Sunday, December 16, 2018

Someone's gonna pay

   The penalty for tool theft is to have a knuckle drilled out with a 1/4" drill bit.

 But this is aggravated tool theft. Someone must die.

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Well, F me with a broken broomstick.

       Someone else's unfortunate bad luck just killed my Christmas. And that of my family.

            I haven't been home for Christmas in a few years. This was supposed to be my year. Unfortunately, Christmas falls the day before my crew change this year, which means I'll miss it.

 So, a friend was going to come in early, on the 24th, so I could go home. His kids are all grown up. An unfortunate circumstance, he came back early, and is already here working, so basically I'm fucked. I am going to miss Christmas... again. Given my schedule, if I make no life changes, I'll go 6 years between being home for Christmas.

 I'm... not willing to do that. It's too late this year. I changed my flight last night, and that $700 for a frigging one-way ticket HURT. I've been home for a grand total of THREE Christmases since I joined this company 10 years ago.

 I am happy to be working, drawing a salary. I am feeling  a bit sorry for myself today. The ass-chewing I got when I told my wife was well-deserved.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Comms and the Brown Water Sail Life

One of the biggest draws of moving to brown water work to me when I was sailing blue water jobs, was the ability to stay in touch.

 My dad's days, you didn't talk to your loved ones while you were on ship.
When I was a teenager and fishing commercially, you could call the marine operator on the radio and they would connect you to your loved one via a collect call. Everyone could hear, but you could talk to family on your VHF or SSB radio.  This was for emergencies, as it was expensive. There were a few guys I fished around who put HAM radios in their kitchen at home. so they could check in with their wives.
In the domestic trade, you'd grab a roll of quarters and get in line at the dock. Almost every terminal would have a payphone on the dock. I called my parents once a month like that for my first few years sailing.
 If you were sailing international, you could call WLO or another store station by MF/HF radio and they'd do marine operator duty if possible. You could also order flowers delivered through them. Handy.

 Cell phones changed everything. Some guys invested in Sat phones, but for shlubs like me, a cell phone was more than enough.I got my first cell phone while sailing on the West Coast one winter. Getting my ass kicked for 4 months was made more tolerable by being able to call my family when I wanted, and later when I met a nice Brazilian girl who I liked enough to keep around, we could use what limited skills we had in each other's language to say hi once a week or so. I thought we were living like the Jetsons when the Gulf of Mexico's oil rigs were wired for cell phone service. This is back before nationwide service, of course, when you'd pay by the minute for 'roaming' charges outside your home region.  Back then, Petrocom (the company who owned the cell service out there) had deals with the cell phone companies, until one by one they started charging a premium for using petrocom's service.

 The Panama Canal Zone was a local calling area, for some reason. Nobody got hit with roaming charges down there, and I called many friends during transits there. I wonder if that's still the way of it?

 Today, well, it's a lot easier. I sometimes miss the joy and anticipation of knowing that today's the day I get to check in, but I also remember the anxiety of wondering about unanswered questions, and the mental effort required to put the things I couldn't answer in the back of my mind so I could focus on doing my job. Funny, when I think of that, of the mornings spent getting ready for watch or daywork in the days before cell phones, I think of the smell of the engine room of a steam-powered ship- that light gear oil and slightly musky hot-seawater smell from the evaps, not at all unpleasant. I guess I associate that smell with being able to let go the cares of the shoreside world... something I do miss being able to do at times.

     After dinner last night, for example, my wife in Florida sent me (in New York) some pictures of the healing incisions from her surgery and we talked about the wound care instructions her surgeon had given her. I then forwarded the pictures to the surgeon (In California today) with a couple of follow up questions. When I woke up at 2300 for watch tonight, the surgeon had sent both of us a video message discussing my questions,  giving advice and further instructions until her next check in.  I'm supremely grateful to be able to be connected, to receive advice and updates, and offer them too. Under normal circumstances, it probably would have been easier for me 25 years ago to leave that behind me when I got aboard, but fact is that it's easier on my wife to have me available by phone while she's not at her best, which isn't as good as being there, but still better than having to wait a week or more between calls.

 So, since we're free tonight and I've already handled the paperwork and projects I needed, and we're at a nice lay berth, there's little left to do beyond making rounds and the rest of the time is hopefully mine.  Sometimes these quiet night watches are a real treat.

Reduced Calorie social media diet

We've got a watch off today, and shore access too, so in another hour when the stores open up and it warms up a bit, I'm headed ashore for my routine walk/grub run- a 5 mile walk ending in a visit to the grocery store. It's been a while since I was able to do this, and I'm happy for it.

  With life getting in the way, I've had almost no time to browse social media the past month. And you know, I don't really miss it.  This blog isn't what it once was. It reflects my own sense that barring a therapeutic upheaval, my career has gone stagnant. Fecesbook, news and other distractions that can't be consumed while looking at my phone and sitting on the toilet have been pushed back or ignored... and I've enjoyed the peace. Well, not peace, really. There hasn't been much of that. But the conflict, pessimism and nihilism that makes up the bulk of the tone of our broken-hearted culture has been great to avoid. It's really helped in keeping the temptation to indulge my rosy fucking disposition somewhat at bay.
       I've been herded into a reset mode, I guess. I have been watching boat restoration and other creative videos online, and fantasizing about buying some very high-end tools that I won't be able to buy for another year or so.Without the time to devote to my hobbies or interests, there has been a sort of zen, of aligning my priorities with my available time, and social media... well, most media, has gone right out the window... amazingly enough, the world keeps on going anyhow. 

     BUT, I'm back at work, and I have the time to indulge my own curiosity and my own desire to tell people when they're wrong, and on trying, it lacks savor now. I think that's a good thing.
 Screw it, I'm going ashore or a walk before my head starts to hurt.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

setting all aright

Well, I'm back on board. Goddamn, what a challenging few weeks!  It's been tough, not gonna lie, but everything appears to be moving in the right direction.
          As unlikely as it is, for the first time in our 8 years as shipmates, both B and I had to have unscheduled time off at the same time. We've literally never spent more than 3 weeks apart since the day we met. Unfortunately, this resulted in HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ being manned by... not us, for a week.  My relief is an experienced tankerman who works under my friend Big Chocolate, so he's rock solid. Nice guy, too. He's staying on another week with me, and I like what little I know about the guy. Great rep.

... the other guy? Well, I tried to be as polite as possible, but I might have referred to him as a 'fucking mongoloid' to my boss.
         I work over a lot, filling in on other guy's turf.   You try to work within their routine, not reorganize too much, and ensure that they come back to a workplace that is more or less the way they left it, if they left it in good shape.
        The fill in guy who left today was clean, and a cleaner. That's wholly positive. He also reorganized my office filing system, paperwork management system, and absolutely fucked with our deck layout for mooring- shifting things around, breaking shit, throwing away things etc. etc... nothing too bad, I mean, it was a matter of 4 hours and I had everything back to where I want it, and the house itself is minty fresh inside, which is rare for a fill-in guy to do a bang-up job cleaning. But there's also a line to cross where you're just shitting on the carpet when it comes to messing with the system by which we do the actual work that we get paid to do.

 So I had a bit of a mad on when I was getting things back to nicenice, and the fill-in guy was a big help. He hasn't seen the HQ being operated correctly, so I feel as though I ought to show him that I'm not Captain Shitshow of Turd Harbor. And I'm coming off a pretty intense time at home, so while there is still much I have to do by phone in terms of helping keep my wife on the path to recovery, I hopefully can enjoy some modestly-lower stress days later this week too.

Sunday, December 2, 2018


Well, I'll be flying out tomorrow. Time to go back to work. Taking extra time off a month before Christmas was a serious pain in the wallet, but worth it, and I am BEAT. Sleeping 5-6 hours a day for 3 weeks after a month of the disruptive sleep that is normal on a workboat isn't a recipe for feeling good. Still, I anticipate being able to get some more rest and I hope to come home recharged and ready for an enjoyable holiday season.

 Today is my last real chance to chip away at the domestic BS that we all do before going back to sea with a little added this and that.

Monday, November 26, 2018

at home

This is the first morning in almost two weeks that I've been able to have a quiet start to my day. Having a bagel and reading the news has never felt so good.

