Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Someone fetch me a fainting couch, I gots the vapors!

Holy cow, did I get a pleasant surprise yesterday!

      So, in my last post, I lamented some bumps I've been having in the process of increasing tonnage and updating the endorsement expiration dates on my Merchant Mariner's Credential, the passport-like document that we use to document our bona fides , or, perhaps more accurately, that Port State Control and the glorified tax farmers that we also deal with use to DISqualify us for insufficient enthusiasm when it comes to loyalty to The Party, kissing ass and paying fees  performing proskynesis, fellatio and other niceties to prove our loyalty to the IMO's STCW code. Which is a fancy way of saying that maritime regulators have found a way to collect indirect taxes, create a layer of administrative hurdles and play Ultimate CYA by shifting blame to mariners and training issues when their awful policies kill or fail to address problems by requiring more training instead of providing practical solutions.

 OK, rant over. For now. Sorry. I was gettting all frothy for a minute there.

 At any rate, I had a problem recently in how the US Coast Guard evaluated my certificates and papers after I had submitted them, and I noted that despite the majority of my shipmates always having similar issues, I had had good luck until this time.

     Well, butter my balls and call 'em biscuits if I didn't get a call from the National Maritime Center (The Coast Guard's merchant mariner administration center) asking for clarification and did I want some help in resolving my issues?

 Coulda knocked me over with a feather. They called me.

 A very nice lady named Kim went over my application, asked directly what, exactly I wanted, and then, after going over some papers, found that 1) They did indeed already have much of the paperwork that they had asked me to resubmit, 2). that while I didn't ask them to actually renew my credential for another 5 years, since I am halfway to my next renewal, they'd go ahead and renew it for me instead of just raising me in grade, and 3), they did want one extra form from me, which I actually did not submit, in order to not take away one of my endorsements which I was apparently not using but would presumably want to keep. In addition, Kim also reinstated my MED-PIC (Medical Person-In Charge), which had been downgraded to MED-PRO (Medical Care Provider) for some reason last time, and which I hadn't noticed until this latest round of submissions.

 So overall, huge Attaboy to Uncle Sugars Coast Toasties for trying to help me navigate the horrible system they've created, at least. Personal service is NOT something that the Coast Guard does anymore. Or didn't.
 Anyhow, it sure soothed the burn of having to spend half Golconda on being able to just keep doing my job.

 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Stuff and Things


I've generally had pretty good luck with submissions to the US Coast Guard for my merchant mariner's documentation.  Unfortunately, that seems not to be the case with my current submission.

    I applied to up the tonnage limit on my captain's license after passing the exam required to do so, and submitted certificates of completion for some required refresher training (Advanced Fire Fighting and Basic Safety Training), stuff I had to pay out-of-pocket to handle, to the tune of about $1,000. Along with this I also got a physical, which I have to do and submit paperwork for every 2 years ($200), proof of holding a Transportation Worker's Identification Credential ($100, renewed last year), and a letter from my employer stating that I'm involved in a random drug screening program, have been handling liquid cargo transfers (so I can also renew my Tankerman Person-In-Charge rating), and have some 2,000 8-hour equivalent days at sea in the past 5 years (I get extra credit when my work hours are 12-hours/day or over, which is pretty much every day at sea), and do weekly and monthly fire and boat drills as part of my job on board an inspected vessel.

      Unfortunately, the Coast Guard evaluators, in their wisdom, failed to look at anything but the medical documentation, and requested the paperwork I had already submitted.


 Well, so it goes. I resubmitted everything today, which will take a few weeks to process. I'm not in a huge hurry, thank God, as my current credentials are not expiring soon and the one thing that I needed on a time-basis was the med cert, which was completed and mailed.

       Well, try again, anyhow. It seems like almost everyone has headaches with the Coast Guard's onerous paperwork requirements. Guess it was my turn.


*****************
 Father's Day is here, and I already received my socks and underwear from Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, who took a running joke between us (every holiday, when asked what I want for a present, I ask for socks and underwear, but never receive them), and actually gave me some fresh socks n' skivvies in a nice gift bag before I left. First time.
    Well, since July will be the first month where I don't have student loans anymore, I took my now unneeded student loan payment and bought a new band saw. Godamn I know how to give gifts. Can't wait to get home and set it up and use it. I already have some projects in mind.

 I started to write something poignant and nice about Father's Day, and my own father, but it ended up being a little too much of my private thoughts exposed, and very sentimental besides, so I deleted it.
 Hell with it. Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!

Friday, June 15, 2018

I didn't have as much time to tinker in my shop as I wanted this past month, but I did get a couple of  hours here and there to work on my little boats.





Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Damn it, I'm back


All good things have a beginning and an end. Today marks both. Good, in that I get to draw a paycheck after a gloriously long and full time ashore, and bad in that I get to draw a paycheck after a gloriously long and full time ashore because I’m going back to work.
      In my off time, there wasn’t much off time, if you get me. I had been studying for the last several months to up the tonnage limit on my captain’s license, and took a 5 day prep class this time prior to sitting for the exam. So that is done and once Uncle Sugar’s Sea Scouts meditate over my paperwork and withdraw their pound of flesh, and provided I maintain the Mandate of Heaven, I’ll hopefully have my new Merchant Marine Credential in my hot little hands in a month or so.
 But wait, there’s more. I also got to take refresher classes in Basic Safety Torture Training and Advanced Fire Fighting.   I’m ambivalent there, because the refresher training was actually very useful and knocked the dust off some rarely-used skills that involve muscle memory. I forgot how miserable swimming in a survival suit was. Same with Fire Fighting. Watching a flashover, well, flash over my head and relearning how to attack a nasty fire was also illuminating. Paying for this shit was not illuminating one bit, either, but what can you do? Aside from the confidence that I once again am sufficiently afraid of emergencies but better prepared and aware in dealing with them was well worth the price of admission.
 So the other 2 ½ weeks were also damn busy. I started off in Boston, closing the sale of the B Family estate, which was both more stressful and less strenuous than I had expected. I was, apparently, well prepared to deal with the emotional aftermath of being the sibling among my siblings who was entrusted to pull the pin there. So that got done and some long-standing issues were resolved in the process. All to the good. And I got to say goodbye to Boston in a more permanent way, which was nice. I am a southerner now. Well, I live in Margaritaville, so I’m a hemidemisemi southerner. Good enough. My grandkids will say ‘y’all’ one day maybe.

       Aside from several long-term projects coming to fruition, there were the usual small fires to put out and some other weirdness to be dealt with. I went to a Brazilian Quincenera a 15th birthday party for a friend’s daughter, which was a trip, and I bet would have been an absolute blast or all had the family involved not been among the holiest of holy rollers. Well, there was good food, anyhow, and I took the opportunity to arrive a day early and leave a day late, so we could go to Disney.
     2 days at Disneyworld= 5 days in any other vacation site. Holy shit it was pricey.
 Also, I really, really don’t like crowds or amusement parks, but the fam had a blast and I survived, so… mission accomplished I guess.

     I did get 2 half-days to work in my shop on my little model boats, so that was nice. It was probably the most relaxing time I had overall. I got in some time with my own nuclear family on non-Disney grounds where I could have a good time, too, and that was wonderful, but there wasn’t enough of that overall. Maybe next month when I come home.

     So, after 3 ½ weeks, this has been the longest consecutive time I’ve had ashore in over 10 years.  I had hoped to be more relaxed, but such things aren’t always in the cards for me, given my hyperactive nature. Am I relaxed and ready to face another month of being chief bottle washer aboard a floating metal gas station? No. I’m not. But I’m going anyhow. I might feel a little frazzled, but I planted the seeds for a new path to open up for my future. I’ll have to decide what, if anything, to do with it while the paperwork and such is hashed out. It’s nice to have options. If you’ve noticed, my posting has dropped off, and this is in line with my enthusiasm overall while I’m at work. I feel as though things are about to get interesting again for me for the first time in a long, long time. I’m not excited yet, but I’m keeping a weather eye out for excitement in the future.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Gimme more!

Blogging is going to be light for two more weeks, as I'm still at home, enjoying the longest break from sea I've had in 10 years.

 Not gonna lie, it's been nice.


     Since I'm in school mode, I signed up for some refresher training over the next two weeks. Advanced Firefighting and Basic Safety Training recert classes, specifically. It takes a lot of classtime and money to maintain even relatively simple merchant mariner credentials. Le sigh.


 Unfortunately, I can't justify renting another Jaguar for a pair of one-day classes a week apart. Also le sigh. I'll be using the family mommobile I'm sure.


Something else, something huge, something awesome happened. On Saturday, I made my LAST STUDENT LOAN PAYMENT.    After just under 20 years, my student loans are paid off.
 I barely know what to do with myself.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

SchoolDazed

It's been a busy week. I've been in school for the first time in years. Tomorrow I sit for a higher-tonnage captain's license than I currently hold. I'm looking forward to getting that. The first few days were rough, not gonna lie- I really noticed how much I had forgotten. But between homework, a good program, a damn good instructor and some skull sweat, it's coming back. Tomorrow I am pretty confident that I'll be able to pass all the modules in one shot.

 I like the feeling of feeling competent. In conversation with fellow students, and in going over the material, especially the stability and cargo calculations, the tankerman math I do at work really made things easier, especially density problems and free surface effect calculations.

    Azimuths and Amplitudes have always been intimidating to me. They require dozens of repetitions to ensure that the right values go in the right place. I knew how to do that once. Sin D over CosL yadda yadda yadda, it came back, and the instructor we had made it easier to undertand than my original instructor years ago.

 Oh, since I'm driving an hour each way to school, and I had a credit at the local car rental place from a colossal fuckup on their part a few months ago when Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's car got beaned by someone's nana... well, long story short, I've been driving a 2017 Jaguar this week.Thing hasn't even had its' first oil change.

 Driving a Jaguar on the highway is like wiping your ass with silk. OMG.
 I'm gonna hate to give it back tomorrow night.



Saturday, May 19, 2018

Home!

Made it home today, and much of my to-do list has been done. My time won't actually be my own until next week, but there will be time for time, I'm sure.

