Tuesday, December 29, 2009

the zoo

I'm running around like a one-armed paperhanger. Heading for Philadelphia in a few hours, just as soon as traffic in Connecticut and New York dies down. I have to head south 8 hours earlier than I had planned. Oh well.

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

bear with me

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!


Wow, so my first Christmas at home as a married man was fairly eventful. The Christmas part of it was chock full of awesomeness. My wife went all out to make the casa completely beautiful. I miss so many Christmas events because of the nature of my work, so when I get home, I usually have the Christmas spirit. When you watch the events unfold from the sidelines for so long, I guess it imbues one with a sense of balance and proportion, and it becomes easier to avoid the rat race and the mad scramble to impoverish oneself to appease the foolish notion that stuff=love.
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

Thou Shalt Have No Fun

Ugh. Well, my plans for the day cratered. 'Wickid hahd,' as we say here in Glorious south suburban Boston.
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


Weeeeeel, I'm home for Christmas, and all is well. I didn't write much these past two weeks- it was a marathon session- shipping has been busy between Baltimore and New York, for certain. Anyhow, I'm home, few bumps and bruises, and all is very, very well.
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

Hahd times

So, this week we took on a new trainee barge mate. I am wrapping up his training, and if all goes well, in less than a week, he'll be 'released' to work on his own, unsupervised.
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.
Not bad.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

big changes

So, as was stated before, I got promoted a week ago. Since then, things have been decidedly busy. There were some marathon days by necessity, a new mate to train, mechanical issues, and, finally, some downtime. All part of the deal, I guess.
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

I don't normally post unsolicited emails, but I like this one. Ignore the grammar, read the message. It checks out on Snopes.

Irena Sendler
There recently was a death of a 98 year-old lady named Irena. During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an 'ulterior motive' ... She KNEW what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews, (being German.) Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack, (for larger kids..) She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.. During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants. She was caught, and the Nazi's broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely. Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family. Most had been gassed.. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize... She was not selected. Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming.

63 years later

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Naturally there's a price to pay for any promotion. In my case, the price comes in lost opportunity to sleep. Concurrent with my new responsibilities is a period of unprecedented business. Since I took over the show on Wednesday, and was given a green hand to train as my mate, as opposed to having a mate AND a green hand as a 3rd warm body of a tankerman, I have only my new shipmate, who is, thank God, damn good at what he does. In the meanwhile, however, we're working 18-hour days, which is not so much fun, and there are jobs lining up like airplanes on a runway. For the past three days, promises of two days out of service to effect repairs have been hung like a carrot on a string. On Wednesday, it was Friday and Saturday for repairs and rest. On Thursday, it was Sunday and Monday. Yesterday, it was Sunday night to Tuesday morning. Today it's Monday morning to Tuesday afternoon. The window is always 48 hours away, but the duration is gradually being eroded.
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


I got a nice little promotion today. That's a good thing. More on it later. My first job as king of steel beach is a double job, and of course, it's pouring rain and windy as balls. So, while being eyeballed at the office, I have to sail us cockeyed with a heavy port list to do the first job, so that we can sail on an even keel to the more distant second job. Awesome.
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.