Hello. My name is Dave and I came from a shit-hole.
My friend Sarah Hoyt pointed me to a self-righteous fury spewing from the South African ANC (the political party which has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid) about the idea of South Africa being a shit-hole and bad America was. I was born there, and eventually migrated to Australia, of which I am now a proud citizen, and which I love, and try my best to pay back for its enormous generosity in taking us in. Now, South Africa is a beautiful country, with some fine people… but the ANC have presided over it now having one of the highest murder and rape stats of any country in the world not at war.
I've been fortunate enough to correspond with some great modern authors. Sarah Hoyt and Dave Freer among them. Dave's an interesting guy, and we have a lot in common, except that he seems a lot smarter and a much nicer person than I am. Being able to chat with interesting and intelligent people via social media has been about the only thing I actually like about social media.
At any rate, Dave's the real deal. We both have a background in marine biology, an affection for commercial fishing and commercial fishermen in general, and have worked at fish farming here and there. As such, I tend to hang on his words, as in many ways his life as an immigrant on a remote Australian island sounds really goddamn cool if challenging. I'd love to do something like that, but alas, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife doesn't really enjoy being somewhere where it's challenging to walk in high heels. My being more fond of her than I am of remote islands, I choose suburbia. So it goes.
Sometimes, burning bridges is the best thing you can do. Eliminate your lines of retreat and reduce your chances of missing something ahead by eliminating the desire to look behind.
Without being overly cryptic, I recently closed the door on some people from my past who used to be friends. Rather than continue to be annoyed by them and saddened that we'd grown apart over minutia, or politics, or lifestyle, religion or all of the above, it made more sense to just not worry about it anymore. I like things simple anyhow.
I figure if someone gets so upset that my personal politics, or my faith, or their lifestyle choices become so difficult to accept that they can't be a friend, they certainly aren't and haven't been for a while. So it goes.
One of the most helpful things that happened this past fall in dealing with my mother's death was that when I would return to my old hometown up north, a few friends immediately stopped what they were doing and rallied to check in on me, visit with my mom, say goodbye, that sort of thing. I didn't even realize that I needed any emotional support until I had it. Some of those folks I hadn't seen much of in the past 10 years, but the distance and time turned out to be irrelevant, and I'm very grateful for that.
Other people who used to be in my life... well, different story. I think, upon reflection, that my career change, in going back to my roots and being a fisherman after college was done, was something of an admission of failure on my part. I failed to change as a person. Perhaps that was the impact of treating college and grad school like a job and not a social round. Being a scientist wasn't satisfying, just dull, as were most of the people. I aspired to enjoy their polite company more, though, thinking it a benchmark of what I would need to take part in in order to shake off my working-class roots.
Well... shit. After I realized I was pretty unhappy and changed my life to something I'd actually enjoy more, I tried to stay in touch, to be friendly. I just couldn't change my basic nature. I may do well in polite company, but truth is I'd rather be with impolite company and having a good time than sitting around being pleasant with people I don't have anything in common with except for a desire to not be thought stupid.
I remember one party at somebody's apartment in Cambridge, MA, maybe 2002. Friend of some friends. I had started the day with a mild hangover but had woken up at 4am anyhow, hauled lobster pots for 12 hours and gotten back to the dock at like 5:30pm. I drove home and showered, ate, and by the time I had driven the 40 minutes or so to Harvard Square, it was like 9pm. I had to be up at 4am the next day anyhow, but I was in my 20's. No big deal.
It was pretty dull, but pleasant enough, I suppose. I listened to a lot of talk. After everyone had had a few drinks, some of the ladies who I knew made a few digs at me for being a caveman and foregoing the opportunities that my education provided. I explained once that I was happier with what I was doing- it was exciting, rewarding, and the higher-risk nature of the work was satisfying to the part of me that liked doing what others wouldn't want to do. I might as well have been talking to the wall to my associates. Nonetheless, as I am wont to do, a couple of sea stories got told, and a likely enough woman showed some interest in me and I didn't complain at all. Some upper class young ladies really do enjoy slumming it with someone who can be polite and inoffensive.
