Sunday, January 5, 2020

What does Armageddon smell like?

Funny thing, I didn't decide to quit blogging, just came to understand that I didn't need to do it anymore. This place was my outlet for stress and also for sharing some of the cool things I get to see and do... and the past few weeks I've been staying away from the kulturekampf as much as I can, and it's paying off. I feel a touch disconnected, but that's not a bad thing. I've been doing things that normal fools do, and it's kind of been nice. No stressing, no arguing... well, less of those things, anyhow. The people we surround ourselves with have such a strong impact on us, and for the past number of years at work, I've been extremely fortunate to have worked with people that did a great job and were pleasant to live with.  I was so lucky in that regard that it happened twice, where we captured lightning in a bottle with our junior man. Third time... not the charm.
I think that's part of why I have not been motivated to write or create. Perhaps I've grown too susceptible to  influence by my shipmates, and being forced to take on a coworker who isn't so able to do the co part of the work has been a drain on our energy.
 I've gotten soft. I never wanted to be a sea-daddy, and refused, threatened to quit over it. They called my bluff, and I folded. So despite knowing I am a shit sea-daddy, and having done my best, they salted the wounds and gave me the man I didn't want to train as a subordinate. I lack the energy, enthusiasm and grace to live 24/7 with a strange man and teach him too. Just not built for that. As I do, I worry I didn't prepare him enough to be a tankerman. So far, he's an acceptable tankerman, but things that can't be taught- leadership, decisiveness... not there. Maybe with time. Thing about being a tankerman, you're expected to be an experienced seaman, and until recently, at a minimum rated as Able Bodied (experienced in seamanship and able to pass a proficiency exam on paper and also by demonstrating marlinespike seamanship) by the coast guard.  I sometimes lose my temper when a mariner can't splice, box a compass or handle basic rigging.  Those are things that should prevent a man from being rated Able. Used to be, anyhow. Well, they're all things that can be taught, thankfully, but no,no, and fuck no I'd rather be lit on fire than stuck teaching that. And guess what I'm doing in my spare time these days?  

 Now, the rant isn't over. Not by a sight.

     I tend to work 0600-1800, which generally means from 0500-0545 I'm up and available too if needed, and from 1800 to 2100ish, I'm also up if needed.  I want 8 hours to sleep, because ideally I need 7 to wake up refreshed and fully rested, like most any man in his mid 40's. I can survive on a lot less. 3-4 hours a night for a while, 5-6 for a few weeks for sure. But I don't want to.

   With regulatory changes in what type of oil that ships can burn having changed on January1, there's been some procedural changes in how oil companies fulfill fuel orders. 90% of ships are burning more expensive fuel, while some ships have scrubbing systems that clean their exhaust gas contents to remove some contaminates, which allows them to burn cheaper oil.
    During the transition months, oil companies are taking heavy, viscous and just nasty fuel oil and cutting it with ultra clean diesel to get it up to spec. This is done by blending the two types of fuel in specific ratios... well, specifically this is done by ME  blending the two fuel oils in specific ratios... the process and calculations for which my second man can't wrap his mind around despite a lot of effort on his part. So it goes. This means that if we're loading oil when I'm off watch, I get up to oversee the process. So there goes my rest schedule. It actually hasn't been bad, and it's gotten better with time, too, as Jan 1 approached. I was up about 3/4 of my nights on board in Nov/Dec.  The past few weeks, maybe just twice. Some of the oil companies are able to source good quality oil that doesn't need altering I guess. So I'm sleeping more...
...except for the other night, when SOMEONE decided to microwave fish at 3am.

 I'm sleeping soundly, which means that I'm aware on some level of changes in list and trim and the load on the generators, but definitely asleep. The stink of some sort of fishy smelling fish being cooked woke me up like a gunshot. I don't know why, it was nauseating and awful, and really, really pervasive, having worked its way into my room, with a tightly closed door and no common ventilation between the galley and my room.

