I spent this morning cleaning the head and packing the deep freezer. If the weather doesn't play merry hell with travel plans for my relief, I will be on the last train to Boston tomorrow night, there to reunite with my family, spend a couple of days visiting, then drive back with the wife and kid to my home in south Florida over the course of a couple of days.
I'm trying to remember how many Christmases I've spent away from home. I'm 41, and my first one was when I was 18... so it's probably easier to think of the number of times I've been home for Christmas. Maybe 8 times?
Although you can't see it in the above picture, we decorate the HQ every year. lights, a small tree, etc, and make a big dinner. I cooked this year. Ham, sweet potato pie, mashed potatoes, broccoli, stuffing, biscuits and apple pie. Sufficient to clog both the pipes AND our arteries.
This year was one of the best times I've had since I started going to sea. Most of the time we work on Christmas, and celebrate just by having a nice meal. This year, we were off for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but we were anchored, and there were other barges rafted up to us. So Christmas Eve, we had dinner next door, and everyone on the mooring came in and out for dinner and visits. Christmas day I cooked, and we had dinner, and did more visiting throughout the day.
Each of us would have preferred to be at home, of course. But where we couldn't do that, we were able to have a good time nonetheless. Being able to share moments like that with people who you really like helps a lot.
Today it's back to the routine. We'll be loading later on, and working on the leftovers for another day or two. Couple more days, I'm being relieved, and can go home.
"...those familiar with the legislation say the lawmakers look upon the language as a starting point in negotiations."
Oh, their limitations on ammo purchases are less than a box for any caliber, per 90 day period. So they already know they're full of shit, but trying to come out the gate strong. FUCK THEM. New York sucks in most ways anyhow, but it's a great place to be a gun-carrying criminal.
...and there you have it. A question as to why law-abiding folks like me accept that at some point we will become knowing felons, in the name of a constitution that we understand will in the future no longer apply to us.
That's a terrible thing to acknowledge and accept. I don't want to be a fucking criminal. But I don't want to be a part of a victim class more.
In talking with friends, associates and fellow bloggers, we've thrown around a question as to how many rounds we should keep in inventory for the guns we have. The 'shocking' numbers that are reported in stockpiles that are owned by criminals are only shocking to our media lords and masters and also the cake-eaters among the coastal liberal elites.
...the closest I've seen to consensus thus far seems to range from 2,500 to 5,000 rounds per gun for normal citizens.
Granted, that number is far higher than it was 8 years ago, you know, back when, even with bans and all, we were governed by a President and not a priest-king, and our representatives still believed that the constitution was a thing.
For me, being cheap, I try to leave one more box per weapon than I started with, every time I go back to work. I'm not yet at the 2,500 mark, but I'll get there and decide then whether or not I'll keep going.
One of my good friends out here runs a barge that is chartered long-term to an oil major.
Now, let me back up. HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Centers for Excellence in All Things Except Maybe Enthusiasm During the Holidays plays the spot market- that is, all the local oil suppliers keep tabs on us, and, when a job comes up for bid and my company picks it up, we're a known quantity to both my company and the supplier, and they send us out to do the job for a fee. For this reason, both my company and the suppliers periodically send vetters aboard, people whose job it is to make sure we're up to everyone's standard in terms of practice and compliance towards all standards of operation.
So yeah, we're harbor whores, the village bicycle.
Now, the alternative is for a vessel to be chartered exclusively by a single oil company. In that situation, the oil company has exclusive access rights to use of the vessel- instead of competing for work, the vessel just stands by until the supplier sends orders out to go and do something, and in this case, the boat gets paid whether or not they're working. Well, that's a bit simple, but you get the idea.
Now, my friend has a reputation for being able to handle demanding charters- not all are equal. Some companies have policies and procedures that are mariner-friendly, others micro-manage and have esoteric paperwork volumes and processes, and others have rabidly-strict policies that are done for their own reason but not necessarily the most conducive to employee happiness. Well, sometimes it's the small things- I once got fussed at for writing with a blue pen, but whatever, they sign the checks that pay for the checks I sign, and so it goes.
