Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Damn seagulls


It was a beautiful night out in Gravesend anchorage in NY harbor. With a break between cargoes, we're moored here in the anchorage awaiting orders. Last night was one of the most comfortable, pleasant evenings I've had on the water; the kind of clear, cool night just made for staring out at the visual beauty of the New York skyline.
Today, however, is a different story. The seagulls found us during the night. My deck looks like someone slaughtered a pack of dalmatians on it. Black and white and red all over. Gross.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

brushie brushie

Part of my ritual when we're not pumping cargo is a morning (or evening) walk, an hour-long loop around and around the perimeter of my deck. This gives me a chance to eyeball everything, ponder the ponderables, and dig the logopoeia, I suppose, as I'm also usually listening to my mp3 player. Anyhow, this morning's walk was done in some stank-ass weather. It's not raining yet here on NY harbor, but the air is thick and warm, and FAC (Flat-Ass-Calm), with a very pregnant sky and a distinct lack of birds or other signs of life. With the hurricane some hours away, I, of course, came up with an updated to-do list in preparation, which included moving my precious supply of diet pepsi indoors lest something untoward happen, which would require me to lay about all and sundry with a fire ax (I loves me some diet pepsi). While doing so, I noticed that the shipyard workers who were aboard these past few days got into my outdoor grub locker, where I keep my sodas and dead hookers. Fuckers laid waste on my soda supply, but, thankfully, I have enough to get through the rest of my tour here.
Anyhow, I'll be outside again in a few minutes to help with the lashing and securing and yelling and pointing. I came inside to cool off, as between an hour of walking in a big rectangle and doing pushups against a nonskid deck, I'm sweaty and my hands feel hamburgered. I don't care how tough your skin is, a fat person doing 100+ pushups over the course of an hour is going to have sore hands, I suppose.
Anyhow, other than an hour or so of final bits and bobs, all we have to do is secure the hatch to the house and we're ready for Irene, that bitch.
My wife called me at midnight to express her concern regarding my well-being tonight, which was nice. As I mentioned yesterday, she's never seen a hurricane. I explained to her that it was no worse than a winter storm, just longer in duration, and with the wet ground some trees are sure to fall. The nearest tree being far beyond shouting distance here at the dock in Red Hook, I feel pretty safe. My kid's freaked out, which is too bad. My parents practically had to tie me down to keep me from running outside during hurricanes at his age.

Friday, August 26, 2011

screw your contingency plans

So the Captain of the Port moved up the deadline for maritime operations in NY harbor by 1 hours. This means that I've been running around like a madman closing and dogging cargo hatches and access ports as the shipyard workers finish douching out each of our cargo tanks. I have 3 1/2 hours to finish making the deck ready for sea. Very do-able, but unpleasant work, helping the graveyard shift guys coil and stow oil-stained hoses, vacuum lines, Wilden Pumps, air compressor hoses, etc. We scored a sweet spot to ride out the weather, though I'll have a ringside seat to watch my truck go underwater if the surge beats the predictions. Not cool.
Anyhow, either way, by the end of this watch, I'll be done with this phase of operations. Next step is to ride out the hurricane, then back to work on Monday to reconfigure the deck for clean oil service. I'm already looking forward to Tuesday night, when I'll shift to my regular home away from home.

battening down the hatches

...with a little less than two days to go before hurricane Irene makes herself known, we're sitting here with our drawers unbuttoned and puddled around our ankles, which is not the place to be.
On Wednesday warning I again left a perfectly good and warm sleepy wife at 2am and went back to work a week early, this time to babysit a barge undergoing a thorough cleaning and scrubbing and mucking out here in NY prior to being put into clean oil service down south. This mostly entails me watching other people work and occasionally helping out, and included my first ever tank dive aboard a barge- funny how the compartments are so small compared to a ship's. All the same, here we sit on Friday morning, with a hurricane poised to come up our back passage, and the hatches are open, hoses snaking everywhere, and barrels of crusty oil residue sitting quietly at the deck edge waiting to be hoisted off. It's hard to picture the clutter being cleared off in time to brace for weather, but I'm told we'll be sailing in a little over 24 hours.
If all goes well we'll be mooring in a sweet spot tomorrow, as there's more work to be done at a well-positioned yard along the Gowanus river here in NY, protected from all sides, more or less, with only the wind and storm surge to worry about, if we can get the deck preddied up and everything not tied down tied down.
Anyhow, it looks as though this hurricane is poised to land squarely between our cheeks. Too bad. Not my first, and likely not my last. My wife and son are certainly going to be in for a surprise. They've never seen a hurricane. In that sense, I wish they could watch it from the big windows at my mom's house, where the action will be up in the Boston area. Last time, my brother, my dad and I watched the waves breaking over the roof of a neighbor's house while my mother yelled at us for being idiots and taped the windows with a big series of X's to keep the glass from flying if it shattered. Which it didn't.

