Monday, June 30, 2014

...where the good Lord split 'ya.

Well, I'll hopefully be out of here in about 6 hours, headed for ma's house.

 I hope like hell that the 1,500 miles I'll be driving in the next few days go well. I wasn't able to sleep in my last off-watch rest period, so I'm looking at a couple of days of driving on almost no sleep. Screw it, I'm still happy as hell to be on my way!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

channel fever!

This is an odd feeling, being homesick for a place that wasn't yet home when I came in to work last time.

 Less than a week to go in this tour. I've got something like 22 days on board, and 6 to go.

        Now, with a new home 1,500 miles from friends and family, I've got to get back to be with my wife and kid. They need me home more than ever. No social safety net now.

 What happened? Just 6 months ago I was working 10 weeks on/1 off, or 5 weeks on/ 1 off. Now I'm struggling to do my standard 4 weeks on/2 off, and it feels nice, in a way, to be dying to race home.

...and a race it is, this time. You see, I left my beloved giant truck at my mom's house in Boston, and when I get off here, in NY, I have to take the train to mom's, catch a nap, and drive that beast singlehanded down to south Florida.

 And that's another thing... my truck? Really out of place in Heaven's Waiting Room. I don't need 4 wheel drive anymore, and I don't need to carry fishing gear beyond a rod and reel... so the truck is not going to be staying.

 Now, fact is that we've got the Mommobile down there, a nice Honda crossover, which can carry some stuff, and cart our collective asses between A and B in comfort and modest style. BUT, this is what I want to replace the truck with:

...a little ostentatious for me, but then again, it's not really for me. I'm still only home part-time. Without the need to drive 30 minutes to go see my mom and old friends, do I really need that?

 My wife, who has recently discovered within herself the voice of reason, says we don't need a 2nd car. I'm pretty sure this is what she has in mind for me.

Pictured: not the same, honey. Not the same at all. :(
Still, next week it looks like I'm driving solo from Boston to South FL, right before July 4, so traffic should be delicious the entire way down the Eastern seaboard. I'm pretty sure that by the end of that, I'll hate driving enough to stomach giving away my truck.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brazil and the 2014 'World Cups" (NSFW)

My wife and kid had to rush out to buy their Team Brasil soccer shirts before we moved, in anticipation of the cup games.

 But, sadly, not every lovely Brazilian lady can afford a team jersey, and of those that can, many find them awful hot in the Brazilian sun. Let's look at how they work around that. You know, for informational purposes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

revisiting the Cuban Missile Crisis

I spent Christmas last year working out of one of the smaller Caribbean islands, St. Eustacius, bunkering ships. One of the most interesting times I've had in my maritime career. We were based in a sort-of harbor at the foot of a blown-out volcano. You might have seen the pictures...

Me on the right. The guy in the middle was the strongest human being I've ever met. A former outlaw biker, to boot. 

  This included weekly visits to St. Maarten, an overnight ride from our usual haunts, to fuel cruise ships during their visits. St. Maarten was not our base of operations, but it is where we would fly in and out.

 As I've documented previously when flying in and out, the closest bar to our hotel was also a whorehouse, and I made friends with the mama-san, the manager, who fed me a steady diet of scotch and soup to maintain my strength and mood during my visits. Seriously, I didn't get laid in a whorehouse. Being married and all, but that didn't stop me from looking. My wife trusts me for a reason, but the stories made her laugh. She really is pretty cool. I remember very vividly eating turtle soup with about 30 whores at 6am on my last morning before flying home. No pictures, obviously. Being a mariner has its' privileges, and seriously, who gets to do that?

I had to save all the scraps of paper with the girls' phone numbers on there to show my wife. She's absolutely not the jealous type, and we both had a giggle at the 20-something slips of paper that I pulled out.

       Well, while I was there, I was also polishing up a barge captain, relatively new to the company. Didn't take much. This guy, a former Cuban boat person, had worked in the area for several years before coming to my company. He already knew all the terminal staff when we showed up. I called him the Cuban Missile for his amazing ability to cause women to gravitate to him, something I saw whenever we were in public. The Cuban Missile has an amazing gift with women, whores or not. They just orbit the guy. Made my stay in the brothel's bar a lot of fun. The girls just couldn't keep away from the guy, and although he didn't buy in, that didn't stop them from fishing for work.

