Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Screw Change Part 9000

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

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

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

 THEN. We took off.

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

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

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


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Cleanup day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upper Wheelhouse

Accommodation lower block

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

Monday, October 8, 2018

small boat update

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

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

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

Lots of work to go.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

New Normal

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


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

Friday, September 28, 2018

smelling home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

white shirt/blue collar

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

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

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

 Turns out, that's just politics.

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Swallowing the Anchor

I had an interesting day yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pro vs Amateur vs happiness on the water

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

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

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

true story

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

8 weeks down

... and two to go.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 15, 2018

lost post

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


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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 9, 2018

On Diaper Rash and the Day of Change

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

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

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

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

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

Life immediately got better.

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

blessed, blessed anchor watch

 There are few things I value more than unhurried watches. 

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Critical Thinking Gap

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

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

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

 Life is hell. And so is the internet.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I've been here too long

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


Things are good, thanks.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Halfway Day

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

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

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

About twice the displacement of an aircraft carrier.

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

Monday, August 27, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 24, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Everyone's doing cool shit but me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Our Better Angels

It doesn't happen often, but every now and again, I get forced to be serious for a minute about something other than doing my job.

     A former shipmate of mine passed away the other day. It was not a surprise. He had had a stroke on board a manned barge a few years ago, and never really recovered. He was in his 40's, and obese. One of us, though. Part of the gang of us that hung out when we were all rafted up out in anchorages and occasionally had dinners together. He and I weren't close, but cordial, as in we'd sometimes stop by if we were at the same dock and talk for 10 minutes or so, catch up a little.
      It was he who took care of me when I got a particularly nasty case of food poisoning, and my company couldn't be bothered to send me a relief so I could go ashore. I was always so grateful for that. A simple act but supremely kind.

I'm coming up on my relief date here, in a few days. Sadly, I'm staying. But it's progress. Week 4 is almost done. 6 weeks to go. Ugh.  Well, the money will be nice.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Familiar Face

We got lucky here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ floating hot dog cart.  With my tankerman taking some time off, I've had fill-in guys on board. Last Week, I had The Pastor- a deeply religious man with skill and experience, a guy I know pretty well (who is, actually, in the final steps to becoming a baptist minister) and have worked with before, so when he was on board, I could sleep- more on that later.

 I also had Spare Paul, another experienced tankerman, for a short time. He, however, is more comfortable with dock-to-dock clean oil transfers, a somewhat different animal than the dirty game of bumper cars we play on here. I did not sleep well. In the end, he did just fine.

 Yesterday the Cuban Missile came aboard.
     I've worked with the Cuban Missile a few times, including an enjoyable but tough month down in the Windward Isles in the caribbean.He's experienced and very competent. I am sleeping well.

 Familiarization plays a big role in the effectiveness of how we carry out bunker transfers. Dock to dock work, you plug in the numbers, fill up the tanks to the numbers you want, and check to make sure you're not going to stress the hull. Maybe you ballast, but it's formulaic.

   Bunkering is more dirty and works on a lower profit margin, I'm sure, and requires a fair bit of back-of-the-envelope math. Blending oils to achieve certain densities, sulphur content or volume (or all of the above)- cross-tank loading without stressing the hull, unequal volumes of multiple products, stuff like that- meat-and-potatoes stuff, but things that require a bit of experience and understanding that is deeper than swinging wrenches and valves... not rocket science for sure. I mean, you can shave a monkey and make him do my job most days, but doing and doing well are different things.

     Really, all you need is someone to teach you, some classroom time, and experience under an experienced tankerman, and you can technically do the job. This is what happens some places- you get a short-bus seat warmer who can sign the DOI (a document saying that you did this and that correctly) legally, but who can't be trusted to unwrap a lollipop otherwise, and then you get an unhappy, experienced person watching over him and not sleeping.I've had a touch of that here and there, like when Father Time, the ancient of days, used to camp out and eat my food and sign the DOI but was otherwise not able to do things like turn valves or run the crane. But he technically fulfilled the letter of the law, which only requires warm bodies with a participation trophy from the Coast Guard. Father Time was a kindly gentleman, so we dealt with it. Guy bunkered the Ark for Noah.

