Modern ships are powered with giant slow-speed diesel engines, ranging in size from that of a small house to that of, well, a larger house.
The era of sail may be over, but there are still sailing ships being built. So it goes with steam- the heyday of steam ships ended in the 1970's, but you will still find plenty of ships from that era working. While far less efficient than steam power in terms of fuel consumption per horsepower (burning 2+ times as much fuel per hour when compared to equivalent modern diesel engines) steam power still holds several advantages- a longer service interval for major maintenance, and instant throttle change variability and availability, as well.
Ships' diesel engines don't have transmissions- they're just too big for that sort of thing, and the transmission to handle that much power would be half the size of the engine itself. So, to go in reverse, the engine needs to be stopped and restarted in the opposite direction. A massive reserve of compressed air must be held in readiness for this purpose, but, even so, there is a limit to how often an engine can be shifted in a short time- I've never done anything but simulator time on a diesel plant, but the simulator I trained on was modeled for training on a top of the line ship, and had only 6-7 shifts available in a 15 minute period. This makes port entry a determined process- once started, it's not so easy to stop! At sea speed, modern diesels must be throttled down gently- in the range of 1rpm at a time, literally, when shifting from sea speed to full ahead (full ahead is actually not quite 100% of the usual throttle range- it's the full speed available when throttling may be necessary. As I said, diesels don't like to change speed. Such a large engine must be cooled and warmed slowly to avoid thermal stress to the engine, so going from sea speed to a speed where the engine cools to a point where it can be throttled more rapidly is critical.
A steam plant requires changing the number of burners active, and opening and closing valves. There is infinite number of throttle changes and shifts available. No worrying about running out of air. To go forward, open one valve. Faster? Open the same valve more. Stop? Close the valve. Stop fast? Close the valve, and open the reverse valve. Reverse? Open the reverse valve. Faster reverse? Open the reverse valve more. That's it. 2 valves, and there are your throttle controls.
One is labeled 'ahead' and the other 'astern.' Pretty simple.
The steam revolution didn't stop at the turn of the last century. The last two generations of steamship were turbine powered- no giant cylinders turning a shaft like you saw in 'Titanic'. JUst two turbines in the engine room. For a single turbine array, there is a small, high-pressure turbine that takes steam direct from the boiler system, and then a larger low-pressure turbine that takes the now partially-spent steam from the high pressure turbine and gets some more oomph from it before returning the steam to the condensers and ultimately back to the boilers.
Silver one is the high-pressure turbine, and the larger one is the low-pressure turbine. This was the powerplant on a 700-foot tanker.
The boiler array is far larger than the turbines, requiring it's own room. The boilers feeding the above turbines were the size of a house- 3 stories tall and 60 feet wide, maybe 30 feet deep, and there were two of them.
I started out in the engine room of a steam ship. I planned on staying there. One long weekend spent hanging halfway out of one of these boilers during a breakdown in the Caribbean was enough to send me out on deck forever. Burns, heat, heatstroke, repeat for 3 days.
Connecting the turbines to the shaft is the bull gear, a transmission that takes power from both of the turbines, which are spinning at differing rates. Beyond the bulkhead in this last photo is the propeller and rudder.
Please visit this site and support the author! After a rapid increase in violence, Capt. Peter Boucher has submitted the first complaint to the International Court of Justice ('The Hague') on behalf of the 300+ seafarers abandoned by employers and governments and held for ransom by pirates in Somalia.
It was great to hear that President Teleprompter authorized the use of force to retrieve apair of aid workers yesterday; notably, a pretty blond woman and her companion who were being held in Somalia when word was received that her health was declining rapidly. Of course, the 300+ seafarers who are for the most part, ah, the wrong shade of brown, can go pound sand. As you will read, there has been a drastic surge in violence against hostages now that the Somalians have realized that shipowners and nations have little to no interest in paying for the release of human beings, although cargo and pirate-controlled ships still gets ransomed nicely.
