Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Last watch, first steps

After a VERY busy month, the storm last week threw a kink in our routine... things have been a little more quiet here on the HQ, and that has made for a good final few days for yours truly. I was able to get all my end-of-tour business done, and I'm currently on anchor watch on my last watch here for a few weeks. Home later today to hug my family.

   I've been preoccupied this past month with planning out and carrying out a few projects unrelated to work which have required near-daily oversight. It's been a LONG time since I had to multitask at the level I'm operating on now. I've sort of stagnated these past few years in my position, which was easy to gloss over as I've been satisfied here, but minds and metal do rust with disuse, and I'm now working out the cobwebs and starting to get off my ass.

 I'm selling a home up in Massachusetts, and dealing with lawyers, bills, real estate folks, taxes etc etc. All things where I am not dealing from a position of strength. Working with a contractor to make the house sell well has been a trip. I'll be glad when it's done in a few months, hopefully. I have to be there personally to deal with some things, so I'm heading to my former hometown for what I believe will be the next-to-last time during this time off. I'm learning a lot, though, mostly about how I don't like dealing with lawyers, bills, real estate folks, taxes etc etc.

     The bigger deal for me is that I'm heading back for more training and to up my license tonnage.

     I started this blog 13 years ago. When I started, it was called "Blue Water: News of My Escape" as I had already transitioned from being a marine biologist to a commercial fisherman, and from commercial fisherman to merchant mariner, as I wanted to escape to a deep ocean job. A few years later when I got serious about pursuing an officer's license, I changed the blog name to HAWSEPIPER, which was what I was becoming. Eventually I did get a limited tonnage license, but I settled into a tankerman's position that played into my strengths- experience in handling fuel oils and liquid cargoes on tank vessels. 99% of my higher-tonnage sea time has been on tank ships and barges. In my off time I've been able to spend time on boats for fun, some work here and there in the wheelhouse of non-tank vessels, but not as much as I like.

      We get into careers to enjoy certain aspects of them. As we rise in position, we spend less and less time doing the things that attracted us there in the first place. That's a truism, and it's OK. Until it's not.

       I am hawsepiping again. I start classes this spring. I'll be staying at my job. I have a good gig, and while my company is not the close-knit and warm employer that hired me anymore, it's a good job and I work with some great people. I don't know what the future holds for me anymore, but I've been too long in brown water. I miss the deep blue clean sea.
A much younger me. I miss wearing white, too.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Battening down and stuff

Well, we got a nor'easter coming in, and that's going to be unpleasant starting this afternoon. I spent a few hours this morning doing a walk-around on deck, tying down things that might like to fly and doing a FOD check, as I have a habit of collecting flying bits of things in my damn eyes during wind events.
     As we're not heading to sea, this is more a pro-forma habit than anything else for me. Still important, of course, but it's easy to get complacent when you rarely go out where the horizon touches the sea. I think that's why I try to keep my chops up.
         I go home next week. I'm curious as to what's going on at my local gun range and such. I don't live too far from the recent school shooting, and my wife and son are close with a family who have a daughter at that school, who is thankfully alive and well, but traumatized, poor girl.

 How ugly and divided we are. I have a massive hate on for kabuki solutions, which informs my own opinions on dealing with school shootings. Rather than expound (seriously, who cares about my opinion?), I'll say that hurting me is not a solution to making others safe, and that's that for me. I'm looking forward to some bench time with my own guns and some range time with my wife and son.

 I have to leave home early, unfortunately, to go north and work for a week on some non-maritime projects, but I'll be in my old hometown, so I at least have time with friends and family. Not as good as a week sunning myself and having my nuclear family to hand, but necessary.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

I got nothin'

Well, we had a quiet weekend here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center for Excellence in Achieving Diaper Rash.

     We're in day 4 of rain. Seriously, I have and have always loathed working in the rain. Funny because I have always chosen to work outdoors, and sometimes, you know, it rains.
 But seriously, I'm tired of it. After a couple of soggy watches, you get baboon ass, running around with winter-weight foul weather gear on. So it goes.
 On the upside, we haven't had a cargo in 36 hours, which meant that other than being shuffled around (limited berthing space means that we raft up to other folks when we dock. In fact, the lay berth we're at now, we sometimes go 5 wide, which makes it a 10-15 minute obstacle course to go ashore if you are left along long enough to go ashore), we've been able to do indoor work in the generator room and house, which has been nice in terms of catching up on some maintenance tasks.

