Monday, November 20, 2017

Routine routine

NOW I'm back in the routine.

 My first two cargo discharges went off badly this tour. This happens, especially when we work with engineers and ships that don't normally visit the US. In this weekend's experiences, it was a matter of routine on my part and inexperience on the part of the engineer, at least when it comes to how we bunker vs. how the rest of the world bunkers a ship.

       From start to finish, our focus on safety and honesty in what we do is not the usual M.O. when compared to many places in the world.  AB's are surprised and often unhappy at the number of mooring lines they have to heave for us and that we expect everyone to move quickly and instantly when it comes to evolutions like making fast or unmooring.

Great example- in a pretty decent current and swell and 25+knots of wind, we caught two of our 6 lines and lined the barge up with the manifold area of the first ship, but the crew disappeared and we waited to catch more lines. They were given another task to do or wandered off, and it took some tooting of the tug's whistle to get them back to work. Meanwhile our tug captain was sweating bullets trying to keep in position without straining our lines. Time being an issue, I let the AB's know we needed more speed ("Let's go, girls, the captain is struggling to keep us in place and you're up there f*cking the dog now."). I do make a point not to directly insult foreign deckhands. I don't want to get brained by a monkey's fist in the dark and they do pay us to get fuel, not to be shitty to them.
        What follows is the usual mess. Letting the ship get organized enough to connect the diesel and heavy fuel hoses, praying that whoever is directing me while I'm at the crane and working blind is good at their job, and waiting for the engineers to come down.
            Newly-arrived foreign engineers expect me to attempt to screw their company out of oil and or money. They're wary. Some give us the benefit of the doubt, and wait and see if we're out to screw them, some will preemptively try to screw us. It's how they work, elsewhere, and I hate it.

            The one thing that these folks don't expect is utter honesty. I WANT them to measure the volume of oil in our tanks, before and after we pump fuel. They receive an exact accounting of how much fuel they took, out to 2 decimal places in barrels, which is about 3 pints. So, they might get a million gallons of fuel, but what's on the bill is accurate to within a soda bottle's worth of volume.

 This is a double edged sword. These guys expect us to dick around and to have the ability to dick around when it comes to the numbers.   The first ship we dealt with this weekend wanted me to convert everything to metric and then round things up to whole numbers.
 Me: "No."
 Then they wanted to negotiate the volume listed on the Bunker Delivery Note.
Me: "No."
"Well, we won't sign for anything but the exact volume we requested. No decimals."
Me: "Yes you will."
"Well, we need you to round down to an even number, then, for our computer."
Me: "No."

 It went on like that. I was feeling pretty patient, so I eventually said we don't negotiate and we don't cheat anyone, including the ship or the supplier, so the numbers are the numbers. Eventually they get the idea. Usually they threaten to give us nastygrams, Letters Of Protest they're called, which are used to establish details in an official record should arbitration be required at some point by a court. What they don't expect is that we like these. "Yes, sir, please send the letter down and I'll be happy to sign it."   What the hell do I care? I know the right thing was done on my part, and they're being dicks more often than not as a pro-forma exercise.

    To their credit, these two bad jobs took longer than they should have to perform because of shipside foolishness, but no one tried to outright steal, and no one was unbearably rude on either side. So it goes. While I always hope bunkering goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn't, and that's part of our routine, too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shaking out the first reefs

Well, I made it back to work a few hours ago. Back to the routine.

 My mom's funeral and burial was yesterday. We laid her down at the closest national cemetery, alongside my dad. The funeral and interment service was lovely, and we closed the night by eating together, just family, just under 30 of us. After 3 emotionally exhausting weeks up north, I would have preferred to go home for a few days, but practically speaking, it was time to go back to work, according to my wallet, and so as our family dispersed last night, my own nuclear family went back to the house one last time, and long before sunup this morning, we said our goodbyes at the airport, my wife and son to head home, and me to head to NY.
        I'm tired, in a way that is somewhat unfamiliar. Physically, sure. I've been on 5 hours a night for 3 weeks straight. Making final arrangements and herding family members towards resolution on planning and carrying out things is work too. Overall, I hope that with a couple of decent sleep cycles and getting into a routine that is familiar, things will turn around a bit inside my head, which is currently a slightly unfamiliar place too, somewhat more dark than usual.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


My mom passed away yesterday. It was gentle and pain free, and the hospice nurses and medical team that made her death as peaceful as possible were absolute angels. The entire B clan came together for the first time in years and spent days together in her home. It was exactly what my mom wanted, for her children, great grandchildren and family to be cemented together in order to ensure that we don't drift apart overmuch upon her passing. We were all there when she passed. It was hard but I managed to say something intelligent for once. Something like, 'I'm crying for me, for us, for what we've lost, not for her. She's free and at peace, finally."

