Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Funny thing- whether I leave at 4pm or 8pm, I'll still get to Philadelphia around 2am. Got to love the highway system in the Northeast Corridor.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
According to my (nonvisible) traffic meter, my Brazilian extended family has been poking around. Since they can't read what I'm writing (BTB, I wonder what Babelfish makes out of "Wicked Pissa?"), bear with me while I throw up some promised pictures for the Vittoria Da Conquista crowd.
Highlight of the night: when my oldest brother's mother-in-law, (far left) with her remarkably strong Glasgow accent, tries drinking a Caiperinha, a very, very powerful Brazilian cane liquor (Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What in God's name is that!").
Anyhow, some pics for the fam in Brazil...
Aqui esta Meu Amor e eu...
BELOW) No one is supposed to look this good trying on a dress at 6am! ps, I received major points for successfully buying a Little Red Dress unassisted!.
Ninguém é supor para olhar esta boa tentativa em um vestido em 6am! A libra por polegada quadrada recebeu pontos principais para com sucesso comprar um pouco vestido vermelho
below) Three Generations of Pirates-in-Law together!
Not to say that I didn't lavish the fam with stuff. I most certainly did. Only a touch too much, though, IMHO. The religious and familial aspects of the holiday still were the focus. And I enjoyed very much the radically different holiday customs of the Brazilian side of my family. My boy certainly got the best of both worlds. There was stuff in his stocking, AND Papa Noel also left small toys in my boy's shoes, which were left under the window, of course.
The last few days leading up to Christmas were stressful only in that they were very busy. The presents were all bought reasonably ahead of time. Hosting family for a Christmas Eve party here at the Ant Farm was another matter. The 23rd was our busiest day, and, at the stroke of midnight on the 24th, I got jolted out of bed by one of the dreaded midnight calls...
My father has a habit of falling victim to a medical crisis ONLY between midnight at 6am. It's like magic, and it's pretty much an annual thing. His heart is very, very weak, being held together with duct tape, spit, and baling wire. Anyhow, unfortunately, at the very start of Christmas eve, he had to be rushed into the hospital. This has happened at least a dozen times in the last 10 years, but it's always scary. He's recovering, although the first night was pretty miserable for him. Christmas day was spent arranging who was visiting when to his hospital room, so there was always family there. Considering how badly he felt on the 24th, despite his location, it was a pretty merry Christmas- by the evening, he was feeling much improved. So, despite my father's absence from home during the day itself, it was a good Christmas... but damn, today we're all beat.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
So, today is normally my day to hang with my former roomates from The Pickle Jar, the bachelor pad that I used to call home. Today is normally a day to eat expensive sushi and be the high rollers at the very upscale sushi bar that we patronize. BUT, I bailed, 'cus today the Mrs. and I had a date.
Note the past tense.
So, this morning opens up with turmoil at my Brazilian relatives' house. My brother-in-law headed to the Emergency Room with blood pressure that could have shot a golf ball through a garden hose. Now, my brother-in-law lives on salt, so this was inevitable. Still, it happened this morning. Some medication and a day of observation are in order to get his BP down. Still, this has my family in an uproar, and yours truly is left scratching his head. You see, growing up with a sick father has left me with a calm manner in the face of medical crisis. This has stood me in good stead in the few medical emergencies that didn't involve my father. Today, however, my unexcitability may have been mistaken for apathy, and that's not a good thing.
So, this afternoon the wife and I were supposed to go to the theatre in Boston. Not 10 minutes after hearing from my sister-in-law, my ticket guy calls and tells me that he missed his connection with his ticket guy, and, short story, no tickets. So, I get to tell my wife, and that sucked, too.
Now, between a hospital visit and generally shit luck with arranging for something for Mrs. Pirate and I to do, it's about 1pm, and the day is shot. So it goes. Anyhow, I should probably go and make sure that no one brought a 5-lb back of salt to my brother-in-law's hospital room to spice up his mashed potatoes and mystery meat.
Some days, it just ain't worth chewing through the leather restraints to get out of bed.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Anyone so minded, wish me luck today- this afternoon I go, hat in hand, to submit my CCW permit application with my local police chief.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Poor Scott isn't from the Northeast. He's from Corpus Christi, TX, and has been working in places like Iraq and on the Mexican border these past few years.
Well, last night we sailed from Philadelphia to Baltimore, via the Chesapeake & Delaware canal. Gale force winds, but minimal fetch (distance of open water for waves to build). Lots of flying spray, and damn, it was cold. Once we were through the relatively narrow C&D canal, we got hung out on the tow wire, and spent a relatively peaceful 7 hours being towed.
I woke up an hour early to break ice, and Scott joined me. The foredeck of my barge was a sheet of ice, and all the lines and shackles needed to haul in the towing gear were buried under a 2-inch thick ice pack, frozen solid. So it goes. We spent the hour working up a sweat, eventually breaking free most of what we needed to work. I only fell once.
There is little in the world more frustrating that having to work with frozen rope. It just doesn't want to bend, knot or unknot. Putting rope on a capstan to heave up is even less fulfilling. It's icy. Ice is slippery. You get the idea, and chances are, if you're reading this, you've dealt with this.
Anyhow, courtesy of a 130-degree heated cargo, there wasn't much ice on deck, but we do have the foredeck which is now loaded with rime ice, and, in the 36-degree heat of the day, things are moving the way I like, from icy to ice-free. In the meanwhile, Scott got to shovel ice for the first time (!) and I got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
My first day in the new job, we were given a series of cargo orders that presented an issue for me- in order to maintain stability, keep this barge at a reasonable trim, and also load all the oil necessary to fulfill the orders, I had to stop-gauge some of my cargo tanks- in other words, it was necessary to put oil belonging to more than one customer in some of my tanks; this doesn't present too much difficulty, but it does create a make-or-break issue: when I'm pumping off cargo to a ship, the first of several, I have to make sure that they get enough oil to fulfill their orders, without taking any from the next customer- this isn't difficult to do, but there's only one chance to get it right, and I'm not the chance-taking type with oil. So that made me nervous. But I did it.
The last ship to get oil for that particular load was an old fruit boat, a 'reefer ship' with a friendly Russian crew. The engineer was a control freak, however, and this was patently obvious by the way he shooed away his helpers and ran back and forth between his bunker tanks while I was slowly pumping oil to him... he missed a mark when topping off one of his tanks, somewhere, and created a mess. A 4 hour job turned into a 12-hour job. So, my first day as captain turned into a 24-hour day.
There is a whole series of regulations that dictate how and how much rest an oil-transport worker must be given time to maintain alertness. At some point responsibility falls on the man on the scene to throw up hands and say 'enough.' This, while being perfectly legal, may not endear said man on the scene with the pointy heads who look at schedules and do things like sign payroll receipts, in all truth. Luckily, I work for a proactive, careful group of people, whose response to my submission of paperwork at the end of the marathon job was to tell me to hit my bunk while they sent out a substitute to load the next cargo. This I did, for 10 hours, and it was awesome.