 We have a cargo fixed now, set up for after lunchtime today, so it's back to work, which is good.
 Yesterday was a loss for me. I picked up some sort of bug, but since we weren't working, I could spend extra time in the rack and in the bathroom (I think I split time there about 50/50), the time for which I was thankful, but time slows if we sit too much.

 I'm feeling uninspired just now, so I don't have much to report beyond that I feel soggy and tired of  rain and having diaper rash because my ass is damp 12-16 hours a day. 

True story.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


It's my turn to take the midwatch tonight, and I woke up just as we were finishing a cargo discharge. I saw that we were socked in with heavy fog, a real pea-souper. It took most of an hour to wrap up the paperwork and retrieve our cargo hoses, at which point our tugboat inched over and made up to us, there to stand by, as VTS has the area we need to transit shut down from fog. That means we're stuck here alongside the ship for now, which is fine, as they can't leave either, and I'm hopeful that the next change in tide or the sun coming up will clear things out so we can get on with our next load.

      It's a pretty thick fog tonight. Viz under 1/4 mile. Maybe 500 feet for unlit items, a little more for things that are lit up.


         When I was a kid, between ages 8-13, foggy days were a mystery to me. My mom liked to walk around the perimeter of the peninsula I grew up in on foggy evenings, and I always went with her. The fog, the groans and whistles of the various buoys just offshore and the silence everywhere else were mysterious and different, and to a kid who grew up pre-internet where there were 6 TV channels, mysterious was thrilling.
                In the daytime, on the lobsterboat of the old man who taught me to fish commercially, at the same time period, fog was a nuisance for him and for me, too, as it slowed down the day considerably.
    The old man was a savvy business owner. He owned a gas station, and auto body shop and a couple of multi-family houses. His boat, while smallish, was trim, well built, and efficient for an elderly man who didn't need to go far offshore and didn't like electronics. Navigation with the old man happened with his wristwatch, the boat's compass, and the engine tachometer. The boat DID have a VHF radio and depth sounder with an ink stylus and paper readout, but in the 8 years I fished with him, those things got turned on maybe twice, not for work, but as a curiosity.

The old man had the compass bearings (and their reciprocals) between various points in the harbor and islands, as well as the channel markers, as our part of Boston harbor and Quincy bay had a shipping channel as well as smaller channels for private boats to Hingham harbor and  Back River. He kept those numbers in his head, as a 70-something year old man might after a lifetime on the water.
      Only once did I see the old man confounded and truly unsure in the fog. He missed his mark somewhere, and, with a few expletives, shut down the noisy Detroit engine and disappeared into the cabin, emerging a moment later with a tube of axle grease and a rusty 1-foot length of pipe dangling at the end of a coil of rope. It was a sounding lead. He daubed a handful of grease into the little depression at the bottom of the lead, and threw it over the side letting the line slip through his hands.      
     The old man wasn't worried about the little oil slick this created. Things were different back then.
     When the lead hit bottom, the old man counted off the length of rope to get the depth of the water, and looked at the grease. He showed me. "Look. 14 feet, with sand and broken clamshells. We're out of the channel and just west of Jacknife Ledge near the mooring field. You could swim to your mother's house in time for lunch."  He threw the rope and lead at his feet, said "Here, coil that for me and hold it," and started the engine. We steamed along at idle for a moment or two, before he took the lead from me and took another sounding. Deeper water. We were in the man shipping channel. He had me stow the line and go back to looking out while he turned the boat, looked at his watch and followed the compass at a slow cruise. In a few moments we spotted a buoy and he got his bearings, and we made our way to the next set of gear.
That's the old timer in the foreground, on board the ALGIN II, the boat I grew up on. 


 In later years, when I was in high school and working for one of the English teachers who also had a lobsterboat, he had LORAN, which gave two numbers in a grid pattern (not latitude and longitude, but a repeatable and mature system of x and y coordinates) that helped with navigation and made finding our lobster buoys a lot easier, too. He, too, had spent his life on these waters and knew them well. His boat, while smaller, was set up to fish much more intensively. From D, I learned how to fish in a much wider area, using modern wire lobster pots instead of the heavy and old-fashioned wooden ones the old man kept. the way a dedicated lobsterman did it, and in the fog we went slower, listened to the VHF for traffic, and made our way in a similar way, moving across distances using the TD's, (TIme Delays- the LORAN numbers. Along the way I learned how to be a real sternman. LORAN, was still a bit of a mystery to me.

