Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Glad to be here!

Important things that happened after I was paid off and discharged from my ship

1) $50 for drinks. Seriously? two draft beers and two classes of Jamison on the rocks?
2) A seriously uneventful series of flights. I had stank breath from 1), though.
3). My sister and brother pick me up from the airport. Hilarity ensues. I am talked out of peeing on the tire of the car parked too close to my sis'.
4) 1am. Home, shower, etc.
5). Big, big hug from the boy when he wakes up. Reminder to self: teach The Boy to knock before opening door.
6). Drive 2 hours in snow to union hall. Note to self: Next time, call ahead when the weather is bad.
7). Drive 2 more hours in snow, heading home Note to Self: Curse wife roundly for buying a portable DVD player for The Boy. Also, skid madly the entire way, 'cus back of truck is empty, and it's not a 4x4.
8). Buy 1,000 lbs of sand, place in bed of truck. Curse everyone else who is skidding around and driving like a dink at 3mph.
9). Stop at grocery store, buy New Year's Eve Junk food, then liquor store, for New Year's Eve junk for me. Laugh at the boy's first confusing experience with a snowdrift. Acknowledge that I am a bad person for telling him to 'go climb that hill with the snow on it. Run. Run fast!
9a). Scoop powdery snow out of boy's jacket, hair and such. Giggle at his wary expression. Seriously, you shoud have seen him. He barrelled into that 5' snowdrift like a meteorite through a cornfield.
10). Wistfully stare at brown bag containing liquid fun, while sitting in traffic behind soccer mom skidding out in 2wd-mode Explorer. Eyeball "4x4" sticker on tail of same and call down God's wrath on said driver. Back off to avoid blast radius of fire/brimstone. OK. Maybe when she gets home she'll get it. I call in the strike, but it's up to the Big Guy to deliver the ordinance.

11). Slip and fall in own doorway. Acknowledge poetic justice when boy dumps one 5-year-old sized armload of snow on crotchal area.

12. Four words. Thank You, God. Broadband!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

packing up

Well, I'm taking a fast break from cleaning my room up and packing my stuff. Tomorrow I'll be coming home, if everything goes as planned.

Here's a little something something to tide you over:

The Lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

Tennyson, Ulysses

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all a yous out there, especially to any a yiz who hafta be away from yer loved ones this season.

So far, by 0900 local time, it's shaping up to be a nice day. Presents at noon along with a big lunch, and movies thereafter.


We get presents too out here!

OK, this isn't really where we're anchored but you get the drift. Nice to have a quiet Christmas day. We've got a real nice and social bunch of guys on board, so I'm sure it will go by quickly.

The smarm in me would like to point a finger at the privates of everyone in the US who killed their savings forever in the hope that their kids will overlook the fact that they're not being paid attention to 364 days a year.

For the rest of us, and especially to my family, I say Merry Christmas, and sorry about the cuss words on here. I'll be home soon to celebrate, too, so dinna fash yourselves. And if someone (read: Dad) were to have a wee drop o' the craythur on hand, that'd be nice too. See ya soon!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Well now, we're still hanging on the hook, waiting for something to happen. A Damn passive Christmas Eve morning, all things considered. We spent last night humping a big-ass load of food and supplies on board from a supply boat that came alongside after dinnertime. Busy night, but we got our Christmas goodies for sure. Spirits were high, which really made the time go by. This ship has no stores crane, so we have to hug and lug all the boxes and parcels down to the stern of the ship from the midships cranes. For whatever reason, there was a lot of joking and everyone worked well together. We bucket-brigaded a dozen frozen turkeys and 20-lb. pork shoulders early on, so it's turkey/ham and fixins for yours truly tomorrow, something which I wholeheartedly approve of..

In the six years that I've worked for this company, this will be my 5th Christmas aboard. This has been my decision to make, as it's more important to me that I not spend my summers out here in the Gulf, where I would be at risk for heatstroke daily, but the only way for me to be able to do that is to work over the holidays, which is a damn shame, but there it is.
Anyhow, there's a chance that I'll be home for New Years, which would be nice. I could give a fuck about the New Year celebration, really. I just want to be with my family, and do mundane stuff like see how my church was decorated this year before everything gets stowed again. Little stuff, you know? And some not so little, too.

