Thursday, September 21, 2017


This week I'm 'working over,' which means that I'm on my scheduled off time, but am working anyhow. Since I took a week off to ride out hurricane Irma, I decided to work rather than go home on my regular time off. The work was available, and it gives me a chance to keep in coffers full.

      For whatever reason, I was placed on a clean oil barge, something I haven't done in I think about 8 years.

   Clean oil service is actually quite a bit easier than bunker work, which is my usual m.o. It's mostly dock-to-dock and closed gauging, which means that the tanks are physically kept closed for the most part, and vapors are collected and burnt off by the terminal when loading, so there's no pervasive and eye-watering stink that is associated with black oil. Good thing, too, as gasoline, which is what we're carrying, has far more VOC's (volitile organic compounds) that are hazardous or harmful, compared to the relatively tame but still not healthful vapors of bunker fuel. Both are dangerous and unhealthy. Gasoline moreso, so there's greater emphasis on containment of vapors.

     End of the day, it's much of a muchness compared to my usual work. Oh, it's cleaner, much cleaner work, and there's no ships and foreign ships' crews to deal with. The schedule is generally less breakneck and far less chaotic. It's actually pretty nice.

 Nice isn't high up on my list of things I have to have, though. Truth is, I could see this getting awful boring before too long. One week isn't very long, I don't have much to worry about there. Things are unfamiliar enough that I have to be more vigilant and mindful of the differences between what I'm doing and what I normally do, so my stress level is up, which is not  a bad thing. Increased vigilance. Still, it's not rocket science and there aren't a million charterer-specific rules that I have to parse when dealing with the half-dozen companies who own the oil that I normally carry. There's ONE charterer on board this barge, and they have their rules, which are mostly the same as everyone else's... and don't get me started on the paperwork! Oh, so nice here. 3 pages of documentation. Bunkering, each load produces a half-inch thick sandwich of tax forms, declarations, MSDS's, contracts, pro-forma declarations, etc etc etc. Wasn't always that way, of course. Bunkering required about 4-5 pages just 5 years ago. Progress, my aunt Fanny, I guess.

    I can't say as I know enough to really know what the next 6 days will hold. Either way, it's something different, and given my recent feelings of work getting somewhat dull, this is to the good.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Carnival! (NSFW)

Something to brighten up your day. Warm thoughts.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Red Light District on board

I was pleased to see that our new Dangerous Cargo light came aboard just before I returned to work.

     Vessels moving fuel oils or cargo with an explosive nature have to display an all-around red light while engaged in their business at night. We're no exception, and shortly before leaving last week, I managed to break the old one.


 Very simple little doohickey. I broke the old one because I had to run a breasting mooring line up to a ship, and it passed about 8 feet from the light, crossing from my centerline to the deck edge of the ship, and as we came up out the water, we edged forward a few feet, and when our tug nosed into position after the job was done, the mooring lines stretched enough to let the breasting line in question get against the steel pole under the light... and here's where I got lucky. One of the 3 bolts at the flange sheared off, and the base plate bent rather than the whole 30lb  piece energetically flying off into the wild blue yonder.
 The pieces in question went ashore for repair in our shop. Later it will be painted and be as good as new, and I can again advertise my services at night... uh, I mean, be in compliance
 At any rate, I took advantage of the lovely weather and bolted up the now-repaired light. We have spare solar-powered portable lights for exactly this sort of boo-boo, but it's never the same.

 Well, it's sort of good to be back, but it's absolutely good to be back drawing a paycheck. I hadn't planned on a spontaneous vacation and home repairs. Things are going back to abnormal it seems.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

We now return to our life in progress

Well, Hurricane Irma blasted through, and we made some memories at home. I'm heading back to NY tomorrow, and back to work. My unscheduled week off worked out as well as it could. I put my house back together, although there's some damage outside that will need professional attention. Overall we got very, very lucky.

 Welp, back to it tomorrow, anyhow.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


1300, Sunday.

   Storm is underway. It's gearing up to bomb the Gulf coast, while I'm on the Atlantic side, so I'm hopeful we won't get hit too hard. Say a prayer for the poor buggers on the other side, though. It looks pretty awful for them.

 I've met more neighbors here in the past few days than I've met in the past 3 years. Nice folks. The men in the neighborhood had already formed a plan to button up my house for Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife if I was unable to make it home before the storm. Luckily, I was here well beforehand, and bolted up the hurricane shutters- steel corrugated strips that bolt directly into threaded studs sunk into the concrete walls of my house that ring each window opening. So for now, my house is as dark as 3 foot up a welldiggers ass during a new moon. We're snug and secure, and still have power too. Wind is currently 50ish, gusting to 60. I'm poking my head outside periodically to look around. All is well as can be, currently.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

This might suck

Well, pretty much every prediction is that my house is gonna be in a trouble spot when Hurricane Irma says hello to Florida.

 I'm hopeful. My town proper is between all the models' spaghetti paths, which might mean we take our beating and be thankful it wasn't worse... might not work out that way, too.

 Either way, I'm breaking this tour and heading home tomorrow. On the chance that we'll take a direct strike from a category 4-5 hurricane, my place is there, not here.

 I'm in touch with a bunch of folks from my region. I've been able to chat with some very cool people in the gun and literature world in the past 24 hours. Kinda neat. Storm brought us together.

 Well, regardless, I'm going home. Back next week, all things being equal.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Be Prepared

Whether I'm at work or at home, I like to have enough food on hand to ride out any disruption in supply.

 At work, I'm not as diligent about this as I should be. I'm sure I could survive just fine with what we have on hand for a few weeks, but as I'm not far out at sea pretty much ever, these days, I like to have a lot of fresh green stuff on hand. I find salad dull after a while, but I do eat a lot of it.
     At home it's a different story. You'd think that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife would be the food storage cheerleader in the house, coming from the 3rd world, but this is not so. Her parent culture has a definite preference for every-other-day market visits, and that's about it. Shopping day is entertainment.

 As I am still a relative newcomer to Florida, I've been blessed in that we've only had to shutter the house and hunker down for a hurricane just once so far, and it missed us, thankfully. Even so, while I was here on the HQ at the time, my wife got to watch the utter shit show that happens when there's a run on food, water and gasoline.It gets ugly, FAST.

       Peter Grant has a great post on prepping and being prepared for disruptions for the exact purpose of not having to take part in the angry mob that forms when gas, water and bread gets scarce. 

We keep a minumum of about a week's worth of drinking water for my family on hand, plus plenty of dry stored food and a spare propane tank. And ammo. Of course.

      We're all watching Hurricane Irma closely. At the present moment, it doesn't look to be heading for my neighborhood, but that can change easily. The damn thing formed up so fast and so far out to sea that anything could happen, and she looks to be a monster. Whatever happens, stay safe.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Short Volume Kabuki

Well, this has been an interesting night.