 I grew up fishing, spent 20 years living and working with the stink of dead partially-rotten baitfish around me. Every car I owned smelled of fish until I was 30. That smell doesn't bother me.

 You microwave fish, it smells different. Wrong. It smells wrong. And my shipmate, a bachelor who in his oblivious habit of living his daily economy isn't used to thinking about others, overcooks a fucking piece of fish. In the microwave. And it smells horrid. Like a bible story. Like someone took a shit in an open grave and then poured rancid fish on top.

 Well, there wasn't much chance of sleeping any more so I got up, got dressed, had a nice yell at my 2nd man, and went about my day.

 The smell was there all day. I bleached and scrubbed the microwave first. I washed down the galley with lemon-scented soap after sanitizing it. I wiped down counters and the stove with  a halved lemon, even the steel eyes on the stove. Put the trash can outside and mopped the deck. The smell was gone... for a little while.  After I had started working, I had to spend a good 45 minutes outside. I walked back in... and fish. It stank of micowaved fish.
 Turns out that smell got into the sweatshirts and raingear hanging in the galley coathooks. They reeked. So I got some laundry going, and lit a really awful and choking incense stick that was in the junk drawer. I hate these things, they're so cloying that it's hard to breathe. I lit a second one, put them on opposite sides or the room and moved them about every few minutes. Like one of those unmarried middle-aged women we all know who do hippy pagan bullshit like burning sage saying they're eliminating bad juju or some such bullshit. Well, I'm here to tell you, I have a new sympathy for the multiple cat fake religion ladies. I smoked the shit out of that room trying to exorcise the demon of the microwave. I was getting asthma and I don't even have asthma. And in the end, I emerged victorious.
 Oh, not that the smell is gone. I ruined my sense of smell, burnt the hell out of my own nose. It's fine now.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

winding it down

I started writing in blog format some time in maybe 2003 or so?  It's been a long time. I've met some great people and had great experiences.

    These days I'm not updating the blog very much. The value in writing here has declined for me. Life happened along the way.
       When I started writing I hadn't even gotten rated as Able Seaman aboard the ship I was working on. I was an Ordinary Seaman, the very lowest rating aboard. My original plan, to receive an unlimited license, made sense to me- I just had to put in time and effort, and learn the job.

      Along the way, that employment market died. The maritime academies still crank out kids with 3rd mates licenses for jobs that no longer exist. I settled on a smaller license and work on smaller boats, which is where I started anyhow.
    Thing is, I have a life too now. Family, other obligations and priorities. My job no longer has to be the central core of my sense of self. If you had asked me 20 years ago about who I was, the first sentence would refer to making a living off the ocean. Now? Husband and parent. That's who I am and that's enough for me.

    I'm sure I'll still write here from time to time, but I no longer have the compulsion to race to the internet whenever I read something. I've got other things to do now.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

To work

Well, I flew in just as some weather hit, and in just a few hours I went from sunny and 80 to freezing rain and snow. So that sucked

     I'm back at work now. It's cold. But I had a hell of a great time at home. I'm pretty beat, though, even so. Maximizing time with  family, etc etc. Makes me happy.

 I got my house looking just so, for our first Christmas there, and, although I won't be there, we had a nice 10 days or so, and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife went all out in decorating. I was the labor behind the vision inside, and I did the exterior of the house too. Mostly I just paid for the stuff, and since we tripled the size of our home when we bought the new place, the decorations were not cheap, which sucked, but what the hell, it looks nice.  the 11 foot tree isn't quite finished in the picture below, but we got that done before I flew out.

As with marriage, part of the secret to success despite my being a sailor seems to be putting the effort in. We had a great time, and even though this year I'm not even remotely close to coming home for the holidays, we enjoyed what we could, I put some good presents under the tree, and if the timing wasn't all that we could wish, we had plenty of time to be together and will pick up where we left off when I get home next month.
 At which point I get to take down all the lights and decorations.