             With Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife suffering and heavily medicated with limited mobility, it's fallen on me to handle the hundred household tasks that she normally takes care of. Along with tending to her and the indignities that come with being helpless, the sequelae of a seven-hour surgery- risk of anasthesia-related pneumonia and blood clots requires that we be up every four hours and have her walking, plus medications that have to be given 3, 4, 6 times a day, so every two hours I have to wake her up for a couple of gulps of a protein shake and a handful of pills. The challenge here is that she can't be doped into insensibility, because she's got to be able to walk, so pain is a constant companion.

At night, I can't sleep deeply- bathroom breaks, and moving in her sleep or rolling over and she's pulling at surgical incisions, which hurts, so who can sleep when they hear their wife wake up with a yell?

 I say this not to evoke sympathy- for better or worse, right? And this is temporary. She'll recover and is already starting to do so.  No, this opened my eyes to what my brother went through for TWO YEARS with my mom, all while dealing with his own spinal injury and constant pain. I'm bitching after two weeks. I mean, fuck yeah, it's hard work. But my brother did this for two fuckin' years. He lost 50lbs, and his hair went gray. Guy's a goddamn tank, though. I knew he was doing heroic duty, but given daily exposure, I didn't recognize him for being a hero at the time. He is. Absolutely is.

 So, regardless of my bitching, there's been some great stuff too. My kid has also been kicking ass helping me and his mom every day. I'm as proud of him as a hen with a new egg.

 My challenge this week is to prep for Christmas around the house- decorating is a big thing for us, and normally, other than hanging lights and bringing a tree home, that's not my department, but I'm now on decorating duty along with cooking, cleaning, laundry, maintenance and healthcare. The good news is that I'm mildly hyperactive in my obese way anyhow. I tend not to sit.

 I'll actually be looking forward to getting back to work and getting some sleep in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Best Laid Plans

Blogging has been light. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife had surgery last weekend, which went well, but recovery is going to be constant unceasing pain for at least a month and  a few months of living in hell for her, so say a prayer if you're so inclined.
 For me, I'm playing nurse, cook, housekeeper, etc. I truly believed that I fully appreciated everything my wife did as a housewife while I'm out bringing home the bacon. I did not. Holy shit it's hard.
Having to live on 2-4 hours' sleep and keep house and be with her too has been a challenge. She'll be well enough to come home in a few days time. Not gonna be much of a dinner on Thankksgiving, but we're sure as shit grateful here.

 You know, this makes me also realize that guys I know who live with spinal injuries- my own brother, and Peter Grant too, have to live with limited sleep and not just pain but the FEAR of pain to surely come, which seems to make doing things even worse.

 At any rate, I won't be here much. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Not a super auspicious start

Well, I'm at LaGuardia airport in New York, and like it always does on crew change, it's rainy and windy. I'm up to SIX flights in a row that have been delayed or cancelled on me. So far I'm only delayed an hour, though the three airports that serve NYC are the three worst airports in the US for delays, so I'm probably fucked. So it goes.

          I'm searching for a zen moment here. It started off pretty good. My relief showed up at the same time as our tugboat to charioteer us to the next job, so I called a car service and bugged out. The road to the lay berth we were at this morning floods during rains, however, so I get to enjoy wet socks and pants for the 8 hours I had to wait for my flight- I never know what time I'll actually get relieved at, as it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours for my relief to get to me from the company HQ, depending on my location and availability and accessibility of a ride by land or sea. So I usually get a late-afternoon flight, although my relief showed up 2 1/2 hours early to be sure I could get off at the relatively convenient lay berth in Brooklyn,  rather than at an oil terminal in New Jersey, our next stop.

    So far so good, right? I happened to know my taxi driver pretty well, too, so I got to chat with the guy, catch up a bit which is nice. At the airport I got breakfast and changed to an earlier flight- 1pm instead of late afternoon, so I'd only be here for 5 hours instead of 8-9. But with the shitty weather my flight will back up as all flights to and from NY do when the weather isn't pristine, and in the end I'll have paid an arm a leg and half a nut for 2 hours more time at home.

 Screw it, worth it. My late afternoon flight is already showing a 4 hour delay. So far I'm winning. I might get out of here just 2 hours late.

 I'm not sure exactly why I have had such a bad run of luck when it comes to flying in and out of here. After 4 years of this, it's been unusually bad the last 6 months. Long as I get home, I'm moving in the right direction.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

One year

It's hard to reconcile with my memories, but my mom passed a year ago today.

    In most ways, it seems longer. My life has changed quite a bit since then. Handling the disposal of her estate I guess was good closure for me.

 Despite all the changes, and all the details, I still get the urge to call and check in, which was my habit. Until I was 40, when I was home, I stopped at her house 3-4 days a week to check in. Not doing that left  a pretty big hole in my life. It feels like a lifetime since she passed away, but in many ways it feels like just a few weeks have passed. I can't really reconcile that part of my life. 
    Well, I'm not too messed up today. Of course i miss her, and I probably always will. But she and my dad busted their balls raising us, and did a good job at it. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, but they gave us enough emotional stability to weather it.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

It's a Mads Mads, Mads Mads Mads World

If you've been following recently, my marathon tour here at work this past summer and fall had some ups and downs. One of the ups is that I discovered watching boat restoration Youtube videos. I've been able to reach out and ask questions from some great pros and great amateur boatbuilders and restorers. Guys like Andy from Boatworks Today and Leo Goolden of Sampson Boat Co.  and  Acorn To Arabella. Watching these guys work and build really helped some fairly unhappy days go by, especially on days where I stood watch, then corresponded with the Coast Guard about the various endorsements I added to my license, and then going to bed and rinse, repeat 8 hours later.  Taking 30-45 minutes to watch other people make progress on their own dreams certainly helped me relax and sleep and inspired me to keep planning on my own little projects when I get to go home. 

 So this month I've been watching "Sail Life" 

 Mads Dahlke is a guy from Denmark who took a life-changing accident and turned it into life changes where he persued his own dreams- in his case, he sold his house, bought and restored an old small sailboat and moved aboard her with his dog... and then bought a much larger sailboat and has been restoring her in preparation for sailing all over the world. 

     What is unique about Mads is the man himself. Aside from his flawless near-accentless English, the impression you get is that this is a really nice guy, a classic Late Bloomer. When you see his early videos, you see a seeming friendly but introverted man with some latent DIY talent sharing some ideas and trying to reach out into the world a bit as a means to connect with others and become part of a community- despite a very upbeat nature, the guy was probably fairly lonely at the beginning- and this resonates with people. A community of commenters formed, and over the last couple of years, binge-watching the videos, you see him become more confident, interacting with viewers, and meeting his now-girlfriend in the comments section, in fact. 

 Along the way, Mads has been making his sailboats rugged and strong and beautiful, and the successes and screwups are there to be seen, as well as his response to good and bad days, which he faces with a very upbeat personality and a smile, so occasionally hearing him swear in English or Danish is jarring in a very funny way, like hearing Sally Field dropping an F-bomb  kind of funny.  
 At any rate, if TV was this entertaining, I'd probably watch TV.  What is most endearing is that he obviously values the comments, and a lot of people tune into his channel once a week to take part, and you tend to walk away impressed and happier than you start out. Pretty cool stuff. 


Saturday, November 3, 2018

On being social on board

I'm just getting older.

 I was introduced to my company's new daytime bunker dispatcher the other day. It was...a mixed review, but an honest one.

"This is one of your best guys here in New York for bunkers. The (the actual name of HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Fusion Center for Hypertension and Getting The Hell Off the Lawn) is run by a pair of really crotchety guys who will get the job done if you leave them alone."\\

 Hell of an intro. But he's right- not about B and I being good or not- I mean, I hope we are, but about us being crotchety, perhaps more than the norm.   B is one of my closest friends, and I suppose it makes sense we'd end up with similar traits since I spend more time with him than I do with my wife. Among the reasons why we're good friends is a matter of compatibility and work ethic- get the job done with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of efficiency, represent the charterer and the company well, and (and this is key) DO NOT DISRUPT THE PROCESS.  This creates repeatability and reliability. The Process (with a Capital P) is what defines efficiency, and also what sets our standards for operations, and through that, safety, too. Paying attention lets you catch things like maintenance issues before they're breakdowns, and things like that- if you have a system and it works, and in the process it helps you maintain good performance, don't change it.

