Sunday, May 28, 2017

clean up and pack up

Well... shit, that went fast. I spent the weekend cleaning up my garage, going over Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's car (I ended up putting a new CV joint/axle in on one wheel) and tidying up my work area and generally getting the house in order. Back to NY and back to work tomorrow.

 More later

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Mr. Poppins I aint

Well, one week in, and I am enjoying being home very much, although there have been distractions. It's 6am, which is not my usual writing time. I woke up at 0500, a full 2 hours early for me. Strange, too, as I went to bed late. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife had dental surgery yesterday, which has left her... grumpy and uncomfortable, let's say, and I've been trying to fill her shoes.

 My wife is a housewife these days, with all that that entails. With just one teenage boy in the house, the workload isn't horrific, but it's certainly a full-time gig. We generally eat all of our meals together. I don't give a shit if we're eating pizza, we're sitting down with real plates and glasses, napkins and all of that shit. No TV or cell phones, either. It's just our thing, one of the ways we accommodate being separated so often by the work I do. Plus, when we do eat more casually, outside by the grill or whatever, we enjoy it all the more.
I don't take the hard work my wife does for granted, certainly, but I'm still astonished by how fast the damn kitchen gets dirty and how much crap just always needs to be washed. I have a thing about dirty dishes- I don't like not being able to see the bottom of the sink. My wife's the same. I do cook about 1/3 of the time when I'm home, but I rarely have to clean much. Division of labor and all that.
         The support and comfort structures we put in place as a compensation mechanism in dealing with regular absences of a married mariner are repeated by some of my coworkers, although so often we arrive at these measures independently. People are so different and variable in our natures and ways that how we provide or seek out comfort and support might vary in infinite ways, but the results tend to look somewhat similar. Variables like kids and things like that seem to make this more obvious, but that may have more to do with the lifestyle attracting people predisposed to certain things, anyhow. Regardless, it seemed like the older sailors I worked with had done some of these things, too, enough that I noticed and noted it, and over the years between then and now, I've mentioned it to some of the younger guys. I think it will be harder for them. Different times.

 There have been a few challenges in my first week home. With my company tightening belts and the oil transport trade in general looking like a shit show just now, I've been looking ahead wondering what the future holds for yours truly. If you follow any of the folks on my sidebar and bloglist, master mariners like Captain Jill have been struggling for a while to find stable employment. I've been lucky, but I am not longer able to take my great good fortune for granted. I need to be able to survive instability in our trade, and am starting to take notice. I need to take some more classes, be ready to sail on my license and up the tonnage, too, which I have been coasting with for a while.
Since I moved to Florida, pressure washing in the summer has replaced snow shoveling in winter. Spiderwebs in my screenhouse and mildew on my driveway and patio just won't do, and every 4 months I pressure wash outside, and it's a wet and messy job. I managed to blister my right foot pretty good last week, walking around with wet feet for a couple of hours, so I've had a gimp. The other night I slipped getting out of the shower, and strained my LEFT ankle, so I've had a double gimp. I've been shuffling like an old man or walking like a penguin, but also sitting on my couch at night, which is NOT my style. I tend to keep busier than that. So it goes. I have always been... maladroit, let's say.

I'm just starting to feel better today on that, although I'll be driving my kid to school in another hour and plan to stop at Home Depot on the way back, so we'll see how a little walking around goes.

Friday, May 19, 2017

home, thankfully

Well, I'm at home, typing this from my kitchen. It's nice to be here. I have done VERY LITTLE in the 2 full days I've been here, which has also been nice.

   I've got a full day of fixing and maintaining stuff going on.

 Work was pretty wonky the last few days. I was bummed to learn that I'll be reassigned to a new bunker barge when I get back. Not sure if it's temporary or permanent, yet, but we're going over as a crew, so that's positive, at least. I'm thankful to still have  a job. The past month has seen a LOT of layoffs and laying-up of fuel barges throughout the US, and it's finally reached the northeast, too. Lot of good people are getting sent home.
 I don't feel like writing more on this. While it's an interesting subject, it's also a business issue that my employer will have to be dealing with and I'd rather not throw gasoline on a fire without putting on some asbestos underwear first, thank you.

   At any rate, I turned 43 shortly before coming home. I've never much given a shit about my birthday, anyhow. When I got home, however, my wife and kid surprised me a lot with presents, a cake, decorations, etc. Very cute, really. My wife kicks ass.

 My kid especially, in this case. He found some old albums, and, after laughing about my appearance as a college student (long, big hair. I played bass in a heavy metal band, God help us), he painted a picture of me and gave it to me when I got home.

Not my finest hour, appearance-wise. I do miss my old hairline, though. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Homecoming 2017

OK, I've got things back to abnormal here at the HQ. My right-hand man O is here, and with just 6 days to get through before it's time to go home, we've had the time to work on some medium-priority projects, so the HQ is in good standing overall.
 Time to hit it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Opportunity lost, or...I'm just here for the quiet

I've got a shiny new tankerman here on board Hawsepiper's Afloat Global HQ/ Sausage Emporium.

 O, my regular tankerman and erstwhile 2nd man, is working elsewhere this week. He's about ready to be promoted, so he's filling in as Big Boss Man elsewhere for a week.

 In the meanwhile, I've got a newly minted tankerman, fresh out of training, someone I'd normally not want on board. No fault of the person in question, but the HQ is where my company sends oddball jobs and the odd 'we really can't screw this one up' work. Not to say that we're special- we're pedantic and reliable, that's pretty much our thing. We're the Honda Civic or Ford Taurus of the bunker fleet, I guess. As such, between O, Big B and me, we know a little and give enough of a shit that jobs get done, the barge is in workmanlike fashion and good repair, and we stay on top of things that tend to bite one on the ass. We're not setting records or breaking new ground, that's for sure. But it's enough for us, and it's not an easy thing to set the proper dynamic to do good work and to create a work environment that's comfortable, stable and satisfying, with an absolute minimum of having to put up with annoying shit.

 So, new guys can fuck up any one of those things, between knowledge, drive, habit and personality mix.

 I'm very happy to say that my fill-in guy is a good 'un. He knows the fundamentals, knows what he doesn't know, and learns fast. He's also a worker. No shit, I told him to take a watch off while we were at anchor, to relax. I was doing some therapeutic painting (I painted the deck in the gen house. Some dingleberry nonskidded it when it was brand new. Absolutely retarded. This is the first time it's been painted since it came out of the shipyard, 10 years ago), and he's not permanent crew, and there was nothing pressing to be done- we keep things in order as we can, after all.
    Well, he went down in my afterpeak, and organized the filters, spares and racks that hold our bolt bins, pipe fittings, things like that. A job I've been putting off for a while because the afterpeak is messy and dank, and easy to put off. I've got to say, I was pretty tickled by his initiative.

 Look, what I do, it's not rocket science. I've had a few tug captains and mates bitch that we're overpaid for what we do. They get offended that  the guys who were their AB's and deckhands last year are making money at or near parity with the mates and engineers this year. So it goes. Economics is a thing.
         Green tankermen or tankermen evaluees (experienced guys who come from other companies) come in one of three general flavors; 1) guys that captains wanted off and away from their tug but who were reluctant to go, 2), people who don't like people, ranging from autistic to misanthropic 3) people who are in the middle of the bell curve of intelligence who don't want or aren't quite able to be an engineer or small boat officer.
 I'm in the #2 crowd for sure. That's my burden. I just don't like working with people too much, which is one of the best parts of my job- I get lots of time by myself, and that, coupled with the environment we foster on board the HQ, means that I work with like-minded people who just get it, both on the job and as shipmates, and we don't annoy each other. Best of all worlds. New people can fuck up that dynamic.

