Well, it was still cold as hell yesterday here on the 'Q, but the sun came out, and that was something to be thankful for. I can't remember the last time that happened.
I'm feeling much better, mentally. Not quite as ready to seek out a bell tower and a high-powered rifle as I have been the past few days. I had some non-harsh but fairly strident words with a tug operator yesterday morning, something that VERY rarely happens, and which wasn't resolved, but was done with lots of yelling but no real disrespect, so... pretty good, as much as an ego-driven conflict can be.
My employer isn't anywhere close to the highest-paying maritime company in the region. They're in the middle, somewhere, but when asked about my opinion on my employer, it's very positive. There's a very low percentage of d-bags among the afloat staff, the office weenies are top notch, and the work environment is excellent. Lots of coworkers bitch about the pay, but year in, year out, they're still here.
Inappropriately Hot Foreign wife noted that I've been somewhat confrontational this past week. I suppose I have. I'm the go-along-to-get-along type, and try to leave my ego at home, with the exception of being rude. Someone gets rude, I tend to give it back tenfold in return.
Ultimately, when little bumps in the road happen, it helps me to remember that our tugboat operators want the same things everyone else wants. A paycheck, no drama, and to get the hell home. I take shit from no man, of course, so arguments will happen, but in the scheme of things, who cares? I may not be on one guy's Christmas card list, but we can certainly work together.
It's going down to damn degrees tonight. Just put a blast heater pointed at the through-deck fitting that handles our running water. Hope we don't freeze up.
Tomorrow's crew change, but not for me, which means it will be a long-ass day, and cold as hell, besides. To counter that, I present some warm and alluring sights from this year's Carnival in Rio De Janeiro. Enjoy.
I've been in a snit for a few days. Mid-tour blues? I'm about 12 days in now.
Last night was one of those jobs where nothing goes well, and, rather than accept that philosophically, I got worked up into something of a lather. It happens.
We're discharging 3,000 tons of fuel oil to a big post-Panamax container ship. The ship is already paying well north of a million bucks to top off the tanks, so they hire an outside surveyor to measure tanks. I know the guy, as well. A Pakistani dude, pleasant to talk to, but slow as balls.
So, yeah, it takes 3 hours to go from catching lines to kicking the pumps on. 7 hours of pumping oil. then 2 hours to disconnect, pass papers and cast off.
Along the way, it's snowing hard, then it becomes rain... then it becomes freezing rain. Very unpleasant. More unpleasant, however, is that it should have taken an hour and 15 minutes to go from catching the first line to starting the pumps, and it should have been 30 minutes to go from finishing cargo to casting off. Joke's on them, though, and here's where I got testy. The ship and their hired surveyor are angry because they didn't get their diesel oil. Along with their heavy fuel oil, they also ordered a couple hundred tons of diesel, which was being carried by another barge, which would come in behind us after I left. Well and good, right? Well, because they ship's crew were so slow, and the surveyor was slower, the diesel barge sailed right past us and went to another ship. The ship's crew was cranky because they were going to have to delay sailing, something that is a big no-no. I, being wet, cold and hungry, wasn't in a listening sort of mood, so I got cranky right back, telling them that whether through incompetence or laziness, we had lost well over 3 hours where I was sitting, ready and available waiting for them to get their shit together, and the diesel barge had other ships waiting, so it made no sense for us to delay other ships just because this one couldn't get their shit together.
Eventually we parted ways, and my watch ended on the ride from Port Elizabeth to our mooring buoy out in Stapleton anchorage.
Now, I would have killed for a glass of whisky and a good book when I got into my bunk, but booze being a forbidden commodity, settled for a glass of diet pepsi and my book, and it wasn't as good, but it was still good.
Today seems to be better. I'm not quite my sunny self, but I'm getting there. I'm so fucking tired of being snowed on and living in the dark. I may not literally kill a man for a glass of whisky, but I might be tempted into human sacrifice if it would bring us a sunny day with no fucking wind and snow.