Thing is, it was all an act for me. I still wasn't enjoying it, and other than a desire to get laid, I was having one of those 'I don't want to be here' feelings. The most vocal of the women I knew at the party got fairly drunk, and let her mask slip a bit, turned pretty mean. She said some vaguely cutting and dismissive things in response to the last story I had told. Cock-blocking me, essentially. I was still housebroken enough at that time that I didn't really do much beyond pretend I didn't realize she was being shitty. I ended up getting the girl's number and by 11pm I was in my rotten bait truck headed back to the suburbs, but the night sat heavy with me. There was nothing truly wrong with them, the problem lay with me. I didn't belong, and never did, and never will.
The next morning, when the Notorious B.O.B. showed up at the dock, I had the engine warmed up, our 1,000 lbs of bait already loaded on board, filled up our fresh water barrel and was loaded up on caffeine. I had slept maybe 3 hours and was still somewhat annoyed with myself for being a drama queen and not just enjoying the company the night before. Over the course of the day, we talked about what was going on inside my head, and by the time we got back to the dock, Bob's dad had dropped a 24-pack of Heineken in the bait cooler, and we proceeded to drink at least half that suitcase. "Fuck 'em," was Bob's advice. "You got people. How many do you really need?"
Cleaning out my hard drive, I was looking over some old pictures from 10ish years ago.
Well, we're fogbound, and rather than being productive, here I am.
I got put in Facebook Jail the other day, a 24 hour ban. Someone took offense that I called them a retard, and so I apologized and referred to them as a 'mongoloid' thereafter. I got Zucc'd off for 24 hours shortly after that.
I don't do too well when I get scolded by strangers, I guess. Facebook, along with right here, is where my id gets aired out in my day to day interactions. I really do try to be nice to people who are nice to me in meatspace. So it goes.
The only real difference I noted from being without social media was that I spent less time on the toilet.
The rapid pace continues. I've been trying to get ashore for the last 5 days. Just hasn't been happening, despite being within swimming distance half the damn time. I've got another 2-3 days before St. Famine's Day, when we run out of caffeine and the bloodbath starts. Oh, and food, too. But fuck food. The caffeine is critical.
I read a really neat blog post by Cedar Sanderson this evening while cooking breakfast for myself at 11:30pm on her writing and go-to productive mindset, specifically, what I guess the touchy-feely types would call mindfullness, or the Jesuits an Examen-style step back to assess things internal and external. It's good stuff and she's a good writer-
There’s a balance, obviously to living in one’s head, and withdrawing
from the world into your own imagination. Both have their times and
purposes. But when you can’t live in your own head you lose the ability
to self-analyze. Self-analysis is another of those tools that can
paralyze, or free, your ability to act and react. In the sense of
freedom, it gives you the ability to rewind a little: make a mistake,
look back and think, what did I do? Why did I do that? How can I correct
that for the next time? But if you aren’t fully online, then you can’t
visualize your thoughts and actions. Read the whole thing HERE
I'm not a creative writer. I very much wish I was, and suspect I have some latent talent there, but a certain intellectual laziness coupled with a greater talent for technical-style writing gives me excuses not to try. I don't have my brother's gift of gab, but when I do get in the zone and start telling stories (usually I need 3-4 pints of Guinness and a dram on top of that) , I'm not above embellishing a good story, and I can usually attract an audience. That could also be my issues with The Irish Whisper (using the outdoor voice while indoors) too, though. Maybe I'm not a good storyteller, but just really, really loud. Probably a bit of both. If that crossed over into writing better, I would try harder.
