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.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-massachusetts-immigration-idUSKBN1A91XZ

 
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


http://www.campusreform.org/?ID=9439


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.

    Saturday, July 1, 2017

    Outside: "That's pretty." (Inside: What the hell am I looking at?)

    The former lobsterman in me still has a very soft spot for north Atlantic style North American lobster boats. I just love the design of them- they're near-perfect for what they are and what they do, which is a rare thing for boats, which are generally a series of compromises between what people think they want and what is likely to get them home in one piece given the nature of the boat and the ocean.

     A lobsterman with a new boat is rightfully more proud than a hen with a new egg. Even the most taciturn and dour men often unsmilingly but unbegrudgingly offer tours of their new boat when a new boat is to be had. Generally speaking, it's something that only happens a couple of times in a lifetime, and given the ruinous cost and effort involved, it's right to be proud.

     Today's lobstermen have a whole dinner menu of engines to choose from, and most often in New England, new boats are coming out with a whole hell of a lot of engine. In the Canadian maritimes, it's still common enough to see a new boat (and their boats are often larger, far beamier and massively built squat things) with a simple engine, small by todays' standards, perhaps 1/4 of the horsepower of a smaller, lighter Maine-built boat.

          Marine diesels often enough were distinguished mostly by their color. Cat yellow, Detroit green, Cummins off-white, Lehman red, sometimes. It's damn near a ritual to sit, stare down at the engine a few minutes, and comment on the placement, height relative to the deck, belt and pulleys, and of course, to take a minute and discuss the reduction gear. This is a time for quiet reflection, and while comments are often made, they are not required.

     Modern lobsterboats have all sorts of exotic diesel engines now, names that are unfamiliar and summon images of American Iron, orNorwegian fjords, maybe clouds of Asian engineers fussing over mass-produced perfection, or questions asked internally, like "who the hell makes that again? Mitsubishi or something? Why the hell don't they just use their regular name?"
      This is also the point when I realize how confusing new engines look compared to the old ones.

     2 weeks ago, aboard that awful floating torture chamber we were running while the HQ was in the shipyard, I was dealing with an overheating detroit diesel- a turbo'd 871, an engine that hasn't changed much since it was introduced in 1938. I knew what I was looking at. Overheating? Check the fluids, check the thermostat. Holy dogshit, it's running at 230 degrees, kick it out of gear and let it run at idle, cool off a bit. 10 minutes later, it's sitting pretty at 170 and can be shut down for service.
    Engine, (1). Just add earmuffs. And oil. And some more oil. You'll die before the engine will.


     Compare and contrast this with the modern smaller, lighter engines we have in the pumps on board the HQ, vintage 2013. Same horsepower, but nowhere near the same torque, so there's no ass to speak of under a heavy load. More wires than a goddamned cable factory. Great, if we were running a ceiling fan and not trying to pump black oil with the viscosity of molasses. Overheating? Check the computer, check the sensors, check the thermostat, if you can frigging find it. The radiator hose gets routed back and forth like a plastic tube in a goddamn hamster cage. What's that smell? Dammit, did we melt the insulation off a wire again?  As for accessories and such, oh lord. There are... protuberances. What the hell am I looking at? Are those the injectors or sensors? Why the hell is the starter mounted right above the dipstick? Every time I check the oil, I worry about snapping off the goddamn dipstick as I try to get it into the hole while bending the shit out of it to get around the starter, the heater element plug, assorted wires running to...things... and a half-dozen other navigation hazards.

    A modern engine about to be put into a lobsterboat. Note the black bonnet over the top of the engine. WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE?

     Well, it's quieter, anyhow. Those Detroits are a touch noisy, and they fling oil about like an angry monkey armed with a thanksgiving dinner in his guts.  Our pump engines on the HQ do leak oil, like any diesel. After 5 years, there's a few drops come out over the course of the 350 hours between oil changes. Of course, they don't like to start when it's cold, even with a block heater running, and they cough and burp and fart for the first 5 minutes when they do start in the winter.
     Progress.

     Maybe I'm just getting to be an old fart.



    YES. 

    No. 

     

    Thursday, June 29, 2017

    made my day.

    Yesterday we were bunkering a Czech-flagged tanker.

     First one I've ever dealt with- the ship was Czech-run, Czech-owned and Czech crewed.

     Coincidentally, yesterday the Czech government acknowledged their citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms.

    “Citizens of the Czech Republic have the right to acquire, retain and bear arms and ammunition.”