 This sort of philosophy at work is sort of delicate- it isn't always possible, so flexibility is required- sometimes we're asked to do things way out of the norm, and if we can, we do them. We are little  teeth on a larger gear, at the end of the day.

 As we've evolved our system of working together and working the HQ to get the job done, we've become more sensitive to disruption, though, and that's where B and I have gotten labeled as 'crotchety.'  After 10 years here and being happy and I hope a good employee, I came very close to quitting my job 2 months ago when the HR lady put a trainee on the HQ, and that's with a trainee who I knew personally and who I really liked!  Training people disrupts The Process too much for me. I spent two days talking with my wife discussing whether or not to walk off the job over the issue.  A few years ago, when my port captain told me that I should be training guys and told me ecactly how many dollars this would earn me in every paycheck, I offered then and there to give him that money out of my own pocket to NOT give me a trainee at work.

 OK, yeah, crotchety. Would I really quit over it? I would. And I'd be really sad about it. That's actually kind of ridiculous, but it's so.

 I was warned by my first port captain that going from an oceangoing ship to bunker work was going to make we weird. He had been there, he knew, and he was correct. It just took a little time.

 If you know me in meatspace, you know I'm fairly social. I talk kind of a lot.I'm sure the guys in the office would be happy if I didn't chew their ears off when I get ashore. BUT, put me on the HQ, and I prefer to look and listen. I don't like to talk much, and I don't like being talked to. I don't even like using the phone. I email if I can. Talking interferes with my thought processes, with seeing that things are in place and in order, and that everything sounds ok (sort of an understatement- many of the most important things have a sound that is right and a sound that is wrong- a cargo pump hits an air bubble, a chain clinks in a right way or a wrong one, a mooring line sings out when tension changes, and vibrations that are right and wrong happen too, transmitted right through the soles of your shoes. Talking interrupts the flow of information that tells me the state of things on board, under our system.

 B and I can sit and talk for hours at the galley table. We can also sit at the galley table for hours and NOT talk, just as comfortably. That's part of why we are friends, and also part of why we don't want disruptions, as two people who NEED quiet more than most, in order to enjoy peace when we want peace. That's actually a pretty rare thing, to be able to sit quietly and be perfectly comfortable in close proximity... but it's also the exact opposite of what a trainee needs, and the opposite of what most people like, too. Oh, we have friends here who visit, and sometimes we'll have a dinner on board with friends, too. That sort of social activity brings happiness for its novelty. We don't drink alcohol and don't smoke or gamble. The monotony of the job is absolutely draining at times, and how you compensate without cultivating bad habits affects your mind and your performance on the job, too. Given the work and the schedule, our social lives on board the HQ are more than 50% of our social lives,  which is something that shoreside management rarely gets. To be unhappy on board means spending a majority of my life unhappy, period. B and I have had a fantastic team of shoreside support who understand that and who tolerate our quirks as a price to be paid for what I hope is adequate performance. They don't mess with us nearly at all, and it's wonderful. Doing a good job to ensure that just gets that much easier.

 Well, Ed, my first port captain here, was correct. The job does make you weird. Makes me satisfied, too, though, so long as I'm left alone to do it, anyhow.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

too much hate

Maybe it's a coward's way out, but I find the best way to deal with turmoil, especially when my own mind is uneasy for the moment, is to put my head down and be productive with other work, then to re-engage with a clear mind.

   There's been so much goddamn hate online in social media, even the social media that I consume, that I'm thoroughly sick of it. I tend to be a prick online, in comparison with what I do in meatspace (slightly less of a prick at work, relatively pleasant at home), and apparently so is everyone else.

   Well, I can, and have been productive at work, but the shittiness continues. I'm limiting my social media interactions to friends and interesting stuff, and not taking in too much politics and debate.
 At the end of the day, you can 'win' a debate with a dummy, but what do you gain? And you can debate with an intelligent person over matters of morals and behaviors, but if neither of you are willing to move, what's the point beyond wasting time?
 Well, wasting time is a thing. And time to waste for me at work is not always available, so when I do have it, I prefer to do something enjoyable, thus my diet on social media.  Instead I'm going to do maintenance, exercise a little and play video games.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ode to Cordage

So, it's time to order some new hawsers here on board HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Temple of Masculine Ideals.

     Mooring lines take up a lot of headspace in the bunker trade. We swap out tugboats constantly, and the cadre of experienced New York-based tugboaters is in high demand for their skills. While NY doesn't have the ripping giant tides of New England, neither does anywhere else in the lower 48, and compared to the docile rivers and bays of the south, where the current might be fast but is predictable, New York's rivers, bays and harbors are a crucible that purifies the skills of a tugboater, forcing the dross out.
 Or, you know, forcing employers to pay for all the destruction the dross causes, which is also a strategy.

 Well, we have a diverse bunch of tugboaters in our stable. The NY-based guys are in great demand, as they can moor and unmoor without crashing, or at least with controlled crashing.  The Out-Of-Towners are more variable. Some are excellent boathandlers no matter where they are. Others are just wrecking ball operators, treating their tugs like a Peloponnesian war galley.

A former Chesapeake Bay fisherman gently brings his tugboat alongside another vessel in Stapleton Anchorage NY

          So, for a couple of reasons, we've been having a lot of out-of-town tugboats moving us about in the past few weeks... and it shows. I think I spliced 3-4 lines after parting them in the last two years. Last week I spliced 8, including a few lines that I had just respliced the day before. Same fucking guy did it, too. He's not getting a goddam Christmas card from anyone on here this year, I can tell you that much. And before you read too much into that, bear in mind that I am not a tugboater. I was pretty decent doing the funky stuff from the wheel of a ship, a very different animal, and under the eye of a master,  and now I speak and critique from the comfort of my barge, and occasionally from the wheel of a private or workboat that is emphatically NOT shoving a floating bomb around in swirling current. I have seen some AMAZING boathandling these last 10 years. But I live on that floating bomb, and it falls on me to fix other people's oopsies, which as you might imagine, gets pretty old, especially when we have to wonder if someone in the office hates us.

 So, ropes. Yeah.  We have a lot of those, and prematurely aging lately.  One funny thing about tugs and barges is that mooring is often self-serve. There is often no dockman to catch your lines and put them on the bitts and bollards. As a result, a lighter line can be thrown further, which is very helpful, but a lighter line generally doesn't have the ass to deal with the force generated by current, prop wash and momentum.  I speak generally, as there are lightweight lines that are enormously powerful (Spectra for example), but often expensive and prone to easy chafing or UV damage. There are heavy lines that are enormously powerful, and affordable, too, with good stretching capability and with good chafe resistance, but too heavy to throw readily. Shoulder injuries have cut many deckhands careers' short, which makes the smart deckie unwilling to try for long-distance throws, which limits the utility of the lines.  There are strategies to mitigate this, of course, mixing lines by type and things like that, but outfitting cordage on a vessel is always a series of compromises between utility and cost.  Currently, we favor a lightweight synthetic line that is very strong, midpriced, but has little stretch modulus, which means that while sudden surges are fatal to the line, the line doesn't snap back much and thus is very safe for any person in the area. So we splice instead of going out on comp when Mr. Sulu up in the wheelhouse goes to ramming speed. A bit tough on the wallet, but easier on the insurance.  The downside is that we risk doing a brisk trade in cordage here on the HQ after times like last week.  So it goes, I guess, but we've all got 10 toes and 10 fingers on here still, although they're getting pretty callused from all the splicing.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Grind

Man, I'm in the doldrums already, one week in. Same shit, different day. Same shit, same day, in some cases. The first week passed by pretty quick, though, and that's cool. 3 more to go. I never really recovered from the last trip. There isn't enough joy in the work to keep up that sort of brutal schedule. I'm sure it'll be better now that I'm on a normal rotation for hopefully the next few months.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Waiting on the other shoe to drop...

