Monday, February 27, 2012

Water,oil. Oil, water.

You may or may not be in the oil trade like I am, but you probably know enough to know that oil and water are not friends, right?


Well, not good friends. They know each other, for sure, though.

You'd be surprised at how your oil-based products are handled between when it leaves the ground and when it leaves the exhaust pipe of your car. I've told some of this before, and it's made people nonplussed, but here, because I'm bored and have to at some point turn some wrenches outside and am putting it off because damn, it's 1:30 am, are some fun facts about your oil.

1). Crude oil contains a shit load of water.
It's true. We loaded 25,000 barrels of crude the other day, and stopped to get a water cut, finding 4,000 bbls of water in the mix. I was shooting for 500 bbls in the mix, and sent the batch we had back ashore for decanting, where the crude will sit for a few days, then the water that settles out can be pumped out. We took more crude from another tank instead.
2). We wash our oil tanks with salt water.
This surprises people. When washing tanks prior to switching from carrying one grade of oil to another, seawater is boiled then run through pressure washers to scour the tanks clean. The runoff is pumped into a slop tank, and we'll get to that later. The tanks are then air dried using forced draft fans, and people will then go down in the tank with brooms to sweep up any dust and salt residue.

3) Slop water may or may not go back in the ocean.

Depending on where you are, the several thousand barrels of slop water (a mix of seawater and oil) will need to be disposed of. This is done by decanting- separating the oil and water. Since oil floats, this is not too hard- you pump out the tank from the bottom. On a ship travelling at a fixed speed, the water is pumped into the ocean past a series of sensors that measure the water content- some oil will go over the side, but less than a few liters per mile traveled, not enough to leave a sheen on the water. The sensors will close the valves automatically should the slop stream contain too much oil and also if the total amount of oil pumped exceeds a preset standard. In the meanwhile, however, oil IS going in the water at a few parts per million. Not nearly as much as your average outboard engine on a pleasure boat puts in the water, however.
For barges and vessels without tank washing systems, a pump-out company will vacuum out cargo residue and any slop water from cleaning operations. The slops are then reprocessed- boiled down to separate off the oil. This creates a smell like satan's outhouse. If you want to know what it's like, drive from New York through New Jersey on the Jersey turnpike. There are enough refineries there that the wind will push some of that to you from the refineries that encircle rt. 95.

I could go on, but I need to go do some dirty work. Caffeine kicked in, and even though it's in the middle of the night, I have to go play mechanic out on deck.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

a hard watch

Some cargo watches are like that. Hard.

Days like today I look back and think that I should have listened to my mother and been a fuckin' pimp.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Well today I finally gave the People's Republic of Massachusetts the last of the tax money I owed them for 2010- almost got taken over the phone too, for more.

Checkbook in hand, I called (three times) to give the Volksreich the last $1500 I owed them for the mortal sin of working out of state during 2010. But it went like this:

me: 'Hi. I'd like to pay off the balance I have for my 2010 personal income tax.'
they: "OK, could I have your social" blah blah blah.

they: "OK, Mr. B, I see you have a balance of $2200.00 and you want to pay that now, correct?"

me: "Um... no. It's 1500 from my 2010 taxes. Where did you get $2200.00?"

they: "From 2008."

me: "Huh? OK, I need you to mail me whatever you have on that so I can check it out. I'm on a boat right now and not at home, so I'd just like to close out my 2010 taxes. I can look over whatever you're trying to charge me when I get home in a few weeks."

they: "OK, well... OK, we'll let you pay off the 2010 balance."
me: "Mighty kind of you (sarc). I'd like to do an ACH debit from my checking account."

they: "OK, I need the routing number and account number of your account."