N. B. ... I hesitated to publish this one. No one enjoys airing laundry in public, but I'm hoping this will provide a touch of catharsis.
SO... one of our mariners named T, a short old tub of shit scumbag who works for my company, went out on his deck to throw off our lines. We were moored alongside them for the night, you see, and it was time to go to work.
"Hey, you guys know how (my company's recruiter) stopped the riots in Ferguson? He dropped applications from a helicopter!" Silence. The gang on deck look at the guy, or, more accurately, we all look away from the guy, saying nothing, acknowledging nothing.
"You get it? The applications made them run away. And no one looted any workboots!"
Look, I hate the overuse of the phrase 'dog whistle." But this was one. Racist shit from a guy I already know is racist, a man who doesn't really know me. I'm old enough to have realized that most qualities that people list to justify being racist come as a marker of class, not color. Assholes come in many shades.
I've met T before. I already don't like him. He's a loudmouth, which is a mortal sin among mariners, as well as being lazy and profoundly stupid, and, to boot, an out-of-the-closet racist.
Look, if you fired every mariner who ever made a bigoted statement, there'd be no mariners. Every one of us, regardless of our skin color, has said dumb, mean-spirited racist shit that we're not proud of. I include myself. Most of us have the basic decency to be ashamed when it happens, and, of those who don't, have at least the smarts to keep their mouths shut when among strangers.
Now, before I had reason to dislike T, I already disliked T. He's got one of those personalities that, 15 seconds after you meet him, you already know that you will never, ever like the man. Which pretty much is the opinion of everyone when the guy's name gets mentioned, which, usually is associated with something negative. Dude don't have a lot of friends, is what I'm saying.
My former right-hand man, who is black, had to work with T for a week. This was after D's promotion, when he was given his own barge as barge captain. Done as a favor for the ladies in HR.
Tony immediately got into why he didn't like niggers. D, a calm, positive, polite guy who is damn near always ready to smile and is one of the more personable people I know, refrained from throwing the little shit over the side, and, out of pity for any dependents that might rely on the douchebag, didn't report this little repartee to our offices, settling it with a 'you don't talk to me. Period.' sort of agreement, for which I now honor him for his restraint.
Well, rather than go along to get along, and continue admiring my feet while uncomfortably waiting for the prick to shut up and/or die of heart disease, I have had enough. As I said, I already don't like the guy, and now I've got venomous dislike for him.
"Hey T? You know I'm in an interracial marriage, right?"
Now, I've pulled this one before. Invariably, it shuts people up FAST. Most turn purple, stammer apologies follow. Some suddenly get blacker than thou, and a guy who was all "I'm not in the KKK, but I understand where they're coming from," suddenly was marching on Martin Luther King's left-hand side back in the day. Well, not T. The man's number than a pounded thumb, and a pretty proud racist, I guess. I drop my little bomb, get a lame "You know I wasn't talking about black people, right?"
Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife isn't actually of African descent,
being half Brazilian Indio and half Italian, but that doesn't matter. I don't have skin in the game, if you want to get technical, except that some shit you just can't let go.
"Really? Who were you talking about, then?"
Silence follows. Blissful silence.
Well I can name this tune. Prevaricating is about to happen, and to cut that off (because who wants to hear that from a man you neither like nor respect?), I simply say something along the lines of "You need shut your mouth and walk away."
I don't want to rat the guy out. I figure the assbag's pushing 60, is at least 100lbs overweight, and is only about 5foot 6, so a long retirement's unlikely anyhow. It may not have been the right thing to do but I took my own advice and closed my mouth too, and walked away.
Later, a trainee deckhand told me that he was very happy I shut the guy up. For my part I got embarassed that a kid green as a leaf on a tree had to see the quality of some of the barge folk in my company in that light.