 So, with the Cuban Missile on board for a week, I'm sleeping well. He's familiarizing himself relatively quickly, and is willing to ask questions to get up to speed quickly. Plus he's good company, too. And I'm sleeping well. I trust him not to blow us up or cause a scene.  Still, I'll be glad next week when B comes back and things get back to normal abnormal.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Lost in Translation, unintentional hilarity

Peter Grant has a great post up today about the hilarity than can result when you assume that British English and American English are interchangeable.  Read the comments, too!

    About 90% of the disagreements that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I have are based on misunderstandings because of language.  You might think it's like 'Three's Company' style hilarity, and sometimes it is, but man, it can cause trouble.

 Sometimes, however, it can be damn funny however.

 My wife and I speak a form of pidgen at home- When I speak, I tend to use nouns in portuguese, because it's easy to learn the names of things, and the rest in english. My wife tends to do the same in Portuguese. Her english is fine, but when speaking rapidly, she hates to hunt down the name in her mind for places and things, which interrupts the flow of conversation. Anyhow, it works for us. Except when other people hear it. Even worse, my wife learned English with a Boston accent, poor girl, so spelling out words doesn't work. If you know me in meatspace, I have a WICKED STRONG Boston accent.

 So as far as my wife knows, Car is spelled C, A, H.

       The word 'fork' is really hard for my wife to pronounce correctly. It sounds like 'fohk.' My fault, I think. I say it like 'fohahk.' At the Top of the Hub,one of Boston's most expensive restaurant, on our second anniversary, we met some very nice people at the next table because of this. Due to a snafu, her place was improperly set up with utensils. To their credit, the people at the next table only stared for a few seconds when my wife announced that she needed a big fohk before she could eat her salad. When I heard a little giggle, I couldn't help but laugh at it too.

      But that's nothing compared to what happened at my brother-in-law's house.


 In portuguese, 'pintar' is paint.  'Pinto' is a juvenile chicken. Pinto is also vulgar slang for penis, turns out, like 'cock' here in the US.
... I did not know these things. 

  My brother-in-law is a very handy guy, a monoglot with almost no English. My sister-in-law speaks very good english, but doesn't get much opportunity to practice. They're very nice people. Super religious evangelicals, but my brother-in-law retained an earthy sense of humor. My sister-in-law, too, I'm told, but she'd never exercise it in front of a man who wasn't her husband, so I haven't seen it.

 One day we went over there for dinner, and I was impressed at the hanging bracket my brother-in-law made to set his giant TV up on in the corner of the room.  He said it was almost done, but needed paint, and he was waiting to see if his wife wanted it in white or black.

 So, after dinner, at some point, in an effort to contribute to the all-portuguese conversation at the table, I turn to my very sweet but shy and religious sister-in-law and say " O Karina, voce prefeiro um pinto preto, or pinto branco?"  'So, Karina, do you prefer a black paint, or a white one?"
 ... only I didn't say paint. I said the other thing, turns out.

 Silence. Then LOTS of laughter, thank God. To maximize his enjoyment, my brother in law made his wife explain the error in my word choice.  You'd never think that brown people can blush, but I assure you they can. Luckily my sister in law also thought it was hilarious, but didn't want to embarass me, as at the time they had no idea just how lowbrow my sense of humor can be.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Carnival! (NSFW)

Well, it's another long midwatch, and like it seems to do every damn day this year, it's raining. Again.

 So, with dampened spirits dragging me down, I thought I'd share some pictures from Brazil's Carnival to brighten up everyone's day. Lord knows I feel better already.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

There goes another thing I said I'd never do again

I dun goofed.

 Or did I dun and gont goofed? 

 Sure feels like it today.