I give the ABA number and account number.

they: "OK, so that's $2208.64, and it will be charged to your account tomorrow"
me: "Wait! Shit, no. $1500! 2010 only please."
they: "But your balance is $2208.64, sir."
me: "and I'm giving you $1500 to avoid any more interest from last year. Remember? I said I would look at that later?"
they: "OK, but you still will owe penalties and interest if you don't pay that."
me: "Sure, but I have $1500 to give you. Unless you want to loan me $700, I'm giving you $1500.
they: "Wait."
(Muzak comes on).

and SCENE.

So, apparently Massachusetts is hiring salespeople from Gold's gym to give the hard sell. I have no problem paying legitimate taxes, but 'because I said so' isn't enough for me to willingly fork over my cash without actually looking to see if I owe more money, because everyone knows that tax assessors NEVER make mistakes.

Anyhow, my day is shot.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Carnival! (semi NSFW!)

Well, I really wish I could be home to celebrate Fat Tuesday with my Brazilian half of the family, but the good news is that there will be all sorts of eye candy to be sweated over in the upcoming 12 months here. Tonight is the wrapup party for Carnival in Brazil.

relatively painless- Coast Guard credential renewal

I was VERY pleasantly surprised by the process in place by the US Coast Guard for license and credential renewals.

My captain's license and merchant mariner credentials are dated- approaching 5 years since I last renewed and updated my file with the US Coast Guard, the folks who monitor and issue such things.
In the Bush years, the Coast Guard imploded- overburdened badly in terms of mission, the Coasties went from guarding life and limb on our seashores to being whatever anyone wanted, anytime- their primary mission changed over from lifesaving and patrol to policing the oceans and providing security theatre so we could appear to be rabidly safe from waterborne underwear bombers, drug runners, and people who talk loudly at the theatre.
With increasing mission creep being a major issue, the Coast Guard was in a bad way- unable to do anything truly well with the loss of mission focus, with the exception of the lifesaving portion of their job, the other traditional roles suffered. Most notably, for me, the part where they deal with merchant mariners.
The Coast Toasties are the gatekeepers for merchant mariners- they set the hurdles we must jump to qualify for our jobs; whether it's giving exams, grading exams, assessing skill sets or obsessively begging you to pee into a plastic cup like an extra in a german porn film, they're there to see that mariners render unto Caesar his due.
When the US became a signatory to the STCW (Standards of Training and Certification for Watchstanders), everything changed. Rules became ultra rigid- the mission for mariner credentialing went from assessment, testing and demonstration of skills to checking off checklists and killing trees. A visit to a Regional Exam Center became a self-guided tour of the tower of Babel. Many of you experienced this first hand.
I got lucky, sort of. While I got caught in the transition from the old system to the 'new' (STCW-based) system, I was able to get tested and licensed while the old system's paper-management scheme still existed. I drove 15 miles to the REC in Boston, paid a week's worth of bait money to park close to the North End for 2 hours, and handed in my papers, got tested, and received my license and Z-card (a little ID card that lists my ratings- the things I can do besides drive a boat) all in one day.
That system no longer exists. Papers get forwarded to Virginia for assessment now in a centralized system. Delays in issuing licenses and credentials ranged from 6-9 months. People lost jobs. The Coast Guard failed us. Mission creep killed them, and the demand for security theatre gave the Fed free reign to piss additional responsibilities down on the Coast Guard, preventing the new system from launching smoothly. How can you do a job when every day you're receiving a new job that you've never done before?
With time, the Coasties responded. There are still hiccups. Anyone with any medical issue (99% of the population) has massive headaches still to get their papers in order, but even that is slowly getting better. Even if now we have medical Theatre in the Coast Guard (because one guy lied and hid his medical history and unsuccessfully played bumper cars with the Golden Gate Bridge), and the usual Washington response is to create a massive bureaucracy in lieu of enforcing the existing laws designed to prevent accidents, there's another turd in the Coast Guard's punchbowl of a mission. I feel bad for them.
At some point, however, the new regime balanced their on-the-scene personnel needs with the administrative staff at paperwork HQ, and started quietly and efficiently processing more merchant mariner licensure.
Being for the most part a lucky dude, I have no major medical issues, beyond being too handsome for my own good, and also being fat. As such, it was one week to the day between the time I mortgaged my soul and paid for parking in Boston and handed in my paperwork, and the issuance of my new credentials and licensure. Not bad, considering that two years ago, had I been required to renew, it would have taken until last week to get my license anyhow.
The only headache in the whole process was that the doctor at my local occupational health clinic forgot to write down her medical license number, and the assessor at the REC caught the boo-boo, and sent me packing to the clinic for a correction. Took one hour. I parked illegally right in front of the REC on re-arrival, and 3 minutes later handed in the corrected forms, and got sent home. The desk-jockey saved me from weeks of back-and-forth by mail in correcting a clerical error, and for that I'm grateful. I'm more grateful I didn't have to pay $20 an hour for parking twice on the same day.