So my friend also frequently gets trainees and evaluees aboard, too. He's a good teacher.
We do not get trainees on board the HQ all that often. First off, we have nowhere to berth them, and second, neither I nor B, my opposite, have the correct personality type to enjoy training someone.
A tankerman trainee is like a Jedi's padawan- he's got to mirror you and learn the hundred subtle things and dozen or so major ones that make up doing the job competently. Other than bathroom breaks, a trainee is with you from the moment you sign onto the watch until you're relieved. You end up cooking, eating, working and taking breaks together, and all this on deck or in a very small living space, regardless of how much you might or might not enjoy the others' company.
... and that's the part we don't like on here. I like to be alone, and find that explaining myself detracts from my quality-of-life out here- while I have actual experience lecturing on esoterica long ago, I'm not talking about chloride cell function in salmon gills or population models for sea urchins (honest, that was the shit that I used to be into). Being a good tankerman, like any mid-level position that combines labor and management, is about creating a mileau of professional conduct and standards to idiot-proof operations as a buffer against errors that inevitably come up at the worst times. It's absolutely not rocket science- it's repetition, knowledge of policy, procedure and law, and dynamic behavioral and situational awareness.
Much ado about not much, really. "Ya gotta know the contract, know the job and know your boat (or barge)." It absolutely ain't rocket science, but the difference between skating by and doing a decent job depends on how well you channel your inner Rain Man.
So, yeah, it's not for everyone. Being a plebe-level tankerman is not an elite position. It can be a good job for loners, the mildly autistic and folks with OCD. It requires more brainwork than being a deckhand or AB, certainly, but can also breed laziness and sloth, and both of these issues can be troublesome.
Now, my friend is a people person. I am too, but I'm someone who likes small groups and, after a time, retreating to solitude- I've got about a 2-hour limit on how long I really enjoy social meetings. More than that and I'll probably look for alcohol or an activity to keep me from retreating inside my own head, neither of which is appropriate for a tanker vessel, so you might see where babysitting a trainee might become a strain.
Now, my company is as prone as any towards promoting people to their maximum level of incompetence. Not every sailor is destined to be captain, of course, but sometimes men who don't have the mental wherewithal or personality fit are encouraged to become tankermen just to get them out of someone's hair... and this isn't a bad thing, for the most part, as sometimes a little push out of the nest will encourage a hidebound personality to pick up new skills and discover a latent talent or preference for doing something other than what they've always been doing.
...but not every deckhand is destined to be a tankerman. And my friend, an experienced trainer, had a guy recently who, after an average amount of time, just wasn't able to put together the confluence of information input and behavioral output necessary to be left alone to stand watch. When asked by the white-shirted man from the office whether or not the trainee was ready to be released into the unassigned tankerman pool, my friend had to say 'not yet,' knowing that it would probably mean that this very nice man would be demoted. The alternative, saying yes, while often carried out, has resulted in some spectacular disasters, but more frequently results in chronic bad behavior and performance as others try to pick up the slack for the sake of their boat's performance. Ultimately, a disservice to all involved... and my friend wasn't ready to do that to the man in question, hoping, ultimately, that he might be given time with a new trainer who might continue the process.
Well, the person in question was demoted, and demoralized, of course, and we commiserated, as this was a fine shipmate, a great guy who just wasn't there yet. One big difference between being a tankerman vs a tugboater or ship crew is that relationships with shipmates are a critical part of our well-being. A ship can absorb the effect of having an asshole or a sea lawyer or an under-performing person aboard. We can't. We live in very close quarters and in much smaller numbers, so there's just less people to pick up the slack. Vessel-specific training is absolutely critical to us, and the impact of having a right-hand man who is struggling makes it absolutely impossible to have peace whether you're on deck or in the rack, and our job is especially prone to accidents related to error chains. The million little details get muddied when you're doing both your job and that of the guy who is supposed to be supporting you.
