Friday, October 31, 2008

staying the path

So this afternoon I got a call from a tug company, offering me a job.
Pretty much the highest-paying, most sought-after tug company in the US, and they want my fat ass in.
I have friends who work there. They really like it. They got me to apply this summer, when I was horrifically broke after getting married, buying the new place and taking the helm of an instand family. I ended up with another tug job, but that's another story. This company just wasn't interested in someone with no tug experience. But that's not me anymore.
My pay would increase by about 20% on Day 1, and could double in a year.
So, with that in mind, you can imagine that it's really hard to say no. After all, you've been reading about complaints related to my current job for the last three years in this blog, right?

Yes. And No.

I need to say no to this job. The truth is, I want to take it. My family could use the extra $. I know for a fact that the company is managed by people like me, practical, handy and open.

But, still, no. I shouldn't.

Goddammit. (sigh)

It's like this: I've got a job. You've read about the squalor, you've read about the apathy towards the rank-and-file, and you've read about my willingness to be the guy who airs the grievances that everyone else on board talks about. I hope that you can figure out why I'm so harsh about the things that aren't perfect on my ship.
I like my job. My ship is more familiar than my home. I like my company. A lot, really. I like being part of a team peopled by a handful of underdogs who started something big and are seeing it begin to flower after a whole generation of squeaking by. I like working on a class of ship that is referred to as 'fit for applicants only' in my union hall. (Not my words!)

I like having dirt under my nails sometimes. You already know that I'd like to use my brain more in my work, but the fact is, I need to have dirty hands, too, to silence the Puritan work ethic that brings me guilt when I'm off the clock and not working. And I like the people on my ship especially.

So, when I see things that aren't so great, I want to see them corrected, especially when I see long-awaited change for the better beginning to bear fruit; I want to see it ripen faster. I am impatient. This ship isn't my home, but it is my house for most of the year, and this is my company who runs it. Regardless of the fact that no one in management gives a flying fuck about my opinion, I want my core group of coworkers/friends to widen on board, and I have the background and ability to gather data towards questioning, discussing and denoting the things that will invite and encourage like-minded individuals to stay longer than one trip. It's not so grand a thing as tilting at windmills, mind, but it's worth fighting for.
I feel as though I owe my company something, too. They work with me and my schedule, and put up with my BS. They let me run interference and help train new officers and assert a certain degree of influence, so that they utilize the crew and cargo deck operation more efficiently and keep operations both running smooth and running in the way I've been taught to aspire to. I have it on good authority that they've killed a lot of trees in archiving this blog, so maybe one day I'll be consulted on some suggestion or criticism. Or fired, of course. Even with that risk, some thing are worth fighting over, especially now that my company is expanding. They're going to need more people who give a rat's ass, and I can give at least two rat's asses!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

manspotting and sundry


I spent last night fighting off Crosshatch Ass, the waffle-like impression of an inverted milk crate on one's behinder when one has a seated position for a longish period of time.
Sitting on my Ass, in other words.

You see, stuff was happening, and I wasn't in the work party. Rather, I was working as the safety net.

Technicians were working on one of our deepwell pumps in one of our 14 tanks- shown thusly:

When we've got guys tank diving, several things are happening behind the scene: I am hanging out at the tank top, with a radio in hand, and making sure that the guys down there are conscious and safe. The officer of the watch is watching over me and making sure that everyone who went in the tank comes out. You'd think that this is unnecessary, but I find it a comfort when I'm working in a tank myself.
Anyhow, last night I had to hang out at the tank top, ass cradled on a milk crate, leaning on the lip of the tank hatch and listening to the bangs, clanks and curses of a work party, and standing by.

It was boring, but hey, it was also nice not to be in the tank. Usually, I'm one of the guys down there, 'cus hey, it's a different sort of job and worth volunteering for, though, realistically, I balk at going down in the tank unless there's enough beef topside to get me back up should something happen. There's only one guy on the ship who could sling me over his shoulder and climb up 3 flights of an extremely steep ladder singlehanded. Otherwise, it'd be a team effort involving a sling.

Manny the bosun, on the left, is the guy who could prop me up and go for a climb without breaking a sweat.

