Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Nothing much to write about. I've been uninspired this past week. Just plodding along at work. All is relatively well. We're fairly busy now, plenty of thirsty ships lined up, etc. I find myself distracted with thoughts of home, and things I wasn't able to get to in setting up my new house, stuff my wife'll be waiting on for me to get home.  Nothing dramatic, you know?  Still, it's enough that I'm distracted slightly.

      My corner of the web has been pretty shitty of late, too much noise and whining. I've stepped back a bit and rather than join in on the fun, I've been reading a book, trying to remember that life is about more than making sure that the people I don't like knows I think they're an asshole.

 I'm pretty sure they already know, anyhow.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Painting season has begun. I didn't get a painting budget last year, and I'm assuming I won't have one this year either, but such stocks as I have, and with favors, stockpiling and plain old horse trading, I have a little paint put by, so I've been poking my head outside 2 hours a day and doing a little therapeutic painting. I find it very relaxing. I can turn my brain off and get into a zen mode until the bucket is dry.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Back on board

Well damn me, I am BEAT.

      Had a hell of a night. My employer changed hotels that put us up for the night before crew change, and the new hotel is further away, in a far worse neighborhood, and incredibly LOUD. Plus, instead of Somalian refugees in the other rooms, like our old hotel, it's gang members, whores and assorted other lowlifes who like to party all night. So that was fun.

        I had a super domestic two weeks, moving  and all, but my new house is liveable, and comfortable. Not finished. I never had time to hang curtain rods, shit like that (we have blinds too, which help), and the guest bedroom and my office are pretty much storage, the usual sort of things that happen in a move. My garage is a disaster, as my tools are scattered, which sucked becuause of the roof situation, not to mention the most satanic bullying woodpecker ever.

        I bought the house as-is, and the only real beef was that the decorative fascia under the roof was rotted in a couple of spots. My brother set aside a Saturday to help me cut and scarf in a new fascia board, which should have been a matter of removing the gutter, cutting out the old board and scarfing in a new one. Instead, we ended up on a 2 1/2 day nightmare of working 25 feet in the air on a ladder, reaching over our heads, in 90 degree sun, high humidity and occasional severe thunderstorms.
 It sucked, we got it done, 2 1/2 days for replacing a 6' section of decorative board and repairing and rehanging a section of gutter. It was so bad that we'll surely have some laughs about it in the future. My brother being an experienced builder, it wasn't like we were slowed by ignorance, but rather by a series of nothing going right. Twice we got chased off the ladder from lightning strikes nearby too.

         So that was annoying. The woodpecker was comical, if infuriating.

 Along with decorative fascia, my house also has decorative trim- it's southern Florida, so the house is stucco over concrete. The decorative trim is also stucco... sprayed over, it turns out, styrofoam.
   Seriously, the builder made styrofoam trim molds, put them up, filled them with liquid polystyrene, and then after pulling the molds, the stucco guys got in there.

 Some asshole woodpeckers figured out that if they can peck through the stucco layer, they can carve out a nice nest in the trim, which is about 8" thick. So they do. EVERY single house on my street has 4-5 woodpecker holes put in it each spring, then, in May, they fill the holes with grout or plaster, or in my case, hydraulic cement.

 My brother filled in three holes before I even got home last time. I spent one day chasing the woodpeckers all over the place. The little bastards are protected, and I don't know the neighbors much yet, so I didn't dare shoot the fuckers. I just swept up the rain of styrofoam particles and then patched holes at sunset, painted them the next morning. I did hang little mirror pieces on some fishing lines at the corners of my house, which scared them off. I guess they don't like the motion and reflection. Two of them spent a morning bitching at me from one of my trees, which made me feel good. I plan on cultivating a shit reputation among the neighborhood pests.
    Still, I wrote about lots of negatives, and there were mostly positives. We had a good time, there was mother's day, and I turned 45 yesterday, so we celebrated that before I left home. All in all, damn good.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Moving in

It's been a hell of a week.

    I got home last Wednesday, and Friday night was the first night we slept in the new house. It's been a whirlwind of heavy lifting, sweat and hundreds of annoying details. As a capper, I picked up a cold somewhere, and there's just something obscene about sniffling and coughing in 90-degree sunny weather.So, this has been a 'do your job' sort of time, where each day I get my sore self out of bed, and get going. We're seeing results, though. The house looks like a house. And I have a pool now, so I can throw myself in there in the afternoon when I get too uncomfortable. All in all, I'm happy with where things are going, even though I can't really say I'm enjoying myself, which is a damn shame, but there it is.
 I've been self-medicating, fighting this cold with traditional remedies. Last night I had a couple of hot toddys.  But they weren't hot, they had ice. And didn't have honey. Or lemon. OK, fine, I had a couple of big glasses of Jamison. But I slept well, at least.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

last watch

Well, another one will be in the books in a few more hours. I'll be home tonight, God willing. I have so much to do, blogging will certainly be light. I'm gonna be sore for sure, with all the labor involved, but I'm excited to get moved into the new house and out of the old.
  I hope to have the time to do the prep work to building my shop space up. I have to get an electrician in to get 220 and another two breakers for the 110, but no way I'll have time to do that. The space itself, aside from being the staging area for all the heavy crap in the move, is a bit nasty, and needs lighting, paint and a good pressure washing. I'll be content to make any progress there, whatever can be done with the time I have.

     It's been a good last week aboard. I got to walk in Brooklyn a few times, and that's not so common these past two years, so it was appreciated.  My fill-in guy is a real worker bee, and it's made me feel guilty that every day he outworks me in terms of tidying up, but regardless, he's been a pleasure to work with, between being perfectly competent and pleasant company.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

shoreside visit

 I've gone on here about how important it is to me to have a good relationship with our shoreside management.

  I am on a first name basis with our support and management staff, and I have found this very helpful in keeping the HQ in compliance and running like, well, if not a Cadillac, than an old Corolla, anyhow.