When I woke up, we had loaded a small cargo for our next job (per my orders), and were about 30 minutes from our next discharge point, a small handysize bulk carrier. This ship carried a friendly chinese crew, and after we tied up, I ended up chatting at the rail with a couple of the guys while we exchanged papers.
This job took forever- the crew was fantastic, and there were plenty of them- their ship had a major design shortcoming, however- their fueling point was located on the centerline of the ship, down a small hatch to the engine room, and about 60 feet from the rail of the ship. I have an extremely heavy 100-foot fueling hose available, which weighs in at well over 1 ton when empty. Using a massive team effort, we got the hose to his fueling point in a series of bights, but it took almost 2 hours and almost the entire crew to make it happen. I couldn't see anything, so I sat at my hydraulic controls and got rained on for a very long time. Then the ship started dragging anchor after we started transferring oil.
With an awkward and very securely fastened oil hose between us, there was no question that we weren't going to cast off and get away from this ship whilst they got to a safe place. We stayed securely tethered to the ship and waited while they got underway and reanchored, and then started fueling again. The ship immediately started dragging anchor again, but by the time the ship got far out of place, we were done with the small transfer of fuel, and began the hour-long process of getting my hose back on board. Again the crew was fantastic at helping out. Still, I felt like I was cursed.
The next load was a pain. Two separate cargoes, one of which was a triple blend of fuels, and the other a double blend, and my ass was the mixmaster.
Just as it is with calling a stop-gauge, there's no possibility of recovering from an error when blending oils by hand in a barge. Once the oils are comingled, they're forever blended (barring being re-refined, which more than doubles the cost of the oil). And I have to blend three types of oil into my cargo.
Here's how it works: The refiner gives me a list of what they're giving me. Three volumes of three types of oil. I have to beg and plead with them for the density and temperature for each, as well as the order in which they'll be loaded. This refiner, for some reason, does not like to give that info out at the start of the job, however, it is critical information for me.
Using a series of formulas, I can find out how much of the first cargo to load into my tanks. I then figure out what the final temperature, volume, and density of the cargo will be when I comingle the second cargo. I then do the same thing for the third cargo. Each time, I come up with 'stops' for my tanks, places that should give me the volumes I need to make the final product come out to the right volume and density. One mistake on my part, and the oil will 'fail' analysis, and I will have cost somebody a hundred thousand dollars or so on this modestly-sized cargo. The worst part of this is that I have to look at the man on the loading terminal and make an estimate of how much time it will take him to shut down cargo from when I start yelling. This terminal I am at is not famous for hiring sharp cookies. I go with 10 seconds for the pump shutdown, and 30 seconds for fuel to gravitate at reduced volume, which equates to 3/8 inches in my final cargo tank, by my best guess. I then write down my 'stops' and have the dockman start the pumps. I have four cargo tanks to fill for this job, and three cargoes. 12 chances to screw up.
My trainee mate and I do a decent job- it works. Oh, and it's raining again.
The next discharge goes smoothly- the first of 5 discharges to do so. About time.
I am still barge captain.
At this point, I turn theory into reality.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
63 years later
Saturday, December 5, 2009
This occurs for several reasons: one, we're unique in this region, in that we're equipped to do several sorts of jobs, and two, I'm new in the job, and when a more senior captain bitches to dispatch that their brand-new unit's TV is on the fritz, they go in for service. My aged unit doesn't inspire so much frenzy.
Got to go; time to get to the next job.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
My first full day in the new job started at 0015. I have a new mate working for me, so we're going through the 'getting to know you' awkwardness caused by two strange men living in a heavily confined space together. Good times.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Manu discusses recent issues highlighted in the fight against piracy.
You should read it. Very very well thought out, which is why I link to one of his blogs. I have worked with more foreign-flagged ships in the past 3 months than in the entirety of my career prior, and since 99.9% of all ships in the world are registered and crewed outside the US, comments and opinions from operators on these vessels is essential to understanding the way things really are.
The US has arcane and awkward cabotage laws which keep guys like me working at a salary that is exorbitant by global standards... trade protectionism at its' finest, though it's worth noting that the IT guy in your office probably makes more money than any ship captain. Food for thought.
One comment that Manu made in the above article grabbed my attention:
As for the third element I promised to add, here it is: In my opinion, we must, along with placing security teams on board and a blockade of pirate haven ports, find watertight means of bringing captured pirates to justice. This is all up in the air now. Some are dumped to be prosecuted in Kenya; high profile (read Western) target hijacks result in any captured pirates being taken to those countries for trial. Some have been dumped on Yemen in the past. The coalition does not seem to be able to get its arms around jurisdictional and other such legal issues. These are thorny, we are told.
Just occasionally, I have the ability to actually use the education that I paid so dearly for; I see workable solutions to the problem highlighted above. Jurisdiction is still the principal hangup preventing prosecution of (and in its' paralysis, actively encouraging) piracy.
UNCLOS, the U.N. Convention on the Law Of the Sea, is a massive, toothless document that covers virtually every aspect of maritime commerce and management not covered specifically in other international treaties. It is a deeply flawed document that breezily deals with contentious issues and is bogged down with minutia, but it is a framework. And it is a framework in need of updating, strengthening, and focusing. Much of UNCLOS, which is often called the Law Of The Sea Treaty, focuses on emerging issues from 30 years ago which never really became emergent; such as the framework for regulation on area leases for the collection of manganese nodules from the Abyssal plain. Stuff that is out there, but still doesn't make the news, basically.
The US doesn't love UNCLOS, for good reason. If infringes upon self-management of areas that are proprietorially ours by common agreement- The EEZ, (Exclusive Economic Zone) the 200-mile resource fence, for example. The US lost hugely the first and only time we went to a third party for resolution of an economic dispute involving ocean territory. The Hague Line divides the EEZ of the US and Canada's Atlantic border. Settled in Den Hague, Netherlands, a dispute over the richest fishing grounds (and significant virgin oil deposits, ahem) in the world ended up with Canada receiving 75% of the grounds in dispute, with about 80% of the fishable territory.
So the US has a sore ass after the Hague Line settlement, and a reasonable fear of the loss of self-management of resources. Now, since the American Revolution was fought over the issue of self-management of resources, it would be logical to have little love for long-distance comanagement of non-common resources.
Now, since President Obama is still the subject of a global love-in over his apparent remarkable ability to talk about action without ever taking action, and since he has mentioned a desire to revisit UNCLOS and increase American participation, there is an unprecedented opportunity to add inclusive language in a 2010 addendum to the treaty which gives management of piracy to The Hague, for example, in cases where jurisdiction is unclear. The broad strokes which cover so much material and so little of import could actually serve some widespread use.
All that is necessary now is a little willpower, and a little penmanship. American distrust of handing off of some rights to the people we seceded from in times past must be overcome, and to do so would require extensive delineation of when and where such changes could be applied. Fear of inertia in this matter is a weighty issue. The incremental addition, (even on a purely theoretical level) of an international component of jurisprudence in the American legal paradigm will make talking heads spin and spew green bile. I have no idea if the will exists to even address such issues, let along overcome them, but strict limitations could be introduced in the name of protecting mariners. If such thoughts could be packaged in a 2-minute sound bite, public support might actually exist.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
1)The engineer orders 800 tons of heavy fuel oil.