Personally, what do I take away from this? The most safe course of action that you can carry out as a professional mariner is to be blond with blue eyes, or at the least sleeping with someone who fits that description.
I joke, but in all seriousness, I am also fairly disgusted that politics and appearances, and quite possibly boobs are the determining factor in who gets rescued and who gets left to go have their hands chopped off left to die at the hands of inhuman vermin who deserve a bullet to the brainpan and a piece of ham stuffed in their mouth before burial in the name of Habeus Corpus.
Finished reading Kevin Glennon's "Vikings,Vampires and Mailmen." Kevin was kind enough to send me to sea with an advance copy. I'll be posting a review soon, and, in the meanwhile, feel free to click on the "United States Vampire Service" logo.
I finished the book because I came off watch with a stick up my ass, and couldn't sleep, so I needed some cooling off time. We carried a cargo parcel a grand total of 5 miles, with about an hour between when the cargo surveyor (the guy who measures and takes the temperature of the cargo, to calculate volume officially for the refiner, as opposed to me, who calculates volume for the carrier (us) and for the official paperwork at the discharge port) left us, and the receiver's surveyor came aboard. At any rate, in the hour between surveyor's reports, the cargo cooled a tenth of a degree, which meant that the volume changed about 1/8 inch in all of our tanks. The second surveyor, who smelled powerfully of foot and unwashed ass, kicked up a slight shitstorm over the volume difference. As I explained hemidemisemipatiently that the cargo was sold by weight, and not volume, (which he should have known), there would be no issue, as the volume could be calculated using a correction factor for temperature's effect on density.
At any rate, dealing with a man who smelled like hot spicy crotch did little for my patience, but I didn't let the fact that he was sitting in a chair upholstered with fabric throw me off too much. We have Febreeze on board for just that reason. Eastern European and a smaller proportion of East Indian engineers have the same deep abiding hatred of regular baths. It unsettles the humours, apparently. After signing off of yet another surveyor's report, and opening all portholes, vents and kicking on the fans, I turned in. I quickly realized that the smell from the pre-discharge conference had wafted into my room. Goddamned common heating intakes. Faced with the vague funk of rotten onions, I read my book, and suddenly it was 2 hours later and the book was finished. Thank God I was most of the way done before I started, as I had to sleep prior to waking up for the midwatch. A few hours later, I was awoken by the smell of the cargo surveyor, who apparently didn't take advantage of his free time by attending to personal hygiene. I asked my tankerman how long the surveyor had been aboard before I came out of the bunkroom. 30 seconds to a minute, apparently. Christ, that guy really left an impression. We then spent the world's longest hour ever going over paperwork. I set the land speed record for killing trees by trying to get the man out the door in 10 minutes or less, but it was not to be. After the Hour of Power was over, the man was gone, and we were ready to sail. I remarked to the deckhand on watch that since the entire house smelled like an unwashed hamster cage, we needed to invite a dog in to shit on the floor to improve the smell. But now it's 3am, almost, and we're at a lay berth with 12 hours to go before the next cargo starts. I shortened my lifespan with a rigorous fogging of the air with alternating batches of disinfectant and deodorizer, and the prospect of a few hours of peace before it all begins again.
It's Sunday, which means that when I'm not busy, I'm tidying my space. With no prospect of going to mass today, as is the cast about 95% of Sundays while I'm at work, I have my little survival ritual. As things worked out, I rolled out of bed to take the watch at 0800, and finished up a cargo discharge in Howland Hook, NY. This left us with an hour's ride over to Brooklyn soon after. While underway, I sorted papers and vacuumed my galley and head.
I'm going to confess here that I have a weird bathroom here at HAWSEPIPER's afloat global HQ and gas'n' guzzle. Oh, shit, by 'head' earlier, I meant bathroom. Not, you know, head head or head. Anyways, my head/laundry has a turd burner.