    Started off pretty good. I'm on night watch tonight, which means my day started at 2320, yesterday, and I'll go to bed after civilized humans start on breakfast. No problem. It's my turn in the rotation here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ tanning emporium. We're morning people on here; working nights isn't a favorite, so we switch off.  Tonight's my night, and wonder of wonders, it's the first night where I stepped outside before watch for my inspection, and had to put my coveralls on all the way. Generally, until I sign the DOI (Declaration of Inspection, the checklist that says you're in charge and everything's peachy keen), my coveralls are being worn as pants and the upper body part is tied off at the waist. Tonight I went outside and suited up a few seconds later. Between the temperature and the delightful breeze, it's been a lovely night.

      Tonight we were transferring fuel to a car carrier, a RORO, PCTC, whatever you want to call it. Car ship, and it was their first visit to the US. Like 99% of the ships we deal with, this was a foreign-flagged ship,

       At any rate, tonight we pumped 1,300 tons of fuel oil and 170 tons of diesel to this car ship, and, the engineer not being a regular visitor to the US, but being Japanese, he was obligated to perform the Short Volume Kabuki.

 Now, you don't have to be Japanese to perform the Short Volume Kabuki- you just have to sail a lot in 3rd world countries. Everyone who's handled bunkers outside the US has likely done it. It's formulaic.

 In much of the world, when bunkers are transferred to the ship, someone's going to try to cheat. Often enough, it's the bunker supplier. From ridiculous to subtle, there are a million scams to try to get free fuel and fuck over some strangers.  The most subtle trick is the Singapore Cappuccino, where unscrupulous bunker suppliers will aerate the fuel and increase it's apparent volume by trapping air bubbles in the oil, making a viscous foam. As the air eventually works its' way out of solution, the volume magically decreases, but by then the supplier is long gone.

 I've written on this stuff before so no need to rehash it too much, but the essence of Short Volume Kabuki is that no matter how much fuel you transfer to a ship, they're always short. What follows in the 3rd world is 'negotiations' where both sides try to come to an agreement on what is a reasonable amount for the thief to steal.

 This being America, it doesn't really work like that. It's just too much work to try to steal bunkers, and when delivered by barge, there's nowhere to go anyhow. Plus, a bunker thief will be caught and will be reamed by someone, and do time, whereas elsewhere, it's just part of how some folks make a paycheck.

 At any rate, after years of doing this, I try not to take it personal when someone's trying to sneak one up my Windward Passage without benefit of Ye Olde Reache Around, and I'm past the days of being scandalized and upset by it overmuch.  Under normal circumstances, the Engineer claims a shortage, the bunker supplier claims and overage, and they meet in the middle. Some days you win, some days no. Negotiations happen.

 Here, we calculate the volume and temperature of the oil, adjust the net figure for density, and arrive at a standard volume calculation before we leave the loading terminal. Most of the time, we have an independent cargo surveyor do the work with us as a disinterested party.
 On arrival at a ship, I do it all over again, and invite the ship to take part and observe. Sometimes they hire another independent surveyor of their own. Sometimes no. At any rate, we really like to have the ship at least come aboard and observe the volume measurements before and after we transfer fuel, to be sure there's no claims of tomfoolery. This helps. We also DO NOT NEGOTIATE. The volume is the volume, and is documented as such, and claims of an error are made through a formalized documentation system that ensures that should a volume disparity be grave enough, both sides can engage in legal mediation to discuss the matter and come up with a solution. This is thankfully far over my head, but I'm very fond of doing things the right way and keeping my ass from hanging in the breeze.

         So, once an engineer has unzipped and whipped out his street theatre cred and claim a volume discrepancy, I can pretty much predict how it will go.

 1) How much you give me?
 2) I missing x tons.
3) You give me more?
4) Oh, OK. You write (1/2x) on BDR, OK? 
5). OK.
                20 Minutes  Later..
6). OK, Thank You. No, no need. Bye Bye.

 That's about average. Now, from my end, it's

1) I show y tons, the number on the BDR.
2) OK. Chief, the volume is measured from my tanks, and is correct from my end. I realize you might need to recheck your tanks. You can come measure mine if you want again.
3) No, I'm empty. I can't give you more.
4) No. Is this your first visit here to the US? We don't negotiate, Chief. The volume is the volume.
5) Please give me a Letter of Protest showing the difference, and I will sign it for you.
6) No Letter of Protest? OK. Have a save voyage.

   That's about it. At this point, I don't see any return on being upset by the whole thing. It's impersonal. I used to get pretty upset about being accused of being a thief or a liar, but that's not what's happening. It's automatic, like pulling your hand off a hot stove- the signal doesn't even go all the way to the brain.

   At any rate, 90% of the time, there's no additional paperwork involved. Periodically, and especially with Indian/Pakistani engineers, they will go full Kabuki and engage in a waiting game and throw paperwork at me, which I duly sign. Sometimes they actually do see a difference between what I gave them and what they believe they received. Often enough it's a math error or an observer error, when it happens, in which case I really am sympathetic. That's easy enough and not always easy to find when it happens. For the most part, it's just a pro forma procedure; I don't have to like it, but I do have to deal with it. On the upside, after a few visits, it stops.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Don't mess with Texas... please?

Well, Texas' gulf coast is about to get hammered by Hurricane Harvey. 125mph winds as of an hour ago.

   I got caught at sea by Hurricane Ike in 2008. It changed the course of my career, which is a lot easier than many people had it. 3 days of misery.

 If you're of a mind, say a prayer for those people who are about to go through hell over the next few days.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Those poor kids

Safe spaces and ‘ze’ badges: My bewildering year at a US university

Fear of causing offence on campus is stifling free thought – as I’ve found to my cost

As a child in Glasgow, I learned that sticks and stones might break my bones but words didn’t really hurt. I’m now at New York University studying journalism, where a different mantra seems to apply. Words, it turns out, might cause life-ruining emotional trauma.

 Read the rest HERE

         Well, this brave student, a Glaswegian female, just got on the map, and this was a hilarious article, especially because it wasn't supposed to be. 

        I guess every generation looks and the next one as the harbingers of the end. I'm no exception, except that I blame my own peers for ruining so many minds. 

 20 years ago in Boston, I was better at compartmentalizing my belief systems. By day, Mon-Fri, I was a college student, a centrist and somewhat not liked for that, politically, but a reliable environmentalist. Most of my friends from college were to my left, and I was able to mix with them in social functions, and enjoyed it sometimes. 

 At night, during the week, I was a townie trying to get out. Since I lived in a Boston suburb, I just commuted to university. I drank at the local bar with a friend or two, and mostly hung out with people I had grown up with. I enjoyed very much not having to drink in the local woods anymore. I also pumped gas, unloaded trucks, bounced at a bar and cleaned laboratory spaces to squeak by when I wasn't fishing. 
   Weekends were for lobstering, playing in a heavy metal band, working and having fun.  

