Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Well, that escalated quickly

Irish Whiskey is like Lay's potato chips: You can't have just one.

...and that's why I'm hung over and wasting an absolutely lovely day by sitting on my couch.

I've been home for a week. My family's little homecoming rituals have evolved this year based on my only being home for a week at a time. Every year I say that I'm going to slow down a little, spend more time at home... and end up spending more and more at work. This time I pulled the plug on that. I've still got almost 2 weeks to go here; the longest I've been home in the last 6 years. 

 After 6 months, decorating Heaven's Waiting Room is truly complete. I'm not a believer in the man cave concept. I'm the man of the house. My house IS my cave. Now, the garage, however, is Mantown, distinct and different from the man cave.  Mantown is the site of my workshop, which is in the primitive stages.
I very proudly built my first real project this week. A workbench. As we don't plan to stay here more than 2-3 years, I built the bench so that it can be knocked down in under 5 minutes, with the legs through-bolted and braced. The bottom shelf is the brace. Removing that allows me to fold the legs under the bench, and the whole thing stows like a card table. Pretty proud of that. I got cheap, though, and used MDF for the work surface, and I can tell already that it's not going to last more than a year, even with my ass usually away to sea.
    My tool collection is truly sad. Somewhere along the way in the move, most of my power tools disappeared. My old home up in Boston, the Ant Farm, was a glorified Soviet-style apartment block. No shop space. Much of my stuff stayed in my mom's garage, site of my last shop. Tools grew legs, and I suspect there were some sticky fingers, as the garage was a busy place what with brothers and a teenage niece that discovered it made a great party spot for her and her friends. So it goes.

 Strangely enough, my vast collection of various power sanders made it. I still got like a dozen of the damn things. I swear I collect them, and I'm pretty sure I grabbed one of my brothers' too, so, wicked sorry, bro.

 But, yeah, my drills, saws, grinders.. all gone. Sucks. Gotta buy new ones.

 New shop, new opportunities, though.

    Christmas is just around the corner, and the palm trees in my yard are all lit up nice. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I bought bunches of lights to decorate outside, as my neighbors go all out, and I didn't want to be the guy with the dark house. Nice, really- about 80% of the houses on my street have something going on for Christmas/Hanukkah lights. Really makes you feel happy.

 Turns out you can get fir Christmas trees in Florida. I wasn't sure. Actually cheaper than in Boston.  The Mrs. went all-in, decorating inside and out. It's my first Christmas home in 3 years, and she wanted to make it memorable. Minus today's hangover, it's been a lovely week, and while the folks back in MA are freezing their nuts off, tomorrow, Christmas Eve, we're going to the beach, again.

 Oh, I took a 15 minute break in the middle of this post to throw a line in the water and take a few casts in my pond. Either I've got all 1lb bass in my pond or I catch the same retarded fish every day. Little dude's gotta be getting pretty beat up.

Monday, December 15, 2014

...see ya!

I'm typing this while waiting for a surveyor to finish his paperwork to document the volume of oil we loaded this evening. When he finishes, I can button up, call a tug, and we will sail out of this oil terminal to lie at a lay berth in Brooklyn to wait for the discharge orders to come in...

    ...once we're at the lay berth, I can call a taxi and go to the airport.

 Remember Wile E. Coyote's rocket-powered rollerskates? I really, really want to strap a pair of those bad boys on the surveyor's ass and get him off my deck. Foom!

      I'm looking forward to later on, despite the prospect of going through the rape-o-scan and possibly getting fingered by a 350lb woman in a too-small TSA uniform.

 Ah well. Used to be you had to pay to get your bells jingled.

I'll check in at some point. It's sunny and 78 most days at home, so don't wait up.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

YOU NEED THIS

Next time I tinker with my blogroll and sidebar, this dude will be the first new addition, but meanwhile, you should be reading him. John C. Wright is a man of my own tastes, but what I would call "Wicked smaht."  He doesn't just crush the opposing view in arguments, he flat-out murders them. But like a gentleman.

To wit:  " I have worked hard to lower my taste to appreciating the things as common and simple as fairy tales, and all the simple and true things under heaven. I hope one day my taste will be as coarse as that of St. Peter, who was a fisherman."


like attracts like

Well, it really is true that water seeks its' own level. The combined effect of having posted half and fully-naked Brazilian women and some experiential scatological boat humor pushed my site hits to this year's high last week...  nice to know I'm not alone in being a grown-ass man with the maturity level of a 14-year old.


And this tour is almost done!  today is day 33, and in 48 hours I'll be in the air, headed home. We've been at anchor for the weekend, so it created another opportunity for a stand-down day and a make-and-mend day, so I'm leaving HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/flopouse in good shape. We've got nonstop cargo starting tonight, running right through crew change, so it's going to be busy again, but that's OK. We're good to go.

I'm going home for an extended stay. Looking forward to it. This will be the longest vacation I've had with my family since I stopped working on tankers coming up on 7 years ago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Punisher

So yesterday was our annual Coast Guard COI inspection, where the CG looks ever the vessel and safety systems and gives us a certificate to show that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing.

      It was hell. Oh, not the inspection. That went really well, other than two light bulbs on the alarm display (what we call the Christmas Tree)  that chose that moment to die. No surprise there. They're always shitting the bed when it's pouring rain and blowing 40, as they're 15 feet in the air.


 No, the reason it was hell was all internal. I thought I was going to die, or at the least, explode.


       Grocery store had fiber-laced granola bars for sale. Calorie count was excellent, and I had a sweet tooth. I'm not going to lose ground now, with the 100-lb mark in sight, so I did what seemed right.

 Horrible, horrible idea. Those fucking granola bars should come with a warning label. Not for me, so much, but anyone within a 50-yard radius. They really do have some sort of fiber. Tannerite, or C4, maybe, based on the constant series of pops and explosions going on in my digestive system... which I could feel quite distinctly, thank you, as they moved from kind of funny-feeling to sharp pains and a full-on sprint to the head every now and again.

 OK, that happens to everyone now and again. But my God, they don't make Lysol in the kind of concentration that could touch that. I was so bloated up that I had to let my belt out two notches. And I totally crop dusted my poor tankerman. Like every 30 seconds for about 3 hours. He was ready to call the Vatican for an exorcism.
      At any rate, the Coast Guard showed up, thankfully after I had the foresight to switch the ventilation system to "Always On" and open all the hatches, despite the rain.

 And all was well... for a little while. Then that feeling, you know, like the air bubbles rising in the office water cooler... then the pain. Throughout, I was clenching fabric tight enough to taste the naugahyde of my office chair. I was sweating, it was so bad. I could feel my belt getting tight.


 Finally, after a while, we had to all go outside, and I got to put on my full, winter-weight foul weather gear, which is now 3 sizes too big, and I could relax a little, but ended up marinating in my own exhaust for far too long, sufficient that I wanted to change my clothes after we finished.

On the upside, that was the fastest COI renewal I've ever been through.  I'm passing this on as a service to my fellow mariners who also get impatient when suffering through vettings, inspections and terminal staff who won't get off your goddamned boat. Fiber One bars. They might kill you, but on the upside, by the time they're partially digested, no one will ever want to speak to you again, and you will no longer fear death, but rather, welcome it as a release from the pain.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

BRB

Coast Guard annual inspection today here on the 'Q.  Look at this until I get back.

Monday, December 8, 2014

stand-down day: boosting morale since forever.

With the prospect of a weekend off, we got a whole shit ton of work done here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ floating hot dog stand.

      So much has changed in how we operate the 'Q day to day, since we were given her.

 The original HQ was a converted clean oil barge. The deck was a warren of piping, valves and small storage tanks. This was where I met my hetero-life partner, the other captain on here. It was his place, and with his focus on making the quarters of his barge beautiful and posh, and my deep love of deck maintenance and painting, within a year that barge was among the best-kept in the fleet. BUT, when our last contract was up, with 0 minutes' notice, another barge came alongside us, and two otherwise nice tankermen walked aboard our barge with their trash bags of clothes and boxes of canned food, and said they were being given the barge, and we had to take theirs. I called the office, furious, and learned that this was true. They needed that barge to stay in Philadelphia, where we were working. They needed her crew in New York, where we were going. So our perfectly painted, not-a-spot-of-rust, custom interior'd home for 3 years was handed off to four nice gentleman who didn't much care for cosmetic maintenance and seagoing hygiene.