2)I show up with his 800 tons. I pump, say, 775 tons to him.
3). I give him half of the value of the other 25 tons in cash.
4). I blend the leftover 25 tons into my next order, thus saving myself or my employer the cost of 12.5 tons of oil.
Except that I don't cheat, I don't lie, and I don't work for anyone who does do those things, it's a clever plan. In the rest of the world, it might even work. It might even be 'the way things are done,' which is usually a way of saying that I am supposed to believe that an illegal or unsafe practice is standard business practice in the foreign trade. Except that this isn't the foreign trade. Anyhow, shame on me for not recognizing one of the most common scams in the merchant marine.
I've experienced the way maritime commerce in theUS works, and I've heard rumors of how it works elsewhere, but I had yet to really experience the scumbag factor until today.
We're discharging a modest parcel of Intermediate Fuel oil, as well as a separate cargo of diesel oil. There were some headaches involved, like getting crewmen to hook up the fuel hoses, and getting the engineer out of bed to sign the paperwork. I was a little annoyed that I lost two hours before we even hooked up a hose. So it goes.
The first chink in the armor comes when one of the crew asks me if I bought the oil myself. No, says I, I'm a sailor like you, I don't own anything but the shoes I'm walking in. Strange question. I thought no more about it.
The ship was an old russian-built bulker, at the end of her service life, or maybe a little beyond that. She was well maintained at one point, but no longer.
It takes me only an hour to get rid of the little bit of black oil. The stuff screamed out of the tanks. I have to honk the ship's horn on our tug to get the guys to switch hoses. I lose another hour there, to a 15-minute job.
The diesel comes off easily, too. Then we're supposed to pass paperwork, and I'm supposed to leave. Except there's no one on deck.
After an hour of waiting, screaming, and throwing bolts at the house on the ship, I pass the buck, and have the ship's agent call the captain. 2 minutes later, the engineer comes out. He refuses to give me the paperwork. "Forget the paperwork," he says. "I give you new paperwork." He is pinching his thumb and forefinger together. No shit, the guy probably wanted to give me a thousand bucks or so for about $50,000 worth of oil. I ignore him. The guy then loses his ability to speak English, mysteriously. I reasonably ask him to be 'a goddam professional here,' and he responds by walking away. I am alone again.
So, I pass the buck again, wait an hour, and phone calls get made, and I hear some shouting, and then the Engineer shows up, sends me the paperwork, and scoots off. I am left to get my last hose back aboard, and the engineer gets the last laugh; he left the diesel hose cracked open, and about a pint of diesel oil sprays across 50 feet of my deck in fine droplets. I get to spend 30 minutes on my hands and knees cleaning up my deck.
I know that most foreign mariners view Americans as gullible and simple, but damn. Really, as my wife pointed out, it's difficult to believe that we tend to be honest, because most of the world is a different way. Still, I can't help but wonder what they're putting in the borscht on that ship. Maybe I was too friendly and accommodating to that ship. Gave too much benefit and not enough doubt. Whatever it was, I don't think that engineer was expecting me to blow up at him.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Whether by hack or by intentional sandbagging, last night a massive data breach allowed a LOT of sensitive data from the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research, one of the busier producers of climate research in the world, and one of the largest centers of its' type in the UK. What's available shows some bad news- data manipulation and cherrypicking (selective inclusion of data to skew results) of some VERY well-received studies on the subject of global warming. There was also discussion of destruction of data and other material that had been requested in a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request. So we can add fraud in there, too.
Yeah. The alarming studies. The ones that predict we're all going to die? Turns out, there is a lot of paper generated in the process. Now, if this was limited to an isolated paper, that'd be one thing... there's damning evidence of data tampering (publishing bullshit science) on environmental issues. Changing data to create results you want, in other words.
The funky thing here is that this info comes through internet security sites, not science. Either this means that this was a hoax (which appears unlikely at this point), or the Green Machine is attempting damage control. In the meanwhile, the technical nature of the datasets available will require time for digestion and analysis.
And, as many things so, this supports my own position that we're nowhere near being able to predictably model environmental phenomena more complex than the 5 day weather forecast.
Note that I used the term 'position' as opposed to 'hypothesis.' You see, hypotheses require data to be tested, and no data exists wherein climate datacan be reliably predicted. So I have more than a hypothesis. I have a position. One that can be tested. I challenge anyone to bring me an environmental model that works and can be tested with 0.5 reliability using a simple one-tailed t-test, the most simple and forgiving statistical test there is.
Until that shining day, here I am, saying that maybe in 20 years, we'll be able to make an educated guess as to what's going on in the world. In the meanwhile, continue to mistrust authority, especially when the the scientific majority relies on ad hominem attacks rather than debate to discuss an issue.
To me, this has little to do with science, and everything to do with the horrific results of politicization of virtually anything. Science, medicine, ethics, whatever. The same people who gave us eugenics, social Darwinism and the other bastard children of science are at work again. Last time, it was 'only' minorities and the handicapped who suffered when smart people used fake science to fool the not-so-smart. Who's going to be on the shit end of the stick here?
Sunday, November 22, 2009
My wife belongs to an evangelical religious sect who believes that I ('the filthy papist,' as I am charmingly referred to by pastor and friends in church) am a soldier of the Antichrist.
So far as I am aware, I am not. I am, however, pretty well versed in the dogma of my faith. And I am not one to shy away from confrontation... except with my wife. We don't hotly debate our religious differences. Her friends, though, are open game, once they open up with their insane born-in-a-barn-in-the-midwest theology. I try to play nice, but I defend myself. Sort of a cat and also-cat game.
Now, since my wife's church has some pretty strange ideas about what's what, I have to do some soft-shoe in the matter of respecting her beliefs. She keeps the kosher laws, and is supposed to not wear jewelry, bother with her hair, and dress demurely, which, I understand, means like a frumpy hippy.
I've really made an effort to be supportive, to not undermine her efforts.
BUT... things went a little too far recently. She and I are both a little tired of being picked on just because I, insanely enough, am not in love with the words of Martin Luther or King James. Not that I have much of a beef with the portion of their followers who don't wish me dead or dream of me coming down with leprosy. I'm just tired of the folks who act like their church is a cult, and I am the hold-out who won't drink the kool-aid and convert. So, when my wife has to suffer for being married to, well, me, I revert to a deeper game. No more play.
Anyhow, I fired back. I stopped being neutral. And there I crossed the line between good person/bad person: I bought my wife something inappropriate. Something shiny. Sparkly. That wasn't made of sackcloth OR ashes.
If you read the title of this post, you know where this is going. I bought my wife a diamond pendent necklace, and just in case there was a change in plans about me coming home for Christmas, I gave it to her early. And she liked it.
So, while I hope that I haven't contributed to a religious crisis in my wife's life, I do hope that this will get her friends' knickers in a twist. Not that my wife wears it to church or anything, but it's sure to cause troubling thoughts in my wife, and just maybe drive a nail into the cult's coffin.
