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.


Shadow said...

I'm a bit surprised that anyone is still burning Grade C, operationally, it was nasty stuff. It required a lot of extra boiler maintenance (at one time I supervised four controlled superheat boilers that used it), lots of soot build up on the tubes, added corrosion problems in both the boilers and bunkers, due to the sulfur content, real pain in the neck. It was great when the Navy went to distillate fuel, though USN doesn't operate many conventional steam plants anymore, pretty much all gas turbine, nuclear or diesel.

Phil Kraemer said...

Very interesting - back in the mid 90's, I was on a consulting team at a dry dock facility and while I was there, they had a cable laying ship come in for some minor upgrades and I got a chance to walk about a bit underneath the ship. It was smaller than 250' in length if I recall correctly.

The cool thing that I noticed was that there were four "props" hung underneath the ship that could basically swivel in any direction (two at the front and two at the back end). The effect of this, I was told, was that the ship could pretty much sit in one spot in any weather by adjusting the direction of the props.

(Note that I was a business consultant, not a ship repair guy, so my nomenclature probably reveals me as a total noob regarding ships and their parts).

Arthur Greene said...

Incredibly interesting stuff! I've never thought about how important telecom cable must be in our digital age with everyone and their dog being connected to a device most times, but it makes sense why they risk such a journey. I also wouldn't have thought of the "no cell phones" rule for refueling, but I guess static discharge could be catastrophic!

Arthur Greene @ CentralMM