo discharge. I saw that we were socked in with heavy fog, a real pea-souper. It took most of an hour to wrap up the paperwork and retrieve our cargo hoses, at which point our tugboat inched over and made up to us, there to stand by, as VTS has the area we need to transit shut down from fog. That means we're stuck here alongside the ship for now, which is fine, as they can't leave either, and I'm hopeful that the next change in tide or the sun coming up will clear things out so we can get on with our next load.

      It's a pretty thick fog tonight. Viz under 1/4 mile. Maybe 500 feet for unlit items, a little more for things that are lit up.


         When I was a kid, between ages 8-13, foggy days were a mystery to me. My mom liked to walk around the perimeter of the peninsula I grew up in on foggy evenings, and I always went with her. The fog, the groans and whistles of the various buoys just offshore and the silence everywhere else were mysterious and different, and to a kid who grew up pre-internet where there were 6 TV channels, mysterious was thrilling.
                In the daytime, on the lobsterboat of the old man who taught me to fish commercially, at the same time period, fog was a nuisance for him and for me, too, as it slowed down the day considerably.
    The old man was a savvy business owner. He owned a gas station, and auto body shop and a couple of multi-family houses. His boat, while smallish, was trim, well built, and efficient for an elderly man who didn't need to go far offshore and didn't like electronics. Navigation with the old man happened with his wristwatch, the boat's compass, and the engine tachometer. The boat DID have a VHF radio and depth sounder with an ink stylus and paper readout, but in the 8 years I fished with him, those things got turned on maybe twice, not for work, but as a curiosity.

The old man had the compass bearings (and their reciprocals) between various points in the harbor and islands, as well as the channel markers, as our part of Boston harbor and Quincy bay had a shipping channel as well as smaller channels for private boats to Hingham harbor and  Back River. He kept those numbers in his head, as a 70-something year old man might after a lifetime on the water.
      Only once did I see the old man confounded and truly unsure in the fog. He missed his mark somewhere, and, with a few expletives, shut down the noisy Detroit engine and disappeared into the cabin, emerging a moment later with a tube of axle grease and a rusty 1-foot length of pipe dangling at the end of a coil of rope. It was a sounding lead. He daubed a handful of grease into the little depression at the bottom of the lead, and threw it over the side letting the line slip through his hands.      
     The old man wasn't worried about the little oil slick this created. Things were different back then.
     When the lead hit bottom, the old man counted off the length of rope to get the depth of the water, and looked at the grease. He showed me. "Look. 14 feet, with sand and broken clamshells. We're out of the channel and just west of Jacknife Ledge near the mooring field. You could swim to your mother's house in time for lunch."  He threw the rope and lead at his feet, said "Here, coil that for me and hold it," and started the engine. We steamed along at idle for a moment or two, before he took the lead from me and took another sounding. Deeper water. We were in the man shipping channel. He had me stow the line and go back to looking out while he turned the boat, looked at his watch and followed the compass at a slow cruise. In a few moments we spotted a buoy and he got his bearings, and we made our way to the next set of gear.
That's the old timer in the foreground, on board the ALGIN II, the boat I grew up on. 


 In later years, when I was in high school and working for one of the English teachers who also had a lobsterboat, he had LORAN, which gave two numbers in a grid pattern (not latitude and longitude, but a repeatable and mature system of x and y coordinates) that helped with navigation and made finding our lobster buoys a lot easier, too. He, too, had spent his life on these waters and knew them well. His boat, while smaller, was set up to fish much more intensively. From D, I learned how to fish in a much wider area, using modern wire lobster pots instead of the heavy and old-fashioned wooden ones the old man kept. the way a dedicated lobsterman did it, and in the fog we went slower, listened to the VHF for traffic, and made our way in a similar way, moving across distances using the TD's, (TIme Delays- the LORAN numbers. Along the way I learned how to be a real sternman. LORAN, was still a bit of a mystery to me.

 Midway through high school, D bought the ALGIN II, the old man's boat. Al was in his late 70's by then, and arthritis and an active life had caught up to him after he came down with shingles one winter, which damn near killed him. The last year we fished together was mostly him just coming to grips with it being his last year. We only worked 4 hours a day, and he spent more time teaching me than fishing. It was a gift, and cemented my path in life, although I didn't know that at the time.
 When he sold the ALGIN II to D, D rerigged it to fish more intensively, and made a lot of improvements. He turned it into a true commercial fishing boat, and along the way, installed a GPS chart plotter, which had among other things, a digital chart display. This was revolutionary.  He later added radar and an even better chart plotter. At this point, when we got fogbound, he turned on the chart plotting function and this made navigation simple.