So, the rest of the watch was tainted, after that. I was pretty pissed off, and you know every man hates that feeling of regret when you don't beat the tar out of someone who so desperately needs beating. But I'm not the type to beat a middle aged man, and I'm not going to get my ass fired for the sake of a moment's pleasure. But Lord, I wanted to. My blood was up all day, and with no outlet for it, I tried to bury myself in work, but it being in single digits temperature-wise, that wasn't happening either.
Some days are better than others, I guess.
Welp, we're snug in a lay berth, tucked up in Brooklyn until the overnight tomorrow. Ice all around us, and it's two degrees out, so even though there's shore access, my ass is probably staying in today.
With such cold-ass weather all around us, let's turn our eyes south to the warmth of lovely Rio De Janeiro, and some lovely Brazilian ladies.
Well, this is a fine, fine day, isn't it? Today is Ash Wednesday, but to you non-Catholics out there, it's also a day to celebrate, too. You see, Carnival ended last night in Rio De Janeiro, and as we all know, I have a weakness for Brazilian women, and Carnival is when they take to the streets and be all in costumes and half-naked, or all naked, sometimes.
And I've got the pictures to share, so here are a few safe for work pictures to get you started. More coming in the days and weeks ahead... especially in the next few days, as I want to drive up traffic, uh, share these pictures and the smiles they bring.So stay tuned. 2015 was incredibly hot in Brazil this year, which means that the costumes were kept to a glorious minimum.
Disclaimer: As beautiful as these women are, I am happy that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife was never a samba dancer. The internet is forever, and so are photographs of all these bundas gostosas.
I really can't bitch about the perfectly average amount of snowfall we've gotten while I'm at work here in NY. They're getting bombed back in Boston. We got a little under 6" of powder overnight, which made shoveling easier.
It's time for our Internal Structure Exam tomorrow, when Uncle Sugar's Sea Fencibles go and take a gander at the framing here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ workhouse. That means opening up all the flush deck hatches in the wings and double-bottoms.
The 'Q's double bottom/wings/ballast tanks aren't used to carry water ballast. As such, they're in good shape, but the access hatches are Mark 1 old school Bomar specials. Dollar store aluminum flush-mounted hatches.
The real bitch about these hatches is that they're directly mounted in the deck... so you've got an aluminum hatch in a steel coaming... which means electrolyis and rot happens over a long enough timeline.
So, it's February. Below freezing. Recent snows, aluminum and steel side by side... equals some frigging hard-to open hatches. We maxed out our deck crane trying to pry one particularly stubborn hatch out of the deck... when I heaved up on the crane and redlined the #1 runner, an engineer beat the hatch with a sledge for 10 minutes, it finally popped up, ah, energetically... about 10 feet up. Pretty good, considering that it took a 100lb crane hook with it. Had it not still been attached to the crane, I'm pretty sure that hatch would have achieved orbital velocity.
We exercise those hatches regularly. Even so, they get to sticking pretty regularly too, but not like that, and we don't open every single hatch every week. There are 20 of the damn things for the wing tanks.
But we got 'em, and tomorrow I get to tank dive with the surveyors and the Coasties, see how we're holding up inside. The 'Q is 8 years old. I'm assuming that, based on the degree of abuse she takes from certain tugboat operators who navigate by the braille method, there will be some broken welds to find. We've got a pool going. I chose the high number, 26. The lowest quess is 9. The 'Q's built ruggedand built well, but it's not built for ocean crossing.
On the upside, we're about done with all the prep, and we're at my company's NY regional HQ, and close to a grocery store, so we took the opportunity to skip lunch and load up on heavy goods- cases of water, canned goods. With easy shore access, it was the work of a short minute to load up our crane basket (a cubic yard, 3x3x3 feet) and slingshot our stores from dock to deck.
Tonight's a free night. I foresee going to bed early. My ass is beat.
Well, the temperature is ONE DEGREE. Luckily, the wind is gusting upwards of 50mph, so there's just no chance whatsoever of anything not being frozen solid out on deck. Gonna be a long couple of days.
