Sunday, May 28, 2023

Bring your kid to work day

 So this was pretty cool. 

       We had a longer than expected cargo discharge last night out in Stapleton anchorage in NY harbor last night.  It started off rough, smoothed out, but dragged on. So it goes. 

         It was a little bitty bunkering job. About 200 tons of diesel and like 700 tons of heavy fuel to be transferred to a ship. Oil tankers are, perversely enough, good on gas. They're efficient. A 13,000hp plant is enough to push a 40,000 ton ship at an economic 14-15kts, and only burns about 30 tons of fuel a day I believe.  I dunno. I'm old enough that all my tanker time was done on the last of the steam ships, which burnt 60 tons a day and couldn't compete because of fuel costs. 

     So anyway, the ship was a bog-standard handymax sized product carrier. Filipino unlicensed crew, which meant that there were a half dozen of them waiting on deck when we came alongside. Our assist tugboat's mate, however, had a bad time getting alongside. It took him about an hour to get us all fast, whereas normally it's a 10 minute gig from passing the first heaving line to calling All Fast.  Combination of tide and tug- our assist tug was one of our heavy, unwieldy high-hp tugs, not one of the smaller more agile harbor tugs. The heavy tugs can easily break all of my mooring hawsers by leaving both engines in gear at idle, so the operator has to handle the tug with kid gloves. Plus, they're made for ocean work and heavy towing. It's like driving a tractor-trailer at a NASCAR race compared to our harbor tugs. 

 So, yeah, we lost time getting all fast. And then, sadly, a bunch of Indian engineers show up. 

     Look, it's not nice, but when the Indian engineers show up, you know several things are going to happen, and we're not supposed to have opinions about anything these days but 9 times out of 10, this means the schedule is absolutely gone. Out the window.  These guys are NOT efficient. They are VERY safe, however, which is cool, but nobody's empowered to make any decisions, which is not. To call it micromanagement is understated. The 3-4 subordinate engineers and their unlicensed helpers won't take a shit without written permission, a signed Job Hazard Analysis worksheet, a spotter and a safety meeting. Possibly also a safety harness and condoms too. Plus adalit or however you call the untouchable caste, to push the lever. 

    This isn't universal. It's only mostly universal. I work with some fantastic East Indian regular crews, a few whom I've gotten to know well. Masterful, efficient, and with a particular grasp of the regulations involved. But mostly they're slow and pedantic. 

 I exaggerate but also not really. The chief, the busiest man on the ship, makes all decisions. This is NO BULLSHIT. I can't even get the crew to lower a bucket down to my deck so I can give them papers, a vhf radio or anything, without the chief engineer's approval.  Many times, ships have lowered a bucket to me, and I put an armful of papers in the bucket, then turn around to pick up a walkie-talkie to put in the bucket, and I see the bucket heaved up before I can put the radio in.  I yell up that I have more stuff to give them when the bucket is just out of arm's reach, but they're not allowed to change the direction of travel of the bucket without the chief's express permission. Which can take 5-20 minutes while the chief is located. 

     So the job should have been done at 0200. Instead, at 0530, I am finished pumping and have one of the two cargo hoses back on deck when Big E comes out to relieve me on deck. My watch is done.  It was a nice night, actually, just frustratingly slow. 

 I shower and go to bed, expecting when I wake up we'll be at anchor or working, as we have a cargo lined up but no times on the load yet. Instead, joy. I wake up at 1400 and we're at a lay berth in Brooklyn, on a SUNDAY, and I can go for a walk and have a quiet day. Finally. I didn't get one last month. I've been here for 5 days I think, and I've got a watch off. 

    I got a 5 mile walk ashore, time to myself, and then when I got back aboard the hq, I see my son's tugboat next to us, and he's out on the back deck needle gunning rust.  

 I'm friendly with the captain of the tug where my kid's training, so he got permission for a 30 minute break to come over to the HQ to say hi.  Our schedules are so out of sync during his training that I won't see him at home until August, so these short breaks are all the time I get. 

   Huh. I thought only my wife would have to deal with empty nest syndrome. I'm awful glad our paths are crossing this tour. 

 So, yeah, all is well, and I got to hear about his training, and took a picture together to send to his mom. Pretty damn good day. 


    I rip on Indian engineers here, but I can point fingers at every nations' mariners for particularly annoying consistent habits- the often drunken Russians, the ready-to-fight eastern Europeans, the lazy Americans, the oblivious Chinese, etc. The only guys I can't rip on are the Japanese, the car carrier crews. Those guys are fast, efficient, friendly, helpful and damn good mariners. They're little tiny Boy Scout-Astronauts. 

