Thursday, October 31, 2013


 Feeling shitty- weather, and the fact that after busting my ass for several hours in service to a rented carpet cleaner, my carpets still look shitty. 

So, something dramatic for you

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Monday, October 21, 2013

aaaaaaand I'm outie!

Well, 77 days is enough for me. I'm done. Heading home tomorrow. Got a pit stop to make.

    I'm feeling more than the usual "Holy crap I stayed too long. What was I thinking?" I'm actually feeling damage from doing a 10-week stint. I think that's the price of access and familiarity- being 120 days on a ship, cut off in all ways from home with the exceptions of the odd port call- that you can adjust to, but here, being completely immersed in the numerous ways in which physical separation is a daily and even hourly trial... well, that's just hard.

 Anyhow, I'm going home to sweep up the pieces and put things back together. Everything goes to rust, given time, and it's time to see to my real life. Yay!

Friday, October 18, 2013

no...just no

Ugh. I don't even have the energy to flush this out fully... I have a friend who is a conspiracy theorist. Nothing, but nothing is what it seems. It makes me wonder, really, about what's going on in his head, where he finds than anyone with a little knowledge and power is out to lie and manipulate and do terrible things for unclear reasons that don't involve sex or money, which we all know is the reason everyone does anything at all.

 Anyhow, the latest one is that this comet that is approaching the inner solar system is going to hit earth or come close enough to do damage, and the Trilateral And Space Administation and the illuminatedBilderburgs or somebody is hiding this information from us. He had charts.Two of them, in fact. Only one of which showed the comet, which was coming right for us.

 Only thing, it's a polar projection... you know, top looking down where the center is the pole and all meridians are strai... you know what, never mind. It's set up like a chart for plotting an ocean passage- a Great Circle route. Here, in fact, it is.

OK, it actually does look like the comet is coming for us... except that this chart doesn't measure that. It's not that kind of chart. Plus, the comet is not coplanar with the platetary orbits- it's coming in high and dropping in on the Plane of the Ecliptic (think of the tabletop on which your solar system model sits- it's the plane in space where the planets more or less are aligned on.

 Well, turns out, IF the comet survives its' pass around the sun, which is a maybe, it MIGHT pass about .5au from us- about half the distance between us and the sun. Not exactly close. 4 light minutes, say. Anyhow I gently put it to him that this wasn't a conspiracy, and in return I got some chinese radar image that purported to say the same thing... and I can't do this anymore. It's like dealing with a flat-earth believer, so I just sent this:

Not only can I keep teh gummint from reading my brain waves and stealing my sperms, I also get NBC on demand.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

THE PHANTOM strikes the Ivy League!

You have to understand that sailors are for the most part a VERY fastidious, tidy lot of people, when viewed as an aggregate. A guy's bunk might be a trash pile of sentimental flotsam, and his sea bag may smell like the apocalypse, but you look at the galley of a tugboat or a ship, and you will generally see a level of cleanliness that far exceeds that of most restaurants. As an example, on the 50-year old, somewhat decrepit S.S. New River, my old haunt, cold or rainy days at sea almost invariably ended up with the deck department soogie-ing (wiping down walls with a warm water/mild antibacterial soap mix) all the bulkheads (walls) inside the crew accomodation block.

Just so. Medical care is hard to come by at sea, so it makes sense to be hygienic.

 Now, there is a personality out there, who, when overwhelmed with fury, lets everyone know he's sick of taking shit from others on board. THE PHANTOM SHITTER. The Phantom, along with the Filipino Monkey gag, is a tried and true trope of sailors abusing others to amuse themselves. I'm not partial to the Filipino Monkey thing at all, rather the opposite in fact, although like anyone else, stories of the Phantom just make me laugh.

 The Phantom leaves his messages of disgust where they will be seen and smelt, using the tools at hand... the coin of the realm, if you know what I mean. Every navy veteran knows someone who has been on board a vessel that has had a Phantom. My opposite out here, an ex-navy medic, once witnessed an executive officer (the equivalent of a Chief Mate in the navy) go completely apoplectic upon discovering that someone took a shit in his coffee cup while he was away from his desk. My dad had a Phantom on his engineering crew in the USS Moale. That phantom left notes mounted upright in his leavings, bragging about where he'd strike next. Neither of these guys were ever caught.

 Well now, it looks like Yale has a Phantom this semester, and this one is partial to dorm laundry rooms... the dryers, specifically. They're calling him 'the poopetrator,' but this is the Phantom's work. Whoever he is, if he gets caught, he's always got a second career available.

And in Washington DC:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

That Charlie Darwin Guy Was Really On To Something

The most ridiculous part is that this is not even a rare occurrence. The real ballbuster of it all is that the guy at the helm of the speedbump sailboat was a Lieutenant in the British Royal Navy, and goddamn, he should have known better.

 Labor Day weekend last year I had the same thing happen to me, except that there wasn't even the excuse of being underway. A sailboat ran right under my bow and got wedged there while I was AT ANCHOR. I guess they do teach the Queen's Officers enough not to have that happen.