32 years I've been drawing a check from working on the water (I started at age 8 for $10 a day), which does sometimes include working when it's cold outside. So when I say that it's a good idea to leave a sink with the water running at a trickle overnight to keep the pipes from freezing, I'm speaking on experience.
So I was a little perturbed to find no water running when I woke up at midnight, and now there's no fucking running water. So, no cooking, no toilets, and the fucking microwave's broken, too, so cooking's going to be interesting. What with the temperatures, it's lot like tea or a hot meal would be appreciated anyhow. FML 2 times.
I'm a lovely shade of purple-red right now, and in a couple hours, we'll be working out in Stapleton Anchorage here in NY, where there's just no getting out of this fucking wind.
I can NOT abide people being rude to me when I haven't earned it. It's my Achille's Heel. Someone gets rude to me, I tend to one up them, and that's a character flaw. I should be de-escalating at all times, but rudeness puts me into the red. This has caused ill-will here and there, as there are a few assholes in my company who aren't bad boathandlers, and my employer values results more than smiles. Shipping is a business where people with no social skills can excel, despite being hated by everyone they meet. So it goes. My employer has a startlingly high percentage of nice folks on their afloat staff. A few grumps, a few excitable guys with tempers, the odd 'sperg with a license, whatever. No problem. Confrontational folks don't seem to stay long in our New York fleet in particular, and for that I am thankful.
It's 8 damn degrees out, and that's before the wind chill. It was blowing 50 when I woke up, which didn't help. If I can manage to be polite and pleasant despite that, I'm doing pretty well.
A little rudeness happened today, which inspired me to write this.
Far be it from me to slut-shame the ignorant, but there is nothing, NOTHING I love more than being accused of being a liar and a thief.
I've mentioned it before, but other countries are famous for trying to gouge shipowners for fuel oil. Places like Singapore are famous for their art. People that had to be forced to learn to use toilet paper at gunpoint a hundred years ago get quite creative when it comes to robbing others blind.
Take "Cappuccino" bunkers. You take a ship's fuel oil, and aerate it heavily prior to transfer. Heavy Fuel Oils like RMG-380 (a type of #6 oil, about the consistency of cold maple syrup when you heat the shit out of it to make it flow easier) take hours to offgas when there are bubbles in it. So, in Singapore, companies sometimes aerate bunker fuel to rob the receiver of a few tons of fuel in the process. The air bubbles make the tank appear more full than it actually is.
We don't do that shit here. First off, I do not own the fuel. I am the charioteer only. Second, where in the name of Jerry Garcia's rectum would I put a couple of tons of fuel oil that doesn't flow when cold, and smells like a mass grave? (No shit, 6 oil smells like matches and burnt hair). Even if I was a thief, and wanted to resell the oil, who would I sell it to? This isn't Haiti, where no one notices if you're selling oil on the side of the road.
At any rate, it being home heating oil season in New York, we're getting a lot of tankers than normally only trade in eastern Europe or the far east, visiting for the first time... and it's annoying as shit, because the crews are fucking retarded and unprofessional.
Plus, you know, they're assuming that since they're fucking thieves and criminals, that I am too.
So in the last 24 hours, we've fueled 3 ships. The engineer on the first one wanted me to cut their order 20 tons shy but mark it as fully transferred, and we'd split the value of the other 20 tons 50/50... so he was trying to rob his employer. The other two ships accused me of cutting them short and trying to screw them, which is a pretty common tactic outside the civilized world. I am polite as I can be under the circumstances. The second ship, I just say "no, sir, you got all the oil. This isn't Singapore, we don't lie or steal, because then you won't buy oil from us again next time." When I get pushback, I just say. "No, I'm confident you DID get all your oil. You gauged my tanks with me. Please document any differences, and I will sign a Letter of Protest, and it can get worked out by our lawyers."