A turd burner is an electric toilet. By electric toilet, I mean it bakes your biscuits until there is nothing left but sterile powder. It's like a crematorium for last night's steak. Anyhow, once every 2 weeks it's time to clean out the ash pan in the incinerator. This is why we have 2 vacuums. One for the deck and carpets, and one for the ghosts of dinner past. By royal acclaim, the captain on board has dooty duty. This is a distasteful but dramatic way to reinforce the concept that there is no job that is below anyone on a boat- the captain cleans the easy-bake poop oven, so the tankerman can handle periodically washing the fucking windows without any bitchery. Anyhow, I managed to preddy up the place, although I'll leave it to my # 2 man (heh) to soogie the bulkheads later... soogie (soojee) means wipe down with a cleaning rag, btb. More mariner-speak for you there. At any rate, we've moored at our new dock in Brooklyn- my employers found asuitable dock to rent located just 2 blocks from our NY HQ dock, so presumably I won't be spending so much lay time in frigging Port Elizabeth NJ, at the back of the ass end of nowhere at a container terminal. I'm hanging out with shore access today... however, it being butt-ass cold and me being lazy, I'm not going ashore between now and 1800 when our next cargo is fixed for. Instead I'm going to murder my inbox and hopefully have time to play a little Duke Nukem Forever.
So last month, amidst little fanfare, Sun oil company closed their two northeast oil refineries. This is bad. Both refineries haven't been modernized in the past 20 years. Sun's current CEO, who is more interested in selling candy bars and slurpees at the retail level than making oil, has orchestrated sun's abandonment of these billion-dollar refineries. I say abandonment because Sun never reinvested in them, so while they're technically for sale, no one is going to buy them, as they will not return the profit of a well-maintained facility. Sun Oil is the funder of the Pew Trusts, politically-motivated clearinghouses for radical causes in 'social justice' whatever the fuck that means (socialism), and environmentalism. Sun is a very lucrative backer of green, Inc. But in the meanwhile, we now have limited capability of refining finished products (read: fuels) in the northeast. To put the corn in this punchbowl turd, Hess oil is closing their St. Croix refinery as well, co-owned with PVDSA, the Venezuelan governmental oil company (the folks that do business as CITGO in the US. This represents something interesting here. Being located safely out of arms' reach of Hugo Chavez' nasty habit of stealing other people's oil-finding and -making equipment (this being cheaper than maintaining their own, thus saving PVDSA from maintenance costs) in Venezuela, taking a page out of PEMEX (Mexico's national oil company, who is doing miracles keeping their refineries sort of open using bailing wire, bubble gum and slave labor to save on costs)'s book. Without fear of PVDSA pulling a smash and grab, such as the BS pulled by Venezuela last year on Chevron and Tidewater (both being American companies) and BP (Being British, and therefore somewhat used to appeasement at any cost, this being their way of survival in places like the Middle East where they lack access to shock troops like TOTAL (France) has with the Foreign Legion to keep the mongs in line. At any rate, Hess St. Criox is heading for mothballs.
St Croix is a great stopping-over point for foreign ships to transfer oil from VLCC's (Very Large Crude Carriers (which are far too big to get anywhere near the US except for a few mooring stations in the Gulf of Mexico) to Suexmax and AFRAmax (smaller, but still goddamned big tankers for delivery to North America. Since HOVENSA (the St. Criox refinery) and even the shuttered Sun refineries in Philly and Marcus Hook NJ will be used as tank farms, there will still be companies lining up to store their oil and release it at strategic sales times at the former refineries. There won't be any return trips carrying refined or semi-refined oil back to points East for the VLCC's, however, as was the custom before, which means more big-ass ships deadheading from Disport to Loadport in the far east. This is bad for shipping, of course, as oil transshipment is already fairly unprofitable these days.
One final thought: this is very reasonable proof that the people making the money off of oil aren't the people making the Oil. Exxon Mobil might be making massive bank, but they're doing so on margins that are an order of magnitude less than the speculators and money machines who are driving prices. I've said to friends (carefully, and looking carefully at anyone who might be in earshot) on several occasions that the oil companies aren't the robber barons here; you want to see who is making $10 for every $1 the oil majors are making, look at your retirement fund manager to start with.