Well, so far so good. I turned in some old, I mean OLD certificates to the Coast Guard to get some things corrected and to add another endorsement to the international portion of my STCW credentials. One certificate is from 2005.

 So far it's working, though. I am getting through the eval process. The CG is pretty good at keeping you up to date, and my papers have passed the cursory eval, and are being viewed with a more precise lens now. I should know what's up in another week or so. Worse case, I have to do a bunch of little  exercises to check off- steer a range, plot a course between two ports, etc etc. Stuff I have done a thousand times, but not on a tugboat.

 So, we'll see how it goes. My application package spans things from 13 years. I can't help but think they might not love that. Have to see.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Screw Change Part 9000

Twice in a row, now, I've had a hell of a time getting back to work.

 It's not like I really really want to come here. I mean, I have to, I like money, but it's awful hard to leave a perfectly agreeable wife and  kid to be away for a month or more. So when I get fucked on crew change on the inbound side, it's pretty galling.

I take the same flight each time. Perhaps that's a mistake, because the flight has been cancelled the last two times I tried to get to work. This time, the flight was canceled when I was already checked in and past security. Pissed off, I got on the phone likety-split, and was able to get an evening flight out, 7 hours later... which started backing up on the times, too. 10 minute delay. Then 15. Then 25... eventually we did get on the plane. Since I had to be shoehorned onto the flight, I got the last boarding group, you know, with the cows and the Irish in Steerage, so I couldn't get any overhead bin spot... but I did get into my seat, and that was good enough after plenty of worries.
 Then we sat 30 extra minutes at the jetway.
 Then we sat 30 more minutes on  the runway.

 THEN. We took off.

 Since the City Fathers of New York (Long may they reign iron-fisted protecting us from extra large soda cups, long may they shit light on the heads of the taxpayers) in their almighty wisdom fill up unused Brooklyn hotel rooms with refugees and shelter overflow, the particular hotel my company uses, one of only 3 in a reasonable area, is also a shelter for Somalian refugees. So I got to listen too babies screaming, kids running down the hall and women yelling UNTIL 3 AM.

 The men were up bright and early, at 0500. I know this because two of them had a very loud argument outside my door. Since I don't know if either of them was wearing an explosive vest, I tried to sleep in vain for 10 minutes, until I was so angry I got up up and opened my door, saying "Hey, you're very loud and why are you outside my door?" but not in angry tone, just said it and stared at them. One said sorry, and they stood there, not leaving, so I stood there, and just stared back. The advantage of being fat and in my underwear told in short order, though, as neither wanted to be in eye contact, and they eventually shuffled somewhere else. At any rate, I got a glorious 45 minutes of uninterrupted sleep after that before it was time to get up and get ready to start my crew change.

 After that things have been much better. I'm aboard the HQ, have laid in stores and sodas, and I have time to get a good sleep this afternoon before getting back to work. I"m sure I'll be more my usual ray-of-fucking-sunshine after.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Cleanup day

Well, 24 hrs from now, I'll be in the air, headed back to HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center for Excellence in Involuntary Celibacy.

 After 10 weeks on board, 2 weeks at home is just not enough, but it was enough to take the edge off, certainly. I'm going back in a better place upstairs, for sure. I was able to get a LOT done at home. Not so much time for my little fun projects, but some big long-term stuff for this winter and next year. And, along the way, got plenty of time with my family, including some time with two of my siblings, who have moved 1500 miles from Boston to about a 15 minute walk from my house... so I am looking forward to Christmas this year, for sure. As always, before heading back to work, I had to shift everything in my garage shop and clean up, which is something of a ritual, and gives me a chance to go over everything maintenance-wise in the house before I rack my tools and put away my toys.

       As I had mentioned earlier, I found a big screwup on my little boat model, which required a bunch of work to correct. The spacing of the frames came out of square badly in a couple of places when the glue was drying, and I didn't catch it. As a result, the deck, which was pre-notched to set atop the frames, was out of alignment in a half-dozen frames... and badly out of alignment, like a 1/4" on something that is only 2 feet wide, easily visible to the eye. How the hell I missed it, I don't know, but the epoxy was already dried and the hull skins in place before I noticed, too late to realign the frames properly. I was almost ready to throw the whole thing on my barbecue and torch it.

 In the end, I know a thing or two about fixing other people's mistakes using composites, and epoxy, fiberglass and microballoons cover up many sins. So I sawed out spaces for the frames in the deck, and after laying it out, filled in the gaps, which took about 4 days of sanding and filing and puttying.  The frame tops are also triangular gussets for the bulwarks, and unfortunately, these triangular gussets are super-prone to breakage- about half of the 22 frames were damaged at the tips, which I fixed by using bondo and then coated with thickened epoxy before sanding them into shape. They'll be partially hidden by the bulwarks, but to get the bulwarks aligned, I have to know where the frame tops are, and with the sheer of the hull, that's not an easy thing without a visual reference. 

Working with right angles and  small gaps makes sanding a royal bitch, but I got there and put a rough sealing coat of epoxy across the whole deck.

Dark spots are the frame tops/bulwark gussets. The one in the center is finished, on the right is an unrepaired gusset. You can see the old frame notched filled in here.

Upper Wheelhouse

Accommodation lower block

 So, tomorrow I'll be flying in to New York, because sadly my company doesn't hate me enough to keep me at home and pay me not to come in. It's really getting to be the time of year when I have to think about what to pack in terms of dealing with the change in the weather now that New York is cooling off. The weather here has been delightful. I'm not anticipating the weather to be quite so nice at work, although fall in the northeast can be pretty fine.

Monday, October 8, 2018

small boat update

After nearly 3 months off, it was therapeutic to sit down at my bench again and make sawdust.

 Some things happened: I ruined about $75 and 10 hours worth of joining and planing work when a glued-up piece came apart in my planer. Pieces flying everywhere, it was disappointing.

 With that project gone TU, I had more time to put into the small boat project, and got the deck laid in and superstructure roughed in. For a model boat, a large toy, basically, it's getting pretty big.It kept me from being underfoot while Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife was on a 2-day cleaning frenzy,

Lots of work to go.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

New Normal

Well, I've been home for a few days, and I'm feeling much better. I've had time to drink whisky, cut wood, and start undoing a major screwup I found on my current model boat build.While I was at work, two of my siblings moved down here in FL with me, about a mile away from me, in fact, which has been great. The B family is pretty close, so I feel really good about that, although I've only had a couple of short visits- I've really wanted to have time with my kid and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, and we've done that. I'm writing while waiting for them to get dressed up so we can go get lunch, in fact. Gonna get fish tacos at a restaurant I like on the Intercoastal Waterway, watch the yachts pass by and drink cold beer in the hot sun.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Well, I made it home. Expect things to be quiet for the next two weeks.

Friday, September 28, 2018

smelling home

I mentioned in my last post that the black oil we carry has a powerful sulfur smell that is unpleasant. Over the past 10 years, I've grown accustomed to that smell, and desensitized, too, which I sometimes worry will burn out my sense of smell. Perhaps it has. I used to have a damn good nose.

        One thing about working around the ports of New Jersey, there sure are a lot of chemical plants. They produce some weird smells. Some bad, some... good actually.

 Not that a nice smelling chemical plume is necessarily good for you. The chemical class known as esters often have strong smells- some very pleasant. I always hope that that is what I'm smelling. In the past few days I've had burnt toast, and tonight, fresh-cut grass.

The fresh cut grass smell was really nice. I hope it wasn't something carcinogenic I was smelling, lol.

        I miss green things when I am at work. When I fly home to S. FL, and walk out of the door at baggage check, I get hit by a wall of humid, tropical air that smells of humus- clean dirt, rain, and fresh green leaves- and a touch of cut grass too.   That smell is the smell of coming home. It's the heartbreakingly beautiful smell that days-of-sail sailors used to get when they were just over the horizon from certain islands like Bermuda.  It doesn't make my heart ache, but it does create a dopamine dump in my endocrine system- I get that warm, pleasant feeling like after you take a sip of good cognac.