 My right hand man here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ floating prison with a chance of drowning besides, has taken a leave of absence.  Big O, my tankerman, is taking a few months to start a business and see it fledged before returning to work. Faced with the prospect of 12 weeks of fill-in guys who rotate in and out and are not familiar with the HQ, My partner and opposite, B and I agreed to work over, to stay on board rather than take out next scheduled time off. We are each staying for 10 weeks. Mine already started. I've been on board for 2 weeks already. B is going home to do the necessary to prep his family and his own personal business for an extended work period.

 Now, after 7 years of working 42-45 weeks a year, far beyond what is smart or necessary, I told myself, and my family, that I wouldn't be working extended tours anymore while in the employ of my current employer. When we need fun money beyond the normal, sure I can work an extra week and then go home for a week before starting back on my routine, but working 10 weeks straight was supposed to be a young man's game.

   BUT, with B gone, and a certain amount of experience in the price we pay in having strangers working as tankermen on the HQ, we agreed to support each other- and make some money without leaving our place.

 That's the secondary stress of working overtime- you work over on a boat or barge that needs crew. Not yours. In this case, we're working on the HQ, working from home, so to speak, so that should help.

 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife wasn't super pleased, but understood. In the end, the extra money I'm earning is going towards another big project for us, so she was appreciative, even if it is viewed as a costly but ultimately good decision.

 Still, at the 2 week mark today, with (oh fuck me.) 8 more weeks ahead, you'll understand if I'm not feeling inspired.

Friday, August 3, 2018

No religion or politics at my table

A standing rule at my house, and even aboard the HQ when we have guests is 'no religion, no politics.'   To maintain peace in my house, and at work, we don't mix the two when we don't know intimately the people involved.

 So, sadly, I have been forced to delete the maritime news website 'Gcaptain' from my sidebar. Their social media people are forcing politics into their reporting, and, even overlooking their deep and abiding boners for anything embracing global warming theory, I've had enough. As it happens, my politics are not in alignment with their social media opinion pieces, but that's actually immaterial. I don't want opinion pieces about politics in my fucking maritime news. I want maritime news.

 Ship blows up. Man overboard. Company sold. Company started. Ship being built. Laws changing. Important stuff.
 How global warming could maybe possibly affect widget supply if the worst happens 200 years from now. Why this person we don't like is, like, bad for business, man.  Not important stuff.

 So, sorry gcaptain, you're done. You're Mother Jones of the maritime world now.

 So instead, I'm going to put a link to 'The Maritime Executive' which is more about maritime business and trade than down n' dirty news, but at least  their writers know the difference between news and opinion.  Check 'em out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

HAWSEPIPER COOKS: Coxinha, the Brazilian treat

The best part about Brazilian food is that generally it won't kill you. Brazilian food is not heavily spiced, and relies more on savory than spice. Healthy, simple ingredients make for wonderfully flavored foods... which is part of why people happily line up to spend $30-100 a person for buffet service at a Brazilian BBQ joint in the US.

     When it comes to snack foods, my absolute favorite, as a man who loves to eat too much, is the Coxinha (Pronounced "Ko-sheen-ya,"  a fried chicken treat that is widely available... in Brazil. Think chicken salad wrapped in dough and fried into a teardrop shape about the size of a small egg. Sounds... weird, right? Make these babies or find them in a Brazilian grocery store and you'll be instantly hooked. And holy shit, talk about awesome finger food for a party. After trying these, you'll never make nachos again. There's a reason why Brazilians in America think Mexican food has no soul.

     This is street-cart food in Brazil- great snack or meal on the go, good with booze or beer, too. Since we eat on a Brazilian schedule in my house, dinner is at 4pm, and the main meal of the day. Around 8 I'll do a charcuterie plate, or Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife will throw together an appetizer of sorts along with bread or fruit and cheese, and on weekends, coxinhas or Pao de queijo, a type of cheesy bread.