I realize that I'm playing with fire.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Before I left for work earlier this week, I took a rare opportunity to take a walk with an old friend. An old girlfriend, to be precise. My first girlfriend, to be exact. We still talk. I don't give a flying rat's patoot about my past, but for whatever reason, we stay in touch. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife approves. Apparently it satisfies her that I can be sentimental under the right circumstances.
Anyways, we went for a walk on the beach, and as we were walking down from street level to beach level, small talk ensued.
She's a sharp cookie, my friend. A medical professional. Before we stepped foot on the sand, she casually says "So you're still limping, huh?"
I prefer to think of it as the rolling gait of the professional sailor, but yeah, I have a little gimp. She noticed. I had it when we were dating, back when we were both underclassmen in high school. On bad days I had my little rolling walk.
As always, rather than make her uncomfortable, I shrug it off. "Yup. It's permanent now." And the conversation moves on.
Truth is, I don't normally feel any pain in my hip anymore. Last night, when I was out on deck in the cold and pouring rain all night, I felt it, yes. I felt uncomfortable enough to notice it. I'm pretty sure that it didn't effect my gait, however. I just walk like there's a swell hitting us on the beam. Of course, last night, there was. We were swaying like a cradle. But the other day, I'm pretty sure that the beach wasn't moving. And I'm pretty sure that if I worked at it, I wouldn't have walked like I had a rock in my shoe. But why work at it? I'm as vain as anyone else, but I'm probably lazier than some. I can't be bothered to walk differently, and if I did, I'd probably feel like I had a stick up my ass. Besides, at this point, as far as I can tell, if it would be comfortable for me to walk like everyone else, I would. It's just that most folks look to me like they're trying to clench a $100 between their butt cheeks without losing it down a pant cuff when they walk.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
You know, at first blush, this seems hilarious, but how much of a difference is there between setting some German shepherds loose and putting Flipper out there? At the end of the day, they're all service animals.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
But mostly, it's pretty rotten. Maybe, in this type of instance, I'm a 'glass half empty' sort of guy. Saying goodbye to my parents, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, and then, ultimately, to my own family, is, strangely not the worst part. The most difficult thing is the lag between when thoughts are colored by the unhappy realization of the high cost of doing what I do, and the time when thoughts are influenced in a happier fashion by images of new horizons, of seeing friends from work, and of practicing the only thing in this world that I am actually professionally competent at doing... and of the sea, of course. Being there.
In the meanwhile, life goes on. My wife is at work, my boy at school, and I am running errands like crazy, last minute stuff to keep things simple, I pray, in the month ahead. Eventually we'll come together for dinner, homework, and bedtime, and my wife and I will talk all night, and not talk, as we always do. Eventually we doze off, and shortly after, maybe an hour, my alarm will go off, and I'll jump in the shower, dress and reheat leftovers. After that, it's a matter of one last kiss, a couple of sad sighs, and I'll be in my truck to race south, praying that the roads are clear so that I can get through New York traffic before the commute starts. A few hours later, and the drive is done, and either a van or a boat ride follows to bring me back to work.
Somewhere between planting my ass behind the wheel of my truck and hitting the Rhode Island border, I'll perk up. I won't be all that thrilled, but I won't be looking at the world through shit-colored glasses as I did the night before. Thoughts of the days ahead won't have a bitter tinge, and neither will the memories of the night before. The sting comes out with time. When I am past New York, I begin to whistle, even. The hard part is behind me. The next part is hard in its' own right, but doesn't taste like ashes in the mouth, and the feeling of dread passes. I liken it to being hit on the head repeatedly with a hammer; it just feels so GOOD when it stops.
But, in the meanwhile, I am getting ahead of myself. I need to get through one more long watch first.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Anyhow, the alcohol is taking the sting off of my need to pack a bag for my journey starting about 30 minutes into Wednesday, whereupon I travel back to the urban desert of Philadelphia, an entire city which, to be fair, looks like God took a shit on a parking garage.
But I digress, or perhaps regress. I'm heading back to work, and I'm bummed. I'm excited to earn a paycheck, of course, but beyond that, I'm again leaving all I hold dear.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Now, I'll say this: I have limited handgun experience. I'm a damn good shot with a rifle, and almost as proficient with a shotgun, but handguns have always been difficult for me. Today, however, I actually received some training and a critique with the handguns that made a big difference- I outshot everyone but the instructor, and that was certainly a surprise. The .38 felt like it was part of my hand. Excellent.
Next step is to get in touch with my local police department and yet again subject myself to another background check. Seems like everything in my life requires those things.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
My only reason for mentioning this here is that I really really hope that Mr. Colton soon reports a change in progress. My former employer did what no other company has been able to do, and got ahead in an industry which has, thanks to the greed of the US congress, been largely offshored in the past 20 years. I hope very much that a Hail Mary is in the future for my friends who're sticking it out in the offshore oil industry.
In the meanwhile, I am tearing through my vacation like a cheesecake slice through the innards of a lactose intolerant individual. Lots of fun being had, and I've got another week to go.
BTB, is anyone else shocked and horrified at the cost of Legos? I just bought 2 sets for my boy the other day. $130. No shit. I used to have 2 6-gallon buckets full of lego blocks, and I am 100% certain that both of those, and the buckets themselves, didn't cost HALF of what I paid the other day.
In what I swear is an unrelated addendum, if you are reading this, and we are related by blood, I want to focus more on the Joy of the holiday season this year, so expect crap presents.
I still have to fill his damn stocking.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Whether it's a shop n' save in the ruins of Philadelphia, or here on Boston's South Shore, where everyone talks wicked good, there's an old lady who is apparently assigned to shadow me and make my grocery-shopping experience a little more difficult. Whether it's staring benignly and waiting politely while I'm in the particular part of the frozen cooler (with her cart just close enough that I have to physically pick mine up at the back so that I can open the cooler door without hitting my cart, 'cus God forbid she gives me enough room to roll 6 inches forward), or silently staring holes in my head while I am seeking my particular bagel package of choice, somehow, she's there. And then, when I'm at the checkout, one of, say 10 that is open, the woman is there, right behind me, staring. Again. Always just 1/2 inch outside my personal bubble, with her cart too close to me ass, or my leg, or whatever, she's there, waiting, pushing. She never speaks, even if I do, but she's there, poker face on.
As always, I escape to my truck, and, hands shaking from something indefinable (rage, fear, ennui?) I vow to bring a bag of ball bearings and drop 'em behind me next time, so that I can buy some time and shop in peace. Sensible shoes or not, it ought to work.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Plane passenger accidentally activates ejection seat - and survivesSOUTH AFRICA- A civilian passenger in an air force display plane accidentally activated the ejector seat while reaching for something to steady himself during a mid-air manoeuvre.
You can read the rest here.
That's fantastic. The US needs to take the lead and put ejection seats like this in our transport helicopters. Preferably the ones that are used to carry journalists.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
For 6+ years Notorious B.O.B. and I fished together. In that time, we had harsh words a grand total of two times, when we discovered that I turn into a raging dick when the weather goes above 100 degrees. After that, it was mostly laughs and bruises, but not much money, which is the calling card of the southern New England lobsterman.
