Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In which I put a knife in the week's back

One week down, three to go. It's been a busy one, but yesterday was an impromptu day off.

 I say impromotu, because our little electronic Town Crier, the program that displays our schedule, was getting dicked around worse than a drunk coed at a Spring Break house party. 

 Seriously, most of yesterday was beautiful outside. It would have been a great day to get some work done. Instead, I spend the day filing and prepping, doing pre-transfer paperwork for the SIX GODDAMNED jobs that were assigned then deleted before suddenly, at the end of the day, adding yet one more, to which I simply give the Hawaiian good luck sign and put my feet up and ignored.

 Seriously, how fucked up are things where you have to change plans six times in 5 hours? I can totally see anybody having a bad day, trying to get shit under control, but damn. I wish it were an isolated experience, but when there's more cooks than soup, I guess this sort of mess is the result.

 Anyhow, courtesy of bad circumstances, not a whole lot got done.

 You know, I really miss working in Philadelphia sometimes. Just 4 years ago, it was a rare, rare thing to not have at least 72 hours' warning of a cargo coming in. New York seems to be more like Wal-Mart's just-in-time approach to logistics... and it shows. Yesterday I had two jobs go slower than planned, and the end result was a ship containing thousands of cars scheduled for offloading, which had to sit at anchor, because they couldn't go under a bridge until they got loaded deeper into the water with a couple thousand tons of fuel oil.

 That last one was kind of funny, in a messed up way. The engineers kept screaming at me to hurry up, load faster, but I couldn't, and yet they kept trying. Kinda nice to see the shoe on the other foot, really, but the usual M.O. is me asking a ship to let me increase my rate because OUR schedule is backing up, and the engineers responding with a yawn and the Hawaiian good luck sign.

Pictured: engineers emphasizing the desire to increase discharge pressure

At any rate, I can speculate as to who was ultimately responsible for all this, but not much point. Some jobs take longer than others, and a cascade effect happens when you schedule so many cargo evolutions nonstop. I take it to heart, because I don't like looking bad, but in all reality, I'm just the Domino's delivery man. I'd probably sleep a lot better if I didn't give a shit.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cadet 'Big Texas'

I've often said that working as a merchant mariner exposes you to the best and the worst people in the world.

   It's Summer 2002 and I'm working as an Able Seaman aboard an oil tanker. It's my first trip as a permanent crewman, which means that for the first time, I was working on a schedule and would have a job waiting for me, no more sitting in a union hall for months, praying there was enough gas in the car to get me home to try again next week.

 I'm feeling good, is what I mean.

 Half way through the trip, it's the end of April. It's getting warm. We're sailing from New Jersey to Savannah, Savannah to Southwest Pass, then 14 hours up the Mississippi river to  Norco, Louisiana. Pretty regular for us. We went to all those places a dozen times or so a year.

 The thing about Norco is that there's an excellent bar within walking distance to the ship. Literally, it's on the far side of the dock from us, maybe 600 feet away.

      I've been on board for 2 months. I'm pretty well stir-crazy. I had agreed to stand an extra watch and cover for someone in Savannah so he could go ashore to get laid, and I had to square up, so he was covering my watch in Norco, which meant that I had 18 hours or so free.

 So I went to the bar. I had some drinks- I think I was drinking lite beer, and flirting with the bartender, who was ridiculously hot, and the southern accent to my Boston ears... holy hell, that's sexy. There's a quiet guy next to me, a young giant, also pounding cheap shitty beer.
   I'm no little fella. I'm 6 foot tall, and at this point in my life, I weighed 250lbs, and while some of that is fat, most was not.  And this guy's a head taller than me, and half-again as broad across the shoulders. Immediately annoyed me. I like being the biggest guy in the room.

 Anyhow, the guy's just a kid, and is friendly once we get to talking. He's got a drawl, and, turns out, is from a town in Texas that we visit sometimes on the ship, but we don't have a lot of common ground there, because he doesn't know the bars and titty bars in his home town well. Suspicious.

Seriously, get 2 strange sailors together, and they'll talk about which ships they were on, first, which port calls they have in common, and then which regular and titty bars in those ports they liked best. 

 (Singapore, Orchard Towers for me, but NOT the Crazy Horse, if you're in the know).