The third ship, this morning, however, pushed back my pushback, at which point I wasn't as polite. I gave the usual "This isn't Singapore" spiel (The ship was Singapore-homeported), but the guy didn't budge. I requested documentation and a Letter of Protest from the ship. He refused, saying it was too much trouble for his Chief Engineer, who was much too busy. So, dispensing with diplomacy, I said "OK, pal, you say I shorted you. I asked you to document that, so that everyone is satisfied, and you're refusing. You're still sitting here, complaining, and you're calling me a thief and a liar, and no one calls me a thief and a liar on my own fucking boat."
Well, the guy backpedaled, saving face, and I let that happen. They might be back, and I think he learned a lesson about trying to pull shit when he's here.
Moored alongside an empty oil tanker in Stapleton anchorage in New York harbor. Just north of the Guinea Gangplank, in a 'protected' spot. We're getting bounced around like the last coffee bean in the can, transferring fuel, with a light load of 1000 tons on board ourselves, so we're surfing the chop, which is pretty strong tonight.
All is well, don't get me wrong, but I don't like getting flying sea spray freezing over everything, including me, 150 feet away from the bow.
Oh, if you're wondering, that big red tank is a diesel wash tank. The tanker on my starboard side sometimes uses diesel oil as a solvent to wash down noxious crap that sticks to the walls of their cargo tanks. Imagine paying $4 a gallon for a car wash, if your car was 500 feet long.
Well, we were in Bay Ridge anchorage in New York harbor, cleaning the house up, tidying and doing final laundry. Four. FOUR fucking hours before crew change, the tugboat mated to the barge I'm babysitting calls us up. 'We need to get on the hip. We just got ordered to Baltimore, sailing immediately. "
30 minutes later the anchor's up, the tugboat is stretching out the tow wire, and we're on our way out under the Verrezano Narrows bridge, bound for Ambrose channel. I'm typing this in my bunk, as I'll be standing watch and eating the last of my salad here at midnight.
I was met with silence when I delivered the news to Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife. She and I are both spoiled by my unusually regular schedule. It's been a few years since I got diverted and crew change got screwed up. Comes with the job, but I've been lucky.
Apparently my wife had a nice romantic day all planned out for tomorrow. Her first words to me were "Ohhh-kay. Eye neeed fight wit' chu now." She wasn't serious, as she's a good 'un, but spent the next few minutes reassuring herself that I wasn't going to go run for a high vantage point and a high-powered rifle. I had had 30 minutes to get the tug made up on the wire and the anchor up, so I was ok by then.
Well, semi-OK. I'm not riding all the way to Baltimore. I'll get off in Wilmington, DE on a crew boat, there to get to the airport in Philly. All goes to plan, I'll lose 12 hours with the fam and have a quiet evening tomorrow night with them. I told my wife to break out a magnum of Moet & Chandon, 'cus daddy's thirsty and it's a school night, which makes lounging on my patio sound pretty good.
Still, this is better than having to bust my balls over cargo ops. I'm riding a barge and standing watch. Tomorrow I'll be home at some point, hopefully before midnight... and hey, they have these wonderful places at the Philadelphia airport where you can sit and they bring you beer.
If all goes well, 24 hours from now I'll be at the airport and in line for a little probulation and a walk through the rape-o-matic. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor getting fingered by a 400-lb high-school dropout who chews his nails will stop me.
Well, President Empty Chair got put in the corner, briefly, and the Keystone XL pipeline expansion legislation was passed... and, in the same week that over 10,000 Americans employed in the oil exploration trade lost their jobs, Dear Leader sensitively responded to his recent loss of face by stomping on the nuts of the oil industry, slapping massive new restrictions on oil and gas drilling... that'll show those evil oil companies not to fuck with The One. Only Barrack Hussein Obama can decimate the middle class! So, the guys who survived Round One of layoffs are about to get bent over without the benefit of a little EVOO or Kentucky Jelly.