    A few weeks ago we had a dockside day where we performed various required tests on board, stuff that has to be done periodically. It was also a good chance for a walk-around with the office staff. Like always, a fresh set of eyes can see things that I might gloss over, subacute issues. Let me explain.
    To borrow the term from the US Navy, we have gripes about the conditions of equipment on board. There are 'up' gripes, where we identify sub-optimal things that will need attention but not immediately (wear and tear, upcoming expiration dates, things like that), things that will not affect how we do our job, and then there are 'down' gripes, things that need attention now, or that have the potential to create trouble.
         A walk-through with our local shoreside staff- my vessel supervisor ashore, and the port captain), will usually include discussion about my list of gripes, and we'll go over options in seeing them addressed, and discuss opinions on when and where we can address these things or do better in monitoring them.  This is good for everyone, as it's easy to get complacent on my part, or to make assumptions, and for our shoreside support, they can see overall conditions, and also bring fresh eyes aboard. Sometimes they DO see things I don't, which is always disconcerting but also welcome. A rust spot under the plastic sheathe of a safety cable, things like that, which I might not catch but which could become a problem.
     I suspect that it's a two-way learning process, as well .I know enough to know, for example, that I have 2 1/2 full turns left in the stuffing box of  one of my cargo drop valve stems, and that valve has only needed its' stuffing box nuts tightened down 1/4 turn in the past three years. So when asked about it, I talk about it, and my rapport with the port captain is such that he knows I'm already aware, and he trusts my judgement. In such ways we reassure each other that we're watching everything for mutual support.

 So yesterday one of the health and safety inspectors from the Main Office (as opposed to the local office), the HQ, came down for a walkthrough, basically doing the same thing with a fresh set of eyes and a slightly different perspective. I know the guy a little bit, and he knows the job, but he doesn't know the barge, or me. Somewhat different process as a result, and while it was professional and cordial, it wasn't the same, which is both positive and negative. He doesn't know, for example, whether or not I know the last time the cargo crane cable was cropped, or whether or not part of our deck containment system chafes certain mooring lines. Without the assumptions made about situational awareness, having a fresh perspective can sometimes provide positive insights.

 It can be a little annoying though.I've said before that you can shave a monkey and make a tankerman out of him, but the difference between competent and good is a pretty vast gulf. Thing is, the safety guy from the HQ doesn't know me, and doesn't know which camp I'm in, as far as whether I  lick windows or do crossword puzzles in my leisure time, so it'd be rude of me to hurry the guy along. And in the end he did find something good, something we could be doing better. AND, hopefully, in talking through things with him, he can bring that with him to his next job.

 Well, 6 days more, anyhow. I've got channel fever pretty bad this time. I have SO MUCH to do when I get home, between finishing the move out of my house and moving the last of the stuff into the new house. I'm ready to get the hell started so I can finish up.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

ignorant but fast vs smart and slow- The choosing of Able Seamen

Our last cargo brought up and interesting question for me.

       It was a pretty standard job for us. Fuel for an Old Panamax container ship. A medium-sized cargo parcel for refueling a ship. 2,900 tons of Heavy Fuel Oil (bunker fuel) and 250 tons of Marine Gas Oil (diesel).

 Eastern European crew, turns out. When we were alongside, the crew met us  very quickly- sometimes we have to wait 20+ minutes for the crew to show up on scene. These guys were there. I had an issue with language when I asked where their fuel manifolds were- they weren't readily visible. The guy pointed to where I figured they'd be, then yelled something and pointed forward. So I repeated my question. Pantomime works, usually. These guys, monoglots or not, are used to travelling the world, but I wasn't getting something. Eventually I figured out that the guy pointing at shit was more interested in telling me where to tie up than where the manifolds were. This is odd, as where we catch lines depends on where my manifold is relative to the ship, where our tugboat needs the line to be, and what direction we, the ship, and the wind and current is coming from. So where we catch lines? That's on us. Me and the tug captain. Eventually, I just stopped everything until it was made clear that we all were on the same page.  The AB's (Able Seaman, an experienced deckhand) on the ship were fast and efficient, and responsive to my requests, orders and direction. This is unusual and kinda nice.  No common sense, sadly, but we were tying up two boats, not building them.

 The ship's Chief engineer was a contrast to this. Intelligent, decisive and flexible. Quick and effective guy. We got the cargo transfer started quickly and I went to bed.

 This morning I woke up in time to finish the discharge. When it was done, again, with efficiency, the Chief and I had our post-transfer meeting, and he signed and stamped my papers, and I did the same with his, wished each other a safe voyage, and off we go. The weather was shitty, blowing about 20-25 and rainy, but so it goes. Our tug came alongside, and we made up the tug. When the tugboat deckhand came on board and we talked about what was wanted and needed, I waved to the AB's on the ship, and pointed aft towards my stern line, where they could shelter under a container and stand by until we were ready to cast off lines.

It takes a few minutes to get all the ducks in a row before we can sail- I'm still making small talk with the deckhand while the tug captain is taking a leak prior to getting in his chair to get us off the ship.  As it happens, the ship had a slight list as it rolled- three container cranes were taking three containers off the ship at the same time, and the ship rolled a fair bit, putting some slack in all my mooring lines. The ships' AB's immediately threw the two stern lines off and into the water.

 This is bad. With no stern lines and a fair bit of current,  we could dent or hole the ship by going metal-on-metal my hull against his. Our fendering is on fixed slides that lower hydraulically on the parallel midbody of my hull, so if we are not parallel to the ship, my bow or stern will contact his, steel on steel.
  Now, everyone knows you don't throw off lines until everyone's ready. That only makes sense, right?

 The tug captain happened to be getting into his wheelhouse at the moment this was going on. He just jumped on the radio, said "Oh, well, fuck it, let 'em go." and we made a silk purse out of a sow's ear, casting off while the tug got us square to the ship again.  Working at jogging pace, we got lines in much faster than was strictly optimal, but it worked.

 This got me thinking, though. Those AB's were fast. We DID cast off, and it didn't take 10 minutes as it sometimes does. Everything they did, they did fast. And, truth be told, there's room for AB's with more balls than brains. Ideally, you have both, but provided a firm hand can keep an AB with a strong back working correctly and safely, the job can get done.Granted, you can't leave guys like that to use their experience to make good decisions. Micromanagement might be needed. But you know, we saved at least two hours on that job because whoever was in charge of the cargo watch on that ship sent Mongo and Lenny to do as I asked. I made an assumption that they'd know enough to do so in the usual way, and I guess that's on me, assuming that they guys would ask for confirmation when you order them to stand by a line to be cast off... but you know that assumption is the mother of all fuckups too.