 And yeah, I'm indulging in cheap stereotypes. Nobody pulls a hammie reaching for the low-hanging fruit. 


Thursday, May 25, 2023

back on board

 On my first week back after going home, it's my turn to take the back watch- 1800-0600.  So here I am, killing it. 

     Last night was my first watch on, and it was busy. I guess they sat around and didn't have any cargo for like the first 10 days I was home- E and B had a grand time just lifting weights and making sure the anchor wasn't floating. 

      My luck hasn't run that way. We were nonstop my last trip, and the unbelievably bad weather didn't help with morale. I really am ashamed at my lack of self-control at the end there. 2 solid weeks of being rained on and with diaper rash that had my nuts so burnt up that they were achieving fusion?  I feel like I had a reason to be fussy. 

 So it was with great happiness that I got aboard, made up my rack, unpacked all my trash and caught a nap after seeing no rain forecast for the next week... and when I woke up at 1645, it was raining. 

     Ever see a grown man cry? 

   Luckily, with the exception of a 30-minute shower around 2300, it wasn't all that bad, though a strong easterly wind kicked up while I was out on deck, making things a mite chilly.  It was good to have my relief show up at 0530.  

 Today's watch, while very busy early on, didn't have any rain. Glory be. I finally have been able to sit in dry underwear on watch. It's been a minute since that was so. 

          Tuesday I met up with my son in the crew change hotel in Brooklyn- he took a different flight than I had, as I buy my tickets months in advance, and as a trainee, his schedule is more erratic. I took him out to a local BBQ place that's surprisingly decent. 

      I do not love working the spot market for bunkers in New York harbor, but I will say that it's possible to get good food from anywhere in the world here, and while age and health have my generally eating healthy these days, sometimes you just want chicken and ribs so sauced up and greasy that the shit's getting in your ears when you eat. 

 Anyways, my boy is somewhere 100 miles or so out to my east tonight in Long Island sound, learning how to be a tugboat deckhand, while I'm in Red Hook tonight, blessedly between cargoes- we broke some things, and are waiting for the port engineer to come in in the morning and unfuck our hydraulic fendering. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Expensive days

 Damn, this week was spendy.  

        I'm healing up nicely. Bandages are off, and the dissolving stitches in my mug are falling out. 5 more days and I can get the rest of them in my back pulled off too. 

    So, with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's mother in declining health, I booked us all tickets to go see her, likely for the last time this side of eternity,  in her remote city in northeastern Brazil.  I got a good deal on travel, costing just north of 3 grand for airfare. Hotel, etc is still in the air. Paying for chemo to buy her a little time isn't as steep as it is here in the US, but it still ain't fun. 

  The same afternoon? After a thunderstorm, I see water running out of the fascia boards in the corner of my roof where it overhangs by some front windows.  So, thankfully, while I have a roof leak I have no damage to my home's interior. I have a concrete tile roof, this being Florida, and the $2500 repair bill was unpleasant after dropping 3k the day before.  And while the roofers are swapping out tiles (a couple of them were cracked, being older), the sink in the kitchen clogs.  Argh. OK, being the proud owner of a penis, I obviously have a pipe snake, and after pulling the water trap from the sink, I fail to find a block so much as I'm pushing through some resistance the whole damn way as I work my way out to the street with the snake... and pulling the snake back, I'm getting some sulfur-laden grease... about 15 damn feet of it. 

 I poked a hole with the snake through a grease clog. So I start going all ham with the snake, trying to ream it out enough to get a large mass flow of water through. Boiling water and a strong alcohol or alkaline solution will eat away at a fatberg in the pipes after all.  But nope, I can't get the snake to ream out a big enough hole to let out more than a trickle of water.  Gotta swallow my ego and call a plumber. 

 And maybe I got taken for a ride, but maybe not, but the plumber agreed with me that I had a grease issue, and after trying and failing to clear it with a bigger, better snake, I agreed to pay $1500 to have the pipe jetted out all the way from the sewer connection to the sink. 

   So, yeah, the fam is having hot dogs and some of my older canned goods from my preps for a little while. Daddy's had a pricy week. 

 Still, shit, family is family, and my home is important too. I can be sad that it was an expensive week, but it's not like I had other options. Thing about money is that I can always make more.  I'm grateful I have my job to go back to in just a few days and despite being less pretty than I was 2 weeks ago, I have health enough to earn and a couple more days to relax before I head back to work. 