 So, out on deck on the HQ, with cargo tanks venting on deck, that sulfur smell there and being ignored, a gust of wind brought that smell to me, and for just a second, I wasn't on deck anymore. I was sitting on a bench outside of baggage claim, seeing my wife's car come around the corner.

 It was a truly nice few seconds.  After it passed, it was back to work for yours semi-truly, but a little of that feeling lingers.  I've got the weekend on here, and Monday Monday (nah nah... nah nah nah) to get through. After that, I'll be there again in that one moment, smelling home.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

white shirt/blue collar

Like just about any lower-middle class kid, my parents hoped I'd end up wearing a white shirt to work, to do better than they did, to go to the middle-middle class or higher. They gave me every opportunity to choose to do so.

   Somewhere along the way, I did. I ended up in a white lab coat, and for fun and profit I did dirty work that was fun to me, being a fisherman. Sure, I pumped gas, pulled concrete forms, cooked at a pizza place, unloaded trucks and went through more than one pair of workboots a year, but I was also putting on my white shirt for my career job, presumably which would happen more and more as school wound down.

     I learned VERY quickly in grad school that people in the administrative and political side of science are mostly scum. Politicians, two-faced, self-serving assholes. Where law degrees become more valuable than scientific knowledge, I got out of my depth. My career arc was heading towards a NOAA job or equivalent administrative position after I realized that pure research as a person who doesn't want to teach wouldn't pay shit.

 Turns out, that's just politics.

 As revolting as that was to me, it was enough to cure me of any tolerance for politics. The muddy, dirty and muscle-sore shit-smelling awfulness of being a fisherman was CLEAN in comparison. I could wash that stink off. I think it was this realization that let me have my course correction, when I realized how badly my life was off-track, when I decided that I had to quit pretending to be a fisherman, and go be a fisherman. Eventually, it lead me here.

 My job still is stinky. I have to shower after most watches to get the sweat, dirt and smell off my skin.  Heavy fuel oil smells SO bad that to those not used to it it has similar effects to a near-miss with pepper-spray- not enough to blind you, but enough that your eyes can't focus from all the tears.

A month on board the HQ and the smell gets inside me. My wife hands me a big glass of scotch when I get home and we sit outside so I'll sweat out most of the smell. The sour stink of whisky sweat washes off in the shower, and takes away enough of the bunker fuel sulfur stink that I don't ruin the sheets in my bed.

Seeing the Senate hearings yesterday, I know I made the right decision . What truly awful, awful people. I did the right thing, putting a beach between me and them. I can't claim to be a better or worse human being than any other, I suppose. But I do know that however filthy I get in the course of earning a paycheck, I am not dirty like those people on TV.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Swallowing the Anchor

I had an interesting day yesterday.

         It was for the most part a completely ordinary day. We were loading a couple thousand tons of RMK-500, (heavy fuel oil meant for ships) and a quick splash of  LS-MGO (Low Sulfur Marine Gas Oil, a type of diesel) at a large terminal in New Jersey.

 The largest terminal in Bayonne NJ has a couple hundred people working there. Of them, only about 30 work the docks.  The rest handle internal transfers, pipeline movements nationally, and rail cars. It's quite a complex, takes about 10 minutes of driving to get to the main gate from the docks.

 I've been coming to this terminal since 2001, and in my current job, we come here about twice a week. I'm on a first name basis with some of the dockmen, and know most of the rest by face. There isn't much turnover.

 In the last month, a bunch of guys have started retiring, all guys I like. They're of that age- early/mid 60's, where the physicality and repetition of the work becomes an issue.

 Yesterday was Wayne's next-to-last-watch.  Today is his last day. Tomorrow he will be a retiree.

       As part of our procedures, before we start an oil transfer we have a pre-transfer conference with a shoreside representative, where we go over the specifics of the transfer, safety issues, contingency planning and communication. This is why we get to know the dockmen. However many people are on a vessel, however many dockmen are connecting the hoses or working the loading arms, at the end it's the man in charge of the watch on the ship or barge and the one dockman on the dock who are at the heart of the transfer. Since I do know some of these guys pretty well, we'll chat and catch up during and in between checklists, forms and the pro-forma part of the process.

 The dockman watches over the shoreside connection, connects hoses (which requires physical strength, use of a chainfall and or/a crane), or swings loading arms, and turns the dockside valves. And in speaking to Wayne today, he told me that he had just one more watch after this and that was that. Retirement.

      I congratulated him, of course, and we talked about his plans for the future.

 For sailors, going ashore for work or retiring is often referred to as 'swallowing the anchor.'  Since I've never made serious plans about working ashore, I haven't much thought of it, but I spent yesterday, and today so far too, wondering about what it will be like for me.

   Times have changed so much for working/middle class labor. Most of the dockmen I work with have already retired after 20+ years in another job and have a defined pension there, and have built up a 401k in their current job, pensions not being very viable anymore, and these guys will retire with a very decent income stream.   Those of us 20 years younger don't necessarily have a pension, and thus the IRAP rigamarole becomes more important.

      I dunno. I'm still sorting my thoughts out. Financial planning and life changes and getting older and holy shit I've only got about 20 years and then I have to deal with this shit too. It's a bit jumbled in my head still.

 It was interesting to watch the war of emotions on the dockman's face when he discussed all this. Hope and happiness when he talked about plans for enjoying himself, and finally having the time to see who he wanted to see and do what he wanted to do. Worries, for what retirement means in the arc of our lives- a major step towards the end. Sadness, or maybe wistfulness is a better word, about not having a routine, about laying down a burden that helped frame his middle age, about not getting up and producing as he once did every day.  

 It's a complex thing. Foofoo people can talk about the tapestry of our lives and other metaphysical bs, but I suspect at these moments words would fail anyhow.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pro vs Amateur vs happiness on the water

 These past six months I've been laying the groundwork to make some changes professionally and personally, to give me more options in life, like where and how I work, and how much free time I want to have and what to do with it.  In past years, I've done 2-3 extended tours at work each year, adding up to somewhere around 290-300 days at sea a year on average, which is way too much.This year, I'm doing just one, which is one more than I had planned, but is still better than 2-3. I currently have two weeks to go before I can go home. Almost finished, finally.
 Thing is, I'm rarely out of sight of land. It's not the 'at sea' I most enjoy.

 That nice salt air smell you get isn't actually the smell of the sea. It's the smell of the land, the smell of a soup of bacteria and planktonic life as it lives and dies. The real sea smell is just clean air. The turbulence of the water's surface churns the atmosphere close to ground level, and the interplay of heat and other physical forces drives the weather.

 I know this stuff because it's important I know this stuff. My job. Well, part of it, though currently not a terribly important part. I spend more time agonizing over a calculator and legal niceties associated with carrying oil, when I'm not swinging wrenches or sitting for extended periods with my head in a cargo tank hatch trying not to breathe.

true story

      One of the things I'm trying to learn more about is the practical joinery in boat construction- the sweeping fair curves of frames, carlins and sheer lines that make boats beautiful. I can build a boat, but I've never done so purely in wood, and the idea has appeal to me, and in general, I truly appreciate the artistry involved- and the math.  Fiberglass and sanding and grinding covers a multitude of sins, and I do commit my share. As such, the expensive and unforgiving nature of boatbuilding in wood represents a pinnacle of artistic ability in my book.
 So, this being the longest tour aboard of the year, I've been watching a lot of wooden boatbuilders online. This has also led to watching a bunch of sailing videos from people who travel all over the world in their little sailboats and run about having fun while going from A to B.

   I've probably watched two dozen different boatowners documenting their trips.  Many of them are producing videos capitalizing on the scenery and scantily clad wives and sweethearts to drive views, paid for with private funds and supplemented by crowdfunding.

Seriously, there are people getting paid to have fun on their boats, in exchange for narrating their good time and providing gratuitous shots of their significant others in various states of dress.  What a world we live in.  Some of them seem like very cool people. Others just seem like spoiled rich dick suitcase pimps.