 In the 24 hours since her passing, it's been a whirlwind of activity, but the enormous level of support and caring from our friends and community has been humbling. Our cups runneth over, as does our refrigerator, freezer and beltlines.

 I still don't know exactly what I'll be dealing with beyond feeling a touch lost and more than a touch like I'm being carried by the rest of my family. I'm still always on the verge of falling apart but never falling apart.

 My parents were married for 48 years. My mom died yesterday evening. Today was my parents' wedding anniversary. Their marriage defined their lives, and my mom's only real statement this past weekend on what she was thinking about when she thought about her last day was "I hope your father is there to meet me."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

more important things

Nothing quite works to plan with me, and that's OK. Things tend to work out right, if on a longer timeline than I'd often prefer.

    I never did go home. While I was visiting my mom, she brought us all together to let us know that she was stopping medical treatment and wanted to come home to finish her days among the family.

      It's been a long time coming, and while my mom now is sleeping and no longer conscious, we had some wonderful days, and our entire family has been gathered for a final watch, and it's been an opportunity to reconnect with everyone, and it was all done on my mom's terms.

 We're down to hours, not days I think, but everything is taken care of, and the tears are less common than they were, and there's more laughter at all of the great memories.

Even at difficult times, when surrounded by loved ones, the mutual support makes such a difference. In my own family's religious context, funerals are noted as celebrations of life, not of death. Call it a remnant from the Irish Wakes we no longer practice.
    My mom's dog, a little neurotic rescue dog who is ugly as sin and absolutely cute because of it, cut the tension yesterday by cutting the cheese. My uncle must have fed the dog some people food. In the early afternoon, at a particularly low moment, an unbelievably foul, mephitic smell hit us one at a time. We all assume my uncle, a lifelong bachelor, crop dusted us, and we cried foul to his cries of innocence.

 It happened again when we were all around my mom, later on, after we finished praying together. I noted my mom's dog scuttling like a little crab out of the room, shamefaced, and recalled that she had done the same when we had blamed my uncle.
 From then on it was on. It was too cold to put the dog out, and she'd go ballistic locked in any of the other rooms, so we just tried to shuttle her to where the people weren't, but she got out and has a gift for stealth.

 She snuck by when we were eating Chinese food, bombed the whole kitchen, to cries of horror, nausea and laughter. An hour later, in the living room she did it again, all the while scuttling crablike, and as the 10-12 of us went from room to room escaping an 8lb dog's utterly toxic ass, she'd eventually follow and SBD us again.

 So, it's my hope that when my mom is gone, and we recall these funny moments at hard times, the little moments, like everyone yelling and laughing at the dog while bolting from a table full of Chinese takeout, we'll be able to take comfort from it and remember that with a family together there can be little rays of sunshine that break through so many dark clouds.

 I don't expect I'll update this blog until after my mom is gone and at rest, and I'll be back at work and back to a routine.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

looking ahead

Well, I'm entering my last few days of what has been an emotional tour here at the HQ. Rage is an emotion, shut up.


 So, hopefully I'll be headed to my own house after a few days up north, there to enjoy my own family, who I have missed terribly in all this, notwithstanding 20ish years of being practiced at dealing with difficulty while away. As I said, it was an emotional tour.

 Some new and interesting things are happening at home. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is in classes during the day for the next few months, so I will have my house to myself for the most part. I've got a honeydo list longer than my crank to deal with, so I'll be able to handle some of that, and after 8 years of sitting on my ass, I'm going to up the tonnage on my ticket, too, for work, come December, so I have to study for that. I'm just rusty as hell there. Not much call to practice navigation plotting when you spend as much time huffing oil fumes as my work requires. So that'll keep my busy.