           It's been not nearly as emotional or stressful a few days as I've expected. All's pretty well, actually. I credit much of that to being too busy to worry about minutia.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

One Last Visit Home

Well, I'm down to my last couple of watches on this cut-in-half voyage, which is cool.

 I haven't been writing much. I'm getting ready to sit for a higher-tonnage captain's exam at the end of next week, and studying. On top of that, I'm tooling up to work on a small but complex fiberglassing project that will take about 30 hours to complete over the course of a week or two after I finish a woodworking project when I get some free time.

It was  Mothers' Day yesterday and this is the first one without my mom. Hard to believe that she's been gone for 6 months already. I sort of kept to myself yesterday. Not that I was feeling bad, just feeling the changes going on around me, I suppose. A somewhat introspective day. 
 Oh, and I'm 44 today, though I look older and have the emotional maturity of a 15-year old, courtesy of a lifetime spent on the water and in the sun while being a ginger. I weigh 60 lbs less than I did a year ago, and while I have a way to go to get to an ideal weight for me, the end is in sight. I'd kill a man for a cheeseburger, though.

With both my parents passed away now, and none of my siblings interested in living in the B family home, I decided to sell the house a few months ago, and have spent pretty much all my lunch money on making the place ready and appealing to new owners. The house sold after just 3 days on the market, but the intervening processes (inspections, code enforcement, etc etc) has been a shit show to deal with, though I'm given to understand it was actually very smooth compared to the norm in MA.

 At any rate, the closing is in a few days, and I'm tired AF of dealing with it, as are my siblings.

With almost 50 years of memories, the decision to sell the family home was easier than expected, though it certainly has been emotional at times. Without my parents there, the home became a house, and it was a fantastic home to raise a family in... but despite the enormous sacrifices and hard work to keep the house, it turns out that the years of love and warmth didn't transmit into the walls for any of us. Home was the place where my parents were, not the house they were in. Now that they've gone ahead, home for me is where my own nuclear family is, not where it was, if you understand me.  Perhaps one day my son will feel the same way. I've been too busy to really dwell on the impact of selling my childhood home, a place I dreamed of buying for years, to keep it within the B family.

      ... But dreams grow and change with us, and despite my deep and abiding love for dick and fart jokes, I have actually grown and changed. I've always been a person who looks to the future with optimism and makes plans to enjoy it as best I can. 'Itchy feet,' my mom used to say, where I couldn't stay in one place for too long, as I always had something in the works and was anxious to work at it.
  I haven't outgrown my childhood home, but I have changed, turns out. I'm aware that I stand on the shoulders of giants, and might not be as good or fine a person as my parents (but good enough for them to be proud of me some of the time, which is about all any son could ask for), but they gave me a foundation and the confidence to build my own life. The 4 walls of that home contained what I needed, but to live in that house todaywould run the risk of confining me.

 So I don't know what will happen when I hand over the keys in a few days, or the night before, when my brothers and sister and I walk through the house one last time and talk about a half-century of memories. I don't know exactly what I'll feel when I turn off the light, or lock the door on a house that never had working locks until a few weeks ago. I don't know if it'll be a 'goodbye moon' moment or a nervous-making off-come-the-training-wheels moment. Maybe all of the above.

 But you know, I'll have my siblings there. We won't have the house, but we'll still have everything.

        I still sometimes call Boston 'home' in conversation. I don't think of myself as a Floridian yet. But in a few days, my last physical tie to the area will be gone, and several of my siblings are going to follow me south, I suspect. Regardless of how difficult or emotional the next few days will be, my itchy feet have already carried me towards new plans and dreams, and while I'm sure I'll have the odd pained thought about the sale, I also know that I'm not one to spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder. I tend to look ahead.

The old neighborhood

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Joy vampire is on Vacation

Thus far, one of the most significant changes in my job this year has been that we no longer get much shore access in the 4 weeks we're on board.
     While this is not a big deal in and of itself, we don't have cold storage for 4 weeks of grub. I mean, after a week, which is the time limit for about as much fresh stuff as we can store, I can eat dry goods and frozen foods, I suppose, although it's pert near impossible to do so in a healthy way. Food is morale, as every sailor knows.
          Shore access was the jewel on the crown when I started working in brown water sailing. Being able to change the scenery, get away from routine makes for a much more pleasant work environment.

 Unfortunately, the reality is that the area where I work is oversaturated with equipment, and the response my employer chose to tighter carriage rates was to decrease lay time by laying up some barges, which means we work more hours per month with cargo than before, which makes sense financially. The downside is that there is less time for maintenance and painting and such, but we get by OK and part of my employer's strategy has been to keep newer tonnage to reduce downtime from maintenance issues. End result has been a more efficient fleet I think, but there's no damn berths open to get ashore, which makes getting fresh grub a logistical exercise.

     Now, as far as such things go, this is manageable. It's definitely come at a cost, but having a paycheck is nice, and if the cost of doing business gets too high, people will vote with their feet anyhow. We're managing.

    What got me thinking about this was that this week has been exceptional. We had TWO daylight sessions with shore access at a real lay berth! I got to go for two long-ass (9 mile) walks, and get groceries and generally just not be a lump for two afternoons, and it was great.