    This is certainly the most notable news of today. While this legislation still needs to pass the Czech senate, given their government's position as being broadly defiant of the EU's creeping stranglehold on members' internal lawmaking, this looks to be something that can happen, and I hope it does. Citizens of this region are very concerned about the muslim incursion into Europe, and this does come at an opportune time, with tensions so heightened. 

     Well, I wish them well, and I had a great conversation with the ships' engineer. He talked about the revolution that saw his country split into several independent states and nation-states, and how optimistic he is for the future. I thought it was interesting that while the issue forcing the Czech government to allow muslim colonization was coming from Brussels, this is only the latest source of discontent over EU rule, not a stand-alone issue, however, he also told me that he was concerned that it might happen anyway, the EU leadership being made up of people who he felt would be more than willing to invade a member state who was getting out of line. 

    edit- special thanks to reader Jonathan for discreetly reminding me to read what I write and edit the dumbs out. Hopefully he was one of the first few people to read this post, which has since been corrected to reflect his reminder. 

    Tuesday, June 27, 2017

    Thursday, June 22, 2017

    ups and downs

    Well, I finally had a bog-standard watch yesterday, and it was really nice. Just a regular-length watch, with a quick bunkering job to a cruise ship, followed by a little free time, which I spent getting my books in order and doing some tidying up out on deck. Just a couple of weeks of being out of our hands, and I already lost the beat as far as things go on here. Normally, I know roughly when maintenance cycles are due, and little jobs need to be done- plus, having deep familiarity with the way things are and the way you like things to be, it becomes easier to stay on top of things in general.

         One of my pet peeves is having worn mooring lines. Doing what we do, we have mooring lines to hand nearly everywhere. There's so much variability in our work- visiting 300-400 so unique ships a year, each requiring us to moor alongside according to what they've got available for mooring points, our mooring lines wear at different rates. Some lines get used more than others, and over the course of months and years, you get to watch a line go from shiny and sleek to fuzzy to frayed, you might cut and resplice the eyes a few times (or have them ripped off bodily by an overenthusiastic tug) and then it's time to take the line out of service. Situational awareness is important, but just being there is important too. Having eyes on the scene, you know?

        So, when I got back the other day, the mooring lines were dumped in a pile and tarped over to keep blasting grit out of them in the shipyard. This is a good thing, but they were dumped in a pile midships, so we got to drag them back into place, and lines ended up in places other than where they originated, which is fine, but as they're in varying stages of use, a 140-foot middle-aged line is not ideal in a spot where we tend to use the line as a backing line at anchorages. A new, 200-footer is better, so we don't run out of room and the line is more robust. So I've been playing musical mooring lines every watch, shifting things, being anal-retentive, probably. Sweaty work, but good work... and I guess that's the theme this week.
           I don't remember 12-16 hour days kicking my ass this hard, though. Anno domoni is a real bitch.

    Wednesday, June 21, 2017

    ...on a dime

    Holy dogshit, I'm beat.

          I'm back on the HQ. It's glorious. She was in yardbird hands and then destined to be laid up, but a change in plans sent me to her 4 hours before a job was scheduled. She's still ugly and verklempt  but I was under the impression that I wouldn't see the HQ again, and the new barge was tough. Crazy small and uncomfortable... but whatever, I'm BACK!  At least for now. Bunkering got busy again.

     So it's been nonstop work for a few days. Long days on the little beater barge I was on, then a surprise shift over here. The quarters were trashed, but they're coming along, and we're already making money for daddy. Some Dbags took a 5-finger shopping trip and I'm missing some tools and rope and such, but that's par for the shipyard. ANyhow, It's been a couple of 16+ hour days in a row, so I'll keep it short. My crew is still on the old barge, so I've had fill-in guys who didn't really know the business. Can't sleep like that, but I got a good guy on here for a few days, and I'll sleep the sleep of the comfortable.


       There's a Brazilian expression that translates to "My bed hugs me" to describe when you're bone tired and terribly sore, and the bed feels like a dopamine shot directly to the pleasure center of the brain... you know that feeling? Most of us have that feeling maybe once every 5 years... last night was my turn, when I got into my soft, clean bed in my own quarters, and could sleep without earplugs in.

     It was funny, my boss was apologetic that I had no time to fire up the gens,  test the pumps, and get the AC running, put away my groceries and start clearing the deck for work. It's still shamefully untidy, but better. I'm getting there. My back and shoulders are miserable, but damn if I'm not whistling while I work. Good to be back at the HQ.