This is today's assignment- read this and think. Right or left of the aisle, you'll find John C. Wright's musings will make you sit back and contemplate. Reading the guy's work is like a shot of Gamma Globulin for your brain.
Today's post is a little dark and contemplative, and unusually aggressive for Mr. Wright, but all the more powerful for it. He's one of the few religious writers I know who can't be shouted down. Dude's just thoughtful.
"They used to be in favor of free love and the sexual liberation; now
they object to rocket scientists wearing shirts with cartoon women
printed on them, they object to science fiction magazines showing a
scantily clad warrior princess slaying a monster, and they call all sex
rape, and demand strict segregation of women and men. On the same day as
these protests, they appear in front of the Pope, writhing on the
ground naked with crosses and crucifixes inserted into their vaginas. So
the Puritan rules apply arbitrarily, without sense or order, to anyone
or no one."
When scrolling through online posts from mariners going back and forth talking about jobs, headaches, people and the business, sometimes I bristle at how absolutely foul and vitriolic the opinions can get as to tugboaters' opinions on tankermen in general.
It's a matter of differing goals and a bar that is set at two different heights. Personally, I find tugboaters to vary widely in terms of skill and personality. My employer has a low number of real assholes in their tugs' wheelhouses, which is something to be admired... there's a certain dearth of very good boathandlers, as well, though, as shipping in general is a business where skill counts far more than people skills. Plenty of d-bags are great boat handlers. So long as it doesn't drive too many folks away from crewing a vessel, companies don't care that a boathandler is a failure as a human being. So long as everyone goes home safe, that's not necessarily a terrible thing.
I got a pretty stark reminder of just why tankermen have a varied reputation during a conversation yesterday. There are a lot of prospective tankermen who are looking to get their foot in the door simply because it looks like less work than other jobs, and it pays relatively well... which was another point I saw in some BBS posts- complaints of tankermen being overpaid. Well, there's no explaining the basic rules of economics to someone with an inflated view of their own value. The market pays what it does for a reason, so I simply skim on, and note that there's some damn petty people out there. Why do I give a good goddamn what other people make? It's motivation to move into another position, if I'm jealous. Hell, if tugboating paid twice what I make and came with some qualitative improvements to my life, I'd shift over that way and be a tugboater. It doesn't, and I don't want to.
But, yeah, there's some real bums out there for tankermen... something I'm aware of, of course, but something I don't see normally, as I'm focused on the dirtiest, most complex and miserable of the non-niche oil markets. I do bunker work, carrying fuel to ships... sort of the Swiss Army Knife of oil tanking jobs, and it's more labor and risk-intensive than other forms of oil carriage, so there aren't a lot of bums out there, at least in my company. In our core NY bunker group, there's 8-9 really good guys, twice that in competent and marginally competent guys, and a number of short bus seat warmers who can sign a Declaration of Inspection and must be watched over, the kinds of folks who can do a job for 20 years and still not know how to do it well.
Being a company whore, I get to meet a lot of folks. I got put in an oddball place for me, this week. I'm on a 50,000bbl black oil barge which is chartered to an oil major, which means that we have a dedicated tugboat that is always nearby, and the workload is nowhere near as brutal as I'm used to. The barge itself is awkward for me to operate, but the other guy on here is nice, knows his job and is particular about it, a quality I appreciate greatly.
Anyhow, I've got 5 more watches to stand, maybe part of a 6th, and I can go home. It's the dead of winter back in Heaven's Waiting Room, so it's only in the mid-70's every day. Only. I was outside a little while ago and it was 9 degrees.
I am Paul B, and I spend most of my life at sea. Ships, Science, the life of a mariner, biology and (mostly) true stories of life among the best and the worst people in the world, the United States Merchant Marines. You'll find it here, maybe. You'll definitely find rants, raves and discussion on life aboard a merchant ship. Come back and see the Brazilian girls, too, who show up fairly regularly.