The Rita C was sold just a few weeks back, signaling the end of an era for the both of us. The B.O.B. is the captain of a research vessel now, which is apparently unexciting but reliable work, pretty much dead opposite of days past.
When I started working 0n the Rita C, I had left my last full-time legitimate job as the designer and manager of a hideously-located and ultra-intensive fish farming enterprise. This was a half-hearted attempt to be a legit marine biologist again, and, it ultimately failed. I had already killed my golden goose, leaving a job at a prestigious research lab to go fishing the year before. As always, when the horseshoe crabs started beaching themselves in May (a sign that coincides with the inward migration of lobsters to more shallow environs), I started wandering around the local fishing pier 'just to look around,' and, as always, I found a boat that was looking for someone, and promptly quit my job. That guy was The Notorious B.O.B.'s father, and that was how The B.O.B. and I came to fish together.
You can't go through what we went through and not be friends for life. The September 11 attacks come to mind immediately, but other stuff, mostly mishaps that turned out well, also play a part. The fact that we both had the emotional maturity of a 10-year old comes into play, and all the laughter made a hard and dead difficult job something that we could live with.
The Rita C is gone now, and all my great pictures from her are still sitting in a dead laptop in a closet. I need to cannibalize that thing and get them out.
The hardest part for me is that I have started wandering around the same local pier when I'm home.
I'm just looking around.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The view from our portholes today was somewhat different. We watched the end of an era.
The USS Saipan, pictured in the foreground, is heading for her last berth, a shipbreakers' yard in Brownsville TX.
Here was my view of the action today:
First the ship gets pulled out of the berth. At 800-some feet, this is a heavy job.
The anchor has already been disconnected from the chain, and a short bight of chain is left to dangle just under the surface of the water.
An oceangoing tug (Michael McAllister, a 4100 h.p. somewhat vintage tug) attaches her towing wire to the anchor chain, and starts to heave against the flood tide.
A utility boat has already pulled the fenders off the dock, heading to the next job.
Finally, the tug begins to move the ship downriver, there to make the slow voyage to the ditch which will be the Saipan's last berth.
Eventually she will start to look like this, the ex- Cape Clear, or half of her, anyhow. The end is never dignified.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Last night was one of those nights where nothing quite went as I wanted. We had our first job in a week (!), and I woke up at about 11pm as we were topping off the load.
Most of the night was fine. I helped out Jamie (the other guy on board) in topping off, and due to the schedule we had, I relieved him early, so as to better share the workload.
We sailed about 3 hours down the Delaware river to bunker up a reefer ship, a fruit boat, specifically... and that's where the trouble started.
Rather than go through a laundry list of my troubles, which were minor if time consuming, I'll give hightlights, and I'll just say this: everything I did required a fix. The swing tackle on our hose boom (the block-and-tackle arrangement that lets us swing the boom from side to side) jammed badly, requiring some serious jimmying. The fueling hose slipped off the deck, requiring some rigging and a spanish windlass to get it back in place. I parted a line, which required whipping and splicing. I backlashed the cargo runner on one of our booms. Then it rained like a damn monsoon, except that it was 40 degrees out.
So, as you can see, it wasn't a disaster, but it was a pain in the ass. I managed eventually to get the hose sent over to the ship, where a half dozen sodden deckhands were waiting patiently, and they set to work removing the blank (steel plate) from the end of the hose, which then gushed oil on their deck. Apparently, the valve for that hose wasn't properly seated, and there was about a barrel of cold bunker oil in the guy's containment area. Very messy, but safely contained, and I can probably expect NOT to be on someone's Christmas card list after fouling their containment area. Anyhow, after that, they managed to get the hose hooked up, and we passed out paperwork and eventually I got our pump started. Thankfully, not long after, it was time for me to relieved on deck, and I was able to get a shower and a nap.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I was inspired to post a link to her blog because today's entry is all about her worrying for the elderly stranger she meets in the oncology clinic. You can read about it here, if you're in the mood for something uplifting and want to get a little perspective.
I read this entry a few hours ago, and since then, I have been feeling foolish. My personal worries are mostly about other people, but I also have spent some time dwelling on my own navel. Time for that to change. I need to spend more time living, and less time worrying.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
All those valves make perfect sense to me. Block valves, double block valves, isolation valves, suction valves, discharge valves, stripping valves...
A Pure Car/Truck Carrier (PCTC) is about as ugly as a ship can get. They're built for function, not form. Thousands of cars and trucks get stuffed into these things for delivery.
Under the 'E' of 'Line" is the hose manifold, where fuel and lube oils are loaded. The slightly larger opening is an accommodation ladder for taking on pilots and crew and such.
Here we are sending a small diesel transfer hose to a bulk carrier. Large ships use heavy black oil for their engines, for the most part, but diesel is used to start the engine and while the ship is maneuvering in and out of port. For that reason, while we deliver anywhere from 300 to 2,000 tons of oil to fuel up a ship, we often deliver only 30-200 tons of diesel, which is much more expensive.
Here a heavy fuel oil hose is being sent over to a reefer ship. The hose itself weighs in at about 3/4 of a ton. Maneuvering and positioning the hose is done with the aid of a boom, but there's still a lot of brute strength involved. You can see all our various hoses laid out on deck. We're ready for any occasion.
This is a brand-spanking new small bulk carrier. She was carrying cocoa beans from Brazil to Philadelphia. Cocoa beans smell like hot garbage. The bugs enjoyed this immensely. The crew did not.
In other news, my dad came home from the hospital late last night. This is the first time of his many, many hospital visits where I feel that he was sent home too early. Considering that he had a tube stuck through his chest that ran into the pleura of his lungs, and said tube was removed only 8 hours before he was sent home, I have a suspicion that this may have been an insurance-influenced decision. My folks have top-notch insurance, so this is a disturbing thought. Anyhow, he's happy as can be to be back home, so that makes me happy for him.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
No one expected my father to live to see 1990 and here, 20 years past his anticipated expiration date, he's still going. All the same, it really really sucks to be 400 miles away for work... but if I came home every time he went into a hospital, I'd never keep a job. Still, this puts a big damn spotlight on the negative aspects of this job. Time lost can never be regained.
...none of which can be found here.
This is the Action Station here at HAWSEPIPER's floating Atlantic Basin World Headquarters. As you can see, we rotated out Buddy The Angry Tankerman for Jamie M, who plays somewhat less World of Warcraft whilst manning the Action Station/dining room/conference center. Jamie is in the US Military, so I can't surprise him by taking his photo. The flash from the camera induces a rage-fueled blackout state when he's not prepared. It's fun to watch, from the far side of bulletproof glass.
At the Action Station, we spend out waking hours monitoring the internet for maritime traffic, making prank calls over the VHF radio, and looking up part numbers in the Grainger catalog, mostly.
(Photo by Annie Liebovitz)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
"I totally killed Hitler."