    Friday, June 16, 2017

    RIght In The Feels

    Summer during my college years meant lobstering and going to Maine. I'd spend the spring season setting out lobster pots with Mr. D, my high school English teacher, fish a while, and then head to Maine for 3 months, there to live in a cabin and work at my university's remote biological field station.

        A field station is a simplified laboratory for natural science study. In the case of  'up the College'  ( the local downeasters' way to reference the field station) the Friedman Field Station was a central chow hall/lecture hall/dry laboratory and a 'wet' laboratory (with running sea water and tanks available, piped in), plus about 20 cabins with electricity but no running water or appliances. Bathrooms and showers were about a 1/4mi from my cabin, as was the chow hall. This was all located in an isolated town way, way up in downeast maine, about 7 hours north of Boston, and about 30 minutes from Canada.

       I loved it. Oh, there was the usual college-era growing pains to be dealt with, but I instantly fell in love with the region. I'd move there in a heartbeat, but it'd kill my wife. She's not a country girl, and the winter there is LONG and damn cold.





     I saved my money as I could, and in the off season, while in college, sometimes in the winter and spring I'd take a bus to Bangor, and the little coastal passenger van that ran to the region, about a 3 hour ride from Bangor, was cheap enough, and I'd spend the weekend in Eastport.
      If you're not familiar, Eastport is a sleepy little downeast 'city' of 5,000 people located on a couple of islands connected by causeways to the mainland. I fit in better there than I did in my own hometown, to be truthful, and made some friends during my college years.



    After I gave up on being a scientist by trade and went back to fishing and started working on ships,  and it being a small world, the chief mate on the New River, the ship I spent 8 years on, was from Eastport. We knew some of the same people, and have been good friends since. I spent 2-3 weeks a year at his house up until I moved to Florida.

     Well, even though poor Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife would be a popsicle if I moved her up there, I still dream about it. I've never seen a more beautiful part of the world, and, as lovely and enjoyable as my home in Florida is, it's lovely in an exotic way, not in a 'this is perfect for me' way.

     I still look at real estate up in that area a couple of times a year, just killing time online.

     My alma mater closed the field station 2-3 years ago. Demographics change, and science is just expensive as hell to teach, so the real money is in transgender Southeast Asian Studies and other grievance mongering bullshittery. You don't have to pay the useless motherfuckers who teach that fake social science shit squat since they are as useless as tits on a tree and only suitable for use as firewood and coffeefetching, and there's no shortage of WASP girls from middle-class broken homes to fill up the roster at $40,000 a year.

     I knew the field station was closed. I didn't know it was for sale, ridiculously cheap for what it is, but slightly out of my range, considering it's not winterized.

        I need for either my 2nd career as the world's first middle-aged plus-sized male underwear model to take off, or to play the lottery more. I'll always have the memories, but visiting the field station was always something I enjoyed as an alum.



    http://dueeast.com/Listings/Detail/1938

    Tuesday, June 13, 2017

    Dat's Hot

    Dang it's hot today.

     97 degrees, sunny, and we're taking a load of black oil that is coming in at 135 degrees.

     I threw a pack of frozen turkey kielbasa on a tank top (Painted black) and forgot about it for about an hour. When I came back, the plastic had melted away, and the skin was crispy on the spot where it lay.

     So I unpackaged it and turned it, came back in an hour when it was done. Later on I'll saute some vegetables and make a stir fry.

    Friday, June 9, 2017

    Where's The Love (for this barge)?

    I can't bring myself to like this barge, so love is right out.

             You might hate the work you're doing on a good boat. You might love it. Same with a bad boat, but it's a lot harder to enjoy your work when you're cursing the builder who, say, put a trip hazard just so, or made it impossible to walk where you really need to walk.

          This hopefully temporarily-assigned barge we're on is impossible to love. Knowing it's probably not going to be our home for very long, we also haven't really taken ownership of it in a committed fashion. The last few men to manage it were abusive at worst, benignly neglecting it at best. Oh, she'll pass inspection, but no one has gone the extra mile to make it a home, or to make it anything other than a place to load and discharge oil, with a campsite located in a cramped and filthy berthing space. It ain't Bristol Fashion, that's for sure.

     Well, we've got it hygienic, at least, now, but there's a miasma. Can't get the smell out of the berthing. I'm thinking mildew under the decking and cabinets, and the like. I don't like badmouthing coworkers, but what the fuck.

