One week only, but I'm home and happy to be here. This being the next day after I returned, and my wife being full of awesome and having a pitcher of caiperinhas ready for me...
...today was a bit of a rough start.
" For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry god. Bloody Mary full of
vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of
my death, which I hope is soon. Amen." - Sterling Archer
Well, that's about right. Great to be home, anyhow, especially now that I don't smell like a dirty still.
At work, I'm riding as a supernumerary, as extraneous as a third nipple out here, to be honest. My job has been to get HAWSEPIPER's new Global Floating HQ/sardine can up to standard, by which I mean making the thing able to do work safely and efficiently, and legally, too. In the meanwhile, I've been running around like a one-armed paperhanger, organizing, filing and sorting things both inside and out. While I've been doing that, my counterpart out here, and my tankerman, Cowboy D, have been focusing on the jobs at hand. I'm biting my lip trying not to periodically wade in and organize their work my way, which would go over like a fart in church, as I'm just here to sort files and look beautiful.
At home, my mom's surgery went well. With her advanced osteoporosis, I guess the surgeon told my brother that pinning her ankle together was like bolting two slabs of cottage cheese together, but she's feeling better and much more alert. I had some seriously elevated anxiety last night, feeling very cut off and all, as is my wont periodically when shit goes down at home and I'm out here. I need to step back there as well, as it's not like there's anything I could do, so I am biding my time and keeping busy as this tour winds down. 3 days to go.
Spent today in the generator room, digging for buried treasure, by which I mean buckets and boxes of crap and scrap and oily rags and discount versions of usable products.
Example 1: The no-name brand of 'penetrating oil.' I smelled it, and sprayed a little on the workbench. Diesel oil, mineral spirits and light oil. As opposed to WD-40 or PB Blaster, which is about $2 more a case, which is a 2 year supply.
Example 2: The TWO thermal probes I was told were in the gen house: A thermal probe is a digital thermometer that is hyper-accurate, superbly calibrated with reliable documentation, and sits on the end of a 50-foot length of little wire so you can throw it and drag it through a cargo tank or set it at a specific height in the tank to get an accurate reading. It is used to calculate cargo volumes and is super-important, since oil changes density with temperature, so it shrinks in the tank with time. Amazingly, no thermal probes, but instead, there were two mercury thermometers on strings. This is like asking for a camera and getting a piece of chalk and a smooth rock to draw on.
So I spent 10 or so quality hours up to my balls in 6 years worth of crap lovingly collected and thrown lustily in corners and under things, and I'm about 1/2 done in there.
My mom, meanwhile, is cooling her heels in the local suburban hospital back home with a leg that's broken in 4 different places, courtesy of passing out from dehydration because she lives on coffee. So I'm a little stressed over that, but there's comfort to be had in coming from a large family with plenty of siblings to care for her. Whatever she's on right now in the hospital is working fine- she's slurring her words comfortably. This has set the count down clock for me, though; I'm home in 6 more nights.
Would you buy Uncle Jemima's maple syrup? No. No you wouldn't. Also, why would a large black kitchen wench be used as the face of maple syrup which comes from New England?
While I was happily reposting photos of Brazilian lovelies in my last post just a few minutes ago, I received notification that a ship I worked with just a few months ago suffered a massive casualty. The "MSC Flamina" halfway between the US and Europe, suffered an explosion while the crew was fighting a fire that broke out in one of the cargo holds. Two confirmed dead, three injured, and 23 rescued. The ship is adrift.
Still too busy to do much beyond gulp down a meal and turn out on deck to work, then wash, rinse and repeat, so here' something nice to look at- and for me, to remind me that staying an extra week on board (starting tomorrow pm) pays for, among other things, my next vacation to Brazil.
Ever notice how your world shrinks when things get insanely busy? Tonight is my first break in a few days- literally. I have a 2-page single-spaced list of stuff I need to get done yesterday, but after the frenetic insanity of the last few days, in which we get a moribund barge out of the shipyard and ready to work, while also trying to move in to the quarters of said barge, which were inhabited by either a troop of chimps or one gross (pun intended) of homeless lepers, dripping everywhere.
In getting this tub shipshape, we also triple-loaded cargo on arrival in New York, which, to my non-mariner friends, means we stuffed the thing with three different parcels of oil for three different customers. With much cursing and head-scratching, because the crane system is a custom one-off that combines Flintstone-era technology with ultra-sensitive hydraulics that punish the heavy-handed (me) by flinging anything you lift all over hell's half-acre, causing me to clench fabric where fabric should not be clenched.
