Wednesday, April 27, 2011

bad bunker design: pictures, yay!

Well, I'm back where I'm supposed to be- after a week of babysitting a strange bunker barge, I returned at 3am to my own floating abode, and it was very nice.

Anyhow, I had to shower, change and wash every bit of clothing in my sea bag, as I was on a smoking barge, and everything, literally everything in my possession stunk of smoke. How bad was it? I ate some leftover M&M's that were in my computer bag (why, what's in your computer bag?). They tasted like they were rolled through an ashtray. I even had to wash my seabag.
Anyhow, it was so nice to sit in my chair and just soak in the peace and familiar atmosphere, that I spent a content 90 minutes in my office chair while my laundry laundered. At the end, I read a book and enjoyed a little down time, as we're down for maintenance.

Now, in my week aboard the other bunker barge, things were pretty quiet- it's always an adjustment getting used to the organization and office setup of a bunch of strangers, and as such it made me very mindful of how well we've got things organized under mine own watchful eyes.

Anyhow, it wasn't all marlboro-stink and unfamiliar surroundings in the past week. We did some work too, which I'm happy to share with you.

I've written several times about bad ship design for bunkering, and I usually use this class of ship as an example. You see the bunkering hatch way he hell up there on the side of the hull of this combination RoRo/container ship- where it's impossible for the crew to see what's going on on my deck, and where I can't see what's going on on theirs. Plus, the bunkering port is way the hell aft on the ship, astern of the aft end of the parallel midbody, leaving what is technically known as 'fuck all' places to lay a barge securely alongside.

Here's another shot of the bunker hatch. I have no idea what's going on up there. If they sprung a leak or siphoned off fuel, or merely performed a voodoo ritual up there, I would be completely unaware.
This picture was taken midships on my barge, looking forward. You can see that we had to throw a single fender between our hull and his, and then sling the mooring lines in such a way as to winch the bow and stern into place- sort of a tethered teeter-totter style. With only three potential mooring points, finding a safe way to moor alongside this ship is challenging. Also, look at the collection of dings and scrapes on the ship's hull. We're not the only ones who had issues getting alongside. This is a newer ship, yet the shell plating looks like she's been roughed up.
This, hopefully, gives you a better idea- see the growing gap between the vessels as you look aft? The only way to make this possible as a safe mooring is to run a 3-part bowline to a winch, making the bowlines scream under tension, then do the same at the stern before running spring lines midship- this means that the tug captain has to make the barge 'hover' without running fore and aft in order to maintain position- for about 10 minutes. This is a herculean task, and completely unfair to the guy at the wheel, who has to try to keep the barge in position without letting the stern slip under the stern of the ship.

And this is simply a gratuitous picture of the stern ramp- this ship was taking used cars 'to a farm upstate' just like my dog as a kid. Maybe they'll even be police cars.

What? Shut up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

deep thoughts

1) I watched the movie "sucker punch" last night. I am reminded of the fact that no matter how much you slo-mo and bleach out the color on a movie, if it has a stupid plot and makes no sense, it's still going to suck ass. I feel like I just wiped my ass with 2 perfectly good hours of my life, hours that I will never, ever get back. Someone is going to pay. Please buy some more fucking light bulbs and give that empty-eyed blond girl a sandwich. Christ only knows when the last time someeone fed her. I don't like it when they try to make a woman look sexy AND 12.

2). Everyone's buying bunker oil outside the US. Thank President Obama for us, and for his exceptional leadership in fostering a tax environment that makes Port Au Prince, Haiti more attractive for a fuel stop than New York. I've been to Po-a-pranz. It's like God took a dump behind a dumpster in a puddle, but without all the charming ambiance of the space behind a dumpster.

3). I wonder when the US is finally going to produce a military leader so profoundly charismatic that a tasty chincken dinner will be named after him. Comrade Generals Tso and Gao, I salute you, and your blend of sweet and sour, tangy chicken.

4). If you can't tell, it's raining heavily, we're idle, and I can't get outside for my daily 45-minutes of walking laps around the deck edge. I did a prison workout in our after rake void (the only ventilated compartment with enough room for a fattish man to heave himself about without upsetting a spice rack or tool bin aboard, sadly) this morning, but I've got a touch of claustrophobia- rain or not, periodically I have to stick my head outside and then go switch out t-shirts.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homeland Insecurity this week.