       I tend to find that newly-released tankermen and evaluees are undertrained for what we do. Bunkering, I mean. Fundamentals are best taught during dock-to-dock work, not in bunkering. I wrote earlier that it's not rocket science, and that is surely so. However, it is a job that can be done adequately, poorly or done well, and there is a LARGE gap between done well and any other condition. It doesn't take long for a tankerman to be released (ready to work solo, qualified to stand watch as Person-In-Charge (that's a thing), 1,000 to 2,000 hours of training. However, a green tankerman might be able to do the job, but experience alone teaches harshly the rules governing contract-specific compliance for charterers, personnel and conflict-resolution skills, dealing with language barriers, regulations and paperwork, the detail stuff. Those things are introduced by the tankermen trainers, men who are tasked with teaching new tankermen and evaluating the castoffs from other companies who end up infesting ours.
    If you can't tell, I'm generally not overwhelmed by the job that some of the trainers do. We have some guys who really do well, and some who are just awful, but volunteer. Unfortunately, where I fall squarely in the "does not play well with others" camp mentioned above, so do a lot of guys. 's one of the big attractors of the jobs. So there are plenty of smart fellas who just can't or won't train new guys.

 Periodically, I'll be plagued with a deckhand who wants to get a jump on training and who takes an interest and spends a few hours on deck with me while I'm carrying out a cargo discharge. I think it's a great idea, but it absolutely ruins my day. I don't like not being able to focus on my job, and having to explain and answer questions. For that reason, I know that I do NOT have the personality profile to be a tankerman trainer. I'd be in hell, absolutely miserable. Honestly, it would make me start thinking about doing something else for work. I enjoy what I do, but not so much that I would continue on if I hated the idea of getting out of bed in the morning, and I'd rather stick a gun in my mouth than to do my job AND have to talk about it all day with no alone time.
    I tolerate the occasional deckhand who wants to shadow me for a watch. It's not their fault, and if I were an asshole to them, it could poison them against bucking for promotion, and I don't want to do that, to be that person. But when it's over, I end up reading in bed for 3-4 hours before I can sleep. It just makes me desperately unhappy.

 My boss, the port captain ashore, once threatened to get me into a training position. I know it'd be the final step between doing my job and moving into an office job ashore, which I sometimes think about, but I explained why it'd be a nightmare for me. He countered with a reminder that I'd be getting paid more. I asked him if I could pay him NOT to saddle me with a trainee.
      Thing is, I know I'd be good at it if I enjoyed it.  I've done some teaching in biology, and I've lectured to college students and at conferences on the work I used to do. I actually enjoyed it then, but not now. I have a little guilt about it, as the men who are coming up have such a crap shoot when it comes to getting assigned to a good or a bad trainer. Plenty of guys overcome it, but they pick up bad habits, and we all know how hard it is to shake off a bad habit once it becomes habitual.

 So, at any rate, the new guy, while green as grass and hesitant, knows his shit, as much as a green tankerman can, and has to be schooled now through experience and practice.  He's also a decent shipmate, seems to know when to leave me be when I'm enjoying a quiet moment. I've had to get on him to get enough sleep a few times, but that's part of being younger and interested in your new environment. I want to foster that interest, so that's OK, but pushing him to sleep enough to be alert for the next watch is a good thing, and I think he knows it now. I used to do the same thing.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hey. Hey! Listen to me!!

...mad points to anyone who can identify the song intro I pulled that from.

I spent some time today going back and forth on a friends' Fecesbook post about health care. He's a liberal Republican (I suspect he believes himself to be moderate), a Massachusetts Republican with libertarian leanings, definitely above average intelligence. Great guy. We agree on many things, although he's to my left, but politics has never really mattered to me with friends, anyhow.

 So yeah, I revisited the post a few times yesterday, contributed some thoughts.

 After a post where I was accused of being 'monstrous' (by someone I've never met) for suggesting that taxing income to pay for health care may have unintended consequences, and that economics very clearly shows that subsidizing a private industry never drives down costs, there was some pearl-clutching and name calling, mostly at me and other 'taxation is theft' minded people.

 Name calling means I'm either dealing with a tard or have made my points, generally, except where I'm being called an asshole, which I am, and which I am on Fecesbook even more, in which case it's being honest.

 There was a glorious moment of autistic screeching when I used the phrase 'dead wood' to describe the unproductive class, because now apparently that's offensive...something about a Chinese prison camp where medical experiments were carried out and the poor bastards who got dissected were referred to by that name.The term iteself comes from maritime usage, like most things, with a parallel origin that's literal, describing dead wood.

 Oh, it's the part of the ship's upper keel, at the stem, against which the heels of the forward frames are abutted if you care.

 At any rate, once my friend inserted that bit of trivia, I was the devil for not caring or, apparently not being appropriately ashamed of myself.

 Yeah, I'll reconsider when gay means happy again or no one can say 'gas' because gas was used to kill people in concentration camps.

 Anyhow, I was immediately thinking this, but was able to move on.

 My point in writing this is that 1), thank you for your patience, because I know you didn't come here to read political shit, and 2), when I was being called a monster and such for not agreeing with all the leftists, my friend chided the name-caller, and asked him to stop, but he wrote something that struck me funny. I'll have to paraphrase, but it was something about 'we'll never find solutions if we resort to name calling.'

 That actually killed my interest in the post. We weren't finding solutions, we were choosing sides and speaking our minds. No one of the hundred or so commenters changed their mind or was going to change their mind, so what was the point? Me, I have a couple semesters in college  and grad school in economics and no training or background in health care policy. Neither did anyone else there. It wasn't a MENSA meeting, or the G7, or a Scientology... meeting? service? I don't know what those dingleberries call getting together.

 Sadly, we didn't find any solutions, except that I got blocked I'm sure by some folks I never interacted with before.  I didn't even get to unlimber my id and start tearing into people. Must be getting soft. But then again, we weren't there to find solutions. I was there to pass time while my lunch was cooking, and other people were probably taking shits at work and the like.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

headache my ass

I've been getting tension headaches for a while now. Back of the neck, distracting, occasionally nauseating tension headaches. Everyone gets them at some point. Right now is my turn.

     So, today we're between jobs, moored at our mooring buoy. The last couple of jobs have been pretty rotten, and both of our generators were acting the fool at some point, too, so there hasn't been a lot of sleep for yours truly. Last night I was able to catch up some, and woke up to a bright, sunny morning to relieve the watch, who went to bed, leaving me in perfect peace. Right away the headache started. Seriously? Usually I get a few hours and then it sets in, you know, when things happen. But headache or not, it really was a pretty morning. I called Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife to check in, talk about our plans for the day, etc, etc.

 After breakfast, I cracked a can of paint and painted the deck in our generator house. I got halfway through, which was a good piece of work. Somewhere along the way, my headache went away.

 I actually miss doing mindless work on a boat. Losing yourself in the repetitive motions and simple tasks can be very soothing. I used to find that I was able to think through a lot of problems when I was needle gunning or painting. All these years later, it still holds true. It was a really nice morning.

 Headache started up after, but it went away when I spliced one of the hawsers on deck. Hmmm. I sense a trend.

   I'm past the halfway point of this voyage already. The first two weeks were steady and busy with enough lay time that we could get our maintenance and shopping done- optimal balance, you know? This week no one wants bunker oil. It's disconcerting to have a full 24hr day off. I'm not complaining a bit. I was happy to get a bunch of things done here on board. But with fuel so cheap, I'm surprised that people don't want more of it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

boo frickin' hoo

You can identify a crisis when the people who tell you there is a crisis act like there is a crisis.

