After 6 consecutive watches involving hot cargo, rain and winter-weight raingear, I'm fairly hating my life just now. As a topper, the dryer shit the bed, so no more dry clothes on demand until we get enough free time to have an engineer or technician aboard, which certainly won't be this weekend, looking at our schedule. Apparently, we're the belle of the goddamned ball.
Anyhow, here's some nice average looking women from Brazil to cheer myself, and maybe you, up a little.
When I was taking the prep class for the FCC's GMDSS (Global Marine Distress and Safety Systems) radio operator license, our drill instructor teacher used to drill in our heads the necessity of using proper radio protocol when speaking over VHF/MF/HF SSB radios. Using naughty language was especially singled out as a one-way ticket to jail forever, according to the instructor, who really had a thing about not using cuss words. Really, asking a sailor not to cuss is a stretch, but most of us do a surprisingly good job on the radio.
That being said, slips happen, both in person and on the radio. After my first 4-month voyage on a ship, I remember distinctly asking my mother to 'please pass me the fuckin' salt, ma?' Greatly entertaining to the family, and even to my mother, who allowed a little leeway under the circumstances, but who would not hesitate to climb on a milk crate so she could stand up high enough to slap me silly had I done that intentionally.
So, for the most part, we do OK in making nice on the radio, even in New York harbor. There's a distinct difference in language used by ship's officers and tugboaters, of course, with the latter being a lot more salty, language-wise. The dredge guys, however, are below the bottom-rung. Dredge men are already the Untouchables in the imaginary hierarchy of sailors, which is ironic in that dredge tug operators are among the best boathandlers on earth. However, Jeezus Pleezus they're foul people, from what I can tell over the radio.
We share a house channel (a company-wide VHF traffic channel) with some dredge operators here in New York. Mostly, our house channel communications are terse and to the point. If someone talks on the radio for more than 30 seconds, someone else is going to make kissing noises or 'shhhhh' sounds. The dredge men carry on long conversations, however, mostly consisting of complaining about the people who are off watch, using foul langauge. As a sailor, I appreciate creative uses of cuss words. I'm something of an artiste in the genre, myself. However, generally, it's viewed as low-class to swear, whine and generally be a little bitch over the radio. No one cares about the problems of a stranger, first off, and it can be a little grating to hear an adult male work up a good tantrum over minutiae. In the meanwhile, however, I can honestly say that while I swear too much at work, I don't do it over the radio. I'd certainly like to hear one of these radio tough guys get beaten like they owe money to a pimp. There's no excuse for broadcasting to the world that you're an impotent dick who can't handle anything more complex than a shovel handle. What's worse, they team up- it's like having to listen to two Yogi Berra's trying to read Proust.
At any rate, I guess what I'm getting at is that all dredge operators in New York should be required to speak like humans over the radio, like their moms were listening... or surrender their vocal cords at the start of watch.
So today we're taking the largest cargo load I've done to date here at HAWSEPIPER'S new Afloat Global HQ/patisserie, and it's making me appreciate the subtle differences between this tub and our last one. While I miss the beauty and shiny kept-upness of my old barge, and this one is an eyesore, we did trade up mechanically and ergonomically here, though we've lost a little capacity with out current bunkerage capacity (how much oil we hold).
Loading a tank vessel down safely is a matter of following directions. Tanks are loaded in sequence (it's possible to break most tankers in half by loading them badly. Steel has to bend, not a lot, but some, in order to stay in one piece), and volumes and densities have to be checked against the theoretical capacity of the tanks they're destined for. As an example, oil volume is measured at 60 degrees Fahrenheit as a standard. Oil actually shrinks and grows rapidly with temperature, like water, but more dramatically. A correction equation is calculated based on the logarithmic relationship between the cargo temperature and it's density- this Volume Correction factor is applied to measure the actual volume of Net Standard barrels or tons at 60 degrees when the temperature of the cargo is not actually 60 degrees. The stuff we carry solidifies around that temperature, so we don't want it to ever get below about 100 degrees, and 140 is better. As an example, there is a 700 barrel difference between observed vs. net barrels in today's cargo.
Moneywise, it's always better to load down than to carry a partial load- you're making a voyage, and you get paid more to carry more, generally. We like to load our tanks to 95% of their capacity, to prevent the cargo from sloshing in the tanks too much, which would result in us rolling around like a turd in a toilet bowl due to free surface effect. Black oil, the un- or -partially refined stuff that we carry, is dirty and nasty. Generally, you take the light aromatics out of the crude oil- the gasoline precursors, the diesel precursors, the naptha, water and dirt, and what's left over, a thick sludge, is fuel for ships and power plants. Without all the expensive stuff, black oil is quite light, compared to diesel and gasoline- a gallon of the stuff is almost a pound lighter than a gallon of diesel.