 You've got to understand that, wives' impressions far to the contrary, most midsize or large boats and ships are pristine on the inside, run down or not. Sailors are far more fastidious than you might imagine. This makes sense, as, living in close quarters, infection and illness will get passed like a joint at a Grateful Dead show. So, best to minimize that sort of thing.

 So we get handed a rusty, not-maintained-to-our-standards tub, which had recently undergone a major conversion from its' original design, but hadn't been put back in service or tested yet. Mechanically, she was pristine, fresh out of the shipyard, with engines recently overhauled and a whole new cargo pumping system added to allow us to carry a mix of segregated fuels. Cosmetically, well, they didn't have time for that in the shipyard. And I suspect that they didn't have an interest among the crew aboard at the time. This made our new 'Q a one-off, which comes with its' own headaches. I, personally, discovered the new design had some flaws, like blind spots when operating the new, heavier, far larger deck crane. I spent a good $20,000 of so of the company's money by destroying several cargo hoses over the next year. Them shits ain't cheap, and it's pretty embarrassing to call your shoreside big boss at 10pm with a 'I I did it again' but it happened. Kind of a lot. But we idiot-proofed our new home, one blind equipment-destroying spot at a time.

         We had time. We made this place the new HQ. The exterior got organized, the tons of supplies and parts and spares and consumables got reorganized (their last shoreside boss hooked up the former crew. We just had to make it ours). Over the next few years, needle-gunning and painting put paid to some of the exterior's appearance.Thing is, we had time.

 Time is a commodity we no longer have. We work a LOT more than we used to. New contracts, and my employer's dominance on the eastern seaboard did that. We don't have the time to spit-shine the 'Q like in days gone by. And in some ways that's a shame. In terms of bottom dollar, of course, things couldn't be better.

      BUT- trying to keep the 'Q working and nice to work aboard is something of a challenge with the schedule. And, as a result of all the wear-and-tear and less downtime, this weekend saw us out of service for a big repair job which is ongoing as I write. The last time we had this much free time was a LONG time ago. This is a good thing for us.
          First thing was to take a day off. Saturday was a stand-down day and it was pouring out, a freezing rain, all day. We didn't do anything. It was awesome. I slept like 9 hours straight. That almost never happens. And it was real sleep. Most of the time, part of my mind, even when sleeping, is aware of where we are, what we're doing (rpm's of the generators, cargo pumps on/off and their rpm's if on, hydraulics on/off, under load or no, tension of the mooring lines, whether or not there's a tugboat attached to us, and if so, who it is, based on the engine make and yelling of the crew). Even when sleeping, I know what's up.  Well, that wasn't happening. I was out out.

 Sunday we attacked. At sunrise, I got up, chugged a couple of energy drinks, went for a 10-mile walk, worked out. Late morning, we got out on deck, in the bright sun and cold, and tidied up, took on supplies, swung trash and oily waste off, stowed said supplies, did oil changes on the engines, greased all the grease fittings on all the valves, engines, crane, winches, falls, etc. Tested the anchor. Held a fire and abandon ship drill. Had our monthly safety meeting... all stuff that we normally shoehorn in between jobs, we took the time and did it just so. And it shows.

 This morning is Monday. We're alongside the pier at my employer's HQ in New York. When they come aboard with the engineers to do our repairs (and prep for the Coast Guard annual inspection, which will happen tomorrow, and for which I am now ready thanks to the weekend off), they will find the HQ a little dented, a little rusted, but workmanlike and seamanlike. Shipshape, if you will... and the crew? We're shipshape, too. We're ready to go.

   Like the maritime tradition of Sundays At Sea (half day off, clean everything, do laundry, be ready for an inspection and have a particularly big dinner), a stand-down day, or two, makes a big boost to morale and efficiency. It costs money to do this, but over the longer-term, it's a good investment and good for everyone, including the vessel.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

broken

One of our cargo pumps is broken. Based on the number of things I have seen recently in the bottom of our cargo tanks here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/4,000 ton paperweight, I'm thinking that a cargo surveyor got us again.

    When we load oil, some companies don't trust us, or the charterer doesn't trust the receiver, so sometimes an independent 3rd party gets hired to survey the cargo. All this means on the loading end is that they measure the volume of the cargo in the storage tanks ashore and the volume of our tanks on board before we load, and then do it again afterwards. Then there's documentation that we've got what we've got. Usually the loading terminal's people just do it themselves, but not always. When there's trouble, this is the stuff that an arbiter sees.

 Rather than being a prestigious job, cargo surveyor is a dirty business. Most surveyors are immigrants, many of whom are former merchant marine officers who either don't want to go back to sea, or don't qualify because of citizenship issues. Yet it's a critical job, and pays pretty well. Decent oil surveyors seem to earn in the 6 figures, but tend to sleep in their cars when they actually have time to sleep at all.
        As I said, though, its' a dirty business. Unlike product tankers, the versatile workhorses of oil shipping, bunkering doesn't require that you clean your tanks often, so anything that gets in the tanks that isn't supposed to be there tends to stay there. Product tankers, well, we tended to clean tanks at least once a month, and tank dive (go down the bottom of cleaned, aired out and dried tanks with a broom and sweep up any dust. Looked like this when we were done.


That's a steam coil in this picture. De-superheated steam is run through it to warm some oils, which have to be hot to flow



     The color you're seeing is pigment traces in the tank coating. When we were done, the tanks were clean like a hospital floor.

 Bunker work, however, is bunker work. You're not going to suddenly take a load of jet fuel following a load of bunkers. You put black, shitty oil on top of the residue of black, shitty oil, and here at the 'Q we don't have tank cleaning apparatus, anyhow.

 Problem is, surveyors come and go. They can be messy, dripping oil everywhere when taking samples (some of them do that, too, and others bring an assistant to fill up liter bottles for analysis, make sure no one messed up the oil), and not cleaning up, or, more rarely, but by no means rare, dropping shit in the tanks. Sample bottles and rags for cleanup go in there, and eventually can get into my pumps, clogging them, which slows down the pump by starving it of oil.

 Currently I'm aware of 2 sample gauges (measuring tapes with a foot-long weighted bob at the end, 3 bottles, a hat and what I think is a damn 2x4 in my tanks. Not much I can do to get rid of them. Pulling the 'Q out of service costs tens of thousands in lost time, plus the cleanup and prep work to make a tank safe for human access is damn expensive on top of that. So they'll stay put, hopefully, until the next tank cleaning prior to a coast guard inspection, or when some straw breaks the camel's back vis a vis my pumps.

 More often than not, the surveyors drop rags in the tanks and don't tell me. With heavy #6 oil, the rags get sucked into the screens guarding our pumps and bung it up tighter than Dick's hatband. Which happened yesterday. I saw it coming, reported it months ago, but until we can no longer physically pump oil, we're not coming out of service. As I write this, we're heading to a job where we will have to ultimately discharge the oil with one pump, which will take just an hour or two short of forever. So it goes. Now, the working pump absolutely has a partial clog too, but it's still working OK, and thus, so am I.
    Removing the pumps is a big deal. They're about 15 feet long and are filled with oil and garbage, which makes cleanup a shit show. It's an all-day affair to remove them. And we've got two to do, so I don't begrudge the Powers that Be wanting to make a little hay while the sun's still shining.

Monday, December 1, 2014

nice

The Lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

Tennyson, Ulysses



   I post this every year or two. My favorite . 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Very important news of global concern

Perhaps one of the single greatest challenges facing Brazil today, and of absolutely first concern, judging by the attention paid to the issue, is the judging of just which woman has the nicest bottom in the country famed and appreciated for their women's devotion to having nice bottoms.

 To act as an information clearinghouse and promote quality bottom-looking-at judging ability, Brazil formed the Miss Bumbum committee, a guild of selfless, professional bum-lookers dedicated to being able to who gots the best bottom.

 Think I'm waxing poetic? You have no idea what these poor, dedicated men have to go through. Forget being a Vegas oddsmaker, THESE are the guys who have to deal with a mountain of minutia and the ability to pick up on near-invisible cues when judging many, many butts out there where the difference between one and sundry is almost invisible to the human eye.