 The thing about cooking coxinhas, is that you don't always have to. If there is a Brazilian grocery or bakery in your area, you can get these things fresh or frozen, and they're often really good- They're mad in big batches and the uneaten portions frozen, so they don't have to be made very often. They freeze and reheat REALLY well. If you buy them frozen, you do need to find out if they've been fried or not yet. They need to be fried ONCE (never refry them, it turns into mush!) but after, if they've gotten cold or were frozen,  they can be baked back to life and still be perfectly good.

    This is NOT a complicated recipe. There are a bunch of steps, though, and it takes a little time. I suggest catching up on a documentary or Deadliest Catch on TV, or splitting a bottle of wine with your spouse while doing the prep, and talk about your day, or why Pinochet did nothing wrong. You know, whatever makes you happy. Brazilians often  make the mix up at night, freeze it, and cook portions if it another day. With the steps, it's easy to clean up after yourself. You can freeze this stuff at any step in the process and continue on later.

 A word on cheeses: The best cheese for this is catipury cheese, which you'd need to get in a latino grocery. Cream cheese is a perfectly good substitute, though.

A word on flour:  The authentic coxinha is made with cassava (often called manioc) flour. Although it is gluten-free (I don't care) it can be hard to find outside a latino grocery, and regular old white flour will do.

  • 1.5 pounds chicken breasts, boneless 
  • 4 to 5 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 1 tsp garlic, chopped fine
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 softened 8-oz pack of cream cheese or catipury cheese
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour or manioc
  • 2- 3 cups bread crumbs
  • 3 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
  • salt and pepper to taste

 To make:

  1. Put the chicken  in a large shallow pot. Cover them with the chicken broth, adding water if necessary to make sure the chicken breasts are covered by at least 1/2"
  2. Add the carrot and one of the onions (peeled and halved) and bay leaves
  3. Bring to a LOW boil, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through (you want a little pink in the middle ). It's necessary to cut into the chicken to tell when it is done. Remove pieces as they finish, so as not to overcook.
  4. Set chicken aside to cool, and strain and keep the broth.
  5. Shred the chicken into very small pieces. Food processor is easiest but you can also use your fingers or two forks.
  6. Stir the softened cream cheese and lime juice into the shredded chicken.
  7. Finely chop the second onion and the garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of butter until soft but not brown. Don't burn them!
  8. Finely shred the carrot (or toss in a food processor and drain). Add the carrot, hot onions and garlic to the chicken mix and stir well.
  9. Measure the chicken broth you saved.  You need at least 3 cups, so add more canned chicken broth to make 3 cups if you have to.  Boil the broth in a saucepan and gradually stir in the same amount of flour as you have broth. If you have 3 cups, add 3 cups of flour. If you have 3 1/2, add 3 1/2. 
  10. Stir constantly (don't stop!) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. This makes a stiff dough.  Remove from heat and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Also put the shredded chicken in the fridge for an hour, or overnight.
At this point, you can refrigerate everything for a day or two, or continue.  Very forgiving stuff.
  1. Flour your hands and take a piece of the dough about the size of an egg. Roll it into a ball, then hollow out the middle for the filling.
  2. Press a golfball size (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) lump of the chicken filling inside the ball of dough, and press the dough closed around the filling. Shape into an approximate drumstick or teardrop shape. Be ready to reflour your hands as needed. Stand the coxinhas on a baking sheet, so that the pointed end sticks upwards. Continue until you run out of dough or filling.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Place the bread crumbs in a shallow pan or bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Dip the coxinhas in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs to coat. Refrigerate the coxinhas for 1 hour, and then either cook or freeze them.
  5. Fill a  pot with enough oil to cover the coxinhas. Heat the oil to 360 degrees. Fry the coxinhas in batches until deep golden brown.
  6. Bask in the adulation of everyone you feed. 

EDIT: I had to add some details about the carrot and garlic, thanks to an astute reader.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Check these guys out: ACORN TO ARABELLA

 On the occasions where I have a decent cell signal, and after other business gets taken care of, I like to watch Youtube videos of people who make stuff. Boats, woodwork, fiberglass, manufacturing processes, whatever. And hunting videos, too, just because the one color I don't see out here is the green you find on leaves- well, with the exception of the enormous pothos plant that I've been growing in my galley for the past 8 years, which has vines about 30' long running across the overhead.