When you want to load down a tanker, you're going to either draught out or cube out to determine how much you'll carry. Draughting out means that you're loading the vessel as deep as you can, up to the maximum allowable. As your tanks fill, the boat settles deeper in the water, obviously. The draught is the depth of your hull under water. The depth to which you'll lower the boat in the water will be determined by either a draught limit, because there is shallow water somewhere in your journey and you don't want to touch bottom, or your maximum draught - preset maximum draughts based on the hull geometry, set by international safety standards to keep the owners from overloading the boat, causing you to swim home should the weather get saucy. Because we carry black oil in deepwater ports, we don't draught out for the most part.
Cubing out, on the other hand, is an issue for us. Cubing out means that you fill your tanks 'till they're full. For us, that's 95%, to allow for cargo expansion. At 96%, the high level alarms and a flashing yellow light go off, signaling that you need to wake up fast or your career and the local seabirds are in danger of having a bad time. At 98% capacity, the high-high alarms go off, sounding like the book of Revelation come to life, and a flashing red light strobes, signaling that you're within seconds of the danger of not being allowed to even work the register at McDonalds after you get out of jail.
So today we're ALMOST cubing out. There's actually a comfortable 6 inches between where the oil is sitting in the tanks, and where the oh shit alarms will get tripped. 6 inches isn't much. Point in fact, it would take about 2 minutes max to fill up that volume if one wanted to. For this reason, 'topping off' tanks is where the danger lies, and where a bunch of sailors, who appear functionally retarded outside their little steel world, come into their own, hovering over the displays, tanks and slips of paper accumulated, like so many soccer moms at a playground.
Approaching 1am, and the work is done for the night- we've got a 20-hour gap between cargo load finish and cargo discharge open, so after the zoo-like atmosphere here the past two days, it's time for a well-relished quiet watch for yours truly tonight. I am the only one up, and there was cake. Not bad at all.
Yesterday was our renewal for the vessel Certificate Of Inspection, where the US Coast Guard sends an expert inspector and apprentice (always two come the sith... a student and a master) aboard to assess crew and vessel and procedures and papers... it's quite an ordeal, efficient and businesslike if the people and vessel are well-found, and a living hell, I suspect, if not. Today was the former, and the inspection, while friendly and supportive by nature, turned up some surprising details we could have missed, and the atmosphere was very much one of people striving to improve both performance and process.
And we did just fine. They didn't miss a thing, either.
Anyhow, it's done, and immediately after we ran to start the next cargo... and I ran to bed, as it was a busy couple of days between cargo and killing trees to verify that we were shipshape for the inspection. More than anything else, my hip aches from climbing and crawling over and under things in the pre-inspection inspection, which was done after the weather turned decidedly saucy, and from which I had a respectable case of diaper rash as a result of being too busy for a change in drawers. I hope the Coast Guard inspector didn't see me doing the cowboy shuffle trying not to rustle my jimmies today.
Enjoying a liesurely midwatch, I looked out off our stern this
morning into the heavens and saw Orion out there standing proud and
tall. Yup, summer's over.
I discerned huge Orion, driving wild beasts together over the field of
asphodel, the very ones that he once had killed on lonely mountains, he
grasped in his hands a mace of bronze, never to be broken.
-Odysseus, in the Underworld, The Odyssey
Betelguise, Rigel, Saiph and Bellatrix all in the constellation, it's a
treasure trove for celestial navigators, not to be despised at all for
its' additional benefit of pointing the way towards other easy-to ID
stars that can be used in conjunction with one of the above for a 3-star
fix, the gold standard in cel nav.
Line up Rigel (the
right foot) and Betelguise (the left arm) and move upward, and you hit
alpha and beta Gemini, the twins- Castor and Pollux.
Move from Bellatrix (right arm) to Betelguise and move to the left, and you'll hit Procyon (alpha Canis Minor).
Mintaka (right belt) Alnilam (mid belt) and Alnitak (left belt) are also indicator stars
Follow the line of the belt to the left and you'll find Sirius (alpha Canis Major).
Follow the line of the belt to the right and you'll find Aldebaran (alpha Taurus).
The picture above is a simple telescope shot- the pink dot in the
picture (visible with the naked eye but essentially colorless without
the magnification of a telescope or a really good pair of binoculars) is
the Great Orion Nebula, known romantically as M42. It is the only
nebula visible to the naked eye, as far as I know.
Why, yes, sailors do do other things besides painting, drinking and talking about women, painting and drinking.