    The Cuban Missile and I, on our last night in the Caribbean, went on an epic pub crawl that I will sort of remember until my dying day. The guy is one of the most entertaining people I have ever met.

... and last night, after not seeing him for a year and a half, a tug drops him off on my deck. We were rafted up against another barge, and he came aboard to cover for a missing man... and so, instead of sleeping, I spent 3 hours catching up with my friend. And today? I'm a little groggy, but it was great to catch up with a friend... and, yes, live vicariously, a little, on his own adventures, which would be a story in itself.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

For the love of sulfur: Putting together a nice list

...these uneven, multiple-product cargo loads are killing me. Figuratively, I mean. Not literally. They're actually just really, really annoying.

 See, the US, EU and some other uncivilized places too now require that ships burn a low-sulful content fuel oil when in their ECA (Emissions Control Area), which is often up to 200 miles from their shores.  The end result is that ships burn slightly cleaner oil closer to an ECA area's shores, and then switch to the high-sulfur product when out of an ECA area. End result is a wonderful exercise in environmental theatre, since the net sulfur reduction to the atmosphere is a drop in the bucket.

 How big a deal is this? well, let's look at the fuel. RMG-380 is the standard ship fuel. It's got to be heated over 90 degrees to flow properly (preferably 120+), and under 80 degrees, has viscosity properties almost identical to molasses. It's a Residual fuel. Take crude oil, remove the gasoline  (30-50%), remove the light aromatic hydrocarbons (20-30%), remove the dirt and water, and then remove the medium-length chain polyaromatic and polycyclic hydrocarbons. What's left is a foul-smelling tarry paste that you can use for fuel if you heat the shit out of it and then atomize using ultra-high pressure or water mist (seriously, steam boilers use this shit- you spray water with the oil, the oil sticks to the water droplets exterior, goes into the fire and burns almost completely up, leaving less soot than just burning this shit alone).

 RMG-380 has a sulfur content of 2.0% to 3.3ish %, depending on what you're getting. The Low Sulfur variant is usually sold with just under 1% sulfur. So, if you're burning, say, 4,000 tons a month, you're putting 40 tons of sulfur in the air. The hi-test stuff, at, say 3%, is 120 tons. This is for a large ship, of course. The problem is the price. figure 20-40% more for the low-sulfur. Believe it or not, shipping has an awful profit margin. Fuel costs are usually the largest expense, and there's a reason why small shipowners really struggle to survive. Arbitrarily tack a 25% increase in expenses for fuel, and you get the shitshow that is modern shipping economics.

 Now, I mostly told you that so that you can understand that this cumbersome business practice results in most shipowners having to manage multiple grades of fuel on board, on ships which often were not designed to accept multiple grades of fuel. End result is often that ships will purchase a small volume of the expensive LS (low sulfur) stuff, and a larger volume of high sulfur fuel. Which results in my living on a vessel with a strong list, all too often.

Seriously, YOU try enjoying your morning shit like this. Ruined.

Everything goes sideways. Starting with the office chairs. While we're in them. Cooking? Wildly uneven. Your food gets a list, too. Showering? A little more challenging, and forget being able to get soap off your feet. Sleeping is more variable- you can 'go camping' (switch around the rack, and put your pillow where your feet usually lie), prop up the mattress with dunnage, or sleep half on the mattress, half on a wall, depending on how your rack lies. But you do sleep. Only once did I roll off my bunk, and that sucked. I caught the mattress with an arm, and since my rack is jacked up 5 feet off the deck, I swung around and landed, catlike, on the deck. Which, since it was tilted, resulting in me doing a one-man bumrush the 10 feet across the room, where I was able to stop my forward momentum on some lockers, using my face.

 Here's the thing I remember, however, however annoying this may be. It's still easier than eating a meal in a heavy sea on a ship, or, God forbid, trying to launch the Brown October in 30-foot seas,

Thursday, June 12, 2014

18 years ago...

I was a soon-to-be graduated college student, splitting my time between classes, working in the biology department at my university, pumping gas at night and lobstering on weekends. Of course, it being the 90's, I was in a heavy metal band and occasionally played at clubs in Boston and the 'burbs.