This week saw the Brits tear us a new one con brio (or 'with gusto' if you prefer) regarding our shameful billion-dollar TWIC card program.

If you're not in the know, a TWIC (transport Worker Identification Credential) card is used for nothing at all, but is required if you work in port areas of the US- it's not a valid ID for port entry (requiring an accompaniment with a Merchant Mariner's Credential, company ID or driver's license), but you must have it when you must present your other ID.

Essentially, it's an ID card given to you by an out-of-work aerospace contractor, that keeps the out-of-work contractor running until they can successfully find someone to design them a new ship or airplane for the US Navy that someone will actually fucking buy.
Since the US Defense budget is no longer guaranteed to grow annually by double digit percentages, in anticipation, the Ministry of Truth (known as the Department of Homeland Security) is looking to expand the TWIC program to include any one or any thing who has anything to do with moving anything anywhere in the US. This does not include the 15-20% of truck drivers who are coming in from our friendly NAFTA neighbors, of course. It's all about the safety of our children, so that more of us can be assured that we're safely giving $100 bucks and a day of lost wages for the good of the defense contracting industry.

Counterfeiting the TWIC card is almost impossible, due to the high tech computer chip embedded in the card, and which is not available to private industries, with the exception of bus passes, phone cards, and anyone who feels like reprogramming them using an RFID scanner that you can buy through pet-supply wholesalers for people who want to put an implantable ID in the family dog.
Christ, I wish I was lying about that. Look up how to spoof a bus pass in the UK. For about $80 in parts and a $5 card at an internet cafe,(to download a .pdf on actually programming the chips) you can invalidate a $1,000,000,000 security system. After that, it's simply a matter of gluing a new printed sticker on the face of a UK bus pass, and you have a TWIC card.
I don't know which is worse: the fact that DHS is so careless with their billion dollar shame show that they couldn't even be bothered to use a unique source for their ID cards, or that the multi-billion dollar port security program still can't stop a determined rowboater from blowing the ever-loving hell out of any ship anywhere in the US using an 8-foot dinghy, a pair of oars and a couple of 5-gallon jugs of diesel fuel mixed in with $10 worth of lawn fertilizer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sea stories: The day I got famous

I spent seven years working for a now-defunct shipping company. My first job on a ship was spent chipping and paining in the double-bottom spaces in the bilge of a 40-year old steamship. Sounds awful, and it was, in retrospect, I guess, but I loved it. I was so damn excited to be working on a ship.

I'm not an angel- I've made plenty of mistakes. I suppose that I finally grew up on that ship. I wasn't a troublemaker or a sea-lawyer, but I had my bigmouth moments. I spent 5 years as a permanent crewman there.

I grew up in an Irish-American household. Meat and potatoes. Irish-American food is spiced with three ingredients, and three ingredients only: boiling water, butter, and salt. That's it. Having traveled some, and then marrying an exotic foreigner, I've developed a taste for adventurous dining, but given my preferences, I do revert to type, and we're talking about the days when I lived in an animal-house situation, and when the most exotic woman I had ever dated was one-quarter-English.

As a new blogger, I was enjoying myself- I've never been much of a creative writer- I can write the shit out of a technical description of the impact of chaotic turbulence on diffusion or how to make genetic supermales out of your baby fish, but describing the impact of a knock knock joke on the mood of a room is beyond me even today.
Halloween had come and gone on the ship, ignored like most every holiday. Thanksgiving was one of the two holidays that we celebrated, however, and it was coming up.