Al(Jazeera) Gore and some people who play make pretend on film for a living notwithstanding, I'm apathetic because I have a half-decent background as a scientist, not in spite of it.

 Anyone who comments about consensus can 1) Kiss my big white ass, and 2), expect that I'm going to come to your house, beat you with a phrenology textbook, then sterilize you because Eugenics.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


It's been a busy few days here at the HQ. I'll cue up some awesomeness at some point, but in the meanwhile, here's one of my favorite filler posts... a nice picture of Sofia Vergara eating a banana.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Liveblogging the stupid

edit:  once the CG got out of our hair, things went fine. Only took 6 hours longer than it should have. 

Well, this is happening now, so it might be a short post.

    It's blowing hard and raining here in NY harbor today. Sloppy weather.

 We loaded a modest 1000 tons of heavy fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel for a tanker to use as fuel. Spent last night hanging out at a lay berth waiting for the ship. They showed up on time, and we came alongside, made all fast. I woke up just as we were sending up lines. The weather is usual NY harbor springtime shitty. blowing good, tide opposite to the wind, and a decent swell from the fetch at the anchorage. Rotten working weather but nowhere near as bad as it gets at times.

 The ship dragged ass everywhere- getting the diesel hose connected, arguing over paperwork... the usual when we deal with eastern Europeans. Slow and grumpy. Mark 1 bunker transfer.

 A little lube oil tanker came alongside the other side of the ship. He only had a couple hundred gallons of lube oil to transfer, but the coast guard first wanted them to only transfer one product at a time, so I had to sit and warm my thumbs in my own exhaust, to so speak. I called my office, said what was up, and sat down with my book.

 20 minutes later, a VERY stressed out dispatcher called me, told me we had to break down, the coast guard wanted one guy at a time alongside the ship.

 Well, that's shitty, late to make that sort of call, as the wind and tide were now at loggerheads, and it would be safer for me to just sit and wait than to break down and come alongside a second time to the ship, when we're more likely to part lines and play bumper cars with two loaded tank vessels a second time.
    Sadly, I don't make policy. So the tanker disconnected my hose, the tug came alongside and made up, and yanked us off the ship to drift and make circles for an hour or so while a 60-foot runabout that weighs less than my drinking water tank on here does his thing. Then we get to come alongside again in this rotten weather and do it all over again.

     I've got the time to complain. This makes no sense to me. By far, the most dangerous evolution today for us is for the stressed out tug captains to maneuver alongside a tanker at anchor, while we're partially loaded, and the coast guard is making us do exactly this. Four times. Twice to come alongside while loaded, once to sail loaded, once to presumably sail empty. In heavy rain, a wind that is just shy of a gale, and with dark approaching now, certainly dark when we sail. Fuckers. Is this more or less safe than having us swinging on one side and a teeny lube tanker that might weigh all of 15 tons on the other?

 Well, mine is not to wonder why I guess. I really feel bad for the tug operators tonight. Beyond sending up some extra mooring lines and tending them faithfully, my M.O. shouldn't much change. Meanwhile I can HEAR the tug operators losing their hair from here.

 So it goes. I can't be more than annoyed, really. Of all the fucked up jobs I've done, this one is merely the most recent. If the Coast Guard wasn't involved, it'd be fine, but I guess they can't bat a thousand from the comfort of an office building.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Get thee to sea

First off, check this out.

( - Four decades ago, in the mid-1970s, young American adults--in the 18-to-34 age bracket--were far more likely to be married and living with a spouse than living in their parents’ home.
But that is no longer the case, according to a new study by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“There are now more young people living with their parents than in any other arrangement,” says the Census Bureau study.
“What is more,” says the study, “almost 9 in 10 young people who were living in their parents’ home a year ago are still living there today, making it the most stable living arrangement.”
The Number 1 living arrangement today for Americans in the 18-to-34 age bracket, according to the Census Bureau, is to reside without a spouse in their parents’ home.

      Lots of folks attribute that to many different issues- and many of them are likely correct. The economy, education (and lack thereof), evolution of the job market and competition for jobs with low-and-high skillset work being a globalized market for workers thanks to shitty enforcement and utterly retarded labor laws. I'm sure the answer is a laundry list of why Chad and Brittany are still living with Mommy or Daddy and their new stepmom/stepdad. 

...and that's part of the equation, too. Intact nuclear families are the most stable and successful, from start to finish. The numbers are absolutely ironclad, and also shrinking as they have been for 40 years or so. 

           Part of me feels that a lot of this is the chickens coming home to roost. I have plenty of friends from blue-collar backgrounds who are VERY successful tradesmen, generally making more money than anyone without a graduate degree in a STEM field could ever hope to make... that is, if they've avoided addiction, alcoholism (to a lesser extent) or being a teenage parent, which has been killing or hobbling a LOT of people where I grew up. 
  If a parent isn't strong enough to stop their child to go in the hole for a master's degree in Transgender Asian Dance Studies, I figure they either don't much like their kids, are a baby boomer and perhaps overly sanguine about the job market for bright young minds without marketable skills, or lack in credibility themselves. Either way, not my circus, not my monkeys. A child will try and stay in your home forever now, like a cat, but doesn't have the decency to die a few years after you get tired of caring for it. 

 I was late getting out. I moved back into my parents' house after grad school, while I was getting my shit together after transitioning from being a normal respectable citizen to being a commercial fisherman. I got out after a short time. I'll forever appreciate my parents' forbearance, and I was and am ashamed that I stayed there for almost a year.

 Life happens, and life changes happen. One of my brothers suffered a spinal injury years ago, and his life went in the toilet after. Lost everything, had to start all over, but without his health. He's my mom's full-time caregiver now although at first it was mostly the other way around. That sort of living situation makes sense in an awful, pragmatic way. 

 Now, my nephew is 18, and plans to go to college, but doesn't plan on going in the hole more than necessary. So he's working on one of my employer's tugboats here, almost a year after finishing high school, and mostly saving his money. He's leaning towards a career in medicine, but he's saving his money and working hard... for 2 weeks out of the month at a VERY healthy salary as an Ordinary Seaman on a tug. He bought a luxury European sedan last week, a car that I can't afford today, precisely because he could pay cash for it, as he has no kids, no mortgage and no student loans yet, and it should last him well past college. He'll likely not again be able to afford or justify spending that kind of money for another 20 years, if ever.  I'm jealous.
 I didn't even own a car at his age. I hadn't discovered tugboating, either, though. He's 18, lives with his parents when he's home, and is a solid citizen and hard worker. He's got that blend of humor, empathy and intelligence that you want in a family doctor. I hope he doesn't go career out here unless he decides it's a passion worth pursuing, but while his peers are working at Starbucks, movie theatres or smoking weed full-time and dicking off, he's hard at work, and should his own career choices prove unsatisfying, he'll have a back-up career path that can support a family. 
 Somehow I don't think that he'll be raiding the change jar on the counter at ma's house to go down to the Coinstar machine at the grocery store to buy a dime bag.  But then again, his parents drilled into him the need to work and be self-sufficient, to choose training in something that pays,  a true anodyne against what seems to be happening to all these lost Millennials.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Little boat update

I was able to put some time into the little boat while I was at home this past time. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife had a busy schedule, and my kid is still in school, so I was able to knock out the honey-do list in a few days, signed over one arm, one leg to Home Depot and get things shipshape and do the heavy lifting that often gets put off while I'm out getting baked on fuel fumes at work.

