Today starts the sixth and final week of this voyage for me. I went ashore last night for a little R&R (Sushi, and some expensive cheese from Fairway market) and to load up again on groceries for another week's voyage. This week I've been taken down a peg, filling in as tankerman on someone else's barge, but it's all the same to me, cash for my impending trip to Brazil. I've been harbor whoring - making myself available on my off-time, since New Years', and it's starting to tell. I'm pretty beat. This is my last time "working over" for a few months. The bags under my eyes are getting bags under their eyes, I think.
This week has brought some monkey business to New York harbor. The weekend started off on the wrong foot when some dink dumped a bunch of containers off a ship and onto the bunker barge alongside it- no injuries, thank God, which is a miracle, considering. This wasn't one of my employer's pieces of gear, so I don't know anything first hand, but check it out:
Amazing, really, that no one was hurt.
In other news here, the Blue Marlin is here to carry a passel of tugboats to Nigeria for a second life. This type of heavy-lift ship ballasts down until her decks are deep under water, whereupon her cargo is floated over the deck, and then the ship pumps ballast and rises up under the cargo before securing it for sea. I snapped a couple of pics this morning. The thing is huge- well over 200-foot of beam. Check it:
This is a forward house design- the thing's so wide that it looks odd from this angle- at the port and starboard end of the stern are the stern castles- seen better from a stern view:
Bear in mind that you could place a whole NBA regulation basketball court between those two structures on the stern.
She's since been repainted, but if the name sounds familiar, it's because you've seen the Blue Marlin before, after the USS Cole tragedy.
Using the rhetoric "You can fit a boat on a ship, but you can't fit a ship on a boat" no longer applies.
I'm not a fan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Once I was a shameful fanboy, when they were in the business of regulating fisheries and conducting oceanographic and weather research. Now that they're a political machine bent on social engineering for 'green living' however, I'd be happy to see NOAA disbanded and their mandate passed to private organizations operating under contract.
Today was NOAA's annual hurricane prediction day, the day when they predict the end of the world just before it comes time to calculate budget requirements for the next fiscal year. As always, they've predicted a strong and busy hurricane season. I say this because they never predict a normal or below-normal season. To do so would be to call in question the need for the fastest-growing annual budget of any federal agency. So, today, as happens about this time every year, NOAA is predicting the end of the world. zzz... You know, the most ironic part of all this is that when you predict anything will be higher than average, 50% of the time, it should be. The hilarious part, to me, is that NOAA has been predicting The Day After Tomorrow for the past three years, which have turned out to be among the quietest consecutive hurricane seasons in well over a century... and they're shooting for 0/4 this year.
Dr. Jane Lubchenko, NOAA's head, appointed by President Obama, has been extremely proactive in her leadership of the premier scientific organization of the US. She's been busy, diverting research funding for fisheries and weather into NOAA's political arm, into NOAA's campaign to turn fisheries management into a commodities market, modeled after energy trading (which has worked out so well for the consumer). In the meanwhile, instead of actually performing research, NOAA has been able to save money by simply predicting the end of all things every year, about this time, and then sit in their offices and take vacations.
...as the saying goes, are the only two instances where 'almost' counts for something.
Yesterday kicked off amateur hour, the summer boating season. There is nothing quite so ennervating and energizing as the 5 short blasts on the ships' whistle (meaning "Danger Will Robinson!" ) when you're trying to sleep and some assbag in a small boat wanders into your path at close range.
After three (!) days of rain, with no relief in sight, I've officially got a life-threatening case of diaper rash. I think it starts at the back of my neck, and runs to my feet, returning up all the way to my (no longer -un) mentionables. With no end in sight to this rain, I'm wondering why I bother to put on clean and dry clothes at the start of my watch.