Monday, February 20, 2012

admire me!

I figured out how to use my e-reader.

I'm also going to watch 'Real Genius' with my new Netflix subscription.
Val Kilmer definitely peaked early. I've got a soft spot for him. Have you seen him lately? He's the only Hollywood celeb who is aging worse than I.

The boat in the pic? The next one I'll build after I finish what's currently on the drawing board. I need to practice my chops on a more workmanlike rowing dory before attempting a true piece of art like the boat pictured here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I made tacos with veal during the midwatch earlier today. Why? Curiosity- interesting, a bit mild on flavor, though good. Tomatillo salsa mixed w/ a little fresh avocado helped sex it up some.


Now that I've joined the Borg and bought a smartphone, I find that I am probably not taking full advantage of the situation. I already have a GPS in my car, a nice calendar/desktop organizer and a wireless modem for my ridiculously overpowered laptop, which Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife refers to as "Dat tree-tousan dolla pohno matcheen."

Considering that while I'm home, the phone is a hated tool, and while I'm on deck at work it's an explosion hazard, I don't actually carry a cell phone so much as keep one in strategic locations where it won't blow shit up. And I don't play Angry Birds.
Also, I miss my cell phone from 2001. It was smaller, dropped fewer calls, and didn't make my ear ache if I used it for more than 30 seconds. How far we've fallen.

My Valentine's day present was an e-reader. I can't figure out how to actually make it start at page 1 in the books I've uploaded. I was the kid who could program everyone's VCR. How far we've fallen. Again. I'm on my last actual book book here on board, so eventually I'm going to have to actually sit down with the thing instead of poking eery button then throwing it on my bunk and saying "Fuck this thing!" Rough beast that I am, I guess it's time to crawl towards Bethlehem.
Also, I was a total wiseass with my wife and her Valentine's Day present. Her cousin got one of those Pandora bracelets for Christmas, and my wife, being Brazilian, was immediately a pariah for not having one. How come everything is always my fault? I didn't think she'd like relatively cheap trinkets made of non-precious metals. Anyhow, more power to me, the things ARE pretty cheap, which means an upgrade from Fir to Okume sheathing in the upcoming construction of my soon-to-be-built rowing dory.
But, yeah, I totally effed with her. I told her that I already bought her some decent wine and paid off her Macy's store credit card. She believed me. Giving her the unexpected bracelet was worth being called an unromantic douche for a week.

Also, she hasn't brought up the Macy's card. I really hope she understood that I didn't actually pay it off. Crap. I may not be able to gold-plate the oarlocks.