 I spent 30-45 minutes in the morning and again at night on the first week just filling nicks in the hull, priming, then wet sanding, etc etc until diminishing returns made me call 'good enough' and I painted the hull a semi-gloss black- the ultimate color for showing off dings, nicks, surface irregularities and lack of fairness. It came out respectable.

I set it outside in the sun to bake all day after the paint set. The black shows off the dust I was kicking up. 

  Between the wood, fiberglass, epoxy and paint, the hull is up to 6lbs now. At 4 1/2 feet, that's pretty light. I'll need at least 50lbs of ballast when the time comes to finish it.

 Over my second week home, I found time here and there to build the lower house, shape the curved front of the house up forward, and install a coaming in the hull so that the house will be removable (there will be a motorcycle battery under it) but snug enough to be waterproof the when set in place so I don't fill up the boat with any splashed water on deck.

The bowed front was made by joining the upper and lower frame up forward with 30 or so 1/4" sticks, then bondo'ing between them.

While I was gluing and screwing the lower house, I also mocked up a cardboard jig to shape the after deck raised platform that will cover the rudder compartment, and another one up forward in the bow. These were slow to come together, as I wasn't working off the plans, which don't quite capture the shape of the boat proper. I made them with a cutout piece of basswood ply and again with the 1/4" sticks glued down. I also had to reshape the cap rail over the fantail, as it was out of true- the boats back in the day had a complex bend to the sheer, and they're very elegant looking, and I wanted to do it justice, so I spend another day or two making dust by building up the cap rails and sanding them down again. 


Yes I am a big dork, thank you for noticing.

back to it

Sadly, no one will pay me to sit at home and do my own thing there, so I had to go back to work. Dove right in with a complex load and discharge combo right off the bat, so time is in short supply. Going to be a busy 36 hours.

 It was a great time home. We spent Easter right properly, for the most part, and I cooked a prime rib that was my new personal best. My wife looked askew at me for volunteering to cook Easter dinner, but prime rib requires a man's touch, IMHO. I did no disappoint.

 Anyhow, more later when I get a little more time.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Being an idiot saved my life!

Back before I was married and living in Margaritaville, back before I was dreaming of getting the hell out of the miserable low-class suburb I was squatting in to the west and and south outside of Boston, I was a commercial lobsterman, dirt poor, and sailed on an oil tanker in the wintertime. I lived with my two roommates, Johnny Sparks, an ironworker, and Spinach, a political hack at the time,  in a house we called 'The Pickle Jar.'   It was a pretty good life, but lonely at times, so I had a girlfriend and it was OK.
       My ex was a nice person. A professional, with a very healthy high-paying state job. I was in an honest-to-God stable, adult relationship. It was... pleasant, in the way that a businesses' foyer is pleasant, like a weekend outing sponsored by your employer is pleasant.
 Like golf is pleasant. That kind of pleasant. 

         My ex didn't like my friends. Oh, Johnny and Spinach she tolerated. My other friends, drinking buddies, not so much. She hated that I was a lobsterman with an underutilized STEM education, although I think she was attracted to my passion for the sea. Not that she shared it, but I don't think she had ever been exposed to someone who was professionally pursuing his lifelong dreams, and was actually good enough to make a living in doing so.

        I didn't know it, but I was unhappy. I'm not someone who can tolerate pleasant very long. I'd rather have challenge and struggle, and spectacular success or failure than mediocrity. And that's what my relationship was.

      One weekend my ex wanted to introduce me to one of her good friends, and so we went bowling, meeting at an alley close to her house, north of Boston. I took Spinach with me, because he was single too, and because he had more tolerance for pleasant than Johnny Sparks.

 Unsurprisingly enough, it was a pleasant night.
    We ended up going to a restaurant for drinks after. We piled into my ex's sedan, because my truck stank of bait, being a lobsterman's truck. After we had our drinks, my ex drove us back to my truck. I had to be up at 4:30 to go fishing, anyhow, and it was a 45 min drive home. Must have been about 9pm, and it was dark.

 And that's when I saw it. 

Now, let me break scene here and remind you, if you missed the constant stream of dick and fart jokes here on this blog, that  I have the maturity of a 12-year old, and normally know enough to keep it under wraps in polite company. I'm serious, too. The guys I work with are friggin' saints for putting up with my monkey ass. I'm VERY well educated, very articulate, very crude, vulgar and can turn on and off the social graces at will, though sometimes it happens at random, too, which is what happened on the night I'm talking about.

   Now, my ex, being a pleasant but somewhat snobby, selfish person (the spoiled only child of a high-end business executive), stuck Spinach and I in the back seat of her sedan so she could chat with her friend. I was at my peak strength at this point in my life, and at my peak size, too, so it was a pretty miserable ride.
     We were passing through Peabody MA, one of Boston's northern suburbs (and an unknown to me. Being from the South Shore, the North Shore was to be distrusted and avoided). The businesses were still open, and I was looking out the window to see where the hell we were.

 And there it was. It didn't register for a couple of seconds.

    That is an actual liquor store, located in the heart of Puritan Country, outside of Sodom, Boston, Massachusetts.

 ...I saw the sign, and I lost my shit. I'm talking, grabbed my buddy, then pointed and brayed like a donkey. I was laughing so hard at the unexpected humor that no noises were coming out of my mouth for lack of breath.  It took me until we got to my truck to stop giggling, and even then, after an exasperated and somewhat cold  goodnight from my ex, Spinach and I were still laughing about it.

  I failed to display the proper deference and gravitas with my ex and her friend, and that night was the beginning of the end for us. I heard about how embarrassed she was for quite a while. It was not pleasant.

 I still laugh when I see that picture. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife wouldn't get the imagery or the double-entendre without a full explanation, but she'd roll her eyes and chuckle, mostly at me acting like a child, but she's got a great sense of humor, and would never put me in sexile for irrational exuberance in front of her friends.

 At any rate, a year or so, I forget how long, after things wrapped up with my ex, I met my wife to be, and while the dick and fart jokes don't flow like wine when I'm home, out of respect for my wife, I'll sometimes get a giggle out of her at least.

Alternate Title: How Alcohol was both the problem and the solution!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Get the hell out my way

Did you know that the worst three airports in the US for delays are also the 3 airports that serve New York?

 I know this because the last time I got home on time I didn't have gray in my beard.

 3 hours and counting for my current weather-related delay. It stopped raining hours ago and the fog lifted shortly after breakfast. Now that we're approaching sunset, it's still fucked.

       God dammmit.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Eat the poop cake.

Well, another year passes. We bunkered the EMPIRE STATE for their spring cruise.

 The Empire State is the NY maritime academy's training ship. It's a well-preserved dinosaur from the golden era of US shipping, but make no mistake, this ship is elderly, and it's about to have a couple hundred 20-ish year old maritime students on board for a couple of months as they cruise to South America or Europe, make some port calls and learn how to drive a boat.

 I could write for a while on what the hell these poor pricks are going to do when they graduate, as there is already massive competition for unlimited-tonnage jobs on American ships- SUNY sends out some absolutely excellent grads, but the jobs are currently in tugboats and limited-tonnage work, mostly brown-water stuff, and they don't offer much in the way of it.

 My employer regularly recruits some grads each year. They have to spend a couple of years as Able-Bodied seamen on our tugs,  to learn how to do what we do, rather than sitting on a bridge spilling coffee for the watch AB to mop up in the dark, but they do make good towing officers once they learn what it is to work a workboat through experience.