        I have a STEM degree from my undergrad days. College was not about this weird social police-state encampment that has developed today. For me, college was trade school, where I learned my trade, and learned it well. Biology, chemistry, study, work, write, publish. 

 I guess I missed out. I was a fair entry-level biologist with a focus on chemical physiology but an interest in better ways to collect and grow swimming animals that could be eaten for fun and profit.  Simple stuff, at its' core. 

 I didn't have to worry about all the ridiculous distractions that are being jammed down modern kids' throats. I learned how to eat while dissecting dead animals, and that I didn't have a mind for laboratory science, but enjoyed it to a point anyhow. I liked getting my hands dirty. Trying to compartmentalize the part of me that felt like my hands were soft and I would become ashamed at not taking the time to practice the masculine arts. Eventually I learned that I very much would take time to learn those things anyhow, out of interest, not obligation. I spent too much time worrying about being perceived as faggy.

 I hadn't yet encountered the real world to any large degree. I was very lucky. I treated college as a job. I did pretty well. Along the way I figured out that a truly open mind captures no ideas at all. They just fall right out. 

 I feel terrible for the kids who spend a fortune of their future earnings in learning critical gender theory and not the Ideal Gas Law or stress moduli.  I read the classics at my parents' behest, and I'll admit that an English class I didn't want to take introduced me to T.S. Elliot, Dylan Thomas and Ernest Hemingway and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I also admit that that professor, if he's even alive today, could never teach that material today without being crucified for being insensitive and something-phobic. 

 No, I'm worried about the kids who are being funneled into a lifetime of menial work by wiping their ass with their future, as taught by some of the same people I went to school with. Kids who go to college looking for direction, and having to learn to recite so many lies in order to proceed that their experience becomes part of their personality. 

 In retrospect, while I'm not using my degree much beyond volunteering here and there to help with data collection and management, it's an option that is open for me to return to, but approaching-middle-aged-me would be a real crank. I'm more comfortable swearing at someone than debating them, if I'm being honest. You can't be a mariner without having thick skin and a sense of humor, and my sense of humor would get me in trouble on a college campus today, where you can't laugh at someone OR with them. That kind of environment sounds awful to me, and it would have been awful for me. I'm very lucky to have avoided it. I hope that family and friends who have to send their kids to experience that are able to prepare them mentally for it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

little boat update

I've been lucky enough that my first night watch is thus far being spent at out mooring buoy, standing by waiting for our berth. There's thunderstorms all around us, which has slowed things considerably, transferring bulk quantities of flammables not being something you want to be doing in thunderstorms and all.

      I had about 10 hours' time to work on my little boat while I was home. Not as much as I'd like, but I find it to be a better morning/early afternoon pastime, as that's pretty much the only time there is no real constraint on my time at home, and it keeps me from missing out on time with my family. Hopefully I'll have more time in the upcoming months, but who knows?

 The little wooden rings will become portholes, and the blocks will become watertight doors. I simply glued little wedges of wood for the hinges, and then glued 1/4" nibs of plastic rod to the wedges to complete the look. Thankfully the rings were pre-cut and I just had to sand and smooth and paint them. 

 I attached the portholes with dressmakers' pins, which, when painted, will look like rivets, and glued them all, too, to firm everything up. I predrilled the holes with a 1/32" drill by hand so I wouldn't have to take a hammer to the wood.

  Making the side ladders was a bitch. They're made from 1/16" round stock brass rod, cut to length and soldered together. After a couple hours of filing, they really looked nice, although this picture only shows them partially soldered together.

 Unfortunately, after priming and painting, I then bent the ends of the ladder to shape without adequately supporting the brass, and little ladder rungs went flying. Boy wasn't I pissed. I had to soak the parts in xylene and start resoldering. I ran out of time and only got one soldered before it was time to clean up and pack my bags for another trip.

ah, fuck.

priming the deck and bulwarks
  The watertight doors and portholes were topcoated and installed next

upper house primed and trim completed. Portholes are painted and watertight doors installed. 

 I topcoated the deck and lower house (I'm still not happy with the wheelhouse), as well as the fantail and bow raised platforms. The bulwarks and gunwales still have to get painted, and I'll do those in satin black to match the hull. The hatch you see in the main deck is still just roughed in place. That'll be a watertight access hatch to the motor, speed control and steering gear. There will be a motorcycle battery under the house, which comes off but is watertight when on.

   My hands shake. Always have. Detail and fine work isn't always so easy for me, but I find that the focus and concentration and effort helps. Finding ways to prop my hands and rest them against something steadies them up considerably. All the same, I bet a person with steadier hands could work considerably faster and neater. By the time I'm done with this, I'll be able to do much better on the next one. Just figuring out how to repurpose everyday items to simulate boat parts is challenging enough on its' own.

 Next time I'm home I'll be installing handrails on the lower house and railings and chains on the upper deck. Hopefully I'll get started on the davit for the lifeboat, too... and maybe the lifeboat, if there's time. That'll be a challenge in itself. The damn boat is getting big. It's 4 1/2 feet long, and takes up a fair amount of space. I've got a lot of detail work still to do.

Monday, August 21, 2017

...and just like that...

Damn, that went quick! I'm in my hotel room in Brooklyn, and tomorrow AM I'll be headed back to the HQ for another fun romp around the block.

 All in all it was a successful trip home. Most of this time was spent supporting family things- on the upside, I got to spend time with my family. On the downside, we spent a lot of time having to be productive. I was able to help my wife with one of her bigger projects, and navigating that series of events and the paperwork involved kept us both running. In between productive stuff we had time for family stuff, and did some traveling just around Florida, exploring our new home state. Good stuff, although after that, my last week was spent firmly at home. I needed some time sleeping in the same place for a bit.
Why I moved to Florida. One of the few upsides to being in a gated community.

 I got to work on my little boat, and that was VERY relaxing. Beyond having a cigar and a glass of whisky out on my patio, I'm finding the work on the little boat to be about the most relaxing thing I can do. My shop time was limited this particular time off, as there was lots to do and some non-fun work to be done in the shop, too. Work-work. All to the good, and this was one of the more well-balanced trips off I've taken.

 Looking ahead, I'm not sure what the next month will bring, beyond more of the same sort of cargoes that pay the bills. I'd rather be home and ruin my liver, but sadly, no one is paying me to do that. Yet. So, off I go.

I'm having a slight issue with reading blog comments on my phone. I'm pretty sure I was relatively sober at the time, but on several occasions I've fat-fingered the comment review button and deleted shit I meant to post. I prefer to blog on my laptop, but I do have a habit of clearing out the cache while sitting on the hopper. An old friend left a fairly stark comment that I was going to have some fun with, but nope, fat-fingered. Probably for the best.