Friday, November 29, 2019


I got home in time for Thanksgiving, and completely enjoyed a gigantic meal with the Florida contingent of the B family. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's aunt is here visiting as well, so the extra person at the table was very welcome for my wife and son, who don't get as much opportunity to speak the mother tongue all that often.

   I've been eating clean for the past month while I was onboard. Nothing processed, nothing that grows under ground, low carb, no sugars. No alcohol too, of course, but that's normal at work. Felt great, lost weight. Today, the morning after a mountain of turkey, bread, sweets, potatoes and whisky and champagne, I feel hung over, logy and debauched.
 Worth it.

 Now I am actually home. I flew  in on Wednesday night, the night before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year. I have notoriously bad luck when it comes to flying in and out of New York for work anyhow, with about a 90% rate of delays, and 2-3 flights outright cancelled per year. After listening all week about what a shit show Wednesday was going to be... it was easy and everything ran smoothly. Like storms, politics and any other bullshit the press reports on, everything was not a miserable disaster despite their best efforts to present it as so. God I hate the press.

    Seriously, that was one of the easiest travel days I've ever had. People were in a good mood despite being there in higher numbers, the bartender at the bar I chose had a heavy hand with his pour, and it wasn't too crowded. Flight was mildly turbulent the whole time, which seems to be normal on the east coast, but it wasn't too bad. I got home at about 2100, caught up with the fam and was asleep by 2300.  B, my relief at the HQ, got caught in that blizzard that bombed the midwest, so I didn't have a relief, so I only got about 2 1/2 hours sleep in the last 36 hours of work, so I conked out pretty quickly on getting home.  8 hours later I was up and prepping the turkey. I didn't slow down until about 7pm, when my brother, sister and I went outside to sit by the pool in the warm air.  By 2200, the house was cleaned up and everything stowed, my siblings headed back home, and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I had a last glass of wine together before calling it a night.

   Oh, and after 6 months of owning my home, I finally ate in my dining room and had to lead the prayer. First time in a long time I was at a loss for words, and it took a minute, but being generally grateful for all that I have, it wasn't too hard once  I got started. 

 So, finally here, in this moment, while I'm caffeinating and waiting for the slight headache I woke up with to pass, my time is my own for a few hours.

 Whether you were at work or home alone, I hope your Thanksgiving was enjoyable.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

going all out

My writing has been pushed to the back burner this month with all the work we're getting here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ. It's been a while since we had a real blitz like this, where we're finishing one discharge and headed directly back to load more. It's pretty widespread. Berth congestion is an issue at the moment.

 At the moment, the HQ is the only dedicated Heavy Fuel oil barge that my company keeps in NY/NJ. Everyone else is transitioning to Low Sulfur Fuel oil and Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel Oil as the December 31 deadline for sulfur content limitations approaches. With demand dropping, feedstock supply has been erratic apparently. We're loading from multiple tanks, every job, cutting fuel with better fuel to get to an acceptable level of quality for the recipient. Pain in the ass, really. We loaded a few days ago directly from a ship that was a few berths over, using the terminal's pipeline. That was fun. We talk to the shore, the shore talks to the ship, the ship talks to the shore, and the shore talks to us. Worked fine, just slow. Only reason I have time to write at the moment is that I am waiting for inspectors and samplers to come aboard and go over my load figures and pull samples out of my tanks prior to us sailing off for another discharge.

 And they're coming down the pier now.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

gee that's swell

I had a heck of an off-watch time last night.
(he said sarcastically)

       Long couple of days, with not a lot of quality rest. Our plans keep changing, with the upcoming rule changes to fuel quality coming on Jan 1.

 So we loaded for two ships a couple of days ago- a large quantity of heavy fuel oil and a lesser quality of Marine Gas Oil (basically that's diesel oil). We loaded just enough for the two ships, so when we were done we'd be empty in case the next job that was available was for another customer.

