Thursday, March 29, 2012

Quick thought...

Philadelphia, the principal international seaport for the Rust belt, is-a no nice.

  To wit:   I get back to work, look over my somewhat dingy and dusty decks here at the afloat global HQ. Last night it rained for about 20 minutes. When the rain cleared, it had washed off the old dirt and dust, and deposited a film of rust and dirt over EVERYTHING. The rain actually made the deck dirtier.  And that is a fine synopsis of this place.
    I like Philly because parts of it remind me of Boston. brick cowpaths that are insanely left intact to become the city's roads. Architecture and history that only a Boston resident would be so spoiled as to find du jour.  But that's about it. Dirty, crime ridden and otherwise, no.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Notes from a place I always planned to move to (2)

Eastport, Maine is a 'city' of a few thousand people, going on a full century since its' heyday when 50,000 people crammed butts-to-nuts on the little island it's built upon to fish and cut fish and pack and ship fish. Today it's a lovely place, butt of many Maine in-crowd jokes for being the home of the 'empty building festival', as, indeed there are almost more structures than people. You can find pictures of the incredible beauty of the place from local photographer Don Dunbar at Eastern Maine Images

Here, meanwhile, are some of mine, captured, sadly, with a camera phone.

Sort of random, but hey, you be productive AND hung over.

 Oh, that's the clincher. Getting my wife to come up here is like getting the cat into a travel crate to bring it to the vet. I love this place. My wife, who absolutely does not give a shit about nature in all its glory, does not. Observe:  on her only visit up here, when we were dating, we were out on a friend's boat drift-fishing, and a pod of finback whales (among the largest creatures ever to exist) comes over to investigate. What with the whales making a beeline from 5 miles away, we chose not to start the engine and kick up a whale-fuss, and sat quietly as they came over for a good look, getting within a few feet of the boat- close enough to see them pass under and around us, and to make eye-to-eye contact. A moment that will be with me until I die. After, I look at her, ready to accept that she now wishes to bear 14 of my children in 10-month intervals, to find her somewhat disinterestedly bemused, the way I look at her today when I see her pouring over a clothes catalog like a 12-year old studying a stolen Playboy. Trying to explain to her that people pay 50 bucks a pop to see these things from a mile off once in a lifetime, and that she's one of a handful of people around the globe who has looked Leviathan in the eye. She liked that I liked it, but that was about it.

 In the meanwhile, here's a slide show of the remote field facility where i used to work. If you have a look, you might see why I get all het up for nature.

Vignettes from the cargo office

scene: the grande ballroom/ cargo office/kitchen of HAWSEPIPER's afloat global HQ/sanitarium.

voice on walkie-talkie: dock to (redacted).
me: (redacted), go ahead.
voice: yeahhhhh, (redacted), we have no available pipelines for your cargo for at least the next 12 hours. Should be between 0500-0700 tomorrow before we can receive your cargo, over.
me: ugh. Roger. Understood. Please keep me informed.

 Hawsepiper picks up the phone, dialing a number from memory

voice on phone: dispatch, this is (redacted).
me: Hey, (redacted), this is Paul on the (redacted). Just got word that there's an internal transfer going on at the receiving terminal, and we're going to have to stand by until some time after sunup tomorrow. I'll call you when I know more.
voice: Roger. Thanks for the call.
(call ends)

 Fast forward 12 hours

 phone rings
me: bonjour!
voice on phone: Hey, this is dispatch. Are you done yet? What time will you be done?
me: (Sighing). No, I left a delay notification on the computer AND called last night. They weren't ready for us. Should be ready to start in the next little while.
voice: but (redacted) expected you at 0600 for your next cargo!
me: uh-huh. 's why I called last night. We're still here. Loaded.
voice: we'll get back to you. (hangs up)

 they never get back to me. A bunch of grown men receiving and taking messages, but never actually giving them to anyone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

back for more

I'm back at work- I jumped aboard and waved hi to the man I was relieving as he jumped ashore, all the while the deckhands were throwing off lines- now that's a rapid crew change.

 I've cut out the Captcha word verification. Apparently it has been freezing out anyone attempting to post, so that's done.