       Now, I wouldn't actually want to work with a window-licking level deck gang if given a choice, of course, but it does grate on me that so often getting foreign AB's off their ass requires kissing it first. So it was refreshing not to spend 10 minutes having a yelled conversation with cries of 'My friend!' every other phrase, to get them to do 10-15 second's work. We got lucky nothing went wrong on cast off today, but you know, it was kinda nice to get the hell out of there so quickly too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sailboat sailors and commercial sailors' cognitive bias

I'm not overly respectful of small sailboat sailors.  

 Well, I'm not overly respectful of most pleasureboaters in general, to be fair, the same way a cabinetmaker looks at an Ikea nightstand.

              My general opinion does a disservice to some fine and knowledgeable non-commercial boaters, I know, but I'm not much of a pleasureboater. I, and my friends, are commercial guys. We focus on safety and seamanship, not on having a good time.

... when we get a good enough cell signal, I watch Youtube videos of all sorts. Among others, I enjoy watching 'Sail Life" "SV Delos" "Sailing Project Atticus" and "Learning the Lines," all sailboat videos.

    I'm not a sailboater. The technical prowess necessary to sail a boat well is not in my skills. I did go on a sailboat twice in my life, though. It was neat. That's about it.

          My encounters with pleasureboaters in the course of work have never been all that good. Granted, if a pleasureboater is doing a good job, They'd have no reason to encounter me, either. No, I run into them only when they run into me, which is a thing. Wedging themselves under our bow while we're at anchor, bouncing off the side of our hull... while we're at anchor, or at a dock... things like that. Assholes self-select themselves for encounters with us.

    Over a long enough timeline we get cynical, like so many cops, as well. We've all gotten pulled over by a cop who looks at you like you just robbed a bank when you accidentally swerved because you farted and it turns out it wasn't just gas going on downstairs. You know the drill too. You don't want to tell the cop you just sharted, but you also don't want to have to do a sobriety test right now, and be walking around after you just buttered your bread. So out comes the story, and the dirty look gets replaced by a smothered grin. Your ass just broke the tension. 

        Some sail videos, I see people making decisions using bad seamanship that just make me cringe. These same folks come out of the experience and can be separated into two camps- the willfully foolish who don't learn from the experience, and the ashamed, who do. Of the two, the latter group is more fulfilling to watch, as over time you see someone in a small boat become actually a pretty decent mariner. The former group? Well, it's like looking at a car accident on the other side of the highway. You just want to see the carnage. That's entertaining too. In the end, though, the people who grow become more interesting to watch and the floating shit shows get repetitive. Thus you see the shows I watch above, which are deeply varied, but all are good examples of people with skillsets that improve with time. If nothing else, it's good to have my faith in other people restored a little, and to make me more aware of my own biases.

Monday, April 15, 2019


Well, our trainee is back this week.

    I wrote back in Feb/March that we had a trainee on board, super nice guy, but that given the interruption to our routine, lack of adequate space in our berthing, and the distraction of having to work AND train, I was pretty pissed off as I had made it clear when I joined this company 10 years ago that I wanted no part in teaching. That is a skillset from my last career, the one I chose to leave, and it's not one I wish to foster or reengage in. I felt guilty about it, and I was very clear to the guy that he absolutely wasn't at fault, and we were able to cram a lot of knowledge into him, and after he went home and came back, he was put elsewhere to round out his training, and landed with some great guys, friends of mine, and learned well, and fit in well. Good guy, like I said. He'll do well.

 BUT, I still don't want trainees. My boss came to us last week and asked us about our opinion on a situation. It seems our former trainee after finishing a second training tour, was placed elsewhere again to finish his training, giving him 3 vessels of varying type to work aboard. After a few days, he requested to leave, knowing he might have doomed himself in the process.  The 2nd tankerman, not the lead tankerman,  on his final training barge was utterly hostile, beyond the point where it was possible to learn anything.

   I've encountered the guy in question. Garden variety hardon with a reputation as a loudmouth and not real bright... I wouldn't know, I've never encountered him except for catching lines from his barge once or twice. He wasn't polite, that's about all I remember. Apparently he didn't want a trainee aboard either, but he made a point about letting everyone know.

      What surprised me was the supervisor's reaction, the lead tankerman/barge captain's reaction. Either he was too dull to notice that his second man was being a shit, or he endorsed his attitude. Either way, as a representative of our employer, he gave a real black eye to the trainee's  impression of the sort of people employed by our company.

 I hate a bully. Look, you can shave a retarded chimpanzee and make a tankerman out of him. What I do isn't rocket science. It just takes a certain personality type. On the positive margins, guys with managerial and leadership skills make up the top tier. The rest, if they can do the job adequately, can be labeled as a known quantity and given simple tasks to do, and that's enough. Have I ever been completely and utterly engaged cerebrally in the course of my duties? Oh my God, no. But there are  challenges that keep things interesting, sure.

 But as I said, I hate a bully. There should be no place for it, and I don't know the man in question well enough to speak about him. His supervisor, however, I know pretty well, and have worked with. I'm truly disappointed in what I heard about the environment he fosters aboard. I dunno. It might have something to do with the trainee being an immigrant, too, and not from the Chesapeake Bay area where a disproportionate number of people in my company seem to be from.

 Well, three sides to the story and all that. And I don't actually care all that much, but we were sympathetic enough that we agreed to take on the trainee again to further his training. He makes a good shipmate, although we're of course a little stressed from the crowding and lack of privacy.  There's a contrary part of me that wants to make him permanent crew with us just to make a point to the guys who drove him off, though.    

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Under Pressure

Well, we're headed to the home dock for the day today. Just pumped off a small cargo parcel, and headed to the barn for the annual pressure test.