For those of you who have yet to experience the joy, the above quote comes from The Venture Brothers... More specifically, from the end of the latest season premiere.
The Venture Brothers is, sadly, among the best-written shows on television... and it's a cartoon, obviously. It's almost impossible to describe the series- Hank and Dean venture are two very stupid but well -meaning teen boys raised by a single dad who is a hack superscientist living in the shadow (and profiting off of/riding the coattails of) of his dead father. The family's bodyguard, Brock Sampson (with the mullet), is a murder machine obsessed with Led Zeppelin. The family needs a bodyguard because Dr. Venture, the boys' dad, has a certain moral flexibility, bills to pay, and a fondness for prescription drugs. Dr. Venture is being stalked by an unlikely villian dressed in a butterfly costume, whom he must deal with from time to time, while attempting to market his often illegal inventions to the US government.
The show is worth watching. What amazes me is that the plots, gags and characters are interwoven seamlessly throughout the four years that the show has been in production. Character interactionfrom the first episode directly affect the plot of the 40th episode.
The show is full of simple humor, as well, for people like me. Dr. Girlfriend, the sidekick/girlfriend of The Monarch (the principal antagonist among a laundry list of antagonists, all organized and unionized by their shadowy leader, David Bowie), is a beautiful woman who looks and dresses like Jackie Onassis... except that for some reason she's got a man's voice with a heavy Bronx accent.
I give The Venture Brothers two big big thumbs up. It takes a couple of episodes to really grow on you, but the fact that a 35-year old man who never much went for comic books and cartoons (even as a kid) endorses it, should tell you all you need to know.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Weer'd World- a fellow sailor/ ... living a parallel existence, Weer'd and I travel many of the same roads in the blogosphere.
The Quincy Scallion- A first rate source of South Shore Politics and inside jokes relevant to the 6 people in the city of Quincy MA (Home of more dead presidents than any except for 6 other cities) who know how to read, and the teeming masses of people who pass through on their way from someplace better to someplace also better at some point in their lives.
Watt's up with that? is a scientific website dedicated to rigorous examination of the science and theory employed in climate research. As a skeptical semi-trained scientist who was taught to "mistrust authority' on day one at university, I find the lack of political influence on this website to be completely refreshing.
People of Wal-Mart. This one is sort of a guilty pleasure. As a frequent patron of Super Wal-Marts all along the Atlantic seaboard, and also along the US Gulf coast, this is also a stroll down memory lane... sort of a stroll down the of low-lights of Wal-mart visits past.
Manu's Scripts. I've been reading this blog for quite a while. I have a lot to be jealous of here. Manu is an experienced and exceptionally well-travelled ship's master... and a sublime writer.
That's it for tonight. More to come.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I'm not being facetious. We really do have a screen door here at the Atlantic Basin World Headquarters of HAWSEPIPER.
It's in the mid 40's... and raining. And the choices are:
1) Screen door: cold-ass air gets in. No insulation. No gaskets, rubber runners, etc. You get the idea.
2) Close and dog down the watertight door, lock all six dogs, and set Circle William, (Condition Watertight, where no air, light, and yes, water, will get through the door. (and then live completely hermetically separate from humanity in our teeny tiny box.)
So, we are a little chilly, as can be seen in the exciting photo above, where Buddy the Grumpy Tankerman sits at his action station, playing World of Warcraft 22.5 hours a day.
For my new stalker Mike, here is a shot of the bunkroom here at HAWSEPIPER's Atlantic Basin Global HQ.
Note that I had to stand outside the bunkroom to show this much in the photo. That's because the bunkroom is 4 1/2 feet by 6-foot-1. I know it's 6-foot-1 because I am 6 feet tall, and if I put my head against the bulkhead, and flex my ankles just a mite, I can touch both bulkheads.
At least the carpentry is nice. Clever use of 2x4's in a decorative fashion.
The other view. This is me standing in the screen door, looking inward. the galley is not visible here, but it's a nice range/oven/microwave unit, next to the sink. That's where the action happens.
Note the open bunkroom door. Damn this is small.
Now, to the left, next to the bunkroom is the head, the shower/sink/toilet. I'm not showing that, because hell, it's not exciting. Needless to say, it makes the bunkroom look spacious, and demonstrates to me on a daily basis that my shoulders are still a fair bit wider than my ass. I know this because in order to take a shower, I have to turn sideways. Awesome.
Friday, October 16, 2009
I took the final exam, Religion, the day after everyone else was already out of school for the summer. I was alone in the classroom, and the school was dead silent. The air already tasted dusty.
The day before, I had skipped school. My family attended the Graduation ceremonies for Harvard University to cheer on a family friend (herself an orphan, but we were her family), who was a speaker at the event. The keynote speaker, however, was Mother Teresa.
Anyhow, my mother bullied her way right into the VIP seating ASAP, and this allowed us to have a semi-private moment with Mother Teresa after her speech. I very distinctly remember looking her straight in the eyes, she being diminutive and elderly, and reaching up to shake her hand, only to have her reach out quickly to shake mine, which made my whole body shake. I was, after all, shaking hands with a living saint, and such things do make an impression on a 7 year old.
Anyhow, The day after was the religion exam. Ms. Morissey bitched about my coming in for 'special treatment', taking the exam after the end of school. I remember being deathly afraid of that women, and how scared I was when I said. "I talked to Mother Teresa. I shook her hand. My mother made me go. Sorry."
Bitch made me apologize. This was the teacher at a catholic school, who was complaining that I took the 2nd grade religion final exam a day late. Apparently my parents never went into detail when they arranged for me to miss school, because that woman's squinty eyes went 100% pie eyed, and the malice that usually shone through was absent. I remember too that her jaw dropped.
... and then I finished the exam, said 'bye' or something equally benign, and walked out of that classroom, shaking in fear, as I had done every day for 9 months prior. It wasn't until some time mid-summer before the clouds lifted.
Here is Moncton's speech regarding the upcoming climate treaty summit to be held in Copenhagen:
At [the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in] Copenhagen, this December, weeks away, a treaty will be signed. Your president will sign it. Most of the third world countries will sign it, because they think they’re going to get money out of it. Most of the left-wing regime from the European Union will rubber stamp it. Virtually nobody won’t sign it.
I read that treaty. And what it says is this, that a world government is going to be created. The word “government” actually appears as the first of three purposes of the new entity. The second purpose is the transfer of wealth from the countries of the West to third world countries, in satisfication of what is called, coyly, “climate debt” – because we’ve been burning CO2 and they haven’t. We’ve been screwing up the climate and they haven’t. And the third purpose of this new entity, this government, is enforcement.
How many of you think that the word “election” or “democracy” or “vote” or “ballot” occurs anywhere in the 200 pages of that treaty? Quite right, it doesn’t appear once. So, at last, the communists who piled out of the Berlin Wall and into the environmental movement, who took over Greenpeace so that my friends who funded it left within a year, because [the communists] captured it – Now the apotheosis as at hand. They are about to impose a communist world government on the world. You have a president who has very strong sympathies with that point of view. He’s going to sign it. He’ll sign anything. He’s a Nobel Peace Prize [winner]; of course he’ll sign it.