As predicted by the guy who oversaw the conversion work in the shipyard, mechanically, HAWSEPIPER's new floating global HQ/house of horrors is an upgrade from my last one. The living quarters are smaller, sadly, and nowhere near as homey as my last, but that's something we can work on.
Anyhow, tonight I realized that I'm overdoing it. I have lived on bagels and peanut butter sandwiches for the past 4 days, and enough's enough. I'm cooking tonight. Real food, just Brazilian staples- rice, feijao (a bean dish) and chicken w/ vegetables. I am not yet used to our new galley, so my rice is gummy and my chicken dry, but I don't care. It's better than bagels and pb&j's.
No end in sight with the workload, but my feets are so blistered that I have to put them up tonight, so whatever gets done will be limited to paperwork.
I'm tired, but responding well to the challenge. I like the fact that we have a chance to raise the standard here in NY with a presentable operation and a comfortable environment aboard.
So, with our adventures in Philadelphia officially at an end, we were told that we wouldn't be sailing to New York after all, at least, not as we had planned. Yesterday we did a crew swap so that our barge would stay in Philadelphia, but we are sailing for New York. The new barge, mechanically, is superior, more ergonomic to operate and better suited to use in New York Harbor. The crew quarters, however, are cramped and run down from inattention and neglect by past crews, reminiscent of a Pakastani hospice in terms of atmosphere.
So, I haven't been writing much, being occupied with getting this new turd operational. It's possibly a diamond in the rough just now, but I feel more rough. After a marathon 36-hour session of cleaning, repairing a hundred tiny things, and diffidently suffering through a Coast Guard pass-through inspection, the barge was sent to sea a few hours ago, and I was sent to the Bedbug Inn, our local hostelry, so that tomorrow I can take my truck up to NY, and the tug doesn't have to suffer through having even more supercargo besides my tankerman Cowboy D, who is, appropriately enough, riding herd on the tug as they pass up to NYC.
In the meanwhile, my hands are on fire from disinfecting bulkheads, fittings, overhead and decks in the quarters, killing off mildew and months or years worth of unsavory human funk. Worse than my hands, however, are my parts, from 2 full days of running and stooping and lugging on deck in sweat-soaked clothes. I have an adult case of diaper rash like you wouldn't believe. My bits are glowing in the dark they're so red.
Well, one year ago this week, I was in Brazil. I'm vacationsick because it will be another year before I go back. Sigh. In the meanwhile, here's some pictures to drive up site traffic make me feel better. In honor of July being the one-month anniversary of my introduction to Brazilian travel, I will be posting the gatas weekly for this month, with all the fio dental (dental floss) bikinis you deserve.
well, someone done goofed, because they changed their mind regarding our next cargo, so some poor sap is going to have to explain why they chartered us for two days to sail the entire way south down the Chesapeake Bay, only to have us bang a u-turn and return to Philadelphia when they changed their minds, a voyage of two days in which we went for a boat ride and did little more.
Even in a tank vessel, the Chesapeake is a nice place to be despite the 135-degree temps of our empty cargo tanks. Very picturesque. We moored at a lay berth in Philadelphia, and today I get to load us down with grub and take Cowboy D to the doc-in-the-box occupational clinic so he can get his mandated Coast Guard Physical.
Also, I harvested the first tomatoes from our midships garden. Two cherries and a beefsteak. With the elevated temps courtesy of hot cargo and hotter steel decks our 'maters are a bit wilted but thankfully the fruits don't taste like crude oil vapors.
It's been a good while since I last got buttshanked by an oil terminal over "Homeland Security" access issues. This morning, after arriving at our discharging terminal in Delaware 36 hours late because of a foreign ship's dawdling, we were informed that we are to depart for VA on completion of cargo discharge. This is a pain because we had crew change yesterday and no time for my oncoming mate, Cowboy D, to get his groceries and toiletries and other dunnage at the store. Well, Cowboy D is going to have to wait because Magellan's Wilmington terminal doesn't comply with current Coast Guard port access regulations.
During the whole security scam that our ports have been victim to since 9/11, the Ministry of Peace (Homeland Security) decreed that all ports had to regulate access into and out of their marine docks. Many oil refiners took this opportunity to illegally deny access to crew who needed to get ashore. This became so prevalent that the Coast Guard had to issue a directive ordering that all port security plans for marine companies (all waterfront companies have to have a port security plan, which helps fund maritime security planning companies, which are made up entirely off out of work carnies who can no longer find work picking peanuts out of elephant poop) when renewing their port inspection licenses. Unfortunately, Magellan terminals hasn't yet had to renew their security plan, I guess.