So, there's the setup: I'm blogging, and meeting the world one commenter at a time. Thanksgiving is coming. And with it, Thanksgiving dinner with Juan.
Juan was one of the stewards on our ship. Of our stewards, he was the better of the two. An Argentinian of Italian descent, he might have been destined to be a good cook from the beginning. Whatever, we were all excited for Thanksgiving dinner.
The year before, I had also been working for Thanksgiving. That year, the president of the shipping company (which had been based out of New Orleans for most of it's history) sent us a couple of Turduckens to celebrate. This went over like a fart in church for me, as a man who can appreciate a turkey dinner. Being a person of simple taste, I said no me gusto to the turducken. So, the next year I wrote that I was praying for some medicine-ball sized turkeys to come aboard for Thanksgiving, with no fancified cajun food, gracias.
Well, turns out that the president of the company wasn't too happy with the fact that I preferred to eat a $3 plate of turkey dinner as opposed to some seriously expensive gourmet cuisine and then wrote about it. In fact, I had insulted the man and he took it very personally.
One evening in mid-November, the captain called me up to his office. This was out of the ordinary, to say the least. He politely questioned me about "what the fuck I was writing to make the president of the company send a nastygram to the ship?"
I felt like an idiot ass. I now had involved the captain in my stupidity, and, as the captain, he was also wedged firmly in the middle between the office's boot and my ass. Pretty much exactly where he didn't want to be. Me and my big mouth.
Here's where it gets silly, though. Picture me, looking pale and mortified, standing in front of the captain's desk. The captain hands me a printed email where I am called ungrateful, obnoxious and loudmouthed by the man who signs my checks. The email then gets personal, where I am called a yankee and low-class, eliciting a chuckle from the captain, who did enjoy rustling feathers in the office now and again himself, with painstaking detail about the shortcomings of my northern heritage. Finally, the president suggested that if I didn't care for the much-vaunted delights of the southern table, I could eat spam and potatoes from then on like a true yankee.
Anyhow, without fussing over me too much (other than calling me a pain in his ass for calling attention to myself), the captain sent me away, laughing at my discomfort.

Fast forward another week, and it's time to take on the monthly food stores- for a ship without a stores crane, this was an all-hands affair. Everyone but the captain and the mate on watch was out on deck as part of the human chain moving our food from the deck crane midships to the stewards' stores hatch in the stern.
About an hour into the evolution, the captain appeared on deck and called for me. There was a big heavy box with "For Paul" in big letters on the top. With my knife, we slit the tape and peered inside. The captain roared out laughing, and stopped everyone in earshot dead in their tracks. It was a 50-lb box of tin cans full of Spam.
My first reaction: "What the hell do I do now?" The captain told me to take it to my room if I wanted or I could donate it to the steward. I chose the latter. We had spam and something for breakfast and a side of spam on the dinner menu for about 2 weeks.

An ambitious person just starting out in his career might not have chosen this route to distinguish himself from the other 200 afloat crew in the company's fleet. This was my way of thinking, that I had surely sandbagged my own ass.
When January rolled around and I had gone home for a few months' vacation, I got around to sending a letter of apology to the president of the company, explaining that I hadn't thought through my comments, and hadn't meant to offend, and especially hadn't meant to shoot myself in the foot career-wise. I also managed to get in that I didn't like being referred to as a yankee, yankees being of English descent. I got back a nicely worded acceptance of my apology, countered with one of his own for his own harsh words. What followed was a back-and-forth series of chain emails in which I was able to ask and receive a lot of useful information about the company and ships, and which actually very likely increased my loyalty to my employer.
There was a silver lining in that cloud, but I'll never eat spam again.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

not what I needed right now

I've been jonesin' to go lobstering this week. It's been 3 years now since I stopped killing God's creatures for fun and profit on even a part-time basis, and I'm missing it badly just now.

We're coming into the time of year when, in my youth, I used to give up whatever I was doing to go fish for another season. I'm not actually considering giving up my job (and the life that comes with it) anymore, but the feeling is there, and it's godddamned strong; I could give it all up and go do the one job that truly defined me as a person in a manner that I could welcome.
Well, I didn't welcome being broke all the time. And I don't think my wife would welcome the incredibly foul smelling laundry and massive pay cut, along with me being underfoot every night. Of course, to be fair, when I was fishing full time I had neither wife nor family.

Still, look at this picture, and maybe you'll see the tidal pull that's making me half nuts.

That's a friend's boat, and it's a clone to the last boat that I ran captain on when I was fishing.

With time comes a tendency to gloss over all the rainy days, all the little cuts and bruises and defeats, stitches, broken toes; having the Notorious B.O.B. drop a lobster pot on my head from about 10 feet up (which I unfortunately stopped by using my face to break its' fall), for example. I think of these things, and remember what I really gave up when I gave up fishing. Now, however, to give up sailing on this floating gas station I'd be making an even greater sacrifice; cold comfort, to be honest.