 That used to be normal, but you know, I appreciate it a lot more now. Hell, it made Brooklyn a lot more pleasant to walk through, too.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Doubled down

So, last week a co-worker had a sudden-onset cardiac arrest while bunkering on his barge. I was home at the time, but I got a call from one of my shipmates who was deeply upset. The gentleman in question was someone I knew by name and face, but hadn't really spoken to, but my watch partner knew him well.    Poor guy pulled an Elvis, lost the number of his mess on the seat of ease.

 At any rate, I've been losing weight steadily for the past few months, and this gave me the incentive to double down on my exercise routine. I'm ashamed to say that I am damn sore from simply using 20 and 40lb dumbbells and doing pushups, along with an hour's walk every watch.

 It's just as boring as I remember, but as the weight comes down, my tolerance to heat increases, too, which bodes well for me at work and at home. We had a 2-day heat-wave here in NY this week. It was 92 on deck, and I spent much of the day outside and dealt with it ok. Mildly toasted by the sun is all.



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

back to the oil mines


"Well, you're back, then."

    In 1997, those were the first words said to me in the town of John O'Groats, in Scotland, where I was visiting for the first time.It's a quiet place. Desolate, to the outsider.


  I only spent a few days there- unlike most of Scotland, I just couldn't find a companionable group of people to hang out with in my travels, and the local pub was closed, it being Easter weekend. Couldn't find a fishing boat to work on either, which I did (for free or for pay) a few times in the 6 months it took for me to work my way up and down the coasts. So it goes. Other than being kicked out of the city of Inverness for disturbing the peace (I got punched in the back of the head while taking a leak in the men's room of a bar, beat the bag off the kid who did it, whose friends then proceeded to return the favor with interest), I never felt unwelcome as I did in John O'Groats... and it wasn't as though I was unwelcome so much as a feeling that nothing was quite right at the moment. I ended up meeting some great friends at my next stop, and made some money fishing and drinking my way into the Hebrides. But I always remember the man I passed as I got off the bus from Thurso (or was it Wick? Can't remember).   You see, it would have been discourteous for him to have not recognized me if we'd met before, so he was being safe... I immediately returned the greeting with an "I am, and I hope you're well, sir."  "Ach, aye, the cold and all but good." And that was it.

         So, flying back into New York after a super busy two weeks at home,  I didn't feel like I was supposed to be here... not in a bad sense, just an uneasy feeling that my head wasn't in the zone, you know? And it wasn't. It took a few hours on board the HQ before I felt like I knew what was going on, to get my head in the game. The Uncanny Valley feeling did pass, eventually.

         Selling the B family home has turned into a stressful, gigantic pain in the balls for the whole fam. Someone always wants something, whether it's paying the local fire department a ridiculous sum for coming down and testing the fucking smoke alarms and giving me a certificate that they work (seriously, this is a thing in Massachusetts. Jesus Christ), or one thing and another, every day for the first 10 days at home required between 1-3 hours of phone calls, emails and getting the right people the right information... not to mention my poor brother and sister, who live nearby and have to stop what they're doing to deal with things I can't do over the phone. It's been a shit show, and the disturbing thing is that by Massachusetts standards, its going smoothly.

 Well, enough bitching. Almost there, anyhow. I'm just not suited to doing normal people stuff.

 I did get plenty of time with my wife and kid, and that was awesome. I had to work at not letting my annoyances become distracting enough to take away from our good times, but I think I did ok, absent a few hiccups.

 I even got a 2 full days and a couple of half days in my garage, which I spent expanding my workbench (it's now 15 feet long) installing the Radio control gear in my little model tugboat, and building the not-really little new model boat, too.








Sunday, April 22, 2018

Finishing touches (not in the naughty sense)

Well, time is flying by now that I'm home, of course. The sense of 'never enough time' is strong as it always is, but it's been great to be home.

         I am well into the process of selling the B family home up in Boston. The million little things that everyone complains about really are worth complaining about. What a pain in the ass it is to sell a house! Still, another few weeks and if all goes well we'll be closing the deal and that will be one less pain in the balls for me. The implications of selling my childhood home is an issue to be dealt with after the work is done at this point. I'm mostly just sick of dealing with it, as is the entire B family, I'm sure.

         Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's cousin and her kids were visiting my home when I got here. I got to spend about a day and a half with them, which isn't a lot, but it was nice to see family, anyhow. When it was done, we spent 2 full days completely cleaning and rearranging the house. Not that the family was messy- kids are kids, and that's no problem there, but the opportunity was there, so we went all-out and two 14-hour days later, my house is looking beautiful. I declared by eminent domain that I needed more space for my hobbies, so I doubled my shop space- I have a 2 car garage that is more like a 2 1/2 car garage, which is now my personal ManTown.
  I've been opposed to having a man cave. My home IS my man cave. Part of being a neanderthal patriarchal pig that I am, I refuse to be relegated to a single room in my own home. But, truth is that I really only want my garage to be my space.
  At any rate, I extended my workbench another 7 feet, so now I have 14 feet of bench plus a 3-foot wheeled bench that I can scoot where I need. I also added shelving to keep my wood supply out of the way and some under-bench shelving for paint and such. Our bicycles and such got wall-mounted, too, to free up storage space. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife can still park her car in the garage when I'm gone- everything can be easily stacked and rolled well out of the way, so she's content enough. The last few days have been a nice distraction from the stresses of life. This morning, after church, I made a huge breakfast, and this afternoon my kid and I are going to an open house at one of the high schools in the area that he wants to check out.