Anyhow, for folks in the east, I wish you all well and will see you after. Going to be a busy couple of days.

Crap. I just realized that my truck might be in the surge zone too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

new, shiny, nice smelling.

Couple of things.

1). New!!! After over a year of not updating my blogroll, I have updated for you my list of what's good on the web besides pictures of a wet and partially clad Salma Hayak.

b). Nautical Log Captain Peter D. Boucher, retired master mariner draws from years of experience serving as a watch officer and later, master of ships. An Irish transplant living here in the US, I'm sure Capt. Peter has to listen to tourists from Boston tell him exactly where in Ireland their parents come from. It's the Bostonian-of-Irish-descent national pastime.

Also, Capt. Peter reminds us, as mariners, to be mindful and remember to tell others of the suffering of the 800+ hostages being tortured and imprisoned by Somali pirates, so that maybe some of the d-bags with the ability to do something will do something.

# Thrice

Wasting time with Mike & Ari deep mining the web for the best/worst of everything, and this despite a deep (and righteous) fear of Cher's naughty bits.

(audi) Quatro
The Feral Irishman fellow-traveler and fellow enthusuiast of guns, breasteses, and poking holes in popular figures' egos. Also, my #1 suspect in where the hell all my good sci-fi books went, 'cus my mother totally says she didn't throw them out.

FIVE! (is right out)
Bore-Head007- now loathed by the corruptocrats in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Bore-Head is a champion of the pressured and rapidly disappearing small family-owned commercial fishing business. Along with several other brave professional and para-professional reporters, men like these have exposed to Congress a viper's nest of corruption in our nation's largest scientific organization.

Knuckledraggin' My Life Away- definitely semi-nsfw! Wirecutter's got a great mix of all the things you should be looking at, including jokes, boobs, jokes about boobs, and American history.

hi mom
Mental Poo- midgetmanofsteel may well be a soon-to-be-famous humor writer, like a dirty Dave Barry. Awesomeness ensues.

Please remember the 800 of our fellow seafarers held captive by pirates both ashore and off the coast of Somalia. Also the coast of West Africa which is suffering attacks, many of which go unreported because of concern for increasing marine insurance rates. It seems shipowners are interested only in their profits and not human lives.

Never forget

Sorry, I've been at home, and went all-in in trying to get shit under control that needed getting under control. In the meanwhile, This:

Also in the news: the very first Hurricane EVAH may (but may not) hit the northeast. The media is showing footage of people loading up at the grocery store for Hurricane Katrina. Since no one is loading up on groceries for anything anywhere right now, except maybe Miami, which gets hit by hurricanes weekly (and twice on Thursdays), the Scare Factory is ramping up to full Chicken Little levels.

Granted, it's been 20 years since New England had hurricane-force win... oh, wait, New England gets winds equal to Category I hurricanes once or twice a year during the winter, so... yeah. Not impressed. I remember an even half-dozen hurricanes in my yoot, and though damaging and scary, somehow we lived on. So I just turned my TV off.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Disposable sailors and the price of piracy

I'm going to repost an op-ed piece that left me furious, regarding modern piracy. You can read the original HERE. Highlights follow.

Anti-pirate strike by seafarers not a good idea

by Greg Knowler.

Seaman’s unions from Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and even Russia all agreed that their seafarers had the right to refuse to board ships sailing through high-risk pirate areas.

It was estimated at the summit that around 100,000 seafarers man the ships that carry trade between Asia and Europe and if they all refused to board, well … that would be a disaster.

Seafarers are people too, of course, and like most people they don’t appreciate being detained, tortured and sometimes killed. But it is difficult to see any refuse-to-board initiative actually taking hold, even if the move could gain popular support.

Shipping associations and various carriers have described this latest move as a grave threat to world trade, which it certainly is.

In fact, if all the crew of all the ships planning to sail through the Suez Canal stayed on solid ground and refused to board it would do far more damage to trade and industry, and to world shipping, than could ever be wreaked by pirates.

There are so many vessels in operation that port windows are tight and relatively inflexible. Delays quickly snowball into congestion and any coordinated Asia-wide action would result in a mess of biblical proportions.

OK, so far a fairly cogent argument. The author contends that because (in his opinion) there is no immediate solution to piracy, business must continue as usual. Now, damn it, where have I heard this argument before?


Oh, right.

Now, before we all sharpen our pitchforks, the usual pablum must be shoveled down our throats.