               I had a similar barge when I first started with my employer 8 years ago. Similar condition, too. No one wanted that one, either, but my then-port captain prompted me early, promising me that if I gave him a 100% effort and a year, he'd see me into something bigger and nicer after. Over the next year, with needle gun, paint, supply requests and a couple thousand man-hours (we weren't so busy in those days) I made that barge nice. Nicer. I mean, the quarters were awfully small, and the head and bunkroom are... cramped. I've always tended towards if not claustrophobia then claustro-hateia. I hate being confined.

           I can't love this design. Few can. It pays the bills, and to be fair, the shithouse on my old similar barge was better laid out. My shoulders could fit in the toilet space, for example, so I didn't have to launch the Brown October of a morning while looking like I'm water-skiing.

     If we were to use a dog analogy, this barge is a Pitbull: wide, heavy, stubby, rugged, ill-tempered, not agile and hard to work with, pretty good at what it was meant to do, but also constantly biting the guy on the leash and not something you'd want to expose to the unwary. The HQ on the other hand, is a Sheepdog. More streamlined, reliable, a bit less beefy but taller and made for long days of work, basically good-natured and good looking when you take the time to clean it up. Something you'll remember always for it's pretty ways.

    I've fished on boats I couldn't love, where you can't trust the boat, and even when the fishing's good, you're still on edge in some corner of your mind. I have that feeling 24 hours a day here. The noises and vibrations that speak as to the operations, conditions and the hundred little things, the language of boats, doesn't really work here. Oh, it has its' ways, certainly. The resonance of certain vibrations that tell you even in your sleep that an engine isn't right, or that there's air, or a pump is being starved, those things that translate into situational awareness, they're there, but they're not the same. The gestalt of being a mariner isn't here, and that's an issue- working on a barge that doesn't leave port is a starvation diet for the soul; doing so on a barge that constantly bruises you, where you can't cook and enjoy it,  can't sleep soundly, can't eat like a civilized person, can't have a moment for a private conversation with a loved one, can't take a god-damned shit in peace- how can you love that?
     It's a paycheck, and thank God for it. But it's costing me something that I never expected, too. I no longer feel content.  


    We Go

    Damn, it's busy.

     The past week has been nonstop, with one 6-hour exception. I wake up, eat, go on watch and load or discharge. I cook 2-watches' worth of food when we're underway between jobs, which, in NY, means only 15-45 minutes from berth to ship and back. Finish watch, hand it off to my relief, and go to my bunk. Wash, rinse repeat. Every other watch, I shower.


     It's been back-to-back jobs. Our office calls, pesters us to finish as they've scheduled our next job 30 minutes before we finish the current one. We work, have watch change, heat up whatever is already cooked and eat on the fly. I wrapped a cold chicken breast in a napkin last night and ate it while topping of tanks. That was dinner. That was the only time I wasn't running around. I had to stay literally on the top of the tanks.

     So, we're hustling. With the fill-in barge we're not sleeping much, so fatigue has been an issue. We've got some broken equipment on board, but no time to get it fixed until we actually can't do our jobs, I guess.

     So it goes. Anyhow, no real time to write, or inspiration to do so. I can't even take a dump in peace right now. The fucking bathroom is so small that my shoulders don't fit in the stall, so I have to stretch out like I'm doing wheelchair yoga.

     Kinda hating life right now. Grateful I am still working in this economy, but I feel like an old man. My hips, shoulders and knees hurt like hell.

    Monday, June 5, 2017

    Eyes In The Boat sounds good now

    There was an expression I got thoroughly sick of, after hearing it  multiple times during training classes and in my first two sea voyages.

     "EYES IN THE BOAT!"

         It's an important lesson. Pay attention to your immediate environment, which is where the action that can help or hurt you is likely to be found.

               Once I knew enough to not hurt myself tying my own shoes while on a ship, I didn't hear that expression anymore. At some point the lesson sticks anyhow. The Near Misses or close calls, little saves, things like that, come from situational awareness, specifically, focusing on the immediate environment. In my case, the floating metal tub I'm on, and all the valves, engines, trip hazards, ropes and pulleys, shit like that, which need to be just so for life to go smoothly out here.