 Domestic bliss? Pretty close.


 Oh, the little boat... I have everything I need with the exception of the electronic speed control to make the boat an r/c unit.  I fine tuned the reduction gearing, pulled the drive shaft and loaded it with lithium grease (waterproofs the shaft), installed a u-joint and the steering servo, and bought the ni-cd battery packs I wanted. I have to pick up 50lbs of lead for ballast, and finish wiring everything once the ESC comes in, and I can take the boat out for a spin. My neighbor is also a giant geek, and he has an rc speedboat. Since we share frontage on our pond, it's not like we have far to go.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

winding down

Well, I'm winding down here from yet another tour here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/The SS Betty Ford.   Looking forward to going home and enjoying all the rights and privileges therewith.


 That's (I think) three tours in a row that have been miserable. Morale in the toilet, weather just absolutely awful and a plague of headaches both onboard and off that have made me a bear to live with. Just a low time. But, whether things pick up or not, I'll at least get my full two weeks home this time.



I'm hoping that I'll come back with a better 'tude and maybe things here will get better too. If you've picked up on the tone here that all is not well in HAWSEPIPER land, you're correct. BUT, I'm not one to use my thumb as a fart cork, so whatever changes are required to make things a little happier, I'll look into it.

I don't like being a downer. Another couple of watches to stand, another storm to get through today and tomorrow, and I'll be home and sweating out some whisky fumes in 72 hours, Lord willing and the creek don't rise.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reining it in

Yesterday might have been a bit of a capstone for me... or, better put, a warning sign.

 I'm pretty good at multitasking, but I don't like it. Working with oil, multitasking is a bad word. Cargo watch is for cargo watch. Mishaps almost always have more than one cause. In Risk Management for handling liquid cargo, once you're at a post-oops moment, we refer to the root cause as an 'error chain,' something most people have heard of. Every link in the error chain is an opportunity to stop the mishap that wasn't taken, which means there are often enough multiple ways to stop a disaster.


     We had no disasters yesterday, thank the seven mad gods of the sea. Not even any near misses. Prior to signing on the watch, I had carried out a ton of personal business which left me stressed, but not preoccupied. I was able to focus on the watch.

 So why am I talking about error chains? I didn't carry any distractions into my watch, except for way too much general stress, which I am actually damn good at setting aside when I am on watch... except that I'm human, and the easiest form of delusion is self-delusion. After a good off-watch sleep, I woke up still feeling the lingering effects of the stress. So, obviously I dealt with it well but it was still extant while I was on watch.

         I'm selling the B family home, my parents' house, and accepted an offer on it the day before yesterday. Like it always does, prepping the house for sale cost twice as much and took twice as long as my time and fiscal budgeting allowed for. OK, no real problems there.
    Managing personal business that is a time sink becomes an issue when it interferes with work, specifically, elevating risk. But life does not stop because I'm on watch. Stress and preoccupying factors have to be managed before signing on the watch. I felt as though I managed the situation well, and stood a safe watch with proactive concern for risk management... mostly by being aware.
     Ten years ago, I would have laughed to hear me talking about worrying about my stress level before I did a job that I could do in my sleep. Holy shit, I actually might have grown up a little.
     Looking forward, I'm going to have to be careful about not letting personal business stress me out. I could get stressed worrying about getting stressed, and then where would I be? Taking stock of my personal situation, I suppose I should feel that I've crossed a small threshold when it comes to workplace safety... but it feels more like I just realized I stepped into traffic for a second and wasn't even aware of it. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Less Than Sacred Sunday

Sunday has never really been a day of rest for me.

   While I am religiously observant, I have never been good at observing the Day Of Rest rules for Sunday. That started with one of my first legit jobs at age 14, and continues. Perils of not liking working indoors, I guess.

 When I was lobstering, Sunday was airport day. I'd work for the local lobster pound, (the buyer of the local lobstermen's catch), who was located across the parking lot from the docks where we kept the boats. The pound was a 50x20 concrete tank about 4 feet deep, with a recirculation system and biofilter, refrigerated so the pound was always pretty cool and damp. There was a pump room, storage area, pump with stacks of styrofoam shipping coolers, lobster cars (floating wood or plastic crates that held about 100lbs of lobsters each that we would fill and keep in the tank), a pair of reefer chests for ice packs and a small office.

I'd unlock the door, shut off the alarm, and check the office for the order. The owner of the pound was a schoolteacher who didn't like working Sundays and spent about an hour a day at his shop. Great 2nd gig for him. It was damn near self-serve for the local lobstermen. The price of lobster off the boat is actually very low. It hasn't changed much since I was about 10, because lobstermen were obligated to sell to buyers, and forbidden from selling direct to customers in New England. While this has changed, it is still discouraged via arcane and ridiculous legal hoops that must be jumped through.