         Once a year, maritime vessels engaged in oil transport have to have their hoses and pipelines pressure tested. Now, our maximum operating pressure is 100PSI. WHen we're pumping into a small diameter pipeline, we'll sometimes reach 100psi of back pressure on our pipes and pumps, and that will be our maximum for the transfer. For pressure testing,  the staff will flood the piping with fresh water, and run the internal pressure in the pipelines and hoses up to 150psi, in our case, and then go looking for leaks and check as to whether the pressure stays stable over time. It takes a few hours to do. The idea being that it's better to find leaks or have a catastrophic failure under test conditions than when, say, pumping oil.  There has been at least one catastrophic failure in the past few months locally, where an oil transfer hose blew out mid-transfer, putting oil on deck and in the water. Wasn't us, anyhow.

 So, part of my job is to walk the pipeline before and during every load and discharge starts, and do a visual inspection, look for dings, nicks and drips.  The guy on watch will do the same thing constantly throughout the watch. Most often, drips come from the packing gland around valve stems, and literally involved  a few drops of oil getting forced out, which gets remedied with a wipe with a rag and a 1/4 turn on the packing gland bolts. Takes about 30 seconds, and happens maybe once a year or so. Aside from it being our job, oil on deck, or, heaven forfend, in the water, is an utter shit show, and to be avoided like herpes, through vigilance,  caution and proper risk management.

 Anyways, it's usually also a chance to stock up on supplies and go shopping too, so while it might be a long day, it's usually a good one.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Making stuff

One of the surprising upsides of moving to Florida was that I rediscovered that I like to make stuff.

After I got married, I quit lobstering, ended up moving a couple of towns away from the ocean too, to an apartment in an ugly suburb that had a large Brazilian population so my wife wouldn't be lonely. I was miserable there, never got over being away from the ocean. Every single day I was home I would either drive the 30 minutes to a beach or go to a bar. It helped. Thankfully we ended up moving to Florida, and everything changed.

   A side effect of aging and living in a place I actually like has been that I gravitated towards making and fixing little things again. My little wooden model boats, fixing the cheap elderly vacuum cleaner that should have been thrown out during the Bush admin, making little doodads, things like that. It filled my days in a way that the bar never did, and the beach... well, I live in south FL. The beaches are awesome.  Along the way, I've made connections with buying quality wood, and my skills are improving. My hands... my hands are still not good.  Too much damage from when I was younger, and that limits my ability plenty. It's hard to make a straight cut when your hands shake from the effort of holding a skilsaw. Hard, not impossible, though. Before house-hunting took up my time, I was working on making nicer curves in wood and improving my raw ability- I can sand out errors as much as the next guy, but I spend a lot of time sanding. So I'd begun experimenting with joining curved cuts, where I couldn't rely on sanding off shitty work. My little drunken cutting boards have been a lot of fun to make.

         My new house has a 3-car garage that will become my new shop space. It's got about the same square footage as my old apartment when we first got married. I'm going to be upping my game. I think I can do better than making cutting boards now.  Starting with making a shop for me.

 Then end goal? I'm going to build boats. I'll be turning 45 when I'm home next. I have drawn out 3 boat designs I want to make- a dory, a rowing shell, and a small sailboat. I learned the basics of lofting and drawing out boat plans in my 20's and never did much except dream about making them. This past winter I started relearning the skills I picked up when I still had patience, and hair, too. The designs are done, more or less.  All requiring 100+% of the abilities I have at the moment to be made well. I anticipate killing a lot of good wood in the process of upping my skill.

 One thing at a time, though. I still need to finish my current model while I'm upping my skills. I have to build the shop space, bring in an electrician, make cabinetry, things like that.

 I think I took this picture like 6 months ago. I haven't done much since then. Some fairing of the house, and I roughed in the bulwarks, which need to be faired.

 I have to move my existing shop when I get home next too. It'll be summer before I can make headway in the new shop, but on a rainy, shitty night like tonight, thoughts of making a space to make stuff help pass the hours.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

when it's right

There are a handful of moments where I've felt like everything was exactly right, where I was aware that something important and good had happened that would change everything for me.

  I think the first one was the first time I was ever in a rowboat and looked over the side into the water. I was scared to death, being unable to swim at the time. I might have been 5, I dunno. About 5 minutes after I got in the boat, still unhappily nervous, I realized I was going to be making my living off the ocean in some form.
   About 2 years later, I swam out to a swim platform about 100 feet offshore by myself. I still didn't really know how to swim with my head above water. I put on a mask and snorkel, and spastically kicked my way to the platform. I was so tired I could barely get onto the little raft. I knew something important had happened. I was no longer afraid. Perhaps I should have been, but it was a moment for me. A few months later, I'd be swimming for hours every day.
 Insanely stupid of me but I wasn't a particularly smart kid when it comes to self-preservation. The winter before, I had fallen through the sea ice after a friend and I walked about 1/4 mile offshore. I was lucky enough to pop back up in the same hole I made. I nearly died of hypothermia walking home. I got frostbite on my hands and ears, woke up fully clothed in the shower with my parents yelling at me.

 The first time I stepped onto the lobsterboat, a year later, I knew something special had happened. I was enraptured, just absolutely with child to go fishing. When the old timer who taught me to fish sold the boat, 10 years later, I kept working on it with the new owner. It still felt just as right and exciting as it had when I was 8.

 I was walking across a dam at a local pond a few years later, and stopped to look down and watch the fresh water fish swimming through the plants. I was taking my parrot for a walk. He never learned to fly, so he liked riding on my shoulder while I walked in the woods. I had always liked tending to animals. At that moment, with the sun angled just right so I could watch the fish, and my bird whistling nervously about me leaning too far forward for his comfort, it was a near-perfect moment and I wanted to be a marine biologist.

 I never did get that perfect moment as a scientist or a science student. I did have one, up in downeast Maine, when I visited an offshore salmon farm with a class. I was way more interested in the animal husbandry side of it than the hard science- the moneymaking, and the practical part of it- how the pens were built, how the feed was acquired, the economics of it all. Watching guys flinging buckets of feed to the penned salmon, I knew I was seeing something exceptional. About 18 months later I was living in Scotland and talking to the salmon farmers there peer-to-peer.

 The moment I stepped on a ship for the first time as a mariner. The smell of musty old ship and scorched oil. That was maybe the strongest moment I ever had where I knew that everything had just changed for me forever.  . I think it has something to do with situational awareness, the coincidence of happy accident and ignorance, when I realized that had stumbled into something that would change me forever.