         Hawsepiper's Afloat Global HQ/ Money Making Machine is in the shipyard, and with bunkering in the northeast being the healthiest sector of what has been a paltry spring oil season, my company transferred us to a cramped but functional barge for now, to keep us going. Normally, shipyard is a chance for us to do deep maintenance, which will get done by shipyard and company staff, even while we're not there, but some projects we were excited about, quality-of-life stuff, won't get done.

     So it goes. We're working, Many are not.

      We've been watching with horror the events going on in the larger world, in places like London, and in the US, with our toxic and often asinine political games. All the whining and gnashing of teeth is annoying as hell.
               I make no secret that I have been miserable my first few days on here. Conditions are nowhere near as nice as we have on the HQ, which has been our home for the last 4 years, 11 months and 3 weeks and is a reflection of both the vessel's good bones and our hard work at making it comfortable. This barge, we just can't love it. I lived on an identical one for two years. My partner for 6. It's not so easy.
        Still, with an unfamiliar vessel and the sore shins and such that come from that, and the increased potential for trouble that comes from not being intimately familiar with the barge, it's been necessary to tune out the outside world some, to keep our eyes in the boat, and make sure we do a decent job. That's been something of a blessing. I haven't had the time or energy to shitlord it up online. Thank the Seven Mad gods Of The Sea that I'm on here with a good friend. When I worked on a barge like this 7 years ago, I didn't like my shipmate, and he just hated me. Bad times. At least with O and B, we're all friends and can sort of suffer through the month or so that the HQ is out of our hands together.



        

    Tuesday, May 30, 2017

    Back at it

    Welp, back to work, and we're back on watches.

            The HQ is in the shipyard, so we're on board my company's oldest, most rotten barge, with living quarters that are... well, like everyone's granny said, 'If you don't have anything nice to say..."



      Gonna be a challenge to be my usual ray of fucking sunshine. So it goes. Good to be earning a paycheck, anyhow.

          I got some work done on my little model boat while I was home, too. I'm enjoying trying to downscale my woodworking skills, although hand-shaping complex curves in wood is a cast-iron bitch when you're working in such small increments. You can get away with a lot more with larger work, that's for damn sure. 


     The rudder is just two notched lengths of brass rod stock and some sheet brass that I rounded over using a dime as a radius. I pulled out my soldering gun and soldered it, much like you'd sweat a length of copper pipe.
     Soldering is one of those skills that I thought would be instinctual, you know, inborn expertise to nerds, like how Salmon can find their birth river or how baby sea turtles know to run for the sea. Turns out, no. Luckily, I learned that a long time ago, and, while it's been 15 years since I picked up a soldering gun, I still can do the work.



    The little rounded frames and the windowed piece were covered in extruded PVC, which is like a glueable formica that takes paint well.  This piece will eventually be the wheelhouse.




    I pulled out the soldering gun and some 1/8 and 1/16th brass rod stock, and soldered the handrails. Bending them to a uniform shape is a pain in the balls with such small, fine stock, and since I turned my hands into handsburger when I was a kid, fine work like even writing my own name is uncomfortable. Luckily, non-repetitive work like sitting with a 3rd hand and a soldering gun doesn't hurt so much as I have a short timeline to get things into place before my hands start shaking from the effort.









      I made the windows out of an old transparency sheet for an overhead projector. Just painted one side in black, and the unpainted side becomes a nice glossy dark window that I could cut to shape. The window frames were 1/16" strips of PVC superglued in place. The sidelights are just cast pot metal, and their boxes are painted pieces of 1/32 ply shaped and glued to pieces of leftover brass rod stock from the handrails.  The horn is cast metal and the searchlight is cast polyurethane with a perspex lens. Roof of the house is vacuum-formed PVC that I cut and sanded to shape, but that came as a mostly-finished piece, thankfully.

     I made the windows out of an old transparency sheet for an overhead projector. Just painted one side in black, and the unpainted side becomes a nice glossy dark window that I could cut to shape. The window frames were 1/16" strips of PVC superglued in place.

     I was really disappointed in how the trimwork in blue came out on the platform for the stairs. The piece itself is just sanded 1/8th basswood plywood, but the edges were terrible end-grain splintery.  I soaked them in superglue, resanded and shaped them, but they took the paint weird, causing it to absorb unevenly. My fault, I should have sealed the wood with epoxy and puttied it. End result is that it looks like I had a seizure while painting. Next time I'm home I'll glue a piece of 1/8" PVC strip to the edge, and paint that, and it'll look nice again.

     It'll be a while before I go home again, however. Just got back.