 Midway through high school, D bought the ALGIN II, the old man's boat. Al was in his late 70's by then, and arthritis and an active life had caught up to him after he came down with shingles one winter, which damn near killed him. The last year we fished together was mostly him just coming to grips with it being his last year. We only worked 4 hours a day, and he spent more time teaching me than fishing. It was a gift, and cemented my path in life, although I didn't know that at the time.
 When he sold the ALGIN II to D, D rerigged it to fish more intensively, and made a lot of improvements. He turned it into a true commercial fishing boat, and along the way, installed a GPS chart plotter, which had among other things, a digital chart display. This was revolutionary.  He later added radar and an even better chart plotter. At this point, when we got fogbound, he turned on the chart plotting function and this made navigation simple.

That's D's boat (formerly the old man's). Note the name-an obvious choice for an English teacher.

        I matured in the age of the chart plotter. I'd like to say I'm a crusty old salt who could find a silver dollar in 30 fathoms of water using the TD's, but that's a stretch.  When I was running the RITA C, years later, our chart plotter died, and I was forced to use LORAN overlay- along with the chart plotter, the boat had an old GPS that converted GPS coordinates to LORAN  TD's, and since it was summer and I was spending every penny on bait, fuel and paying the sternman, I got a crash course in LORAN. Luckily, the Notorious B.O.B. had drilled into me years before the need for recordkeeping, and we had the LORAN numbers for every string of gear written down along with the charted position on the plotter. When the plotter died, the notebook became the centerpiece. I occasionally screwed up, like the time D called me and asked me why the hell my gear was set 90 degrees to everyone else's in one spot, ruining a few people's afternoons. I missed a turn in the shipping channel by about 500 feet, and made a shit show of it. I learned.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Carnival 2018 (NSFW)

With the horrors we've experienced as a nation in the past 48 hours, it's easy to forget that Brazil's Carnival season wrapped up on Fat Tuesday, just a few days ago.

 I assure you it was a fine year, as far as Carnival went. It's quite a spectacle. I still haven't made it down to Brazil to experience it myself. I'm just not enough of a social person, or not brave enough, I guess.

 Well, at any rate, we could all use a little more warmth and happiness I'm sure, so here's some highlights for you to enjoy from this year's festivities! Click to enjoy without your reading glasses.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What's a-happening now

I've been a little eclectic in my reading lately. I'm all over the board. It reflects the somewhat chaortic nature of the projects and concerns I'm balancing these days. It's enough that I'm happy I have to be at work for the next few weeks, to act as a buffer between the predictability of my schedule now, and the stress-inducing shitpile that I'll be dealing with next time I get off. I've got a major project firming up that will require being away from my home for a week, a necessary evil that absolutely requires that I use talents and skills in which I am conspicuously weak or useless, and which I, like a dumbass, volunteered to do. It's made me somewhat sleepless and grumpy. As such,  my social media interactions have mostly been limited to shitposting when I see something so absolutely retarded as to inspire disbelief. I've been on a tear. It helps.

         On the upside, it's Carnival season down in Brazil, and soon I'll be enjoying the videos and pictures of human excess that this always produces. So stay tuned, the ladies of Carnival are coming soon.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

first watch back

Well, I count myself lucky that the majority of my first watch back can be spent on things I want to do, rather than cargo operations.

     I got to NY last night, and stayed at the usual hotel set up for us by my employer. As always, it was 90% full of refugees and homeless, but for once, the screaming and fighting wasn't overwhelming once I had my door closed. Just a background annoyance, at that point. I guess the city of NY turfs their dependents at discount hotels within the city. At any rate, it's in a modest but safe neighborhood, so what the hell, the price is right. I can't get much sleep there, but it's a good way to transition from the pleasures at home to the austerity of HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Hot Dog Emporium.
      Towards the end of my watch we'll head for a terminal to load up on heavy fuel oil, and from there, it's on. But for now, I was able tonight to cook some portions of my meals ahead of time, pay bills, get caught up on work-related emails and do a walkaround the HQ to see what there is to see. Prepositioning myself, in other words, so when we do work, I have minimal distractions and can get back into the groove.

 I wish it was always at this pace. Still, I was a touch groggy when I woke up for watch, but that got dispelled fairly quickly. I was able to get a 4-hour nap before my watch, so that's a good start. Hopefully I'll repeat that at the end of this watch too.

          I can't remember the last time I came back to work rested and in a state where I was ready to work, where it wasn't a trial of patience. It's been too long, too many months of working extra weeks. This was my second time in a row of not working any overtime, and it's paid off in terms of my well-being. I feel better. Hopefully this translates into a more peaceful and rewarding tour than the last few!

Friday, February 2, 2018

little boat update and looking ahead

It's time to start winding down my vacation and doing the hundred little things that need to get done before I head to sea again next week.