 I wonder when or if it'll hit again? It could be when it's time to retire, I dunno. I'd imagine that last walk off a boat would be a significant moment.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Back at work

Well, THAT was a fast week. A good week though.

 The closing on my new house went well, I think. It went through on time. I got to spend a little time in my new place, put together a punch list of projects that'll have to be seen to in the next months, and I rented a box truck and moved two truckloads of stuff over. I actually only moved about 10 miles away, so it was pretty straightforward, and I didn't move anything terribly large or heavy with the exception of my beer fridge from my old garage, which is one of those 75% of full size fridge/freezers you see in efficiency apartments, senior housing, places like that. It had casters, which helped. I have my current house until the end of next month, so I could split the move between two voyages at work- this gives Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife time to do some decorating, and give the house the Brazilian treatment- no, I don't mean getting the underside of the tables waxed, but rather, the deep cleaning which is a standard there- You ain't seen clean until you've seen a Brazilian house clean. 3-4 ladies will descend on the house and 3 12-hour days later, it will emerge spotless. N0 BS, even the AC ducts will get fully routed out.

 At any rate, we managed to get a lot of family time together in a VERY short and busy week at home, and even managed to get out one night for some grown-up time at a wine bar, which was nice, although honestly wasted on me, as I'm not a wine guy, but the company was lovely. It's been mostly up with the sun and to bed at somewhere close to midnight. I'm pretty beat, and I've spent more money at Home Depot this past weekend than in the past year. I'm looking forward to some rack time tonight before taking my first watch in the morning.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

last day...

Well, one more watch to go after this one. I came in a week early, and I'm leaving a week late. I've been on board the HQ for 6 weeks, and I'm only going home for a week. I promised myself I'd take it easy with working overtime this year, but I had a good reason.  I bought a new house. 
I go home to close the deal and start the move in. I still have my little place for the next few months, so there's time to move the heavy shit next time I come home. Either way, I didn't want to mention anything because home sales go sideways quite a lot, and I didn't want to queer the pitch, but things look pretty set now.

 I'm losing having a pond in my backyard, but I'm gaining a lot elsewhere, not least that my shop space, which is a 2-car garage with my tools made to be moved out of the way for a car, will now be an actual shop space, and significantly larger. I plan on doing bigger things than making little 5-foot long ship models. As such, I've invested a fair bit on larger shop tools.

 At any rate, it'll be a busy week home for sure.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Better than a glass of whisky

Oh, man, I've been watching antique tool restoration videos on Youtube this past week here and there. It's like the ultimate cool-down period before bed. Like 20-30 minutes, and I'm so relaxed and mellow, yet not bored in the least.

 I made the mistake of watching one with my lunch today, mid-watch, and never recovered. Is this what being hypnotized feels like?

 Well, either way, it's Sunday At Sea, which means that if there's no work, there's no working. Just a tidying up after breakfast, then a shower and shave, followed up by my book (bible, it being Sunday) and some videos on Youtube. Bloody marvelous way to pass a morning. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Home stretch

Well, entering week 6 here on board the HQ, and I'm feeling it. Partner B is flying in tomorrow night, and in theory, I should be out of here on Wednesday... but I'm staying another week, as my employer opened up the purse a bit for those working over rather than going home, and I have a major thing going on back home, more on that when it's finalized, but it requires 2 1/2 buttloads of money.

 Yesterday was Irish Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, and I unfortunately was at work and had no shore access in a timely manner, so I was unable to get ashore for the ingredients to make a good dinner to celebrate.  As a low-key person, I believe in comporting myself on St. Patrick's Day with dignity and restraint.

I wore it all day yesterday.

 Obviously, honoring that in the breech is not so easy. My jaunty hat helped lift my spirits, though. There was enough of a breeze that working on deck was a challenge, but I made it, and amazingly, the hat did too.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Rio Carnival (semi NSFW) revisit

Damn, the time is really dragging on here.

      So, rather than feel ensaddened by the monotony, here are some pictures from Rio De Janeiro's Carnival celebration to enhappy us and enhelp the days to go by. Click to embiggnify.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

I hate it when mommy and daddy fight

There's been quite a fuss kicked up among American mariners over what's going on with the MATSONIA.

A couple of weeks ago, a sistership to the ill-fated El Faro, Matson Navigation‘s 760’, 1,727-TEU Matsonia, developed a crack in her hull while docked in Oakland, Calif., after arriving from Hawaii on her regular run. These things happen of course and the vessel’s crew, the Coast Guard and port response teams quickly contained the resulting oil spill. Except for news reports on the incident in trade publications and websites, the incident was largely ignored, but what it portends has far-reaching implications.
After the El Faro sank in 2015, taking with it 33 souls to the bottom, some discussion followed as to why a 40-year-old ship with a history of structural and mechanical problems was still in service (the industry considers 20 years to be the expected service life of a vessel of this size and type). But the National Transportation Safety Board glossed over the political implications in the tragedy, so they remain today. That’s why the Matsonia’s hull crack is significant.
The Matsonia is 46 years old

Read the whole thing here

 Now, if that picture above looks familiar to you because you're a mariner, it should. She's a sister to the El Faro, the antique ship that sank and killed 33 mariners a couple of years ago. 

 There's a lot of sentiment along the lines of 'Hey, lay off Matson, they're the last all-American shipowner." Which is not actually true, but it may be true that they're the last all-American UNION-employing shipowner.  So there's a layer of complexity to add to the conferva soup of sewage that forms the opinion pool here.  

 There's no shortage of historical record to parse to see where there is a long tradition of sending unseaworthy rotten ships to sea until they sink. It happens all the time all over the world, and in fact this was a motivator for the speculation market that formed in Lloyd's Coffee House in London in the days of British sail, eventually becoming the largest and most famous insurer in the world. 

