Wednesday, November 13, 2019

halfway day

Well, today's the halfway point of this trip and it's been busier than usual for sure. We had a little downtime- yesterday we were free and there was one other 20 hour period last week, too, but beyond that, it's been steady work. But time has passed by pretty well so far, too, as a result.

         I'm sort of watching what's going on in the news, all the chaos, 6 different stories on the same subject all with radically different points to make, and twisting the news into propaganda. It's disheartening. Folks who put out work I like to read often point out that in order not to be subsumed one must stay engaged, but hell, not wanting to be bothered with the bullshit of our culture is half the reason people want to go to sea in the first place. No, I'll enjoy bombing people I disagree with using sarcastic points while I'm sitting on the can, but I'm not going to waste quality oxygen during my non-bathrooom time by pissing myself off reading all that crap.

          With the death of D, my old captain in my teen years, his daily reminder that even a bad day is pretty good on the water if it don't kill you, I feel a bit recentered. His death hit me more than expected, especially in that I haven't spoken to him much in the past 5 years, and of those times, many were him chiding me about the value of my time spent being a shit to people online.  Smart guy, was D.

       Today I had the fortune, good (for me) enough to finish loading cargo about 90 minutes after the turn of the tide, while we're in a tide-restricted berth- that is, unless we have 2 tugs working together, we have to sail only on the tide, and so I get a 4 1/2 hour break. I cooked lunch, got my paperwork done for the day, and headed outside to splice a broken line and wire-lock some shackles that weren't wire-locked on our hydraulic powered fendering system. Busywork, really, but necessary in that I don't want to waste a lot of budget losing a $6,000 fender over a $1 shackle pin, which has happened.

 Today is the first real cold day here in NY harbor. It was blowing pretty good and in the low 20's when I woke up at 5am. Going out on deck was a bit of an effort of will, until the sun came up and it got above freezing. Hydraulic controls were stiff as hell, valve wheels didn't want to turn... all the things that make us not love winter. So it goes, though. If I got upset over every one of those things, I'd be a hell of a pill. It's still better than being at a desk for me. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Oh Captain My Captain

"Stop! Look around! Today is a beautiful day and it is never going to come again!"

     It took a couple of years before I grew to understand when he said this to me, on days when the weather was poor, that he was right.  

    My dad gave me the love of the ocean, and of ships and science. The Old Man taught me how to catch lobsters, and how to steer a boat. D taught me how to make my living from the sea, starting with cutting classes twice a week, with the connivance of my teachers, his coworkers, to go fishing with him.

 DOHERTY, William.
   Seize The Day! If you're reading this, I am dead and you're not. William Doherty of Weymouth died November 1, 2019, with family beside him including his wife of 52 years, Dorothy Kamison Doherty. With apologies to Dylan Thomas, I have raged, raged against the dying of the light, but now it is time to go gentle into that good night.

 God Bless and keep you, D. Thank you so much. I will miss you.  

Friday, November 1, 2019

settling into the routine

As much as I wish I could stay home full time, I'm not enough of a prick that my company will pay for me to not go to work. I've been back for a few days, and have settled into the routine again. My first week back, I'm working nights, which is never fantastic, me being a day person, but I don't have trouble with circadian rhythms. If I've been up and moving about for 12+ hours, I can sleep. I'll make the adjustment back to working days next week.

 It's been a busy time here on the HQ. Lots of work. The whole maritime industry is struggling to adapt to new anti-pollution legislation that will change the type of fuel ships can burn after Jan 1 of next year. Refiners have added Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil to the types of fuels sold to ships recently, and between finding storage space and vessels to move it, it's been an adjustment. With sulfur content being a huge deal in fuel (cost of the fuel is inversely proportional to the sulfur content), and fuel being the number one expense on ships, this is a big deal.  Now, terminals have to have stocks of Heavy Fuel Oil in 700, 500 and 380cst viscosity, as well as Low Sulfur Fuel Oil, Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil and Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel oil.
Now, to an extent this can be offset by cutting fuel oils with Marine Gas Oil (a type of diesel fuel) to decrease viscosity or lower sulfur content, and therefore there could be ways to not need to rent 6 tanks for 6 grades of fuel, but this is offset by increased risk of contamination or improper blending by custom blending fuels for individual ships.

