Wednesday, May 30, 2012

running in the red...

I'm not quite well-rested yet, but I'm a lot better than I was.

      This past week has been the most intensely dissatisfying, work-wise, I've had in a few years. Mostly, it's the hours, but there's some other candles on that cake as well. I think I'm past having a pity party for one, but I'm certainly not quite recovered yet.
           We've been carrying crude oil for a few months, as part of cleaning out a refinery that is closing and going up for sale (seriously, that's what we need, less refineries, when the EPA hasn't allowed a single new refinery to be built in the US since the day they came into being). Well, we reached the bottom of a tank on the last job, and sucked a few thousand barrels of crude oil sludge into our cargo tanks, leaving the bottom of the tanks with a foot or so each of oil solids with a pudding-like consistency, sufficient to clog all our cargo pumps, begging the question of how the hell we're going to get that out of our tanks and into someone else's.
           This little mishap was compounded by having my right-hand man shanghai'd at another port, where he pissed too much excellence to be sent back to yours truly, so I was left with Father Time.
     Father Time is the oldest actively sailing employee in my company. Nice guy, too, but he had NO experience working with crude oil, so I was left to do my job, and his, but his presence satisfied the personnel requirements of Uncle Sugar's Sea Scouts (The Coat Guard- always there when you don't want them) so I made do.  Moving our oil sludge was a nightmare. The oil moved at 10% of its' normal pumping rate, and the pumps had to be screaming for the oil to move at all- balancing the need to feed the pumps to keep them from burning up, and the need to keep the oil trickling ashore to get as much as possible off. Every 5-30 minutes, the pumps would lose suction, and start to freewheel, necessitating a mad dash to get them stopped and reprimed before the oil congealed or the pumps burned up. A 73 year old can't be running around like a one-armed paperhanger for 8 hours at a time. A person unfamiliar with our equipment can't sit and listen through a pair of earmuffs to the sound of a 20rpm engine change to identify when the pumps have shit the bed, either, or smell the difference between scorched oil and burning oil in the pump drives- so I did the work, and a day and a half after the trouble started, I went to bed, waking up 3 hours later to clean up the pumps, shovel the congealed oil from around the burnt shaft seals of said pumps, water my tomatoes, which by this time were thirsty, and crawl around every tank top and ullage point (places where the cargo depth is measured) with cans of auto brake parts cleaner and some rags to scrub oil-soaked footprints and spatters from cargo samplers and surveyors who had made a mess. This being thunderstorm season, I'll be dead and rotting in hell before I leave oil on my deck to make a sheen in the water and get my name in a paper somewhere. At any rate, it was another 16 hour day after our disastrous ruined cargo discharge before I was satisfied that we were looking good. I had to really work to keep Father Time from getting on his hands and knees to help me, which says volumes about the guy's spirit, but I wasn't going to make him work and get hurt.
      After everything was lovely again and I was showered and fed and ready to sleep, I crashed into a coma at just before midnight. At 1AM, Father Time woke me up and told me to call my boss.
     An injured crewman on one of our ATB's (Articulated Tug/Barge, the largest tank vessels in our fleet, about 5 times the size of mine) had done a face-plant on deck, and a tugboat was going to be at our barge in 5 minutes to bring me over there. I protested, and, in my sleep-deprived state, was unable to articulate that I was a mess. So, 10 minutes later, now awake and boiling mad about being AGAIN transferred (the 4th or 5th time I was used to fill a gap in a short span) after being somewhat put-upon, I was on my way.
   Unfortunately, I didn't put my best foot forward on the ATB.I was so mad at this point, and so sleep-deprived, that I was antisocial, and, while the deck layout was easy to understand, I wasn't cooperative with the crew, and, when offered a chance to sleep, I was so bent out of shape that I couldn't do it. So I didn't get another chance to rest for 18 hours more, but I was completely a work-shirking ass at that point anyways, though everything that was necessary got done. And 24 hours after I was on board the ATB, I got off and headed home to my own little slice of steel heaven.
   That was 30 hours ago. In the intervening time I've slept some, got caught up on paperwork, saw Father Time off just this morning... Oh, that reminds me- my tankerman called last night, furious, and said that he was being sent to Baltimore for a few days to cover for someone else. He's been waiting patiently for 3 weeks to come back here. Between his ardent desire to go back to his normal place of work, and my desire to have a trained and competent able-bodied seaman on board to help me through the next few days with a giant question mark hanging over us as far as how the hell we're going to empty our tanks, I made an end-run and called in a solid with a big shot to get my guy back here. Both of us have taken a beating in the name of keeping things running, but I felt it was time that we looked out for #1 for a while.
   So, all's well that ends well, I guess.  My tankerman will be here in another 2 hours or so. It was a brutal week, but everything got done as it was supposed to, and I even got a personal visit and an attaboy of sorts from the VP yesterday, who came over to look in a tank at our nasty cargo and admire the vegetable garden now thriving in an unused cargo basket out on deck. The only sour note of yesterday was that we got around to painting the communal head (the restroom) off of the galley, and the lovely peach color is actually an unlovely orange color under the florescents, and quite hideous. No one is going to be able to enjoy taking a big post-dinner 'rest' (seriously, why do they call it a 'restroom?' No one sleeps in there) when it looks like someone blew up a pumpkin in there.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Whales is pricks

