There's an oil terminal in New Jersey, one of the larger ones, and they've got some annoying people working there.
This place is massive, but the pool of dockmen (the guys who babysit the dock and oil manifold connection when we're tied up and transferring oil) is pretty small.
There's one guy who is really obnoxious. He's slow as hell, talks too much when he's supposed to be working, and constantly calls us on the radio asking for 'updates' on our condition.
Look, I like being safe. I believe that in the name of safety, little things like my being annoyed are not important. At some level, constant interruption of the watchkeeper becomes a drain on safety- like pestering a watchstander during topping off of tanks.
To explain: when we're topping off a tank, we run the tank to 95% full. At 96% full, a buzzer and a flashing yellow light go off. There's only about a minute's grace there, but we want the level of oil in the tank to be within 1/8 of an inch to our target, so there's only a couple seconds' grace there. Now, if someone goofs, at 98% capacity, a klaxon goes off and a red light comes on, and there's a few seconds to respond before Bad Things happen, like oil erupting out the tank tops and directly onto the evening news.
So we coordinate topping off, working in conjunction with dockmen and the barge itself. Except for the last tank, as we approach our target ullage (height of fuel in the tank), we open other tanks up, slowing the flow of oil in the target tank until it's time to shut off.
So the dockman, usually about an hour after we start, relays a projected flow rate from the terminal, and we run our own time trials, projecting a finish time, so everyone's ready and in place when the action starts. When we're in the last cargo tank, 15 minutes before we top it off, I talk to the dockman and terminal, and park my ass over the tank top and watch the paint dry, pretty much, calling out increments of time, so the terminal will shut down their pumps within a second of when I tell them to shut down.
At times we shut down with just a few feet in the tank- no danger of spilling, but if the volume isn't spot on, everyone gets upset. If you order a splash of diesel just for your ship's generators, just 50 tons, you don't want 52 or 48. You want 50. Good coordination makes this not difficult.
So on a smaller job the other day, just 1000 tons of heavy fuel oil (about 270,000 gallons), we figured out we had about 2 1/2 hours to load, and I reported this to the dockman. And this guy must have had a close call recently because every 10-15 minutes, he called for an 'update.'
This was new to me. On a big job, where we're loading down to the marks (fully loaded), you might update finish times more than once, as you're working across a couple of work shifts for both crew and dock staff.
So, the first couple of times, I duly responded "We're on time for an estimated XXX finish. I'll give you 15 and 5 minutes warning before we shut down."
The 4th time, I think it was, was only 10 minutes after the last, and we still had half an hour to go. I said "no changes," and nothing more.
"Well," says the guy, "is that with the old estimate, or a new one?"
I heard the guy asking me to do a new rate calculation. Which takes time, and requires that I be at my desk to do the math, and I didn't want to be away from my tank. Since I was literally watching the oil rise, I had a perfect handle on how long it would take to finish in this last tank, and my initial calculations were still valid. No need to leave a fairly full and actively loading tank unmonitored.
So, enough. I put the radio in my pocket, and I could feel from the mild buzzing that the guy was talking to me. I walked over to the rail, stuck my head over the side and yelled down to the man, politely telling him to stop calling unless there was an emergency, he had about 30 minutes to wait, and I would call him with his 15 minute notification. The guy looked up at me and I shook my head, and I followed up by saying that said he was distracting me when I needed to be at the tank.
The radio kept buzzing. The guy was annoyed, I guess. I could hear what he was saying, but didn't respond except for occasionally yelling aloud 'OK" rather than use the radio. He could hear me, he was only maybe 50 feet and 10-15 feet below my deck level.
Anyhow, it all went fine, of course. We got our fuel, the terminal got their notifications, world kept on spinning. The dockman was offended. While I was at my desk going over paperwork with the cargo surveyor, the dockman stumped into my office, which was weird, as he generally stays on the dock. He complained about me ignoring him. I said that he was a distraction, and was interfering with my ability to focus, and something along the lines of 'We do it the same way every time. My way and the terminal's way, not your way.' And this is true. The dockman is a helpmeet, not the boss of me or the terminal, but if anyone, terminal rep, dockman, terminal pumpman, me, or the surveyor fails to work as a team, the cost gets paid out of our safety margin. This annoys me, and, rather than get upset, I decided to go another route.
I said thank you to the guy as he was leaving. He turned, semi-quizzical, so I said "When you kept bugging me while I was trying to monitor the flow, I put the radio in my front pocket, and the vibration when you wouldn't shut up felt really nice. You got a nice voice. If you give me your cell phone number, I'll put it on speakerphone in my drawers, and you can read me the daily news anytime."
I got a look that said it all. The surveyor roared and the dockman left with a mug like he just bit into a lemon, but I got a smile out of the guy. I think we're OK now.
Another “Aw fuck” moment in time
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