 This past week I had mornings free to work on my little boat, which is now just about finished. I still have to do the lettering for the name and install the battery, radio control gear, rudder and servo motors, and after that I've got to put in 8-9 5lb bags of ballast to get her to sit at the water level. Click to embiggnify.
 You can see past posts about construction here

And earlier ones here

Also here

And the first one here

rigging the mast suports. I used black twine for the wires

Adding details like the ladders, lifeboat davit, etc.

She's not small

little details, like the lifeboat, liferings, etc. Wood, thread, paint.

soldering motor and aligning the reduction gear

installing power plant

Friday, January 26, 2018


I'm at home, and in my first few days I've hammered the hell out of the honey-do list. I haven't had a chance to sit in my shop and be creative, but that'll be happening tomorrow.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Last watch

Well, that's another one for the books. One of the busiest tours I've ever had. Still got a few more hours to go, but I'm just waiting for a tug to free up and get us to the office in Brooklyn. We finally got our errant tank cleaned and now it's a matter of ventilating it and getting it ready for inspection and entry of the repair gang who will swap out one of the valves. After that, it's a matter of a turnover meeting with my relief and I can head home.

Friday, January 19, 2018

in need of cleaning

There were a few things going on this week that pulled me out of The Zone. You know that feeling when you just put your head down and bull through a heavy workload before coming up for air? Yeah, that. I got yanked out of that and I'm trying to get back in.

   We're still working with just one cargo pump here on the HQ. Haven't had time to visit the local Honey Wagon and get our ducks in a row to have the tank cleaning and blow down done, marine chemist hired, and engineer& mechanic team available for a tank dive, all steps necessary for human entry into a tank vessel's cargo tanks. So while we were trying to get through a few last cargoes, the radiator on our one good pump engine started to go. It held up for 2 more days, so we lost  half a day swapping it out with a new one, but this cost us our window to get a cleanout.

 On board a ship, the chief mate is trained to oversee and issue permits for tank entry and cleaning procedures. I am not, as 1) we do not inert our cargo tanks and 2), my company does not want to pay me to be certified for this. Oh, and also 3) we do not carry the necessary testing and support equipment necessary, seeing as we usually stick close to home so the company doesn't have to buy 8 million Coppus blowers, air horns and testing kits. We do carry oxygen meters, explosimeters and crickets (personal gas sampling alarms that get pinned to your clothes), which is what we need to stay safe under normal circumstances.

Tank cleaning is a pretty neat process- well, it's supposed to be, anyhow. On a ship, tank cleaning can make an absolutely pristine clean job. You can go from carrying black oil to jet fuel with a day's work (jet fuel being required to be *aboslutely pristine* in every way, crystal clear, no color, no contamination. On a ship with a well-designed tank cleaning system you can eat off the tank bottoms after a good douching.

click to embiggnify

the gold color is paint that has had the tint bleached out so it can't tint any liquids

   The HQ does not have built in tank cleaners. We use high pressure hoses and a Butterworth sprayer.

 A Butterworth sprayer is a pressure washer that rotates slowly on two axis (axes?). By opening a cleaning hatch (called a Butterworth hatch, originally enough) and sticking a hose down a fixed distance and running high pressure water through it, the machine rotates and spins slowly while sending a very high pressure stream to scour any contaminants off the bulkheads, overhead and bottoms of the tank. Basically you set the machine to a certain depth, tie off the hose, turn it on and a little while later (15 minutes to an hour), you drop it some more, and repeat. Generally  I like doing 3 drops.
 Oh, you heat the hell out of the water. 180 degrees is good. It cuts the oil, and you pump the oil/water emulsion out of the tanks as you go. I like using 2-3 machines per tank if I can. It reduces 'shadow areas,' spots the machines can't clean.

 After the machines are done, the tank should be clean but damp. Properly speaking, a tank should be inerted (filled with gas with minimal oxygen in it so nothing can combust- those Butterworth machines can cause a real lightning show from all the static they can generate), but you can get around that in several ways if you happen not to have an inert gas system. The tank can then be Blown Down by force ventilating it with massive volumes of air. We use Air Horns and Coppus blowers for that. Air horns are just simple venturi cones that use small air jets to suck large volumes of air into the cone. A coppus blower is an air- or steam powered air turbine.

Air Horn

Coppus Blower

Forced air is then blasted into the tank to ventilate it. A marine chemist (a licensed safety consultant) will then test the air in the tank and issue a permit for people to enter the tank if the air tests as safe for entry. The criteria for safe entry is strict. A tank can be entered if it is marginally safe, using certain PPE if required- respirators, OBA's (basically a fireman's oxygen kit), certain clothing and such) under VERY strict circumstances, although this is best avoided and I have never had to do a hazardous entry tank dive with my current employer. I actually didn't mind doing it back in the day, if I trust my gear, my spotters up top and the guy who issues the permit to enter I'm cool.