     Without going into massive detail, the greatest challenge I see here is getting the infrastructure in place to get the right grade of fuel to the right people at the right time. Currently there has been a dearth of berthing at fuel storage terminals to get fuels to ships. Only a modest percentage of ships have invested the millions of dollars in an exhaust gas scrubbing systems to allow them to burn high-sulfur fuel after the cut-off date of Dec 31. Everyone else will need LSFU or ULSFO... but this represents such a high cost to shipping, which is a VERY low-margin business, that many companies have been paralyzed, waiting until the last minute to see if things change, and this has led bunker suppliers like moi and co. to also not have a way to read the tea leaves, too. Now, my particular dog in this fight is not a big one- I sign my name to documents that certify that as far as I know I'm giving a ship fuel in compliance with the law, but it's my employer and the oil majors who have their asses in the breeze here. Recently, some of our barges have been flushed out and put into exclusive service for low and ultra-low sulfur fuel. Currently, the HQ is probably going to carry the heavy stuff still, which is fine for me.

 I'm as curious as anyone as to what will happen Jan 1.

Monday, October 28, 2019

last day

Well, tomorrow I fly out to work again. This has been the most mellow time off I've had in a long, long time. One one hand, I got a bunch of things knocked out on my punch list of things to do at my house. On the other, I took at least two days and did almost nothing productive at all, which surprisingly didn't make me all grumpy with the guilt of not doing something.

 Last night we tried out a Mexican restaurant in my area. The food was excellent, great atmosphere, price was even OK. We hadn't had Mexican food in a couple of years.
 Today, however, I am suffering. I guess I can add Mexican food to the list of foods I should no longer eat. Luckily I am home alone this morning. If anyone needs me, I'll be in the bathroom. Probably crying.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


I've been home almost for a week, and it's been excellent if busy. One of my oldest friends flew in for the weekend, and we had a lot of fun, ate too much, drank too much and caught up. Pretty much exactly what I needed.

       Today, 6 days in, is my first real day to myself. Headed out to start working on the house, of course.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Welcome to the party

 Well, my new guy had his first really bad night.

 Yesterday... yesterday was a dumpster fire. This last load we carried was trouble from even before it started. It'd be comic if I wasn't there. Some jobs are like that.

     We were 4 hours late to our berth because someone was in it, and the terminal where we were picking up fuel is perpetually late on everything. The place is so bad that there's an internationally known acronym made up of the letters in their name regarding how they always make you miss work.

 Well, so it goes. The funny part is that the guy in our berth was heading to the same ship we would be, with a different grade of fuel. So they did their job, arriving 4 hours late.

  I was asleep by the time we got to the berth, 4 hours late as I said... once we were at the berth, checked in, paperwork signed and cargo hose connected, they didn't start pumping fuel to us for 5 hours. No reason was given. I don't know if they were using the pipeline, or the tank was being pumped to someone else, whatever. Either way, 5 hours.

 This was a triple hand blended oil... that is to say, we were taking three different parcels of oil of differing qualities from 3 shoreside tanks, and blending them in 8 of mine. Fine. A couple of extra steps, some more math on my part to figure out blend ratios for all my tanks, and the computer does some of that for me, which helps.  The bitch of it was, the third parcel was cutter stock- clean high-quality diesel, and only like 900 barrels, which, when divided into my 8 tanks, means that It would take 30 seconds per tank to load this stuff on top. Which is great except that you can't pinch down the flow rate of the fuel much, or the back pressure could blow out something. It takes a few seconds to open and close valves, and even at running speed, it takes time to get around deck. So even with an extra man outside, there's a level of coordination that is normally not required, and multiple opportunities to make mistakes.
    A diesel cut into heavy fuel generally means they need to improve its' quality, that is, they want lower sulfur content (heavy fuel being 2-4% sulfur, generally), or lower viscosity, or to change the density, specific gravity or lubricity, or mineral content, as this stuff also has trace mineral content that they may want diluted too. So, by the time we actually got started loading fuel, 5 hours after we signaled the terminal we were ready, we were now 9 hours behind schedule. By the time we got to the diesel cut, it was into the next day, yesterday, in fact, and I oversaw the diesel cut.

   So, the terminal made us about 12 hours late, by the time their delays ended. Then, the cargo survey.

   For some reason, the three men who were handling the third-party cargo survey (a way to verify volume transferred, and also to take samples, in this case, 3 liters per tank, one each from the bottom, middle, and top of the oil level in each tank. So, 24 samples, and the guy doing the paperwork with me, where we actually measure the height of oil in each tank, temperature, and density, and then come to independent calculations of final volume (which we then compare and which must agree)... well, this should take about 30-40 minutes. I know most of the guys and they're pretty good. I didn't know these guys yesterday. It took over 2 hours. So... another 90 minutes lost.

 Anyhow, around the time I was *supposed to be* finishing this whole job, we were coming alongside a massive containership to start pumping it off. 12 hours late.