 Bound for a cargo discharge in another hour or so. Time to go to work...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Notes from a place I always planned to move to (1)

I started travelling to Downeast Maine in 1995. I chose to attend Suffolk University because they had a summer research facility in Maine that a good friend raved over. As a prospective marine scientist of New England stock, I had no choice but to visit the Mecca of cold water marine science. I saw what I had wrought, and it was good.

    By the end of my first summer, I was hooked. I worked up there all of my undergraduate summers. After finishing my bachelors, I made a point to drive the 7+ hours at least once a quarter. I was broke as balls, but the money was worth every penny. For a kid from the suburbs with delusions of being a commercial fisherman/scientist, it was a living wet dream.

     Fast forward, however: my 3rd month into my first sea voyage on an oil tanker, and I am passed out semi-conscious on the catwalk of said ship's engine room bilge deck. My supervisor sent several of us into an enclosed compartment (between the outer and inner hull) to paint without ventilating the compartment or providing us with respirators.We are sleeping soundly in the shaft alley, under the propeller shaft. At the end of my spontaneous nap, I shower and go to the cargo office to ask the chief mate if I can go ashore. I want a half dozen beers and a bottle of Tylenol. He goes ballistic over the safety violations, and cusses loudly with an obvious Downeast accent. Turns out he lives 20 minutes from my former lab, and we know a dozen of the same folks. We become fast friends and he coaches me through the next 9 years of my maritime career.

      Eastport Maine is the focal point of my visits now. Although I don't get up there as much as I like (2-3 times a year), Eastport is where I'd move to in a split second, except for the fact that I'm married, and there's a distinct shortage of Brazilians there for my wife to chat with. She'd wither on the vine. Just not a country girl at all, more's the pity.

Tug 'Ahoskie,' one of the two little tugs used to assist pulp and livestock ships into the local cargo terminal. 

 The salmon memorial. A wonderfully tacky tribute to a failed FOX reality show filmed locally. 

The local supply of rotten sardine carriers is drying up. Sadly, this little one may be the last.

 A busy day in Downtown.
 "Needs Paint"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Running away

When I was 10 years younger and oh-so single, it was a regular event when I'd say "Screw it, I'm road trippin' tomorrow." These days that sort of spontaneity just don't happen.

 But, apparently, sometimes it does. Tired of my pacing around the Ant Farm, apparently, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife urged me to go when a friend/former shipmate (superior officer, really) invited me up to Eastport Maine for a few days. Will, of Tugster fame will certainly be jealous.

 It's been a long time since I just jumped into my truck with minimal planning and drove the 350 miles of mostly back roads up that way. Insane fun will surely ensue.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Don't know what inspired me, maybe the two days of nonstop drinking, but I (while sober) went down to Bourne MA to the National Veterans Cemetary and went to view my dad's headstone for the first time. IT WAS A POWERFUL MOMENT. I capitalize it because I was alone, and in a great mood when I showed up. It's been  a year and a half since he died. At any rate, I was doing well. I found his stone easily. His name appeared, his dates of birth and death, his rank in the navy, war service, and then the quote. I saw the quote, and I cried like a child. "Beloved father and husband, gone home to God."
      I got self-conscious. It was so quiet, lovely and peaceful at the cemetery. I was on this hillside, and out of the blue, I'm bawling like the funeral was 20 minutes ago instead of two years come September. I miss my dad, so fucking much . Christ, my wife just came in, hearing me sniffling. Funny how things trigger memories. After a year and a half, I'm so glad that the memories that come up are so positive. My brother, going through horrific drug withdrawal, after getting hooked on Oxycontin after his 5th unsuccessful back surgery, laughing with my dad because he's carrying my father to the bathroom rather than making my dad figure out how to use a wheelchair. My dad calls my brother a fag. My brother calling my father a fossil. My mother, talking about how on their 5th anniversary my father shot a hole through the wall in the kitchen because, despite having lived through a shore assault and several bombardments in Korea, my father never learned how to handle a rifle. My father (and this one I remember), being told he had a year or two to live, saying "kids like you have told me that for over 20 years." My father saying to the same doctor "I've seen you become a husband and a father, and now a grandfather. Do I need to finalize my will?" When my dad died, that same doctor called 20 minutes later, and cried with all of us, and laughed when I sent him a thank-you card containing a naked Asian bodybuilder (you'd have to be there to understand).