       I have my regular sites that I watch, some of which you can see in the links on the sidebar.

 One new channel that I've been enjoying is 'Acorn To Arabella,' two young guys from MA who are building a wooden sailboat utterly from scratch. 

   And I'm not kidding, when I say 'from scratch.'   These guys are felling trees and milling logs to get the wood they need. And they're doing it, too. The process of cutting stock, building an assembly shed, and lofting the lines is all documented, errors and all, which is half the fun of youtube.

   While I spent last week bitching that the mailman delivered me some shitty walnut planks, you can watch Steve hanging 20' in the air limbing a tree trying to make room for a shed.

I can't link to youtube here because I'm piggybacking on the HQ's Wifi, and the powers that be believe that Youtube is the devil. But here's their channel. Check it out.


 If you're of a mind to, maybe throw them a couple of bucks. These guys are working hard and worthy of support. 


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Be not afraid

My generation grew up with some fears. We were taught to fear Soviets, nuclear war, and, for some reason, quicksand.
 Seriously, I really grew up thinking quicksand was going to be something I would have to be mindful of.

 Without diminishing the worry of nuclear war or the soviet threat, which was somewhat of a fatalistic worry- I grew up in a town with a big Navy base, a shipyard nearby, and Boston was right across the harbor) which is to say that we understood that if it happened, we weren't going to know much about it, being at ground zero, so why worry?  In retrospect, that was fairly reasonable.

     As I got into my late teens, the hole in the ozone layer, radon, CFC's, overpopulation, and global warming all filled the gap left by the Russians... but by then, we had fearmongering fatigue, and that helped too. We were tired of being told to be afraid, with the 'big one' already behind us, realizing that a lot of time and energy had been wasted.

 Teenagers today, however, don't get a break. At school they receive a barrage of fearmongering. They are taught that we're living in a dangerous time where violence, hatred and greed are destroying everything. The environment is irreparably damaged. Global warming is going to make it worse.  Overpopulation. Racial disparity. Income inequality.

 The media they consume is even worse. I suspect that the spike in interest in fantasy movies and superhero TV is an escape valve from this.

 I talk to my kid about being afraid. About the difference between reasonable and unreasonable fears. About how much easier it is to manipulate people through fear than via any other emotional medium, and that for the most part, this is a conscious decision on behalf of those who hold or grasp at the strings. I hope it's enough. My kid is sarcastic, and this gets him in trouble at times. I've gotten phone calls. It's been a good lesson in power dynamics. I've also learned where I have to caution my kid about repeating lessons on critical thinking and the nature of behavior- on being sure the juice is worth the squeeze when it comes to sharing ideas that people don't like because they're true. The role of instinct in virtually all behavior. Altruism. Class and culture. Those are volatile subjects, and while my kid enjoys a certain amount of leeway in talking about certain social topics because he's not caucasian, he also is vulnerable to accusations of 'acting white.'  I mean, what the hell would I know about that? There's not much I can do there except note that ignorant minds can't distinguish between color and class. It's not an easy subject.

My son is more aware and concerned about these issues listed above than I certainly am, and I suppose that's inevitable. Where I have rational arguments against a specific issue, I'll talk to him about it. The power of critical thinking is such that it's relatively easy to turn the tables on someone merely by asking questions about their platform, which also leads to being able to disagree with less conflict, unless one is dealing with a fool or a zealot, and there's no angle on wasting time on either.