My stepson emigrated here from Brazil at the end of summer. In the past six months he's had to learn English, which he is rapidly picking up, and he has been telling me over the phone, in shocked disbelief about how cold Massachusetts gets. I remember the first day the temperature dipped under 75 degrees on labor day weekend. He was chilly. My wife is no help there, as she is also freezing. The two of them have become complete homebodies since Thanksgiving, and this past week especially, as they got a solid foot of snow. Now, thankfully, neither of them has been sledding yet. Imagine that? I am hopefully going to be able to get them both bruised and frostbitten in the name of the best damn free entertainment that New England has to offer.
Although I grew up in a coastal semi-suburban community, I have spent enough time wandering the earth in my pre-sailing days to develop a rural New Englander's taste towards the out-of-doors. My wife grew up in a metropolitan tropical city; she'd rather be in heels somewhere indoors, but myself, I'll take the woods and waters. My stepson is going to get a good heathy dose of that lifestyle. In the semi-seclusion of my ship, I return home to find so much of that canned-entertainment lifestyle leaves me feeling unclean. I wonder how my stepson will see it when he's my age?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

still grrr...

Yeah, so I was pretty much correct, it was a sloppy ride most of the way down south from NY to the Galveston bar. We had calm seas for one day and one night, though, which was nice. Coming out of NY we experienced some phantom swells, where the sea is glassy calm, yet the ship rolled like a turd in a toilet tank. I got some video of that, which I'll post when I get home next week or so.
So, crossing the gulf, we had a couple of hours of thoroughly rotten confused seas, where the motion of the ship was so... peculiar, that it's hard to describe. The seas were confused, which means that we were corkscrewing, first off, which is never nice, but we were also falling into holes in the water, these odd troughs on the front side of breaking seas, which made the whole motion completely jerky. Let me tell you, there was some nausea on board! A bunch of hardened bastards like us. I heaved up my pre-watch diet pepsi and apple after 15 minutes on the bridge, but, as happens to me on the rare occasion when I do get sick, about 45 minutes later, I'm suddenly ravenous and feeling fine.
SO I guess you could say I spent a long watch mostly hungry, trying to stand upright. We took a few good deep rolls, but as soon as I got off watch it settled right down, so I got a good night's sleep out of the deal.

Anyhow, We're in the Houston area, performing the necessary to keep on truckin.' The skipper told me today that my relief has been found, and that I'll be on my way home hopefully early next week, dependant on our schedule. The implications of this are a subject worthy of its' own entry, so I'll be off.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

grrr... and brrr, too.

Well, I'm writing today off as a loss. Just one of those shitty days where everything I touch turns to crap. Tomorrow's a new day.
Had a very quiet watch this morning on the 12-to-4, which was a good thing, as the freezing rain/sleet mix was fairly unpleasant. You ever have one of those days where nothing works out exactly as you wanted?

Ah well. Salt therapy is in order. We left Philly just a short time ago, and are heading to Texas, 5 days away. Supposed to be a little sloppy most of the ride, which is about average for this time of year. I'll be happy to have 5 days to lose myself in work, anyhow.


While I was attempting to sleep this morning, with the goal of getting up early to run to the bank before watch, I was awakened repeatedly. First off, some scumbag ripped off my wife's fairly impressive CD collection out of her car. This is insightful, because she is religious about locking her doors and turning the alarm on, and last night she forgot to do both as she juggled one sleeping 5-year old and the gigantic purse she carries that I could use for a hammock.
So, someone is trying the doors at the hemidemisemi townhouse complex where I live. Further incentive to finish classes and upgrade my license to 3rd mate-unlimited tonnage so I can buy a damn house next year.
So, in dealing with that, I accidentally shut off my alarm, so I didn't get to the bank, which means that my next truck payment will now be late, because the fuckheads at our next dock won't allow sailors off of their ships. Fucking Texas and Louisiana. The lower and middle-management in the refiners there are characterized as big people with small hearts for a reason.

So, anyhow, another F-You to Bank of America, who can't figure out that I closed one of my checking accounts 4 months ago and switched to their Online Banking on my new account. They messed up my last 2 truck payments, even though they are both my bank and the financers of my truck, so Not only are they responsible for annoying me endlessly, they're also going to make an extra $50 this month for having sworn up and down that they fixed the problem, and then never fixing the problem. Grrr.
Goddamn monolithic banks. I'm debating going 100% online with one of the small digital banks, see if they're better.