I'm not a big fan of whales, even though I'm an animal person.
 Let me explain. I like whale watching. I really like going whale watching. I mean, for a while there, I was getting more people to listen to me talk about marine ecology during whale watches than the pretty girls they hired to recite facts for the viewers. Back in college,knowing about whales got me laid, and therefore, you'd think I would wish to see them canonized, especially as a fairly competent journeyman-level marine biologist.
But no, don't like whales all that much, and I'll tell you why.
     Over the course of many lunch/dissections (the two CAN go together, if you're busy enough), we'd discuss the paucity of grant money to Look at Things, and I particularly was annoyed that I couldn't find anyone to underwrite my population model study of sea urchins, a tasty little creature that is popularly served as sushi. Maine at the time was fishing the hell out of them, and some very poor people were making a decent living harvesting them. I was 90% sure that I had a working population assesment tool that would let managers make the fishery more sustainable over time, by targeting high-value animals and leaving broodstock, simply by making it illegal to fish for sea urchins in certain small areas. I couldn't get finding, but my little assessment tool did get published in the end, and some other dick got funding to use my population model later on.
 Whales are classed by scientists who ignore mammals as 'sexy megafauna,' the animals that attract the big bucks and the big attention. Bloated bags of fat that they are, they're not much use for research purposes alive, as they wash up dead on beaches fairly regularly, and the only difference between a live whale and a dead one is that it's more socially acceptable to dissect them after they're already dead. Mammal behavior for a dead-end species (whales being retrograde marine mammals, having been marine animals millions of years ago, then becoming awkward land animals before quitting and moving back in the water) is scientifically interesting only to behavioral scientists. Meanwhile, the seafood we eat could be better managed, the shore and water, and all natural resources in the ocean, could benefit from more research bucks.
    One tacit advantage of whales, though: bimbette protoscientists are attracted to whales like a child to candy. This allows real scientists the opportunity to get work done without having to deal with the thousands of bubbleheaded college grads with a degree in marine biology but without the acuity to actually work in the field.
A focus on marine mammals is most often the kiss of death for aspiring marine scientists.
    That being said, one of my favorite memories of Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, back when she was  Disproportionately Hot Foreign Girlfriend, was the time we went out whalewatching on my friend Doug's boat up in Maine. My wife does NOT enjoy being on the water. To placate me, though, she went with us when I brought her up to Maine. We rode about a mile and a half offshore through Head Harbor Passage in Passamaquoddy Bay, and drifted back into the bay with the tide, with the engine off. About 20 minutes later, a half-dozen gray whales, 70+footers, came by to check us out, close enough that we could smell the stink of their breath and go eyeball-to-eyeball. It was an amazing moment, one that all of us could never forget, except for my wife, who tried very hard to forget it immediately, being scared out of her mind that either we'd get bumped or enter Canadian waters and she'd get arrested for not having a visa.
So it goes. She really is scared to death of the ocean. And yet she married me, a guy who has spent at least 300 days a year on a beach or on or in the water since I was 7.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Musical Tankermen!