I took this great pic of my buddy Orlando just the other day. If the Captain is the heart of the ship, Orlando is the soul. He just doesn't get down or discouraged, and is always able to keep a smile and try to keep everyone in good cheer: Also, like Manny, he has old-school sailor skills that aren't taught anymore, like worming and serving, splicing wire, stuff like that.

As you can see, Orlando is a bit of an artist with the oils. His canvas is the whole ship this voyage.

And this is me. Hi Ma!

Monday, October 27, 2008

busy busy busy

This is the kind of port work that I like sometimes. We're keeping busy and keeping positive. Much of my optimism here is flavored by the fact that my watch, the 12-to-4, has been collectively keeping the golden horseshoe of good luck clenched tightly between our cheeks, which is to say that we've been tying up and letting go on our watch, so we haven't been called out of a perfectly good sleep to go sling lines. Eventually we'll lose our streak, but for now, it's all good.
I managed to get ashore for about 3 hours in our last port, a dumpy little place called Bayport. Something about coastal Texas, man. Every town looks like a damn strip mall or a warehouse district, and the houses that are visible are all built in those prefab neighborhoods that require one to listen to one's neighbor peeing at 3 in the morning should you forget to close the window. No yards!
Anyhow, I got to a local Wal-Mart and stocked up on Diet Pepsi, which is a mighty good thing.
We shifted down to Hotfoot in the Houston Ship channel last night, on my watch, and today we took on food stores, engine room stores, removed garbage, took on bunkers and a load of diesel, too for our Inert Gas system, too... also, all on my watch. So, yeah, i was in a lather from all the running around, but it made the time go by quickly.

Oh, and in classic form, I again proved how unbelievably cool I am...
We had an inspector from the P&I Club (Insurance for the ship), as well as some big shots from the office here this afternoon. I was walking by them as they were out on deck, and managed to walk directly into a bitt on deck, flopping forward like a Frenchman to Madame Guillotine.
What an ass.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Houston Makes Me Want To Cry

...seriously. I don't know what it is about this place, but every time we get here, I get the worst itchy red eyes. Drives me nuts. There are so many chemical plants and refiners belching nasty stuff into the sky that it's no wonder, I suppose.

It got wicked hot in our ride through the Gulf of Mexico. For 2 1/2 days I was swimming in ball soup 30 minutes after starting work. And, to my chagrin, my schedule hasn't been conducive to working out some celestial fixes on the ride down. This was my week to be a dayworker, and the skies were a tad murky for what I needed. Dammit.

We're going to be a floating pharmacy for a while, doling out little parcels of cargo here and there, according to rumors. This should take us into November, anyhow, and there's a further rumor of a port call in Savanah, which I'm stoked for. Savannah is my favorite port on the East/Gulf Coasts. The city itself has a very european architectural appearance reminiscent of the neighborhoods just downhill from the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the old city surrounding the Castle, and for a time, one of my regular hangouts when I was living in Scotland. It's hard to believe that it's been 11 years since I came home. I still reminisce with my brother's Mother-In-Law, herself a proud Scot from Glasgow.

Anyhow, as you know, rumors can be found between Rhumatism and Shit in Webster's dictionary, so there's no use delving further into speculating on our next ports-of-call. I'll be happy to be out of the Gulf in a timely manner, of course.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

give and take

Just a quick note as we pass Port Everglades on our way around Florida en route to Houston.
The ride out of the Chesapeake? Wow, bad. Stiff gales, big, big seas. Absolutely dirty. We were running at 6 knots for almost 24 hours. In a happy coincidence, the engineers were repairing a big forced-draft blower on the main boilers, so we had to slow down anyhow, which did ease the ride quite a bit. It wasn't awful- after a couple of hours, we made our southing in quartering seas (halfway between the stern and the side of the ship, for you lubbers), so we pitched a rolled a bit, but the yawing was a huge pain, requiring that we hand steer the ship to keep from broaching to (turning sideways to the waves). We were yawing (swinging) about 10 degrees each wave. The ship was secured for sea, so other than having to eat with one hand to keep the dinner plates from flying off the table (more than one of us forgot to hold on and ended up with our/our neighbor's dinner in our laps), there wasn't any trouble. We didn't get to sleep much with the rolling, which was fairly deep, but thankfully slow.
Now, after getting our salads tossed, a bone: 2 days of the nicest weather I've ever seen- calm, a super mild swell, just enough to barely move the ship and remind us we're not on land, and sunny and clear- just a sparkling day, with the temps perfect! Absolutely makes me happy I'm a sailor.
'nuff said. Time for me to go to work again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Random thoughts