     I've had a chance to correspond with Max Hardberger, the author of the article above, on a couple of occasions. He helped me run down an out-of-print copy of one of his early books, and I reviewed his last book here, a few years ago. I had inquired after asking to join Vessex, his maritime repo company that specializes in repossessing ships illegally seized in third world ports. It never panned out, me being somewhat allergic to spending time in a foreign jail, which pretty much is guaranteed should an extraction go south. The author is one of the few Americans I know of who sought foreign licensure and worked as master on foreign-flag ships. 
           Old ships sink. Plenty of old ships don't make it to the beaches of India for scrapping. The Caribbean is just rotten with smaller sunken ships, ancient rickety European coastal freighters that survived the ocean crossing to spend their last few years working in places like Haiti, Dominica and Honduras, and even visiting Miami and the US Gulf if they're not too bad. 
    However, a 150' 70-year old shitbox supplying Haiti with bundles of rags and cardboard is a far cry from a 760-foot container ship that runs between L.A. and Hawaii.  Now, Matson IS replacing their ships, slowly, as they can, which is a good thing. And ABS and Uncle Sugar's Coast Toasties both say their floating relics are safe enough... which, to be fair, they also said of the El Faro and the Marine Electric, the last two Jones Act ships to sink, so take that with a grain of salt, I suppose.  Today, just like in the days of the Coffin Ships mariners must still walk on a ship with the knowledge that they are still the final arbiter as to whether or not a ship is safe enough to be worth working on.   

 Now, here's where I stand: The fact that we've spent a century plus and untold billions on maritime safety doesn't abrogate from us as individual mariners the need to be willing to make the hard call of walking off a ship that makes us afraid. But here's the sand in this can of Vaseline: The brass balls it takes to do so, coupled with institutional discouragement from doing so, makes saying something, or worse, doing something, akin to a subversive act. It absolutely can be a career-ending one.
     For all the talk of safety between employer and crew, and it doesn't matter whether you're talking about a foul European investment bank providing slave wages on an unseaworthy bulker run by third world crews, or a goddamn brand new Aegis cruiser, the more expensive a safety issue is, the harder it is for a shipowner to listen to concerns about it.  
 Huh, that should be an iron law. 
    Think I'm exaggerating?  Look at Captain John Loftus, one of the seniormost captains in the Jones Act Trade. 

 Look at the B-255 hearings, where after an explosion and two fatalities, there were allegations that one of the largest Jones Act employers discouraged safety reporting. 

He felt his job was threatened by Bouchard vice president Kevin Donohue after reporting problems with the barge to Bouchard.
Jackson claimed Donohue told him that reporting the problems had been “a mistake,” implying he could lose his job

         ... Unfortunately, there are multiple roadblocks to even discussing this subject among mariners. 
  It was interesting to me, on Facebook when the whole discussion of the MATSONIA's age and condition started, the largest bloc of comments were along the lines of 'shut up.'   Not exactly constructive. There are so few Jones Act ships, that many American mariners are more afraid of losing jobs than losing lives. Granted, it's easy to be a hardo online, but for my part, I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of the men who send rotten hulls to sea and then have to look in the mirror  after some poor bastards eat it... and granted, also, that most of the loudest voices are never and will never be in that position. However, whether one has a dog in this fight or not, it seems reasonable to question just what the end-game is here. There's a certain amount of fatalism in play. In speaking with my co-workers, many migrated to my current employer because they were forced out of other companies, one of the two companies discussed here,  in most cases, because of miserable working conditions, and the safety culture is ALWAYS discussed in that. The fatalism in question is that there is no expectation of improvement in the future. There's a perception, I find, that there's a lot of back room handshaking among the right people at the right table at the Propeller Club or the AWO between the folks who handle oversight and the folks having their equipment overseen. From the standpoint of looking at progress, this is not a particularly outlandish thought.  The B-255 was not that company's first barge to blow the fuck up and kill people. 
 I can't help but be angry that it happened at all. The fatalism strikes me, too. I write and speak off-the-cuff, irreverently, certainly, and to a point that is the tone I try to set here- a little sarcastic, a little acerbic, and only semi-organized. I can do that because Paul B the blogger and Paul B the employee are two different people, but both have a decent job that maybe doesn't pay as much as it might, but does have awesome shoreside support with no BS and no shortcuts. As such, they give me a safe place to make almost enough money to get by, and I like to make them look good in return, and even though I often enough run my mouth way too much here, where the metal meets the meat, on board, I don't do that. There's mutual support.  I don't see the companies noted above having that sort of relationship with their help, and it shows.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Screw Change Day

Well, today is crew change day, but not for me. I'm only at the official halfway point of my tour. B and our trainee left this morning, and his relief is on another launch working his way over here, so for now it's gloriously quiet and peaceful. Just the whir of the fans, hum of the generator, and the assorted deck machinery and compressors and such kicking on and off. Soothing.

         I actually really like our trainee. I felt terrible for being such a snowflake, but living with a middle-aged stranger who is literally never more than 8 feet from you, 24/7 for 2 weeks is just too much. Waking, sleeping, cooking, taking a leak... 8 feet or less. We all did our best to maintain good humor and there was some laughter in there, thankfully, but overall it was awful. I've been eating motrin every single watch for the insane headaches. The HQ is just not set up to support an extra body.

    But for now, the peace. This week I have a fill in mate coming, and he's a great guy who I know pretty well. Experienced, friendly, soft-spoken and a giant of a guy, and we've worked together before, so we know each other's likes and dislikes. Should be a good week. Next week I have another good guy coming in too.

Friday, March 1, 2019

a needed breather

Well, I certainly feel better. After a week that had me wanting to stick my head in the oven, the last few days turned things around. We got a day off, which was an absolute blessing. I got a long, long walk in, 8 miles, and in the middle I stopped for a Cobb salad at a little hole in the wall. I took time to sit on a bench and look out at the skyline, and came back to the HQ and played FarCry 5 for a few hours. It was exactly what I needed. So when we  went back to work yesterday, I felt like I had taken about 20lbs off, weight that I could feel in the back of my neck. So we just wrapped up a medium-sized bunker job and are anchored about 2 miles off the Statue of Liberty, and it appears we'll be here for the weekend. Which is good, becuase a generator shit the bed on the way out here.

 It never ends, lol. Come daylight tomorrow I'll look at it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

staying indoors

We've had a breezy few days here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Glorified Gas Station.