    This crew change is going to be different, too.  My kid and I are both flying out on the same day to meet our vessels for the first time. I'll be able to take him to one of my favorite eateries in Brooklyn the night before crew change. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

stitches give itches

 On the upside, I am skin cancer-free once  more. 

 On the downside, I itch and I am deeply bored. 

      So I had 2 different people cutting on my person last week. The dermatologist cut the shit out of my back with punches and a slash- just a pair of circular holes about 3/8" with a piece of skin cancer in the middle and a couple stitches to close it up and off to the trash can with it, plus another one  above my waist on the left side that for some reason she chose to remove with a 2-3" incision and a bunch of stitches. 

     The next day a Moh's surgeon cut on my face, leaving me with a 2" slice in the classic Hockey Fight look- between the temple and above the eyebrow. So now I sure do look like a pirate. 

     The combination of positions means that no matter what I do, I'm pulling at stitches somewhere. It's annoying, and more, the ITCHING is making me insane. Not my face. That's fine, so long as I don't squint I can forget it's there, but my back is really itchy everywhere. It's annoying as all hell. And I'm told I can't do much. So no outdoor maintenance on my house, which was pretty much how I planned on spending these weeks at home. So... shit. I am BORED. I don't have sedentary hobbies. And I can't swim, which is a daily activity for me at home. 

     Still, not crying. I'm happy to not be at work. But I'd give my left nut for a back scratcher. 


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Early crew change

 Interesting few weeks, for sure. 

 It has been by far the most miserable few weeks I've ever had while working for my present employer. A combination of things that were negative overall, plus getting rained on for all but 1 God-damned day in the last 2 weeks, to the point where I have mildew inside my boots, well, that didn't help. 

    I'm having violent tantrums. That is VERY unlike me. I'm no doubt an absolute treasure to live with recently. My partner B out here is dealing with insomnia, which means I'm dealing with no quiet hours in our small quarters aboard. And it's so fucking busy, and the schedule so erratic, that we can't get ashore or out of each other's hair for an hour, and to be fair, while I'm being cunty lately, I can't even take a shit in peace the past little while, 

      Well, the weather was supposed to break last Saturday, change to nicer weather. It in fact was as awful as always. Gray, rainy, windy, right up through Monday. And also busy AF. 

   BUT, on Monday, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife flew up to the Northeast, and I left work early. 

 My kid has been in the fleet the past 2 weeks. I haven't seen him, though he's enjoying himself. 

 Yeah, so I got married. In Brazil, anyhow.  Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I never registered our marriage in Brazil, just the US, way back in the day. We're planning on spending more time in her country of origin, and so it turns out that as the trophy Husband, I am unable to easily inherit whatever estates and homes and lands my wife may own as I am not a registered alien. 

  Oh how the tables have turned. I am marrying my wife for a green card. 


           Above all else, it was good to laugh, and to not feel as though I am 30 seconds away from losing my mind and starting the beatings. I'm much too old to start to punch my way through frustrating moments. I think leaving work 2 days early might have been the best thing for everyone involved. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Diaper Rash Dash

 Busy week. Lots of cargo in small parcels, lots of time on the phone, and being rained on too, on several occasions, so lots of diaper rash too. 

    It sucks being almost 50 and still getting chafed on my 'taint, legs, buttcrack and giggleberries. All combined, yeah, diaper rash. Wearing wet drawers for 12 hours straight, coupled with lots of walking. It's been like that off and on the past few weeks, at least a couple of days a week with this frigging weather and our busy schedule. 

    When I were a younger younker, I discovered Gold Bond. Good for staving off the effects of mild Swamp Ass.  When I went all in full-time as a lobsterman, I discovered Bag Balm. 

 Bag Balm was my savior in the late 90's.  It's plain old udder cream for cows. Some sort of medicated Vaseline because apparently cow udders are sensitive and prone to chapping.   Here's why it's important. 

  OK, you're a hard working guy in a wet environment in an intensely physical job.  Diaper rash for sure happens because your clothes are wet 2 hours into a 12 hour shift. Whether it's seawater or sweat, salty water-soaked clothing chafes, and it happens fast.  Hence, after a single day your danglies are hairless and cherry red and giving off enough heat to toast a marshmallow, and you're doing the Cowboy Shuffle, walking like a man who just spent 2 days bareback on a bony-assed horse. 

     Yeah, the hairless part is graphic, right? Ever get an Indian Burn? Chafes the hair off your forearm before it actually breaks the skin. So it goes with a wet pair of fruit of the looms and The Twins if you're running up and down deck in foul weather gear all day every day.  The testicles you know and love are gone, replaced by an angry sack of hate and pain and despair the exact color of one of those kickballs from grade school gym class. Fire. Engine. Red. 