Oh well. Getting paid is nice, and I'm grateful that I'm working... I'm not as grateful as I was 3 days ago, but you try walking like a cowboy for a couple of days. ...and why does my foul weather gear still smell so bad? It's like someone put out a cigar in a urine sample, then poured oil over it. I've washed these things repeatedly, in the GD washing machine... unfortunately, I suspect the answer is that for some reason RMG-380, the residual fuel that ships use, has an affinity for the synthetic rubber made by Grundens- I think that the vapors bind nicely to the material, and the vapors are made of fear and horror with a carbon backbone and a sulphur chaser. If my rain jacket smells like the apocalypse, I can only wonder about my lungs.
Getting ready for watch this morning, and, since it was raining fairly hard, I didn't throw my baseball cap on, which is my normal SOP after rolling out of my bunk. Instead I put on my foul weather gear, which has been sitting on a hook for 3 weeks after having been laundered. The horrific stink of bunker fuel was sticking to my rain jacket. I'm starting to think my wife is being pragmatic in her tradition of handing me a tumbler of whiskey shortly after I get home. I wonder if it gets the smell of bunker oil out of my pores. Apparently Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife prefers me smelling like a still as compared to the septic tank stink of IFO-380.
I turned 37 on Saturday. I got a chance to go ashore, so I thought I'd celebrate by getting sushi for lunch somewhere new- I have never been to any store other than a grocer's and a Staples in New York, so I was feeling adventurous. At the grocery store, however, my small purchases totaled $175, something like $75 more than I was expecting for the stuff I bought. That pretty much took care of my mad money for the duration of this tour.
My oldest nephew sailed with a carrier group out of Norfolk the other day. His first trip to sea. I am so proud. My timing is off, sadly, as it looks like I'll be heading to Norfolk for a week at the end of the month, there to hone my skills in a new port for a week. That will be week 6 of this voyage, and hopefully the last extra week I'll work for a few months.
As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a week filling in for an absent barge captain in the middle of last month. My surroundings weren't bad at all, just... different; suffice to say I was very happy to return home.
Now, my wife would take exception to me calling my current whereabouts Home, but in many ways, it is- my true home is some 200+ miles north of where my ass is planted at the moment; that is my home o' the heart, as Patrick O'Brien would call it. Here, aboard, however, this place is my home too.
The day after I came back here, I was offered a captain's slot aboard my company's newest barge- a comfortable beauty less than 6 months old; the Cadillac of my employer's fleet of manned barges, and crewed by some thoroughly great guys. With only 2 seconds' hesitation, I said no. This place is home. There's a world of difference in accommodations between a ship and a barge; a barge is a 5-star dorm room, at best. My barge's accommodations are nothing extraordinary. However, they're comfortable and comforting; a small crew and the ability to handpick permanent crew makes for good living. Living with like-minded guys for a month at a time, it's possible to keep clean carpets so that one can wear socks in the galley and hang a sweatshirt on the back of a chair, but the level of cleanliness doesn't dip below par; I could have my mother over for dinner without shame. I make no bones about it, however. For the majority of my time, this place is home- not my ideal home, and there's a distinct absence of beautiful and sweet-smelling wives with enchanting foreign accents, but I spent 66%+ of my time here. Spartan conditions would be a disservice, as would a sterile, undecorated environment. As sailors, as men, we often accept less-than-ideal when it comes to accommodations. A 'Wal-Mart' mentality, as Deep Water Writing puts it. When there's an option, however, why not make one's home-away-from-home a place of comfort? Too many men don't bother, I guess, preferring to live out of their seabag when there's a perfectly good wardrobe in the bunkroom. There's a whole treatise could be written on why sailors choose to live with no comforts, even when the comforts are freely available.
I am Paul B, and I spend most of my life at sea. Ships, Science, the life of a mariner, biology and (mostly) true stories of life among the best and the worst people in the world, the United States Merchant Marines. You'll find it here, maybe. You'll definitely find rants, raves and discussion on life aboard a merchant ship. Come back and see the Brazilian girls, too, who show up fairly regularly.