And believe me, at raft-ups or at shared berths, tankermen talk about each other. We gossip like a group of women over reputations, disasters, personalities, etc. We're not above bitching, but whiners are slut-shamed more than any other group. Rather than crab-basket ourselves as a group, pushing others down, we tend towards encouraging the rising tide that will lift all boats.
Well at any rate, however bad we felt for the guy who got demoted, my friend made the right choice. I wish the man in question had been farmed out to another trainer, to see if a different personality type could season him up some, but I'm not privy to the reasoning behind decisions made in the office, and I'm sure as shit not volunteering. I'd offer to pay my company NOT to give me trainees, if it came down to it.
Blogging has been light lately. I had a crown put on a tooth the day before last crew change, and the underlying tooth (a molar) got infected, apparently. I've been trying to muscle through it, but it's made me summat grumpy. Going to get antibiotics later today, so I can get the tooth pulled or a root canal when I get home in a couple of weeks.
It's not the tooth that's killing me, it's the sweet, sweet rifle I wanted to buy with the money that will now be going towards being able to eat my damn salad in peace. Grrr.
When people talk about the Millenial generation being a sucking hole of shame, taken as a whole, it's an indictment of the parenting skills of my generation, the 40-something Perpetual Children, the generation that appropriated entertainment media like comic books and cartoons from their audience (kids) and avidly consume both as a significant form of entertainment.
So, if I'm throwing stones, there's plenty of fucking targets, but look at this article, and God forgive me for sending traffic to the assbags who put it up.
The Special Snowflake generation likes to produce and watch Youtube videos and follow people more interesting than themselves on Instagram. Mostly women and effeminate men, mind you, but there's a lot of them. See the thing on finger-pointing at parents, above.
Pictured: harsh truth.
Apparently, being "youtube famous" is a thing. And these millennial children, again, mostly single girls, are saddened and disturbed by the fact that people who watch their shit won't pay them for their shit.
Look, I'm not saying that I've never watched a youtube video on my phone while sitting on the toilet, but let's be honest, that's what youtube mostly is for. If someone wants to be an attention whore, of course, that's their business. Me, I prefer real whores. More interesting people, and fun to drink with. Plus, they actually have a job, and produce something of value.
... and that's what these dumb folks don't get. TV stars don't get paid just because they act. They get paid because advertisers will pay to shill their shit for the 1/3 of the time when the ads are on, and not the show. But let's face it, I'm willing to sit through 10 minutes of bullshit to watch 20 minutes of Sofia Vergara on TV, yes. But I've yet to find a desire inside myself to watch an uninteresting dumpy 22-year old upper-middle class lesbian with bad skin and granny glasses talk about herself to a camera.
But maybe that's just me. I find it similar enough to the idea of a bird preening, and I choose not to indulge some lonely sad person's public attempts to make money via emotional masturbation. I mean, I'm not above enjoying writing my own thoughts here, but I'm under no illusions. I'm not expecting the world to pay me for throwing shit at the wall like a monkey, which, at the end of the day, is pretty much what these instagram and youtube personalities are doing.
My kid occasionally acts up. He's 12. That happens.
Thing is, at home, he's remarkably well-behaved. When he acts up, it's with his teachers and school officials.
Over the years, I've gotten maybe 5-6 phone calls from frustrated teacher and school officials.
Each time I absolutely sided with my kid. Sometimes I keep quiet about it, sometimes not.
Whenever it happens, it's usually something we laugh about. One of the best was when the teacher made the kids sit in groups. Kids who finished the assignment first were supposed to help those who struggled. (This was Massachusetts, mind, where teachers are forbidden from 'tracking' or separating kids by ability, so they are expected to learn at the pace of the dumbest kid in the class.) My kid likes to rush through his work, but after a while he stopped helping the other kids, because he doesn't like teaching. So we got a phone call about how uncooperative he was being.