 Well, at any rate, we bunkered the Empire state earlier this week, and as always, it was a bear.

 With a house mounted in the middle of the ship, and the heavy fuel manifold mounted at the base of the house on the weather deck, it's actually not a bad spot for us to moor up to them alongside- old ships have round, seakindly hulls, and not much parallel midbody, so they can be tough to safely come alongside and transfer fuel.

 The problem with the Empire State is the damn diesel oil. When the ship was built, they didn't NEED much diesel as they use today, as they didn't have environmental regulations delimiting fuel specifications, and they certainly didn't have Environmental Control Areas . To get diesel into their diesel tank, we have to connect to a fitting in a machinery space, directly over the tank, which is in the stern of the ship in the double bottoms, I believe. At any rate, our 100-foot diesel hose is nowhere near enough. We have to load two extra100-foot diesel hoses on board, connect them to my diesel hose and use the crane to send 40-foot bights of hose to the edge of their deck and 10-20 young kids will drag it bodily from the edge of the deck to the stern of the ship a couple hundred feet away from my own diesel manifold. We barely make it, and always, ALWAYS the last hose, my own hose for regualr service,  gets dented slightly, cutting its' service life shorter. I have never had a diesel hose reach replacement age (5 years), btb. 

   With so many students dedicated to marine engineering, they need to take part in bunkering too, so the engineer stations kids over each tank on the ship. In the era when ships like this were used, they had a LOT of small tanks to keep the ship in trim. at 50ish years old, the Empire State is elderly, and they're afraid to put much pressure on the fuel lines... or the students I suppose, so we have to pump the fuel with just one of my pump engines running only at idle speed- about 150 tons per hour, as we transfer 1500 tons of heavy fuel and 300 or so tons of diesel to them too. A smaller job by today's standards. 

 I was planning on taking plenty of pictures, but this year, along with constantly dealing with the engineer, who micromanages the fuel transfer, and the couple of hours it takes to connect the fuel hoses, we had heavy rain and some wind. It was just a shitty day. 

... and that's the problem. We do a pretty good job, and worse, all of us on here get along great with the chief engineer and the captain of the ship, who also always comes down to visit us for a bit and stretch his legs. They're great guys. I suppose they'd have to be, to deal with a couple hundred college kids in a tiny space and keep the right balance between discipline and teaching. 
      ... from my company's end, they use us, me, specifically, 75% of the time for this job. We do it OK, I guess, but it beats the hell out of us and causes a mess. We will take the poop cake and deliver it, perhaps with some mild bitching, but without having a tantrum over it, which has happened with other crews. No one likes delivering this particular poop cake.  I've got 200 extra feet of hose with no home, and disconnecting it makes a mess, plus there's no home for it, so it's coiled down and placed in the only spot where it won't get damaged, which is right in one of our walkways, so we get to trip over them for a week or two until someone sends a tug alongside to take them away. 
 It turns into a 16-20 hour day for us, and there's no avoiding it. 

 Oh, the ship uses a grade of fuel that no one stocks anymore, RME-180, so we make our own by blending RMG-380, standard heavy fuel oil, with ultra-low sulphur diesel. We blend it in our tanks by loading the diesel right on top of the heavy fuel oil (the proportions are calculated for us, and we adjust volumes by hand, using pen, paper and calculator, depending on the density and temperature of each product, in order to give us a known final volume and density. Sounds complicated, it's not really, but it is risky. If we fuck up,we own the fuel. No one will take back blended fuel, and the ship won't take improperly blended fuel. End result is that with our calculations, we have to run and squirt volumes of diesel, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, between our already semi-full fuel tanks. It's done at a jogging pace and with numbers and info relayed back and forth. I can do it by myself on deck, and like to, but this particular hull that is the current HQ is old school- laid out for simplicity and functionality, and I know how she likes to naturally feed some tanks faster than others, and can pinch down some tanks just so, so that no tanks finish up at the same time. 
 Oh, and this time, after the diesel cut, we had an additional heavy fuel oil cut to also blend into all the tanks on top of the diesel, to flushout the diesel in the terminal's pipeline, which normally carries just heavy fuel, plus a little extra to be sure the diesel is gone. So, proportioning that is another layer on the poop cake. In the rain. Uphill both ways. 
     Well, end result is that it was successful, and while we may have rode bitch on this job, we made money for daddy. 
Pictured: how I viewed the ops people who assign me the poop cake. 

 Every. Damn. Time. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Shifting Shipping patterns in NY

As I hinted at earlier in the week, we're seeing some changes in ship visits here in New York harbor. This is interesting because shipping traffic is such a bellwether for what the economy is doing.
 Now, I'm no trade analyst, and I'm also not documenting this info with much in the way of hard numbers. I'm reporting anecdotal observations, which are only one weak part of forming a picture of what's going on.

 Several things are happening at the same time. The Panama Canal expansion is complete, and shipping trade patterns are already adjusting, and in many cases, already adjusted. Some US ports are midway- or already finished in dredging their channels to allow for increased traffic and deeper draught ships. Presumably there's a sliding regime of scale and scope that allows for equilibrium between the two, but these programs are starting and finishing on their own time, so ports are coming onstream with their changed infrastructural capabilities on a continuous, chaotic basis. Must be fun for the shipping companies to deal with that.

 Hanjin Lines was a massive presence in the US, and their liner service between the Far East, EU and the US disappeared overnight when the company went tits up. And what a shit show it is. There's stacks of empty Hanjin containers at most terminals in the NY/NJ area cluttering up the place until buyers can be found. This was a serious disruption, but there are other companies with other ships all starving too, so the capacity was absorbed quickly. Economies of scale being a thing, and the fuel price crisis still being in recent memory, old-style Panamax ships are being scrapped before their midlife period even begins and newer and larger ships ordered back in the heyday of shipping construction are available.
   Awful lot of 100,000 ton container ships available or being scrapped. Wicked bahgen prices, too, like we used to say where I grew up.
          So the principle bottleneck here in port of NY/NJ has been the Bayonne Bridge, which is too low to allow new larger ships into the container ports of NJ, which have the infrastructure in place to handle super-size ships. (room, road access, and seriously big-ass container cranes). Some New Panamax or smaller ships can fit under the bridge at low tide, if they have a mast that can be articulated and lowered.
    This actually presented a real challenge when Hanjin went under. They had ships on the way to ports all over the world, and ports didn't want to take the ships- they weren't sure whether or not they'd be getting paid to empty the ships or whether or not the ships would be leaving their port since the company couldn't pay crew or buy fuel. On top of that, Hanjin's old Panamax-or better-sized ships could fit under the Bayonne bridge, but if they weren't going to be loaded with freight on the outbound leg, they would be too tall to get under the bridge. We had some ships anchored or slow steaming out in the ocean for a few days while they pondered what the hell to do.

 Well, since NY/NJ is pretty fucking broke after years of spendthrift government, they didn't have money to build a new Bayonne Bridge. So they're raising it up in what is either a brilliant or absolutely retarded delaying tactical scheme- I'm not sure which . You can read about it here.  This will allow larger ships to come into the ports on the far side of the bridge.
        We're already seeing a fair number of new post-panamax scale ships showing up here. With Hanjin's capacity up for grabs and container companies in the middle of their own crisis     any chance at making money, or, more accurately, losing money more slowly, had to be grabbed out of the vacuum left by Hanjin's passing. Chinese companies Yang Ming Lines and Evergreen have added liner service using some of their existing panamax fleets as a result, which is probably nice for them. Yang Ming is transitioning from monthly to weekly service, and Evergreen is still adding port visits too.
     With smaller ships, this also means more traffic, which is good for the pilots and and bums like me who rely on gassing up these beasts while they're here. I'm doing a LOT more full loads than ever before, servicing these ships, which also tells me that we're going to need bigger bunker barges too, eventually. Some of these ships are taking 6,000 tons of heavy oil, 500 tons of diesel and an equal amount of ultra-low sulphur fuel oil, which is diesel oil cut with a soupcon of cleaner heavy fuel oil. 