 Unfortunately, photos of that era surfaced this morning. At least my hair wasn't bigged up, but lord it was long. If you're a Facebook friend, be gentle.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

 Photo by a friend. Wish I had nice blue skies, but, on the upside, my scorching sunburn has subsided into my usual purple-red version of a tan from the one sunny day we had out here. Silver lining and all that.

enough, thank you.

Goddam, I'm tired of getting rained on. What is this, day 4 now? my laundry basket smells like a dirty dog.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

head down

You might have noticed the paucity of posts in the past few months.

 My habit has always been that, when in doubt, I either step back and really assess a situation, or do the dead opposite and ignore it, put my head down, and bull through. Most of the time I seem to do OK there.

 Watching the news, feeling disconnected, under-represented and put-upon in general, I've noticed that none of the various crises or controversies affect me much. Price of meat goes through the roof? Shit, I like chicken, anyhow. Drought in California? What can I do. I've got other priorities to deal with. As my father used to say, the man who rows the boat doesn't have the time to rock it, and doesn't appreciate it when others do.

 I got my own problems to worry about.

 I recently met a new employee of my company's regional staff who has survived 4 (!) bouts with lymphoma. Dude's maxed out on radiation therapy, and has been on some form of maintenance chemo for just about forever. You'd never know it to talk to him- a happy, pleasant guy, and, when I did find that stuff out, he spoke about it matter of factly, with some distance, as though he's simply enjoying being there.

 I don't think that's fatalism. That, to me, is the triumph of the human spirit.

 I've never fought cancer. I've never lived with chronic disease. I've never been made directly aware that my days are dwindling. So why the fuck, in the name of the seven mad gods of the sea, do I feel disconnected, under-represented and put upon in general? Dunno. I do know, however, that I no longer care as much as I used to about these things. I'm putting my energy into other venues now- being a good father as much as I can from my boat, building a new life and home far from the place where I have blood ties (and where everyone talks wicked good and the sub shops are mostly pissa. Seriously, pizza and subs in Florida are wicked shitty).

 I'm not dropping out. I'm tuning out. Expect to continue to see snark, stories and the odd Brazilian boobie.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Back on it

Goddam it's been a busy 2 weeks. I packed up the little box we lived in- just barely shoehorned it into a truck, and I'm not kidding, it was a tight fit- it took 10 minutes to close the door on the truck box. I am now the world champion Tetris player for having done it, too. Buy yeah, we made it, and drove from the Boston area to south FL, which is where my new home, Heaven's Waiting Area, is.

 Average age of my neighbors is about 65 and holy smokes it's gorgeous there. I hated to leave this morning, but leave I did, to fly up to NY and return to Hawsepiper's Afloat Global HQ/Penitentiary for the Involuntarily Celibate is.

 Had some adventure along the way. Got to see one of my oldest friends from childhood when we passed through Savannah, GA, and our kids hit it off immediately, ignoring us for the rest of the night. Great to see. I swear it rained on us from NJ to FL, but we didn't get more than 2 minutes of rain once we got to our destination. Surprising for this time of year.
     Unloading the box truck was a hell of a lot easier than loading it was, too. Took me 2 days to load the thing, about 3-4 hours to unload it. I had help, of course, but did plenty of heavy lifting, and paid for it in backaches and smashed digits. My older brother was a huge help in all ways between driving and lifting... and cooking and babysitting and cheerleading. Great to spend so much time with family.

Lagaticia- our resident patio lizard on bug detail.

The New 'Hood. 

Heaven's Waiting Area is a work in progress, and we made amazing inroads in just a few days.  I was able to take an hour off with my boy and nephew to do a little fishing in my backyard pond, and caught a largemouth despite it being mid-day. Not bad, considering I was standing on my lawn at the time!

 Pictures when I have them. Still unpacking my stuff here, too.

           I returned to work a few days late, enjoyed some of the worst piloting ever in the flight to NY. I've never had the plane hit the runway hard enough to cause a backache until now, but by the time we actually touched down, I was still grateful. Everyone knows the difference between turbulence and a shitty driver, and this was the latter. Still, I'm content enough to be here, though I wish I were home.