 So, in proving my point, here are the Miss Bumbum contestants we're talking about.











Thursday, November 27, 2014

Extra Happy Thanksgiving

I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving- whether you're at work on the water, selling shoes, or whatever it is you do, I hope you have the time and desire to mark the day as something to be thankful for.


 We got a nice surprise here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Banquet hall. Whilst working on our corroborative cooking for the day (I'm going off the diet  wagon. After losing 2.5lbs in the last 10 days, (83lbs gone), I'm going to undo that, right here today).

 The big surprise is that the cargo scheduled to be loaded aboard tonight has been postponed for 24 hours, which means that other than a quick shifting of berths this evening, we're free to enjoy the food coma. For this we are extremely thankful.

EDIT: Never Mind. They moved it back to today. Dammit.


 The only regret I hold is that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and The Boy are alone today, with no family within 1500 miles. They're celebrating with some good friends, thank God, but it's a little tough on them. Life of a sailor's wife and all. Spare them a thought if you think of it, along with all the military wives, service industry folks, and others who are either working or separated from their loved ones.


 Here is a copy of my Thanksgiving post from the Book of Faces. Holidays always make me so sentimental.


"Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Spare a thought for the service industry folks working today; the oil industry folks, farmers, and and the plumber you'll call when your visiting aunt aunt stops up the head with something the size of a cat. Quit denying, auntie. We all know it was you."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Turducken Incident

This was the blog post that almost got me fired.

http://bigironbegfish.blogspot.com/2008/11/be-optimistic.html


 Thanksgiving 2008 was in the middle of my last voyage on the ancient and awful but beloved tanker NEW RIVER, and it was 4 months of hell. Breakdowns, broken charters, and my one and only real moment thus far in life where it was reasonable to make an Act of Contrition (a catholic thing when facing death), which took place during a series of synchronous progressive rolls when the ship rolled onto her beam ends. causing something of a fuss and lawsuits and ultimately a nail in the coffin of a dying company.

 So it was a shitty trip, but I survived and thrived. But then, my Thanksgiving post above was posted, and I damn near got blackballed for the crime of insulting the Turducken.

I'm not a fan of the unholy amalgamation of three otherwise fine 'n tasty fowls. My own humble opinion is that they're the opposite of synergy. Like pouring french onion soup over birthday cake.

 6 years. Seems like a lifetime ago. In many ways, I guess I've grown up, finally.






 Of all the things I've lost, I miss my hair the most. I These days, it's coming in more gray and less red, what little there is. OTOH, I don't miss the strain of 295lbs on my hips and knees. I can't lift a full 55 gallon drum to chest height anymore, but, then again, I don't weigh as much as one, either.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

a little floor spice makes everything nice

My employer has 2 main classes of tugboats. The little ones are 3,000hp harbor tugs- sweet, maneuverable and versatile. Then there are the 4,200hp ocean-going tugs. Great for going in a straight line, but bred from the unholy union of a wrecking ball and a bulldozer. Too much ass, not enough rudder, really, for day-to-day maneuvering here at the Q, especially when handled by the tugboating equivalent of  being set up with a girl who's "got a great personality."

 Best tugboaters in the world would have a hard time making these pigs do what they're supposed to do. Not every 4200 driver is in competition for that title, anyhow. Some are pretty damn good. Some... not so much. Tonight's tugboat driver is an unknown. I've worked with him once before, and, the guy seems damn good.  Tugboats are festooned with rubber bumpers for a reason. They're made to be able to use the Braille method of navigation. "Am I close? How close am I? *SMASH* "OK, We're here."

 Our NY fleet is not like that, for the most part. There's some hellaciously good small boat handlers out there.



 Waiting for clearance to leave a dock, the tugboat comes up alongside us a little hard... and by a little hard, I mean it blew a large pot of soup clean off my stove and sent it 5 solid feet away from the stove before landing on deck. I checked. My galley deck looks like a crime scene, but the area around the stove is pristine.


 Anyhow, although I've been known to endorse the 5-second rule once or twice, there's no going back for about 4 meals worth of spicy tortilla soup. While there's no crying over spilled milk, there's not much choice when the living quarters' air is so spiced up that you can taste the soup just by breathing. Shit's burning the hell out of my eyes. I feel like I've been watching "Brian's Song" on repeat.

 Well, it'll be funny once the smell's gone. I got a sort-of laugh out of it. It'd be funnier if I wasn't hungry. I'm the only one awake right now... well, now I am, anyhow. I'm pretty sure that the sound of about 10lbs of soup and a 3-gallon steel pot achieving flight, not to mention 4,000 tons moving sideways about 5 ft in a 1/2 second probably wasn't something that you can sleep through.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

better and better!

Ahhhhh... back home, here at the 'Q.  Nothing, but nothing, makes me appreciate, warts n' all, HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/men's sanitorium, than time spent on another barge.

 I'm back at my home-away-from-home, and that's to the good. My week away was spent on the Career Killer, a particularly uncomfortable and unlucky vessel, though I had good company there, which made it tolerable. Really, anyone can about survive anything for a week, and I did.

 But still, glad to be here.

     To celebrate, we even got a watch off AND shore access, so I did a 10-mile walk, and bought some quality food items at a snobby gourmet grocery, because I eat super-healthy while at work, so I can eat everything I love while at home and not swell up.  Any gate, I now have a modest supply of staple items (vegetables and salad fixin's), and sore feet.

 What? I haven't walked in 2 weeks. My daily hour-walking-in-circles-on-deck doesn't count. It's an OCD behavior at this point.

Tomorrow I am bunkering the "Quantum of the Seas," the world's newest cruise ship. First time. She's leaving Monday for her first full cruise, and will become one of my regulars. She's replacing another regular,the one where people are always getting Norovirus, because having a significant portion of your guests shitting themselves all over the place is, apparently, bad for business.

  So hopefully the Quantum won't become a floating palace of Cholera like her predecessor.

the gas cap is behind the license plate. 

I dunno. I kinda want to try a cruise, but getting stuck in an office-building sized edifice, however nice, with 6,000 people sounds... awful. I know it's supposed to be nice, but I'm not 100% down with the idea of being on a boat and not being paid filthy lucre-grade money to do so.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

mariner's post: as ye reap...

We bitched, loudly, but mostly just to each other when we were ordered to only use the 'white lines,' new heavy rope. It's very absorbent and far heavier in terms of density than the polypropylene blend rope that used to be the standard. Over the last few years, before making the switch, we migrated to heavier lines, more strands (from three to eight), and then, eventually, to what we've got right now, sitting like frozen 2-ton sacks of shit on deck. This past year, polypro was banned, and we made the switch to heavier, larger, heavier stuff, which certainly gave me a sore back on a fair regular basis, and, arguably, could have set the stage for some injuries as a result. Unfortunately, in the tankering business, the folks hired by oil companies to vet us call the shots, and practicality vs. looks-good-on-paper isn't always the same thing. The new lines have more stretch, which presumably would cut down on lines parting, which they will do at times. This causes scary near-misses, and, although I've never seen it, can cause traumatic injury if someone's in the way. This seems to be rare, as we get scared shitless by parting lines  a couple of times a year.

 On the other hand, I've seen plenty of guys hurt their backs, humping rope. 

 Mariners are like seagulls: we eat, shit and squawk. Sometimes, though, it's good to know the squawking attracts attention, even if belatedly so.

 Well, recently we were able to make the switch back to a lighter, less absorbent synthetic mooring line. There has been much rejoicing.

 You see, we move HAWSEPIPER's AFLOAT GLOBAL HQ/ Pleasure Gardens constantly move- our mileau is small volume, multiple-product bunker work, which means we may moor, unmoor and remoor multiple times a day. Not being a massive ship with an entrenched local pilot, and multiple tugboats, we never have any assistance when docking at a terminal, which means that we have to physically THROW lines around bitts to a dock. And everybody but the tug captains take part in it. Hell, even the tug engineers sometimes come aboard to help moor. Very different from large ships, where the deck officer's massive case of t-rex arms precludes operating anything heavier than a walkie-talkie. And with the tugs calling the shots from hundreds of feet away, it can get pretty stressful for the ropes as we lever the unit into position, hence the gradual shift to using only slightly smaller mooring lines that we used on my old ship the 'New River' which was 100x heavier than the ol' HQ.