 Oh, and seeing an eclipse from a plane sucks. Parallax issues. It pretty much never happened for us, that we could see. Planes just don't roll that deep. I couldn't even see a change in the overall brightness of the sky. Oh well. I saw one in 1984. Good enough. On the upside, I didn't have to deal with any of the hoopla.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Assholes everywhere

Well, I'm enjoying my time at home, and I saw what's going on with the riots, but I couldn't bring up too much empathy for anyone involved.

      When assholes carrying nazi flags clash with assholes carrying communist flags,'innocent' people choosing sides can reasonably be painted with the same brush.

 Far as I'm concerned, unless they're picking them up off a battlefield, anyone picking up either of those flags deserves to be wrapped up in them and burned along with the flags. There were simpletons who thought that everyone on the right was was a Nazi. There were alt-right non-racist people on the nazi side of the street, too, who believed everyone allied with Antifa on the left was a commie, but as soon as punches were thrown and peaceable assembly ended, it was time to leave, and the people who stayed on either side got what they had coming, many of them. The cops who were killed are the only real victims, and they should be sailed down a river of blood provided by the participants of the violence in a Viking funeral.

    Most Americans who aren't idealogues are just tired as hell of this BS. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

last watch

I think the last 3 times I volunteered to work a 10-week hitch here, I said it was the last time I'd ever do that.

 So I'm not going to say that this time, but I feel like saying it. This sucked. It took the joy out of working on the water just a little bit more for me. Anyhow, it's the last watch, day 70, and in an hour, we'll head to a terminal to load up, but by noon, God willing an' the creek don't rise, I'll be on my way up north for a few days to visit family before heading back home to be with mine.

 I feel like a timer has started counting down on how much longer I'll be doing what I do. I've been very complacent in enjoying the stability of my position, but my personality used to be that of someone who was always pushing to rise, always looking up and forward, and somewhere along the way, I plateaued voluntarily, got fat (ter) and happy.

 Well, no more. I signed up for some more classes to up the tonnage on my captain's license. I'd be crazy to leave my current position given the job market in the maritime sector, and have no plans to do so immediately, but I also can't sit and warm my thumbs in my own exhaust too much longer. I need to start looking up and ahead again, see what's out there.

 In the short-term, what's out there will be visiting the people I love and enjoying my life for a few weeks prior to earning my crust of bread.

Friday, August 4, 2017

lubes and looks

So yesterday I got to have a watch off, and it was glorious. Gave me the opportunity to do 90% of the end-of-tour paperwork that needs to get done, plus I got to go out and do some elementary maintenance- greasing fittings.

    Doing routine maintenance and daily walkarounds is one of the most potent ways to proactively care for a vessel under your command. Strictly speaking, I make a point to do maintenance that routinely gets palmed off on the second man elsewhere, but my point in doing that is that it's MY eyes on scene, and I get to see a million little details overall, on wear and tear.

            With a whole lot of valves on board and many many moving parts, mostly made of metal, we go through a lot of lubricating grease on board. Every two weeks, I head out on deck with a grease gun and lube up the cranes, pump PTO's, valves, cargo crane, anchor windless, capstans, electric motor drive units, hydraulic fendering, stuff like that. It doesn't take long, maybe 30 minutes, and I could do it in half the time, but it gives me a chance to kick the tires and look more carefully at odd spots on board, little things like our emergency pump stops, a long series of cables that enable us to shut down our cargo pumps from anywhere on deck simply by tugging on a wire, like calling for a stop on a busy bus.That comes to mind because last time I lubed up, I spotted a damaged section of wire and got it replaced. This is important because we pass a rope tied to the emergency stop to other ships when we transfer fuel, so they can kill our pumps too, if something goes tits up on their end.

    Well, anyhow, taking the time to take time is one of my best habits to try to keep ahead of problems. Every large vessel has problems and upcoming soon-to-be-problems. That's just the nature of the beast- things that Need To Be Watched, which generally means that they're coming to the end of their life or slated for replacment or service... but not yet. Doing routine inspections and getting dirt under one's nails provides a focus, a driver, to supplement motivation as the tool that keeps your ear to the ground when you're feeling bummy or lazy.
      A good PM program provides multiple layers and opportunities for this. One other example is that every two weeks I have to physically inspect every coil of mooring line on board. I think we have 16 in service at any one time. I also have to do an anti-pollution walkaround, look for potential sources of oil that could get in the water, and document that. Plus my daily walkaround, pre-cargo transfer inspection, things like that. It keeps you out there and on top of things, but even when you're on your game, there are still surprises. A scupper plug left open, a line chafed part way through during the overnight... There's a chicken-and-egg question when it comes to getting and maintaining a gestalt for the deck, to get to the point where situational awareness includes semi-consciously being aware of the thousand little things that you want to be just so under your purview... and things can still get by you, which is where having a second set of trained eyes and good rapport with watch partners and subordinates becomes critical. It just takes that ONE time, you know? We've all been there at some point, where a confluence of unlikely events gathers together and just ruins your day. I'm certainly not immune to it, and giving enough of a shit to stay on top of things becomes increasingly difficult when, say, morale is low or distractions are prevalent. For me, this is part of why I like to keep lubing up the deck fittings as something I do towards the end of a tour. It keeps me engaged, and helps get me over the motivational hump that comes when you've been too long away from nice things.

EDIT: Thanks to the anon commenter who pointed out my inaccurate phrasing. It's since been corrected. You're sweet.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


Welp, we're getting there.

        We've been working steadily here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ discount brothel of the mind. I'm just about ready to go home, and, fortuitously, I will do so in a few more days. I think today is day 65?  They all start to blur.

          I've got another writing project that's been sucking up blogging time now. There's just only so much free time to be had lately- in fact, there's goddamn little of that. I haven't been able to go for a goddamned walk in Brooklyn in I think about 2 months. As I tend to do, I overeat when I get stuck on here, and without the exercise, I've blown up like a damn balloon. Luckily I had been doing well a few months ago, health-wise, so while I'm just feeling pretty gross lately, I haven't set a new record or anything, but I've undone a lot of hard work.

 So it goes.

        Workwise, the pattern continues. We're busy as all hell on the east coast, bunkering ships, and the rest of the small-parcel trade is stagnant and shitty still. For the first time since I was in like 4th grade and wanted snow days off from school, I'm praying for a harsh winter in the northeast, to pick up business.

     Now, I AM seeing a lot of product tankers, handysize and barely medium-sized, all smaller than Panamax, in tiers like 20,000 tons and 40,000 tons... it seems like I'm seeing a fair number of them. Are they carrying crude oil out of the US? I'm not sure. I don't seem to see them on the way out, and still, most I see on the way out are heading to sea empty.