    At the end of the day, my father lived a life worth celebrating. I miss him some days. Some days I don't think about him, and the loss of him. My father would have slapped me for swearing as a kid. As an adult, as a former sailor, he never indulged in colorful language, but laughed his ass off when I cussed at the dinner table. My mom, all 95 lbs and 4-11 of her, would laugh her ass off too, were I to swear at the table, now. As a kid, cussing in her house was the kiss of death. As an adult, it was a standing joke. My first true trip to sea, I came back, having sailed into Quincy, MA, and had dinner at mom's house. I said, at some point, "Ma, can I have the fucking salt?" and then, horrified, gasped, awaiting my mother to unleash hell. She and my dad laughed long and hard- he would do the same, the first night he was home from sea. Of my brothers and sister, sailors all, for the most part, none got that hall pass; just me. When, horrified, I said, as an apology "Oh, fuck, sorry. I'm always fucking up shit I say," my father went into laughing paroxysms, laughing without making a sound. My mother, with disapproving eyes, accepted it.
    The 'Gone Home To God' is killing me. My dad was trapped inside a failing body for 25 years. He spent those years living well. I can't help wonder what a fitting epitaph would be for me, if I died tonight. "He tried, dammit" would work. Maybe "we never had the heart to tell him he looked like he had water on the brain." I dunno.
 I kid, but I miss him.This is the next-to-last picture I have of my dad, taken about 4 months before he passed on, at his last hospital stay. My wife ended up falling asleep in the hospital bed with my father.  It was 4am, and the two of them were exhausted. After 30 years of heart disease, heroic doses of drugs and three bouts with cancer, my father still had more hair than I do. Son of a bitch.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


I'm back in the Ant Farm. Expect little for a little while, and I'll be sure not to disappoint!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

last day

 I don't get Channel Fever like I used to. Channel Fever is the screaming desire to build a raft out of the bodies of the people  who stand between you and the shore. When I was aboard ships, everyone knew that the three days before you got relieved was a waste of time. People got the Fuck-its, if they didn't have things to focus on. I would be bipolar.
 Nothing, but nothing, I say, looks better than your ship, when you're on the launch heading ashore for 4 months. 

Those days are gone, of course. A 4-week trip is about all I'll voluntarily stomach. The days of 120 days on board are past por moi.
    Even so, I'm standing my last cargo watch today prior to going ta hame, and, while I don't have butterflies, I'm absolutely ready to un-ass from here.

As always, on crew change day, confusion reigns. At some point I'm sure I'll get relieved, and then it's a matter, depending on the timeline, of getting out of Philadelphia, driving into New York via the Jersey Turnpike, across the George Washington bridge/24hr traffic jam, THROUGH New York City on rt. 95, and then the 110-mile stretch of stop-and-go construction traffic that is Rt. 95 in Connecticut. By the time I get to Rhode Island, I am cursing nonstop, and at the RI/MA border, a sense of serenity will set in. That's usually how I roll.

     Now, I SHOULD be simply happy to be in my truck, on my way home. In a sense, I am. I simply have to run a gauntlet first. In crossing from New Jersey to New York City, I am crossing the Rubicon at the head of a column, in a sense. Feelings of dread and anticipation of a fight to come rise in my gullet like the one time I bought a Cinnebon roll at a rest stop. When I pass Co-Op city, and the bridge across some polluted creek, I am leaving New York City behind me, and entering the edge cities, where I'm sure to encounter traffic, but can open up my modest and simple pickup to highway speed for as much as three or four minutes at a time.

     I much prefer the ride down to work, to be honest- I usually go during the overnight, when it's just me, some drunks, and professional drivers. The ride home is full of dread anticipation of the ride home, and impatience to pull into my parking spot at the Ant Farm, there to join my loved ones for the too-brief reunion. From the moment I get in my middle-aged ride, all I can focus on is getting home. The 6-hour ride (if there are no major delays) is a torment, like a blanket turned sideways that just can't cover one's feet and shoulders at the same goddamned time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Being Married to a Brazilian is Confusing

 Salvador, Brazil. This place was built a year before the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock. 

I've never made a secret out of how difficult it is to understand Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife. My dad used to say that the only man who ever understood women died about 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.

 When we're not arguing or laughing, we spend a lot of time talking about our respective cultures, in an effort to come to an understanding of each other, sort of, anyhow. As much as two people who are dead opposite in all ways can do such things.