 At any rate, the insanely heavy, absorbent, back-straining lines we have are now frozen solid 'cus it's so dang cold out. Pretty much useless. Yesterday it poured rain all day, soaking the lines, and they didn't have time to dry out before the freeze set in.

 Yeah, losing all the weight this year means that I feel the cold more than I did last year, too. Not cool. On the upside, I can do some jumping jacks to warm up now, where last winter I'd have blown a knee out trying.



 No bullshit, this heavy white line, whatever it is,  is amazing stuff. The modulus of this shit is better than steel or spider silk when frozen. I lifted a 15-foot section that had frozen in a straight line, and it held its shape. A Wallenda could have walked across it without tying off both ends. Problem is, you've got to bend that shit around bitts and bollards, and the eye splice at the end needs to, you know, be eye-shaped.

 Not much fun out there, guys and gals. Our two new 16-strand lightweight synthetic lines are now revered aboard with the same fervor normally reserved for icons of the Virgin Mary in a Mexican household. You see, they freeze, but they're not water absorbent, so they still bend and can be thrown. I fully expect candles to be laid out around the stowed coils at some point.

 Oh, don't be offended. I'm Catholic, too. We can withstand a little light humor about how we roll.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

How the hell do I react to that?

As some readers may know, I'm a believer in delivering my message across all forms of media, whether that message is me complaining (more often of late, and wicked sorry. I'm working too much), living with being separated by time and distance from the B family, or just the day-to-day aboard the Big Metal Monastery.


 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I have recently doubled down on social media, as we've been building a place for ourselves in a new community far from the 'burbs of Boston, and as her family, FINALLY, after far too many years, come to accept that she's not actually just visiting the US to work a few years and move home, but has actually built a life here in Nova Iorque

 Oh, an aside for folks who like to goof on how bad Americans are at Geography. Most Brazilians believe that the US consists of "Nova Iorque" (Pronounced "Nova Yorkie" "Los Angeles" and "Da Farms."  Yet I got polled within hours by Brazilians about my position on Kim Kardashian's new ass pictures. Priorities.

Since I share information on the Book of Faces with co-workers, one can find pictures of Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife posed with me as we share such things with folks back home in Boston, and her friends and family back in Brazil. For the most part, this is no big deal. I work for a company that has a phenomenally adventitious ratio of good people to d-bags. Best I've ever seen since I was taken to sea at age 7. 

    So, since last week was a rare and elusive week spent at home at our new place in Florida, we went out, and shared some photos on Facebook...

  Look, my wife is proportionally far more attractive than I am. Her dad, being a moral man, forbid her from being a model early on, and, while she hasn't had to endure recruiting attempts as much as she did at 18, I witnessed the last attempt just a year ago.  She's a Morena, so she looks exotic. Her dad was smart. That's a recipe for exploitation, anyhow. Shame on me, I'm a little proud of it, sure. My fat n' ugly ass won the lottery, but I'm a pretty well-educated and cultured guy deep under the foul language, dick jokes and occasionally explosive temper. She's a remarkable person under the beautiful exterior. Hilarious language barrier aside, it's very easy for us to sit down every night  and then realize that 4 hours disappeared  in the blink of an eye. She and I are fiercely independent people, which is part of why our marriage works. Time together is a joy. Time apart is a little lonely, but balancing for us.

 Well, I'm long since past trying to explain that she's not a trophy wife and I'm not just a green card. Between her, me, our son and my limited time spent at home, I jealously guard my family and family time, so I tend to disappear when I'm not at work.
   So it really bummed me out when a co-worker made a little quip about my wife's shirt being a little low-cut in a Facebook photo.
    Why do I care? I share those photos with friends and family. To a Brazilian, my wife's clothes would be conservative but comfortable. Brazilian women revel in being feminine and pretty. They're downright unapologetic about it. So, after perhaps taking it for granted, I realize that a co-worker, a guy I basically like, is ogling my wife but lacks the social grace to keep that shit to himself.

 Maybe I'm mixing pleasure with business too much on social media. Just as my public persona here online does not quite match my role as paterfamilias at home, or my position as a reformed scientist in my capacity as a professional mariner, the one bleeds into the other, I guess. Perhaps I should be more cognizant of that.





Me 80lbs ago, but you get the idea. The Billy Joel/Christy Brinkley Paradox. Also, damn, I was heavy.



NOW HEAR THIS: Basic Seamanship Rant

Today's lesson/public service message from HAWSEPIPER.


  When working as a maritime professional, speak like a goddam professional. Use the right goddamn nomenclature, or be prepared to be thought of as a damn shoemaker.

 It's OK to slur certain words: 'Forr'ard' for Forward,' 'Foc's'le' for Forecastle. You can be crude and vulgar and still be professional, if you're creative enough. "Foreskin" for Forepeak is a good example.

 It's probably OK to not learn how to box the compass. But you should. By all means, however, know how to properly do your job as a lookout and learn how to report relative bearings.  A ship is not "At 4 O'clock" unless the time is, actually, 0400. It's "1 point abaft the starboard beam." The extra words and jargon are used for a reason. Your watch officer can get the gist of what you're saying even if the wind mutes half your words, and it's a precise statement with no possibility of being misunderstood.


 It's not a TWIX card, a TWIC's card or anything with an 's' sound at the end. That's a goddamned candy bar's name. It's a TWIC card, and when you mispronounce it or write it wrong, you sound and look like an ignorant ass. Stop it. You don't sit on the toilet to "take a shit's" so why do you insist that you have a TWIC's?

 Oh, also, learn to use the proper hand signals for overhead work or directing a fucking crane, please. When you do weird shit like slap the top of your head and point in a Hitler salute, you're telling the guy on the crane to steal third base, not come down on the boom. It's pretty fucking simple. Thumbs for boom, fingers for the runners, palms for swing, for your basic crane. You look like an epileptic in front of a strobe light when you do it wrong. Have some goddam dignity, for Christ's sake.

    Learn to tie the knots that are required to be rated as an Able Seaman, even if you're not. Imagine being a professional mariner, and not knowing how to tie a bowline, becket bend, carrick bend or surgeon's knot. If you're a mariner and can't do these, you're no fucking mariner, so quit pretending. You're a monkey, and not even a trained one.

It's OK not to know all the jargon. You'll pick it up as you go. You should know the names of all the parts of your ship, of course, and how to report the things you see and do. There will be shameful moments. For example, I can't make a Bosun's chair. For too long, my ass was too fat to sit comfortably in one, so I never learned, and didn't even use the prefab ones. Own your weaknesses and try to overcome them, right? I haven't gotten around to that one yet, so feel free to slut-shame me for it. I know I got it coming.

 And, for Christ's Own sake, every piece of metal that is not a bulkhead, deck or hull plate is not a 'fish plate." A fish plate is a fish plate, and is a railroad term. It's been co-opted to be used to describe the steel plate (sometimes also called a 'flounder plate' I hear) at the apex of a towing bridle... and that's about it.Know the proper terms.  Knowing how to communicate is important to knowing how to do your goddamn job.

*drops mike*



Friday, November 14, 2014

nyah nyah nyah

Apparently it's snowing in my old hometown.

    I'm floating around in the Con Hook area of NY/NJ, and it's cold and windy here, though, thankfully it didn't snow.

 Just wan to point out that my wife was mildly annoyed that she couldn't drink her morning coffee on the patio this morning until she put on a t-shirt with sleeves. Moving south was wicked smaht.

One of my orchids, growing outside in November. Because Florida.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

vanity piece

In order to get my hands on the woman who was to become my wife, I kicked the legs out from under one of my best friends, and planted a foot on his back before diving over him.

 9 years ago today, in fact.

 We met at a friends' wedding. I was a friend of the groom, my wife worked with the bride.  She caught the bouquet, and as I mentioned I used a man I have known since we were 5 to launch myself through the air and grab the garter, leaving a nice dusty size 13 footprint in the middle of his tux's back.

 200+ people then learned that, indeed, even brown-skinned women can blush bright red.


   My wife was a little oblivious to what was going on. It was her first American wedding, and Brazilians don't do the whole garter/bouquet thing. Her then-boyfriend figured it out, though, and suddenly he and his buddies started popping up like whak-a-moles, looking furious. It's a macho thing, I guess. A stranger putting hands on his date, and all.