 Practically speaking, this is working out well for me. Chinese ships tend to have well-trained, disciplined crews who work fast and efficient together in teams. This means that I don't have to spend 2 hours watching a bunch of hung over surly Russian engineers using their thumbs for fart corks, berating the one 90-lb Filipino crewman trying to muscle 2,000lbs of fuel hose into position, or worse, the arab engineers who come down to my office 3 times over the course of 90 minutes insisting that I get up on his ship right now and connect my own hose to his ship. 
 Yeah, I know. Not very PC. If it wasn't truly a thing, I wouldn't be reporting it. 
          What all this means, big-picture-wise, is a mystery to me still. I know that on top of this Shepard's Pie of information, new fuel regs will drastically change things, too. Couple more years, fuel will get a lot cleaner and a lot more expensive in much of the world, as new environmental regulations come onstream. That's going to mess with things too. If container trade is already so unprofitable because of overcapacity, imagine what's going to happen when fuel is suddenly vastly more expensive. I suspect that the very largest of container ships will weather it better than the current sized-fleet. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Something different

We're experiencing some changes in trade patterns here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Sensory Deprivation Depot.

 As you might know, my barge services the NY/NJ ports of New York harbor. Bunkering, mostly- fueling the large ships that trade here. I've been watching the trade patterns informally, and I'm seeing some interesting stuff. As we're underway and heading to a lay berth for some much needed downtime between jobs, I thought I'd share and kill some time on my end, too. I'll be writing about what I've seen later on this week. What it means is up to the experts. I'm not delving too deep here, just writing about what I've seen from my little slice of purgatory, limited as it is.

First, though, last week we bunkered a cable-laying ship, which was pretty cool- not something we see a lot of here. These are the ships that lay out telecom cables undersea, working in deep and ultradeep water, laying fresh cable or repairing existing cable. I got to look in the cable tank, which is where the actual cable spool is, and dominates the interior hull space. Pretty cool stuff.Wish I could have taken pictures for you, but as we were transferring fuel, as a rule non-intrinsically safe devices like cell phones are verboten on deck. (Photos courtesy of

 What was interesting to me was that we were a lot bigger than this little ship- she's one of the smallest vessels I've ever bunkered, at about 250 feet. Normally, bunkering someone smaller than us means that they'll come alongside us instead of vice versa, but as the ship was involved in loading operations, we gently came alongside them at a dock. Luckily I was able to get one of our hanging fenders (we have two large fenders on slides mounted on each side, which can be hydraulically lowered or raised) against a section of hull, and hung a pair of portable fenders (3' diameter fenders that weigh about 100lbs each) about midships on us, and our tug gently eased us into place. I actually had called my office and requested a different tugboat than the one that had originally been assigned. One of our oceangoing larger tugs was supposed to move us, but they've got too much ass and not enough rudder for delicate harbor work, according to the tug captains, so one of our harbor whores operated by one of our best boathandlers got us in there. I'm not BS'ing either. I asked him to get our big fender between two stanchions on the ship- hydraulic something or others, and there was only about a 1-foot window to sit on, and the captain nailed it on the first try. Pretty neat, considering. I had to be fussy about it because I needed a big enough gap between us and the ship in order to lower a fueling hose to the ship's manifold connection, which, while mounted on their 2nd deck, was about 6 foot below our deck. I had to be very sure that we wouldn't slip forward or aft and bang hulls, as my hose would be between the hammer and the anvil, and I don't want to make the news for being Asshole of the Year 2017 and having a spill.

 So that was cool. The crew were very nice guys, very professional. Bunkering was straight diesel, no heavy fuel oil, which is a nice change from the regular grind for us, too.

 What was interesting to me is that the ship crossed the Atlantic, running from Copenhagen to New Jersey in frigging February, to load telecom cable. Upon completion of bunkering and loading cable, the ship was running right back to Copenhagen. The cable is such a high-value commodity that it was cheaper for them to take 10 weeks off and sail all the way here and back at the absolute worst time of year, rather than to ship the cable on a general cargo ship, insure it, and pick it up locally. Copenhagen is pretty centrally located in the shipping trades, and it's not like their neighbors in the Netherlands or the nordic countries are all that far off, either.

 Still, that's a good gig. I could deal with a 6,000 mile passage, just standing watches and rocking and rolling at times. Granted, I'd rather be here poisoning myself as I marinate in bunker fumes, though.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

That special post you've been wating for... CARNIVAL!

What better way to brighten up a cold Sunday where I ruined the morning by paying bills?

 Sharing pictures from this year's Carnival!
 This post focuses mostly on the women of Rio De Janeiro, although many Brazilian large cities have their own Carnival celebrations.

 More to come as other shitty days happen.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Let's go shopping!

We're actually pretty busy here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Money Factory. We're cranking out quality cargo on a daily basis, and between weather and scheduling, there just hasn't been time to get any damn fresh groceries.

 Tomorrow was set to be St. Famine's day- the day when I ran out of caffeine. And also food, but the caffeine is the important take-away here. I've been grumpy for 2 days, husbanding my precious supply of caffeine. Being out of green stuff and frozen meat/chicken, but having canned stuff onhand, I could have held out a while, at least another week on canned food, but I would have been an absolute a-hole to live and work with.

 It's the caffeine, not the food, that's the issue. I needs that shit. It's my Lithium.

         So, this afternoon we have a break between jobs, but there's no room at the inn for this virgin Mary, so after anchoring I hitched a ride on our assist tug and got a ride into Brooklyn.

 The grocery story I chose is right next to the Barclay Center (a stadium) in Brooklyn, and turns out, there was a basketball game going on. So that put 10,000 excitable people between me and the damn store, but OK, I can handle that.  For some reason, the crowd outside the stadium was really ill-behaved. People screaming, cops wading into the crowd and yanking people out, etc, etc.
 Oh, turns out, it was also EBT recharge day. The grocery store was a fucking war zone. I'm barely even exaggerating. I saw tho very large women in a shoving match over fucking doritos. People were yelling to other people in other aisles, kids were throwing shit (I got a can of tuna wedged under the wheel of my cart from one feral little bastard, made one of my cases of soda in the underside rack fly out into the aisle. Little shit.), and navigating the aisle was barely possible.
 It was like the Cabbage Patch Doll mall riots from the 80's meets Black Hawk Down.

 We use a car service to do grocery runs- it's a benny arranged by my employer. As such, I didn't have to use the long and ungovernable taxi service line out in front of the store. I called for my ride, waited 20 minutes, and the guy showed up. Then a very loud, very fat woman (I think) tried to get in my ride before me. I was polite, kinda off balance, really, and just said that this was a company driver who was picking me up. The woman then got in front of the car, looked at the plate, and argued that the car had a TLC plate, so it was her taxi, as she was ahead of me in line (she wasn't actually first. There was a wild-eyed Jamaican couple who were as miserable as I was there). I let the driver handle it.
  While this was going on, a Nigerian taxi driver was screaming at another group that he wasn't giving them a ride, as black people never paid without a fight, so he was holding out for a white or asian person.
 Well, that went over just great, and unfortunately the prick was ahead of us and we were boxed in, so I got to watch that little show while I was sitting in my cab being eye-murdered by the Brooklyn Hambeast who had tried to Shanghai my ride. I lost count of how many times that women said 'fuck you' to me through the glass, but I'm sure I could ask her daughter who was with her, who might have been 8.