During a few slow moments today on cargo watch, I was talking with Cliff, the QA (Quality Assurance guy, sort of a purser's mate/expediter/safety/liaison guy on board), and we got to talking about lobster- him as a diver, and me as a former marine biologist with a woody for lobsters. It was really nice to talk about something I am a subject matter expert on; there's only a few things in the world that I actually am an expert at, and lobster biology is #1 on my list, anyhow.

My 15 minutes of fame as a scientist came when I discovered that lobsters can integrate neural input from both chemosensory and mechanosensory nerve cells and quickly adapt to minimize the impact of gaps in information availability.

Can you give a rat's ass about that? Let me explain why it's interesting:

Following a chemical trail to its' source (i.e., the smell of fire or food is easy to imagine, but this applies to chemical traces of explosives or oil in air or water, too) is actually very difficult to do. No one knew how animals actually did it- our brains don't use the information in any way you might think to track chemical stimuli. So, creating a bomb-sniffing robot or a machine that can track an oil leak underwater was impossible to do... But the navy gave my collegues 5 million bucks to try to create a mine-sniffing robot and solve the problems.
My contribution to science helped to disprove much of the existing theory about how our nervous systems integrate data from different types of nerve cells. I showed that there isn't a set of hard-wired behaviors- we already know that chemicals moving throgh air or water are dispersed in chaotic patterns- chaos math helped out, for certain, but the answer had to be more meat-and-potatoes than chaos-math derived (our brains don't work that way, exactly).

Anyhow, end result, I learned a little bit about how lobsters deal with chemical smells and flow data to find food. In the process, my little contribution helped robotics technicians to program their robots to deal with their sniffing sensors.

Not exactly Isaac Newton, am I? Still, I'm pretty proud that I was able to cram crash courses in physics, chaos math, chemistry , animal behavior and neuroanatomy into a cohesive study that worked within brain/behavior.

And hey, when there are bomb-sniffing robots on land and sea, and oil-sniffing robots on the sea floor, I can say that I helped to eliminate the need for putting a human in harm's way to reap the rewards.

But here's the thing: of the three biggest things I contributed to the world's knowledge base, my favorite one, which you know know a little about, is getting dated. My sweat and tears (well, sweat and diaper rash, really, from sitting in wet clothes for 14 hours a day for 90 days), are now relegated to footnotes. The field is advancing at a rapid pace, and my little cog is suffering from decreasing significance. I certainly can't dine out on it at the Harvard Club as I once did. I ain't even set foot in that place in over 10 years. Sigh.

Rather than performing cutting-edge neuroscience, I am on the shit end of the stick these days. Last night, my contribution to the world was limited to shooing a guy from shore from the fridge in the crew galley. Fucker was inhaling the Nitrous from a Whip Cream can and putting the dud can back in the fridge. Ain't that some juvenile shit? The guy actually had whip cream on his chin. I thought he was shooting the whip cream into his mouth, which is unsanitary as hell and license to get a kick on the side of the knee, as far as I am concerned. Anyhow, I restrained myself and told him to throw the whip cream away and get out, and I'd let it go.

I shoulda gotten than damn Ph.D.

You know, as much as a love a well-prepared cut of flank steak, half of it ends up between my teeth. Flossing after dinner is like having a second helping, you know?


Anyhow, heading back to Houston around midnightish. Looks like we've got some dirty weather to get through all the way down the Eastern seaboard. Crap. Glad we're running down full, anyhow.

Friday, October 17, 2008

dark places

I'm having one of those blah days.
Nothing bad has happened. Everything is as it has been.
Just, you know, blech.

This is a personal entry, so if you're looking for ship-related stuff, you'll only find it by extension.