Oh, and lastly, The People's republic of Massachusetts just billed me for $900 for having 'corrected' my return for a few years ago, claiming that my expenses from commercial fishing for that year don't qualify as commercial fishing income. So, I had to call and fix that... which I did, I think. In the meanwhile, I could really feel my temples pounding, and my face was way bright red. Kinda scary, really. I've started counting calories, and when 2 weeks are up, I'll see what I can do about getting on a program.

So, sorry for sharing my woes. I feel better, though. See, this is the challenge of working on a coastwise ship! Balancing all of this, between my wife now feeling insecure about where we live, keeping bills paid, and trying to correct problems that require face-time with increasingly-sparse opportunities to run errands.

Now, when I do get my license upgraded and can take the job above my own, I'll have a dilemma. I can take a bigger-money job on a container ship sailing foreign, or I can stay local on a tanker, maybe even one of these ones if I don't talk myself out of a job first. The way we're going, though, it'll be easier to get off the ship and run errands in other countries. Hmmm.

Ah well, I hope the refiners at my next dock all get Palmetto Bugs in their houses. Have you ever seen one of those things? Holy shit. I am SO glad that the largest bug where I live is the garden spider.

Anyhow, I'm done now. Sorry for the yelling. Really, the more I work out here, the more I see the advantages, too, even with the drawbacks. Taking the Geographic cure still has a lot of appeal for me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Glory! Fame!

So I am standing at the pilot boarding ladder this afternoon, as we're pulling out of the Kills, waiting for the two docking masters who were getting off of the ship and onto a waiting tug. The first guy goes down the ladder, but the second guy stops, looks at the three of us on deck at the top of the ladder, and says "So is one of you guys Paul the Blogger?"

So I says "Yup, that's me." Clever, I am.

"I read your blog all the time. I like it a lot."

Me: scuffing boot on deck in aw, shucks fashion. "Thanks. I'm trying to tone it down so my company will stop getting pissed off at me."

"Yeah, I can tell. I liked it better the old way."

Sigh. So did I. I explain very briefly that I like my job, and that I have a family to support. I explain thusly:
"I like to make people laugh, but it ain't worth gettin' m'self shitcanned for telling sea stories!"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

breaking up the band

More people heading home today, and more people showing up.

I said goodbye to my watch officer, JimmyJames today. I spoke more to the guy today than I have since he came aboard 90 days ago. Just shows how hard it is to get a bead on a person.
JJ's relief is Charlie, one of our frequent flyers. Carlie is a young guy from what we call the Prick Factory, Kings Point. Perversely, we haven't had too many pricks from there, which seemingly belies the notion, but hey.
I've got someone to talk shop with, as Charlie is an accomplished commercial fisherman, and owns his own thriving business as a charter captain out on Long Island Sound. So, not only can I talk about one of the few things I care and love to talk about, but it's a two way street. Good times. Anyhow, should keep things lively here, anyhow.

After a couple of days in the cold, plus my own foolish agreement to cover somebody's watch today, my bummy hip is aching like balls. That being said, the cold weather has also tripled my energy level. I love this time of year. I do lose time in the Fashion Show; that is, the throwing on and off of layers throughout the watch, depending on the exertion level, but damn, it's comfortable.

Also, I took delivery of my last 6 cases of diet pepsi for this voyage. Part of the deal with my standing watch this afternoon so one of my shipmates could go and hold his kid for a few hours. This will carry me to our next port up the Delaware river, and back into the Gulf for a few days before I head home for a brief rest.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Nothing eats up the time on a coastwise voyage like a good 5-day grocery run from the US Gulf to the US east coast. We humped our way through marginal weather pretty much the whole ride- not enough to slow us down, but enough to keep the decks awash, the crew indoors (mostly), and the deck unsteady. I give it a 4 out of 10.