 I've got my model tugboat to work on too. I should have time to get a lot of that taken care of, which is a good thing, as I've got another lined up for after, and I find the whole creative process fun, especially as it gives me  a chance to work on fine motor control issues, which is a thing for me. Courtesy of having gotten my hands crushed as a teen, and having lived with persistent infections from lobstering for so many years with open cuts on my hands, things like writing my name are pretty painful, which is why I type so fast. Needing sub-mm accuracy is challenging to me, but it's also helpful, as my shaky and sometimes weak hands do well in response to fine work. Not that my work is super-fine, mind, just that the discomfort goes away.

The pace at work continues to be very rapid. We're still running almost all-out, and I'm still not used to it. Finding time to handle maintenance isn't an issue. I can get up early to do things that I can't get to in our occasional off time while we're waiting for berths or a tide. Coordinating shoreside engineers and mechanics to come aboard and handle things I can't do myself isn't as cut-and-dried when you don't know where you're going to be 12 hours from now. I guess the days of having our schedule set up three days out is long gone, now. Things change constantly. I don't like or do well with chaos, so it's a burden, but one that is going to be lived with now.

 I feel as though there are changes that I need to make. What's that line from the poem about Provisions must be made... and I have made them... something like that. Except I haven't made them yet.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Father Goose

It's been a busy damn week here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Center for Second Thoughts About Career Choices.

      While I'm still working through my own family issues related to my mother's health, my right hand hand man O had to extend his time off to deal with a health emergency involving his own mother, who, thankfully, is now on the mend. He came in last night, but in the meanwhile I had 5 days of fill-in tankermen.

 The HQ is about the best designed bunker platform I can think of. Though not perfect, of course, her design represents the pinnacle of a balance between usability, safety, utility and ease. She's a one-off, having been rebuilt and altered at the deck level from a common design that my employer had built 10-12 years ago and still uses. My employer gets a lot of use out of us, and our safety and job completion record shows that she's a right good 'un, and our injury and lost-time injury record is a testament to her fine ways, too. 
    Not to say she's idiot-proof. We are known as the Hose Slayer of New York;  at least our port engineer calls us that.  Blind spots at our crane controls, and catch hazards on deck when working at low angles means that we've killed off more cargo hoses than most. At $5,000 a section, we went through 5-6 hoses in our first two years aboard, and although it's been a couple of years, it can still happen. But she's comfortable, I believe she's the most user friendly barge that my employer owns by a wide margin.
   ...If you know her little ways.

 If you don't know her little ways, the HQ is a handful. The cargo crane can turn a heavy fuel oil hose into a wrecking ball or a grappling hook, and does, to those who don't know. A seemingly-perfectly lined-up position with a dock or a ship ends up being way out of the crane's ability to spot the hose, necessitating a phone call, bringing a tugboat out, sliding one way or another and adjusting or resetting mooring lines, and then being slut-shamed by dispatch, the tug crew and the people on the other side waiting for the hose.

 Unfortunately, most bunker tankermen, when they get off their own barge, want NOTHING to do with a strange bunker barge. They know better. In the search for warm bodies to put meat in the seats, our crew scheduling ladies take a perverse pleasure in putting gasoline bargemen on board to fill in when a bunker tankerman is out. Think about what happens if you put a taxi driver behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.