 The chief engineer is pissed off. A young, kind of pissy Russian (rare to find one pleasant, to be honest) starts bitching at me as soon as we're all fast. I invite the guy in, and he's borderline rude, and whiny to boot. I let the guy go on. He's right to be upset, and he's not being insulting or anything, just kinda cunty. Eventually, as we work through each other's paperwork pile, and he's still bitching, I get to drop the first bomb. The cargo surveyors have yet to send me an analysis of the oil samples. No sane engineer is going to accept fuel that hasn't been tested. Engines have been ruined, guys have gone to jail over it Seriously. If the sulfur content alone is .01% higher than allowed, someone's gonna pay.
    It normally takes 3 hours for sample results to get back to me, that is, from the moment the surveyor's sample man steps off the gangway to an email being sent to me, 3 hours. It's been 3 hours by the time I finish being yelled at by the engineer. So we get to wait.
 Oh, he drops a bomb on me: They're leaving in about 7 hours. It will take me 7 hours to pump off this modestly-sized fuel order.
 ... and it takes 2 more hours for me to get the sample results back.

       By this time the engineer has come down twice to vent his spleen at me, and on the second one, I, being someone who doesn't do well with being yelled at when I haven't actually done anything wrong, yell back. I have some information in my back pocket. His company leasesthe oil tanks we were loading out of. The bunker supplier who owns the oil is also a division of his company. THEY hired the surveyors, not me. The little fella never once accused us of  anything negative, just was angry, but it was his people dropping the ball.

 Not long after I got loud at the guy, the sample results came in. There was a point somewhere where the job had just gone so far south that I was not all that upset anymore. We hit ludicrous speed, I guess. Anyhow, we got the pumps engaged and by this time I'd been up and about for well over 12 hours, so I handed off the job to my 2nd man, who, being green, was still pretty upset over how things had gone so badly when we were doing everything right on our end.
 I took a shower and went to bed. We'd only be able to pump off about 60% of the fuel we had for this ship in the time we had, so it was all over but for the pumping and closing paperwork.

 I hadn't slept well the day before, so I just crashed when I went to sleep. I never heard the pumps wind down, never heard the engineer yelling again at my second man, and never felt us sail off the ship. I woke up about 0430 to us rocking gently at anchor. Peaceful. On getting up, my second man, who had had time to wind down by this point, was still pretty upset. Apparently the engineer had not felt the need to be restrained and impersonal at the end of the discharge. My guy is super nice but his response to ugly situations like this is to be polite and perhaps a bit retiring and I know the guy finds it hugely stressful. That's sort of the opposite of my tendency to get aggressive and mean... and I know I could use a bit more being polite, though in this case it seemed only to encourage the engineer to be petty. Thankfully, the ship had to sail, so the guy ran out of time before he ran out of vitriol. 
  So, all said and done, it's over, and while for me  this was merely the most recent job that didn't go off well, and is at worst annoying and forgettable, it was a lot more than that for my right hand man, and I think he saw that there's a need to watch for certain personality types that  don't respect men who are respectful. Good training.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

dirty deeds done dirt cheap

Well, courtesy of what I think was a paper towel thrown in a toilet here on the HQ we had a blowout again in the holding tank, so we lost half a day getting cleaned out, which was mostly done by me with the help of a couple of guys and a honey wagon. This being the second time in two months that this has happened pretty much makes it hard to have a nice day after something like that.

 Marine toilets are delicate. You can put pee, poop and single-ply toilet paper in them, and anything else but that will destroy the system causing things like last month's energetic loss of containment, the Shitsplosion, or this month, when the system just got clogged and we had a Crapalanche.

 Either way, I got to clean a couple hundred gallons of ghosts of meals past, which (I looked) isn't in my job normal job description. So it goes, though. They give me my munificent salary and expect me to care for the HQ, so care I must.

         Since then, it's been really busy with straightforward work, no really crazy jobs like we've had in the past few weeks, just a lot of work. Some go really well, like the last job, where I was working with great folks, and the enormous Ukrainian engineer took a liking to me because one of us on here has an NRA cap, and the guy's an avid hunter, so we got to bond over stories of things we've killed and eaten. That made a blustery rainy wet day go by nice. The job last night OTOH was an exercise in patience, where the all-Chinese crew was more interested in arguing with each other and it literally took two hours to connect my cargo hose, which I can do in 10 minutes, and then they disappeared for another two hours before someone remembered that they were supposed to take on fuel. There are days like that too.

      Either way, I kinda got my ass handed to me today, physically it was a pretty demanding day, but tonight we get to sit out in the anchorage. I'll be asleep and there's a job when I wake up for watch again tomorrow morning, but I guess if they're gonna pay me I'm OK with that.

 ah well. One week to go.