With the few days I had free this past week, my time was insanely busy. I never watched the news, never bought a newspaper, and barely even skimmed through my email inbox. Even now, at close to 2am on Friday, sitting idle awaiting the sun before we get onto today's business here at HAWSEPIPER's afloat global HQ/male model agency, I am still rooting through real estate listings and trying to decide whether or not one of the houses we looked at this last week will, indeed, be THE ONE, successor to the Ant Farm, where we live now (long may it be continue to accrue section 8 residents and the indigent, since I sure as shit don't want them near my new house).
The naturalization ceremony we attended, where Innapropriately Hot Americanized Wife became one of us, was an emotional event, though not exactly intimate, in that there were 2,500 other people being sworn in at the same time.
(and this is only half of them- the wings were full, too, later)
The setting, not exactly intimate, was the Boston Garden, home of the Bruins, Celtics and the $8 6-oz. cup of warm Bud Light.
Former mayor Ray Flynn was the guest speaker, and did a fantastic job. I was ready to vote for him all over again.
I picked out my wife pretty easily. In the 15 minutes she was separated from us, she made friends and strolled out on the floor looking like she owned the place.
Unable to pick out the fam in the crowd, I could see her nervously scanning for us amidst the rabble. BTB, the new camera has a bitchin' telephoto. We were really in the nosebleed seats.
I took pity on her and called her cell to tell her where to look. Then she spotted us.
A judge presides over the ceremony. When it came time to actually be sworn in, everyone rose, and the prospective citizens who wished to undergo name changes were approved to do so. My wife was included, losing some middle names in favor of the more American tradition of just having one middle name. Then the moment came, when it was time to raise their hands, and take the oath, which managed to make my hair stand up with all the pomp and drama of it, jaded nature and all. The oath is no joke at all
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce
and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate,
state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject
that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of
the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
that I will
bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;
will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United
States when required by the law;
that I will perform work of national
importance under civilian direction when required by the law;
and that I
take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose
of evasion; so help me God."
Even now, reading this, I wonder how many of our younger citizens out there, living in their mother's basement, would ever consent to the idea of any of those actions that my wife swore to carry out if asked. Truly, at that moment, I understood what it is that makes our nation so strong- that our citizens, most of them, are expected to do more, to contribute voluntarily what other nations demand as tribute to be taken at gunpoint from their own citizens, where we are tasked to do so principally as a point of honor.
At any rate, my very ecstatic wife is now a citizen, with the certificate to show it.
When we managed to escape Boston traffic heading south (why a major city is fed only by 2- and -3 lane roads remains a mystery), there was time to go home for a nap before heading to a local restaurant, where I had rented a room to celebrate with friends.
The look of one relieved and content citizen...
My friend, and the groom at the wedding where the Mrs. and I met... and he's been dining out on that little fact for a long time now.
Four years, thousands of dollars, hundreds of dead trees, tens of hours, and worth all of it. Except for the bloody restaurant bill. Jeez. I paid less for my first car. And my second car, too, come to think of it.
Back at work this morning, and it's another pretty morning on New York harbor, and holy-o-dogshit, do I not wanna be here. What a week! I'm thankful to have this job, and to be able to do the job that I love at all is a blessing, but it's a foul thing when a shortened vacation comes to an end!
So, last night was the commute down here, and it wasn't bad at all, thankfully, though the hours-long wait to get a ride to my own floating palace was a drag- on the upside, things are hopping, which presumably means that business is good, but on the downside, there just wasn't a boat free to play taxi for yours truly. I rolled in just in time to sling my groceries in the cooler and crash.
Lots to write about- this was one of the busiest weeks of my life, and I'm happy it's over in a way, but I'll get to that over the next few days once I'm settled in aboard here...
Today's the day of my wife's naturalization ceremony, and in an hour or so we'll travel to Boston to make it happen- by the time we're safely back in the insane pileup to get back out of the city, she'll be a US citizen. The party starts soon after. The paying for said party starts immediately after that, God help me.
Last night was surprisingly quiet at the Ant Farm. After my boy went to bed, we ended up on the couch talking about all things in the past- my wife spoke quite a bit about her childhood fantasies of life in America, and how, at age 30, she still jumped at the chance to come here based on what she knew to be mostly an imaginary nation in her mind... and yet here we are this morning. She's been working at the vanity on her hair for about an hour now, and The Boy and I are mostly clock watching.
Blogger's latest 'new look,' the third of the year, is by far the most obnoxious to navigate. The promises of a 'more streamlined and easier blogging experience?' it took me 5 solid minutes how to get to the point where I could write this. F Blogger. Right in the ear.
