So, aside from the excitement and strangeness of the week spent on a new vessel, what was truly unique about these past two jobs has been the fact that we were working with the oil tanker "American Phoenix," the newest ship in the United States' merchant fleet. I have a personal connection, you see, with this ship. When built, she or one of her sisters was supposed to become my new home.
I worked for AHL Shipping Co. (American Heavy Lift) for 8 years. I started on my first voyage in the engine room, or, more accurately, under the ancient steam engine in the engine room, chipping rust and painting in the double bottom between the underside of the floor of the bilge and the hull of the ship, 10 hours a day in the dark, for 120 days. AHL was a can-do operation, probably doomed from the start due to under-capitalization, but one that fielded 4 tankers for years and years and kept myself and hundreds of other mariners employed gainfully. The economy tanked during the construction of three new ships, and a hurricane wiped out a staging yard containing much of the material for said ships, which, with insane cost overruns by the shipyard, did for the company. I, luckily, saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship about 6 months before things started getting ugly, and landed here where I work (mostly) happily to date.
At any rate, a venture capital firm that dabbles in shipping picked up the half-finished ship hull in passing after AHL went tits-up, and had the badly-managed shipyard (barely) finish her over the course of a couple of years, which is a couple of years longer than it should take to finish a ship, and pretty much explains why there is no AHL today. And the finished vessel entered service weeks ago, and we reverse-lightered her twice these past few days, loading her deep.
She's a pretty enough ship, stubby and shiny, and looking not-quite finished in her primer-coated hull and topsides. The crew on board were friendly and the officers seemed very competent, but a small part of me hoped that one of my former shipmates might have been aboard. No such luck. The ship itself is mechanically interesting, taking the best features of the old AHL ships' deck layout and incorporating them into the design, while seemingly cutting out some of the worst parts- no stooping and crawling and hitting of heads to get at discharge valves, for instance, and no "up two flights and down one" to carry stores 400 feet from the deck crane to the stewards' storeroom. There are some classic AHL-style oddballs, of course- the ship has grain hatches for loading bulk solids, and there's a lot of thin-walled stainless steel piping, which will be interesting in 10 years after a few hurricanes (stainless steel doesn't like to flex like good ship-quality steel will, and is relatively brittle).
Anyhow, look for yourself:
|Cargo Surveyors measuring volume transferred|
|We had already taken in the cargo hoses when I snapped this picture. You can see them on my deck. We can transfer about 12,000 bbl/hr (500,000 gal) through one of them.|
|Traditional raised fo'c'sle vs our spoon-shaped bow|
|After a few months, the deck gang on that ship has to know the name of every pipeline, valve and piece of steel visible. I don't miss that learning curve.|
All in all, I prefer my life today to that of a few years ago while I was with AHL. All the same, I feel a certain tug on the heartstrings to see this ship, and all the dreams that propelled it from a little company's strategy session, into a shipyard, then a bankruptcy court, breaking up, among other things, a great crew aboard my particular ship. This was a glimpse at the road not taken, for me. No regrets on my part, but some sobering thoughts about the pain it caused others through little fault of the people who envisioned her.