One of the more important factors that help pass the time is the compatibility between the mate on watch and his AB. Now, I've been in both positions (I've worked as a mate on limited-tonnage boats using my limited-tonnage license), and I know that it's not too hard to get along. The people involved merely have to work out a good professional relationship, then iron out their respective roles (some mates want more out of their AB's, and some just want them to sit in the window and keep quiet). I am used to a middle ground where there is some conversation. It is uncomfortable to sit in the dark with a strange man. The best thing to do is to get to know them a little, in my eyes, so 1). I can learn what they want from me, 2), what they're going to miss because they haven't been here as long as I have and 3) forming a bridge team requires efficient communication, and if I can't understand someone's communication style, I can't anticipate their needs or help them work through a problem very well.
So, hopefully, you will see and agree with me that forming a Big Picture about the skills, abilities and foibles of a bridge team member requires some subjective knowledge of that person.
In our day and age, many otherwise excellent officers fail to utilize their AB's to the fullest extent, merely because it is easier to take the onus of responsibility exclusively on oneself, rather than taking the time to assess and train a relative stranger to be one's assistant. This is a needless liability, of course, and one without a simple cause. The requirements to be rated Able Seaman are pretty watered down, too, believe me, I know. I was given an AB unlimited without ever having worked on the deck of a boat that wasn't catching fish. I have been extremely lucky to have had old-school bosun's as my watch partner on several occasions, so I would like to think that I've taken up the slack.

I wonder how many guys with unlimited tonnage mate licenses consider that their AB's assess their skills constantly? Not only do we occasionally have to ignore you when you give an order that will be unsafe or will be outright improper, we have to train you in ship-specific duties without letting you know that you're being taught, 'cus lord knows, some guys can't learn from anyone lower in the food chain!
In our modern era, the old command-and-control style of directing one's sailors is falling victim to improved communication skills. The fact is, with manning limitations, it's hard to form a good working team. Personally, I believe that every maritime academy should require a personnel management course be taken by anyone seeking a license. So much time gets lost when an inexperienced officer doesn't know how to 'get a little more squeal out of the pig', by using simple, verifiable methods that motivate and push ones' underlings. I personally have had the wind taken out of my sails a few times. The fact is, it's unprofessional, but the way in which we're asked to perform a task has everything to do with how well it's done.

Before we left the Mississippi, our two 3rd mates switched watches and I had to spend the midnight-to-four with JimmyJames, our new third mate. Now, I don't know if Jim just doesn't like me, or if he's not a talker at night, but it's been a long, long time since I just sat in window for four hours night after night without carrying on at least some rudimentary talk about something beyond what's on the radar. Nope

Makes me miss Thaddeus Maximus, who had a great gift for being able to carry on two conversations at the same time... one about the usual BS to pass time, the other about doing our job.

Like this:

"So I said to myself, hey, keep an eye on that guy to port, let me know if he tries turning, "Self, you're never going to be in Haiti again, why use protection?" Lets come left two degrees, we're getting set a little. "And no one on that island knows my name anyhow!"

Now, that conversation was made up by yours truly. Thad is funny as hell, not suicidal. You get the drift anyhow. He's gone to a better place. Home.
For my part, it's harder to stay focused on such a simple task as looking out the window without breaking the monotony every now and again with some sort of brief conversation. Out of respect for the guy on the pointy end, I kept my mouth shut, but those were the least pleasant nights I've had in a while.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

ring ring

I must have spent two hours on the phone last night. This is about 2 hours more than I spend on the phone most days.
When I was sailing on the ATB this past summer, some of the deck gang goofed on the captain for calling them or the ship while he was home on his 3-week off period. Some guy said that the poor old guy must have no life.
I have to say that I get calls every week from guys who are home on vacation, just to touch base. This ship is a tight community, and we spend more time together than we do at home... so, no, I didn't join in on the bitches who were goofing on the captain. I'm one of those people too, and so are most of my friends.
When I first get off the ship, I stay out of touch for about 2 weeks, and then I'll check in with one of the guys on board, and communicate mostly by voice mail. I talk to the bosun and most of the permanent mates on my off time, and they call me, too. Last night I spoke to four people who work on this ship, and all of them had spoken to at least one other person from the ship in the past 24 hours. Not a single one of us lives anywhere near the others, either. It's just the way this ship is. We're not company men, we're not rah-rah union men... we work here for the people, and for no other reason, as I've said before.