finally, a woman who appreciates the finest
in trendy pewter trinkets


Oh, also, if my mother or sister reads this, say nothing to my wife about that last comment. Your future grandchildren depend on it. And my couch is seriously uncomfortable to sleep on. Again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

don't be crude

With the first crude oil cargo done, we're heading back to the load port for another batch of stinky, watery glop. 1 down, 15 to go. Bringing small parcels of crude into places designed to accept 1,000 foot ships is tricky. At the discharge port yesterday morning, when the dockman was passing us the discharge hose from his manifold, I had to stop him- the thing was the size of a water main, a far cry from the 6-inch hoses we usually run with. At any rate, we pumped off the barge in record time, and are heading back to PA to get another batch. I am taking a well-earned break to cook up some veal tacos with tomatillo salsa and refried beans. This will be my first foray into gently-spiced food since my gastric upset 2 weeks ago. Hopefully I won't spend the night riding the bus.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

something different

We got transferred to Philadelphia for a few months for some dock-to-dock crude oil transfers. Somewhat different from what I normally do, and the change in scenery is OK, too. I like New York, prefer it, in fact, but it's nice to reconnect with friends and colleagues. I worked out of this place for almost 2 years, and it's good to be back... sort of, anyhow. I don't like the extra 100 mile commute, but whatever.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

with age comes...age

So, after about a week at home, I'm finally able to have a morning to myself with no major obligations. And thank God, too, because it's been a hell of a week.

Homecoming was nice- Wednesday was a busy day. Passed the 75lb weight loss mark, but my doctor's visit on Wed wasn't a hit out of the park. I lost some muscle mass, and I've been feeling cold a lot, and kind of weak in general. Agreed to up my calorie count to 2500 for a month and see what it does and how I feel after, and the doc drew blood. I hit the couch early with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife. As is my wont, the Mrs. plunked a solid 1 pint glass of Caiperinha in front of me. Rocket fuel of a booze, as in, one is enough. But we had dinner right after, and, ass that I am, I asked for another.
Pleasantly fueled by a full belly and warmed by the green glow of lime, cane sugar and Brazilian white lightning, the wife and I caught up on gossip and The Boy came and went and all was very Nuclear Family. After my son went to bed, I was feeling mellow and relaxed, and for some stupid reason, emptied the dregs out of a bottle of Irish Whisky- not much, as counted pours go- maybe a 2 second splash. Return to the couch.
...and then I'm in the bathroom, sitting on the floor, and there's blood and barf. I call out to my wife, who comes in...
...and then I'm standing in the shower, and my wife is washing my hair. How the hell did this happen? Feeling not at all drunk, but dizzy nonetheless, and suddenly hot from adrenaline, I ask my wife what's going on, and she asks me if I'm finished being a drunken sick asshole now, and in a fit of genius, I say the wittiest thing I can think of. "What?"
So, while I'm shakily toweling off, my wife is on the phone with a friend who is a medical professional. She talks to me, and determines that I'm alert and have my marbles in a general sense, and we talk about what's going on. I realize that I've blacked out, and yet, with the equivalent of 5 drinks in me, a couple of hours lay time and a full meal which is now on it's way to somewhere north of Boston, I'm nowhere near drunk. Aside from being somewhat shaky and confused, I feel OK. Which is good, because apparently I was verbally abusive and a complete prick while my wife was cleaning me up. I'm shocked at what she says I said- nothing too terrible, to be fair to myself, but, you know, not really me at all. At any rate, I stave off a 911 call by agreeing to go to my doctor's office the next morning.
... where I get chewed out for drinking while I was feeling 'off.' Turns out, I'm anemic as hell, have a mild fever, and a nasty infection in my gut. All of which is very treatable with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of not drinking while I'm home this time. All to the good, but you know how we are as men. If I have a stomach cramp, I require 24 hour care, but give me an arm falling off, or maybe leprosy and plague, and I'll tell you I'm fine. I should have looked into why I felt like I had the vapors for the last few weeks. At any rate, I'm OK.
On the upside, my blood pressure went from 185/105 in August to 120/75. But I don't need a 'jumbo' blood pressure cuff. The adult large cuff works fine for me now. Kind of bummed about that.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

demand less!

I am home. Expect not too much for 2 weeks.

On top of everything else, I have to renew my Coast Guard credentials and captain's license. Boo!