I always get a kick out of those goofy 'salt life' stickers that many shoemakers get all juicy over and put on their vehicles. I think it's great that people get out on the water and enjoy it, even if most of them are a hazard to everyone around them, including themselves. I wonder if this is how Hell's Angels feel when they pass by a goof on a scooter with a lawnmower engine?
|Oh, for crissakes.|
Well, here's a picture I took a couple of hours ago. We're in Gravesend Anchorage, outside New York Harbor, a somewhat exposed spot that I hate visiting. See that tiny 1-foot gap between us and the ship on the left? There are special foam bumpers that we use specifically for wedging in between us like that- expensive little shits, too. The smallest ones, which are about 2 foot long, run about $2500 each. The medium ones, which are mounted on special sleds and hydraulically lowered, are closer to $5,000 each. The bigger ones for the next size up are even more expensive, and actually come with rubber tires chained to them to reduce wear. You know, like soles on sneakers.
At any rate, it takes a tugboat operator with mighty brass ones to play bumper cars at this scale- operating where inches count, relying on a deckhand with a walkie-talkie to relay distances a few hundred feet away, this sort of work requires great spacial orientation skills to do well. Between wind, current, momentum, and the 3-5 second delay between the gear lever and throttle and the response, I have deep abiding respect for a good tug operator. Bad ones? Well, I try not to be too much of a dick about it, but I figure if you can't do your job well, you shouldn't be there.
The problem here is that the ship had a fuel manifold connection just forward of the house, but under the bridge wing. Normally, I'd position us a little further forward, and point my crane aft so as not to get in the way of the bridge wing of the ship. For several reasons, this wouldn't work tonight, and there being a swell and the chance of us banging into each other strong enough to compress the bumpers (figure 20-30,000 tons coming together at a high speed, not much CAN stop that short of a tractor trailer-sized bumper), our first focus was on safely mooring in a good position. We used 9 mooring hawsers at various angles to control XY motion in the horizontal plane.
At any rate, when it came time to transfer fuel, I had to position the 60' deck crane within inches of the spotlights, pilot shelter and other hardware bolted to the ship's bridge wing. While three guys were wrestling the VERY heavy fuel hose into position to bolt it in place, I had to jockey the cable and swing controls so as not to whack the ship with my crane and sort of keep the end of the hose in the right neighborhood for the guys working, too. The end of the hose is too heavy for 3 guys to hold at chest height, but the more you choke up and put the end of the crane cable to the end of the hose, the more likely that the hose will be damaged by any heave or roll once the men start to bolt the flange to the manifold.
If it sounds complicated, it's not, it's absolutely not. It's one of those things that, if it can't be done safely, I just wouldn't do it. No big deal... well, it is, but not to me. The ship would have to be moved to a more protected anchorage to get their fuel, which would require a pilot, and all hands being called, etc, etc. Not my problem, and if there wasn't a good safety margin on both sides, that's what would happen. I did the fine work with our crane because I can, and also because I spent 8 years on a ship similar to the one in the photo, and crushed fingers, pulled back muscles and worse are not uncommon when doing less-regular activities like bunkering, and I don't want anyone to deal with that.
Ultimately, tonight's job was one of those ones that really showcases that ship-to-ship oil transfer does not have to be a particularly complex evolution, but the difference between doing the job safely and doing the job safely and well, is a small one that comes down to managing details and sub-acute risks. It was a low-danger job, and while the sea state made it marginal for go/no go, it was never iffy and I always had backup and backup to the backup. The tug driver sat in the seat and got his ass kicked for hours just in case he was needed. I had my second man to hand, and the guy I mean, if we were rattling the dishes from the swell and bouncing off the ship, imagine what a little tugboat was going through. Probably rattled some fillings loose on the crew. Managers talk about risk management and JHA's and such, but that's just formalization of what should already be happening. It keeps someone working I guess, to tell us how to do what we already have to do.