Here's where I get pissed off: in order to renew my captain's license and merchant mariner's credentials, I have to present proof that I have paid into the welfare system in the form of a TWIC card, a certificate from the Secret Police Department of Homeland Security that announces that I have paid $260 and passed a background check. This is in addition to my merchant mariners' credential, which requires that I pay $125 to be subjected to the exact fucking same background check, since DHS and the Coast Guard don't share data. So I have to have a DHS background check so that the Coast Guard will also have me given the same background check. And I have both complete, but can't walk 50 ft to a parking lot from the oil dock platform.
So, Magellan terminals wanted me to hire a launch (a small boat) conveniently located 25 feet from me, to bring Cowboy D around the 10-foot section of walkway that the oil dock shares with the launch company. For this we would pay $900. $900 to buy maybe $200 worth of vegetables and meat and avoid walking across 10 feet of steel walkway.
My response was a no. More accurately, my employers response was to laugh at me and say no. "Homeland Security" the dockman said with a "screw you" grin.
Reminds me of another dock in Louisiana, when a similar looking dude made a bunch of guys miss their flights home on Christmas Day, and refused to allow mail to be delivered to or from the ship, ensuring that Christmas sucked that year for 25 families.
I really hate these gestapo high school dropout motherfuckers, but it's our fault for allowing them to seize power.
We are anchored in Wilmington, DE, awaiting a fat-assed Chinese tanker to finish discharging in our berth before we queue up and take our turn sometime tomorrow. The cargo in our tanks is a brisk 90 degrees, and our decks are painted a lovely heat-absorbing red (to hide the blood and keep the gunners from spooking), so the deck temperature is juuuuuuuust hot enough to melt the soles of my sneakers.
This was the lowball reading. Our pipelines and tank domes (the lids of the tank) are pushing 150. Ergo, we are only going outside to do quick walk-arounds and to yell obscenities at the tug we're paired with.
So yesterday we arrived at a US Navy fueling depot in the Norfolk area, and who was there to meet us but my nephew, Drew B, who is stationed in the neighborhood and went to the fuel depot on business, happily to find his never around uncle Paul grubbing around on deck, fussing at the dockman!
Bear in mind that I'm 6 foot tall and 240lbs (sadly, much of that being fat, but whatever). I posed for a picture with this guy when I was a senior in high school. I had him propped up on one arm. Whatever the Navy's feeding him, it's working. In 30+ years of working on the water (I started goofing off on a fishing boat at age 7 for the grand sum of $5 a day), Drew is still the only family member who has ever been to my place of work- he fished with me when I was a lobsterman, and now he's been to HAWSEPIPER'S floating global HQ/dollar store, and since he was there on business, he even got to see me in all my hard-working (shut up) glory.
I am currently under way en route for Wilmington, DE, there to discharge our cargo and then (I think) deadhead to Philadelphia for a day or two of refitting for our next jobs. As I type this, I can just barely see a dot of land far off on the edge of the horizon. Good to be at sea again.
With repairs completed, and the cleanup mostly completed, today we make the next step on our return to the routine of bunkering and resuming the 'any time anywhere' style of work. We'll be casting off shortly for Norfolk, VA, there to load some light oil to flush out our tanks so that we can again load black fuel oils.
Since we've been carrying crude oil these past months, and crude oil contains everything including gasolines and other aromatic compounds with low flash points (the temperature at which they ignite), crude oil residue is NOT welcome in black oil, which is made by boiling off all the easy to burn stuff. If a slug of gasoline or whatever were to contaminate the black oil, it would burn, say, while preheating (black oil must be warmed so that it will flow, so most of the time there's a heating element in the tank to keep it toasty), or passing through a pipeline, rather than when it actually gets misted and hits the fire, and not when it's in a combustion chamber.
Black oil won't burn easily. It needs to be atomized, broken into small particles, like a fine mist, before it will burn (surface to volume ratio must be increased), and even then, it needs to get up above 400 degrees or so, if not actually passed through a fire. At the end of the day, the safest course of action is to find an intermediate cargo like diesel oil or some such to flush out the light aromatic hydrocarbons and ensure that nothing is going to be in the tanks that will light off at an inopportune moment when mixed into the next cargo.
So that's where we're at. We'll be carrying a load of intermediate-grade oil back up north with us, and after that, barring anything unforseen, we'll be in New York this time next week.
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.