         We bunkered three tankers today. The first, where I tied up before sunrise, was heading to Portugal after they topped off their tanks. They're doing a transatlantic trip in ballast, which... no thank you.  Third ship headed for St. Petersburg, as in Russia not the suburb of Tampa, and they were heaving anchor as soon as we sailed tonight.

 Well, I slept the heat of the day away today, the way the schedule worked out, but I finished stinking of sweat and bunker fuel, and with it sprinkling a bit and being steamy, I was absolutely gross. One of those showers where the water feels much hotter on your back when you stick your head under the faucet. That shower was one of the highlights of this trip.

 Anyhow, I still have 2 hours of free time this watch, so I'm going to work on my other project a bit.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Et Alia

One week to go. Today is day 63 at work.  I'm pretty beat. We're busy, too. We keep getting rinky dink small jobs, but they're jobs, and there are a lot of them. Good to have the money coming in, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Splicing with Manny

When I was an Able-Bodied seaman, I had an absolutely voracious desire to learn everything about being a merchant seaman. I started late, having spent my 20's between college, being a commercial lobsterman and holding some other jobs, some odd, some shitty (Highlight: buying black market hormones to make methyltestosterone and giving a sex change to 150,000 Tilapia. Lowlight: roofing. (Seriously, I fucking hate roofing.).

 So when I finally got aboard a ship for the first time, it was in the engine room of a steam ship. I proceeded to befriend the engineer, and work my ass off, build a rep over a few months, and learn what I could. I still regret not going engineer route at times, but I don't have the tolerance for the goddamn heat.

 On the next-to-last day of my first 120-day voyage on a ship, I worked outside for the first time. It was hot as balls in the engine room, but as luck would have it, we had just passed Cape Hatteras northbound, and it was April, so it was 68 and sunny outside, and I worked outside sitting about 12 feet up on some piping, chipping rust and enjoying the beautiful day. It was a watershed moment, and I knew I was going to be going deck after that.

     Fast forward through 2 years. My life at sea was enough to award me a rating as Able-Bodied Seaman, unlimited (a senior able seaman), as I had 3 times the requirement of 1,080 days at sea, and passed the exam to be rated able, which is pretty much the core Deck General exam that all officers take without the math and details, with a timed hands-on demonstration exam of marlinespike Seamanship besides. I had to splice and tie whatever knots a coast guard bosun's mate wanted while a stopwatch was running. It was fun.

 Now, the exams for marlinespike seamanship require only that the evaluee can make about 15 knots on demand and splice (eye, butt or short) 3-strand line.  Splicing was something that I could do from my fishing days, so that was no big deal.

 My Sea Daddy, Orlando, was a fantastic experienced Able Seaman. A native of Cape Verde, a natural polyglot who spoke seven or eight languages, and who knew how do do any job on the deck of a ship. He was the guy we sent aloft in a bosun's chair, one of the least popular tasks that had to occasionally happened. He taught me a lot and remains one of the finest human beings I've ever met. He also gave me my first Portuguese language lesson, to use on the girl I had met at a wedding, who I later married.

that's him on the right. 

     Manny, the Bosun, was another. Manny is larger than life. He's about 6' 6" or 6' 8", 300ish lbs, and is the strongest human being I've ever encountered. He was in his 60's, but physically looked 20 years younger. He was from Barbados, and had the deep black skin and mellow bass British-accented Carribean accent that is rightfully famous. Imagine James Earl Jones with an accent and you get the idea. For all Orlando's experience, Manny had sailed everywhere for even longer, on old-school style ships- boom-and-stay rigs, the traditional, complicated and difficult work that we avoided thanks to the proliferation of hydraulics. Manny knew his shit.


 So it fell on Manny to teach me how to splice hawsers.

 Ship lines are different from the rope you see at the hardware store. Instead of what you're used to seeing, 3 strand lines, like this:

 We had 8- or 12- or 24 strand lines, like this.

So it fell on Manny to teach me how to splice double-lay rope, like the stuff above. This shit is HEAVY.  One man (well, normal man. Manny could) can't drag these lines unaided off off an elevated platform, where they normally stay faked out (laid out for use, not coiled). Splicing involves a hacksaw, duct tape and a  wooden fid the size of your lower arm.

This was one of the last things I really had to master before I felt like I was a real sailor, and being able to splice cable- and hawser-laid line, along with being able to stay within about 1/4 of a degree while hand-steering a ship, was an important distinction for us among the unlicensed guys I worked with. There were other benchmarks, like being able to repair a needle gun, reliably work as stopper man when tying up, or 'rigonomics' (being competent at rigging and working aloft), but it was splicing that made me feel like I was finally an experienced merchant seaman.

And hell, there were plenty of lines to practice on.

Welcome to Unmerica

 Masssachusetts is in the news again.

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts police do not have the authority to detain illegal immigrants solely to buy time for federal law enforcement officials to take them into custody, the state's top court ruled on Monday.
The decision amounts to a rejection of requests by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for courts and law enforcement agencies to hold illegal immigrants, who are facing civil deportation orders, in custody for up to 48 hours after their cases are resolved.

"Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody," the court wrote in its decision.

The U.S. Justice Department had argued that the 48-hour detainer requests reflected basic practices of cooperation between various law enforcement agencies.
Attorneys for Lunn and the state had largely agreed that Massachusetts lacked the authority.
"This decision allows local law enforcement to focus their resources on keeping people safe," said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, in a statement.

How, exactly, you stupid, stupid bastards, is releasing bank robbers and other criminals (the case that this decision was based on was Massachusetts' decision to release a bank robber rather than turn him over to ICE) going to make us safe?

 Massachusetts is the place where America was born, and they're trying their hardest to make it the deathbed of the nation, too.

My decision to leave Massachusetts and move 1500 miles away to America was downstream of politics. Sure, I had no representation in any political way, and about half my income went to taxes. My wife has some family there who are illegals, and, while they're lovely people, the red-carpet treatment they receive in MA was an eye-opener, so over-the-top ridiculous that it made Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, herself an illegal for a time, into a Republican.. These days she's even got an opinion on the capital gains tax. Amazing how things change. 

I was spending more and more time at work to get by in MA, in a shitty apartment in a shitty town surrounded by mostly shitty people. I did it to pay for orthodontic work for my kid (which illegals get for free in MA), for medical bills for my family which are, again, free for illegals. MassHealth is supposed to be for citizens only, except that it isn't. Illegals with kids get top-down high-quality care, although illegal adults do not get free preventative care for the most part, so they just pop on down to the Emergency Room for free treatment whenever they get a sniffle, and the taxpayers get to give the local hospital $1500 or so.

 Well, that galls, for certain. And yet, while even middle-class MA is a dirty, unsafe, run down place for the most part, compared to middle-class America, there's no shortage of well-educated WASP's standing ready to ensure that no one can buy bb's for a fucking Daisy air rifle, but a 9-year old can get medication to start their sex change without consulting their parents. There are police vehicles EVERYWHERE. Honest, after a couple of years in FL, it was shocking to see so many police cars in my old hometown.

