Monday, November 20, 2017

Routine routine

NOW I'm back in the routine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shaking out the first reefs

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Changes

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

more important things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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