If this week had a soundtrack, it would absolutely be the "Benny Hill" theme music.

      I'm going through tankermen like toilet paper at a mexican restaurant. Earlier this week, my watch partner and equal-but-slightly-more-equal-than-others, Big B, went home. This was a last-minute job, and my regular tankerman, Cowboy D, got voluntold to go to New York to cover for an injured crewman there. We were slated to start a load of crude oil, so my pimp/dispatcher, Mama T, farmed out a tankerman nearby to me who happened to be on board a barge that was down for maintenance- this guy, unfamiliar with our decks, crude oil as a species in general, and the Floating HQ/flophouse way of doing things, was there to satisfy the Coast Guard minimum personnel requirements, no more. After a few hours of orientation/how not to blow us up, we sailed, then anchored near the terminal, and he was ready to warm a seat and I could get a nap, which lasted 30 glorious minutes. Then one of our generators died. I knew this because I fell asleep with the lights on, and the sudden dark/quiet woke me up like a lightning strike. Just a serpentine belt letting go, so we switched gens, and that was that for me getting any sleep for the day.
   So, when my seat-warmer had to report back for work, they sent me another guy. I need to be sensitive here, because this is a sensitive issue just now. The guy's too old to do the brutal work of a black-oil tankerman. (This is me being sensitive. My exact words to a shipmate were "the guy's fucking a hundred").

 At any rate, he's warming a seat now, and isn't actually 100. But we do now know what happened to the Ancient Mariner after that albatross business. He went back to work. SO, yours truly may be a little busy these next few days, which is a shame, because Father Time is making me miss Cowboy D something terrible.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

2 to go

A little time spent here at HAWSEPIPER's floating global HQ/thrift store was just what I needed, apparently. I'm mostly recovered from being passed around the fleetlike the village bicycle last week. Today is crew change day, here aboard our little metal slice of heaven. I'm staying on for two more weeks. This makes today the start of week 9 here aboard, and that's no joke. I'm a little peaky, but hanging in there.

    It being spring (at least on the calendar, today being rainy and cold), we spend the past weekend painting the galley here at HQ. We picked a nice gray blue (but not cornflower. I hate that color) that we all found classy. We also planted this years' garden in buckets on deck.

We've also bought a gallon of paint in a nice peach color for the head. We found the color 'soothing,' which seems appropriate on a vessel where I'm the only one who gets enough fiber.

 I stepped on the scale while ashore over the weekend and was dismayed to see my weight is still sitting above where I'd like it. It's stable, though, and I'm back to feeling 100%, so I guess I should be happy there. In the meanwhile, we're heading south on the Delaware river to pick up a load of crude oil and take it out for a Sunday drive later this week. Nice to be back at work on my own decks, though I wish we hadn't waited until it was raining. I chafe.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Big day

Well, today was an important one back at the Ant Farm, far to the north of where yours truly has his ass planted at the moment. Today, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife signed, sealed and mailed her application for US citizenship. I'd like to say something funny, or poignant, or anything, really, but I'm just so proud and happy and blessed that she's married to my monkey ass, and today was a big, big day in our lives, and stupid me, I'm here, and not there.

Something amazing is starting today back home. Too excited to write, but I will be back later!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ahhhh... nice to be home, even if it's just my home away from home. I got back aboard last night, and promptly felt the tension ease out of my shoulder. Don't know what's up, but my left shoulder feels like there's ground glass pounded into it, though it's noticeably better today.
   Anyhow, to celebrate my hopefully permanent return aboard here at HAWSEPIPER's floating global HQ/dollar store, here are some lovely Brazilian women for you to look at. Note the artistic use of "Fio Dental" (Dental floss).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

FML... 2 times.