 We discharge the first ship, and then the customer cancels the second job, and instead we go back to the loading terminal and load for two more ships, plus the job we already have on board. No real problem, a lot of paperwork, but my 2nd man is not up for blending calculations yet, so I had to get out of bed twice the other night to get the calculations done and write up a loading plan for him. Twice.

       Yesterday I went to bed as the first of those three jobs was coming up.

 I had a long day yesterday and in the break in the middle of the day I actually lifted weights and walked around the deck for an hour, so I went to bed sore, and it being chilly, I was pretty content under the covers after dozing off.
     And then we started rolling.

 It was strange. We were in the middle of Bay Ridge anchorage in New York. Alongside an anchored containership, and pretty well secure. Our tug had left as he had other work to do while we were pumping off. Pretty normal.The wind had come up to a small gale, which was predicted, but we were rolling and rolling and rolling, and it didn't stop. Deep into a harbor, that's really unusual, unless we anchor in the mouth of the Verrezano Narrows during a NE gale. But we weren't in the mouth and we weren't in the narrows. We were off to the Staten Island side. But wind and tide were opposite each other and while I was dozing off, we swung broad to the swell, which surprisingly, was pretty decent, and worse, was timed in some fraction of our natural rolling period, so over the course of 5 minutes, we were rolling a good 15 degrees each side, which would not be much in a traditional situation, but when you're rafted up to a giant ship and you start bouncing and swaying, with mooring lines screaming and a couple of them parting, it can actually be quite dangerous.On getting out of bed and looking outside, I had my 2nd man run new lines to the ship plus some extras,  made a few changes on where they were running, and called my office and requested a standby tug ASAP in case we ended up drifting off. We didn't. Eventually, after 15 minutes more, the ship swung into the wind instead of the current and we settled down. I was only out of bed about an hour, but I didn't sleep soundly for sure.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

halfway day

Well, today's the halfway point of this trip and it's been busier than usual for sure. We had a little downtime- yesterday we were free and there was one other 20 hour period last week, too, but beyond that, it's been steady work. But time has passed by pretty well so far, too, as a result.

         I'm sort of watching what's going on in the news, all the chaos, 6 different stories on the same subject all with radically different points to make, and twisting the news into propaganda. It's disheartening. Folks who put out work I like to read often point out that in order not to be subsumed one must stay engaged, but hell, not wanting to be bothered with the bullshit of our culture is half the reason people want to go to sea in the first place. No, I'll enjoy bombing people I disagree with using sarcastic points while I'm sitting on the can, but I'm not going to waste quality oxygen during my non-bathrooom time by pissing myself off reading all that crap.

          With the death of D, my old captain in my teen years, his daily reminder that even a bad day is pretty good on the water if it don't kill you, I feel a bit recentered. His death hit me more than expected, especially in that I haven't spoken to him much in the past 5 years, and of those times, many were him chiding me about the value of my time spent being a shit to people online.  Smart guy, was D.

       Today I had the fortune, good (for me) enough to finish loading cargo about 90 minutes after the turn of the tide, while we're in a tide-restricted berth- that is, unless we have 2 tugs working together, we have to sail only on the tide, and so I get a 4 1/2 hour break. I cooked lunch, got my paperwork done for the day, and headed outside to splice a broken line and wire-lock some shackles that weren't wire-locked on our hydraulic powered fendering system. Busywork, really, but necessary in that I don't want to waste a lot of budget losing a $6,000 fender over a $1 shackle pin, which has happened.

 Today is the first real cold day here in NY harbor. It was blowing pretty good and in the low 20's when I woke up at 5am. Going out on deck was a bit of an effort of will, until the sun came up and it got above freezing. Hydraulic controls were stiff as hell, valve wheels didn't want to turn... all the things that make us not love winter. So it goes, though. If I got upset over every one of those things, I'd be a hell of a pill. It's still better than being at a desk for me.