       Then my friends, and the groom popped up, and things got tense. I'm half-drunk, as is everyone- the groom's half-Irish, and we know how to have a good time. I'm not going to ruin a wedding by hosting a 30-man brawl, though. My friends at the wedding were mostly union tradesmen- ironworkers, carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, heavy equipment operators, etc. Not a single one of us under 6', nobody under 200lbs. The Brazilian men? Well, they're not as small as most Mexicans, but it would have been like setting gorillas loose in a squirrel cage.

 When it was suggested that I give the boyfriend the garter, though, I never even considered it. The girl with the bouquet was one of the hottest women I've ever seen, and who the hell gets to meet a Brazilian? All's I knew about was their famous waxes, and I was about to get my hand on her thighs, to boot. 
      I defused the situation by telling the BF (through a translator) that this was our tradition, it was fun and harmless, and if he still felt offended by the end of it, that he and I could go out back, and I'd put my thumbs through my belt loops and let him get a free shot at me... and then, to be fair, I said that if he tried taking any extra, I'd pull his arm off and beat him and his friends to death with it.

 And all proceeded to plan, except that the girl didn't speak English.
      The rest of the wedding was a bit of a blur. Still the most fun one I've ever been to, though, including my own. All the drama and pageantry, you know?

 Last thing I said when the wedding was winding down was "You know, I hope that hot foreign chick doesn't get beat up by that midget douchebag who almost caused a scene. He was absolutely the type."

 
 Turns out, I was right. He was psyching himself up to do exactly that when my future wife kicked him out of the car and told him to go to hell.
     I returned to sea not long after the wedding, for a 120-day voyage. Halfway through, the bride asked me if I wanted her to introduce me to the girl from the wedding. I said sure, when I get home in the spring, I'll take her out one night. And then I had a laugh and thought no more of it until I got home.


 Pretty sure I got mad points for remembering the date today, too. I just flew back to work today, and so I could use the boost. My ratings go down on crew change day.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

ouch, damn, wow and whee, too.

What a great week off! I'm sorry it went so fast, and I'll have had only one week ashore amidst 15 weeks aboard the floating pickle barrels my company entrusts to me, but as far as the week goes? Worth it.

        Although I haven't had as much time at home as I'd like (and really, what mariner does?), I love my damn house- especially my patio. I'm sorry to say that my Dracaena plant isn't thriving, but my orchids are kicking ass. Every time I come home, I buy a plant for my patio. This trip it was a small lime tree, which so far seems to be fitting in. With the dry season underway, my pond is drawing down some, but still looks nice. I share it with my neighbors across the way, and happily, they're as into keeping it neat as I am. At any rate, although I'm told there are some 10-15lb carp in my pond, I have yet to catch anything but some bass.I swear there's one particularly runty 1lb'er that I've caught like 6 times. He just seems to like my section of the pond.


 At any rate, having spent so much time away, it was nice to continue the perpetual honeymoon with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and to have time with my son... or course, there wasn't much time for relaxing, with a 75-day backlog on the honey-do list, and what with having to send scads of money overseas this past month, I tried my best to be tight-fisted, with little success.

 So, tomorrow before sunup I'll be flying back to NY, there to take up my mantle as The Man Who Never Goes Home again.. but this time, while I AM arriving a week early, I'm going home on time for the holidays, and taking some extra time off for personal business, too.  


Saturday, November 8, 2014

ch-ch-ch changes

Well, I'm home. Last minute snafu resulted in me being able to go home for a week, rather than work this past week and go home next week.

    I realize that I left NY in rainy 40'ish weather, and on Monday morning I saw a couple of snowflakes at about 4am. By Wednesday I was walking down the beach with my kid, it's in the 80's and sunny, with surfers riding the decent swell just a couple hundred feet away.

 Seriously, I could downsize tomorrow, take up a 3rd career flipping burgers and do this full time, I guess. Must be stupid to be going back next week to the Land of Ice and Snow. Greedy me.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Last night

Tomorrow I say goodbye for a few weeks to HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Food Deprivation Center. I've been here, with a week's exception, since before labor day. 70+ days. Ugh.

 I'm not going home tomorrow. I'm going to the Punishment Barge. An awful bargain-basement purchase my company made last year, with living quarters smaller than my frigging bathroom at home, and a Flintstones-era cargo handling system.

 As I wrote a while back, this endurance trial was put on me when I had to step up to provide medical care for one of my wife's relatives, because one of her family members is a selfish asshole who won't provide care for blood. Unfortunately, this happened not too long after i up and moved my family 1500 miles and started a new life and lifestyle, costing more than I had available to give. But, family is family, I figure, so I went ahead and went in the hole.

 And all is well. Surgery was expensive but now paid for, and her recovery is going well down in Brazil. I have a savings account again, but I absolutely don't have my 'beer money if I break a leg and have to pay cash for bills" money, so I'm staying an 11th week. Holidays are coming, after all, too.

 But yeah, although I'm grateful to have the opportunity to work extra and beef up my savings, I'm about to take it in the seat for a week, relatively speaking. BUT, after that, I can go home.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

"We don't do that here."

Twice in the past month, I turned down the opportunity to make a couple of thousand dollars through oil theft.

 This is a slight uptick in our more usual rate of once every 3 months.

 Bunker theft has always been with us, probably since the second bunker transfer from one vessel to another. It's a modern day version of cappabar, the centuries-old practice of illegally selling off ship's spares and stores by the crew.

 It's an easy thing to do, and, if done sparingly and in small volumes, quite difficult to get caught in the doing.

 Bunkering is a dirty, dirty business. There's a stark dichotomy between practices in the US (And Canada &the UK, I would imagine), and practices in the rest of the world.

 In the US, a bunker vessel is maneuvered and moored alongside the receiving ship, papers are passed and a pro-forma agreement signed, stipulating how the transfer will proceed. Tax documents, invoices, etc, checklists, Homeland Security paper shields, too depending on where this happens. Caeser gets his rendering, y'know?  The formal, universal documentation is the Bunker Delivery Note (BDN), a chain-of-custody document that is also a contract AND invoice, attesting to the volume transferred. To document the volume of oil, we invite the receiving vessel to measure the volume and temperature of the oil in our tanks both before and after transferring the oil (Oil changes volume rapidly, as its' density changes easily with temperature. Knowing the temperature allows you to calculate the density of the oil, and account for expansion of volume, so you can figure out the actual standardized net volume). The difference between the two is the volume transferred and the billable quantity. 

 In the US, the numbers listed on the BDN are the numbers that will appear on the bill, which is shoreside staff business. My point, however, is that it's all very aboveboard, and there's no shoveling bullshit into the buckwheat. And it works! Maybe one time in 200, the receiving ship will bother  send someone down to look for residual oil in our now-empty tanks. Regular visitors often come to trust us, and specifically mention how happy they are to bunker here, 'and not in fucking Singapore.'

Not to say that it's all smooth. Most ships are built and crewed foreign, and trade foreign, as well, so they're used to doing what they need to do to get by. There are standard practices, and almost-standard practices. Bribery being one of the former, for the most part. Many engineers (fueling being in the purview of engineers) try to apply the same practices that work elsewhere when they step foot on my deck.

 Aaaaaannd, that shit don't fly here.

 Every single engineer who has ever tried to bribe me was either from Russia or Ukraine. Take what you will from that. I always ask, at some point. I'm a people person, and always try to make a little conversation, mostly because I miss sailing long distances, and, just like I know from experience that an Indian assistant engineer is usually afraid to take responsibility for making any decision whatsoever, fit only to carry messages to the Chief, and Eastern European crewmen are more likely to attempt to brain you with a monkey fist if you make them do their jobs, I can generally tell when I'm about to be sounded as to whether or not I'm up for playing Disappearing Bunkers. (Google "Bunker scams" if you want to know more.)










The Disappearing Bunker Scam works simply: As it is most commonly practiced in its' most egregious form, Let's say I was to deliver 400 metric tons of heavy fuel oil to a ship. The engineer comes down with a bottle of whiskey and wink wink nudge nudge, suggests that I transfer 375 tons, which he reports as 400, and I sell off the difference to 'someone' and throw a little cash his way for looking the other way, (and pay off the surveyor, if there is one); OR I transfer the 400 tons, but mark it as 375, change the temperature a little on the paperwork, claim 'heavy bottoms" (meaning I leave extra in my tanks and fake the numbers for my next load), and he gives me a little kickback, just a couple grand, as a thank you.