 Overall, it was a pretty good reminder of how I am not an urban aficionado.
 But you know, the best part, was that when I was on the road home, the night dispatcher (between lost time and lines, it was now 4 hours after I left the HQ) let me know that one of our assist tugs would be bringing me back out to the HQ, and it's the one my nephew works on, and he's just 18 and just got back a few days ago from a trip to Ireland, so I  got to catch up with him and see some great pictures of the Auld Country.

   And Today's St. Patrick's day, one of my favorite feast days of the Catholic church, and I got to see pictures from places that thus far remain unknowns to me. By the time we got out to the anchorage, I was recovered from the melee.
 Well, I still hate people, but that was already the case.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Snow day

A nor'easter, hopefully the last nor'easter of the winter, is upon us.

      Thus far, it's dumped 6 inches or or of ice and snow on the Floating HQ's decks, while we sit at what can laughingly be called a 'hurricane berth,' a berth that isn't one of ours, but which, ironically, provides no shelter, as it frigging faces northeast. So, we're getting rattled around like the last coffee beans in the can, because while the snow hasn't been bad, the wind is pretty zippy, kicking up a nasty chop across miles of fetch, open water for the wind to grab a bite of the water and build up a heavy chop.

 So, yeah, we're pretty much in an awful spot. So it goes. Last nasty disruptive storm, a close-call from a hurricane (Matthew?), same thing happened. Our luck isn't in, so much, but hey, at least we're not working in this shit, because brother, it's shitty out there.

 I'm one week in. Bunkering has been average- we've had some cargo, and presumably this week will be pretty busy as we catch up on fueling up everyone who is waiting to get in or out of town.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Let there be (more) light

Well, we're moored for the night, dinner for the next few meals is in the oven and Daylight Savings Time kicks in in a few hours.S'all good.

       I'm a fan of our seasonal time changes. Doing what I've chosen to do with my time, I've worked through a lot of sunrises and sunsets, and I like having the clock adjusted to keep my circadian rhythm more in sync with the sun. I've never had to deal with depression, thank God, but I'm aware that daylight, like with lies, tends to be sovereign against it. Maybe it helps.I dunno. Maybe all the acid and vitriol that I spit out like one of those lizards in Jurassic Park keeps me flushed out inside, too. Being a shitlord supreme online provides a healthy outlet.

          During my college years, I tended to home base out of downeast Maine, because they'd pay me and lobstering in Boston used to suck during June, July and August anyhow. Being an aspiring marine biologist at the time, and wanting to work on practical shit like keeping fishermen fishing and working with animals that I could eat when I got sick of them, I was in my Graceland for sure.

 When I realized that I hated most of the people I was meeting who weren't fishermen or the guys I lived with in Maine, I left and took the only other job besides being a marine biologist that prevents one from having a savings account- I went back to fishing for a living, and it was nice.

 I'm very lucky in that I don't have any particular problems with getting out of bed whether I'm rested or not. Time to get up means I get up. For some reason, I almost never wake up cranky. That takes a few hours. End result is that I've seen a LOT of sunrises without being a true morning person. I don't have a set wake up time if left to my own devices. I'm a light sleeper, anyhow, so when I'm home, I'm  up usually when my kid is up, who IS a morning person, but at times I'll sleep to 9am if I've been particularly tired. Ruins my day, though. Ideally, I like to be up by 0730 if I've got nothing to do. 0630 is better, but my wife and I like to sit on the porch at night and watch the fish jump in the pond and decompress from the day, and some days, especially if there's whiskey or champagne involved, we stay up late. We're both up by 0730 anyhow, but if we've been up 'till 2am talking, we'll end up sleeping in after my kid's off to school, and then the day is shot. Despite that, it still happens at least once every time I'm home.
      Everyone has their own strategies for dealing with sleep and circadian rhythms, and since my job is mostly an outdoor job, I have mine as well. I have blackout curtains in my bedroom- I like a dark bedroom when I'm sleeping, and the light leaks after sunup will wake me up anyhow. Some guys I work with live on farms in the midwest, so with the nearest neighbor miles off, they have no curtains at all in their bedroom, and rise and rest with the sun. It works for them too. I like the flexibility of sleeping in, even if I don't actually like doing so.
     At any rate, the sun will be up earlier, which does make going to sleep in the morning after a long night at work a touch more difficult, but we have methods of compensating for that too. Me, I read, to relax, after watch. That works for me. I have a deadlight over my room's porthole, anyhow. I actually sleep better at work most days than I do at home. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

because reasons

Well, I had a nice post half-finished, but thanks to the hipsters that infest Brooklyn like flies on shit, my much-anticipated chance to walk ashore was a shitty experience.  

 Lord, we need BASED STICK MAN more than ever.

EDIT: And, seriously, fuck Brooklyn 2 times. I can't upload the picture I planned, because there's no cell signal to speak of.

 I hate this place.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A time to rest

After the whirlwind pace of my week spent in Boston, I spent my last 5 days at home, and thanks to the hard work of my wife and kid, managed to pack plenty of family time and rest into my days, so I returned to work today feeling energized and ready for another 4 weeks of making silk purses out of sow's ears.

 I even took a morning to work on the little boat, and got it all set up to continue on next month, when I get home again.

It's up to about 5lbs now. Best I can figure, I'll need about 40lbs of ballast at some point. I'll probably just use some old dive weights.

 At any rate, I'm back at work and moved back in. Expect greatness... well, mediocrity, really, soon.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Well, time is flying by- already in the last few days of this vacation- I spent the first week in Boston, and it was busy as hell- got a whole bunch of productive stuff done, spent time with loved ones, etc etc. Only downside is that it didn't leave my much time to decompress down here in paradise once I got home, but we're making the most of it.

 I finally had time to do a little work on the little boat, too, which is my therapy. Got it primed to look for spots that needed fairing, and did that- I'm trying to get the hull about 95% fair before continuing on with installing bumpers, chafing strakes and the like. Spending a little time with wet sanding has been a trip down memory lane from my teen years.

 At any rate, I'll be back in the land of ice and snow in a few days.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


I am an extremely fortunate man. I'm self-aware enough to realize that. Between good luck, good health and a good mind, I've been able to do well. Good job too. Thank God for that, especially now when maritime work is so hit or miss for too many people.

 I do pray, and do remember to be thankful when I perform my examen.

  In a few more days, I'll be leaving here, and will spend some time in Boston. My family is flying up to meet me. My mother is so fragile that I want to spend some time with her, and help one of my brothers out as we do some upgrades on my mom's house, and fine tune the assorted paperwork that goes with maintaining a familial home.  My brother is disabled, and I'm more afraid of him trying to do manual labor than anything else. He's an artist as a homebuilder, but doing what he loves to do will put him in a wheelchair if he overdoes anything. 