 At any rate, once I saw the order, which would look like
 "12 chickens, 5 quarters, 3 halves and 1 select" (translation: 12 25lb boxes of  1.0-1.2lb lobsters, 5 cases of 1.2-1.4 lb lobsters, 3 cases of 1.4-1.7lb, and 1 of 1.7lb and above.

 To get these, I would first raid the pre-sorted cars- as lobstermen come in, they pull lobster out of the holding tank on the boat and place them in lobster cars which are usually stacked on their dock. These are hoisted up to the pier from the dock with a block and tackle, 2 at a time, and then dragged to the back of the owner's truck and driven over to the pound, where each car was weighed on a scale.  At that point, the lobsterman is done with the owner, unless there is a 'split price' in summer, when new-shell (recently molted, and therefore holding less meat) lobsters are sorted from hard-shells, which haven't molted yet this year, survive better in shipping, and contain more meat per pound.
 When lobsters molt, they have a bigger shell than they need, which they grow into. While this is happening, they fill the space in between the shell and muscle with water. Shell hardness is tested by grabbing the lobster by the carapace and squeezing just above the legs. If you can buckle the shell inward with a strong squeeze, she's new-shelled.
 So, after weigh-in, the lobster cars are either opened and the lobsters sorted by shell hardness and weight by whoever's at the pound, or simply closed up and thrown in the tank. Cars were identified by using colored pipe cleaners to mark who was whose, and also to mark the sorted cars.

 So my job was simple. I'd slap preprinted shipping labels on a number of styrofoam coolers, drag the digital scale over by the tank, and pull out a couple of cars of pre-sorted hardshell lobsters, and fill the coolers up. If I ran out of pre-sorted lobsters, I'd have to pull over a couple of cars of unsorted catch and grade them, return the sorted cars to the tank, and continue on. Once I had the right number of coolers filled with the right weight and type of lobster, I'd put the lid on, wrap the cooler in packing tape and set it aside. At that point, I'd back the owners' box truck up to the garage door, load the truck and clean up, reset the alarm, and drive to the airport.

 Airlines have their own cargo terminals. Your passenger flight is probably carrying a fair bit of cargo along with your ass when you fly. In this case, all the lobsters went to a single food distributor in Switzerland. So I'd drive to the cargo terminal at Logan airport in Boston, unload the lobsters onto a pallet at their loading dock, sign a sheet, collect a reciept and drive home. It took about 4 1/2-5 hours from start to finish, generally, for which I received $50, and it was a lot less back-breaking than lobstering. Plus, Boston has awesome Irish music on AM radio on Sundays, which helped.

   I did other work on Sundays, before and after my time at the pound, but none was as pleasant.



Thursday, April 5, 2018

rusty

I'm reviewing the Rules of the Road in preparation for an upcoming licensing exam to up the tonnage on my captain's license, and oh, Lord, am I rusty. I'm muddling my way through OK, but minds and metal do rust with disuse, and it's been a while.

 It still strikes me how much easier this was to retain when I was younger, and getting around in a fog with only a stopwatch, the engine tachometer and a compass was pretty much the standard. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson yet again, nothing concentrates one's mind like the prospect of being hanged.  I've been able to view fog as mostly an inconvenience for quite a while. I'm sure I'm going to miss the apathy.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Keeping up with Mr. Bobby

Mr Bobby is now the seniormost citizen among our afloat staff. He's in his mid 70's, and is the Able-Bodied Seaman aboard one of our tugboats. A lifelong commercial fisherman, shipyard worker and mariner, calling Mr. Bobby spry is an underwhelming statement. Dude is FAST. Leathery and wiry, with a very strong Virginia country southern accent (a Matthews County accent, or near enough, to my nothern ears), keeping up Mr. Bobby is like herding cats. You can try. He walks at a jogging pace and is always ready to meet you with a positive outlook so long as you bring one too. Otherwise, he's merely quiet and polite.

 We call him Mr. Bobby because while the man himself is very humble, by virtue of his age, seniority and by the way he comports himself, the man is worthy of deep respect. Even his captain, a younger man, refers to him by the title. I took to it right away. He just IS a Mister. 


 I've been getting to know Mr. Bobby better the past few months. We've had more time to talk, and his tugboat has been paired with us more often than normal of late. It's been a pleasure to work with him. Guy knows his stuff, and at a time when morale is lower than snake shit within my company, conversations with Mr. Bobby tend to uplift instead of making me want to tongue punch the barrel of a pistol, which, sadly, has been the norm of late.

     Last night we made our way out to an anchorage in sheer fog. No BS, we couldn't see the tugboat, just 300 feet away, from my bow. Just the warm glow of her lights, which meant the captain couldn't see us, either. We creeped our way along, and I got to be lookout for a bit alongside Mr. Bobby, something I haven't done for a LONG time. It was actually pretty nice. Professionally done, we settled into our spot for the night, and come sunup, off we went again to the next job, which is where I am now.