I wasn't even able to sleep 6 hours in my own bed before I was sent to NY to cover for yet another ailing mariner, so now I am once again stuck in a little fucking metal box with a stranger. Seriously, I hate everything right now Also, I'm 38 now. Perhaps this will go down as one of those lesser-remembered birthdays.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

puttin' on some freshies

Life is good again. Due to logistical dificulties, I went without a change of underwear for an...extended period of time. For a person with somewhat meticulous hygiene desires (I shower at least twice a day, and change my clothes accordingly), this was double plus ungood. Anyhow, this wasn't nearly as bad as the poor tankerman I was trapped with, who had to deal with me eating dinner while clad in a towel as my unmentionables got laundered. Anyhow, after picking up a ride to Baltimore, watching over a cargo discharge, then sailing to Philadelphia to shoehorn a quadruple load into our tanks, only to sail back to Baltimore to discharge again, I was greatly relieved to be...relieved and driven back overland to Philly, there to take up residence at home again on my regular place of business. To celebrate my partner and i had fish and chips at an ancient and incredibly tastefully done Irish pub in Philly. A Guinness would not have been remiss; drinking on the clock being a capital crime, however, we made do with soda. Screw it, it was awesome to be back.

Friday, May 11, 2012

more reads

As I was feeling the need for some serious escapism, I've been reading David Weber's Honor Harrington series, a space opera written in the early 90's. While it's always interesting reading a dated sci-fi series, and gives you a shot at seeing how visions of the future change with time (and technology), I've been especially enjoying the politics of this series.

        Essentially, the series covers a clash between two human empires, and the development of police actions into proxy wars and then, open, all-out war. The author is a Brit, almost certainly, and borrows heavily from the British days of sail. The main character is a female Lord Nelson, and the warfare and tactics parallel those used in sail-era naval warfare.
              What's especially interesting to me is the role played by 'dolist' (those on the dole) citizens in one of the empires. People unable to participate in the political process, disenfranchised and bought off by a basic living stipend, a welfare state that ensures survival. One empire is hemorrhaging from within by the dolist revolution (France under Napoleon?), which shapes the empire's politics, but carries a short shelf-life, as popular support requires raiding already-dry coffers to ensure welfare payments are made on time, and thus one empire has a time limit on their ability to wage war.

    Makes me think of the EU, and how the efficient, employed Germans must feel about, well, pretty much the rest of the EU, and how I feel, certainly, about the Occupy movement. Greeks and Occupiers suffer serious (and legitimate) disenfranchisement, and respond with short-term strategies to attempt to maintain the status quo: free ponies and a blowjob in every pot, or something.

  At any rate, while it's certainly not my usual fare, I'm enjoying the hell out of being able to tune out the fact that I've been marooned for the weekend or possibly longer on a strange barge, and me without a change in clothes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I just spent 6 hours tied up to a coal ship. You could heat your house with my boogers. I feel awful for the sailors who have to work in that environment. I'm afraid that the next time I have to use the bathroom, 's gonna feel like I wiped up with 80-grit.

grumble grumble

I had one glorious day back 'home' at HAWSEPIPER's floating global HQ/sausage factory, and then I got farmed out to another barge, this time in Baltimore, for a day or two. I'll write more when I don't hate the world.

Monday, May 7, 2012

(The next to) last watch

We're on anchor watches here at Hawsepiper's floating HQ-in-Exile. Tonight is my last night aboard as visiting (un)dignitary. This afternoon was a relatively serene one, spent transiting Hell Gate and anchoring off of Throg's Neck in NY. Along the way we passes scenic Riker's island prison, home of the rapists, thieves and former investment bankers of New York. The truly lucky of our freedom-impaired brethren can enjoy the scenic vistas of roomie-rape and gang violence from the comfort of the world's largest houseboat... a lovely monolithic prison barge.

   At any rate, I'm doing laundry and packing my seabag, because tomorrow night I'll head south to Philadelphia, there to muscle through ANOTHER 4 weeks back at HQ before I can go home. In the meanwhile, tomorrow we have to feed a dinosaur of a ship, the T.S. EMPIRE STATE, the training ship of the New York Maritime Academy- SUNY Maritime. We're anchored about a half-mile from her as I type, awaiting sunup.

 Anyhow, being a 50-year old relic, this ought to be interesting.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

'A hard way to live'

...those were the words my father said when I told him that I had an opportunity to get a job on a ship, 11 years ago.