So, that's what I am occasionally asked to do by these scumbags, and it pisses me off. I learned quickly that blurting out "Are you calling me a fucking thief?" gets me no end of trouble, as the now-butthurt engineer will go to great lengths to find a way to fuck me over. Instead, I have to go into Boy Scout/Astronaut mode and lecture these assbags, and hide behind a more formal, severe demeanor and a quiet,scowling moral authority.Regardless, the whisky, too, is not welcome. Shit's taboo, ever since Exxon tried to blame one of their captains when the officer of the watch on one of their ships crashed into Alaska while he was sleeping in his bed like he was supposed to be.
I happen to like good scotch, so seeing that shit while I'm working is just rubbing my face in it. For the same reason, I don't go to strip bars (anymore).


 BUT, there's also the legal Disappearing Bunker Scam. I discovered this last year, while bunkering outside the US. It's apparently a standard business practice, and conspicuous by its' absence, judging by the reaction of the engineers we dealt with.
     In the legal Disappearing Bunker Scam, at the completion of the transfer, you 'negotiate' the difference between what they ship says it received, and what the bunker vessel says it transferred. I always can pick out 'honest' engineers who don't regularly bunker in the US. Same thing every time: "Twinty tones shoht, my friend, twinty tones, yis yis." That's their opening position, and they expect me to make a show, like we're in a fucking Egyptian market haggling over some goddamned limes.

This must be a pervasive practice, as I occasionally deal with disgruntled engineers who get pretty bent out of shape when I shrug my shoulders and casually tell them to document any difference with a Letter of Protest if they choose to. (A LOP is a discoverable document explaining the vessel's position on an event. As it holds legal status, asking someone to document any dispute is a fine way to call their bluff. Since I'm 100% honest (not my circus, not my monkeys, why not be honest?)), I demand the same. Once an engineer realizes I won't play his reindeer games, things usually proceed in a surly but aboveboard fashion.

 Only once have I been goaded into a heated response, when a ship claimed I shorted him about 20% of his oil. After he had a meltdown on my deck because I told him he got the oil, and to recheck his tanks (this is a nice way to avoid calling someone a fucking liar and let him save face), I was feeling pretty soggy and hard to light, so when I suggested that I'd be happy to sign a Letter of Protest for him, and he demurred in an energetic, angry fashion, I smelled a rat, and said "If you're 100% sure that I'm lying and cheating, give me a letter of protest for it, and you can put your mouth where my money is. This isn't Singapore. It's the US and we don't do that here."

 I don't think he got my little play on words, feeble as it was, but it made me feel better. What I really wanted to do was to chase his midget ass up the ladder for lying in my face, but what can you do?

 The more I deal with foreign places and foreign business, the more I appreciate things inside our own borders, where the government manages and practices 99% of the thievery and corruption, just like God intended.



For a more nuanced, professional view on bribery by an experienced mariner, check this out:

http://www.workboat.com/Blogs/International-Waters/Vessel-operators-and-foreign-corrupt-practices/


 For any maritime professional who doesn't know the guy, Max Hardberger is one of those rare birds, a master mariner who sailed foreign ships, owned one or two, and is also an Admiralty lawyer. Oh, and he re-steals ships that are illegally detained in foreign ports, too. For a living. Guy's the real deal.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

hammer in hand

George Carlin compared doing things you don't want to do with hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: it just feels so good to stop.

 Next week is the end of week 10. My 2 1/2 tours at sea are done. And yet, I'm not done. I volunteered for another week, filling in on the barge my company can't keep crewed because it's awful to live on.

 I'm an idiot for doing it My reasoning is sound- I'm taking some extra time off over the holidays, and need one final boost to my savings to start rebuilding after paying cash for some delicate surgery for my mother-in-law down in Brazil. Coming before Christmas, and a few months after moving my family, that frigging hurt. I offered the bent banana to my wife's family for putting that shit in my lap, but there it is.

 Anyhow, I'm still working on a post about the obsessive and deeply disturbing fascination that the US Coast Guard and both national and international bodies show towards what's happening in our bathrooms here on board. I'll get to it eventually. We're having 2 days of downtime here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Home for  Troubled Adults. Maintenance, deep cleaning, that sort of thing. I'll be happyish to get back to cargo ops tomorrow night and get more rest.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2nd time. Better not be a 3rd!

2-3 years ago, I got on a crash diet, lost 75 lbs. About a year later, I had gained it all back. What can I say? I don't fish for a living anymore, and I've always carried decent muscle under the fat, so I didn't think it hindered me that much... until I lost the weight.

 The problem with crash dieting for me wasn't just its utterly unsustainable nature. It's that I got sick at the end of it. I stopped losing weight because I had a cold for weeks, and my immune system was slowed, my energy level was in the toilet despite a serious exercise regime... classic estivation... my metabolism slowed to famine-level. My skin was loose- not just in the formerly fat areas, but on my face, too.

 Anyhow, earlier this past week, I hit the 75lbs gone mark again, after having made some lifestyle changes this year. I don't look like a cancer survivor this time, either, and I feel good. Healthy.


      So what's working? I talked to my doctor, and got the straight dope from him, before I moved out of Boston this past spring.

 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I had already booked our tickets to Florida to go house hunting. I was feeling pretty confident that we were going to make the move. Thinking about it, and with the pang of remembering that my dad died of heart disease, (despite his being more weight proportionate than I ever was), I decided that I didn't want the extra mass what with all the heat of living in the South.

 My doctor was a great guy. Always honest and direct. He said that most men do best either with Weight Watchers if they're a joiner (I'm not), or a high-quality diet using calorie limitations based on maintaining metabolism.

 He was right on all counts. With a limited number of calories to spend on food, avoiding hunger pains forces you to eat healthy- lots of lean protein (chicken breast and fish), little beef, and a metric shit-ton of vegetables, beans and salad. Fruit left me hungry, so I pretty much only get some berries and a banana on a daily basis. But no shit, I eat close to a pound of chicken breast meat most days. Beef, maybe only once every 2 weeks, so I indulge and get a decent piece of cow when it happens.

 Anyhow, it's working well, thought my stomach looks like I'm 5 days post-partum.

April 1, 2014

Oct 1, 6 months later



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hawsepiper on International Investing

I'm still writing the promised blog entry about the US Coast Guard's manic obsession with our bowel movements.


 BUT, today was election day in Brazil. Even though there were no surprises, and Brazil re-elected their president. my 401k took a *massive* shit, as EVERY. SINGLE. international fund lost their shit when the world realized that Brazil isn't going to address the corruption endemic to Brazil, or the fact that it's currently leftist corruption, which costs the same, but doesn't actually create jobs in the process.

 Anyhow, my planned retirement age went from 60 to 62 today, which was kind of shitty. I saw it coming, so it's not a surprise. Plus, I figure it'll be about 70 at best, if and I say IF I get to retire. Other shit happens. I'm actually riding this bitch. I'm going long on "Angel" funds to rescue Brazil a La Argentina (where I've been making 12% on angel funds since the last time they defaulted in the 90's.

 Seriously, does noone read the 'Investors Daily News?" I'm like 10% behind their leaders because I'm so conservative, but the very worst I've done since 2008 is 10.5% annually. Some years, 10.5% of jack shit isn't too much,but others, it's pretty OK.

 Anyhow, Brazil is funny. On the one hand, it's a wealthy banana republic with pretensions of democracy. On the other, it's an investor's 2-orgasm wet dream, if you know enough to recognize that Brazil has the Portuguese disease. Assume people are worth shit, and resources can be bought for lives.The lower the class of the folks, the cheaper the resource cost.  Everything else follows. That's why Indios are worth less than ethnic Portuguese... want a corollary? Track Vale Brazil Vs. Petrobras, then chart the ethnography of the staffing.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

crap, stand by.

OK, so I spent 2 1/2 hours writing a masterpiece of humor about interactive safety training DVD's tonight. And, having reviewed it, there's no way I can publish it without getting bit on the ass it reflecting badly on my employer, who is trying to deal with governmental demand for kabuki theatre when it comes to safety, while the folks in the home office are actually trying to keep employees safe.