While I'm at work, I try to maintain a steady emotional state. This rarely works, but I do try. Just the other day a foreign engineer was fairly rude to me, and rather than blow up at him I said "Namaste, you cocksucker," to calm both he and I down, so I'm obviously doing great with that. When I do get there, it helps, though. To get comfortable, I too, prefer to live inside my own head. As I get towards my mid 40's, I am less patient with others, but I also seem to be less emotionally invested in offgassing my own anger or frustration by sharing it with others. Blowing up at people just isn't as cathartic as it once was. I miss those days. I've written before about how as our workload increases, my horizons decrease. I don't fixate on just proximal issues, but I'm able to let go of the gestalt and reduce things to task and purpose. Tactically, this helps get the job done, but it prevents strategic planning, which, luckily, I don't much need when I'm just trying to grind through cargo ops. After my watch is done, I have to do supervisor-esque stuff like tracking consumables, payroll, emails, yadda yadda yadda. And, over the course of a half-day discharge, like tonight, I have time to plink away at posts like this over the course of 8 hours. We've had a hellaciously busy couple of weeks here, and the absolute shit weather has made work challenging, and as a result, I'm less engaged with the outside world, which is nice. I miss long ocean voyages like I used to take, where there was no internet access and no phone signal between ports. I'm too connected now, and, as a result, my go-to mindset is to pine for alone time. Alone time is better than booze, better than fine food... not better than sex, though. Still, it's pretty God-damned good. When we used to have down time, I used to love putting on earmuffs and goggles, wrapping my head in a giant bandanna and needle gunning. I can lose 20 points on my blood pressure with just 30 minutes of needle gunning. I checked. The alone time lets me get my head in order, plan, and reflect and address my personal agenda for work and life... and there's not that much of it. Big barge, small house. The reason I am so protective of the crew we've got is that I can sit at my table with another man 3 feet away and not say a word for 4 hours, and it's completely comfortable... or we can just talk those entire 4 hours, and that's cool too. Being simpatico with shipmates is a treasure worth hoarding. I do need my alone time to make the most of my not-alone time. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife knows this, although she doesn't truly comprehend it. She's a saint, my wife. She knows when I start sneaking out to my garage to disassemble the vacuum cleaner like it was one of my guns, I just need an hour or so and can come back inside on a far more even keel. Same feeling she gets from reaching out to a friend and spending an hour over tea.
When it's Game On here at the HQ, I have to be truly present on my watch, and to be at my best, I have compensation mechanisms and behaviors... we all do. Whether it's someone who has to have a smoke to recollect themselves or another means, we all have our ways to seek out what we need. As an introvert, I prefer to retreat into my own head and figure things out when I'm not overpressed with issues needing my attention. Others need the opposite, to be around people, or to dive into chaos and make order out of it flying by the seat of their pants... end of the day, we all want much of the same. The next two weeks, I just want to abide with out being all zen and shit about it.
It's been a bit zoo-ey the past few weeks here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ, between wind and weather and work, but today is the halfway point for me, and we had a much-needed thaw, today being in the mid-30's and sunny. Actually pretty pleasant. I was able to do little stuff like put the grease gun to fittings on our deck crane, which had been groaning this past few days between the cold hydraulic fluid and extra weight of ice-encrusted everything. We're not 100%, we still need a day of yardwork and to get into one of the cargo tanks to unfuck things there, which means getting the tank cleaned out professionally and force ventilated a bit before a work crew gets in there. Lot of work there.
Still, progress. It was nice to be able to go out and kick the tires, make little adjustments to get us back into a better fighting trim, because there is some MONEY to be made. There's so much work available between clean and black oil trade that for all I'm getting run a tad ragged, our tugboaters are working about nonstop and there's just not enough boats to go around. Now, I'm used to busy spells. IT happens to us sometimes for a few days, or a few weeks, or a month or two. For some of the tug crew, it's not their usual M.O., and it's hard. Not that I'm sympathetic, but I do see that many of them just aren't used to it, especially the deckhands, and it's hard on them. Well, I've been there. I know what it's like. In many ways they have an awesome job... until they don't. Which I guess you could say about all of us, I suppose.
So, halfway. "Top of the mountain" as my shipmate Orlando used to say.
Today was the first day in at least a week where I didn't have to keep my eyes 12 inches in front of my shoes to keep warm. Pretty nice.
The work keeps piling up, and we're still limping along. Everything's frozen a bit and cranky, but we're still nosing the grindstone.
Its bloody cold out, but 90% of the country is saying the same thing. Currently its 5 degrees out and blowing 30. 15 minutes outside and I'm about going full Ken Doll.
It's a great time to move heating oil, except that the terminals and refineries are clogged up, too. Our gas/diesel boats are humping right along, trying to keep several key places fed with enough home heating oil- Long Island, NY and the Hudson River Valley between New York City and Albany. Couple million people have no frigging idea that they've got almost no reserve of available fuel right now available locally.
There are small tank farms dotting the Hudson River that feed heating oil to nearby communities. We (the royal We, not me) are scrambling to keep them fed. Last cold stretch 3-4 years ago, we would often arrive with 30,000 barrels of oil an hour or two after they ran dry and there'd be a hundred oil trucks in line just waiting for us. By the time we had pumped off (8 hours), sailed and gotten back to the terminal in the city (10 hours), they were asking when we'd finish loading, as they were running low. At that point, getting icebound was a disaster, but it still happened- one of my friends managed to move a half mile in 36 hours.Clean oil work ain't for me- there are too many stretches of sitting around doing nothing when the weather is fine. Still, their busy season is often enough the most miserable times of the year.