          I made a profound (for me, anyhow) discovery about one of our essential cultural differences, and one that also goes a long way to explain the resentment and inferiority complex that many foreigners seem to carry into encounters with Americans. I certainly got my fair share while in Brazil. The wonderful outpouring of warmth and friendly welcoming attitude was predominant, but among strangers, I was pretty much the devil. 
Pictured: Evil American

To be fair, I really was a walking stereotype in that picture, 75lbs ago. Fat, very possibly drunk, and accompanied by the most attractive woman on the beach.
             Brazilians are incredibly social people- much more so than even the most social American can appreciate or truly understand. Their culture is full of social contracts and idiosyncrasies, just as our American culture is. The differences aren't always polar opposite, and aren't always subtle, either. 
                I get pissed off when my wife's friends call at 1am just to say hi. This is my time to sleep, most of the time. A 1am phone call is NEVER, EVER positive in our culture. In theirs, it probably just means someone is drunk and wants to do the 'I love you, man' speech. And that leads nicely into the idea of politeness. 
          Brazilians have excellent table manners. You'll never see one of them clearing their nose on the street, or belching anywhere, even at home. They have no middle class, either. You're either in the super-small minority of 'haves' or you're a 'have not.' There's a working class, and an upper middle class, but no middle middle class. 
         If you're a higher-class Brazilian in line at a bank, on a Friday, and believe me, you will be in lines everywhere (Brazilians are horrible at customer service, and have little interest in changing that), you will expect the bank to send someone to bring you out of the line and into their office to handle your banking needs, while the peons in line can go take a flying fuck at rolling doughnuts. 
        Now, lets say that it's now Friday night. The people who live the next street over (rich and poor live without buffer zones, unlike the US, who got thrown under the bus when you were in line, are now partying their ass off at midnight- music blaring, bottles clinking, etc. You are NOT going to call the police about this in Brazil. This is the social contract- people might bitch amongst peers, but will give and take exceptional liberties before asking for special attention.  It's sort of an equalization in a culture with stunning inequality. 
  What Brazilians take from this is a sense that Americans are cold, entitled and demanding. We expect everyone to shut the hell up when we want to sleep, we expect that no one is going to cut us in line, and we'll expect that you will try not to interfere with our day-to-day living without an invitation. We want everyone to conform to our wishes. That certainly sounds arrogant... of course, the flip side of that coin is the behavioral code of conduct that comes with it- we expect to be treated, for the most part, according to the golden rule; therefore, our natural reserve which keeps us on polite terms with our neighbors also makes us seem cold, as you probably won't see us drunk, swinging from a telephone pole, either. "Americans don't know how to have a good time," is a sentiment that a few people said to me casually. They have a point, though truth be told my wife knows full well that as a rule I don't act up too much in public, while in private I have no problem acting like a dumbass for entertainment purposes.
      My wife learned early in our marriage that Americans focus on the nuclear family, (I met 60, that is SIXTY third cousins), and that our social contract calls for keeping strangers at arms' length until by mutual assent things change. She was very pleasantly surprised by how loyal and warm my friends and immediate family was, and, in comparison, the difference in how we interact when our cultural reservations don't apply. 
    Our culture has unspoken rules (non-friends or non-family can expect a phone call then a call to the police if there's a noise complaint). Calling the cops makes it much more likely that a crime will be committed in Brazil, as opposed to stopping one, here. There, the police are to be avoided, as they will expect to be bribed or paid regardless of why you're dealing with them.  Their culture has unspoken rules, too: don't interrupt anyone's good time, and for fuck's sake, do not mess with the status quo. 
     With this contrast, it's no surprise that Brazilians find Americans to be cold and arrogant. We expect equal consideration regardless of class, we expect no stranger to impinge on our good time, and we demand that our desires be met, even if it has consequences. 
         When put in a Pepsi Challenge situation, I wasn't surprised to find that Brazilians find most of us soggy and hard to light, in general. What I really loved was some of the one-on-one conversations I had where I could see someone's realization that I wasn't being reserved with them, that I was focused completely on the person- at that moment I ceased being an Ugly American for them, and became a person. 