      OK, so the journeyman tradesman learns early on about Gold Bond- mentholated absorbent baby powder- the yellow can for your boots, orblue can if you're hardcore; and the special green can for your matrimonial bits.  Like a cool breeze through your BVD's on a hot day, Gold Bond Green does what Calgon can't- it takes you away to a better place, at least emotionally. 

 So, you'd think that keeping your ground tackle dry is the secret of longevity and not chafing if you're working in a wet and dirty place... and you're right...

 But you're also wrong. 

         At some point, you either need to put a gold bond dispenser between your legs or you have to accept that you're beyond where Gold Bond can help.  It's sort of like when you realize a couple of band-aids aren't going to be enough and you've got to tell your father that you need to go get stitches. 

 No amount of Gold Bond is going to save your nuts when you're sweating or soaked enough that you have to pour salty water our of your boots every little while. 
   So, while it seems counterintuitive, at some point, you need to accept that whatever solution may be required to save your marbles, it's not going to involve trying to keep them dry.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Like a car engine, the secret is in reducing friction. And to do that, you need to displace the salt water as the liquid medium between adjoining parts. 
    Enter Bag Balm.  Balm for your Bag. 

           Medicated Petroleum jelly is non-polar. It isn't water-soluble.  What it is, is sticky. But it doesn't stick to materials that are waterlogged. In fact, in a wet environment, Bag Balm  sticks to the surface you smear it on, provided that surface is more or less impermeable and solid, like, say, human skin. In wet conditions, Bag Balm becomes slippery as all get-out.  Friction is eliminated. 
 So, like a saturation diver, before starting a Diaper Rash sort of day, you've got to pre-prime your butt and nuts with Bag Balm, even before you get damp. In fact, it feels pretty gross until you're working. Then it feels pretty good. And if you're suffered before, it's a miracle. 

      One funny thing, with all the reduced friction downstairs, my average walking pace picks up an extra half knot too. 


Saturday, April 22, 2023

You Don't Know Where I've been

 ...because I haven't been writing. 

 I'm at work, here on the HQ, just haven't been inspired to write. Also, my computer wasn't working right. For some reason the wifi adapter on my laptop stopped working. I thought it burnt out, but I did a whole lot of digging, and found that my particular PC, an Asus ROG Strix, now approaching middle age at 3 years old, got fucked up en masse  along with it's cohorts from an update a few weeks ago, where some  scumbag leftist enabled a feature whereby it would shut off the wifi 'to save power' at times, but forgot to allow it to turn itself back on. 

 Nice of the green weenies to do that. OOh, saved almost 3 watts of power drain! We going green all up in this bitch. 

 Anyhow, no.  So as of this morning, I believe I saved myself the need to get a new PC. 

       The reason it had to wait over a week to see what was up with my PC is that we're pretty busy this tour. And it's annoying busy, not balls to the wall busy. 

 Annoying busy means we're getting cargoes at the last minute, CONSTANTLY, which is not how things worked before. Before we had time to look up the orders, write up a load plan, debate changing it, set things up, and do maintenance and shit while waiting for the loading time to arrive. Instead, we're pumping off a cargo, and getting notified that we'll be loading again in 6 hours... which is fine, except that 20 minutes later, no, it's 12 hours, then 10 minutes later, it's immediately on completing discharge of the current cargo.  So then we have to scramble, beg the people doing this to us to provide information on the cargo, like it's density, because we can't plan a load without certain numbers, and they don't give us those numbers unless we beg. Everyone likes having their ass cheeks polished to a high gloss I suppose. 

 But you know what's really fun? You arrive at the loading terminal, connect cargo hoses, work out a final loading plan with the cargo surveyor, have the pre-transfer conference with the dockman, start loading, and the office calls and says "hey, change of plans, the charterer is changing the volume now. You haven't started yet, have you?"  So then, basically, everything starts over, but you have minutes to correct the numbers, change the volumes, and sometimes change the tanks you'll be using. And you're expected to do this without shutting down the oil flow if you can. 

 So this has been happening, like, a lot, lately. Constant. So when we do get hours of down time, we're more likely to want to just sit at the table and go 'well, fuck me, wow.' than get proactive work done. 

 Ah, I bitch, but it's within tolerances of what we can live with. 'specially 'cus I have good shipmates around me, when I do get to see them, guys of an age with me, so we commiserate together. And nothing, but nothing, makes a tankerman happier than an audience to listen to his many, many complaints.

         My kid flies out this week to meet with corporate HQ and start as a deckhand trainee. Gonna be an interesting week.