I've always needed more time to myself than most people. I'm hot-and-cold when it comes to being social. When I want to be there, I want to be the center of attention, and I have no ego when it comes to making people laugh. I'll stoop to bathroom humor, but I can still throw the odd piquant comment or relevant quote from the moldiest of dead authors.
All things being equal, I'd rather be alone, though.

This is a good job for me in that sense. During coffee breaks, when everyone is hanging out in the crew mess, I head for my room and lock the door, escape in a book, or do something constructive. Despite that, a fair number of the people I am not hanging out with would still be classified as good friends. Mealtimes, I take full part of the conversation, and will on occasion be the class clown. That being said, I'm not one to spend time with people I have a marginal liking for, just to pass the time.

One of my older brothers is the social one. He too has the Blarney, the Irish gift of the gab. Unlike myself, he keeps it on damn near 100% of the time. His life has been full of hundreds of acquaintances, any handful of which would call him every day when there was a good time to be had. Consequently, this led to a somewhat jealous adolescence on my part, as it was obvious that my brother could score more ass than a public toilet, if he cared to. When my brother broke his back a few years ago, those acquaintances rapidly dried up along with the good times. He was left more or less alone except for family.

I've always preferred to focus on my very good friends, the handful of people that don't just call me on Friday and Saturday night. This has held me in good stead, and here, on this ship, it's the same. I do my job the way I do because of the people here, not the salary, which is fair-to-middlin,' and not the security, which is modestly decent. I stay here for the same reasons I stay in suburban Massachusetts, despite my burning desire to move north: This is where my people are.
So what does this mean? When we have a crew change, like today, where we've changed out the Captain and Chief Mate, the whole style of management on board changes. This has it's ups n' downs, to be sure, 'cus things get changed up. I don't get handed any more projects and told to report in when they're done. Rather, I'll be given blocks of time to fill with little tasks, which is OK, too. I'll miss the autonomy. The real bummer here is that this is the first sign of things changing, something I don't care to see. We've got a great bunch of folks on board still, but the teams are changing the leadership around. I'm not generally a pessiment, but we're due for an asshole to come aboard, eventually. Statistically, it's bound to happen. It didn't happen today (I like the relief Captain and Mate), but next time? Who knows.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

roll, roll, roll your boat

It is with great shame that I must report that the old girl did NOT behave herself on the 8-hour ride between South Ambrose Channel and the Delaware Capes. In calm seas (no visible heave), we rolled anywhere between 5-and 18 degrees for most of the southing that we made. The ship was crank as a mad bastard.
Here's the thing: there are certain seas that this vessel just doesn't like when we're in ballast. There are days when we react mildly to an 8-foot beam sea, and days when a less-than-one-foot swell rolls the sticks out of her. Last night was one such night. Without getting into KG, GM and GZ, the watchwords of why this stuff happens, I'll just say this: Friggin' shameful. Some days this old tub is a pleasure to ride, and some days she's a trial.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Almost like the big boys.

Here we are disconnecting from the barge Massachusetts, after delivering 111,000 barrels on board. As mentioned in the past post, I worked for 5 weeks on that barge, so I know her layout and the crew well. I had to zoom the hell out of my camera to tak this picture through a window... flash photography ain't so good for oil tankers. You can see here that much of the cargo deck area is freshly painted and rust free. Believe me, this is a drastic change from this time last year, when the ship looked pretty damn you-glee.

The Paul T. Moran is a big damn tug. You're looking at 60 feet of her in the barge's notch. It was great to catch up with my former co-workers.

Here's the rest of the tug, minus the upper wheelhouse, which wouldn't fit in the picture.

Side view. Still can't get the whole thing in one frame.

We did very well in our vetting yesterday. No obvious boo-boos, and some helpful-sounding suggestions were on the beef list, according to inside sources who were pretty scanty with the details. In addition, I saw the company's marine superintendent, a former chief mate I had worked with, and he didn't give me shit about my blog, which is a relief. I think that it finally sunk in at the home office that I wouldn't write anything that would a) shoot myself in the foot jobwise or b) make them look bad unfairly.

I am, in the end, all about making people look bad fairly, but mostly I do that with my own self more so than anyone else.