Naval patrols are welcome but they need to start boarding and scuttling mother ships that supply and allow the pirates to operate far from shore. Put armed guards on all vessels in danger areas and make sure their rules of engagement give them the authority to shoot to kill.

The Asia-Europe trade lane is quickly falling into the hands of pirates and it is time to take it back.

...and we must have ham if we are to have ham sandwiches. The usual statements are made.

Today's pirate-infested waters (as opposed to other remote places in Africa, the Carribbean and South America where piracy is an unusual, mostly opportunistic, but extant problem) share common geography with the pirate-infested waters of the middle ages. This isn't a new problem. However, the solutions employed two centuries ago aren't politically expedient these days.

I'm happy to see shipowners are starting to get nervous. Seafarers are being tortured and killed in sufficient number to make certain voyage routes unpalatable. The status quo is bad enough for them to make unionization possible, if only remotely so at this point. Now, with news that shipowners are pressuring seafarers to not report pirate attacks to help keep insurance costs down, it becomes blatantly obvious how little regard the well-being of sailors is being considered.
I'm not pointing my fingers at shipowners purely, either. There is an institutional disregard for seafarers, most of whom spend their lives without permanent employment; as such there is little incentive to worry about the well-being of casual employees who themselves owe no loyalty to ship or company. That's just the way it is.

I don't want to part here without mentioning again that I believe that the author is wrong in begging the question as to the issue of seafarers taking collective action in staying out of certain trade routes. The honest truth is that the process of getting a job on a ship, in most coutries, is so full of corruption and criminality, that an expedient solution to manning shortages, should it come to that, would be to simply have manning agents lie about the ship's plans during the hiring process. Once a seafarer is aboard, few of them have the financial ability to walk off a job should they refuse to sign on. The cost of an international flight may exceed the entire voyages' payout. As such, in my own opinion, it may be worthwhile to combat piracy through legislation; making it mandatory to protect the well-being of crew and vessel has always been the only way to ensure that there is even a modicum of protection available. Shipowners aren't going to volunteer to spend money. Who would?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

So my new tankerman out here is a cowboy who breeds and raises horses.

Christ, I need a better hobby. My amazing plans of going home and maybe wax my truck just got made ridiculously lame.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


With thanks to the Misunderstood mariner for this excellent piece again: Every year or so I repost this for all the non-mariners and armchair admirals out there who want to experience the dramatic, sexy life of a mariner.

  1. Sleep on the shelf in your closet. Replace the closet door with a curtain. Six hours after you go to sleep, have your spouse whip open the curtain, shine a flashlight in your eyes, and mumble "sorry, wrong rack."
  2. Renovate your bathroom. Build a wall across the middle of your bathtub and move the shower head down to chest level. When you take showers, make sure you shut off the water while soaping up.
  3. Every time there's a thunderstorm, go sit in a wobbly rocking chair and rock as hard as you can until you're nauseous.
  4. Put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it to "High."
  5. Leave lawnmower running in your living room six hours a day for proper noise level.
  6. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.
  7. Once a week blow compressed air up through your chimney, making sure the wind carries the soot across and onto your neighbor's house. Laugh at him when he curses you.
  8. Buy a trash compactor and only use it once a week. Store up garbage in the other side of your bathtub.
  9. Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on stale bread, if anything. (Optional: Canned ravioli or cold soup.)
  10. Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator.
  11. Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get dressed as fast as you can, then run out into your yard and break out the garden hose.
  12. Once a month take every major appliance completely apart and then put them back together.
  13. Use 18 scoops of coffee per pot and allow it to sit for 5 or 6 hours before drinking.
  14. Invite at least 85 people you don't really like to come and visit for a couple of months.
  15. Have a fluorescent lamp installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books.
  16. Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills on your front and back doors so that you either trip over the threshold or hit your head on the sill every time you pass through one of them.
  17. Lockwire the lugnuts on your car.
  18. When making cakes, prop up one side of the pan while it is baking. Then spread icing really thick on one side to level off the top.
  19. Every so often, throw your cat into the swimming pool, shout "Man overboard, ship recovery!", run into the kitchen and sweep all the pots/pans/dishes off of the counter onto the floor, then yell at your spouse for not having the place "stowed for sea."
  20. Put on the headphones from your stereo (don't plug them in). Go and stand in front of your stove. Say (to nobody in particular) "Stove manned and ready." Stand there for 3 or 4 minutes. Say (once again to nobody in particular) "Stove secured." Roll up the headphone cord and put them away.

what's good

So for the past two nights aboard, we've had the spanish channel on, but muted. As far as I can tell, from 5pm-10pm, they run their version of the Benny Hill show, but with scantily clad women dancing in the background. This is, in fact, the same as Brazilian TV. And you know? When muted, this is way better than a bunch of attention whores vying for some prize, or some sex (if the two are, indeed, any different as presented on TV, anyhow), which is what is on American TV in the evening. At least the people on the Spanish channel don't make me wish for mass spontaneous sterility, a la 'Children of Men.'