Me: "Is he being rude or disrespectful?"
Teacher: "No, defiant and willful."
Me: "Meaning he doesn't want to do your job, and teach children?"
Actually she had a lot to say, mostly about how wrong I was. Once I established my kid had shown proper respect but refused to comply because he was sick to death of doing her fucking job, I was nice but direct:
"I'm not going to punish him for refusing to teach. That's not why he's in your class. I can assure you that we're going to support him in his decision to not do your job."
In the end it was an agree to disagree situation, and it all worked out. But I was damn proud of my kid.
There have been a few calls of that nature over the years. In FL schools, kids can be separated by ability, so my kid mostly studies with the kids 2 grades ahead of him, and the only phone calls come from a frustrated functionary who notes that my kid won't wear a uniform jacket to school.
Last week, I pretty much dared the guy to send my kid home for not wearing school clothes when he's not at school. "He takes the jacket off when he walks through the doors, yes?"
"Yes, but that's not the point."
"Doesn't matter. He's in uniform the second he's through your doors. He doesn't wear the jacket because he says the jacket is ugly as shit. I'm not buying one this year."
I never imagined I'd be one of THOSE parents. But honestly, my kid's making rock solid decisions, and I'm proud as hell of him for choosing where to stand his ground. I wasn't anywhere near so ready to stand up for myself at his age.
Here's a tough situation for you: In a channel, constrained by draft, a partially-loaded small tanker encounters a very small pleasure boat with engine trouble. Watch the video.
* * * *
Here's my take on it: The ugly truth is that in some situations, it would be easier for the officer of the watch to run down the boat rather than leave the channel and run aground at speed... Not sure if the video just didn't capture the ship blowing the whistle or not, but I would have expected someone to be blowing the danger signal like a madman.
I'm not going to quote the relevant rules of the road, which do apply here, but this is an obvious lose-lose situation. The OOW on the ship would be strung up for not doing everything possible to avoid the collision... but if he ran aground and caused environmental damage to a protected animal habitat (which is a thing), or, heaven forfend, a hull breach leads to an oil spill, said OOW is going to be crucified.
Simply put, the consequences of running down that boat may be far less than the potential consequences of trying to avoid it. And that's fucked up.
I value my ass as being worth more than that ship, the oil and a pile of dead and fouled animals stretching from here to the moon.
I've been on both ends. The Notorious B.O.B. and I once gently planted the Rita C's bow in a mudflat to let a ship go by about 20 feet past our stern in the Fore River channel up in Boston Harbor. We were in touch with the pilot the whole time, but he did NOT like our decision to do so, but we were in the middle of a 25-pot trawl (traps strung 15 fathoms apart on a single groundline) of lobster traps, and judged the maneuver safe if marginal. That being said, we were under power and could have beached the boat if necessary to get out of the way. As it was, all went well but we agreed later that we should have cut and run.
Best job I ever had.
From the other end, when I was sailing as Able Seaman on the tanker New River, and I was steering us out of Tampa (All AB's are qualified quartermasters, or helmsmen) on July 4 one year, a boatload of drunks cut across our bow while in a very shallow channel (we had two foot of under keel clearance, which is pretty normal), with coral stands on either side. The pilot had me make a small course correction (2 degrees, about all we had to work with) to try to maximize the small boat's chance of survival. The bow lookout flipped out and was screaming over the radio, the captain was leaning on the whistle, blowing the danger signal, and the pilot looks back at me, sadly, and says 'steady as you go, now,' meaning: hold this course.
In the end, our bow wake grabbed the boat, flipped it on her beam, and pushed it aside. The drunks managed to stay in the boat, and once the boat was past our bow, the pilot had me reverse the rudder and swing 4 degrees over to get the boat away from our stern, which had a wineglass-shaped hull and could easily suck the boat in. Which it did not, thankfully.