On a Far More Serious Note

Just under 1/2 of the unlicensed crew on board has asked me for the number for the HR department of the owners of the ATB we just lightered into. This I find depressing, if understandable. I am discouraging all but a couple of guys, and the only reason I'm doing this is because some of the guys here are passing through. If they don't want to stop here, I understand. It takes a certain type to tolerate the negatives here, regardless of the many good points of this ship and company.

Therefore, I am going to carry out an older threat and publish my first manifesto of the Autumn, entitled, "5 Things shipowners can do to improve crew retention without breaking the bank." Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Little Lightering

Quite a day today. We started off by preddying (think prettying) the deck prior to a Vetting. In addition to this, we also took alongside the Tug Paul T. Moran and barge Massachusetts, pretty much exactly as planned and mentioned in yesterday's blog. I got to say hi to some people I liked quite a lot, and point out some of the glaring differences between our two vessels to the guys here. All in all, a nice trip down memory lane, and the Chief Mate, who was busy readying for the vetting, let me run the show more or less while he got his paperwork in order. Granted, this isn't anything like two ships lightering, which is a delicate ballet. This was more along the lines of them getting alongside, and us getting hooked together for the cargo transfer. Still, it's good to be given a long leash. In my job, micromanagement is a hassle. There are some officers who see their Able Seamen as trained apes able to follow directions given in 30-second increments. Luckily, my own ship doesn't have that issue. We are mostly staffed by permanent crew (8 of the 9 officers are either permanent or frequent flyers, and about 2/3 of the unlicensed, as well), so in many cases, we are able to work to our strengths; mine being a burning desire to be left the hell alone to do my job, this forces me to do my job very well and build trust and a team spirit on deck. I figure that this will hold me in good stead when I can jump the hurdle of the 3rd mate's exam next year.

Speaking of which, I am now getting an occiasional passing grade on my Deck General practice tests! This is one of a whole battery of exams that will take 3-5 days to complete when I have the exam. Nothing makes me less confident in my knowledge base than taking these practice exams.
The combined US Coast Guard 3rd/2nd mate of Unlimited Tonnage exam carefully assesses one's knowledge of test-taking skills. Note that I did NOT say that it tests one's knowledge of seafaring skills. It does, a little, to be sure, but by learning how to take the test, one can boost one's grade up despite being a trained shoemaker versus an experienced sailor. Unfortunately, this is another government-issued standardized test, which is to say, the GRE it ain't. I spent my first 26 years in education. Private schools, college, grad school, all reliant on standardized tests of one for or another. Bullshit and rote learning will pass the test, but I prefer to think that I can master the material.
That being said, I'm buying the Capt. Murphy books just as soon as I can free up a couple of hundred beans this trip.

Oh, and the Vetting? If you don't know what it is, you don't want to experience one. Everyone's excitable, and everyone's organizing their paperwork. A Vetting is an inspection of the ship's organization, , safety systems and compliance with guides, policies and conventions that dictate how things get done. Basically, someone is getting paid to see that we're doing our jobs properly. This is a good thing, as it keeps the little guys (i.e., me) safe and our managers in compliance with rules that are designed to keep us alive. In theory. Now, after several years of this BS, and with the number of annual vettings on a steeply-curved rise, this ship takes pains to keep things to standard, which is to say that we don't run around and get in compliance 3 days before the vetting. If the vetter's can't do a surprise inspection and find the ship safe and compliant, then the ship is in a bad way. The vetters don't do surprise inspections, as, thankfully, there's paperwork to compile, and we've still got cargo to handle- pulling key people off the job requires planning and logistical arrangments so the staff can meet with the vetter. This is a pain in the ass but very necessary, as the division of labor makes specialists of us all.

For the unlicensed crew, it's a bit of a scam. We don't get asked about the things that are job-specific and for which we are responsible. We get drilled on our knowledge of people in the company who we will never know or meet, and the jobs they do. "Who is the Company Security officer?" "Who is the Designated Person?" Folks, if I need to call someone in the company, things are bad. There's 5 deck officers I will have to go through first in the chain of command. If there isn't an officer to punt to, than oh shit...I'm gonna be talking to the Coast Guard, FBI and/or Jesus first if we get to that state.