 So, sad as it is, I have to keep these thoughts to myself, something that doesn't come naturally to me. But it WAS hilarious, and the satire, I thought, was a very poignant way to highlight my deeply-held low opinion of how the .gov handles maritime issues.


 And now I have no vehicle for only hinting at the insanity of many forms of governmental oversight in the maritime world, and how this creates an environment that demands kabuki, not results.
 Which leaves me no choice but to highlight a few in the near future, with no sublety at all.

 So, stay tuned for the next post, "We are Very Concerned for Your Bowels."

Friday, October 17, 2014

I think the last one was looking at me (NSFW Brazilian women)








Because I needed a little cheering up this week, I thought you might like one too. Here's some ladies from Carnival in Rio De Janeiro.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

woops...

Pardon the lack of fodder. Work beckons, as does my recent rediscovery of "Skyrim."

 I'm in the doldrums anyhow. More weeks to go before I get home. More behind me, so I'm on the downward slope, but damn, I'm tired.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

rant

Our Father, who art in Heaven, thank you for inspiring me not to strangle the ever living shit out of the retarded gauger who came aboard this morning. Amen.


 First off, I woke up kinda shittily. There's a light swell here, and it's making the hawsers scream, so part of my mind, while I was sleeping, was gauging the strain on the lines. Strange that I can do that, but I can, and it's not super-restful, but better than a stick in the eye.

 Second, we were 4 hours late in finishing a cargo load, because the terminal we were loading at is full of 100-year old proud union members who do their utmost to pass any work off to the next watch, whether watch change is 30 minutes away or 6 hours away, they'll go to great lengths to sit around and complain on the radio while not working, which is great fun when you're screaming for them to shut down the flow of oil, but the radio won't transmit because they're arguing passionately about getting subs or burgers for lunch.

     The real shit frosting on this turd cake was the gauger.

 When you load oil, often the charterer, receiver, or your own interest will behoove someone to hire an inspector to gauge the volume. An inspector is a 3rd party who witnesses and prepares reports based on he and one of the crew going around and physically measuring the volume of oil in the tanks. This provides and official, documented measurement of the volume on board.

 Except today, the charterer's chosen inspection company sent the fucking B squad.

 I had just rolled out of the bunk, and grumpily gotten my shit together, and was sitting outside when the inspector starts rattling away. I semi-impolitely said that I had just woken up, and don't talk much when groggy, and wasn't on watch yet... you know, sort of politely asking the man to voluntarily fuck off. He missed that cue, I guess, so I walked back inside.

 When I was awake, and on watch a little later, having finished loading, finally, the gauger went to great pains to tell me that we did not load the proper volume of cargo. This is day 1 stuff. Once I confirmed that I had, in fact, loaded the proper volume, I went over the series of calculations that his computer carried out, and compared numbers. His numbers matched mine, yet he insisted that we loaded the wrong volume. Long story short, as he sat there chewing his cud, looking stupid on a professional basis, I realized that the guy had no fucking idea what he was doing. OK, I'm mildly sympathetic, he's a fill-in... but he's an official representative, and ultimately failing to sway him that he was making a mistake somewhere, my patience wore thin, and I suggested that if he couldn't figure out how to do his job, then I needed to get someone else who could.
 I've made calculation errors before. I understand it happens. Computers are utilitarian. Put in a bad number, you get bad results... but what you don't get, normally, is someone who is paid to be a legal representative who has no fucking idea how to do what he's being paid to do, and further, who has no interest in figuring out where he's fucking up.

 So that was fun. After I regained a little patience, we eventually resolved the issue. I was correct in figuring out where he made a mistake. No problem, really, except for lost time and a little ill-will.

 And then he hands me a Letter of Protest.

 A Letter of Protest happens when there's a dispute between the parties involved in a ship's charter. Whether it's cargo, damage claim, whatever, a Letter of Protest is how you document your take on what happened, and your understanding of the facts. It's a tool for documenting dispute... and the guy who is MY hired representative to document how much oil we've loaded, is documenting a dispute with his own customer. This was a first for everyone. When I called my own shoreside contact to ask for advice and see if, fact, this was the Rapture (which is only slightly less likely than a self-inflicted Letter of Protest), the ultra-polite person who I was speaking to said only "Well, that's retarded."

 So I accepted his insane letter. I just want the fucking guy gone, and not to come back. I saved his bacon, in finding and fixing his fuckup despite his best efforts, and was rewarded with a Letter of Protest over a point of minutia. We parted on polite terms. The most harsh thing I said was "I can't say that you represented the charterer's interest here. Bye. "

 At any rate, this has been my morning so far. On the upside, I'm pretty sure it will get better from here, and this drives home the idea that I really belong out here. I can't abide willful incompetence. When it takes more effort to continue to be wrong, as opposed to finding a way forward, I get apoplectic. It's a nice, sunny day, and I suppose I shouldn't let little shit become the screen door on my submarine. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hawsepiper on immigration

I'm going to post this one and leave it up for a while at the top. This is a subject dear to my heart, as it's one place in my little world where I have had the opportunity to live intimately on both sides of the issue. That being said, I probably should take more time and edit this before hitting 'publish,' as it's 3:30am, and I've got to try to get this done, some papers printed up, and a 10 mile walk, AND a good 4 hour nap before my next watch this afternoon.

***************
I've always tended to be a conservative. I also tend to vote Republican. This might have something to do with my first day of lobstering, at 7 or 8 years old, when I put on a pair of adult-sized gloves and loaded bait spikes and was surprised by being given a $10 bill at the end of the day. The sternman on the boat told me to save it, as there were other people who believed that they should have some of my money, too, even though they didn't have to work all afternoon and crap in a bucket besides.
 


As a young adult, the immigration debate seemed pretty simple to me. Why don't they go back where they came from? I don't think I ever met an illegal until I was in my 3d year of college. I had taken a summer job to supplement my fishing income, working on a cranberry bog. The "Puerto Ricans" as the foreign gang was called, (They were Portuguese, Cape Verdeans and Hondurans) were paid 1/3 less than I was, and did the shit work- pulling weeds, digging holes, etc. But, on the other hand, I was paying 1/3 of my income in taxes, so I guess we were on par.

 It wasn't until I met my wife that I really had to think about the immigration issue. I was aware that her employer was hiring illegals, and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I met at her manager's wedding, in fact. She caught the bouquet, I kicked the legs out of the guy in front of me to get the garter. A few months later, it was all over for me, but I waited 2 years to be sure she wasn't fishing for a green card. Which she was, of course. She just played a long game, and happened to fall in love, too, early on.

 So, my girlfriend was an illegal alien. She had a car, no license, but was insured. If she got pulled over, she smiled, pouted, and usually got asked for her phone number. No shit. I was following her to a shop one time when it happened. I've gotten ONE warning from a cop my whole life. She didn't get a ticket until she was 40.

 She and I talked a little about her immigration status, of course. She put the full-court press on to get me to marry her, and I eventually did, though I made her wait a damn while while I got my shit together and hemmed and hawed about whether or not I was being taken for a ride.

     After we got married, and applied retroactively for her green card, we went through the immigration process and it went pretty smoothly. Eventually, we got hauled in on the carpet and asked to prove that we were legitmately married- the barrage of questions, like the layout of our bedroom, and was the light switch on the left or right side of the doorway. At the end, we got a handshake and a form letter, welcoming my wife to the United States as a resident alien.
   Riding back home from Boston, there was traffic. As we approached a construction site, there was a detail cop directing traffic. I watched my wife sink lower into the seat, slowly, as we approached the cop's line of sight. When I laughed and said "Hey, you don't need to do that anymore," she surprised me by bursting into tears, crying near-hysterically. I had no idea how much anxiety being illegal brought on her.

 My wife's thoughts on illegal immigration have taken root in me since then. I guess my opinions have gotten more nuanced. As she's pointed out, immigrants do not take jobs from citizens. Citizens knowingly take jobs from citizens by offering them to illegals to cheat the IRS. If no citizens offered jobs to illegals, there would be no illegals.