It's not a great time of the year to be bunkering ships, either.
The wind did not, in fact die down. It shifted, putting us in a lee where we were lying to. Once we got out into NY harbor, it was screaming. I've never heard the wind moan through our antennas before, but it was shrieking. We tried to get into the lee of the tanker we were to bunker, but there was no lee- they feathered up into the wind, and it created a funnel effect, bashed us around, and while I did put one line up on the ship to see how it held, the line screamed and got about 1/4 of it's normal diameter, so I called it a night and refused the job.
So it's almost noon now, 12 hours later, and we're alongside the ship again. The wind came down *some*, enough to get alongside, although it's not super comfortable. Frigging cold out, though. My mustang suit might as well be a bible page for all it's keeping me warm.
The national news and the local news all agreed on one thing. This was the end, apparently. Snow-Ragnarok. Da Bomb Cyclone, yo.
In New England terms, this was a right decent Nor'easter. Maybe a 10-year storm, in fact, although the unfortunate time of tides in many places has led to some pretty strong flooding. Sucks.
The wind was pretty brutal. It's already peaked and is on the way down, as I type. The snow passed. Maybe a squall or two hanging out, but that's about it.
We bunkered the OLEANDER during the overnight, as I mentioned yesterday, and it went well. I had a phenomenal tugboat team to work with- a small push boat that my company uses for spot work when we run out of available tugs. All of their boat handlers are among the best in all of New York, which was good, as the job started with some extremely delicate maneuvering.
I chose to pump off the diesel first, as we arrived alongside the ship before the weather really set in, and if you see the big ass gap between my bow and his, the only thing keeping my deck from drifting under his taller bow was several very tightly bowsed hawsers securing my stern to his like a barnacle on a rock, but which are still fallible. I had to scoot so far forward in order for my diesel fueling hose to reach his diesel manifold underdeck in his fo'c'sle.
We timed it right. As the ships' crew was disconnecting the diesel hose, a few snowflakes came down, and a gust of wind came from our offshore side and made the hawsers on the stern groan. As we cast off lines and the tug delicately drifted a couple hundred feet back so we could connect our heavy fuel hose to the ship, the snow and wind started picking up. It only took about 10 minutes to get all fast, and within an hour we were pumping off to the ship, but by then the snow and wind had picked up considerably.
At watch change, later on, the wind was already screaming and a nasty swell cutting up in the outer harbor a few miles away. We had a small gap of time between this job and the next, so as I was getting ready to rack out, we lay to at the container dock, and by the time they were all fast, the wind was screaming and visibility was down under a quarter mile. The Coast Guard shut down travel at that point, so people were trying to get to their destinations, and our next job delayed until the ship we're to meet sails, maybe late tonight before midnight.
So that brings me snug and warm indoors for most of this watch. I made soup, and am about to go shovel snow for a bit before it turns to solid ice by the temps, which are apparently about to reach the low for the winter thus far. Tomorrow's prolly gonna suck but I've been talking and Fecesbooking with friends, and they're getting tossed around out in the harbor today, so overall I'm feeling lucky.
Well, today's our warm day, and a 6-hour window allowed me to get ashore to get groceries, and for one of our mechanics to make some quick repairs on some cold-related broken shit here on board. So while we're still not operating at 100%, the equipment that IS working should hopefully continue to do so. Tonight a nor'easter will hit us either a glancing or modest strike, and we'll get some snow, but worse, we'll get wind and even more cold than before, which will make the next few days challenging, for sure.
After loading some oil this afternoon, we'll be bunkering one of my favorite little ships, a beautiful little con/ro ship called the Oleander, seen here (Photo courtesy of Bernews)
She's rumored to be a wonderfully stable ship, and at almost 30 years old, obviously supremely well cared for. Her replacement is being built now, so her days are almost done.
We'll be fueling this ship, which is about the same size as the HQ, during the overnight in a snowstorm with high winds forecast. This winter really got into gear fast.
I am Paul B, and I spend most of my life at sea. Ships, Science, the life of a mariner, biology and (mostly) true stories of life among the best and the worst people in the world, the United States Merchant Marines. You'll find it here, maybe. You'll definitely find rants, raves and discussion on life aboard a merchant ship. Come back and see the Brazilian girls, too, who show up fairly regularly.