These are the questions we get asked, not "What are the positive and negative limits in PSI for a properly working PV valve to open up for?" That's the kind of shit that the deck gang should know. Our lives and livelihood depend on that, and our superiors can't be everywhere at once. We're not going to die if we don't know who to call in the office to report an oil spill. We don't call the office. We call an officer. This is spelled out quite clearly on virtually everything ever written about the subject. On the other hand, if, say, a PV valve starts vibrating and gasping, we know that there's a vacuum building in the cargo tank, and that if the valve was stuck, we could have had issues. Bingo, damage averted. Unfortunately, sometimes the people on shore do what they do for reasons never explained to the lowly sailor, and thus, an environment of mild and mutual contempt is fostered as a result. Fighting that inclination to believe that the people who are able to kiss their kids goodnight every night actually enjoy occasionally shoving square pegs down our round holes is a challenge.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

when the chickens come home to roost

At home, this is called a "Baage." We eschew the letter "Ah." It's wicked queeah.

Baage+Tug (*coupling at bow)= ATB
Rumor is that we'll be lightering into the ATB (Articulated Tug/Barge) that I worked on this past summer. Should be interesting. Somehow or other I'm the onboard ATB expert. Personally, I think that 5 weeks isn't enough to master a whole class of vessels. My memories of the ATB are mostly limited to excellent food, sunburn, hot weather and catching fish... pretty much the average summer for yours truly 15 years ago as a college student, with the exception of the fat paycheck.
I am facetious, I suppose. I did learn a lot on the ATB, mostly limited to codifying the skill sets learned here on this tanker. My time as a fisherman prepared me to be an AB tankerman; a hard day on the tanker is easier than an easy day as a lobsterman. Thusly, being on a barge with no Inert Gas system and a bubble instead of a digital readout of pitch/trim made for a nice day relatively speaking. Being appreciated for a certain amount of raw ability helped, too.

Tomorrow, however, I have to explain why I buggered off the ATB. It wasn't 100% by choice. I just got tired of waiting to get called back to work! I can't sit still. I've got itchy feet.


Nice to be back up north again. Cool weather, sunny... it's all good.
The ride up north was uncomplicated; exactly what I needed. I worked 4 hours of overtime every day, stood navigation watches at night, and slept when I wasn't working. Kinda dull, in all reality, but the unofficial motto of the US merchant marine is "Boring is Good," so I'm down with that, just now.

First off, a big shout out to my newest readers at the Pentagon! I’m flattered to be read in a place where people are doing things more important that driving a floating gas station.

Having said that, our floating gas station has just completed a voyage from Houston to New York, which was (finally!) my first opportunity to get to sea in something other than Hurricane Ike conditions. The ride across the Gulf of Mexico could be characterized thusly: sun, humid, calm=diaper rash. Not good times, sort of. It was nice to stand navigation watches where I wasn’t getting launched off my feet.

We encountered small gales when crossing Cape Hatteras, and I was sucking fabric halfway up my large intestine every time we took a roll for the first few hours. I guess I needed to see some seas to get my groove back, ‘cus I feel appropriately salty again… for the first hour there, despite the fact that we were barely rolling, I was contemplating the positives of growing corn for a living in one of the square states. Good to know I’m not a total pussy, anyhow. I calmed down. I think that I can finally put the chapter of my career that included Hurricane Ike behind me.

On the ride north, I’ve been working a lot of overtime, which leaves almost no time for the finer things, such as blog writing. Meal times have been my only time to relax. I’m making some pocket money, but it’s getting old, this being on the go from 0730 to 0000, with just an hour to nap in there after dinner. I’ll be glad in a way, to see us hit NY harbor, ‘cus I’ll have time for more critical practices: video games, reading and such.

Anyway, this is a boring entry: my muse was murdered after looking over my checking account when I first got into cell phone range.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What's in a name?

OK, so, in all seriousness, couple of things before I sign off and we head to New York.

1- check out Velu's blog and see things from a Captain's perspective. Very cool, and the man has a gift for language that far exceeds my dry style.

2. You know I picked Paul The Pirate for my screen name, but after four years of sweat and fear, modern piracy finally made the news when the Somalian pirates went pro and ripped off a ro-ro full of tanks and munitions off of Africa. The industry has been complaining for some time about this issue, 'bout time someone else took notice. Kennebeccaptain himself talks about his own experiences as master of a ship that regularly passes through the Malacca Straits, ground zero for piracy in the modern world.