That's D's boat (formerly the old man's). Note the name-an obvious choice for an English teacher.

        I matured in the age of the chart plotter. I'd like to say I'm a crusty old salt who could find a silver dollar in 30 fathoms of water using the TD's, but that's a stretch.  When I was running the RITA C, years later, our chart plotter died, and I was forced to use LORAN overlay- along with the chart plotter, the boat had an old GPS that converted GPS coordinates to LORAN  TD's, and since it was summer and I was spending every penny on bait, fuel and paying the sternman, I got a crash course in LORAN. Luckily, the Notorious B.O.B. had drilled into me years before the need for recordkeeping, and we had the LORAN numbers for every string of gear written down along with the charted position on the plotter. When the plotter died, the notebook became the centerpiece. I occasionally screwed up, like the time D called me and asked me why the hell my gear was set 90 degrees to everyone else's in one spot, ruining a few people's afternoons. I missed a turn in the shipping channel by about 500 feet, and made a shit show of it. I learned.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Carnival 2018 (NSFW)

With the horrors we've experienced as a nation in the past 48 hours, it's easy to forget that Brazil's Carnival season wrapped up on Fat Tuesday, just a few days ago.

 I assure you it was a fine year, as far as Carnival went. It's quite a spectacle. I still haven't made it down to Brazil to experience it myself. I'm just not enough of a social person, or not brave enough, I guess.

 Well, at any rate, we could all use a little more warmth and happiness I'm sure, so here's some highlights for you to enjoy from this year's festivities! Click to enjoy without your reading glasses.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What's a-happening now

I've been a little eclectic in my reading lately. I'm all over the board. It reflects the somewhat chaortic nature of the projects and concerns I'm balancing these days. It's enough that I'm happy I have to be at work for the next few weeks, to act as a buffer between the predictability of my schedule now, and the stress-inducing shitpile that I'll be dealing with next time I get off. I've got a major project firming up that will require being away from my home for a week, a necessary evil that absolutely requires that I use talents and skills in which I am conspicuously weak or useless, and which I, like a dumbass, volunteered to do. It's made me somewhat sleepless and grumpy. As such,  my social media interactions have mostly been limited to shitposting when I see something so absolutely retarded as to inspire disbelief. I've been on a tear. It helps.

         On the upside, it's Carnival season down in Brazil, and soon I'll be enjoying the videos and pictures of human excess that this always produces. So stay tuned, the ladies of Carnival are coming soon.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

first watch back

Well, I count myself lucky that the majority of my first watch back can be spent on things I want to do, rather than cargo operations.

     I got to NY last night, and stayed at the usual hotel set up for us by my employer. As always, it was 90% full of refugees and homeless, but for once, the screaming and fighting wasn't overwhelming once I had my door closed. Just a background annoyance, at that point. I guess the city of NY turfs their dependents at discount hotels within the city. At any rate, it's in a modest but safe neighborhood, so what the hell, the price is right. I can't get much sleep there, but it's a good way to transition from the pleasures at home to the austerity of HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Hot Dog Emporium.
      Towards the end of my watch we'll head for a terminal to load up on heavy fuel oil, and from there, it's on. But for now, I was able tonight to cook some portions of my meals ahead of time, pay bills, get caught up on work-related emails and do a walkaround the HQ to see what there is to see. Prepositioning myself, in other words, so when we do work, I have minimal distractions and can get back into the groove.

 I wish it was always at this pace. Still, I was a touch groggy when I woke up for watch, but that got dispelled fairly quickly. I was able to get a 4-hour nap before my watch, so that's a good start. Hopefully I'll repeat that at the end of this watch too.

          I can't remember the last time I came back to work rested and in a state where I was ready to work, where it wasn't a trial of patience. It's been too long, too many months of working extra weeks. This was my second time in a row of not working any overtime, and it's paid off in terms of my well-being. I feel better. Hopefully this translates into a more peaceful and rewarding tour than the last few!