So our elite, Ivy League-educated president wants it so that you need to show photo ID to buy god-damned drain cleaner, but not to cast a vote? Now, granted, when presented with ridiculous and spurious documents dreamed up by foreign-owned tanker companies, I usually sign my name "Abraham Lincoln" or "M. Mouse" but for some reason it would make more sense to want to be sure that the people voting are who they say they are. I get asked my social security number when I want to check the balance on my fucking cable bill, and yet the 'Progressives' want Comcast to have better security than the goddamn polling employees.
With the sinking of the cruise ship COSTA CONCORDIA in the news, along with all sorts of facts, innuendo and wrong or misleading opinions being presented as facts, I thought I'd weigh in on what I know, what I see and what I think as a mariner watching all this unfold.
1). After the Titanic disaster in the last century, why did the ship sink?
The ship is reputed to have a 140+-foot long gash in her hull. While modern ships are made to stay afloat with multiple compartments breached to the sea, 140+ feet is a massive area.
2). How did this happen? No word yet. The Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) or 'black box' has been recovered, which should provide some info in the immediate future. The most experienced talking heads point to over-reliance and/or improper use of electronic navigation as the most likely culprit. Unfortunately, this is an experienced-based de facto position which is most often borne out as a principle cause of accidents.
Modern ships use unitized electronic charting systems called ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display Information Systems), which, across all ships, give operators a somewhat standardized suite of information availability, centered on integrating GPS Lat/Long position with a navigation chart overlay. For obvious reasons, standard industry practice (and the law) requires the integration of 'all available' information in the execution of a navigation watch. This includes the Mark 1 Eyeball. As my former captain used to say, "Rule 1 of navigation is 'look out the fucking window.'" The grounding of the Queen Elizabeth II off of Nantucket shoals in the 1990's showed the world the limitations of relying solely on GPS. This example is used to emphasize the continued need for taking navigation 'fixes' (charting position at fixed intervals) regularly, using 'all available means,' which includes visual, celestial, radar, dead reckoning and, yes, electronic fixes.
On a somewhat more annoying level, Costa Cruises put a huge-ass foot in their mouth yesterday, when the head man, who is a hotel expert, and not a captain, showed off his ignorance of standard shipping practices and claimed that the ship wasn't off course, as the ship had no designated route to follow. This is not correct, as the ship is required to have a voyage plan, including a route to follow, before leaving port. It appears that the ship was a few miles off course, but this will have to be borne out when the VDR data is made available.
3). Why are the captain and chief mate in jail? This worried me, on hearing it, as an oil-industry mariner, everyone will assume I'm responsible and/or drunk (while using intravenous drugs having unprotected sex while taking the Lord's name in vain) if there is a spill, and therefore can be held in prison without charges indefinitely unlike any other citizen of a nation of law, but I digress) in the event of an accident. Nautical Log's captain Peter Boucher, a retired cruise ship captain and true industry expert, has explained in his blog that this is a standard Italian legal practice employed in the course of an investigation, and legal under their rule of law. So, not something I'd be happy with as an American, but nonetheless, apparently this is not eyebrow-raisingly noteworthy. It does imply, however, that the chief mate was in charge of the navigation watch at the time of the accident, as the chief mate is the busiest person on board the ship, but does still need to stand bridge watch as the OOW (Officer Of the Watch) as part of his job on many ships.