3. One of the guys on board actually pooped his pants when he sneezed while carrying a 70-lb chunk of steel up a ladder today. This ranks up with 'man getting hit in crotch by football' for tasteless humor.

Hey, I'm not here to be tasteful and refined. I do enough of that stuff when I'm home with my family.

Talk to you next week. You stay classy.

get thee gone!

Finally! After 18 days at anchor in the Mississippi, we set sail on Thursday for Houston, where we are loading up for a voyage to the northeast. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be 1) getting underway again, and 2) heading out of the hot Gulf of Mexico. Good times.

So, as some of you know from before I pulled the plug on my last 3 years of blog entries, this will also be our first real outing after Hurricane Ike beat our balls in last month. We made our hay while we were at anchor, for certain. The ship looks better than she has in a few years, It’s hard keeping up the exterior without resorting to blasting in a shipyard, but we’re busting rust like madmen, and I anticipate a couple more days of the same.

Yesterday marked the 30-day point for me. I’ve been here for a month. In New York, our next port, I will be switching watches to pair up with Thaddeus Maximus, 3rd mate and practitioner of the dark art of Celestial Navigation.

Celestial Navigation, or navigating by the sun and stars, is a big glaring hole in my resume. I am as yet ignorant of it, to be blunt. I can take an azimuth, or work out the amplitude formula to find gyrocompass error, which is the most common form of celestial mathematics that we do on ship, but the old school skill of taking star fixes is as yet beyond me. Hopefully this will change. I have been beefing up my astronomy knowledge in preparation. Luckily, I am a geek, and therefore, I’ve already got a journeyman’s working knowledge of the constellations in our hemisphere, which should help a little.

To make the step from Able Seaman to 3rd mate, there is a shit ton (1 shit ton=6 months of lost vacation, thousands of dollars and weeks of study time) of classes to be taken, plus exam prep and assorted paperwork. The details are excruciating. I am about 60% done already with classes, although I have yet to take the Celestial Nav, Search and Rescue/Emergency Procedures, Watchkeeping, Cargo Handling&Stowage and Weather sections. This will be happening starting next February. In the meanwhile, I have 70 competency exercises to do this voyage. These range from mundane (adjust a sextant) to extensive (plan a voyage of at least 1200 miles). This is, of course, in between working 8, 12 or 16 hours a day. Not so easy. Working with the Captain or chief mate, I have to perform these evaluations under scrutiny, and, along with the classes and the evaluations, there is still an incredibly stressful and intensive exam series to get out of the way. Long row to hoe.

Anyhow, I’m excited about getting to sea. This marked the first time EVER I was glad to go to Texas. Usually that’s a bad thing! Now, however, it’s almost time to button up the ship and head to sea, and hopefully be reminded of why I do this job in the first place.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Stir not-so-crazy

And thus we have this morning, the first one in a while where I have almost no desire to get out of bed. Today is day... let me think, 17, I guess, at anchor? 17 days in the Mighty Mississippi.
My personal record for consecutive days at anchor is 19. That was on The Monseigneur, another tanker, a couple of years ago. There were fights breaking out on that ship.
For us, well, we've got our secret weapon. You see, I spend more time with some of these guys than I do with anyone else here on God's gray earth, and I count them among my friends. So we abide, together. When one of us has a wicked case of the Fuck-It's, the others cover it. We put the disaffected guy on the best job we can find, and the next day it'll be fine, and one of us can have a non-shit job to do for the day. That's how we roll. The fact that we have cell phone service and fresh groceries from the other day helps. Fresh veggies help us maintain sanity.
...I'm just saying, it's 50-50 that today might be my day.
It's the sun, you see. My pale ass is wilting fast. The last few days have been unbelievably hot and sunny. This is no shit, but it was 110 degrees where I was working the last 2 days. That's awful, and not just for me. Orlando The Commando was hanging in the air on a Bosun's chair, (a plank of wood suspended in a rope sling, used to let someone work aloft) and I was tending him. Try as I might, I couldn't stop it from raining on Orlando. My sweat poured down on him. 2 drips a second. Poor guy. I mean, that's just nasty.