Sunday, May 9, 2010

End of the road Pt. 1.

I spoke to the captain of my old ship today.
The S.S. New River, seen here:

The New River was the first ship I ever worked on. I started in the engine room, chipping and painting in the dark tunnels of the Double Bottoms, between the outer and inner hull. I moved on deck as an Ordinary Seaman, a day laborer. I became an Able Bodied Seaman, Limited. I upgraded to AB unlimited. I've taken over 6 months of classes to upgrade my skills and receive certifications to become a 3rd mate. My employer paid EVERY SINGLE CENT of that. The New River paid for all of that.

Here's where her latest, and presumably, last voyage ended:

This is the boneyard, the mothball fleet of Beaumont, TX, where ships go to die.

Now, I left my former employer, AHL shipping company, about a year before all this happened. Being a newlywed, my salary as an Able Seaman and part time student wasn't enough to live on up here in New England. That's just the way of it. Every time I went home for vacation, I went to work for part of my time at home.
As things happened, I made some friends in my navigation class who got me a temporary job to fill the time while I was at home... and I stayed. I stayed with my new employer, even though I never planned to, because they liked me, and the feeling was mutual. I was treated like a valued person. Eventually I told AHL that I wasn't coming back. Even in that, they treated me with class and respect, as they did with so many of the permanent seagoing employees.

So, I'm not feeling bad for me. I'm feeling bad for my friends who are losing their jobs.

AHL was always 'the little company that could,' an underdog success story. The pay was... well, on the low side. The ships were spartan. The crew were fantastic, a family, at least on the New River. A mildly dysfunctional family, just like everyone's.

The first person who called me after I proposed to my then fiancee, was the captain of the New River.

"What are you doing, Paul?"
"Hi Cap... I just proposed to my girlfriend about 10 minutes ago!"
"Oh yeah? What'd she say?"


As I said, I spoke to the captain last night. It wasn't the man you see in the picture above, though. He retired a few months ago. The new captain is my good friend Doug, who was Chief mate for my 6 years aboard. The one thing that made the New River special to me is that the chain of command existed without the rigid bullshit outmoded divisiveness between the licensed/unlicensed portion of the crews. The dozen of us that made up the permanent crew were never completely bound by the normative behavioral codes between officer and ranker. Since we spent more time together than we did ashore with our families, respect was based on performance more than tradition.
Anyhow, Doug and I became fast friends when we met. He lives in a remote Downeast Maine village that happens to be down the road from the remote marine biological facility that I worked at in my summers while in college. We had mutual friends. So, when I visited my old field station in Maine after my first trip to sea, it was natural that we met up... and we ended up becoming friends ourselves. Similar personalities, I guess. Anyhow, I was so excited for Doug when he became captain... and now the ship's being made ready to collect rust until she's ready for scrap.
Doug is the guy who helped me plan my schedules, talk out about whether or not I was ready to get married, how to balance work and home life...

It's the people that made the New River special.


Anonymous said...

Why doesn't FEMA and MARAD use these AHL tankers to load the Mess in the Gulf from the BP spill? They could load up the water oil mix and oil from the recovery ship and take to any oil refrinery in the Gulf.Hurricane Season is two weeks away.

will said...

interesting. nicely done. and i like anonymous' suggestion above.