I'm home, and while that's good enough reason to be too damn busy to blog, we're prepping for Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's citizenship ceremony and celebration... and house-hunting, as well. On Thursday we made an offer on an amazing house in the woods here in our current town- a pearl amongst the swine, for sure, but ultimately missed it by about 2 hours. This sent yours truly into a downward spiral that lasted a day or two.
To celebrate the forthcoming swearing-in ceremony, my wife went with me to hang out with friends at an actual American bar, which she has never really done before in the 7 years we've known each other.
Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I actually met at the lady on the right's wedding. She had caught the bouquet, and I beat half to death plucked the garter out of a friend's hand. And then stole the pretty foreign girl away from a very irate boyfriend and the rest was history. (EDIT: in the initial post, I reversed this- I said we met at the lady on the left's wedding... which would be interesting, considering that's my wife!)
Several of my friends are apparently vampires. No matter what angle we shot pictures from, they wouldn't take. Ironic, considering that author Kevin Glennon took these pictures.
Coming into the home stretch of this vacation already, I still have to look at some more houses, get my wife naturalized, and do some celebrating.
Oh, reminds me. Mickey Finn's apple-infused Irish Whisky: this is not a good sipping whisky. It's more for hand-to-hand-combat and washing the taste of hemlock out of the mouth. With notes of antifreeze and apple-scented lysol, I recommend it for removing paint from car parts and giving to people who deserve horrible headaches 15 minutes after drinking.
Today marks my last full day aboard- some time tomorrow evening I'll be relieved for a week off to be spent at home. To celebrate, here is something nice to look at. I'd like to imagine that, indeed, there are beaches in Brazil where the ladies do regularly pour buckets of water on themselves whenever an American looks at them. sigh.
Oh, this is Andressa Soares, the 'watermelon' woman. Famous for her ability to hypnotically shake her gigantic behinder. No BS, go look on Youtube.
As Sir Mix-A-Lot said, red beans and rice did not, in fact, miss this one. She's a mother of three, God love her.
Back home when I was fishing for a living, the Labor Day and July 4th weekends were welcomed with the enthusiasm one reserves for persistent hemorrhoids or one's mother-in-law coming for a 16-week visit. Amateur Hour on the water.
This should be a good time for me to point out that while I am one of those 'get off my lawn' people when it comes to government regulation, I am an enthusiastic supporter of requiring all boaters to undergo training and licensing if they carry even one guest aboard, or are in command of any vessel larger than they are. Labor Day and Independence Day are always opened and closed by fishing dead bodies of idiots, the negligent, drunks and their victims out of the harbors and bodies of water of the United States.
And so it is with us. 24 hours ago, literally, I had handed off the anchor watch to my partner and was enthusiastically looking forward to a sandwich and a nap. We were moored alongside a vessel, secure at a mooring buoy with plenty of sea room...and then a saiboater sailed directly under our bow and got his lovely two-masted boat wedged firmly under our bow rake, there to begin the process of being battered to pieces and sunk.
Quick as you please, we were on the bow (note to self: I have GOT to start exercising again), and looking down at some very panicked people. The owner of said boat refused to hand out life jackets to his passengers, despite our pleas to do so, and, with the boat in danger of rolling under us, we made the command decision to lower a ladder to them get them jacketed and get them up. The passengers shot up on our deck like watermelon seeds through squeezed fingertips... the owner, hell, I think he wanted to Go Down With The Ship. It took 8 guys to beg him to come aboard.
At any rate, the sailboat didn't go down- it got battered, hard, and the sailing gear got ruined, but we got the people up, and phone calls made.
Long story short, someone who doesn't know enough not to sail to windward of a Big Iron boat in high current shouldn't have passengers as he does the equivalent of running with scissors.
The Coast Guard responded by owlishly looking at us and doing Fuck All, deciding to risk the boat sinking while a commercial tow company thought about whether or not they'd come and get the little boat. They also very nearly got swept under our bows, too, passing within about 5 feet of disaster due to idiotic boat handling. The New York Police Department, on the other hand, responded rapidly and safely, with a professionalism, courtesy and some excellent boat handling, and good people-handling, too, as they organized a ride ashore for the passengers and owner. I am so thoroughly impressed by their response and level of care taken in managing the scene. The Coast Guard was a big orange disappointment, but Jesus, what can you expect from a bunch of 22 year olds from the square states?
Anyhow, I'm just happy no one was hurt. The boat owner was a bit of a dick, but I'll write that off to shock, embarrassment, and (I hope) shame. He was so pleasant to the tow company that they in the end refused to come get his boat, and the Coast Guard fished it out of our bows at slack water, looking somewhat peaky, but still upright.
I'm going to revisit this as a strong argument for mandatory licensing... but not today. Some of us still gots to move the oil.
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.