        As I went on watching these videos, I'm deeply distracted by all the unsafe and sometimes outright dangerous shit these folks do. Sleeping while underway. Wearing a lifejacket inside the house. Unsafe wiring. Messing with the structural supports of a stressed-skin design.  Sailing without charts, without local knowledge and without consulting the available sources of information. Not having and knowing how to use safety equipment- well, you get the idea.  Thing is, most of these folks are carrying out normal pleasureboater habits and practices, and they sure seem to be having a lot more fun than I am, and spending less time in their own heads worrying about the things that I worry about. I'll say it, knowledge is a double-sided bitch at times. All that safety-mindedness and drilling these past 20 years has taken much of the joy out of working on the water for me. I don't spend nearly as much time admiring the sunrise or the color of the sea anymore. Perhaps this is an artifact related to my location and current occupation more than anything. I was trained to expect that I would have less time to enjoy the things that attracted me to this work in the first place as I advanced. However, I'm convinced that I can recapture some of that wonder, and will do so with some changes. I'm truly looking forward to it. 

Look at this next picture. Moonset at sea, predawn, midwinter. 15 years ago already, and I remember that morning like it was yesterday. A few minutes later I climbed up on Monkey Island with a hot-water wand to rinse the bridge windows off for the morning. 
  I can't remember the last time I watched the moon set over the sea. I do know that it will be sooner than 15 years, though!

Monday, September 17, 2018

8 weeks down

... and two to go.

         When I started working on ships, we didn't even get a paid ticket home until we had completed 90 days of our voyage. Standard trip length was 120 days. Everyone had their up and down days, where the trip seemed to be moving along briskly or just dragging on to death.

     These days, working in brown water, I don't get that sort of extreme. Patience is inversely proportional to convenience. Where before we'd all gather on the poop in ports and places where we could get a cell phone signal and catch up with people at home, today we are in touch about 95% of the time here at the HQ.  New York harbor has a dead cell zone in the middle, strangely enough, but only during the day. I don't know why that is, but at our mooring buoy, we can't really get a call through, and email is super-spotty, even though we're within a mile or so of Staten Island, Manhattan AND Brooklyn, where, what, 10+ million people live? Dead zone.

      Being offshore away from cell phones and the mundane cares of the world used to not be a bad thing. Today it is emphatically bad, because it is temporary and we are connected, and expected to be reachable. I get pissed off when I can't call home, and my wife gets pissed off when she expects to be able to talk to me and can't.  It isn't like when we were first married, and I'd tell her I'd call in 3 days when we passed Miami, maybe, or in a week or two otherwise. With the expected gap, life was set up such that that was just the way it is. You'd think that having just a daylight blackout on the phone at one anchorage would be a callback to that time, but no, you'd be wrong. It's horribly inconvenient. Times change, I guess. I'd be amenable to losing my cell signal for offshore sailing again. I'm sure I could set up the infrastructure of my life accordingly... but you know, I really like saying goodnight to my wife and kid every night. It's not as good as being there, but it helps.

  So, we developed a hydraulic leak in the cargo crane that needed some attention. Turns out, the swivel fitting that allows our hydraulic hoses to well, swivel, has taken an early retirement. So, a simple 360-degree swing of the crane got us back to where we need to be, and we can address the swivel when it hasn't been raining 17 of the last 20 days, with no end in sight. Since we use an environmentally less-harmful light oil, containing a fair bit of vegetable oil, cleanup was a matter of mopping up, splashing a couple of gallons of mineral spirits, wiping down, and then bombing the deck spots with toluene and rags. So, a few hours on hands and knees, and it won't even leave a sheen.  'Not one drop on deck' used to be our watchword on the tanker I worked on, and I do try to follow that today.

    At any rate, I'll be home in 2 weeks. I don't have a lot of fun projects set up this time. Mostly I'm just going to decompress, see where things take me. I might make some sawdust and glue my fingers together here and there, hopefully, but I don't have the relish for that  after too much time away from my family. I mostly just want to see everyone.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

lost post

Blogger can eat a dick. I lost a good hour of writing tonight after their website failed to load completely in my browser- I got to type a bunch of shit out, but it didn't save when I hit publish. WTF?


 Well, you didn't miss much. Stuff happened. I wrote some curse words. There was probably a dick or fart joke in there somewhere. You know, the usual.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


 Now that I've joined the ranks of middle aged men who are suspicious of new technology, I'm slowly embracing older new tech now that the bugs are better worked out. So, yeah, I watch YouTube videos now.

 It being impractical to make things in fiberglass and wood while I'm at work, I am living vicariously through the hard work of others. So today I want to introduce you to Peter Knowles and Geordie, his dog. Peter and Geordie restored an old Land Rover pickup and an Airstream trailer and traveled North America before settling into the pacific northwest to move aboard and restore a beautiful old wooden boat.  The videos are a view into the process of restoration, materials choices, envisioning changes and carrying them out. Many updates end with a beer rather than an view of the finished shot, but you see the work of the week before in the background of the next project.

This guy talks about being anxious and worried about some of his more ambitious projects, but you'd never guess it because he does beautiful work without agonizing about it (on camera, at least). Dude must clank when he walks, because it takes some brass to cut and modify woodwork built with artistic curves from an age gone by. The videos have a humble humanity to them- while maybe the weather and good editing can explain why he doesn't look cramped, hunched over and covered in sweat and dirt, (which is the M.O. of anyone who works on boats), at the end of the day he often does look like he just combed his hair with a firecracker.

 The appeal to Peter's work is that he's not able to be a perfectionist, given limitations of time, practicality, budget and the fact that he's essentially working on his home and has to live in a construction zone. These limits make for a fun pace and his editing makes sure that the videos are not pedantic or boring at all.  And damn, what a pretty area he lives in, too.
Check it out.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

On Diaper Rash and the Day of Change

Well, I sure do wish it wasn't raining, because it went from 90ish degrees, where it's been hovering for the past month, to 58, here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Home For Those Afflicted With Terminal Diaper Rash.

 I'm not kidding, 2018 was the Summer of Swamp Ass.

      The weather on this part of the coast is rarely what one could wish for when it comes to working on the water. The wind blows all winter, and in the summer, it just... stops. It's the southern portion of the Northeast, but from Mid-July to early September it's hotter here than at my home in South Florida.

 This summer was particularly wet and humid, and there was a lot of diaper rash affecting many of us. Hot and humid days, clothing that doesn't breathe well, sweat and dirt, well, chafing becomes an issue, as does repetitive exercise, so the chafing doesn't have time to heal.

 Now, I grew up commercial fishing. My ass and parts were cold and wet half the year, and hot and wet the other half of the year. If it wasn't for all the moving around, mold and mildew could have set in. I absolutely had a budget for athlete's foot powder and antifungal spray. Athlete's foot may be bad, but Lobstermen's Balls is also a thing.  Think dropping some plums out of a grocery bag and having to retrieve them after they roll all the way down a particularly long driveway. And across a street.
Unfortunately, once chafing does set in and you don't have time to sit with your knees at 10-and-2 for a weekend to air out, real intervention becomes necessary. When I was 16, I was introduced to Bag Balm, udder cream for cows.

Life immediately got better.

 If you're not familiar with this golden panacea, it's a medicated grease that soothed and treated cracked and chafed udders on milk cows, but some enterprising soul discovered that it also worked great on butts and nuts.
 At any  rate, for the next 20 years, there was one of these cans on board any boat I ever worked on. The feeling of, well, being greased up from the waist to the knees takes some getting used to, but when you're facing the prospect of walking like an arthritic cowboy for the next two months, walking around feeling like you just buttered your bread is a small price to pay.

 Also, your walking pace on deck picks up by like half a knot. Less friction.


 Everyone who lived somewhere where the world is still sane, where people still live by necessity with an awareness of nature, knows that the turning of the seasons comes with a changeover day, where the gradual and graceful transition into new weather patterns goes through an abrupt and obvious upheaval. This is far more obvious in the untamed places where the subtropics meet the temperate, or where the temperate meets the boreal, but really, anyone who lives in rural areas can see the signs if they look.Those who live in the transition zones get ice-out day, when the frozen lakes and rivers start pinging and crackling and a few days later come free in a thunder that can be heard for miles. There are also the bug hatches in warm weather, or pine pollen day, or the turning of the trees.