4). The Body Count Last I heard, 5 and rising. There were 4,000 passengers and 1,000 crew on board. The cadre of maritime officers and experienced mariners represents a miniscule portion of that crew, most of whom will be foreign nationals from the developing world working in hotel jobs aboard. The reports of people jumping overboard in panic may well be an indictment against standard passenger safety practices employed today in the cruise industry- a laughable attempt at an abandon-ship drill carried out shortly after setting sail after the start of a new voyage. This suggests that more is needed, which everyone but cost-control aficionados have been suggesting for some time. Crowd control represents the single greatest niche-specific job training required by cruise ship staff, as opposed to mariners like yours truly, who far prefer carrying cargo, not supercargo (eg, people). While it is not possible to manage the behavior of every person on board, it should be possible to impress upon them most urgently the need to stay the fuck out of the water if at all possible, and there is ample time to do this while the people are queued up to get on board, before the abandon-ship drill. 5). The receiving end It appears that the captain left the ship before the last of the passengers did, and, if he did so knowingly, his career is over, certainly (actually, it is already), and his legal troubles are just beginning. As master, he bears ultimate responsibility as the owners' representative on board, for the lives of the crew and passengers. There is some question as to where he would be best employed to see to the abandoning of the ship- on the deck of a not-sinking lifeboat or rescue craft, or hanging on to something on board and spending his time not to fall to his death as the ship listed over. Regardless, the appearances don't look good but this is something that more experienced minds will mull over in future. This tragedy reminds me, however, that despite being tasked with the command of a $500 million dollar ship and 5,000 lives, there is at many intervals just one person who holds those lives in the palm of their hand. "The greatest gift" of command is an award of supreme confidence in the abilities of a mariner, but all mariners are people, and subject to whims and errors, whether isolated or endemic. Errors are not isolated, however, and are required to come in interlinked chains in order to bear fruit. Recognizing errors where they exist is a matter of seeing only one mistake in that error chain and preventing tragedy. In review, it is often difficult to see how errors failed to be recognized as they accumulated. This is emphasized in bridge resource management, a required endeavor for all deck officers. However, this doesn't error-proof a bridge. Nothing can, truly. Preventing accidents and loss of life is a numbers game, where minimizing incidents is the optimal practical outcome. Eliminating them, while a noble concept, is not something achievable.
UPDATE- according to Costa cruises, the ship was executing a close pass to shore to provide a scenic vista for dining passengers. This was done at the captain's discretion, and, according to the master, resulted in the ship striking an uncharted rock. Unfortunately, this is one possible result, however unlikely, of departing from an established passage plan.
...woke up from my off-watch nap to find a hard gale blowing outside. Our very busy port schedule just got porked. On the upside, this gives me time to recover from last night's Mexican food, which is cauterizing it's way around my innards, but on the other hand, 13 items are on my 'you go here' list, with no word yet on when the next terminal will open up a loading dock for us when the wind dies down under 35kt.
Long gone are the days of freezing my balls off on bow lookout in weather like this. Instead, I'm mostly sitting, pen in hand, running numbers and chasing after the phone. Not exactly the exciting life of a merchant mariner in the way that I once envisioned, but I guess seniority has a price.
Note the float coat, however. I have to poke my head outside every time I hear a boom or a crash, which is constant with all this wind. We've gotten spoiled aboard with the relatively fine early-winter weather up to this point. Today's gale is merely seasonal, but I feel enervated in a way that was once reserved for days long past when I used to get launched out of my bunk mid-sleep by heavy seas.
... 10 hours ago, I was fairly bent out of shape that I was left hanging in the breeze, being forced to discharge one small cargo in marginal weather requiring constant vigilance, while concurrently prepping for an immediate double cargo load with an immediate discharge following, located only 1/2 mile from the initial discharge port, only to discover that the load had been delayed 16 hours.
Well, while I was fairly nonplussed (read: throwing half-filled out forms everywhere and cussing) at the time, at this moment, approaching midnight, I am looking out my porthole, watching the wind-blown mist soaking my deck and enjoying the idea of a watch mostly spent moored to the dock.