         It blew a hard gale (45kt, gusts into the 50's and 60's) over the area waters for a day, then settled into a plan gale (35+kt) for another day, before settling into the usual cold and breezy/gray and shitty weather that is the norm for winter in the US northeast.  At the height of the gale, a incompetent cargo sampler made a mess on my deck, dripping a little oil over a lot of deck, and then walking around through it and going on tour like fucking Billy from Family Circus.


        footprints over 3,000 sq feet of deck. In a screaming gale, in pounding rain. Boy howdy, I cussed that guy out good while I was scrubbing on my hands and knees to prevent a slick.  Shit happens, and I'm not going to jail or getting my ass sent ashore for getting in the news by putting a sheen in the water, but had I not been bird-dogging the guy at 3am, when sane people are asleep, or at least indoors, I'm confident that he would have ignored the mess. At any rate, the nonskid on deck chafed through my foul weather gear and the tips of my boots. I guess I'm not used to working on my knees. I'd make a terrible hooker.  It all ended happily, however. No oil in the water, filled up a couple of barrels with oily waste, and I got my exercise for the day.

 It was a hell of a week and weekend. Haven't had much good luck on board recently. I'm more hopeful for this week.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Chinese Water Annoyance

Sigh. Another God-damned day.

          My trainee had a restless night. I don't know if he's colicky or has gas or what, but he kept me up all frigging night.  Maybe he's teething, I don't know. If they let us have whisky on here, I'd hit him upside the head with the bottle and have a big gulp and go back to bed.
 Alas, if wishes were horses, etc.

       OK, it's hard enough being forced to have a man older than me pretty much hanging onto my pocket like we was in prison, following me around, asking me questions while I'm juggling numbers in my head, talking on the radio and filling out paperwork at the same time. It leaves me exhausted. Then I go to bed, and he's there too, in my spare bunk, getting up a half-dozen times to see what my partner is doing, when the hydraulics kick on, when nature calls, whatever. When he gets up, I wake up.
    The poor guy is earnest and trying to learn as much as he can as fast as he can. How the hell can I complain about someone who wants to be there and wants to work?   I feel like a whiner. Oh well, I'll own it. I like the guy well enough. But Jesus, I'm going to hang myself if I don't get some fucking sleep and an hour by myself soon. A little bit of false advertising by the lying liars at HR doesn't help. The man was supposed to be already trained. He is not.

Little things become big things. The slow drip of water on the forehead becomes a hammer over time. Curiosity becomes pestering. Distraction becomes danger.
   This is not a good look for me, I realize that. I don't like men who show weakness in public. This blog is my pressure-relief valve. It's keeping me, and him, alive. I guess that's a good thing. Doesn't feel like it.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"It'll make you weird, man"

"This job... it'll make you weird, man."

       I can't even remember who said that to me, but whoever it was, it was said to me on the first day at my current job. I passed the 10 year mark here last week.

          The HQ has small quarters. I've grown to love the place in the 7 years that this has been my home. It's not perfect- the gross-ass Tangerines who had her  for 5 years before me were disgustingly filthy animals, and ruined her house, sufficient that despite our best efforts, she'll never be truly pretty inside. How the fuck a sailor can call himself a sailor and not mop a deck in 5 years, for example,  instead choosing to just put new outdoor carpets down every year, after the black mold makes them crusty. 5 layers of moldy carpets. That was the Tangerine way.

 Sailors have an instinctual hatred for filth. Real sailors do, anyhow. Sadly, my employer recruits many failed commercial fishermen from one area whose knowledge of the sea is limited to about a 200 square mile area of brackish protected waters.  It shows in the difference in standards of seamanship... including hygienic practices in living spaces. There are many guys doing the same job as me who are equally as tidy, but there are many who are not.  Luckily, B, my partner on here, was a Navy guy for 12+ years, and, if anything, is even more allergic to disorder than I am.

         So, when I arrived, fresh off the boat, literally, I felt like a real sailor. "No, I come from ships." was something I said a lot. Not that it mattered much, except that I perhaps had access to better mentors prior to arriving. And on day one, when I mentioned that I was off product tankers, I was warned that after a time, I would be changed by my job.

 Well, they were right.

        We have a trainee on board the HQ for a few weeks, who came over my objections. Somewhere between Day 1 and today, I have become misanthropic enough that I am extremely uncomfortable with living, working and sleeping with a strange man who shadows me every waking and sleeping moment, never more than 6-8 feet away, and demanding of my attention constantly, forcing me to socialize, forcing me to divide my attention between him and doing my job. 

EDIT: OK, I wrote about 2,000 words more on why I am in hell, having a trainee, but on rereading it, I just sounded like a whiny bitch, so I deleted it.  So, TL;DR version.I am 100% completely miserable and I hate my job completely right now. I am trying my best not to take it out on the people around me.  Eh, bitch bitch bitch.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Carnival time (NSFW)

It feels longer, but I've been aboard the HQ for 6 days now. I came in a week early, because I have a massive purchase pending.
        Although I was only home for a week, I came back in decent shape upstairs, ready to work, and at this point, with a month to go, I'm into a routine. The negative here is that it is utterly mundane, nothing exciting worth talking about.

  So, February being dreary in general, it's a good time to think warm colorful thoughts. It's Carnival season.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

back to it

Well, I'm back on board the HQ. Took a little doing to get here. Tuesday dawned beautiful- about 68 and sunny when I woke up just after sunup, and it was sunny and 75 all day... at home. Unfortunately, the weather at the HQ was ice and snow, so my flight got cancelled. In the end I stayed home an extra day, and flew in yesterday after several hours of delays.

 I was lucky enough to get rebooked on a before-noon flight. BUT, not so lucky in all things. I ended up in the middle seat, and it was a seriously bumpy flight. Pretty usual running up and down the eastern seaboard during wintertime. IT also being snowbird season, the average age of my fellow travellers on the completely full flight was 70-75.

 So, it definitely could have been worse. The poor old ladies on either side of me I'm sure were not thrilled to have my carcass between them. And the turbulence was pretty gnarly. After about 20 minutes in the air, and a lot of griping about the temperature being too cold, it started to smell like hot old people. Then... the nervous farting. There were old timers putt-putting all around. It would have been funny if it didn't smell like an open grave. Seriously, if I had that kind of power, I'd be kind of proud.