 "Here the American national hypocrisy works to his advantage. The construction firm of course knows perfectly well that Pablo is undocumented. 
Companies love illegals. It means that they can pay him dirt, no benefits, no Social Security, and he can't complain without getting deported. In any contest between money and patriotism, money wins. American immigration officials catch just enough Pablos to keep the rest intimidated, but not enough to reduce the supply of cheap labor. It is a sweetheart deal for businessmen."

 From "Uncle Fred's Mexico; another take"  

         I've said (while holding court at a bar) something similar, distilled down to the idea that guilt is everywhere to be found, as is a solution to any 'crisis' on immigration. Enforce existing tax laws, and the problem is addressed directly. However, at that point employers would have to pay taxes on employment, and the Social Security/National Ponzi folks would have to give up on their free money, too. There are plenty of employers who hire illegals for minimum wage and require that they use a fake Social Security number. I would guess it's somewhere between 20-50% of all restaurant kitchen staff, to start with. So I'd imagine that the folks at Social Security might not like having their free money on tap plugged, either. It's not like all those kitchen workers will ever see a penny of it, and it's not like Social Security shares their free money with other agencies, so it behooves them to maintain the status quo. And, as a reward for maintaining this corrupt practice, certain politically-motivated individuals can take credit for being 'humanitarian' and 'caring' and get reelected without doing a goddamned thing. 


 You want someone to blame for the illegal immigration issues we face? Blame your contractors, your chefs, your landscapers, and get a mirror, too, if you've ever stopped at a home depot and picked up a brown-skinned, sleepy-looking helper to rake leaves in your yard. 

 
 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Am I a bad person? Probably.

So, there's a facebook page about my old hometown, and, for some insane reason, I read it.

   Today someone ran over a gaggle of Canadian geese, and an outry ensued.

 My own feeling is that I'm happy the driver is safe. Canadian geese are pretty frigging big, and having a turkey-sized bird get wedged under my front bumper in the course of driving would certainly be reason enough to jerk the goddamn wheel out of sheer surprise.

 So, having said that, I'm a bad person now. All the (female) Facebook respondents, who panicked with the 'giuz, pleez call someones pleez' were thick as flies on a shitpile, and I had to have some fun.

 Look, there were a couple of dead canadian geese in the road in a town south of Boston. You've got to understand, on the MA coast, there's a 1:1 ratio of water rats to Canadian geese. Pigeons are fuckin' exotic compared to the 15lb flying rats that infest the public laws of MA.

 At any rate, I had some fun trolling the 400lb welfare moms who infest the page in question. As a former biologist, I can attest with some accuracy that no Canadian goose gets rehabbed in south suburban MA unless, by 'rehabbed' you mean  "eaten by staff." Imagine you're a poor sap who got suckered into being a wildlife biologist in the metro Boston area. You can either save 1 otter, 6-8 raptors (hawks and other birds of prey), some ducks, a racoon and a deer or two, or you can try and fail to save some Goddamned seagulls and Canadian geese.

 Personally, I don't like goose meat. The breast is the only section that ain't all bones, and it's gamy as shit.

Friday, October 3, 2014

'Murrica

Our last cargo discharge was kind of a ballbuster. Language barrier was there, but aside from that came the realization that incompetence transcends all languages, cultures and boundaries.

 The one guy I don't interact with except at the start and finish of a cargo discharge is the one guy who can be reasonably expected to be educated at some level... or at least not a goddam retard, anyhow. Feel free to savor that naughty word as God intended it, by the way: with my lovely Boston accent:  Ree-tahd.

At any rate, the last engineer I dealt with had some English, which he used to bitch at length about how our cargo tanks are measured using the English system, not the Metric system. I had to listen to it for far too long, my friends. 3-4 minutes of a guy who eschews underarm deodorant in favor of smelling like rotting onions is about 3-4 minutes too long. So I had to keep my mouth shut. Which I failed to do.

"I guess there are two types of countries in the world, Chief; those that use the metric system, and the one that put a man on the Goddamn moon."


Sunday, September 28, 2014

I dreamed a dream

So last night I slept really uneasy. Late night phone call, a 'maybe we'll call you in the overnight' for work sort of call, so I slept lightly, hemidemisemi waiting for the phone to ring. A lot of short dreams punctuated by me waking up and rolling over to try to doze off again.

 One dream stood out: in this dream I bought a Barrett .50 BMG.


 Now, bear in mind that each hot dog-sized shell costs about $7, and I'm a notoriously cheap prick. So why would I spend nice used Harley Davidson-level money on 30lbs of savings-account drain?

 Jeez, look at the thing. That's gun porn. It was a good dream.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Screw Change Day

Well, today is Crew Change Day here aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center for Mood Disorders. I'm getting off today, but not going home. As I wrote about earlier, the situation requires I stay in NY and work over, whore myself out to other vessels for the next 2 weeks before coming back here for 4 more weeks subsequent to that.

 So it goes. I haven't exactly made peace with it, as 2014 looks like another 10-months at sea year despite best efforts, but I'm more at peace than I was.

 Expect blogging to be light for a few days. I'm just not feeling it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pushing back on diminishing boundaries

When in the middle of an extended hitch, my world tends to get smaller. I think of it as 'pulling in,' where I start to tune out the world, forget to return phone calls and generally allow my horizon to dwindle down to the confines of the vessel I'm on. I hear that guys in prison do the same thing to keep from losing their shit.

 And that's the goal: maintain. I don't want the reminders of what I'm missing. I start to catch up on my reading, my conversational skills perhaps don't get exercised so much, too... as a tugboater told me this morning "Well, you're gonna get real ugly."  And that's true too. I'll get temperamental, at times. Moody. That's just how it is. On paydays, I'll be cheerful, as the big checks start rolling in and I see a return on my investment, but that's about it.

       Today I had the morning free, and to combat ennui, I went for a 10-mile walk through Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and the Fulton Mall area of Brooklyn. Beautiful day for the walk, too. At first it was a grind. I had no patience for all the damn people. I was expecting to be a little more alone on Sunday, but it wasn't to be. After the first few miles, I perked up, and started to look around. I got some decent news when I stepped on the scale this morning- I'm about 70% of the way to my goal, as far as my ideal weight, from where I started, and the few nice clothes I have here that actually fit are pretty comfortable for this time of year. So that helped keep me of good cheer and also from eating anything I shouldn't on my walk.

 At any rate, a 3 hour walk did me a lot of good, as a way to try to keep my horizons from shrinking down too much. There's a larger world out there, and, as much as I don't really care for New York, it's an interesting place to visit. Shame I can't try out the bars here, as there's plenty of them, but even when I'm off the clock, I'm on the clock.

 So later I'm going to take that walk again. This time there's a sandwich in my future. I actually MUST have 900 more calories for the day at a minimum, or risk losing muscle mass. Considering my battle with keeping a healthy weight, that's a nice problem to deal with.

Friday, September 19, 2014

probably too personal

Well... shit.

        Some bad news from Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's family in Brazil has thrown a massive spanner in the works. Yours truly is about to do something stupid. Looks like I won't be home for another couple of months, so that I might pull someone's fat out of the fire yet again and pay for a needed surgery.

 Brazil's a fucked up place. I've mentioned that before, I believe. If you don't have cash on the barrel when you step foot in a hospital, you are wheeled outside and placed at the conveniently located bus stop bench there.

     Anyhow, there's crazy drama, and I'm in an unenviable position. I've never in a thousand years imagined that I'd be a person to divide a family. When I see or hear of brothers who don't talk to brothers, of bullheaded people who refuse to forgive, it makes me sad, or even sometimes disgusted.

 And yet here I am. The side effect of doing this not-going-home shit is that the man who's mother I'm saving is dead to me. Any asshole who turns his back on his flesh-and-blood because it's expensive to keep them alive is not welcome in my life. I've made it clear that I'm not making decisions for my wife, that I'm not going to push her into abandoning anyone, despite the fact that they've already shown their willingness to do the same... still, I don't live in a vacuum, and the cost of sharing a roof with me now is that  there are certain people no longer welcome in my life and in my home, which is also hers, of course, and she'll have to live with that.
 Anyhow, it doesn't sit well with me, but I suspect that this may very well be exactly why it's the correct decision. Who needs more bastards in their life?


Anyhow, on a happier note, here's some pictures from New York's waterfront, taken last week on what was the prettiest day of 2014 thus far.