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.