 Today marks the death of summer, I think.  It's the day when the temperature dumps 30+ degrees and the smell in the air changes. It's there, under the smell of warm soil or wet and scorched pavement for you and UV-damaged paint and steel for me. Something has changed, and the darker mornings we've all noticed for the past few weeks are getting darker, and the animals are getting unsettled, and the plants are just exploding with a last rush to bloom or throw pollen.
 It's actually  a nice time to be someone who appreciates nature and studies its' cycles. Though I do miss green things terribly while I'm at work... but I live in a place of perpetual growing season, where you've never seen so much green, which helps.

 It's the end of a long, hot, and difficult time to own testicles and work outside. We'll have Indian Summer probably, although with this rainy summer it might be muted, too, but I'm sure we'll get a couple more ball-burners, but the wheel has turned and God in his mercy has stuck a fork in summer.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

blessed, blessed anchor watch

 There are few things I value more than unhurried watches. 

 I guess that's a dumb statement. I mean, everyone who works on a boat likes not being harried and under pressure. Given my job and the nature of the work we do, my work cycle is unpredictable. Maintenenace, both regular and unscheduled, has to be shoehorned around work... and that's normally fine, until it isn't. During cargo watch we're on, well, cargo watch, and not supposed to be doing  scheduled maintenance, or anything, really, that distracts from cargo ops. When things get busy, we have to forego sleep to do maintenance. So it goes. There isn't anything brutally time-consuming about our scheduled PM's, so it's fine, and unscheduled stuff is unscheduled by nature. If we can fix something in-house, we fix it. If not, we call in shoreside support. If it's something that shuts us down... well, we shut down. Since we're a 24/7 operation, we really do try to get the mail delivered, you know? 

 This past winter and spring was just brutal, time-wise. We were all-out, with very little downtime. Inevitably, little things get put off until a delay or other snafu gives us time to sort out the things we weren't able to do when we wanted to do them. 

 This makes a quiet watch not so quiet, really, but there's something VERY positive to be said to have the ability to sit and look at a job project, plan it out a bit and then do it, tidy up and move on, without having to rush rush rush. In these circumstances, changing a serpentine belt on a generator or changing the oil on a pump or putting on a harness and going up a ladder to change light bulbs becomes unstressful, just a thing to be done, and not a giant monkey wrench thrown in the gearbox. 

 And you know, the past few weeks have been exceptionally hot. I've been on the verge of overheating a few times. Being able to stop and go inside while working on a project can be a luxury, but it's one I have when we're not rushed for time.I have about 3 hours worth of stuff to do tonight. In a pinch, I could do it in about 2 hours. That extra time is a treasure. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Critical Thinking Gap

So, while dinner's in the oven, here's a quick one.

 I set out on Facebook to see where I could find examples of critical thinking skills at work in people's reposts... I sort of found what I was looking for- well, by that I mean I found where critical thinking skills are lacking... which is a lot more common than where they actually, you kow, are.

 The difficulty with critical thinking is that given the impact that Dunning-Kruger theory has (to summarize, the more stupid someone is, the more likely they are to overestimate their intelligence),and how the internet has given a voice to a billion people who really, really should just shut the hell up, critical thinking is hated while groupthink is praised. I've long believed that the results of group thinking is based on the average intelligence of the lowest-intelligence cohort in the group. If you have 10 people working on a project, all pushing for inclusion in leadership, the quality of the output will be based on the intelligence of the 3 least intelligent people in the group.

 Life is hell. And so is the internet.

 Critical thinking, on the other hand, often makes you keep your mouth shut when people are talking, because you have to assess what they're saying, and arguing with an idiot is sometimes not worth the effort. Ever read the comments of a Vox or Mother Jones article?  I could eat scrabble tiles and shit out a more intelligent comment... and at other times, you gain perspective on an issue you really don't like, and having to take in good information that runs against your natural bias is HARD. And that certainly can be a challenge, but to think critically, it has to be done.

  People don't LIKE being told they're wrong. If a bunch of assbags get into a circle jerk of self-support, they get downright hostile when you tell them they're wrong, or misled, or whatever kind way you have of telling them not to be a bunch of fuckin' chumps.  It's like listening to a Reiki practitioner. You think any of them actually believe that shit? Of course they don't, except for the one poor sap who has synesthesia and sees shit when they hear shit. They actually have a reason, however wrong, to believe that they actually do see something. I mean, they really do see colors, it's just that they're seeing shit that doesn't actually exist.
 And fuck, you can do that too if you poison yourself right and cause visual hallucinations. Drink a bottle of whisky after running 5 miles on a summer day. You'll see colors too, before you die I mean.

 Just to prove a point and provide some fun trivia about the value of critical thinking, and also the disdain for critical thinking that so many posess, Let's look at ancient Chinese medicine... which in reality dates back less than 100 years.
 Yeah, that ancient Chinese medicine shit? It's fake, about 99.8%. Most Chinese remedies available in the west are Asafetida or other strong smelling plant with some sort of other green leaves added and some sort of water-medium protein or chalk added as a binder.  Chicken broth concentrate is popular too (it's Jewish Penicillin!). A few things work ok- not as good as lightning-in-a-bottle discoveries like the value of Willow bark (aspirin) and Foxglove (digitalis), but stuff like St. John' Wort, which sort of helps, some, unless it kills you, of course. I'm sure there are some things that work a bit, but, say, going out and eating all the yarrow off your lawn's weed spots can get you to vomit if you want to vomit, but the western way, sticking your finger down your throat, works better.
Look up Mao's 'Barefoot Doctors' and not the bullshit fanboi Wikipenis entry, but the critical "Give them faith in their weeds and dirt because there's too many to treat with real medicine," of the Mao regime. Greatest scam of the last 500 years.  And it still works! How many people spend $40 on 'Cleanse' or 'Detoxify' pills.  Yeah... Cleansing? Kaolin or an equivalent baby laxative, and maybe some bentonite, a mineral that expands massively and makes a rubbery gel when it gets wet.  So you take your pills, and you get either a touch of diarrhea or take a massive rubbery dump that you spent $40 on but which you could have copied with a couple of tablespoons of mineral oil at about 20 cents, and now you need to go out and buy a new plunger, too.

 Well, at least they're not placebos. Detox and cleansing pills may be a scam, but they really will make you shit yourself empty. I'm not going to get into the detox myth too much, since others have done better already, and if you're a true believer in psuedoscience, you won't like me telling you otherwise anyhow, which is my whole point. 

 Oh, and Acupuncture? Also completely fake, and less than two centuries old, except that like eating dirt and sticks and bugs, the Placebo effect is a thing, so it can work... until you know that it only works via the placebo effect, when it no longer works. Like believing in Santa.

 So, I just ruined acupuncture for you forever. Hahaha. Sorry.
 See? My point is that Critical Thinking is powerful, and people don't like it.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I've been here too long

I think I'm going to take a little break after this post, recharge my batteries, so to speak.


Things are good, thanks.

           I'm coming up on 10 years in my current position, a 'temporary' job to make ends meet while I worked on other goals and got used to life after fishing for a living.
      I've got skill and experience at a job that I'm pretty content with... but Tankerman is a specialization within the industry that doesn't utilize all the training I had to do and all the experience I've gained over 30+ years of making a paycheck from working on the water.  It pays, and I provide for my family with it. Many, if not most men would be more than satisfied right there. So, bear in mind, I'm not complaining.

 After 10 years of spending too much time at work to pay for putting my personal life in order, it's getting where I want to be, truly. We work to pay for the things we want out of life, and I've started to collect interest finally on all the ideas and projects that come with finding love and building a family. There's less and less reason to work extra and trade time with family for money in the bank beyond what I am obligated to do. My weight is high, my hair is falling out, and I have bad dreams.

 A few months ago, I finally got off my ass and started updating my working credentials, taking classes, upping the tonnage on my captain's license, and renewing and refreshing some basic skills like advanced firefighting, water survival, and the like. I have to wait to go home and raid my records to submit some more shit to the Coast Guard for an Officer-In-Charge-Of-Navigation-Watch rating, one of the newer bullshit hurdles they throw in the way these days, which wasn't necessary before. I'll take care of that when I can.