   Well, at any rate, I'm hoping we can actually get all this done before I go home next week. I don't like passing off major projects to my relief, but the work is just stacking up and we'd need a solid day and a half free to do what needed to be done, so I don't think we'll have time. Have to see.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

good reading


Hello. My name is Dave and I came from a shit-hole.
My friend Sarah Hoyt pointed me to a self-righteous fury spewing from the South African ANC (the political party which has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid) about the idea of South Africa being a shit-hole and bad America was. I was born there, and eventually migrated to Australia, of which I am now a proud citizen, and which I love, and try my best to pay back for its enormous generosity in taking us in.  Now, South Africa is a beautiful country, with some fine people… but the ANC have presided over it now having one of the highest murder and rape stats of any country in the world not at war. 

    I've been fortunate enough to correspond with some great modern authors. Sarah Hoyt and Dave Freer among them. Dave's an interesting guy, and we have a lot in common, except that he seems a lot smarter and a much nicer person than I am. Being able to chat with interesting and intelligent people via social media has been about the only thing I actually like about social media. 
    At any rate, Dave's the real deal. We both have a background in marine biology, an affection for commercial fishing and commercial fishermen in general, and have worked at fish farming here and there.  As such, I tend to hang on his words, as in many ways his life as an immigrant on a remote Australian island sounds really goddamn cool if challenging. I'd love to do something like that, but alas, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife doesn't really enjoy being somewhere where it's challenging to walk in high heels. My being more fond of her than I am of remote islands, I choose suburbia. So it goes. 

 At any rate, read the whole thing. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

burning bridges

    Sometimes, burning bridges is the best thing you can do. Eliminate your lines of retreat and reduce your chances of missing something ahead by eliminating the desire to look behind.

 Without being overly cryptic, I recently closed the door on some people from my past who used to be friends. Rather than continue to be annoyed by them and saddened that we'd grown apart over minutia, or politics, or lifestyle, religion or all of the above, it made more sense to just not worry about it anymore. I like things simple anyhow.

          I figure if someone gets so upset that my personal politics, or my faith, or their lifestyle choices become so difficult to accept that they can't be a friend, they certainly aren't and haven't been for a while. So it goes.

  One of the most helpful things that happened this past fall in dealing with my mother's death was that when I would return to my old hometown up north, a few friends immediately stopped  what they were doing and rallied to check in on me, visit with my mom, say goodbye, that sort of thing. I didn't even realize that I needed any emotional support until I had it. Some of those folks I hadn't seen much of in the past 10 years, but the distance and time turned out to be irrelevant, and I'm very grateful for that.

 Other people who used to be in my life... well, different story. I think, upon reflection, that my career change, in going back to my roots and being a fisherman after college was done, was something of an admission of failure on my part. I failed to change as a person. Perhaps that was the impact of treating college and grad school like a job and not a social round. Being a scientist wasn't satisfying, just dull, as were most of the people. I aspired to enjoy their polite company more, though, thinking it a benchmark of what I would need to take part in in order to shake off my working-class roots.

 Well... shit. After I realized I was pretty unhappy and changed my life to something I'd actually enjoy more, I tried to stay in touch, to be friendly. I just couldn't change my basic nature. I may do well in polite company, but truth is I'd rather be with impolite company and having a good time than sitting around being pleasant with people I don't have anything in common with except for a desire to not be thought stupid.

 I remember one party at somebody's apartment in Cambridge, MA, maybe 2002. Friend of some friends. I had started the day with a mild hangover but had woken up at 4am anyhow, hauled lobster pots for 12 hours and gotten back to the dock at like 5:30pm. I drove home and showered, ate, and by the time I had driven the 40 minutes or so to Harvard Square, it was like 9pm. I had to be up at 4am the next day anyhow, but I was in my 20's. No big deal.
    It was pretty dull, but pleasant enough, I suppose. I listened to a lot of talk.  After everyone had had a few drinks, some of the ladies who I knew made a few digs at me for being a caveman and foregoing the opportunities that my education provided. I explained once that I was happier with what I was doing- it was exciting, rewarding, and the higher-risk nature of the work was satisfying to the part of me that liked doing what others wouldn't want to do. I might as well have been talking to the wall to my associates. Nonetheless, as I am wont to do, a couple of sea stories got told, and a likely enough woman showed some interest in me and I didn't complain at all. Some upper class young ladies really do enjoy slumming it with someone who can be polite and inoffensive.
 Thing is, it was all an act for me. I still wasn't enjoying it, and other than a desire to get laid, I was having one of those 'I don't want to be here' feelings. The most vocal of the women I knew at the party got fairly drunk, and let her mask slip a bit, turned pretty mean. She said some vaguely cutting and dismissive things in response to the last story I had told. Cock-blocking me, essentially. I was still housebroken enough at that time that I didn't really do much beyond pretend I didn't realize she was being shitty. I ended up getting the girl's number and by 11pm I was in my rotten bait truck headed back to the suburbs, but the night sat heavy with me. There was nothing truly wrong with them, the problem lay with me. I didn't belong, and never did, and never will.

