It's the bad jobs that are the most memorable, not the good ones.
One thing for sure, of all the shitty jobs we've done, this last one was by far the most recent.
I'm going to be a bit pedantic here because our last cargo was a good example of how hard it is to recover a bad day once things start going south, and show, too, how important it is to keep the 'tomorrow's a new day' attitude.
There's always the moment when things go to shit. Load or discharge, on a tank vessel, there's that moment when nothing is going to go smooth from there on out, and it's always obvious when it happens.
We were late getting off the dock after loading the oil, as the tide wasn't favorable, there was a large barge blocking half the channel out, and it was a blustery day. So we lost 4 hours waiting just to leave the loading dock. But that wasn't the moment when I knew things were going to be bad.
We get to the ship, and get all fast. I already have a bad feeling- Russians, or maybe Ukrainians, doesn't matter, are running the ship. Taciturn, argumentative, unhelpful and unpleasant. That's the nature of Eastern European engineering officers, at least when it comes to dealing with your average goofball American mariner. Perhaps on their own they are better human beings than they appear. When you're next to a ship, drifting in a swirling current, trying to get them to throw you a heaving line so you can get made up to them all snug, Russian engineers will sometimes look at you, and will not help with mooring or even call anyone to help with mooring. They just stand there and look, chewing their cud. We're just bouncing off the fenders, and the tugboat captains are trying to tread water without having an incident. Having an audience who refuses to throw you a damn rope is really obnoxious, especially when you're there specifically to work with the company who is employing these sorts of champion human beings.
So the engineers are chewing their cud, ignoring us, not calling the bridge or deck gang to get us moored. Still not that moment, though.
When some Indians and Filipino sailors come along, and cheerfully work together to throw us heaving lines, and lift up our heavy mooring lines, things are going well- people are laughing, working hard, and we're getting somewhere. Shortly after the Filipinos show up, we're all fast, and the tugboat breaks away from us to go do something else...
and then the engineers tell me that their diesel connection is 50 feet away from their fuel oil connection. BOOM! That moment arrives. This is going to suck.
My crane, at 65 feet, is already at max reach just getting to the fuel oil manifold. A tug will have to come back after we finish pumping their fuel oil, and guide us as we slide 50 feet backwards so that we can give the ship their diesel. This sucks because instead of giving them both oils at the same time, we have to do one at a time, so a 4 hour job becomes a 7 hour job, plus moving time and such.
I send up a sheaf of papers and a walkie-talkie via a 5-gallon bucket on a rope. They fill out the forms, which include tax stuff, a contract, and the exact specifications and volume of the oils that they're taking today. 1,500 tons of heavy fuel oil and 250 tons of diesel- an average job, now no longer so easy. This is an important point, as it's how the receiving ship double checks the quantity and quality of the oil before we start, and as such, the ship's crew has to sign to acknowledge that they've read everything.
I load the heavy oil, finish loading it, and get relieved at the end of my watch, and go to bed just before we shift backwards to deal with the diesel.
8 hours later I wake up- and we're still alongside the ship. Fuck. We should have been done for hours, even with the delays. Nope. The ship has a weird ass connection manifold for diesel. Nothing we have for reducers and fittings matches this shit. This has NEVER happened to me before. Ever. I always make sure we have every possible permutation when it comes to reducers and connections. My relief called all across New York's waterfront, trying to get a fitting to be able to connect our hose to this ship. It takes 6 hours to find one that fits, another hour to get it to us, and it's a hodgepodge of shitty fittings, but it works. I've seen this ship before. Either they've never taken diesel, or they've never used this particular manifold connection in the US. Either way, it's frustrating.
The ship doesn't trust the adapter we supplied them with, so instead of it taking 2 1/2 hours to pump the diesel to the ship, it takes 6.
Pumping slowly, we're a little more than halfway done with the diesel, and the engineer calls. The ship is full.Now I'm angry. First time. They're suddenly claiming they only ordered 100 tons of diesel. I show them the orders from the company, and note that they've already taken 50 tons more than they ordered.
I handle it diplomatically, noting that the ship's owners will be paying for all costs associated with transporting us to a terminal, including all the costs associated with the tugboats and assist tugboats that will be helping us into and out of the terminal, and the terminal's own fees for pumping back the remaining fuel. I further noted that it would be cheaper to take the diesel if he has somewhere to put it, otherwise whoever made the mistake will be paying a lot extra for not a lot of fuel.
Engineer stands firm. It's a remote but extant possibility that he's not lying. Generally, it's the engineer who orders too much fuel. It's a stereotype, I know, but Russian and Ukrainian engineers tend to be pretty good at math and bad with drinking, so who knows what actually caused this.
Well, regardless, we sign off on the papers, our tugboat comes alongside and we cast off, head for the therminal, there to spend hours to pump off a tiny bit of diesel, 100 tons, which takes all of 30 minutes to pump back to a shoreside tank using our big electric pump. We lose another 5 hours at the terminal for paperwork and waiting for them to line up their pipelines in the field to pump back.
So now we're well into the next day for a job that should have been finished just after lunchtime on the day before. The sun is up, and it's time to leave the terminal. Another 2 tugboats come, yank us out of there, and we're off to an anchorage to wait until the next job at oh-dark-30 tomorrow.
On the way to the anchorage, I open up the hatch to our after void space, a watertight compartment in our stern that holds our potable water tank and the MSD, our septic treatment system. The compartment is pretty whiffy, smelling of ammonia, which isn't right at all. Shit tank is leaking into the void space. So that needs to be addressed later today, and later this week we'll need to have that space sanitized and vacuumed out at a special facility not too far from here.
And by we I mean me. I'll be down there with a vacuum hose, a fire hose, tyvek suit, respirator and a giant spray can of bleach after. So that's really a shitty discovery to end a shitty day.
Addressing the problem with the shit tank is actually easy. A little blast of compressed air and whatever clogged the discharge side of the system is back down in the bottom of the tank where it belongs. Cleaning the aftermath will not be fun, of course, but that will happen when we get a break between jobs during the week.
So, having spent a few minutes addressing the shit tank, and inhaling the ghosts of BM's past, I get back up on deck in time for us to moor. The tugboat casts off, and as I'm throwing hawser lines back down to the tugboat. The bowline has a short 20-foot long heaving line attached to it, so I can just lower the heavy eye of the tug's hawser back to them. The little heaving line has a heavy butt splice at the end of it, to make it easier to throw. As I'm passing the bow line back to the ship, slipping the line through my hands, this heavy little 6-inch piece of braided rope comes flailing up and hits me directly in the pills. Not hard enough to go down, but hard enough for me to double over and be nauseous for a few minutes. One last hit to the balls after a day and a night of only metaphorically being hit in the balls.
Now, 8 hours later, I'm showered, slept well, and things are looking brighter. I have a watch free to tidy up and make everything ready again for our next cargo, which will happen after midnight, when I'll be happily asleep. I'll wake up to finish loading, sign papers and get us underway again to try to do it a little better. In the meanwhile, though, I'll putter around, make ready, and try not to get hit in the marbles again.
Another “Aw fuck” moment in time
1 hour ago