        Sailboaters get very excited about racing, I guess. Excited enough to do dumb-ass shit like this, and endanger themselves where the best-possible-outcome is getting a piece of varnished plywood with a chromed tin cup screwed on it, worth maybe Ten, Ten Fiddy at best. Or maybe I just don't get it.
5 years ago I was running a very underpowered 1000 ton boat into Newport RI. Light breezes, beautiful afternoon, but still a high pucker factor because the boat was taking up much of the channel

 Well, it was a sailing yacht race week, and it was all antique multimillion dollar rich people sailboats this time. No shit, with guys in these gay little sailor suit uniforms and women in yellow sundresses with parasols and these gender-neutral shitty hats, too. WASP COSPLAY!  Seriously, made me want to call Dr. Kevorkian's self service line.
 Well, I've got 99 senior citizens who plunked down 10K each for a 6-day luxury cruise of New England, and it's lunchtime. The sailboats are crossing the channel, and one of them has decreasing range/constant bearing.

 RULE OF THUMB: When assessing risk of collision in a crossing situation, line the other vessel up with a notable piece of structure on your own vessel- in my case it was a window casing. If the vessel is moving closer but doesn't come out of alignment with the structure, it is on a collision course. This is the fast and dirty rule of Decreasing Range/Constant Bearing.

 Well, shit. I call on the radio. I can't turn in this channel without a couple of minutes to get to a stop and some twin-screwing with bow thruster-assist, so I call the guy to let him know I'm constrained by draft and really don't want to do anything. I'm the stand-on vessel, meaning my obligation at the moment was to not do anything. I call on the VHF, nothing. I use the horn to make a passing agreement in a legal manner. Nothing. Fuck. Decreasing range, constant bearing. I blow the Oh Shit code (5 short blasts on the obnoxious horn). Nothing.  I throttle down and put the engines in reverse gently. 3 blasts on the horn. ("I am operating astern propulsion"). Then not so gently. The boat is shaking like a drunk with the DT's. Din-dins is definitely disturbed. I am leaning on the horn and take the wheel from the helmsman (a courtesy in case there is an injury- he's got a clean conscience).
     Well, this beautiful shiny little mini cruise ship is underpowered, as I said. She's taking a while to stop.  The sailboat, never altering course, goes UNDER MY BOW, and the lookout tells me his stern passed within 3 feet of my bow. Had we touched, I would have been responsible- granted, he would have been fucked both physically and legally, but in a maritime collision there's no such thing as an innocent party. Everyone's getting some blame.
 Anyhow, all is well. I apparently had the Creme Brulee waving like we were driving over cobblestones, but everyone but me is happy. I still remember that boat's name, and every time I go to Newport, I look for it. If I see it, I may just take a shit down one of his skylights.

 BTB, Watching that video, I keep thinking of the captain of that tanker like Rodney Dangerfield in "Caddyshack."   "Hey, you scratched my anchor!"

Saturday, October 5, 2013

NOAA Done Gots Got

As a former commercial fisherman, it's perhaps no surprise that I'm not a huge fan of NOAA Fisheries, the ever-expanding and increasingly powerful agency of unelected Federal officials who are charged with ending managing commercial fishing in the United States.

 I was a fan once. Back when it was still called the National Marine Fisheries Service and guys like Bill Hogarth did his utmost to balance the needs and desires of business, fishermen, legislators, scientists and ignorant environmentalists (but I repeat myself) towards the management of US fisheries policy. This was back in the days when fishermen were allowed to be involved in the political process, and there wasn't a radical environmentalist hell-bent on an insane socialist agenda at the wheel at NOAA HQ.

 Well, I even have a friend who is working for these people. A good friend, one of the most intelligent people I know, who, unfortunately, drank the kool-aid but is currently not working or getting the salary he depends on to survive.

 Ironic. The .gov is doing to NOAA Fisheries exactly what NOAA fisheries is doing to fishermen.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Economies of scale

Here's what most people think of as a large ship when they see one go by at the beach. Next to it is what I think of as a large ship.

Perspectives, you know?

 Here's a similar-sized ship when fully loaded- much harder to see that it's 4 football fields long when it's sitting 60 feet deeper in the water.

These are the ships you DON'T see. They spend most of their service lives never touching a dock or traveling within sight of the public. In a 6 month voyage, the crew often is brought aboard via helicopter or an overnight trip in a fast supply boat. Most voyages are spent moving from Single Point Moorings (SPM)- a giant floating buoy at the end of a subsea pipeline. Once every 5 years or so they travel to a few select places in the world for an inspection and a fresh coat of paint.They're so large that they'll grow by a few inches between sunrise and sunset as the steel expands in the heat. Some of these ships supposedly have bicycle paths to quickly get around on deck.

 Ships like this only get within about 120 miles of the US coast off of Texas- there's just no place deep enough to bring them closer, so the oil companies build offshore installations to load and discharge these things.

 Oh, my little tanker in the foreground carries exactly 1.1% of the capacity of the ship in the background. We're about the size of a large office building on it's side. The orange tanker is larger than the Empire State Building. Many have lap pools and Karaoke rooms for the crew (It's a Filipino thing, and the Filipinos make up 25% of the world's seafarers).