And the trouble is this; if that treaty is signed, if your Constitution says that it takes precedence over your Constitution (sic), and you can’t resign from that treaty unless you get agreement from all the other state parties – And because you’ll be the biggest paying country, they’re not going to let you out of it.
So, thank you, America. You were the beacon of freedom to the world. It is a privilege merely to stand on this soil of freedom while it is still free. But, in the next few weeks, unless you stop it, your president will sign your freedom, your democracy, and your humanity away forever. And neither you nor any subsequent government you may elect will have any power whatsoever to take it back. That is how serious it is. I’ve read the treaty. I’ve seen this stuff about [world] government and climate debt and enforcement. They are going to do this to you whether you like it or not.
But I think it is here, here in your great nation, which I so love and I so admire – it is here that perhaps, at this eleventh hour, at the fifty-ninth minute and fifty-ninth second, you will rise up and you will stop your president from signing that dreadful treaty, that purposeless treaty. For there is no problem with climate and, even if there were, an economic treaty does nothing to [help] it.
So I end by saying to you the words that Winston Churchill addressed to your president in the darkest hour before the dawn of freedom in the Second World War. He quoted from your great poet Longfellow:
Sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
Wow. Now that's frightening, especially considering that this guy is 100% scary brilliant.
And that's a good thing. Men being men, we don't do well under normal circumstances in close quarters unless there's a chain of command or other hierarchical power structure to keep things organized.
Now, imagine two very different people occupying a tiny living space like this:
You might guess where this is going. I've said before that it gets tough, living in a 12x17 box with another guy day in and day out.
One thing that entertains me to no end is how young my opposite is. He's 25, and an old salt of 5 years of vast experience. Now, I do NOT consider myself an old salt... anymore. Hurricane Ike last year beat the ego out of me. Even so, I've been messing about in commercial boats for a living since I was 16, really, although I was lobstering from the old age of 7. And I am NO master mariner. When I meet an expert, a true old salt, I am always astounded at the little things that I learn, things that aren't taught in our modern era.
Anyhow, my opposite is young, and has had some experience with boats. He's unreserved, southern, and I would guess that somewhere there's an explosive temper in him. In some ways, he scares me, because he's never had an oil spill, and isn't afraid to make waves. Now, I've never been responsible for an oil spill, but I've been part of several of them, and they are 100% awful. I fear for my future, because people get arrested now for the accidental release of oil into the water, regardless of whose fault it is. "Someone is going to be thrown under the bus", is how it goes now on a federal level. But I digress. My opposite is a young guy, and like all 25 year olds, he's 8-foot-12, bulletproof, and always has his "fuck you money" (enough money to get by in case one needs to suddenly find a new job) on standby.
I am 10 years older, and see a lot of myself 10 years ago
(Yes, that was my real hair, and yes, I was drinking. I still have the hat).
in the young'un. Now I am older, cautious, and aware of public perception of me as a professional, all the things a 25-year-old is not. As a more experienced and better travelled mariner, I am comfortable with foreign sailors who might not understand my English, and I am not one to cuss a man out for being Filipino.
As an aside, it amazes me that so many American mariners don't understand that cultures that emphasize reservation in the face of rudeness usually find a means to balance the equation after someone calls them a monkey or a stupid foreigner... This is why I see guys cover their heads when coming alongside a foreign ship. For some reason, a lot of guys, the youngster included, think that foreign sailors won't understand snide comments... and then the affronted but poker-faced sailor will throw a monkey's fist (imagine a ball or rope as hard and heavy as a baseball) directly at their head.
Now, I happen to get along well with Filipinos, mostly because I have sailed with a lot of guys from that country. I can speak a few words of their language, and I butcher it enough that they can understand that I'm trying to be friendly. Their culture emphasizes politeness and deference to strangers. Mine... does not, but politeness is a class thing with me, and it always pays off. I've never had a monkey's fist thrown at my head, anyhow.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
TSA and Steamship Authority test explosives detection technology
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today starts testing advanced explosives detection technology in partnership with the Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority.
During the three-week pilot program, TSA will conduct explosives screening on passenger vehicles boarding the Martha's Vineyard ferry at the Woods Hole Terminal in Falmouth. The purpose of the project is to test the performance of new technologies to detect explosives while maintaining efficient operations for high-volume ferries.
"This test represents one in a series of pilot programs TSA has designed to evaluate the effectiveness of emerging explosive detection technologies in the maritime environment," said John Sammon, TSA Assistant Administrator, Transportation Sector Network Management. "This is yet another tool the agency can use to respond to specific threats that arise from new intelligence or major events."
Through Nov. 6, TSA will use CarSCAN, a dual-energy transmission X-ray technology, to screen all passenger vehicles before they are driven onboard the ferry to Martha's Vineyard. For convenience, drivers will be permitted to remain in their vehicles during screening, which lasts approximately 10 seconds. Because the technology does not use whole body imaging, privacy issues will not be a concern.
Testing will occur Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Prior to boarding the ferry, drivers of passenger vehicles will be asked to proceed through the CarSCAN portal at approximately 5 mph. Images of the scanned vehicles will be monitored by TSA Transportation Security Officers from a station adjacent to the portal. If an anomaly is detected, the vehicle will be directed to a secondary screening area for inspection by TSA-certified explosives detection K9 teams.
"We are pleased to partner with TSA in their continuing efforts to test emerging technologies that screen vehicles for explosives," said Steamship Authority General Manager Wayne Lamson. "This pilot program will enable the TSA to test the effectiveness of explosive detection technologies that the Steamship Authority may want to utilize in the future, particularly during periods of heightened alert."Oh, awesome. Thank you for letting me stay in my car, just to make sure that the x-rays bombard my whole body.
Time to break out the tinfoil underwear.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Quickly, the subject gets changed. She's pragmatic.
Anyhow, she doesn't read my blog. All things being equal, she doesn't want to know about the not-so-awesome moments, and I don't want her to worry about me. It seems like I am having less not-so-awesome moments these days anyhow, which is wholly positive, if a mite dull.
I did mention that I put her picture up when I caught her about to yell at me last week. Ironically, where, in the original picture, I ended up getting a polite lecture about staying the hell out of her kitchen while she was cooking, after she looked at my earlier entry here -with-photo, I actually did get yelled at, I think. It wasn't in English, and was too fast for me to translate. I did catch the word for "pain in the ass' a couple of times, though.
And she says that now she is definitely going to whip a napkin holder at my head.
So, just in case you're actually still reading, here's something I've been working on. The more I look back, the more I see what a champ my old ship was, especially considering we were playing tag with a hurricane in the video part of it...
DISCLAIMER: The photo taken on the cargo deck was taken while the ship was in a 'gas free' state by someone else. We're not going to risk blowing up a ship with a goddamn camera. Other exterior photos taken from safe areas were taken with a mechanical camera that had no flash. Just bein' safe.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Finally, I'm organizing a group of procrastinators who haven't yet gotten the safety class out of the way to apply for a Massachusetts Class A firearms permit (License to Carry). I'm ashamed that I didn't do this 10 years ago, but then again, 10 years ago I was too nomadic to do any kind of planning.