After it was all over, the pilot looked at the captain, grinned, and asked the captain if he had her for a minute. When the captain said yes, the pilot says, "boys, I'm gonna go back and have a piss, check my drawers. Might need to borrow a pair of skivvies from one o' you."
Shit like that happened on the New River. More often than you might think. Sailing on that old tub was an adventure.
I picked up my newest piece just before I went back to work. It's a Benelli Nova.
This one is just a general field sporting gun. I wanted something that could handle up to 3 1/2" shells because reasons, but from the composite stock (the cheek piece is a heavier add-on to balance the gun), I think 3 1/2" heavy stuff is going to give a fairly rugged kick compared to a traditional wood stock. Still, I'm a big boy, and used to enjoy double-barreling double-ought shot at one point in my yoot. I tried this and the SuperNova, and this one was more comfortable. The SuperNova has a ribbed stock with gel pads, but both are lightweight, and the Supernova's bigger trigger guard, when it came time to shoot, left me worried about jerking the trigger in the heat of the moment if I were to shoot a moving target.
"Now, let's get this perfectly straight, would-be gun-banners: There is a much better
chance, it is far more likely, that God will answer people's prayers,
descend from on high, and forever put an end to all gun violence tomorrow morning before breakfast than tens of millions of armed Americans will EVER permit you, or the federal government, or anyone else, to disarm them.
Give it up. It isn't happening. Not now. Not ever. Deal with it. We
don't care how many dead bureaucrats or how many corpses of kindergarten
kids you want to run up your bloody flag and wave. WE. DON'T. CARE. We
aren't falling for the sob stories again. Not now. Not ever. Molon labe, motherfuckers. Molon labe."
This morning I flew from my home to Philly, had a layover, and then flew on to New York, there to take a taxi to a grocery store, load up on fresh greens, and head to HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Sensory Deprivation Chamber.
Flying out of south Florida in the cool season is an exercise in patience. Average age of he passengers is about 60. For every 40ish person, there's an 80-ish person. When they call for people who need extra help or time to get on board, usually that's about 15-20% of the passengers, so being in an early boarding group courtesy of being a regular on a particular airline, I can expect to not sit around in the queue from April-October, but the rest of the year, I've got to jump to it in order to be sure I can get my damn carry-on bag into a bin. And there are ALWAYS idiots who bring a steamer trunk on wheels as a carry-on. Usually hipsters. Today, and this is no shit, a fuckhead tried to bring a hardshell case for his guitar as a carryon, and the retarded staff at the gate actually let him get past so that the stewardesses had to be the heavies and tell him to get his giant dildo (I'm assuming. 50/50 bet on whether it was a collection of traffic-cone sized dildos or a guitar) checked along with all the other non-special snowflakes. I thought maybe the guy bought a seat to keep his guitar in climate control. I saw someone do that with a cello once.
Anyhow, we got loaded, left the gate late, of course, and sailed off to the smell of warm Depends and Sanka breath.
From Philly onward, everyone was sick. It was gross. Seriously, my connecting flight was a flying leper colony, and the passengers just luuuuvvvved to broadcast cough their pestilence everywhere. Arab guy at the sink next to me in the shithouse at Laguardia hawked up a giant lung clam into the sink and walked away from it. I admit that I'm already nervous around arabs at an airport, but that was over the top enough to elicit a fairly loud 'fucking savage' from myself, which got me a dirty look, and for which I had the good grace to be temporarily ashamed of having let slip out. Temporarily.
I'm not a germophobe, but I could certainly feel the nastiness. It continued on.
I really hope I don't pick anything up. I'd forgotten how gross airplanes can be.
Anyhow, it's like 78-80 and sunny at home today. It was 47 and raining heavily when I got out of the taxi and threw my shit up on deck and zipped up the ladder.
Complaining aside, it was a nice time home, and I arrived to a clean, warm, and dry HQ.
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.