 The next morning, when the Notorious B.O.B. showed up at the dock, I had the engine warmed up, our 1,000 lbs of bait already loaded on board, filled up our fresh water barrel and was loaded up on caffeine. I had slept maybe 3 hours and was still somewhat annoyed with myself for being a drama queen and not just enjoying the company the night before. Over the course of the day, we talked about what was going on inside my head, and by the time we got back to the dock, Bob's dad had dropped a 24-pack of Heineken in the bait cooler, and we proceeded to drink at least half that suitcase. "Fuck 'em," was Bob's advice. "You got people. How many do you really need?"

 Bob gave some damn good advice.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Its the Weekend!

 Weekends just don't matter when you do what we do. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A night in Facebook Jail

   Cleaning out my hard drive, I was looking over some old pictures from 10ish years ago.

Well, we're fogbound, and rather than being productive, here I am.

        I got put in Facebook Jail the other day, a 24 hour ban. Someone took offense that I called them a retard, and so I apologized and referred to them as a 'mongoloid' thereafter. I got Zucc'd off for 24 hours shortly after that.

I don't do too well when I get scolded by strangers, I guess. Facebook, along with right here, is where my id gets aired out in my day to day interactions. I really do try to be nice to people who are nice to me in meatspace. So it goes.

 The only real difference I noted from being without social media was that I spent less time on the toilet.


The rapid pace continues. I've been trying to get ashore for the last 5 days. Just hasn't been happening, despite being within swimming distance half the damn time. I've got another 2-3 days before St. Famine's Day, when we run out of caffeine and the bloodbath starts. Oh, and food, too. But fuck food. The caffeine is critical.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Dude Mindset

I read a really neat blog post by Cedar Sanderson this evening while cooking breakfast for myself at 11:30pm on her writing and go-to productive mindset, specifically, what I guess the touchy-feely types would call mindfullness, or the Jesuits an  Examen-style step back to assess things internal and external.  It's good stuff and she's a good writer-

There’s a balance, obviously to living in one’s head, and withdrawing from the world into your own imagination. Both have their times and purposes. But when you can’t live in your own head you lose the ability to self-analyze. Self-analysis is another of those tools that can paralyze, or free, your ability to act and react. In the sense of freedom, it gives you the ability to rewind a little: make a mistake, look back and think, what did I do? Why did I do that? How can I correct that for the next time? But if you aren’t fully online, then you can’t visualize your thoughts and actions.    

    Read the whole thing HERE

     I'm not a creative writer. I very much wish I was, and suspect I have some latent talent there, but a certain intellectual laziness coupled with a greater talent for technical-style writing gives me excuses not to try. I don't have my brother's gift of gab, but when I do get in the zone and start telling stories (usually I need 3-4 pints of Guinness and a dram on top of that) , I'm not above embellishing a good story, and I can usually attract an audience. That could also be my issues with The Irish Whisper (using the outdoor voice while indoors) too, though. Maybe I'm not a good storyteller, but just really, really loud. Probably a bit of both. If that crossed over into writing better, I would try harder. 