Me, I've been sitting on the fence whilst in the spotlight, and shooting my mouth off in public when no one is looking, which is shameful. No more.
All the same, this stuff ain't free, and no one knows that better than I, sitting on my fence, with a nice view into both crowds. Free stuff creates an entitlement mindset, and having pockets regularly picked by Uncle Sugar breeds resentment. Not a good combination. I see the potential for abuse, and seriously, free anything +human nature= hands out+gimme gimme Ihavearighttothis.
I haven't seen much press about it lately, but I saw an article ra-ra'ing ObamaCare, using the pretext that it will eliminate the situation whereby people choose employment based on the benefit package, specifically, medical coverage. I say "Huh?" I do that. I did that. That's called being a responsible parent, or head of household, whatever. Fuck, we all do that. It's called a goddamn benefit package for a reason: it's a compensation package. It's called having a fucking job! Sure, if I had free health care, I suppose I could sit on my balls and apply to NASA. There's absolutely nothing wrong with offering varying compensation packages as part of a job. A newspaper stand isn't going to offer Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They might offer something, but probably not BX/BS at $950 a month for the family plan. On the other hand, I have Blue Cross. Then again, I have one of the most dangerous jobs in America, paid a small fortune for training, and earned my fucking place. What's going to happen at a newspaper stand? Inky hands and paper cuts. In the US alone, each year, a dozen guys in my position fall in the water between two barges and get ground into a red paste when the barges bounce off of each other. Now why, why, in the name of the seven mad gods of the sea, would I even be tempted to want to pay more to my insurer, and for my employer to pay more to my ensurer, so other people can have the health insurance I had to work so fucking hard to earn.
So, ObamaCare is here to close the gap, but any time you subsidize one group from another, you promote inefficiency. The kids are taken care of, and, as JayG pointed out, that's the important thing. I don't see the potential for ObamaCare to do much beyond promoting folks to sit back and let the gum'mint take care of them, and hell, we're talking about the US government, the people who can't deliver a postcard 4 doors down the street half the time. What are the odds that this will end well?
Monday, October 12, 2009
It hasn't been too busy, and the major projects aboard for 2009 are completed. The little things are progressing, and improvements are being improved upon. We even had an overnight sailing to reposition to an anchorage in Baltimore from our usual haunts on the Delaware river. We've got a modest load of bunker and diesel oil aboard for a job tonight, then off to Philly again tomorrow morning sometime, another 8-12 hours away, dependent upon the tides and currents.
Then one of our generators seized.
Still not sure how that happened, but we're now running on one generator set, which is itself overdue for service. Sooooooo... The generator was offline. She simply wouldn't start. We had to wait until today for a mechanic to catch a launch and come out to declare the patient deader'n' a dead dog.
Anyhow, looks like we're going to be down for maintenance for another day or two after we get back home.
In the meanwhile, it was a pretty rough time at home, so it's been wholly a good thing that work has been light so far this tour. The reality is that my home life is complicated, just now, enough so that even though my home is still an oasis for me, outside of my own family, my wife and son, it's chaos. A lot of the rest of my family is really struggling, and for someone like me, who lives with a certain amount of guilt over being a so distant from my family it's difficult to watch. So this job is a double blessing. My face has gone from a somewhat alarming purple color to my more usual reddish permanently-embarrassed-looking color in just 5 days, and that's a good thing.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
As always, it was a bittersweet parting. The Boy had surgery this morning, and was apparently severely nonplussed at my absence when he came out of anaesthesia. He and I said our goodbyes last night, and he's usually pretty flexible with me- there's never been any real trouble or complaining before, but, then again, he woke up, disoriented and drugged, and my wife was there, so he was calmed down relatively quickly, but try explaining that to a really high 6-year old.
It was definitely time for me to get out of the house. My wife was absolutely tired of me being underfoot. Normally, I bounce off the walls of my home (AKA The Ant Farm) if I sit still for more than five minutes; this time, I came home with bronchitis, which I then passed to my wife, then The Boy got strep throat, which he passed to me, and then I got a cold from somewhere else, too.
I am not a sickly person- in fact, I think that my immune system is pretty damn awesome, under normal circumstances. So it goes.
Anyhow, what with the illness, and the anxious child, and supplemental insanity coming from my family and hers, by the time I was ready to go back to work, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife looked like this:
napkin holder being thrown at husband in 3...2...1...
All the same, there is nothing quite so miserable as silencing the alarm clock at 1am and having to leave a perfectly warm and sleepy wife full of the knowledge that it'll be a long while before I'll be back in the big bed.
So, I arrived at my barge at 9am, and immediately set to work. By 6pm, I was talking to myself, and managed to sleep a bit. Such will be the way of things for the next 28 days.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
So, tonight, whilst I am...ah, under a slight influence of $280 worth of sushi and Scorpion bowls, one of those funny leetle truisms fell outa my mouth.
I was talking tonight with my sea-daddy Orlando, the guy who taught me how to do my job and how not to kil myself on the deck of my old ship. Orlando is working on my old ship whilst she is undergoing an unscheduled shipyard period to effect some necessary repairs. Tonight we talked whilst he was at a 4-star restaurant with much of the skeleton crew o' my ship. Sadly, my good friend and former shipmate Eldon J. passed on this week. That's Eldon on the left of the picture, and he was as fine a shipmate as any man could ask for- a good man to lead a discussion on religion, on married life, and on how to conduct oneself with honor on shore... and he made a ceviche out of Black-Tip reef shark that was to die for.
The remarkable thing about Eldon is the dpeth that the man had. I spent six years with him, and it's obvious that I was only touching upon the tip of the iceberg. Every now and again, at meals or during work. Eldon would pass on a bit of homespun wisdom or a bible verse appropriate to the situation when one of us would get antsy, or angry, or outraged, for that matter.
For my part, when we were tying up the ship or letting go the mooring lines, Eldon shushed or calmed me down on a few occasions when things didn't work as they normally did. Whether he spoke a few words in his singsong patois version of Honduran English, or spoke more directly in a formal tone, Eldon knew how to get the most out of an inexperienced officer, or conversely, how to calm an outraged or off-put sailor when the situation called for. Regarless, when Eldon was late or occupied during mooring operations, he was badly missed. I can't imagine what it's going to be like tying a ship up without him.
I think that mostly, I will miss my friend, but beyond that. my old ship will be greatly impoverished for his absence. In the end, for those of us who agree to sail on this particular ship, we agree to sail for the company alone- the money involved is not part of the equation.
Anyhow, when I spoke to Orlando tonight, I surprised myself. I said that so-and-so and so-and-so, and so-and-so were more than friends... that they were family, and I knew that they would feel the loss greatly, as would I. Orlando agreed, and we quietly said our words that will carry us to the next time we speak.
I miss my friend very much. More, I miss my shipmates strongly tonight. I have been happy in my decision to leave my ship, but now... I dunno.