 So, with this latest headline, I suppose most folks are shocked. Not me. I'm just glad I got out of Sodom early.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

turning wrenches

Might be time to put down the fork. Damn. 

 I got to spend this morning swapping out a 40-foot section of our small black oil hose, a  1500lb section that developed a cut in the external rubber shell. The hoses are a composite of rubber and steel wire wound round, plus a steel mesh under rubber inside, with a teflon-like liner. VERY rugged, but UV, hard use and anno domini did for this one.

 It's been so hot this week that we got up with the sun to knock this out. It was the first opportunity I've had to do some simple wrench-turning in a long while, and it went pretty quickly. We had the new hose installed, snugged up and connected to the main hose section, and emplaced in about 2 hours.

The HQ is also the only place I can still get away with wearing jorts, at least when we don't have cargo and I'm not in danger of getting burnt, scraped or hung up. During cargo ops we have to wear proper PPE, but in this case I wasn't going to get splashed with oil- that hose spent a day hanging in the air, nary a drop still in the line. Well, the important takeaway here is that I can no longer wear my jorts at home, as they are unfashionable, despite their obvious awesomeness.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The #1 search term leading people to my blog is currently "Big Booty Spandex."

 Well, glad to help... I guess.

I'm partway into week 8 here at work, and with something like 18 days to go, it's nowhere near time to be slacking off, which is good, because it's been seriously steady work-wise here on the HQ.

 Currently, the healthiest sector in the East Coast small-parcel maritime fuel trade seems to be bunker work, because we're just steady as hell. It's not insane, work-wise, but busier than average, which I've mentioned before, fairly recently. This is good, as small parcel clean oil movements are just not happening in volumes like we've seen in the past.

 There's a serious morale issue throughout the ports of NY/NJ fuel barge crew. My company is not immune there. Oh, we're doing fine compared to the poor bastards down in the Gulf of Mexico, where even master mariners are working as able seamen and thankful when there's even that for work. While you're not seeing massive savings at the pump anymore thanks to the suits in the futures markets who're really cashing in, efficiencies have led to companies being able to get oil out of the ground cheaper on land, which is competitive with offshore oil, even given the disparities of distribution costs. Jobs have shifted for now, and both shale oil and offshore oil have plenty of wells just waiting for the price index to rise enough to be worth kicking the drills in gear. In the meanwhile, while the low-hanging fruit is being brought to market, there's lots of hungry bellies.

 Morale is pretty low in the US maritime fuel transport sector, at least in many parts. It seems like medium-parcel movements are down, too, but not to the extent that I've seen in the small boats.

 Unfortunately, I lack the ability to read crystal balls, and I don't have enough chatty friends in the marketing sector for fuel transport to really put together a more complete, coherent synopsis for what's going on, but I can say that the coconut telegraph among friends and shipmates and acquaintances online, there's an awful lot of this time is different in terms of riding out the slowdown.
 Well, we'll see.

           In the meanwhile, things continue apace here on the HQ. One of the most positive signs we have is that repairs that I'm not capable of handling in situ have been getting seen to by our engineers and mechanics, brought via launch while we're working. In other words, it's important enough that we stay working that my company will dispatch a qualified repairman to wherever we are in order to keep us working and available to work rather than waiting until they've got a berth open at the shop to carry out any repairs. This is a long way of saying that the HQ is paying her freight, which has been a concern, and should be of concern to anyone currently working in the trades.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Shut up and get my friggin book

NYU librarian laments 'fatigue' from 'presence of white people'

A New York University librarian recently felt compelled to pen a blog post bemoaning the “racial fatigue” she experiences “in the presence of white people” following an academic conference.

  • April Hathcock said that she “hit her limit” after spending five days “being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to” by "white men librarians" and "nice white ladies."

  • Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people,” Hathcock wrote. “The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue.”
    While Hathcock noted that she is normally exhausted after such conferences for reasons unrelated to racial issues, she said that this time she “hit her limit” after spending five days “being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to.”

    Hathcock offered a litany of complaints about her fellow conference attendees, including the “white men librarians” who “complain about being a ‘minority’ in this 88% white profession.”
    She also slammed the “nice white ladies” who told her to be “civil” and “professional” when she tried to “talk about the importance of acknowledging oppression and our profession’s role in it.”
    Hathcock concluded by acknowledging that even though there were positive aspects of the conference, such as meeting new friends of color, she was nonetheless exhausted by the entire ordeal.
    [RELATED: Librarians learn to create ‘safe spaces,’ fight ‘privilege’]
    “Luckily, the rest of my summer will be spent going on vacation with family,” she concluded. “And when I get back to it all, I’ll keep on fighting, bearing in mind the inspiring words Dr. Hayden imparted to us at the Spectrum celebration: ‘You gotta be in the room. You gotta be at the table. You gotta fight.’”


     Now, ignoring the ridiculous race-baiting, I'm going to say this:  I don't really care for librarians. 

    I felt very much like a fish out of water on campus when I was a college student. I am and have been pretty single-minded in general, focusing on my goal, and tending to ignore most other things. Whatever rell-roundedness I have cultivated mentally was a gift from my parents, not from the professors. I tried my damndest to be a science savant. I avoided most of the gen-ed requirements that come with a STEM BS degree from a liberal arts college by taking a year to perform an international applied science study in both the UK and the US. I used those credits to avoid fake science classes (politics and social studies are to science what Taco Bell is to Spain, IMO). 

          The library on campus made me uncomfortable. I remember this annoying but pretty blond girl who was going on and on while I was in the stacks, talking about Neoluddites. I had no idea what a Luddite was, let alone a Neoluddite, but I could halve a slice off of a fetal cow's aorta under a dissecting microscope and clone the blood vessels' endothelial cellular tissue while wearing a beer hat. Still, that memory of the blond girl sticks. Made me realize just how ignorant I was relative to some of my peers who beat their meat to Descartes and shit.
    I was a hard worker. Had to be, to make up for being retarded
      But the library was torture, and with experience... well, it was worse.
             I'm old and getting older, and library computers were still DOS based for the most part. I could work the shit out of a card catalog. 
     My university library had mostly secondary sources- write ups, discussions, broad-based and policy-related materials, but not the primary material, the monographs, the academic journals that cost a small fortune to subscribe to. Journal of Comparative Physiology, or Biological Bulletin, or Trends in Neuroethology, stuff like that, which is what I mostly needed. 
             Early on, I had to go to the librarian. 

        A college or research librarian is a challenging position. They have their own college major, teaching information management. It tends to attract very smart people who end up learning a little about a lot of things. 
        Back in the day, you could get left alone at the card catalogue. But if you needed to use a computer to search for information, you were proper fucked. Librarian was going to haunt you like a house, and resent you for taking up all their time while you tried to find any way possible to make them leave you alone. 

