Friday, December 2, 2022

And there goes an hour


 When I'm home, I try to limit my internet consumption to when I'm taking a dump or cooling off after working outside or the like. 

    So I read a whole post about what's going on in Tom Brady's life. 

  Tom Brady plays a children's game really well. He may be the greatest adult player of his particular children's game, of all time.  Wow.  He has beaten many other records held by other adults who were also good at playing this particular children's game. 

 I view the guy who shovels elephant shit at the circus to be a more valuable human being than Tom Brady.  I mean, shoveling shit, that's a job. You're doing something helpful. Being an adult who is really really good at playing children's games? Not so much. 

      So, I posted my thoughts like a dumbass, and got shit upon from a great height for it.

  LOL. Sure hit a sensitive spot I think. So I said something about defending a man who abandoned his children to play a children's game.   

 At that point, why not. I'm getting banned anyhow. 

 And that's how my legs fell asleep and I ended up head-butting a crack in the drywall when I stumbled with my drawers at half mast during my dismount from the crapper.  So now I gotta get out the joint compound and the paint. On the upside, my complexion is already kinda ruddy so there's a good chance I won't look like I used my forehead to break my fall. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Finally... nothing.

 I've been home a week, and finally today I'm all done with the shit I had to get done.  So today I officially can do whatever I want to do. 

     I started off by doing nothing for 3 whole hours. It was awesome.   Just read the news, looked over the blogs a bit, etc etc. 

    This was the first year where I remember hanging the Christmas lights was a bit of a slog. I sort of go pretty hard on my Christmas lighting. I enjoy Christmas, but this year it was work  to put the lights up. Maybe because I am not going to be home anywhere near the holidays.  I'm grateful to have gotten home in time for Thanksgiving, but the Christmas lights will be long down all over the next time I am home. 

 Still, I can't complain too much. I have all day today to do what I want. That's a rare thing. 

 Headed to the gun range. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!

 I flew home the day before Thanksgiving. You know, the OMG busiest travel day of the year we're all going to die etc etc that we've all read about ad nauseum for years? 

 Yeah it wasn't bad. Little busier than normal, and I mean, I flew out of JFK in New York. That place is a dumpster fire on a good day. It was fine. 

 So yeah, my kid picked me up at the airport, as for the first time ever, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife couldnt' get the night off from work, and so I didn't see her until mid-day on Thursday. 

 I ended up cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Roasted a big turkey, threw together corn, stuffing, balsamic glazed carrots, rolls and I made a cheesecake with strawberry glaze from scratch.  I got my sister to handle the mashed potatoes.   It was a weird one, just 5 of us for dinner, which might be the smallest Thanksgiving ever for me at home, but it was a nice day. 

 Plus, I mean, I'm home, too, and that's awesome. 

 I got up at oh-dark-thirty and I'm writing this to kill time as I have to go get blood drawn for my annual physical next week.  I dunno, maybe it wasn't a good idea to schedule that for the day after Thanksgiving and a day of eating too much and killing off probably half a bottle of Jamison over the course of the day and night. I certainly don't feel hungry yet, that's for sure. 


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Ugly and awesome

 We had a pretty average week here since last I wrote. Work 2 days, rest one, work 2, rest one.  And by 'rest' I mean we didn't have cargo so we'd take half of each watch and do work , so 12 hours of maintenance and projects got seen to, and 12 hours of leisure time, which was welcome. 

       Demand for bunkers is pretty steady this week, and one supplier in particular got the bulk of the jobs. This company charters some of our tonnage, but even working all out they have more work than they can do with existing equipment reserved for their use. 

       Enter guys like me, who run equipment that works on a 'spot' basis- that is, we're not on charter here on the HQ, but rather, we CAN work for multiple companies when they need us, on a short-term basis. In a given week, I'll usually have jobs from 3-4 major suppliers, companies you've heard of and some you wouldn't too. 

    So this week with work so steady and the temperatures cooling, some of our tugboats were out of town running longer-distance jobs out of state. My company chartered a tugboat from another company to be available as needed, and that tugboat was the ugliest and weirdest-looking tugboat on the East Coast. 

     Some guys call it 'the wedding cake tugboat' for sort-of obvious reasons. 

