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.


STxAR said...

When I was an electrician apprentice, the boss told me, "a good apprentice will know what a lead man needs before he needs it." I took that to heart. Drove some folks batty. By watching and listening, you'll learn a lot about a job. I was the best apprentice. (wasn't any others...)

But that ruined me for a trainer. My kids didn't have that knack, so they didn't get all the stuff I had to teach. They got frustrated just watching the first dozen times, and I got frustrated they didn't want to watch and learn.

Now that I'm older, I have a bit more patience.

Dwan Seicheine said...

Do your employers ever read your blog?

Paul, Dammit! said...

Lord, I hope not.

But I try not to write anything to shame them. They're good folks. I'm happy where I am.