      I was fortunate this past week to have two nice and experienced gasoline tankermen come aboard for ballast to satisfy the COI. SInce I deal with 6 different fuel suppliers each with differing policies and needs and charter agreements, the devil is in the details when it comes to making them happy. Like Burger King, we believe our customers should Have It Your Way.
 Unfortunately, we've also been getting nastygrams from our pimp daddy saying 'quit fucking up the paperwork or you're going home' aimed in general to everyone working in the region. So I can either encourage our visitors to memorize a matrix of 50 procedures across 6 companies (and the ancillary paperwork requirements for each), or I can do the work and paperwork myself, mostly. There's no real choice. You can shave a chimp and make a tankerman out of him. Making a good tankerman takes time, and weeds out the monkeys with tails and also about half of the clean oil tankermen. Making a competent one takes more. Making an experienced one takes even more. You see where I'm going. It's not going to happen, and trying to teach detailed procedure and policy won't work if you're working for 3 different charterers in 36 hours, WHICH WE DID.
   So, I got to work with guys who took time to do their job to the best of their ability, which was actually pretty nice, except that they didn't know enough for me to really rest. I had to do that sort of sleeping where you stay aware of the heading, the state and RPM of the generators and pumps, and the trim and list, which means no REM sleep, so it gets tiresome, at least, if you give a shit about your job. In my own way, I was very fortunate to work with fill in guys who left their ego elsewhere, were pleasant and polite, and could make the oil go where it was supposed to go, and not where it was not supposed to go. I just couldn't sleep much. I believe that if I either gave less of a shit, was better at teaching or was a more sociable person, it could have gone more smooth, but overall it was good.
...and this is not to toot my own horn, either. I've gotten to the point where I have to restrain myself from lashing out when my comfortable ways of doing things have to be changed. I like the systems we have on here, and how well we all work together as a team. I am extremely fortunate to work with fantastic shipmates who are also good friends of mine, too here on the HQ, and to have a good relationship with the core group of tug crews who charioteer our ungrateful asses around. I can't take credit with any of that, as had they had to get to know me recently, they'd likely not be over fond of me. I am not what I was, in terms of being pleasant to be around. Too much shit happening on shore for me just now. I'm working on it, and I still basically like most people. I just don't want to interact with them.
       So it was with great joy to me that O, my right-hand man, flew in last night, and I slept the sleep of the innocent... well, actually I had bad dreams all night, but I was sleeping deep enough to have bad dreams, so that's progress. I'm looking forward to catching up on sleep over the next few days. We're working at about 90% of our maximum, getting a couple of hours off between jobs, which is somewhat more sustainable than going nonstop, as paperwork, filing and basic maintenance can be carried out. I still have a week on board to go.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When the world can't shrink down

When I get stressed or when there's a lot of things going on, I tend to compartmentalize. One of the ways I cope with stress in general is to shrink my horizons. Eyes In The Boat, like the old saying goes. I tend to try to work on things piecemeal, manage events and issues as they come, rather than doing so holistically. It works for me.

    Sometimes, when things happen that are not in our control, but which we are unable to cope with easily, it makes it harder to put ideas and issues, and feelings, too, in neat little boxes.

 My mom is getting ready to pass on. She's at the point where she'll soon be making the decision to stop fighting a progressive series of illnesses and age-related end-of-life challenges that are starting to add up faster than her ability to deal with them and enjoy a minimal quality of life. That time we all know can come for us who live long enough.

... and it's something that most every child of an older parent has to deal with. So many people have, and that includes me. I remember very clearly the day when my father decided that he had gone as far as he could with medicine, that it was time to go home and enjoy the time he had left.

 So why the hell am I sharing this? It's pretty private, even though I know some of my family reads this stuff. I guess I'm still wrapping my head around all of it. I'm saddened but not traumatized by it. Anyone can understand the desire to have time to surround themselves with loved ones and have a quiet, dignified death free of the indignities that sometimes come with life-extending medication that requires sacrificing one's awareness or ability to enjoy the last days.

 With all this, we don't know exactly what will happen and when, and that is where my being at work on the water, and my living 1,500miles from my mom gets second-guessed. I could have worked for the fucking aquarium or run a ferry boat or something. I pray I'll have time to be there, and that I'll be able to ferry my family north to do the same.

 At any rate, I'm not writing to collect sympathy, just to clear my own thoughts. Without being able to keep my mind in the boat and my eyes in the boat, it's not as easy to juggle the million little things we all juggle. I rely on my time at work to center me, I guess, and it's not working.

Friday, October 13, 2017

more of the same

Slogging through the second half of this 7-week trip, and it certainly is a slog. Morale is at a low ebb. We're seeing an uptick in cargo volume among the idlers, the clean oil carriers, while black oil is still moving like crazy. Those are all fine things, but pay and now benefits are are on the chopping block, while the workload is increasing, which is hard to swallow. Obamacare well and truly fucked us. There are so many unhappy people complaining that it is truly a depressing environment on deck just now and I find myself avoiding all but the people I truly like out here, which is not a lot of people. My company has a high proportion of nice folks for a maritime environment, but you can only have the same conversation so many times before it gets just boring and depressing as shit.  At the same time, somewhere in every conversation comes a 'well, we've still got a job, let's be thankful,' which, when you think about it, is an interesting juxtaposition. Lord, it makes the days drag by.