            So, this is a pusher tug. It's got two cushioned 'push knees' on the square bow to shove stuff around without causing point loads.  The knees are watertight compartments, so they dont' drag the bow underwater. The house, way, way up high, offers unbelievably good visibility. She's got a modest 3,000hp of power, but must be turning big wheels, because she doesn't have a lot of speed but she's got a LOT of 'ass' which is to say torque. 

 Oh, and the push cables that hold her against the hull of a barge being pushed? They're on automated spools. Push one button to tighten, another to loosen.  Normally, messing with push cables, getting them positioned and tensioned, is one of the most common evolutions where tankermen get injured on the job.  Shoulders get torn up, and fresh handsburger gets served up with a side of  I screams.

 So, push knees, lots of ass and low-strain making up. This tug is as ugly as an ape's foreskin, but she's a a pleasure to work with. It really helps that the crew have been polite, friendly and hard working too. We've had a good week working with them. 

  With the push cables in place, you can see they're made of Dyneema, which in the commercial boating world is called 'Spectra."  It's a synthetic rope that is far stronger and lighter than steel. Push cables have to be screaming tight to be effective- Sadly, it's also enormously expensive, but no bullshit, one guy can pick it up and return it to the tug without much effort. A steel cable of similar strength would be familiar looking- you see them on suspension bridges, and they're far, far beyond what mere men can pick up and walk around with. 

 Edit: I should be more careful and note that while mariners use the names dyneema and spectra interchangably, they are actually different. Dyneema is made by a Dutch company and Spectra is made by Americans. Chemically, they're identical, although both companies vary in what other fibers they include in their lines, as neither company usually sells lines made of the pure material, instead adding other fibers like aramid (kevlar) or nylon, polypropylene or other low-weight high strength synthetic material.  It should be noted that Dyneema and Spectra are braided differently, which makes them easier to differentiate, and this makes them behave differently. All ropes have Creep- initial elongation as the braid tightens as loads are applied for the first time. This is not stretch or elastic modulus or anything like that, just the braid 'fetching up' or 'shaking hands' as they tighten. Spectra has more creep than Dyneema, just because of the lay of the braid, which means that it might be necessary to retension it as it settles into use the first few times. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

That Boy Ain't Right

 We were rafted up at anchor the other day and I got to catch up with some friends. 

  My old captain on the tanker NEW RIVER used to say that "AB's (Able Bodied Seamen, mariners who are rated as more skilled than baseline mariners) are like seagulls. They eat, squawk and shit."  

I mean, yeah. 

 The squawking part is doubly true for tankermen. We talk. A lot. Even a quiet guy like me, who treasures blessed silence most of all, won't shut up once there's a few of us catching up. And the other day this happened out at anchor, and after greetings and pleasantries, the gossip started along with the complaining.  Now, because this particular group was made up only of core guys who have been here for 10+ years and none of us under 45 (I think I was the youngest at 48), we're of an age where the natural course of doing this job comes with aches and pains for us, and so who was sore where was a pretty hot topic, but moreso we all took the opportunity to bemoan the state of the talent pool for help aboard. 

     I'm going to bet that this has been a discussion ongoing on boats and ships since Jesus was a greenhorn on his friend's boat (good guy to have on board when the weather turns foul) and maybe even before. You know Noah had a shitty crew. He ended up running aground, on the top of a frigging mountain. There's running aground, and Running Aground, you know? 

         Still, I'm going to bet that in the golden days of sail, there were crusty sailors and officers too who bitched that there weren't the same quality of sailors coming aboard these days as there were 25 years ago. I mean, complaining on a boat is an evergreen subject, where every day a bottomless mine of raw material is discovered.  I'm sure that in the distant past, and maybe even not so distant, somebody talked about me and said 'Jesus, look at what we have to deal with. How can we make a sailor out of this sow's ear?' 

    Anyhow, we were in a group, like I said, talking, which means complaining, really, of course, and up comes a particular tankerman's name. Almost as one, we all said the same thing:


     What followed was 20 minutes of stories of ridiculousness, things we experienced while working with this particular individual. In discussion, I realized that a pattern was revealed. The man in question, a real soup sandwich, if you know what I mean, had been placed at some point with all of us, and rejected, not because he's bad at his job (he is minimally competent, we agreed, able to work under modest supervision), or a bad person (he's not), he's just too weird for us, too Borderline Personality Disorder, where the disorders he's walking the line on are paranoia, autism and schizophrenia). 

