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.


Rob said...

That 20 years remaining you mentioned? It goes fast...

STxAR said...

Ditto what Rob said. Years go by like months after 40. Start getting your plans in order now. I didn't find the golden ring until I was 35. I'm a bit behind the 8 ball.

I'd recommend to the dockhand getting a job after he retires. To ease into retirement. We had a senior manager retire, and I cautioned him on just dumping out. It's a high stress job, with about 100 employees, and multiple millions of revenue. Just up and dumping that can kill you.

He took a manager job and is easing into retirement. No reason to go Tango Uniform a year after you retire.

I've got more stuff to do after retirement that I can shake a stick at. I'm just hoping I can punch out of here at 60 with enough that a part time job will keep me going for 7 years....

Time will tell.