 Anyhow, in an effort to keep my chin up, I'm re-reading the Master & Commander series, which, if you haven't read it, you should. It's my absolute favorite book series. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Being Nice to Other Sailors

I've learned through experience that it pays to be nice when working with foreign ships and foreign sailors.

 Quite often, we see the crew of foreign ships as being of lesser competence and not particularly good sailors in general, and while sometimes this may be the case, it's often enough an oversimplification of sometimes complex factors affecting our interactions; one thing remains clear, however: when working with foreign ships, being nice generally pays off.

      When I first started bunkering, I was shocked at how awful most ships were in terms of professionalism among their crew, when bunkering. We'd have to come alongside and blow the whistle, holler, fuss on the VHF, and hit the hull of a ship with a sledgehammer to get their attention. In all the years I was on a tanker, not once did a bunker barge, bunker tanker, water barge or lightering vessel get alongside of us without an AB to meet them, heaving line in hand, and a length of heavy rope thrown over the manifold to show exactly where they needed to line up to send their hose up to us to connect. Not. One. Time. did another vessel touch up to us without us being there.

 Foreign ships visiting the US, it's a different story. Maybe one time in twenty does an AB run outside trying to meet us while we're already alongside.
 It was frustrating. The rest of the world just doesn't operate on the same wavelength, but it's a mistake to conflate that with being unprofessional. They just don't give a shit.

  In the intervening years, after yelling myself hoarse at men standing often far overhead to hurry up, lift a line, throw down a heaving line, etc. etc, I just don't see it as neccessary, and eventually, I realized that for the most part, it's not helpful either. Generally, I rarely got aggressive or rude anyhow, so me yelling at some poor foreigner was generally a reactive event anyhow. As I've matured, I've come to view it as a mark of professionalism, anyhow. If I can respond to idiocy calmly or at a minimum with an aggravated tone, things tend do go more smoothly.
      Also, being shitty to an AB who is standing with a monkey's fist 50 feet over your head is a great way to get a concussion. Just saying.I've had to dive out of the way of a fastball thrown directly at me a few times after yelling at someone who wasn't moving fast enough to suit me.
      I've been on the other end as well. I once bet my watch partner $5 that I could knock the hard hat off a particularly mouthy tankerman when I was AB on the tanker SS MONSEIGNEUR. I dropped that rude coonass like a felled tree. Didn't knock his hardhat off, though. Turns out it had a chinstrap. Still, it kept him from getting concussed, and he ended up with just some road rash on his ear and cheek. They had great nonskid on that barge's deck.
 My attitude grew out of pragmatism. While I was somewhat mindful of trying to be professional early on, coming to grips with the idea that fostering a gestalt of smooth operating on board meant integrating all these concepts of professionalism, calm, efficiency and speed without being laissez-faire about getting the job done right frigging quickly took a bit of time.

 Last week we were coming alongside a tanker out in NY's Stapleton anchorage in the dark, and the tugboat deckhand who was with me was pretty gung-ho, especially as he's an older guy. A real square peg, though, as the guys's something of a donkey. At any rate, after we get the first line up and get us lined up with the ship at a point where my crane will reach his manifold, things usually run pretty smoothly. The deckhand kept being slightly rude and ordering the ships' AB's around, however, so I had to say "(Name), quit antagonizing the AB's. I have to work with them for the rest of the day." That was enough for things to settle down quickly... and it also meant I might not get some teeth knocked out by the monkey's fist, either.

      Generally, unlicensed crewmen on foreign ships are grumpy Eastern Europeans, timid Lascars or gregarious Filipinos. It's a bit of stereotyping to class them like that, but it's often enough the truth, viewed through my own cultural lenses, anyhow. Each ethnic group comes with caveats in terms of working well together across a language barrier. The bohunks, you have to be fast, quiet and direct. Lascars, you need to address the officers, not the crew, who will not break wind without a signed JHA and an officer's permission. Filipinos, you call them 'amigo' and 'my friend,' say please and thank you, and they'll absolutely do their best to do as you ask while laughing and talking... and while writing about these things is absolutely not PC, it's often enough the best way to get the job done safe and fast.

