Among the most difficult things to get used to in my transition to brown water sailing has been the lack of privacy. Outside of quality time spent in the bathroom, there isn’t any. My room on my ship was about the same size as the living quarters on the bunker barge I worked on a couple of weeks ago, which I shared with two other guys.
Yesterday was a mini-milestone for me. Finally, I was ‘cut loose’ to work on my employer’s larger oceangoing barges, which, thankfully, have slightly larger accommodations. I suppose that the significance of that is all about trust, more pay, blah blah blah. Really, for me, I’m just glad that I can share this space with only one, not two, other guys.
I’m not a loner, per se, but I think that I do enjoy spending time alone more than many people. What I don’t love is sharing a tiny living space with strangers. The forced camaraderie of living on top of each other does have the effect of enforcing politeness, but even so, it’s going to be as rare to be compatible and comfortable with another man living and breathing in close proximity as it is on shore, which is to say, damn rare.
I lucked out this week. Yesterday I transferred back to the first barge I trained on. My former trainer is now my co-worker. This is unfortunately a temporary assignment, as I’m just filling in. My shipmate is a good guy, and we’re compatible (read: similar sense of humor, lack of maturity outside of work issues, and clean and neat).
Anyhow, last night was a good night. We were working (and yet it was a good night?), and had a last-minute cargo dumped on us, as well as a hard cut-off time to finish cargo that left us unable to completely fill our tanks. The cargo is destined for New York Harbor, which means an ocean passage.
Here’s the skinny: this barge isn’t huge- it’s bigger than an inland barge, but smaller than most ATB units. It has no receivers for coupling systems, meaning it’s a traditional unit meant to be pushed using push gear or hanging on a wire being towed by a tug. Also, there is no loading computer or sensor array that can be used to calculate trim, the difference between our forward and aft drafts. This is important because it requires a bunch of hull stress calculations be performed to accurately predict how the barge will lie in the water after it’s loaded, and the problem there is that we had an extremely variable load rate, and no word on exactly when we’d be shut down, so I couldn’t predict just how much cargo we’d have on board. Gene, my opposite here, on board, set up a cleaver load plan that would minimize slack (partially filled) tanks while maintaining something approaching proper trim- very well done.
So, with our load plan in hand, I worked alone for the last six hours of loading, and this is my whole point in writing today: I had one of those great moments at about 0445 this morning. Light was beginning to appear on the horizon, and the moon and stars were still visible- the temperature was perfect; I could just see my breath. I had my brain wrapped around my work; there was stuff to do, but not too much, just enough to work out the cobwebs from my mind. I could hear the water lapping against the hull, which was NOT trimmed like a motorcycle doing a wheelie, (which was what I was working to prevent), and a small flock of Canadian geese was honking as they flew by.
I was at peace. This doesn’t happen to me very much. Great feeling. Another instance of the 30-seconds per month of inspiration that keeps me a sailor.
The History of Levis
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