Friday, August 5, 2011

sharing is caring

With a new month well underway, and 3 weeks left to go on this voyage, I haven't forgotten about why people mostly come here to sift through my crappy sea stories: to that end, I give you this month's photos from Brazil, in an effort to get people to stop asking me why I hope to retire there and take up mixing Viagra and brown liquor full time.

There's only one real problem with the high proportion of attractive womenfolk in Brazil. For example, this healthy young lady in the peach bikini:

The problem isn't that her bikini top is too small. This is a photo of a MAN.

Haahahahahahahahahahaha! You were checking out a dude!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


So, with things humming along smoothly here on board, and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and The Boy returning to US soil in less than a week, things are looking up.

My wife called tonight to tell me that some of her 60-something first cousins are throwing her a goodbye party over the weekend, and, by 'throwing a party' I mean they're looking for me to buy everything they need to feed an army for 12 hours.

So, being a cheap prick, I told my wife that she can raid the coffers, but has to tell everyone that I'm throwing her a goodbye party, and have hired her many, many cousins to manage the event, and also, the cousins, especially the male ones who fed me moonshine while I was blacked out, have to be referred to as 'my bitches' for the duration of the party.

I'm an awesome husband.

6,000 miles away, and I'm throwing the social event of the season in my wife's city of Burnt Testicle, Brazil.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where's your copy of the CFR's?

Dinner tonight was something different- after a long, long and hot day spent hunched over a needle gun and a buffer, I was pretty burnt out, and the SPF64 made the dust and rust scale I kicked up particularly annoying all over my person. This is pretty much my recipe for summer when we're not loading or discharging oil. I'm a big fan of therapeutic chipping and painting, as there aren't a lot of opportunities for mindless labor to lose oneself in out here.
At any rate, in the late afternoon came the unwelcome news of a cargo that was fixed at the last minute. So be it. With my turn in the barrel coming up, my opposite out here fixed a beautiful, big chicken pot pie. We invited another crew to come aboard if they'd bring salad and a veggie for us... This resulted in a decent dinner with good folks at my table, and a rare opportunity for relaxed, extended conversation about the usual things that sailors talk about. Sex, work, and how fat we're getting.
One thing that came up was a great discussion about how we react to negative events out here when we're dealing with dock or ship staff. Everyone had a story about the one time they blew up at a corrupt Russian engineer who wanted to sell back some of the fuel the ship had just purchased, for a cash discount. Reactions usually started off with polite refusals, degenerating from there.
Aside from the humorous, the more serious issue of Letters of Protest came up, naturally, as I received one last week and all. One captain talked about his most ridiculous letter (which he countersigned "For receipt only, Dickhead" (which is hilarious if you're in the biz, but mundane as balls if not)). The most significant part of this exchange was the discussion on variances between how shipping companies interpret the MARPOL ( International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978)
treaty around the world. In the US, we all run deeply scared of the US's OPA90, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and sometimes forget that MARPOL has teeth, too.
What came out of this discussion was pretty basic. We all need a well-thumbed and bookmarked copy of the Code of Federal Regulations at hand, and access to MARPOL's salient highlights, as well. This can help bridge some gaps (the most popular reason for a Letter of Protest to be issued in bunkering, aside from cargo shortages or bad blends seems to be witnessing of representative samples). While none of us could fault MARPOL from designating the receiving ship's manifold point as the de facto official sampling point, it is possible to violate OPA90 by leaving one's own vessel unattended to witness samples elsewhere, and, if the other tankerman is roused, a busy barge can then violate the work-hours limitations set by the DOT.
For these reasons, the astute tankerman has to question whether to expose oneself to liability, or the company, potentially, if anything gets overlooked or if something goes sideways. It's almost impossible not to be involved in a lose/lose situation if the tankerman on watch isn't careful with the CYA part of the job. Leaving one's vessel is against internal policy by most bunkering companies, and is stupid besides, as it also leaves one exposed to multiple legal risks and the potential for an injury that would involve a multinational pissing contest with only one possible loser. Rarely does this become an issue, however, as there's little difficulty in tasking the rating on watch at the ship's manifold to look over and watch the samples being taken at the barge manifold. When a new or particularly officious engineer takes umbrage at this, however, a pissing contest can unfold, and letters of protest get written in a massive show of CYA. To counter this, every piece of paper must be available as a legal shield, and every individual tasked with a fuel transfer should be able to defend their actions at all times.