 I feel a change coming, and I don't know if it will be small or big or what exactly it will encompass. I do know that it's been a while since I had that excited-to-see-what-is-over-the-horizon feeling. A lifetime of learning and something like 25 of my 44 years where I spent more than 270 days a year on a boat. It's probably time to start trying to devote some time to quality of life changes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Halfway Day

Well, yesterday was Halfway Day for this voyage. 35 days down, 35 to go. I'm feeling it now, for sure, although I'm also feeling the extra pay, too, which is going to a good cause- my bank account.

 God is celebrating Halfway Day by baking my balls off outside. It's hot. Damn hot. The Chinese ship we were bunkering today sent us down cold water and sodas, which is something that an American ship has NEVER done even once for us, which is kind of dickish, now that I think on it.

 Speaking of, Evergreen Shipping Company is a pleasure to work with. Their ships are uniform, for the most part, efficient, and the crew professional. Much of that impression comes from their expeditor/cargo surveyor, Danny, a Chinese-American kid who handles fueling their ships, acting as go-between between me and the chief engineer, which helps with language issues and safety, quite a bit, and makes all our lives easier. Plus, having a dedicated bunker station mounted low in the hull behind a hydraulically-operated watertight bulkhead makes my life easier. We spend about 1/3 the time at the cargo crane controls compared to other container vessels.

About twice the displacement of an aircraft carrier.

At any rate, it's been a busy week this far. A change in plans gave me a couple hours free tonight, so I'm cooking large quantities of food, so that we won't have to heat the oven during the day while the sun is beating down on the house.

Monday, August 27, 2018


The other night I put up a pretty nasty post about how I was satisfied that John McCain was dead.

       A night's sleep and a reread showed me that I wrote the post a bit too strongly so I deleted it.

 Don't get me wrong- I didn't like McCain and a man being dead doesn't absolve his memory from reproach.  He spend a lifetime working hard to put me and people like me out of work. Lord, he hated the US Merchant marine. He loved him some political contributions, though, and ADM, the largest American ag interest out there, sure loved filling up his pockets along with the defense industry.

     I can justify being critical of the man's warmongering and bloodthirsty global quest for empire, but why rehash it? As the Pakistani cargo surveyor politely told me yesterday "He  spent the Obama years mostly bombing civilians and took away any chance for peace in the middle east."

SO, yeah, that's legitimate criticism. At any rate, rather than rehash it and be (more) classless, I'll just say that I don't wish death on anyone, but there have been some people's obituaries that I have read with contentment.

Friday, August 24, 2018


      If you look at 'how to' videos on Youtube, and also boatbuilding videos, you're going to come across marine architect George Buehler's work.  

Sadly, Mr. Buehler passed away a few months ago. I spoke with him several times. He took the time to share some techniques with me for boatbuilding fixes after I complemented him on one of his beautiful designs. He was an interesting man, certainly, and one of the coolest things about him was that part of his design lines were made for amateur boatbuilders to make rugged boats out of easily available materials. He was really into helping people get into backyard boatbuilding, and his designs showed that- friendly design like large-radius curves and chines instead of wineglass profiles, things like that, so one could build a boat without spending 6 figures on wood alone. His designs are heavily influenced by Pacific Northwest-style hulls- narrow, high-deadrise hulls,  a vastly different animal from what I'm used to, as an East-Coaster with the big beam and Downeast lines as my comfort zone.  

 Now, if you want to build a wooden or fiberglass-over-wood boat, hardwoods of perfect quality and precision sawing are mostly what is required. You can't get massive white oak for timbers at Home Depot. Hell, you mostly can't get it at any store, and will probably have to go directly to a sawmill and get to know the tree before the cuts you need are sawn out of it, in order to get the right quality and grain orientation, which is also a very important thing. 

    With Buehler's home builder-targeted design, many of the custom cuts can be swapped out with lesser quality wood from big-box stores, laminated and glued to make larger pieces before being bolted together. 

 Modern materials science can be blended with old-school carpenter knowledge to make sandwich-core construction- using the combined strengths of materials to offset the weaknesses of individual components. This is why you can make a nice little skiff out of 2x4's, plywood, some screws and fiberglass for about 20% of the cost of a planked wooden skiff made of long-lasting materials. 

 Longevity is an issue- fir and pine boards and deck screws won't last 100 years like a properly built wooden boat will.  But they don't have to. You can make a boat to last 20-25 years using less-than-ideal materials, if it's built properly and built heavy. So Buehler did exactly that. His boats are built heavy. Where a plank-on-frame hull is sufficient in wood, a double-layered fiberglassed plywood-on-plywood-on-plank-on-frameusing weaker woods and a good knowledge of materials design and marine architecture can be more than strong enough. 

 So, in the Sea Dreamer Project, Scott, a  cop (and part-time woodworker) who never built a boat before is building a big and heavy cabin cruiser of sufficient size and quality for international travel. He's building it in his backyard. On a budget.  This is not a professional mariner. Guy's in upper-state New York, about as far from the ocean as I've ever been in my life, in fact. 

 I'm enjoying the videos that are being put out on youtube. You should check them out. In the early days of construction, when motivation is discussed, the 'if not now, when?' aspect plays heavily, as does the role of materials selection. For an amateur, being able to (mostly) shop at local, familiar stores helps a lot with comfort and actually getting projects started, and the role of compromise, in materials, design, choices, etc, exists in any marine setting. If I were to set out and build an oak and cedar masterpiece, is that any more practical than a lumberyard-sourced boat? Depends on what it's being used for, of course. We compromise in all things. I wish for all bronze fastenings for my boat, but end up with some copper, brass and stainless steel. I want quarter-sawn white oak, but end up with flat-sawn here and there. I want solid oak beams and natural-grown knees.  I get fir laminated with resourcinal glue binding it, which is just as strong, but ugly as shit, but who cares, as it's being painted anyhow.As you watch these videos, Scott discusses where and why he chooses materials, and how he or the designer must overbuild or otherwise compensate for his compromises. 

    It's impressive, to see something large and complex come together, and to see people risk the loss of time and treasure to pursue such big challenges. 


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Everyone's doing cool shit but me

Well, I'm in the doldrums now. 6 weeks to go. Another week to the halfway point. Another trainee coming tomorrow, which means forced socialization, which means the next few weeks are going to be a living hell for me, who relies almost entirely on minimizing human contact at work to keep sane. One very positive thing is that we're taking on the same trainee from last time, Two Weiner Peter (everyone gets a nickname) who is a great kid, and pleasant company. The poor bugger has to put up with me, though, which should be good for remission of all sin at least. 

       So, yeah, it's one of those times where it's not so easy to see the silver lining in my clouds. There's much to choose from in terms of unhappy things going on, but the other column is thin on the ground just now, and will continue to be so until I stop wearing shit-colored glasses and can lighten up a bit.

 It's raining. Every day. On the upside, I saw the sun for like 5-10 minutes yesterday between the two rainclouds that dumped water on us. That was the first time I've seen the sun in... 10 days, maybe?

        We had a small cargo to transfer to an oil tanker yesterday, and once we were alongside I went to bed. When I woke up 8 hours later, we were barely halfway through a job that should have taken us 3 hours from first line fast to all lines in. Indian crew. Utterly unable to do anything in a timely manner, officious and inflexible, and, as they always do, enough letters of protest to wallpaper my galley. So a quick and easy job turned into a 12 hour trial of patience. So it goes. I try not to make generalizations, but goddamn sometimes stereotypes are spot on.

 A couple of the tugboat deckhands in my company who are great kids are moving on and moving up, gaining traction career-wise. That's always an exciting time, especially the initial moves, when the juice is still worth the squeeze. I'm watching videos of people making cool shit online, restoring and building boats, working with their hands to create beautiful things, where mine are mostly picking at my nose and such at least until I get home. Oh, I get to do some marlinespike seamanship, which is good and which I like, and we've been getting out-of-town tugboats moving us, so I've been seeing people I haven't seen in a few years, which has been cool. Waiting. A holding pattern. Even reading has become a bit dull.

 It's not all blah, obviously. But it's the doldrums. The long dark and dreary November of the soul. I bought my plane tickets to go home when my relief date comes, which provides a boost, and, 6 weeks out, is cheap, too.