             While I'm at work, I try to maintain a steady emotional state. This rarely works, but I do try. Just the other day a foreign engineer was fairly rude to me, and rather than blow up at him I said "Namaste, you cocksucker," to calm both he and I down, so I'm obviously doing great with that. 
   When I do get there, it helps, though. 
        To get comfortable, I too, prefer to live inside my own head. As I get towards my mid 40's, I am less patient with others, but I also seem to be less emotionally invested in offgassing my own anger or frustration by sharing it with others. Blowing up at people just isn't as cathartic as it once was. I miss those days. 
          I've written before about how as our workload increases, my horizons decrease. I don't fixate on just proximal issues, but I'm able to let go of the gestalt and reduce things to task and purpose. Tactically, this helps get the job done, but it prevents strategic planning, which, luckily, I don't much need when I'm just trying to grind through cargo ops. After my watch is done, I have to do supervisor-esque stuff like tracking consumables, payroll, emails, yadda yadda yadda. And, over the course of a half-day discharge, like tonight, I have time to plink away at posts like this over the course of 8 hours.  We've had a hellaciously busy couple of weeks here, and the absolute shit weather has made work challenging, and as a result, I'm less engaged with the outside world, which is nice. I miss long ocean voyages like I used to take, where there was no internet access and no phone signal between ports. I'm too connected now, and, as a result, my go-to mindset is to pine for alone time. 
     Alone time is better than booze, better than fine food... not better than sex, though. Still, it's pretty God-damned good. When we used to have down time, I used to love putting on earmuffs and goggles, wrapping my head in a giant bandanna and needle gunning. I can lose 20 points on my blood pressure with just 30 minutes of needle gunning.  I checked. The alone time lets me get my head in order, plan, and reflect and address my personal agenda for work and life... and there's not that much of it. Big barge, small house. The reason I am so protective of the crew we've got is that I can sit at my table with another man 3 feet away and not say a word for 4 hours, and it's completely comfortable... or we can just talk those entire 4 hours, and that's cool too. Being simpatico with shipmates is a treasure worth hoarding. 
   I do need my alone time to make the most of my not-alone time. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife knows this, although she doesn't truly comprehend it. She's a saint, my wife. She knows when I start sneaking out to my garage to disassemble the vacuum cleaner like it was one of my guns, I just need an hour or so and can come back inside on a far more even keel.  Same feeling she gets from reaching out to a friend and spending an hour over tea. 

    When it's Game On here at the HQ, I have to be truly present on my watch, and to be at my best, I have compensation mechanisms and behaviors... we all do. Whether it's someone who has to have a smoke to recollect themselves or another means, we all have our ways to seek out what we need. As an introvert, I prefer to retreat into my own head and figure things out when I'm not overpressed with issues needing my attention. Others need the opposite, to be around people, or to dive into chaos and make order out of it flying by the seat of their pants... end of the day, we all want much of the same. The next two weeks, I just want to abide with out being all zen and shit about it. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Hump Day

It's been a bit zoo-ey the past few weeks here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ, between wind and weather and work, but today is the halfway point for me, and we had a much-needed thaw, today being in the mid-30's and sunny. Actually pretty pleasant. I was able to do little stuff like put the grease gun to fittings on our deck crane, which had been groaning this past few days between the cold hydraulic fluid and extra weight of ice-encrusted everything. We're not 100%, we still need a day of yardwork and to get into one of the cargo tanks to unfuck things there, which means getting the tank cleaned out professionally and force ventilated a bit before a work crew gets in there. Lot of work there.

 Still, progress. It was nice to be able to go out and kick the tires, make little adjustments to get us back into a better fighting trim, because there is some MONEY to be made. There's so much work available between clean and black oil trade that for all I'm getting run a tad ragged, our tugboaters are working about nonstop and there's just not enough boats to go around. Now, I'm used to busy spells. IT happens to us sometimes for a few days, or a few weeks, or a month or two. For some of the tug crew, it's not their usual M.O., and it's hard. Not that I'm sympathetic, but I do see that many of them just aren't used to it, especially the deckhands, and it's hard on them. Well, I've been there. I know what it's like. In many ways they have an awesome job... until they don't. Which I guess you could say about all of us, I suppose. 

 So, halfway. "Top of the mountain" as my shipmate Orlando used to say.
   Today was the first day in at least a week where I didn't have to keep my eyes 12 inches in front of my shoes to keep warm. Pretty nice.

Friday, January 5, 2018

moar of a moarness

The work keeps piling up, and we're still limping along. Everything's frozen a bit and cranky, but we're still nosing the grindstone.

 Its bloody cold out, but 90% of the country is saying the same thing. Currently its 5 degrees out and blowing 30. 15 minutes outside and I'm about going full Ken Doll.

      It's a great time to move heating oil, except that the terminals and refineries are clogged up, too. Our gas/diesel boats are humping right along, trying to keep several key places fed with enough home heating oil- Long Island, NY and the Hudson River Valley between New York City and Albany. Couple million people have no frigging idea that they've got almost no reserve of available fuel right now available locally.