 Anyhow, I drank for a solid 2 hours, and the guy matched me, beer for beer. When I was feeling pleasantly buzzed (9-10 pints), I got up, stuck out my hand, and said "Big Texas, it was nice to meet you. I'm Boston Paul, and I hope we meet again." I then stumbled out and walked 4 miles down the road to a grocery store (not easy, but worth doing), drank a quart of gatorade, bought a candy bar, and walked back towards the ship, another 4 miles. By then I was sweating out most of the beer, and hours had passed, and it was getting dark. I stopped at a shitty store and bought 5 cases of diet pepsi, and lugged them back the 1/2 mile to the ship, hugged to my chest (seriously, that's how much of a junkie I am for the stuff. No shit. Here's the fridge in my room from that trip. )

     Anyhow, walking to the gangway, I am now sober and sweating, and my arms are on fire from the weight of the soda. And there's Big Texas with a seabag, looking up the gangway with a happy smile.
 "Big Texas, what are you doing here?"
 "I'm your new deck cadet."   A cadet is a maritime academy student, who has to serve 360 days on a ship during his college years in order to sit for a 3rd mate's license exam.
"Holy shit, how old are you?"
So I bought some of his beers. The kid's the size of a truck, so they didn't card him. And to look at him, he's not showing the effects of the beer at all, considering that I left him at the bar and he had to have been there for about 7-8 hours. Well, he was awful big, so I guessed he could hold it.

"Well, you better follow me, and I'll get you set up. You OK to come on board? We drank some."
 With a big, beatific smile, he says "Naw, I'm good."

 So, knowing that I don't have to stand a watch for 12 more hours, and that the new kid isn't a watchstander, but can't be out underfoot with any booze in his system, I made the command decision to stow him in a spare room until he gets a nap in and can present himself, make a good impression on the officers.
 Didn't quite work out. We go up the gangway, and are walking to the house, when the chief mate comes out of the cargo office and yells "Who's that with you, Paul?"
 I point my thumb behind me, and yell back "This is Big Texas, your new deck cadet!" As I turn around to look at the kid, planning on explaining that this was the Mate I was talking to, I see Big Texas projectile barfing over the side in a stream the exact rate and diameter as the cooling water exhaust for our 3 massive hydraulic turbines that power the cargo pumps- seriously, that kid's stomach must have been the size of a damn fuel tank on a car.

 "Jesus. Get him out of here." The mate walks off.
"Who was that?"
"That was the chief mate."
"Oh. Well, shit. I guess I have 89 days to get over his first impression."

 And that was Big Texas in a nutshell. Kid just didn't give a shit. He ended up being an excellent cadet, despite his very inauspicious start.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


So, I had to be somewhat of a dick and refuse an engineer entry to the house here at HAWSEPIPER's HQ. Dude in question was a foreign sort, one of those types with a philosophical opposition to bathing and wearing deodorant.

 Honest, guy stank so bad, I had to tell him he couldn't go inside because he smelled bad. I'm sensitive, though, and found the most political way to make my point without hurting the guy's feelings or causing a scene. I simply told him that he smelled like a dumpster fire, and had to wait outside unless he showered and came back.

 Fuck it, if I was good at discretion and the soft shoe, I wouldn't be working on boats.


      Whatever else is happening, it's been a good winter for my company. We're growing like a mad bastard, and new tonnage is showing up regularly. There are new faces and new policies, neither of which is a good thing, though. New people means new people to train, and I'm really trying to keep my head down there. I like my alone time, and it would be pure punishment to make me sea-daddy to someone. As the branch bends, though, so grows the tree, and with all the new faces and vessels, we're evolving into the same shitty pathways that the large shipping companies have to inhabit. Positives aside, I've yet to see a Job Hazard Analysis prevent one injury from happening. Dumbasses find a way to do themselves mischief, and a 10-minute lecture and a signed piece of paper won't change that. The last majorly effective safety improvement to hit the maritime trades was banning alcohol on most vessels, which, I'll admit openly, really has improved safety culture on boats. I'm dreading the day, WHICH WILL COME, MARK MY WORDS, when we will have to have a safety meeting, distribute and sign a JHA, and put on an SCBA to climb a stepstool and change a goddamned lightbulb.