 I often think about what these ships' crews must think of us. I often enough find that our tugboat deckhands are rarely professional or cordial to ships' crews, especially, and this is not kind to say, those people who don't work here in NY harbor full-time. More than anything else, I tend to get defensive about our operation. I have to work with these guys. The tugboat deckhands emphatically do not. When we are all fast, they go back aboard their tug and leave. I get to live with the aftermath if they've been shitty to the ships' crew. If they piss off the bosun and I don't put a lid on it, the bosun will see to it that the flange on my cargo hose, for instance, might not be bolted down as tight as it could be, so when I lay it down on our deck at the end of a job, I'll come back out a few hours later and find a 2-foot diameter puddle of cold black oil on my deck, or maybe stick a rag in my cargo hose, which will clog one of our two pumps when it gets shoved into a tank the next time we load and discharge. These days I'm VERY quick to put a clamp on a tugboat deckhand who gets a case of the ass and tries to take it out on the people I need to establish a relationship with over the course of the next hours. Ultimately, it's my job to do exactly that... and that pisses me off more than a ships' crewman being a dick. Having a stranger come up on my deck and poison the well I'm going to be drinking from is extremely disrespectful to me AND to the ships' crew.
    I'm no angel; I've said some pretty rotten things to guys when I've lost my temper. I try not to, and beyond blowing up when things get truly unprofessional on the ships' part, I don't start fights with the people who are our customers. It makes my company look bad, and any sort of unprofessional behavior on our part usually gets met with the same, or worse, gets met with polite silence because the people getting yelled at can't respond because they're ordered not to by their own officers. There's just no angle in attacking a man who can't respond, simply because you're frustrated. Now, I'll meet rudeness with rudeness, and with gusto, across the barriers of culture and language. I speak pidgin english. It's how my wife and I communicated until we learned each others' languages when we were dating. I can make it known you're being a shit in almost any language.

 When I work over, on someone else's boat or barge, it makes me sad to see how rude some of my friends and shipmates can be. It's not pervasive, thankfully, but it's more common than it should be. It makes me mindful of whether or not I'm guilty of the same thing, and how awful it looks from up on the deck of a ship when the bunkermen down below are being vulgar or rude.
 "Man, that's guy's a real asshole." I've said that a few times to the mate on my ship when I was an AB. "Have the deck cadet piss in a can, and pour it over the eyes of the  bunker barge's mooring lines. He doesn't wear gloves."

 Being nice avoids all that. Sailors being sailors, debts get squared one way or the other. The only way to win is not to play.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Better and better

Well,I'm back on board. It was an interesting 2 weeks of whoring around the better and worse parts of our fleet, but it's always good to get back to the HQ, where things are tidy, comfortable and familiar. I'm settling in, and it's been VERY busy in general. Things are certainly looking up for business, judging by how it's im-fucking possible to have a quiet moment to go for a walk or get groceries without someone bugging you to hurry up. Can't make much of a beef about it, I mean, they're gonna pay me, it's reasonable they expect me to work, but damn I miss the old days when I first started with this company at times, where you could get groceries and stop for a sandwich before having to rush home while fielding off 3 people calling asking why you're not doing whatever it is they want.

 Well, that's the face of the industry of late. Tighter margins= more stress. It's sure as shit not what I signed up for way back when, but so it goes.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A slight case of the ass

It's been too busy too blog these past few days. I get up, I work, I shower, go to bed, repeat.

  Whatever the word from on high may be, this rotten little POS barge, my company's red-headed neglected stepchild, has been nonstop, and trying to keep it running is a nonstop business too. Pumps overheat, gens shut down if you look at them funny, oil just ends up everywhere and the accommodations are about on par with a Pakastani hospice.
 That being said, I'm doing well. I'm working over, so this is just money to be made beyond my salary, so that's nice, having it available. I was excited to have gotten a tugboat babysitting job, but my current home away from home away from home needed someone, of course. No one will voluntarily stay here, and it shows the worst of what a tankerman can do if allowed to go feral. Pots and pans put away dirty, decks and bulkheads unscrubbed, engines with unknown hours on the lube oil, etc etc... and it's a bad luck boat, too. Some career ending injuries... and today.