 Despite some good old boys coming in, young, strong energetic kids, we're still getting a fair share of low-T soyboys from up north too, crippled by having T-rex arms, unable to pick up lines or throw them, just barely able to operate a radio and keep their soft widdle hands clean. I could use a dozen more Mr. Bobby's before taking on another maritime academy kid who can't coil a rope and is pissed off at having to do so.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My day so far


 I picked up some kind of bug. Feeling crappy.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Wicked Smaht Girl Is Wicked Smaht

One of my good friends during the college years was Susanne, a German immigrant who came to Boston and lived in the next town over. We were both commuters who lived our lives and commuted into the city every day. She was smarter than me (no surprise there) and we were both students in the Biology department at our college, and hung out on weekends at times, and both lived and worked in Maine at the college's remote field station during the summer. She ended up missing as valedictorian by a spot or two by virtue of choosing physics and chemistry classes as electives instead of underwater lesbian basket weaving or another retard gimme class like that. We ended up working at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA together, too.
 Pretty girl. Statuesque. More refined than me, certainly, but a good friend. She got 2 master's degrees while working on her Ph.D, ended up in the math side of biology while I ended up running away to sea. Last I heard she's a professor somewhere and also a fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. We drifted apart as our lives diverged.

           The funny thing about Susanne is that she refused to buy or read newspapers or watch TV. She couldn't stand all the propaganda, screaming, hate and noise of the world, and keeping up with news that didn't affect her directly wasn't interesting to her.
      She was one of the most competent and upbeat people I ever met. Looking back, Lord, 20 years ago now, she was on to something I think.

 I spent doday watching with some dark humor this Children's Crusade, the parades in DC with kids who aren't weating pussy hats this time, but are pretty much doing the same thing, which is to say, nothing at all. "Protesting" by taking a vacation and having a meetup is pretty light fare to me, but whatever. I do care. I mean, I bought a (another) new AR-15 today to mark the date,  and the harassed clerk on the phone who took my order was absolutely slammed.

 Well, whatever, I'm looking forward to my new rifle, and hopefully I don't lose this one in a tragic canoeing accident like all the other rifles and pistols I've purchased (Hello to the DHS! I saw your ping, btb, you cocksucking vampires!).

      I'm thinking it's time to take a step back and respond to these media crises and circuses by enjoying my family, taking time to do my hobbies and reading good books. I believe that is an appropriate response to all the calls in the media for me to fear and hate everything. I mean, I have a good job, good family, and am an awfully small fish in a big pond. What will it profit me to constantly move from one discussion to another and spout opinions that neither increase my happiness, add money to my wallet, inches to my genitals or years to my life?

 It seems the most sane response to the insane mediae nvironment is to let them fuck off and die. I do my preps, I'm ready for fire, flood famine (well, the modern equivalent of the traditional major disasters), and really, things are pretty good despite all the screaming that this is not so. I'm not getting any younger anyhow, so I'd just as soon worry about things that are going to affect me.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Shot and and hit, shit at and missed

Well, we weathered another nor'easter here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Ice Station Zebra. That's #4 for late winter/early spring. We got a little under a foot of snow, which courtesy of the wind, wasn't drifted too badly, but as it was wet snow, that shit was heavy to shovel.

 We had a small cargo yesterday, but it was enough to heat up the decks around my cargo pumps and manifold area, where we spend most of our time while working, so this meant that by noon yesterday, there was bare deck peeking out here and there, and, courtesy of a nice warm day yesterday (mid 40's and sunny), by the time I woke up for watch at midnight, the deck is currently 90% snow-free, and since we have a full load coming on tonight, that should be gone by afternoon, which is a nice thought.

    Given that this winter has mostly been windy and dry until recently, I'm not holding my breath as to whether or not this was the last snowstorm... but I hope it is.

 I'm starting a review of the materials covered on the licensing exam for the next higher-tonnage than I currently hold. To call me rusty is a complement. It's really showing me how much I've forgotten in the past 10 years. as tankerman. Figuring out stability equations, deck safety (Is that 1 B-2 or 2 B-1's, or are both OK?), lifesaving that is no longer an issue (seriously, when is the last time someone shot up colored flares shoreside to guide a lifeboat onto a beach in shoaling water? I gotta know this stuff, along with what horizontal vs vertical shaking of a lantern means in that same situation. I've absolutely forgotten, shame on me. Still, ignorance has a cure).

One of my friends in this company had his last day the other day. We've lost a lot of young talent to other New York-based companies. It makes things more lonely. We haven't lost nearly enough assholes and hacks, however. Like hemorrhoids,  some of those folks. My employer is one of the lower-paying companies here in NY, and it's starting to tell. Non-monetary issues that aid retention here aren't what they once were, I suppose. I'm lucky enough to work with true friends aboard my own place, and have a great shoreside boss, so I'm not looking to run away. Still, I can't say that I am upping my license just for the hell of it. It's hard to not be doing as well as everyone else for the same quality work. Not to say I'm bitching, however. I'm here voluntarily, and grateful for the work, and hopefully I'm doing a decent job at my trade.