"No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned besides... a man in a jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company."

Ouch. Man had a point.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Homeland Insecurity: Greenpeace arctic piracy

A fair chunk of my little slice of the 'net is peopled by fellow mariners, who for practical reasons ('The man sailing the boat does not like those who would rock it') probably share many of my views here, but rather than cater to a bunch who would instinctual agree with me, I write this mostly for the non-sailors out here. By virtue of a complete lack of experience in working on the water, they might understand, if not actually agree with the points made here.

 As you may have heard, recently, a bunch of Greenpeace activists, without authorization, boarded a Russian-crewed oil production platform (an 'oil rig') in arctic waters. This was quite alarming (more on that later), and the activists were surrounded, subdued and captured, and later transferred into the custody of Russian officials. They are currently languishing in prison awaiting formal indictment on charges of violating international maritime laws, and the potential for being charged with Piracy is being mulled over, but looks to be avoided in the name of proportionality. Still, they're in big damn trouble.

         I admit that I watched this unfold with a little guilty pleasure. I don't like environmental extremists, especially as someone who bothered to actually pursue a degree in the natural sciences and develop a professional-grade understanding of ecology. Activist-level interventionists are the Fundamentalist Muslims of science. They are as helpful to conservation measures as the morning-after pill is to abstinence programs. So, yeah, I enjoyed watching this, I'll admit.

This event has been a real twofer for me. In my other capacity as a professional mariner, I also watched this with some bemusement. This reaction comes not from a philosophical difference with Greenpeace, but from a more practical, gut-level response. Across the entire global maritime industry, we're trained, tested and bombarded on a daily basis with a heavy-handed institutional culture of fear and a mordant system of personal accountability in maritime safety. From Captain to Ordinary Seaman, we're expected to prioritize security over every other aspect on board except for being caught in an act of pollution... well, if you read an OPS manual or security plan, anyhow. Reality may differ, but maritime security is mostly a global chain of paper shields against insurance liability. Even so, we are forced to devote massive manpower towards it, in an industry where available manpower is something to be kept at a minimum for cost-containment purposes.

 I'm really skimming here because I want to make a big-ass salad before our next cargo, and that takes time, but I hope you'll see above that competing for time against balancing interests is an industry hazard that comes with working on the water. We're powered by paper but burn HFO to get from A-to-B, with a trail of dead trees in our wake. We don't yet have to fill out  a logbook entry to take a crap, but that's only because the IMO hasn't gotten around to regulating defecation out of existence.

 So, with a whole sub-industry devoted to keeping us safe from the dangers of fresh groceries, going ashore and seeing loved ones, and having time to focus on problematic things like navigation, maintenance and occupational safety, we're expected to keep certain standards to ensure safety against terrorism. We have daily, weekly and periodic procedures, logbooks and drills to fulfill. We are TESTED and assessed regularly on these things. We are given oral exams on our responses. We are forced to stop the conduction of trade to engage in port and regional exercises carried out with multiple military and civilian agencies... all devoted to maintaining operational readiness to deal with incidents that always start with unauthorized boarders coming aboard a vessel. We're hammered with institutional loathing and phobia on this level on a daily basis.

    And, as an aside, it has results. I've been freaked out by a friendly couple in a canoe. I stood there with a 25lb shackle in my hand, ready to drop it through their boat when they came over to say hi when we were at a dock. The dock saw them approach, and called the Coast Guard, who showed up in 3 go-fast boats about 20 minutes later, with .50cal bow-mounted machine guns manned and ready.
 Now, we can't protect ourselves from a muslim in a rowboat with 200lbs of C4 coming alongside to phone Allah, so the massive maritime security industry pretends that can never happen and focuses us on dealing with unauthorized boarders. The paranoia they preach goes through the industry like cholera through a village.

 So, to go back to the beginning, Greenpeace sends a couple of unemployable sacrificial goats up onto a Russian oil platform, causing a 200-man group freak-out aboard as a Pavlovian response...and yet Greenpeace claims to be 'surprised' at the response of port state control's security response.
 Well, I call bullshit on that, anyhow. Greenpeace sent a couple of goats up to the altar and no surprises ensued in their cushy offices. They're getting the attention they crave, claims aside. So bear in mind that this is a dog-and-pony show.
     Now, for the public, remember that this is Russia. Russia deals quickly and efficiently with brown-skinned boarders by binding their hands to their feet and testing them for buoyancy over the side. Supposedly, Russian ships don't have piracy problems in the Horn of Africa. So, with human rights standards like that, it's perhaps not surprising that Greenpeace's goats aren't having a good time in the Gulag awaiting trial. One of them is even really pissed she can't get vegan food there. Personally, I'm amazed they have food at all. Russian jails are not famed for being particularly expensive to operate.

   Anyhow, this is a good lesson for everyone here about intercultural experiences. It's not smart to assume that shared values exist across cultures. For Greenpeace, this is a win-win. For their volunteers, well, it's not like this will affect future job prospects. They might even learn a trade in the clink. Color me unsympathetic, because ignorance is toxic, and they should have known better, so now they get to put theory to test when it comes to their values.