 This barge has 3 pump houses on deck. 2 amidships, and one more forward. We were alongside an oil tanker in ballast today, and 1/2 way through a small transfer. I had just gotten out of the bunk and was looking over the papers and computer while caffeinating, and hadn't taken the watch yet. The other guy on here is talking about what's happening, as we start the info exchange that comes with assuming a watch. He's looking out the porthole and says in a slightly alarmed voice "What the fuck?" 

 I look too. There's a ballast overboard discharge on the ship, about 8 feet above our deck level, and an 8-inch torrent of white water blasting out at fire-hose force, all over and inside one of the pump houses, which have a hatch propped open for cooling, unfortunately facing directly the ship.

     We both run outside, doing the pee-pee dance/shut down arm-wave semaphore and yelling, and the water slows down and stops after about a minute. The pump is running- as luck would have it, the stream was broken by the top of the hatch coaming of the pumphouse, so the engine deep inside didn't get hosed... but there was a foot of water sloshing around inside the pumphouse, which doesn't have drains, as it's also a containment zone for the engine, a big Detroit, which slings oil everywhere by nature... so now there's about a thousand gallons of seawater in the house.

 Luckily, a coolant leak the other day led me to get on hands-and knees and wipe out the whole deck of the pumphouse, so there was almost no oil sheen in the water.

 Since this barge has no permanent crew, feral tankermen behaving badly while away from their own homes get awful sticky fingers. Fuckers have left almost no pans or silverware, spares are nonexistent, and there's no portable pumps, so I cut an old piece of hose, make up a siphon, and dump the pumphouse water on deck, where I can watch for a sheen and also where we have means of containing any oil from getting over the side. Of course I get a mouthful of ballast seawater/oil traces/20 years of soot, footprints and what have you, too, and start gagging. It tastes like soap and shame. But I decant 90% of the water by simple siphon and there's no oil in it, it being under the surface of the skin of water still sloshing in the pumphouse, so that's a good thing. We have a draft load of oil to load tomorrow, which means the pumps will be cranking out overtime, and hopefully these prone-to-overheating pump engines will boil off most of that leftover water. Still, I expect I'm going to get steamed like a carrot when I check on the pump throughout that discharge.

 If it was a little colder, I'd be tempted to make Detroit Diesel Fish Chowder, but I don't like chowder when it's not below freezing outside. It's a winter dish for me. Still, if you want to make it, it's easy. You just need a Detroit Diesel, a metal coffee can and some ingredients.I don't make it on the HQ, because we have Cummins engines, which, obviously, just isn't the same.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

+1skill, -2 comfort

Well, just a few more watches here, and then it looks like I'm going to go be a deckhand on a tugboat for a week, which will be something different for me. Despite working for a tug-and-barge company for 8+ years now, I know little about tugboats, really, beyond what I pick up in conversation with crew and having read a few books on it. Really, not the visceral stuff that makes the difference between a sailor and a tugboat sailor. So I have a chance to maybe address that knowledge gap, just a little.

   In the meanwhile though I've still got a couple of watches here and I can say that while I like gasoline service and the positives involved, like the cleanliness and predictability of moving from dock to dock to dock, I still prefer the ballet and conflict of bunker service. It's just more my speed. I'm pretty beat at this point. I have a lot of little bruises and scrapes from working with unfamiliar gear and the increased size of my current barge compared to the HQ, which is rugged but smaller and more manageable.

 I am finding that old skills and old training comes back readily enough. It's been 8 years since I did gasoline service on a similar barge, and the old knowledge does come back. The longer voyages are nice, too. Currently we're heading 6 hours away from the loading dock to anchor prior to discharging later today. It's peaceful and not at all the breakneck hectic rush that bunkering requires. When you have 10 minutes to print and fill out about 15pages of forms, that shit stresses you out. None of that here.

 Well, nothing too exciting to report. We'll see what happens mid-week.

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.