 You laugh, but my last trip on a ship, you could have papered a cathedral with all the JHA forms I signed to do mundane shit that I do at home. Some day, some dingleberry vetter drunk on his own ink will 'suggest' that we make some more changes to make things more like the awful soul-draining work that they do, and that will be it for ever enjoying a day at work, ever.


 It's not all dire news, however. I have a great working relationship with our shoreside staff, which is something my employer is somewhat known for. When I make a sound but hard call on doing or not doing something, I know that my supervisor has my back, and that's what gives me the ability to do things like set vessel-specific rules to make my workplace a pleasant place to live.

 Example: recently, when bunkering cruise ships, there's been an increasingly common practice for multiple cargo surveyors to just sit and infest my galley while we're working, rather than go wherever the fuck they normally go so we can be left in peace. This ain't cool, as I hate too many warm bodies in a small space, plus, this is my home, and the assholes are always sitting in my chair and shitting the place up because they're filthy animals who don't wash their hands, and leave oil everywhere.
    So, before we go alongside a cruise ship, I do this to my chair.

Hasn't been a problem since. I takes care of my peeps.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

back at it

Well, I'm not yet into a routine here at the ol' 'HQ, but I'm getting there.

    Last week was great. I enjoyed my time at home immensely. In terms of productivity, not much happened. I started an herb garden, tended my orchids, drank the proceeds from my first limes grown from my own tree (mixed with Cachaca, Brazilian rum, of course), and basically hunkered down and spent as much time with my wife and kid as possible. I've spent so much of my time at work and not with my loved ones that I'm pretty run down from it- 'fragile' as my wife says. So, rather than run around and be the morale officer in my house, I took a step back and just enjoyed not doing too much.

   Not doing too much is surprisingly expensive. Worth it, though.

 Anyhow, I just wasn't there yet in terms of getting my shit together to go back to work, but I went back anyhow. I only got 5 1/2 days at home, which is not enough to undo the damage when it takes a full 3 days before I can sit in a chair for more than 5 minutes.

 Relaxing has never been my thing.

 But, rather than cry about it, I'm back at work, earning my keep and saving towards a longer time home four weeks from now. Regardless of what it does to my plan to stockpile mad cash this year, I'm taking the time I need to take time, if you know what I mean. Understanding that, it's helping me settle in more here.

 Busy schedule here at the HQ, anyhow. We're still moving oil more or less nonstop. So it goes. I'm OK with it, as I get paid to do this shit, anyhow.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

fcuk, reprised

Back at work.

 Wasn't ready.

 Not bueno.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Dashing off a quick post while my wife is out running an errand.

 I made it home yesterday, had dinner outside on the patio, listening to the fish jump in my pond, the crickets singing, and the two little frogs that live under the north and south retaining walls of my patio. They live 30 feet apart, but never meet, and call back and forth all night.

 Anyhow, time to brag. When I got home, there was beer in the fridge, ribs and rice n' beans and a salad on the table, and outside by the pond, a bottle of champagne in the ice bucket and cuban cigar, fresh from the wife's trip to Nassau last week.

 If I can get my local Burger King to, say, dodecatuple their manager's salary, I could stay home and do this stuff more often.

Monday, March 16, 2015


Here's some proof that you've got a filthy mind.

 You can find more ways to beat your childhood to death with a spade shovel here:


Sunday, March 15, 2015

channel fever

I gots the channel fever right now. Couple days to go, and lots of work ahead in between. It's looking very much like a crappy crew change. I'll shit if I miss out on too much time home.

 Anyhow, I'm all shitty as far as moods go. Look at these Brazilian ladies until I get back.

Friday, March 13, 2015

This is why we can't have nice things

I enjoy working as a fill-in guy on other vessels sometimes because I have to get outside my comfort zone, which makes my world shrink down to the point where my area of concern is pretty much just inside the hull of the boat, and everything else gets reclassed as white noise for a while.

 But, reality intrudes. Nothing makes me want to suck-start a .45 more than reading the comments section in an article I've posted online, after it's had a day or two to ferment.