 One of the best examples of this was with Bras (I think I spelled that right), a street vendor in Salvador who was selling iced ground-up sugarcane with lemon. It being a slow day for him, I tried out my horrible Portuguese and managed to order a drink. I then proceeded to dump a little scotch in it from my hip flask (you travel with me, you travel with class and style, baby!). His English was slightly better than my Portuguese, so we chatted in the two languages, with my stepson translating here and there. I ended up pouring out some of my flask in a cup for the guy, as Scotch is 5x more expensive than it is in the US, and they only import shit like Ballentines', which tastes like it was made in the toilet tank of a prison bathroom. So Bras and I shared some Lagavulin, my own brand of choice (which is R$300 a bottle in Brazil, about $200 US. and he showed me pictures of his kids, and I introduced him to my wife and son. All in the course of 10 minutes, and then we went on our way.
      Those moments like that come when our cultures collide in an open way. When cultures collide in a clash, it's not so nice. My wife will flip out if I complain about the neighbors making noise. She lives in fear that I will walk over and interrupt their good time at some point. I'd be breaking the social contract. 

Nautical Terminology 2012 edition

I try to make a point to use the proper terminology when I'm at work. This is important, as nautical language is made to be concise, which keeps screaming (the usual method of communication) to a minimum. Tugboaters seem to be less reliant on traditional nautical language, and it makes for some confusing situations.  Tugboaters have their own language, which may or may not include traditional nautical terms. This is confusing.

deckhand, talking into microphone:  "There's a pilot boat at, like, 10 o'clock, 10:30 maybe."
me: "Naw, It's only like 1700 right now, man. I ain't even had dinner yet."
tug captain: "What? the wind's blocking the sound of your microphone."
deckhand: "no, I mean there's a pilot boat over there (Points with finger)"
tug captain: 'Are you pointing at the pilot boat, or the Staten Island ferry behind it?"
me: "cover your mic, and say "Pilot boat broad on the port bow."
deckhand: (into microphone) "Pilot boat, broad on the port bow."
tug captain: "It's a woman? Where? On the pilot boat? I don't see anything?"
me: *facepalm*

 So, with that in mind, and bearing in mind that there are thousands of terms that we use, I'm including some updated names and terms that my tugboat-centric readers might not be aware of, but which must absoutely be part of their lexicon to be judged as a professional mariner. This list also contains many tugboat terms that ship's officers may not be aware of.  Here is today's list. There will be a quiz. Everyone who passes gets more pictures of half-naked Brazilian women. Those who fail do not have permission to look at my pictures of half naked Brazilian women.

PAWL:  a steel bar, pin or block used to prevent the anchor windless from spinning in case the brakes fail.

SPUD: a steel pole used to moor a barge in shallow water, or a pointed rod used like a crowbar to move pipe flange connections and similar objects into place.

BEACH WHISTLE: a plastic tampon insert thingy.

CONY ISLAND WHITEFISH: floating condom, used.

DOG- a steel fastener attached to a threaded rod, used to screw down a hatch cover or other fitting.

DOG DICK: basically, anything cylindrical and small enough to be picked up by one person. Most often used to describe an end-splice in a piece of rope or line, or a spud wrench. Also used as a vaguely demeaning term when sending a helper to fetch a tool.

 NO DOG DICKS ON BOARD: a vessel that does not employ or use butt splices in their ropework. I am of the No Dog Dicks school, myself.

 Not on my watch, mister!

Rather than use a splice that will get stuck in every knot or block, and is most assuredly going to flail around and hit you in the balls as soon as possible, I believe firmly in whipping rope ends to keep them from fraying, rather than making a testicular wrecking ball. As such, you will not find any dog dicks on my deck. You'll find lines whipped with electrical tape and/or dental floss.

FIRE ISLAND BEDROOM SLIPPERS: kneepads. Used when kneeling on decks painted with nonskid paint. (Also known as Provincetown Workboots).

FOR'RARD: towards the bow

 IS/WAS:   Tends to be used contrary to proper English. Ex.: "You always was as numb as a pounded thumb." translates to : "Sir, in my humble opinion, you are not intelligent."

WICKED FAH OFF:  Distant. Used in New England, and by New Englanders.

COOL THEM OFF: reduce throttle

A LITTLE HOT: too fast

TOUCH UP: hull is pressed against an object

GOING TO SCRAPE THE PAINT A LITTLE: A collision or allision of significant force is imminent.