 The nice thing about flying with an older crowd is that there isn't a lot of fighting and people yelling back and forth. There was a lot of complaining, for sure, and it took FOREVER to get on and off the plane, but I kept the peace. One day I'll be hard-pressed to make good time getting on and off the plane too.  On the upside, it was yet another MIRACLE flight, one where 20+ people get wheeled onto the plane early in their chairs, and yet only 3-4 get wheeled off.  Hallelujah!

Anyways, I returned to the Land of Ice And Snow late, got to enjoy NY rush hour traffic, and I got a grand total of 45 minutes sleep before watch tonight, but I'm here in one piece and no more or less sane than usual, so mark it as a win, I guess.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


So Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I went house hunting, and sadly, all the houses out in the country were owned by Florida Man. All had ponds, land, 1500+ sqft detached workshops... and all had problems... insurmountable problems, unfortunately.

 OTOH, we found some places we also liked in surburbia. Put in two offers today.

 So, I'm kind of bummed that I won't be experiencing country living, but as much as I love my current home, and having my back yard be a pond, it's time. I'm going to miss my savings account, too, I'm sure.

 Stressful, though. I, being the staid, conservative type, liked a small, affordable but pretty property that needs a little TLC. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife preferred a larger turnkey house that needs nothing, is in one of the best school districts in FL and has a 3-car garage for me to make sawdust in. Either way, it's fine.  Shit is awful stressful, though.

Monday, February 4, 2019

An open letter to Bishop Hurley

Something a little different today. I wrote a letter to Bishop Walter Hurley, who recently removed a priest from service, not, for once, for an act of horror, but for trying to bring some reverence to a Catholic Sunday mass with the goal of trying to do something within his power to help stop the decline in attendance by younger people.

 A note- I make reference to Protestant religious services several times, not in criticism, but to emphasize the formerly gigantic distinction between a Catholic mass and a Protestant Sunday service. If you don't know, the formality, ritual and familiarity of the mass is an essential identity of Catholicism.

Bishop Walter Hurley, the apostolic administrator of Saginaw, has relieved a priest from his assignment at a parish in Bay City, Michigan.
The reason? Not because of the theft of parish funds. Not for sexual or moral impropriety. Not for supporting ideas opposed to Church teaching like abortion, same-sex marriages, or female ordinations.
No, the priest was not guilty of any of these. This priest’s crime? Attempting to restore some tradition to the liturgy in an attempt to reinvigorate his rapidly dying parish.

A good summary of what happened can be found here:


Here is a copy of the letter I sent:

The Most Rev. Walter A. Hurley
Apostolic Administrator
Diocese of Saginaw MI

            Your Eminence,

            I read with great sadness of your treatment of young Father Edwin Dwyer. His removal has reached the ears of Catholics throughout the country. 
 Put briefly, I believe you have chosen a safe and utterly wrong action that does no service to our church. Sadly, this has not come as a surprise. 
       Two or three times a year, I attend Sunday mass at a beautiful big old church with a proper choir and organ in Brooklyn when we are in port and I am able to get ashore for a few hours. There is easily room for 1,000 people. There are usually less than 100 there, and at age 44 I am the youngest one there.
       My own home parish in [redacted] is better attended. The mostly retired people there use the church as a social center, advertise for insurance, and to listen to tepid Protestant songs played on guitar and drums while a series of foreign-born pass-through priests try to shore up the dwindling attendance. The one thing missing is anyone paying attention to the priest or anything he has to say. But hey, plenty of free coffee and donuts for 80% of the parishioners to enjoy after walking out after communion and before mass ends.
         The brand new parish next town over has a Latin mass once a week. There is nowhere near enough seating, and the sounds of crying babies, animated young families and plans being made brings an energy that I haven’t felt in the last 20 years. I will change parishes when I next return from sea.
       With respect, I ask that you consider restoring Fr. Dwyer. He has inspired people to come back to church, the opposite of what is happening in the west right now. While I recognize that you have a duty to listen to the subset of parishioners who are unhappy with Fr. Dwyer, I do not believe that removing him represents a greater good than the alternatives available.
    Above all other things, it becomes obvious that Fr. Dwyer believes that he has an obligation to his parishioners, to get them to mass again, to act like Catholics again. This resonated with people who weren’t going to mass!  
       I submit that the aging body of leadership within the Catholic Church represents both chicken and egg in fomenting the crisis that is rapidly becoming existential for us. Aside from the self-inflicted horrors that make the news, our bishops and priests do nothing to inspire the young and ensure a future for our church, save occasionally badly aping Protestant revivals for kids, which are rightfully mistrusted and tasteless from our tradition as worshippers.
       The farmers have stopped planting seeds in favor of tending the dwindling existing crop.  There is no secret that age is winnowing down the number of parishioners AND priests. Local actions, such as the events at Our Lady of Peace, where a reversal of this was happening, is a perfect example of why mob rule is not an effective managerial tool. Serving settled practicing parishioners is part of the job. But the church’s recruiting efforts, frankly, are awful, and I pray that this is not intentional. Young priests are a treasure, and it may be that there is something so horribly twisted and disordered and self-reverential in the chain of command in the Church today, that  preservation of that management has become a more important goal than service to  the people and service to the Lord. This is certainly a popular opinion, with reason. There are other, less tactful references to be made, to which we can not enumerate, but all, sadly, appear to be well-deserved. Let this not be one of those things.

 I fear that there will be no church within driving distance of my home when I am your age. In 30 years the number of priests will be a fraction of what it is today. Possibly the number of Catholics, too. A VERY small number of priests and parishes are thriving- not fiscally, as elderly Catholics are certainly generous, and young families rarely have enough money to spare much, but in the spiritual sense- growing and tending to the next generation of us has become a ministry poorly executed, with evidence to be found at every single mass. Fr. Dwyer’s assertion that
”Old ways” are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church.

   This is patently and obviously true. The gap between Catholic Mass and a Unitarian Sunday service has shrunk.  The terribly sad belief that the church administrators are focused on preserving their perquisites and not on service has grown for a reason.  I ask that you support and foster Fr. Dwyer’s efforts to return some reverence to the mass and thereby try to grow the church again.

                            Submitted with respect,

                                                             Paul [redacted]