 You know how it goes. First few comments, someone brings up a point that supports or detracts from my central theme, or is interesting in a topical sense. Then a white knight tells them they're on the wrong path. After that, camps are forming up, with one side spearheaded by a person who insists on writing the entire biography of the person who first invented whatever I'm talking about,and no actual connection between that person and the particulars I was talking about. You know what I mean. I could have written about the Large Hadron Collider, and then we're all treated to a 10,000 word discourse on Isaac Newton's bowel habits in the comments section.

 5 comments later, it's Obama/Bush's fault, and we're all racists and/or dupes.   Exactly 3 minutes later, it's a Zionist conspiracy, and after the first cry of 'Dem Joooooooooz" there's no more talking about the shit I wrote about.

 And all I can think about is how the fuck we got here. In this instance, I had written about the incredible reliability of the old Detroit diesel engines.

 The more I dwell on it, the old timer who first brought me out on his commercial fishing boat when I was seven used to bellow 'eyes in the boat!' when I was distracted or looking elsewhere. His point was that my safety depended on limiting myself to what was in front of me.

 Man had a point.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Well, I made my first round-trip voyage up the Hudson river for the year.

        Ice-out is already happening. The icepack that choked traffic on the river and threatened to make heating oil scarce for the good folks of the Poconos region is breaking up and heading to sea after a couple of days of above-freezing weather.

 It's pretty, anyhow, but noisy. Sailing over growlers and pack ice isn't terrible- there's a white-noise sound, and up on our bow there's some vibration and rumbling. When the icepack is breaking up, there are sections of clear water, and then the odd 20-foot by 20-foot chunks of ice that are two feet thick, and you know when you hit one of those bad boys. It sounds like a shotgun going off the next street over, then the vibration hits, then the resonance vibration, as the shock waves run through the hull and make the dishes and plates in the galley clatter- once when the shock wave hits, then about a second later when the shockwave bounces back to the bow and reflects back a second time to the house on the stern it happens again, a little more mildly.

 Also, every now and again we hit one of those chunks square, run it down, and it just scrapes the whole way down the hull, like riding over a tall hump in your car, where you look in the rearview and pray like hell that you don't see the fuel tank in the road. Those are the ones that you feel through your feet and make the 'ooooh face. '

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Last watch...

Well, in  little bit, I'll start the last watch of this tour aboard the HQ. 8 hours, mostly outdoors, and it's gonna rain like hell, which is about right to encapsulate the flavor of the past 4 weeks.

 It's been a real damn grind. At midnight I need to get a ride to Brooklyn (I'll be in Bayonne, NJ) to my office, there to catch a quick nap and then get groceries and a taxi to another refinery, there to board a diesel barge to spend another week wet and uncomfortable.

 And, after that, I go home for only 5 1/2 fucking days. I done goofed.

 Well, next time, end of April, I'll take my full rotation off and recharge then. I'll try not to whine right up until next payday, when it'll be all smiles and sunshine. Hell, I'll be in south FL by then, and hopefully drunk, very probably disreputable, at a minimum.

   I spend too much time here, and have been doing so for the past 18 months. By the end of the year, I'll be slowing down to a more humane pace, God willing. This 35 days on/ 5.5 days off crap is tough. On the other hand, the paycheck is glorious.
   One side effect of all this time aboard, mostly spent with my head stuck in a black oil tank

About 5 years ago. Not much has changed. 
 ...is that I come home with the HFO vapors saturated in my skin. When I sweat, for the first night I'm ashore, the sulfur stink of RMG-380 (The fuel we carry most often) comes out of my pores. My wife tends to hand me a glass of whisky (which also has a smell that comes out your pores) and points at the shower, whereupon I burn up all the hot water in the house with a long, long shower. It helps.

      And that glorious day is just a week away.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Politically Incorrect

Contrary to what you may think, the Grande Guinea is NOT the Italian presidential yacht. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

money trap

It's an age-old problem among sailors- how much money is enough?

        Samuel Johnson said:

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

Man had a point. 

          So I'm coming down to the last few days here at the ol' HQ, and rather than go home on Tuesday, I'm working over another week. Going to be going up north doing home heating oil runs up the Hudson, in fact. 


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Stand Down!

Although we weren't able to take full advantage of it, we had Saturday off here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Self Storage Emporium. First time in a LONG time, and a chance to get caught up on generator maintenance, logbooks, and all sorts of mundane but important crap that people want us to do.