        Yesterday I saw the tug "Steven-Scott" cross our stern while we were loading cargo in Bayonne, NJ. It left me with a nauseous feeling in my stomach to see her working. Her captain, Brendan O'Leary, was lost over the side while at sea last week. Just disappeared while he was on watch. In our line of work, this happens from time to time, and it's always a tragedy, most especially because the circumstances will never be known, and there is no chance to avoid further loss of life in the future as a consequence of lessons learned from such a loss. 
        Enough time has passed that a search had already been called off a few days ago for Capt. O'Leary, though I heard this morning that his body was successfully found and recovered yesterday around Montauk Point, NY.  Cold comfort, though, for myself, I feel it is better to have the closure of a successful body recovery when someone is lost at sea, for the sake of the family. He leaves behind a wife and children, and I know that all of us extend our deepest sympathies to his loved ones. 

Wow... not cool.

I knew that,with the weight loss, I had lost some muscle, too.
 I've re-gained 20lbs since coming off the diet, so I'm still down 60lbs from my start. This was expected, as I started craving protein like a madman, while already on a 70% protein diet. When I realized that I had had the same cold/sinus infection for 6 weeks, I knew that I overdid it. Anemia, general weakness, blah blah blah. Anyways, I went from taking in 1,500 calories a day (w/ 1.5-2 hours of exercise daily) to 4,000, and within 5 days my cold was gone. I'm trying to keep the calorie count around 3,000 now. Some days it works, other days, chocolate chip cookies.
   At any rate, pre-diet, I could hug-and drag about 20 feet of loaded black oil hose across the deck at work. I figure that's about 500lbs of drag.  Last night I tried to do about half that, and moved about 6 inches. So, I'm not feeling good about that. I still don't have the energy I did pre-diet, either. I think that, despite my best effort, I may have screwed my metabolism up. So far as I know, the only cure is to up the exercise, which is unpleasant, and with 4 1/2 weeks to go into a 10 week cruise, I'm awfully invested in mating ass to chair.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

feast or famine

After an unusually long interval of being moored to a dock with nary a cargo in sight, the other evening, a little blurb appeared on the order book- a small cargo for a small ship- 2 of our 12 cargo tanks were to be used. And all was well, as we were bored. Then another... following that, a double load to be taken on at two different docks. Followed by a triple load after.

 So, with the first small parcel just about doled out as I type (I've got about 30 minutes to go before sucking air on the last tank), We'll make our way through the fog to the loading dock, there to take on some 2,000 tons of bunkers and then some diesel oil, too, and the whole cycle repeats. On Tuesday, at some point, I'll be relieved and head to Philly. I had hoped it would be quiet then, but I guess I got my ration of peace early.
       Too bad- one regret about this is that we'll be loading SUNY Maritime's training ship EMPIRE STATE after I bail. I'd have liked to have seen that ship- a lot of friends trained on her and the stories of how awful she rode were always good for a laugh.

 EDIT: Fast forward a couple of hours- we're loading at a terminal in beautiful Bayonne, NJ (the Paris of the Northeast), and the fog and mist has muted the noises down to a minimum- it's damp out on deck, but the noise level is lovely- just a very slight rumble from the generators in the stern house, and up forward in Cargo Control, there's nothing but the barely-audible grumbling of thick black oil running through the underdeck pipelines on the way to our cargo tanks. Pretty nice.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

in which my hair does not weather tempus fugit

You know, I'm awful dumb at times. In case you don't know me in real life (in which case we wouldn't be debating this), I'm going to tell you why: I've been giving between $500 and $700 bucks a month to the US department of Education for the past 10 years. At times, that $500 represented 3 weeks pay when I was trying to make a living lobstering in February, but I paid. That's 10 years of payments, plus postage. Turns out, I could have just stopped bathing and taken a crap on a cop car like everyone else. Don't I feel stupid.

 You know what pisses me off right now? My job is NOT in the field I was educated to work within. So when these shitstains with degrees in underwater basket weaving (with a minor in transgendered asian studies) whine that they can't get a job in their field after graduation, I say 'so fucking what?'