 Trying to balance teaching a young man how to be strong, how to never back down, and how to be discreet... that's a challenge. My kid can and has been called out on being religious already. That's a fight I can't fight for him. He'll have to make his own way there. Pretty much all I can do is talk to him about it and be the best example I can manage. I worry about it of course- virtually every teen suffers a loss or dimunition of faith at some point, but if we laid a good foundation, he'll have that to build off of, once life screws him over a few times.
     Being rootless, being afraid and being discouraged- these are the lessons that my kid is being taught, for all that schools talk about affirmation and support.  For the most part, I learned 90% of what I needed at home. Trivia and details were available at school, which helped. But I'm not there nearly as much as my own father was. He was already retired when I was in grade school, I could talk to him every morning and night.
   No, I don't have that luxury. All I can do is to teach my son to be confident in his ability to judge, to be fair and strong without being brittle or a bully. Above all, I hope to teach him to be optimistic for his future, for achieving his goals. More than anything else, our culture of fear steals that away from our children. They might be taught to strive for success, they might be encouraged, but that gets measured and balanced against the other, darker lessons, the rampant nihilism and fear for the future that is being jammed down their throats in these jumbled mixed messages that our poor confused kids have to deal with.

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Review of 'Primordial Threat' by M.A. Rothman

For a merchant mariner, a really enjoyable book is dangerous- you end up staying up too late reading it on your off-watch time, and end up tired on the next watch… and then you do it again!
    It’s our equivalent of reading under a blanket with a flashlight when you were a kid. 

   From what I gathered online, Mike Rothman has a strong professional science background, and a good sense of humor. He shares little vignettes about being a husband and father that can get a laugh out of anyone who’s in the same shoes.  I was lucky enough to score an advance copy.

    Primordial Threat is classic hard science fiction. By classic I mean that it takes place in the near future (the moon has a small manned colony and there are asteroid mining crews making a living in the solar system near earth), and science and technology play a central supporting role in what is primarily a story about people.  It hits on some of the foundational themes you might find in many sci-fi books and films, and puts an original twist on them. This is NOT a a story about thin and handsome WASPS with great hair flying around space, fighting aliens that look just like us but with fucked up foreheads. This story isn’t about the wonders of diversity; the characters are created for content, not for color, but whose color in fact flavors the story to good effect.

Recently promoted, Burt Radcliffe is trying to get settled into his job as administrator of one of NASA's programs after increased asteroid activity is noticed far out in our solar system, moving inward.              

With earth threatened by asteroid impacts and behind that, a wandering  primordial black hole (which is a thing!), Dr. David Holmes, the one scientist who foresaw the threat (and had his career destroyed as a result) and later disappeared, a search ensues, and this is where the book starts to  shine- it’s not just space and big guns, but a cop procedural, a military thriller, a disaster story, and a mystery, all wrapped around near-future tech. A shadowy death cult with global reach begins to ramp up a campaign to ensure the Armageddon that will (in their eyes) rain death and judgement on all of humanity, but even there, the scale and scope of the cult is realistic. No standing armies, but terror cells.
The fact that Dave Holmes found a new career that roughened him up around the edges, coarsened his language and put 40lbs of muscle on him also rang true with me. I know a little bit about that.  

     Rothman’s writing style is clear and crisp, for the most part, although the backstories of the characters feel a bit shoehorned at the beginning of the book. The action is well-paced and fun, and the obvious dark dread of characters facing the end of the world and trying to do something about it (and often failing in the stepwise progression towards goals) is realistic without being overwhelming. The heroes are all over the board- a NYPD officer, a brilliant Indian lady who is difficult to get along with, a space agency administrator, and Dr. Holmes himself, a disgraced former science agency head who has a target painted on his back because he might be able to save the world.

   The use of tech is a central part of the story without taking away from the characters. From the evolution of Reagan’s SDI, materials science, the agonizing slow development of nuclear fusion and the true apex of all science fiction, chasing the dream of relativistic space travel.  The end goal is something beyond what anyone would imagine- not space ships, but a project beyond a scale that is easily imagined, but which scientifically remains possible. 

 It’s all in here, and all play a supportive role of what is, in the end, an accounting of the cost of a generational leap in humanity’s future. And it's a lot of fun to read, too.


 PRIMORDIAL THREAT will be released online August 31