          At the time, there was a private biology search engine that catalogued many esoteric abstracts, called BIOSIS. 
     BIOSIS costed $10/minute to access via FTP, and the librarian was the gatekeeper. I had reason on multiple occasions to need access so I could get a hold of articles that I didn't even know I needed. Being ignorant has a cure, after all. 

     At any rate, I got to really resent the librarian refusing me on multiple occasions, to the point where I had to get a note from my department head letting me in. The fact that I cleaned her genetics classroom and laboratory for $7 an hour helped there. It was this particular professor who enabled me to release a million of so fruit flies in my college's law school. Best prank I pulled there.  

    What galled me, before I started making contacts and getting access to the libraries at MIT, Harvard, Tufts, Woods Hole and URI, who had actual science libraries, was that I had to go through a gatekeeper. Every time I wanted to do an abstract search (this being in the days before google) I had to deal with the fucking Emerald City gatekeeper. 
    She had a better mustache, though

       One of the early lessons I picked up was not to tell the librarian exactly what I was looking for. I'd get sent on wild goose chases and 'applications for your data' which meant political bullshit, old books that were useless and microfilmed fucking magazines that were never quite right. Seriously. I studied pure research and  made myself into a biology Rain Man, so this was torture, and have to explain everything I was doing and thinking, and if I couldn't articulate my thoughts perfectly, I'd be refused access to the fucking database.  I just didn't know enough to be able to avoid needing help. It took a couple of years before I actually learned enough to know how to articulate my thoughts. I don't think I ever set foot in my university's library after my second year. I could hop on the train and go to a science library elsewhere, where the librarians were there to answer important questions like where the bathroom was and where I could get copy paper. 

       There was one exception. The librarian for the Rare Book Room at the University of Stirling, in Scotland. He was cool as hell. He let me borrow a pair of cotton gloves and sit in the sealed glass reading room set aside for their rare books, and fetched me 200- year old anatomical drawings  and secretaries notes from Royal Society meetings and shit for what I was doing- all with that veddy British sarcasm for the long-haired sort-of-dumb-but-polite-enough-for-yeoman-class-American. Weird experience, uncomfortable, but the little dude was a serious asset, especially where I wasn't allowed in the stacks, not being a Don there. 

     With the advent of online search engines, I have never again spoken to a librarian, and I suspect that as an adult who doesn't look like a roadie anymore, it probably would be fine.  My kid likes the help librarians provide, though, thus far. Maybe he's got a better way with people.  He has the ability to get lost in the stacks, too, getting waylaid by esoterica and finding new things to be interested in. I just hope some fucking librarian doesn't kill that for him too. 

    Saturday, July 15, 2017

    pay now, or pay later (while also paying now)

    I haven't been writing much lately. I just haven't been motivated.

     When my #2 man approached me and asked if I was willing to cover for him for a few weeks while he worked on a project at home, I agreed readily- it's been an expensive year; I think I bought our family dentist a new BMW, in fact. Working a couple extra weeks has been a boon in that regard.

            Well, I've been here for about 45 days so far, and I'm pretty well adjusted to not working more than 28 at a time. I'm pretty beat. The money I'm making has been a blesing- the price I pay is not.

     At some level, once you have food clothing and shelter, no matter how much money you have, any extra just doesn't go as far as you might expect. I spent the last few years working way too much, and while it's been shocking at tax time, in no way do I look back and see where it made a big difference in my life. Some things, yes, certainly. But I felt happier, healthier and more well-rounded when I didn't work overtime.

     Well, so it goes. Live and learn, and I'm crying all the way to the bank, so there's not much use in getting soggy and hard-to-light over it. Plenty of people would give their left nut to have to worry about being offered too much overtime just now.

     My employers have pared down the payroll, and laid some vessels up to gather dust and save money while the oil trade is so anemic this year. I'm working more and harder here than we've ever done before, meanwhile. Bunkering is busy. Not insanely busy, but busy, and there's not quite enough of us to cover all the work. Without the extra bunker barges and tugs, we're hopping, constantly late, and feeling the pinch of not quite enough time to get everything done that we want to do.We're way behind on painting for the summer. Generally we're done by labor day for the year. We haven't even really started. No time. You gotta have time to paint and time to let paint dry, after all. We're feeling the pinch, and the bunker suppliers are too. We made the worst bunker soup you've ever seen this past week. We loaded 3 grades of heavy fuel oil in miniscule amounts, like ridiculously small amounts, at 3 different terminals. After blending all these things, not to mention the tugboat moving us in and out of 3 different terminals the same day, we cut the oil with diesel, to thin it. Then we gravitated it to some empty tanks on board, and loaded a 4th shot of oil on top of it. We then gave it to some ships, along with some diesel oil, too. Under normal circumstances, it'd take abot 2 hours to load the heavy oil and about an hour to load the diesel. What with the shifting docks, and being passed from tug to tug like syphilis in a whorehouse, it took 24 hours. I hope it was worth it. No skin off my ass, after all, but I can't imagine somene made a lot of money on all that work. Above my pay grade, I guess.

     This afternoon is  a good example of not enough time- we finished a job and were at the dock to wait 12 hours for the next one. It being our first chance to get ashore in a week, we quickly went to the local grocery and loaded up on grub. After unpacking and making dinner, I changed the oil on one of our generators that needed service. By the time we had eaten and had the gen on standby, it was getting dark and I still had to do my weekly inspection for the EPA and pull oil samples. No time to paint. Maybe tomorrow. I'm lucky enough that we had the time to get the gen serviced. Some of my friends are waking up in their off-watch sleep time to get it done. So it goes, and if it gets intolerable, no one is pointing a gun at me and making me stay. I can always go if it comes down to it. I'm still content enough to stay. For now.

    Sunday, July 9, 2017

    Stop the world, I want to get off

    I had to take a couple of days off of work to deal with some family issues. Got back today.

           I rented a 2017 F150 Lariat 4x4 to get up north for a few days. Last minute tickets on a train or plane were insane, and rental cars anywhere in NY or Boston were starting at about $160 a day, it being tourist season and me having no lead time to work with.

     Luckily, no one at NY's airports wants to drive a full sized pickup truck around Manhattan. I got the truck for less than half of what they were asking for a frigging compact car.

         I prefer Ram trucks. They just drive so nice. Pretty reliable, too. Ford finally made a pickup that rides just as sweet as Rams do, and holy shit that truck had some ass. Between that and a super smooth transmission, I may just convert.
         I'm like a car Calvinist. I don't like frippery in my trucks. First time I drove that truck after dark, all the lights and screens and shit was off-putting. I like a truck that I can clean out with a garden hose and a jug of pine-sol. They don't make those anymore. My last truck, a Ram I sold a while back, had a lot of bells and whistles too, 99% of which I didn't want, need or use... and that's OK.