 DING: Gaping hole in the hull

SCRATCH : Dent in the hull

RATTLE THE DINNERWARE: a bump that sends everything flying onto the deck. Most often TV's, glassware and sleeping off-watch personnel.

HAND-FENDER: a little tire, piece of hawser or other flexible object often requested to be placed between the vessel hull and a dock when an accidental 'touch up' or 'scratch' is imminent. This is exactly like watching Wile E. Coyote open an umbrella to stop a 20-ton boulder from hitting him on the head.

 Athwartships Akimbo: This is an old nautical term used to describe orientation of the legs of a jack, tool, or other object or person- it means facing 90 degrees to the fore-and-aft direction, and spread out for stability.  I used this term not too long ago to describe how I wanted a temporary steel support to be placed on a pipeline. The response: "Jesus, What?"

 ONE-ARMED PAPERHANGER: running on deck.

    That's it for now.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

just 'cus

Some nice imports from Brazil.

No special occasion, just wanted to say 'Thank you, God, and great job!"

Thursday, March 8, 2012


In my last post, I complained about the fact that I had idle time, and the only time I like a watch off is when it's blowing 40 and raining.

Guess what the weather will be doing when we dock in NJ at 2000?

Quiet midwatch.

I decided that I don't like midwatches when when we're not working.

Under normal circumstances, I'd polish some major booty in exchange for a watch off when I'm aboard here at HAWSEPIPER's floating HQ/monastery. This crude oil bidness isn't nearly as taxing as the bunker biz, however, and I feel that I can handle a fuller schedule. So, with every other day starting at midnight and me standing an 8 hour watch, I'd rather be working, so long as it ain't blowing 40 and raining. Sitting idle for 8 hours watching the tide rise and fall is for poets and layabouts when you're in a place so butt-ass ugly that there is nothing of nature to admire.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


One of the best parts of my recent weight loss is that I don't groan every time I get up from tying my shoes. If I'm working while hunched over, my gut isn't jamming my diaphragm and trying to make me shit myself concurrently, either.

With the recent spate of rain however, came some hip pain, and that had me groaning when I would get up from my chair to poke around out on deck.

Seems kind of a shame. I no longer get full-body diaper rash if I spend the day in foul weather gear, but I do get the delightful feeling of ground glass in and around the bones on either side of my keister.

if you can't take the heat, get out of my galley.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Well, I certainly feel safe

So we're loading at a refinery that is in the process of being shut down, you know, since the price of gas is so low and there's just so much available for cheap.

I'm listening to the safety manager attempt to hold a refinery-wide safety drill. He's spent the last 15 minutes asking for all persons-in-charge to press their unit's evacuation alarm. Apparently not everyone is getting the point, as I see some guys having a smoke break in the distance, waving their arms and chatting companionably.

But I get the point. If you're laying off 90% of your employees over the next few months, and not telling them when their pin is being pulled, people are going to lose interest in procedures.
Here's why I am empathetic, despite the horrific implications to safety:
This company is having rolling layoffs. The layoffs come with a modest severance package. The people who WILL be laid off in the next year were informed. If they find work before they are laid off, they lose the severance package. If they voluntarily pull the pin, they're not going to get Unemployment. Apparently they are not being informed in advance of when they will be laid off, just that, at some shift change in the next 12 months they're outie. In this way, no one can prepare for their job loss OR jump ship until The Company has truly gotten enough squeak out of the hamster. Who is going to hire you if you don't know when you can start your job.
Given that, I'd be tempted to yell 'every man for himself' during a safety drill, too.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sexual socialism

lying liars telling lies

After crew change the other day, I spent some time telling the relieving tankerman about the ins n' outs of our new crude oil run. We discussed procedures, plans, contingencies... all the good stuff, as well as the practical things. This was followed up with a relatively small cargo parcel to be loaded, and discharged at a terminal we normally wouldn't visit on this contract.
When it was time for me to sleep, my tankerman had things well in hand. We were discharging to the terminal, and I went to bed. He would finish the discharge, walk the cargo surveyor through the paperwork, and get us ready for a draft load of crude oil the next day.
I woke up to find us at the load terminal, a few hours from where we were when I went to bed. As is my way, I felt the normal bumps and vibrations when we sailed and arrived at the next dock, and they, being normal, were enough to register, but not enough to fully wake me up. When I arose my tankerman asked me if we were letting the terminal blow their lines into our tanks.