If, in the course of a busy day, I ask someone to give me a slow bell between cargoes loading or discharging close to our last port, so that I can prepare paperwork, file paperwork, take soundings, plan the next job, take a leak and maybe prepare the cargo program for the next evolution, I get rolled eyes and a laundry list of excuses as to why we must go at Ludicrous speed (Eleve11nty!!) to ensure that no one is prepared to receive us at the next dock or ship when we arrive and drift and blow the whistle for attention for 20 minutes. BUT, when the phone calls start stacking up like 747's at JFK, and I've got everything humming on our end, pumps screaming at max, PLUS made room for a lube oil tanker to raft onto us and pump his cargo over the top of our deck, after I get everything prepped and readied for back-to-back-to-back cargoes, and have spent 5 hours doing 8 hours' work, I get a phone call "Never mind, the next load just backed up 12 hours."
Why the hell don't they let me know 5 minutes before we sail? How does someone go from "We'll be done at noon" to "Oh, 0400 now." in the course of an hour? Grrr.
Swapping stories this afternoon here on board, I contributed my bit about the time I very nearly run over a 100-foot multimillion dollar Herreshoff antique yacht during a sailboat race in Newport Rhode Island.
A few years ago, before I met the Mrs., out of boredom, while ashore for 6 months off from my regular ship, I took a job as chief mate on a small coastal expedition ship. This particular vessel was outfitted for 1-2 week trips taking very wealthy senior citizens hither and yon on themed cruises to non cruise-hub ports. The ship was too big to comfortably get into many smaller ports, but only just, requiring a certain amount of testicular fortitude at times. She could be shoehorned into Newport, Martha's Vineyard, some spots in Maine, and here and there in the Chesapeake, Savannah, and a few places in Florida, as well. Since the passngers were paying anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 per person per week, the food was French, the crew American, the staff attractive and college educated, and mostly female and under 25 (!) Quite a setup, anyhow. My days were spent mostly putting out fires; managing the deckhands, sending runners here and there to bolster staff where needed ("Get 3 bodies from the laundry room and send them to help the people vacuuming the port-side balcony carpets. I want them done while the passengers are gumming their lunch."). When inward of the sea buoy, the Captain and I would navigate with the aid of a helmsman. The captain was like me- started out as a commercial fisherman, got a taste for commercial shipping, and hawsepiped into a limited license. Like me, he could be smooth with the (elderly)ladies, and we got to wear uniforms that reeked of Captain Steubing, which we would wear ashore periodically to get phone numbers from bored and lonely WASP's summering on mummy and daddy's dime. Being an oversized boat in popular small-boat ports, we were often given a certain amount of deference in terms of our transit. Turning within our own boat length was a regular necessity, and thus the boat had twin powerplants and a heavy-lift bowthruster. By the end of the first week, my shiphandling skills had tripled, as had my blood pressure. Once the captain sussed me out, he and I were peas in a pod in terms of handling the boat- I've never so completely synched with someone else's style, to the point where we were working as a perfect bridge team, something (for you non-mariners, anyhow) to which any deck officer perspires over and dreams of in the way that a 12-year old with a locked bathroom door pours over the Victoria's Secret catalogue.
Newport was a regular port-of-call. We went in there once a week while I was sailing on the ship. Docking was a touch tricky, but the channels are for the most part wide and generously proportioned at the turns, which was a good thing. On the day in question, we were sailing in at about 8 knots down a straight fairway with shoal water outside the channel. There were a dozen antique yachts- 100-footers easy, sailing in a regatta on our port side, maybe broad on the bow. As the situation resolved, I saw that a crossing situation was developing. I pointed it out, confirmed it with the ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid- the high-falutin' computer system that is Radar on speed- turning radar into an information platform), and stood on my course, as required at that point. I called the boats on the VHF to no avail. As the moments ticked by, I saw that the yachts were going to cross us, creating a close-quarters situation. At this point, I could see on the deck of the boats all the crew and passengers in uniform. The men were wearing blue blazers and these completely gay hats, The women were in dresses and straw hats, all looking identical and just oozing douchebag entitlement- this was old money engaging in mutual masturbation among peers. "Christ, look at these assholes. We let them, they're going to stand on and put us in extremis. Watch. " This was the captain. He blew the danger signal on the horn- 5 short blasts. We couldn't leave the channel without running aground on hard bottom, and with our mass, we couldn't slow much given the time we had. Running the throttles to full astern would set up a vibration that would throw the 100% elderly passengers around like beans in a coffee can, but that's what we did. "Full Astern!" "Full Astern, aye" this was me. I dropped the throttles and took the helm from the bug-eyed college kid who was out helmsman. "You're relieved. You don't want to be involved in this if we bump 'em" As the vibration decreased, then sharply increased as the wheels started cavitating in reverse, I turned the bow towards the yacht, attempting to pass her stern with our bow. The pricks on the sailboat, 30 or so of them, studiously ignored us, even as our horn was surely and repeatedly painfully assaulting their ears. The captain had the button on the horn mashed down. "Pricks!" "Assholes" "Fuuuuuuuuu..." ... and we passed the boat, having lost 1/2knot of forward speed, which was enough to make a difference.