   There are small tank farms dotting the Hudson River that feed heating oil to nearby communities. We (the royal We, not me) are scrambling to keep them fed. Last cold stretch 3-4 years ago, we would often arrive with 30,000 barrels of oil an hour or two after they ran dry and there'd be a hundred oil trucks in line just waiting for us. By the time we had pumped off (8 hours), sailed and gotten back to the terminal in the city (10 hours), they were asking when we'd finish loading, as they were running low. At that point, getting icebound was a disaster, but it still happened- one of my friends managed to move a half mile in 36 hours.Clean oil work ain't for me- there are too many stretches of sitting around doing nothing when the weather is fine. Still, their busy season is often enough the most miserable times of the year.

   It's not a great time of the year to be bunkering ships, either.

big mouth

Holy hell did I speak too soon.

 The wind did not, in fact die down. It shifted, putting us in a lee where we were lying to. Once we got out into NY harbor, it was screaming. I've never heard the wind moan through our antennas before, but it was shrieking. We tried to get into the lee of the tanker we were to bunker, but there was no lee- they feathered up into the wind, and it created a funnel effect, bashed us around, and while I did put one line up on the ship to see how it held, the line screamed and got about 1/4 of it's normal diameter, so I called it a night and refused the job.

 So it's almost noon now, 12 hours later, and we're alongside the ship again. The wind came down *some*, enough to get alongside, although it's not super comfortable. Frigging cold out, though. My mustang suit might as well be a bible page for all it's keeping me warm.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

earning the paycheck today.

 The national news and the local news all agreed on one thing. This was the end, apparently. Snow-Ragnarok. Da Bomb Cyclone, yo.

   In New England terms, this was a right decent Nor'easter. Maybe a 10-year storm, in fact, although the unfortunate time of tides in  many places has led to some pretty strong flooding. Sucks.

 The wind was pretty brutal. It's already peaked and is on the way down, as I type. The snow passed. Maybe a squall or two hanging out, but that's about it.

     We bunkered the OLEANDER during the overnight, as I mentioned yesterday, and it went well. I had a phenomenal tugboat team to work with- a small push boat that my company uses for spot work when we run out of available tugs. All of their boat handlers are among the best in all of New York, which was good, as the job started with some extremely delicate maneuvering.

 I chose to pump off the diesel first, as we arrived alongside the ship before the weather really set in, and if you see the big ass gap between my bow and his, the only thing keeping my deck from drifting under his taller bow was several very tightly bowsed hawsers securing my stern to his like a barnacle on a rock, but which are still fallible. I had to scoot so far forward in order for my diesel fueling hose to reach his diesel manifold underdeck in his fo'c'sle.

 We timed it right. As the ships' crew was disconnecting the diesel hose, a few snowflakes came down, and a gust of wind came from our offshore side and made the hawsers on the stern groan. As we cast off lines and the tug delicately drifted a couple hundred feet back so we could connect our heavy fuel hose to the ship, the snow and wind started picking up. It only took about 10 minutes to get all fast, and within an hour we were pumping off to the ship, but by then the snow and wind had picked up considerably.
 At watch change, later on, the wind was already screaming and a nasty swell cutting up in the outer harbor a few miles away. We had a small gap of time between this job and the next, so as I was getting ready to rack out, we lay to at the container dock, and by the time they were all fast, the wind was screaming and visibility was down under a quarter mile. The Coast Guard shut down travel at that point, so people were trying to get to their destinations, and our next job delayed until the ship we're to meet sails, maybe late tonight before midnight.

 So that brings me snug and warm indoors for most of this watch. I made soup, and am about to go shovel snow for a bit before it turns to solid ice by the temps, which are apparently about to reach the low for the winter thus far. Tomorrow's prolly gonna suck but I've been talking and Fecesbooking with friends, and they're getting tossed around out in the harbor today, so overall I'm feeling lucky.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Thaw, for values of thaw

Well, today's our warm day, and a 6-hour window allowed me to get ashore to get groceries, and for one of our mechanics to make some quick repairs on some cold-related broken shit here on board. So while we're still not operating at 100%, the equipment that IS working should hopefully continue to do so. Tonight a nor'easter will hit us either a glancing or modest strike, and we'll get some snow, but worse, we'll get wind and even more cold than before, which will make the next few days challenging, for sure.

   After loading some oil this afternoon, we'll be bunkering one of my favorite little ships, a beautiful little con/ro ship called the Oleander, seen here (Photo courtesy of Bernews)

She's rumored to be a wonderfully stable ship, and at almost 30 years old, obviously supremely well cared for. Her replacement is being built now, so her days are almost done.

We'll be fueling this ship, which is about the same size as the HQ, during the overnight in a snowstorm with high winds forecast. This winter really got into gear fast.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

 Yeah, nah, it's cold out and I'm at work. Congrats to all you folks and your brand new gym memberships.