 The only downside, and I'm not really complaining here, is that we didn't KNOW we were having the day off. Oil that is sitting in our tanks keeps getting colder as the recipient isn't ready to take it yet, and the discharge time gets marched back slowly in 6 hour increments. So, when I was expecting to wake up at midnight on Sunday to start discharging it, I wasn't entirely surprised to see that the discharge time was marched back right up another 14 hours... so I get another watch off, and our oil gets colder, pushing the point where it's not pumpable... but we'll have to see, I guess.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

in which we shake our hands in the air, like we just don't care

 Another day dawns, another fucking snowstorm.

     One nice thing about being so damn busy this winter is that we're loading heavy fuel oil, which has to be heated up above 100 degrees to be pumpable, having the consistency of molasses. We usually load it at 120 degrees- you need a blowtorch to light this shit on fire- no BS, you can put a cigarette out in it and it probably won't catch.

 But all that warm oil is warming our deck above freezing, so the snow melts above our active tanks, saving us from shoveling. Today we've got a pretty sizeable load- about 60% of our capacity, with 8 of our 10 tanks holding something.

 Gotta look for that silver lining. Only got to shovel the bow, stern and deck edges.

Monday, March 2, 2015

oh goody

More snow last night. That makes a snowstorm every Sunday for the past four Sundays. Ugh.

 Tonight's fun, though, is how we had to tie up alongside a PCTC (Pure Car/Truck Carrier, a car ship.

What really makes it shitty is when the ship is in port to load, and is light, riding high and sticking high out of the water. Tonight's ship has a minimal parallel midbody (the flat part of the hull on the side of the ship), which is where we want to be sitting when we get alongside the ship.

 Now, I am loaded deep, carrying oil for another ship later this morning. I'm just stopping by to give the guy a couple of hundred tons of diesel fuel, enough to get him out of town and to the high seas, where the ship can switch over to run on dirty heavy fuel oil.

 So, I'm loaded deep, he's loaded light, which means that when we come alongside, there's nowhere to land the ol' HQ somewhere flat. Practically speaking, this means that our ass will be hanging in the breeze until we get alongside and oh-so-gently touch up on our fendering if we can find a place where we fit. The problem is that my deck is so low to the water when loaded that the turn of his bilge- the round profile of the hull above the waterline, is above my deck, too, so in order to come alongside the ship and press our fenders against the hull, we're going to be working UNDER the hull of the car ship's stern half. So, what this means is that, while there's wind, currents and traffic moving us, if our hull gets under his, we're going to hole the ship or crush our house if we touch up anywhere at the stern of the ship.

   To combat this, normally, I run a strong bow line early on, and winch it tight until the hawser is screaming and its' diameter is reduced by a third. This pins my bow against his ship, and makes it impossible under normal circumstances for my stern and or the tugboat nestled there, to get under the ship and come to mischief.

 This ship, however, was designed by assholes, so there's nowhere to put a bowline, except 400 feet forward of any place where my crane can reach the ships' bunker port, which means that I can't get a strong breasting line at my bow, which means I can't pin the bow, which means that a simple-to-achieve confluence of events can lead to metal-on-metal at the stern.

      What I can do, luckily, in this case, is run a 30-ton shackle to a beefy steel stanchion that holds the ship's accommodation ladder, and run that shackle through the eye of my mooring line, which will give me a place to make a makeshift mooring point. While not ideal, this piece of massive steel will take the force I can exert, and, although I can't go all-out on heaving on my capstan,  I can tighten up the bow enough that, so long as the tugboat in our stern doesn't try to maneuver, he will stay out of harm's way.   This is an unpopular move, as it means that the tug is mated to us until we leave- if he tries to break down and leave us, it could drive my stern under the ship, so the tug mate and I agree that he has to stay, and I get to ruin the night dispatcher's evening at company HQ. You see, he had other jobs lined up for our tugboat while I was supposed to be at this ship, and I'm now hogging all the time. Still, it's another job to be done, and to be done safely, and, while I called prepared to be told to eat a dick for screwing with the schedule (which wouldn't have changed my decision, but would have been unpleasant), I was pleasantly surprised to have the night dispatcher sympathize. I work with some thoroughly decent folks.