 I spent over $100,000 on my education to become a research scientist. I actually LIKE writing, and I got pretty good at talking 'bout chemical receptors, forced sex reversals (in fish. calm down!), and reproductive biology. I write technically, far, far better than I do creatively. I was told that I glowed like an expectant mother when I got to talk at a conference. But I'm here, now, 10 years later, a glorified floating gas station attendant because marine biology pays dick, and the US Department of Education doesn't accept dick as a form of payment. You adapt.
   Not like it was a bad decision, mind you. I love my job (some days). As a freshly-graduated, energetic young scientist, I enjoyed living in beautiful seaside communities, commuting to work on a motorcycle while wearing sandals (I was an idiot, then, too), and being the fonzie of Woods Hole, MA. I had a side job as a fisherman, so I had mad street cred with the other techs. But prestige doesn't come with medical or dental benefits.
     I don't suppose anyone ends up where they planned. Part of me is still the awkward fattish, long-haired shy young man who defined himself by his work so that he had something to talk about with strangers. Becoming a mariner coarsened me badly, and I am deeply attached to marine science still, as a hobby, but being knocked out of the ivory tower didn't rattle my screws loose- it smartened me up in a way that these OWS kids need, badly. Reality is hard, and their parents did them no favors in protecting them from it.
Me, age 17. 

Age 23, mid-blackout after speaking at a conference in Amsterdam, my 1st public speaking effort. I have no memory of this, but I do still have the hat.'s what's for breakfast

Did you know that you can get breakfast at IKEA?  I had no idea. With several of us rafted up at a dock in Red Hook NY (a section of Brooklyn, apparently), we went on a field trip and tried it out. It's IKEA. I figured I'd have to cook it myself.

 End result? Not bad, for a buffet breakfast- you know, where the eggs are served with an ice-cream scoop. Still, crepes with lingonberry were different. Those Swedes have a thing for Lingonberry. Like Japanese businessmen with used girls' underwear. Can't hold the bag of a decent greasy spoon back home though. Sure, you can get pickled herring, but not a blood sausage to be seen.

       Some dingleberry in one of the barges that are rafted outboard of us has been costing us money here, anyhow. They're tying down gangways and boarding ladders, and then, as the tide falls, the aluminum is getting bent into artistic shapes. We returned from breakfast to find the ladder folder in half in the shape of a question mark, which made getting aboard not bloody likely. We ended up going up the pidgeon holes, which is an adventure in itself.

Ordinary Time

Whoa, work slowdown. A few days ago, I fell asleep sitting on a warm pipeline out on deck, I was so beat (What? It felt nice. Remember how cool it was?). Now we're sitting idle until tomorrow PM. Feast or famine here on NY harbor. I'm absolutely enjoying the time, anyhow, and have been able to see some work friends while here. Next week I'll be back in Philthadelphia, but hopefully not long after we'll be heading back up here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Full moon in Brazil (semi NSFW)

Just because it's that time,  here are this week's pictures of the lovely ladies of Brazil.

Never mind the kool-aid, don't drink the water

One of the hardest parts of being out here on the water is when I can't be there for important things at home. Things that require a husband's or a son's input, or, just occasionally, presence. And here I am, essentially impotent.
    My mother-In-Law in Brazil is blind and has chronic stomach issues. Periodically, when she needs to go to the doc, she calls up her only daughter, my Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife,  in far off  'Nova Iorque' (because suburban Boston just doesn't have that Zing 6,000 miles to our south, I guess), to hit up the Bank of Paul, and I"m OK with this. My mother-in-law is a giant pain in the ass, but she's also funny and sweet and awesome, and Brazilians like to talk shit about America's evil nature and the awful health care system, but Brazilians can't step foot in a hospital unless they can prove they can pay for their care beforehand. Jesus, that's a place where you have to have your credit card out before you call 911.
     At any rate, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife really, really misses her mom tonight, and is really missing being able just to 'be there,' when her mother needs medical assistance. In a stressed fit of pique, she tells me that I can't imagine how hard it is to know that someone needs her, and she can't be there.
     To the contrary, in all the world, I can't imagine someone who knows better than I the awful impotent feeling of not being able to be there. I am sitting on this metal box, listening to my wife, who is feeling lonely and lost, and misses her mother, and here I am, just 250 miles from her, but a million miles away.

   I can't come home for every crisis. I'd be home every few weeks for something. As awful as this is, my mother-in-law's bad digestive system sends her to the hospital 3-4 times a year, and I can't be there for my wife every time. Understanding that is a hard, painful lesson that has to be relearned periodically. Watching my wife suffer through the same lesson is worse.