     Do you know the type? Someone who's not insane or inane, but 'not quite exactly' as the old timers used to say. Depending on the severity of being not quite exactly, it can be lived with, or not. 

 So we realized that the man in question had been forced on all of us at some point, in the hopes that we'd settle him down and find a home for him, but this never happened. 
     I know several minimally competent tankermen. These are guys who have to be monitored carefully to ensure they're doing their job, but who can be trusted to do basic tasks. Often these are men who are universally liked, truly nice and kind, champion human beings, who are just not able to rise beyond where they are. These men rarely move around the fleet. They find a home and are best kept there for their own sake, but are pleasant company and know their limits, and not the sort to get into too much trouble. In the case of this man in particular, he was very much like having a flu on board.  Unwelcome, likely to be passed on to someone else as soon as possible.  
        One of the most universal statements to be found on any boat is "It ain't like we're normal; if we was right in the head we could work on land."  Weirdness is tolerated, even enjoyed if the weird person is skilled at their job. "That guy's insane. I like him." You hear that sometimes, too.  But there has to be something to hang your hat on.  
    The conversation widened out into other people who we had issues with, and was a laundry list, as it often is.  My partner B and I have been working together for 12 years or so now I think. We know each other, and as we're close, we can argue and be honest with each other, and so we own our own shortcomings, which makes it unnecessary to have to bitch about each other to 3rd parties. We keep it in-house. We're blow off steam and talk to our other partner, Big E, of course, and often it becomes humorous. I know I'm a messy eater, for example. I'll get crumbs on the ceiling after I eat lunch, I swear. I try to not let it impact my shipmates. 
        Listening to my friends talk about their personnel issues on board, it makes me very much appreciate what I have.  What we have on the HQ, our shortcomings and complaints, are a deep well mostly of humor that refills on every tide. Even when we have a problem child on board, like our former partner who liked to microwave fish at 2am and make the entire house smell like a brothel in a leper colony.  
    And on that delicious note, I'll sign off.  

Friday, November 11, 2022

Veteran's Day

 Today the US marks Veteran's Day.   I am one of the few shameful exceptions in my family who didn't serve. My dad was in Korea and was ramping up to go to Viet Nam when his heart gave out and ended his career. My uncles, every single one of them on both sides served.  My oldest brother, my sister, one of my oldest brother's sons, and now my nephew who broke the mold and became a marine, and who just started Force Recon school. 

 Today also marks the 5th anniversary of my mom's passing. Time moves so fast once you're over 40, my God. I'll always be grateful for the wonderful graveside service that they gave my mom at the National Cemetery on Cape Cod.  It being Veteran's day then too, the grounds were lovely and the honor guard was putting in that extra 2% that makes such a difference. 

 I'm profoundly grateful for every person who served. 


Thursday, November 10, 2022

Light falls on Marble Head

  Sometimes the dumbs hit me hard. 

        I finished writing a comment elsewhere on complaints about safety standards on US ships... specifically that some government and the oldest of the old rotten merchant ships that the US allows to still trade are not required to have enclosed lifeboats.  Open lifeboats have a 0% chance of saving anybody in severe weather, which is when old rotten ships often get in trouble.  There's a Grandfather clause that allows cheap and immoral owners of old and superannuated ships to not invest in enclosed lifeboats which might save some crew on sinking ships in bad weather.  Enclosed lifeboats are required for everyone else, pretty much. It's a real dick punch to anyone who is guilted into working on old rotten American ships. 

 While I'm bitching from up on my soapbox, an email comes in saying that we now have to carry out a formal New Crew Safety Orientation on board the HQ from here forward, and there's a form to fill out... and me, hypocritical me, my first reaction is to roll my eyes. 

 Thankfully my second reaction was to read the form... and it's actually a really good idea. Anything that keeps fingers on hands, meat in the seats and increases the number of vertical mariners at off-going crew change is good... and common sense safety things, to me, are of greater value than pencil-whipped paper shielding for appearances' sake. Something as silly as '...and here is where the fuel shut off is in case you dont want to end up looking like a hot dog that fell through the grate in the grill'  is one of those obvious and helpful things to hear early on in your trip to sea.