At the end of a cargo evolution, there is going to be oil in the pipelines, hoses and connections between ship and shore. Depending on the cargo, this can be dumped, drained or pushed elsewhere using air or nitrogen (depending on the cargo).
Crude oil contains a little bit of everything, including a shit load of things that are very volatile. On top of that, it's a strong static accumulator- that is, it collects electrical current generated by the friction of the oil passing through pipelines. There are smart ways to handle it, and not so smart ways.
We're pretty careful folks here at HAWSEPIPER's afloat global HQ/fertility clinic. Little things like letting the cargo sit undisturbed for 30 minutes before gauging volumes do wonders for letting static dissipate. We DON'T have an inert gas system like a ship would. Ships pump inert (non explosive) gases into their tanks to make ignition improbable. We don't have that luxury, so we have to be smart.
The dockman at this dock (who doesn't deal in crude, but does have a connection to an interstate crude pipeline that they never really use), at the completion of the discharge, set up to blow compressed air into his pipe manifold, to drive the residual oil back into our tanks. My tankerman wisely declined, as we don't want air and oil to be compressed in our underdeck pipelines where there's a possibility of ignition (plus, any air trapped will skew our volume measurements- the couple of tons of oil left in our pipelines belongs to the customer, and they don't like paying for air bubbles). SOP for us is to drain the lines using only gentle gravity if the shoreside folks don't want a shot of air.
The dockman proceeds to browbeat my tankerman, saying that 'we always blow back to you guys' (bear in mind that we've never been to this dock and my employers haven't ever carried crude oil in the class of barge I run) and threatens to dime him out to Corporate for being uncooperative and ignorant of normal procedures.
Thankfully, my tankerman, for some uncharacteristic reason, gives the dockman my company's 800 number and offers to let the man use our phone. I had no idea the man had it in him.

At any rate, I was fairly bent out of shape by this- I'm highly satisfied by what my 2nd man did, but pissed about what the dockman wanted to do, all in the name of avoiding having to turn one little valve and put a couple of barrels of stinky crude oil in his containment area. 3 minutes delay isn't worth the trouble of blowing us the fuck up.

And if you want to see what stupid shortcuts can do to folks in my position, look at this:


Thursday, March 1, 2012

well, that was messy.

When I received word that we were going to be running crude oil for a while, I didn't think about what this meant for our pumps here aboard HAWSEPIPER's global afloat HQ/pickle barrel.

Crude oil is pretty thin stuf, with a consistency similar to Kerosene. In our terms, we talk about the API density (an arcsine-transformed number (I believe) used to denote density based on a logarithmic scale. Crude contains all the stuff you need- the hydrocarbons to make light, medium and heavy oils, plus a shitload of water, too.
The water's the real bitch here. We've been moving heavy oil (think of black, tarry, thickened molasses) for the past two years. Since we have diesel-driven pumps, the pump shafts that run from the deck to the impellers are sealed with a traditional stuffing box.

If you don't know, a stuffing box is a metal collar that you stuff full of packing material- braided teflon line, in our case. Imagine packing the area around a driveshaft with cornrowed human hair, and you get the idea. In many cases, boat drive shafts are packed with the same stuff.

A miniature-sized example, above.

Here's the thing. The 7 layers of 1/2 inch packing that were on the old shafts were pretty old. As the packing ages, it needs to be increasingly compressed to keep a good seal.

Well, carrying dense, heavy oil, it didn't take much to keep the oil where it was supposed to be. Crude oil, being much thinner, wants to travel a little easier, and, in addition, has decent solvent properties, as well. So, when it came time to crank the pumps up to 100PSI, it was time to tighten up the stuffing boxes, which bottomed out while still admitting some oil, which had the undesired effect of freckling everything around the pumps with crude mist. Most notably, yours truly.

I took this picture AFTER scooping some old black out and some crude oil out. I then had to scrub the well with diesel oil then brake parts cleaner so I could disassemble the stuffing box. In the rain. Uphill both ways.

Long story short, I've got this shit in my hair, and I smell like a bible story.