     My rental truck had leather seats and they were heated and cooled. A cooled black leather seat on a warm day is great when you're someone who doesn't like the heat that much. No sweaty back.

     The fancy foofoo community I live in right now doesn't allow pickup trucks, not even the fancy ones. So I won't be buying a pickup until I move. But it was great to drive a full-sized truck again. I felt normal.

     Boston, even the nice coastal suburban communities of Boston, is awful drab and dirty. Dealing with Florida Man and his shenanigans suddenly seems like less of a price to pay.

     Well, either way, I'm back at work, and I got the stuff I needed done.

    Thursday, July 6, 2017

    sailors are gross

    It might surprise you to learn that most professional mariners are clean and tidy people at work, unusually so. 

    One thing that remains universal, though, is that it's never difficult to find a sailor who is unhygienic.

            I've worked with several sailors who are dirty, dirty people. Officers, too. I can think of several officers in my current employer's stable who smell like feet and onions every time I encounter them.
        I know of at least two that had to be called on the carpet because they were foul, loathesome dirty motherfuckers- not because they were bad people, but because they were just dirty and had disgusting personal hygiene.
            Funny, though, I've never had to deal with that with an unlicensed sailor... wait, I lie. We did have that once on a ship I was on, but the cook's helper, a pleasant African guy with a booming voice and endless optimism for everything, threatened to put a padlock in a sock and beat the man in question at mealtimes if he showed up in the galley with B.O.

          Sometimes the direct method is best.

                There's more to being a pleasant shipmate than wearing deodorant, of course, although that is a great start. I have, in the past dragged a mattress out of the house on my barge and thrown it on deck, or in the case of working on a ship, thrown it over the side, because some filthy son of a whore slept on it without putting linens down.

     Pillows are different. I hand them to the person and tell them to carry them to the trash ashore and replace them. No fuss.

          When we inherited the HQ 5 years ago, we inherited the bestest, most wonderous mattresses I've ever slept on. I don't know how that happened, but the HQ got some Posturpedic mattresses that are like sleeping on the tits of an angel. Better than the $1500 mattress I have on my own bed at home. Just, you know, a lot smaller. Obviously when we have guests or fill-in crew, we visually inspect their bedmaking skills before letting them lie down. Discreetly, but 100% of the time. I have, on several occasions, and with a fake but present smile, wordlessly handed a full set of linens to a visitor and stood in the doorway and chatted until the person in question got the idea and made up their bunk properly. Whatever, I sleep better at work than I do at home, at least when  I go to bed sober at home but we're guarding those mattresses like Smaug the Dragon watched over his treasure in The Hobbit.

     Dick move? Maybe. No fuckin' way in hell my employer would ever replace our mattresses with something of equal value. No, if we lose them, we're getting the Dreaded Prison Mattress.

         The Dreaded Prison Mattress is part of the reason why tugboaters and tankermen go out with shoulder injuries. Imagine a sheet of plywood lined with a double layer of cardboard. That's the prison mattress. I've worked for at least two companies who swear by them. They swear by them because they are $54 each, and they're fireproof.  They even say 'FIREPROOF' in a repeated printed pattern on the gray covering of the mattress.
        Now, no one actually cares that the mattresses are fireproof. They care that the mattresses are $54 each. Having had to hear "yes, but they're fireproof!" on many occasions, like that's a selling point, I've never bothered to order anything other than the prison mattresses after the first time I heard that old chestnut get dragged out. The bosses kinda have a point. Too many guys will just sleep on them, sweating and drooling and peeling and farting away blissfully, no linens in sight, to invest in nice mattresses all willy-nilly.
           I do know a few men who have called in favors and gotten nice mattresses special ordered. It shouldn't be that difficult to get a hold of them... but maybe, come to think on it, it should. Some of the dirty ass people I've worked with here would sleep on a dead chicken, if you threw it in their bunk.
        As I alluded to before, the Dreaded Prison Mattress exacerbates shoulder problems. I know this firsthand, having strained a shoulder on several occasions at sea. Basically it doesn't heal until you don't sleep on a Dreaded Prison Mattress for a week or so. Until that happens, you've got a big useless chicken wing on one side.
       I recently spent 2 weeks on a Dreaded Prison Mattress. My shoulders really, really sucked. I hadn't injured them, thankfully, but after a couple of days, I lost a good 1/3 of my strength, and they were sore, not in the healthy way a tired muscle gets sore, but in a 'oh, fuck me, it hurts to raise my arm up to pick my nose' sort of sore.
          I got back on the HQ and into my bed and two sleeps later, my shoulders were fine. My partner out here felt it too. I can't actually blame shipowners, either, in wasting money on mattresses when an unusual percentage of men who should know better just filth them all to hell and gone.
          Why do some men live on board a boat like they're camping out? Eschewing daily showers, manners, the niceties and basic courtesy, not to mention public health? It's an answer I can't give, not really. I know, without a doubt, that many of these assholes would beat their wives wholesale if they came back to anything but fresh linens at home... which they have to be nagged at in order to use them at all at work.

         A few years ago, we landed rough against the side of a ship, denting it slightly. The captain in question had the nickname Edward Throttlehands for his docking style, which consisted of pinning the throttle wide open and just using the gearshift to control the tug's motion. I called him Special Ed or Pigpen, myself, at the time. Dude had a mullet and wore daisy duke shorts with no shoes, pretty much year round looking like an extra from the set of  "Deliverance."
        As it happens, we had sat for 48 hours prior to this at anchor in a spot where the seagull population was explosive.  The deck edges of the HQ were caked in about 3/8 of an inch of dried birdshit. It was awful.
        Well, after we were all fast, Throttlehands came up on deck to check out the ding we put in the ship, which was thankfully very minor. I noticed that he had no shoes on, and tracked right through the guano.
     Later that night, on sailing, I asked the deckhand if the house on the tug had a lot of white footprints. He told me it looked like one of those "Family Circus" panels where Billy's track runs around town. The tug in question has black tiles inside the house, lol.  I then asked if inside the house had a weird, dusty smell tonight. It did. I had to let the guy know that he was inhaling seagull powdered BM of course, and I did so tactfully, by which I mean pointing and laughing like a donkey.
      That deckhand didn't seem to cry much after Throttlehands moved on. 

               The last fill-in we had here on the HQ was another one who didn't like wearing shoes inside the house. I had to order him to put his shoes on in the galley. I took his picture while he was lounging in the rack with the bunkroom door open, startling him. I sent the picture of him and his disgusting filthy little bird claw feet to the guy whose bed he was sleeping in, and explained why I was doing it to the man in question. A little slut-shaming works. Dude wore shoes the rest of his time aboard.