The phone beeped. The hotel manager (ostensibly a supernumerary, but in reality almost as powerful as the captain) squawked on the other end. The captain said "Um hmmm. Um hmmm. Unavoidable, but it's over. Sorry about that." and hung up. And that was that. "Paul, take her for a minute, would you? I need to shake a turd out of my pants after that." I put the throttles back up to half-ahead and the captain stepped into his room and returned with a couple of cans of diet pepsi for us, and we shortly after docked the boat and let the passengers toddle out.
With the holidays behind me, I left home yesterday evening holding a curious mix of regret and satisfaction; my time at home was wholly successful and full of activity; regrets came in the form of a significantly thinned wallet and leaving the family for another month. Most often, in my ride from Boston's 'burbs to Brooklyn, I get on the highway wishing very much that I was delivering newspapers or working at McDonalds in my hometown. By the time I hit the RI border, some 40 minutes later, I'm OK, and by Connecticut, I'm looking forward to getting the hell out of Connecticut and on board my floating tin can. Thoughts of home are relegated to pleasant past for the time being. As I type, we are loading cargo in Bayonne New Jersey, a draft load that will put us within arms' reach to the water, which is intriguing in its' own right; it's good to be back to work, doing what I do. My liver needs a break. I enjoyed the hell out of my time at home. The Holidays this year were mostly celebrated Brazilian-style; among family and loved ones, running far into the next morning. Christmas was a 36-hour affair that I will remember very fondly. Christmas eve started off with a world-class hangover, so it was a low-hanging fruit sort of situation anyhow; it was just nice not to feel like ass that evening. I bought a big-screen TV and sound system for the living room at the Ant Farm; I assembled the ridiculously overpriced table for the TV (still pressboard? for $400 I should be getting at least some actual dead trees instead of laminated recycled sawdust), plugged everything in, lugged the TV in (no mean feat- this thing is twice the size of the largest TV I ever owned), programmed the TV and handed it off to my wife, which will be the last time I probably ever handle the remote; TV holds little interest to me, so why my wife insists that the talking heads be full-sized remains a mystery. Anyhow, yeah. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and The Boy enjoyed their presents. I got a Navy-Issue peacoat that fits like a warm, classy glove. Got to visit with family, including my oldest nephew, home from his first cruise at sea, a 'round the world trip on the shakedown cruise of the George HW Bush, our newest aircraft carrier. I'm proud as hell at how much he's grown up. My youngest nephew is also growing up; he's currently not speaking to me as I forgot to return his copy of the latest Transformers movie; his favorite film ever. As he's 4, I'm fairly certain that playing with the cardboard boxes his presents came in will be a balm to his preoccupation. In the meanwhile, something awful stupid happened last night; I, a consummate consumer and passionate addict to caffeine, overdosed on it last night. I spent the night with cramps, and then chills and sweats, rather than sleeping before my first watch. Again, however, not feeling like shit is enough of a reward that being a little tired today is no big deal. New Years' day's Blogger lunch was fantastic; I met great people, put some faces to names, and was singularly impressed by how much I immediately liked everyone I met. 'nuff said, beyond that I wish I could be there for the big dinner this weekend. So it goes.
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.