 At any rate, it'll be great to catch up with the B family more completely, to see everyone, but there's a shit ton of work to be done, and a lot of it falls on my wife's shoulders- girl stuff, for my mom's comfort. Clothes, redecorating, some new furniture I guess, things like that. I mean, I might do some painting, hang hardware up, etc, she's going to be busting her ass running a cleaning crew through the whole house, organizing, and cooking for us, too. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is a natural caregiver, and while she's often  bashful about her thick accent and endearing habit of speaking English almost correctly, she is very much a part of the B family in both name and deed. 
Also, it's pretty damn funny, but she can't say her own last name 100% correctly. My last name is anglicized slightly, but it's gaelic, and contains sounds that she just can't emulate. Also an endearment. The longer I am married to her, the more I thank God for the very obvious assist in arranging for us to meet after growing up a hemisphere apart. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Patience and Overtime.

I really wanted to work an extra week this month, to start saving up a little more scratch for a European grand tour for the fam and I this summer.

 Can't do it... or, more accurately, can't get up the mental muscle to work overtime. I think I'm burnt out on OT.

 I've been working 9-10 months a year the past few years. Done some great stuff with the extra money, too. Helped some people out, developed a taste for some finer things, built up my portfolio, paid down my student loans, things like that. Mundane.

 Well, now it appears I'm about done with OT. I can't drag myself to do it without there being an emergency, it seems. I didn't even ask the powers that be this time. I just told my wife, 'I don't think I can do this and not be a shit when I come home," which was good enough for both of us to say never mind.

 Man, I was one of the overtime kings in my company. Ultimately, time is becoming more precious than money to me, finally. I should have reached that point long before this, but here I am, late to the party, maybe, but here all the same.

 And you know, I'm OK with this.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Momentum and motion

One of the more disarming and difficult-to-describe dangers we experience as mariners is how dangerous motions are often slow-moving ones.

 I've been rolled off my feet in a relatively rapid roll on a 700-foot ship. I've also lost my footing and gone flying in a slow and deep roll where I didn't have handholds or a bulkhead to brace myself on- and yes, in a long, deep roll, putting a foot on the wall to stay upright or to keep walking is a thing.
I've never been launched vertically, thank God. I know that it can happen, but in the times I can think of where vertical motion at sea has been an issue, it was a matter of being in reduced G, light enough that my center of gravity shifted rather than achieving liftoff. Several times, I've been clutching my mattress, and a combination of roll and heave was enough to lift my mattress up over the lip of my bunk and send me surfing across the room.
 It's very disconcerting.

 More often these days, for me, vertical motion is an occupational factor, not a danger to life or limb, but I'm very aware that this can change in an instant. We moor against ships, generally with a high angle between us and the much taller vessels we're moored alongside. Mooring techniques are a series of compromises- keeping an equal strain on all lines, a good 'lead' on spring lines, and breasting or head/stern lines that keep us snug to the other ship. If we have those things, we're in good shape... and it's not rocket science, it's basic seamanship. Describing these things is more difficult than actually doing them. 

     Momentum counts. When, through swell or roll, there's relative vertical motion between your vessel and another- whether it's another vessel or a dock or whatever, no hawser or series of hawsers is likely to have enough ass to hold you hanging in the air.
   The slow speed at which this happens at times can be disarming. Listening the other day while the hawsers were singing (approaching their maximum stress modulus) while bunkering in a swell (and 45kt winds), I realized we were in a situation where I truly did not want to be. Do I want to slack lines, bail out, or keep watching?  Each is an option, each has costs.
 Should I slack lines, it allows for momentum to build between our two vessels. Lines can go from singing to snapping. Should I sit and keep watching, it means that the warning that the lines are giving us is being ignored. Will it get worse? That's a gamble. Should I bail? At some point, I need to come back, and if we're already getting banged around, sailing off in that situation presents its' own dangers. All the same, that's sometimes the best thing to do. Experience, judgement and self-preservation make for good decision-tree price points.
   But yeah, the slow speed at which momentum and motion becomes an issue is disarming. Thing is, when you're dealing with thousands or tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of tons in motion, much like having sex with Bill Cosby, there's just not much you can do about it once it's started.

Here's a picture of us bunkering in a swell, on a beautiful day where a 400,000 (seriously, there was 70 foot of draft on that ship)  ton ULCC was just barely rolling, but when you're 250+ feet wide, a little roll translates into some respectable motion, and that, coupled with the swell, made for a 10-15 foot heave.
 (Note. I estimated that the writing on the hull was 25 feet tall. It is probably about 15-20)

 A more recent video from another mariner showed a pilot boat trying to get alongside a rolling container ship, and the pilot door being submerged in the process, much to the consternation, I'm sure, of all involved. The principle issue on this next vid is the lack of communication between all parties- something I'm unfortunately deeply familiar with (one of my pet peeves is when I have to shut down a fuel transfer because no one will answer radios, sledgehammers against their hull, blowing the air horn, etc. I just don't get it). However, my point in showing it to you isn't from a comms and safety perspective, just to show you how slow that roll is, and how there us just fuck all that can be done as a proximal solution to dealing with it for the man on the scene. It's not quite slow motion, but it might as well be for all that there's much can be done on the spot.

Now, this is a fair-sized container ship, and a relatively sedate roll. But there wasn't shit that that poor sailor could do about getting thigh-deep at that moment. At least he had a good handhold.

 I occasionally have nightmares where we snap all our mooring lines when alongside a ship, and I have to watch the slack being pulled out  of the cargo hose as it comes tight, stretches and snaps. Obviously, overseeing an at-fault spill is one of my deepest fears. Second only to a loss-of-life incident, although, judging by my dreams on a longer timeline, showing up for school in my underwear might still be the longest-running deep fear I hold. Jury's still out on that one, but about 10 years of dreaming that when I was younger has to mean something.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Stumble start, strong finish?

Well, this week started off pretty rotten. I picked up a bug that left me on the pot with my head in the trash can, emptying from both ends, for pretty much a full day. While working. So... that sucked.
 Worse, it's my own damn fault. I've been eating clean for a few months- nothing processed, just fruit, chicken/fish and veggies, the odd egg and bit of cheese. It's given me a little more spring in my step, too. But Tuesday evening I was pretty beat, and there were leftovers on the stove for whoever wanted 'em. potato and some other processed shit. I ate it, after it had been sitting uncovered for a few hours.
    The usual mark of food poisoning is that the toxins involved are fast acting. Generally you get sick within 15 minutes of eating. So it wasn't traditional food poisoning, but either way, Wednesday I was pretty unhappy, and we were doing dumb shit, getting shuffled around, so there wasn't much opportunity to rest.
 So it goes. Sure as shit, I'm happy it's over, anyhow. That is NOT the way to lose weight.

 So, today we got hit with weather. This morning was really raunchy. Blowing about 40-45, and we were in an exposed anchorage dealing with an initially uncooperative ship. The snow was a mix of small flakes and frozen rain, and since a ship at anchor will fetch into the wind, the sleet and snow was blasting me in the face full-force, blinding me. This especially sucked because I was running the deck crane, and had to watch what I was doing while blind, until I got the crane and hose vertical and swing it to the ship, anyhow, when I could turn 90 degrees to the wind.

 And you know, rotten as it was, I was just glad my guts felt better.

         Well, there's no sleeping when the hawsers are singing and the sea is slapping you around in an accordion motion against another ship. I was actually very surprised that VTS allowed us to do the fuel transfer. They've shut us down and kicked us out in less weather, although it may be that the being blinded and chilled made me overestimate the shittiness of the morning.

 Well, and result, I called conditions marginal but doable, and we kept a tugboat with us the whole time on standby. It all worked out OK. I'm currently at a dock (I got a nap), standing by for our next job tomorrow before dawn. We shoveled as we could- ice and snow froze fast, so there's only a matter of pushing drifts over the side. The base inch or two of hardpack is with us for the now.