   Tonight's the first watch where I feel like I'm back into my routine, and that's a welcome feeling, anyhow. We're triple-blending a cargo tonight, mixing 3 differing grades of oil to make up a final volume of a particular density. It's all in the math, which was actually kind of nice to have to do, to work out the cobwebs from between my ears.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Townie for a day


     I get to ease into my first watch at work, at least.

     I've got about 2 hours before we leave for our loading port and pick up a small cargo destined for an anchored tanker tonight. We've got a nor'easter headed in, so I anticipate this being a real shit show, but the pointy heads at our office care little for what I think. So it goes.

 Goddamn, though, I'm tired of this winter. I've missed a grand total of ONE little storm while I was home. It just hasn't worked out timing-wise. I've been here for all the weather.


          I wasn't able to see as many friends as I had hoped while I was in my hold hometown last week. The workload I had, coupled with constraints on my time in handling other business (lawyer, family, municipal, etc etc) meant that I was on the go from 6 am to about 9pm most days. Not that it was all work, either. That would have been great. I lost a lot of time waiting on things to happen... like the 3 hours I lost one morning at a Bank of America, while opening an estate account.

 Judging by the obituaries, people die every day. You'd think it would be routine to open an estate account to handle the final expenses of a dead person who didn't choose a viking funeral and take their things into the next world. Apparently it's nothing routine at all. Giant pain in the ass, in fact. But it did get done, though it cost me the best part of a productive day- the mid morning.

          It wasn't all rotten tomatoes, though. I got to see some people I wanted to see, and spending St. Patrick's Day in the Boston area is pretty much the best place to spend St. Patrick's day. I ate like a king and drank just enough Guiness and Jamison to enjoy myself, and not a drop more. I even got to see a neighbor who literally gave me the shirt off his back- serious, I told the guy I really liked his shirt (a freebie got when he had breakfast and an Irish coffee at a local Irish-owned restaurant), and he told me that he'd leave the shirt at the door of my mom's house that night... which he did. I loaded him up on shepherd's pie, beef and guiness stew and other delicacies as a thank you.

 I also got to go to the local old men's bar, which I had never done in my 40 years as a resident. This is a tiny hole-in the wall (it had 6 seats for 30ish years) bar up the road from my neighborhood, which no young person would bother to patronize... turns out it was awesome. As I'm in my 40's, I was one of the younger of the 30 or so patrons jammed in the place. It is a tradesmen's bar- most of the guys there were 50-70, and union tradesmen or builders or contractors. I spent too much time away or out fishing to really be a townie, but I see the appeal now. It was nice to just talk about whatever came up. I could get my head out of my own ass for an hour and talk about good tools, dumb shit that happened in the past, things like that. It felt normal in a way that I haven't had in a while. I'm not really a bar guy. I like to drink my drinks outside, either with my wife or in solitude, but I used to like pounding drinks with friends, of course, like most working-class people. Escaping from my roots comes at a cost, I suppose.

         Although the weather was utter shit for the week I was there, this past week was also a capstone for me. I was able to have one last block of time in my old hometown as we prepped the B family home for a new family to make memories in. In a few weeks, or a month, our familial base of operations will be gone, and my childhood home will be someone else's, While I was unwilling to spend a small fortune on a beautifully-situated small and old house in (blech) Massachusetts, that doesn't mean I'm not sad about it. The quiet peninsula located so close to Boston but far enough that the locks never worked, where the ocean was never more than a couple hundred feet away is a beautiful place.

hard to believe that it's only 15 miles to the city. 

At some point, though, moving on requires moving on. I'm sure that the future holds good things, and while I'm a fairly sentimental person, I do not require things to be foci of my emotional connections. Without the people I love,  our family home became just a house after my parents passed on, and the labor and preparation for sale has made it easier to let go. I'm pretty damn tired of worrying about it all.I didn't go back to work with the best attitude, feeling unrested and somewhat discontented, but the reestablishment of routine will be good. I am looking forward to things being more predictable and simple for a few weeks. Oil goes in, oil goes out. Rinse, repeat.

Monday, March 19, 2018

I'm not dead yet!

That was about the busiest two weeks I've had in the past 10 years.

 I'm pretty beat.

     I spent a too-fast 6 days at home and then a week in the Boston area, prepping our family home for sale. One of my brothers and a couple of friends of the family provided the skilled labor. I provided the retard strength. My other brother and my sister also chipped in. We got about 90% of the work done- about $30,000 worth of renovation, for materials cost and a pittance for labor as a pro-forma thank you. My role in all this was as purser, painter, labor and cheerleader, pretty much, but 10 hour days were the norm, (minus an afternoon off for St. Patrick's Day, which was glorious)

 The implications of all this are a matter of another day's posts. NOw I'm sitting in the fleabag discount refugee-plagued Brooklyn hotel that my company favors for a flophouse for oncoming crew, listening to the Somalians scream at each other (and their many, many children running down the halls back and forth), which is getting me into the right mindset (read, impatient and shitty) for work. Tomorrow it's off to the HQ for hopefully some better-quality sleep prior to starting my watch rotation.

 But it was an emotionally and physically week. Not the best way to prep for another month at work, but it's what I have.

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.