Saturday, August 7, 2010

long night...

I look back on my first year aboard bunker barges (it's been a year now), and I seem to remember struggling to complete jobs a lot more when I was first starting... I guess experience really does make a difference there...
But the other day, that's a different story.
We weren't working, and I was sleeping fitfully. I had gone to bed at 0800, and it was about 1000. I woke up in a sweat- the AC was dead. We made our calls and learned that there was no way to get anyone to fix the thing until the next morning. We cursed, heavily and frequently. 96 degrees outside, and no AC and no fans to move the warming air. Plus, we're in a steel box, with the water heater and 'fridge pumping out more warm air. At least we didn't have a job. We could sit on deck for the next 18 hours if we had to.
A few moments later, while we were cursing and wailing, a tug bumped us. This is the universal sign of 'oh shit' aboard a manned barge. The other guy made up the tug. I got on the phone to do some whining and ask questions.
The office dumped a job on us. Our company's local diesel barge was down for service, and a tugboat was looking for diesel fuel. We have segregated diesel tanks along with black oil tanks.
I wasn't too happy. I says "we can't cook, we can't sleep, and we can't even have a cold shower (our water tanks are in the generator house, which is a steady 100-120 in the summer). There's another barge capable of doing this nearby. What gives?
Well, what gave was that we were the guys for the job. This was explained to me, patiently (amazing, really. I hate to bitch, but everyone likes being bitched at even less. Someone was very understanding.) . We're not equipped for it, but we were off to fuel up the T in an AT/B.

Now, I hate the heat. I turn into a little girl in the head. In 6 years of hard work as a commercial fisherman, I only argued with The Notorious B.O.B. two times- on the two days we worked when the temperature hit 100. It's my Achilles' heel.

But, we worked. We loaded up one single tank with a little splash of diesel, about 150 tons.

Now, I've bunkered up some AT/B's. (Articulated Tug/Barges, for the non-mariners. The tugboat is designed with two steel pins that come out just aft of the bow, to fit into slots in the stern of a barge. The end result looks like this:

Photo courtesy of

This is not the vessel (or company) we worked with, but is similar to the type. In our case, the problem we had is that the vessel's fueling connection is close to the gunwale, just forward of the Texas bar (the big bar across the back deck). Getting close enough to pass a hose to the tug meant that we'd have to moor kitty-corner to the barge- that is, there would be a difference in angle between his barge and mine. I would have to cock the stern of my barge close to the stern of his tug, and allow the bow of my barge to pooch out away from his, to pivot on one of our rubber bumpers.
We made it work, with much consternation, initially, from the tug captain. We trussed the barges up tight, and, hey, I know how to be safe. When we were all fast, everyone was happy.

And then I found out that the tug is rigged for a teeny tiny fueling hose.

Ugh. I am not set up for fueling little boats. I can fuel up a purpose-built modern AT/B, which runs on black oil and is rigged to be serviced by a bunker barge, but I have nothing to go from my diesel hose to his diesel connection- no reducers or anything to fit onto a tug's quick-connect style fittings.
So, I raid our tugboat, and find something that will work, luckily. I am limited in what I can cobble together because I can't have more than two reducers in my lineup- doing so is a no-no, and I won't compromise on something that means my job... but I'm also feeling the pressure because the tug has a schedule, too.
Anyhow, I found what I needed. I rigged a sling with the reducer and coupling and hung the sling on my boom along with the fueling hose.

Now, the chief engineer on the tug is frustrated, too. We've been polite, but both of us are frazzled at this point. He refuses the hose, because he's afraid that the height difference between my deck and his, along with the 60-feet of my hose, will result in a slug of fuel in the end of the hose, and he has no containment to speak of if he does get diesel on deck. I sigh, swing my hose back, and rig up the fittings. I also tell the engineer that he's a grumpy old fart, and making me crazy, even if he's correct.

We get everything connected, and transfer the fuel sloooooooowly. I don't like having a gap between me and the vessel we're fueling, but we've got one. His boat's little fuel lines are putting back pressure on my pumps, so it takes hours.
In the meanwhile, we've got no AC, and it's now over 100 inside. I can't write up the documents for the fuel transfer, because sweat is running down my arms and blurring the ink on the pages. I have to go outside to do the paperwork, and feed the bugs a bit.

Anyhow, the night went on like that . It was a long night, and we got back to the dock just before sunrise. The AC guy came later that morning. By that time, I had cramps from the heat, and hadn't had a leak in a full 24 hours. My employers were kind enough to leave us alone, and both of us slept a full 8 hours undisturbed... and then, with no work, we were able to relax a few hours. Both of us are still sore, 48 hours later, like we got in a fight.

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