Anyhow, after much spitting of chaw and what I suspect may have been a hootenanny, the shoreside gang at the refinery finally finished pumping cargo to us, and we left at 8am. I on;y slept about 3 hours, but it is beautiful outside, sunny and cool, just a sparkling day, so I'm going to walk a couple of miles (20 laps around the deck) and enjoy the weather before I take the wheel at noon.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Whale (media)Whores

I've got to admit that the first episode of 'Whale Wars' seems to be pretty honestly filmed.
To date, I've seen clips from the show. I finally sat down and watched the first episode of the series. If you get a chance, check it out. You think you know some F'ed up people?
As a professional, I can't say much about this that you wouldn't find on Kennebec Captain's blog. From top down, the Steve Irwin is run like a summer camp. Semi Pro. You know what I'm saying. Just... so disturbing that the people they call "senior officers" display a level of professionalism on the job that we don't tolerate with our Ordinary Seamen. I have to question what nation issued the licenses aboard that ship. The second mate has a perpetually stunned look and language that fails to inspire. The chief mate and captain both use trucker's lingo in the wheelhouse, as opposed to jargon that is specific to the operation. The captain has an air of command, at least when things are going well. When things don't go so well? Deer in the headlights, big time.

I will readily admit to having a chip on my shoulder regarding the crew. A bigger bunch of awkward articles I've never seen. I can't imagine what the place smells like. Dirty feet and Patchouli oil, I would guess. The deck gang including the bosun, have never worked at sea before. Foreign-flagged ships can do that, I guess, though the Sea Shepherd's boat is classed as a yacht to avoid a lot of safety requirements.
For my own part, I can't imagine a less-effective bunch. The big red flag came when I heard that the food aboard their boat is 100% vegan. This makes a big bell go off in my head.

...about 10 years ago, I was performing a lecture related to dissection of large bony fish. I had a live cod to warm up with, and a fresh bluefin tuna to really get into, and 2 hours to fill. The first thing I did was pull the cod out of the barrel, grab it by the tail and swing it against the table, hard, killing it instantly. Several of the women present squawked, and I got called cruel... and the truth is, killing that thing moved me not at all. On principle, I killed it instantly so it wouldn't suffer, because that's the right thing to do when one can. I asked the group if they would prefer that I cut into the fish while it was live, and let it bleed out and asphixiate at the same time. That shut 'em up.
The truth is, my time as a fisherman did harden me to killing, but even so, virtually every fisherman prefers to kill his catch fast, to avoid making a creature suffer any more than it has to. That's the humane way of dealing with our carnivore nature. We need meat to live healthy and have healthy children. Killing is part of nature, and killing quickly a mercy.

Vegans don't get that. I appreciate their viewpoint, although I would note that most of 'em have a larger carbon footprint than do the majority of folk, thus offsetting any social benefit to the lifestyle. The good thing about Veganism is that it's hard to pass down. Thus far, the data indicates that children raised on a vegan diet don't fare as well as their balanced-diet compatriots, so it's safe to assume that they won't be reproducing all that successfully.

Anyhow, I'm rambling here, but I'll end with this: There's a reason why out of 6 billion souls, there are only 35 people willing to do what the Sea Shepherd people do. Omadhauns.

While I'm here sniffing fumes and seeing pretty colors, my pal Eric is flying to Baghdad.

Eric and I have always been peas in a pod. Granted, he's 6-foot-5 and looks like a viking, and I'm a stubby 6-footer in comparison. He's also a semi-pro adventurer in his free time, and, though you'd never guess it to look at him, he's a working scientist. He's a geologist, and is going to Iraq to oversee a rebuilding project, I guess, involving drilling for new clean water supplies.
Friends and family are not surprised that he volunteered, I think. I always tried to be the voice of reason when we were high-schoolers, and keep us out of trouble. Sometimes I succeeded.

In reality, I grew up with some well-behaved people. One of the coolest things about being home is visiting the parents of my friends from way back... we've managed to keep a nice tight circle, and, now that we're adults, we can made amends for the dumb-ass shit we pulled.

Baghdad. That' one crazy-ass adventure. Makes my job look trite.


We've been loading the ship with black oil for two days, bored to tears while the shoreside gang drags ass. Sometime during the overnight tonight we'll slip our mooring lines and head 8 hours down the Mississippi and to sea, there to round Florida and head for NY. Should be a little under 5 days, and comes at a nice time... I'm ready to get out of the gulf, and days go by a LOT faster when we're under way, making way.

See ya!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Well, I was gonna bitch about something but then I saw this.


You, know, my own proposal to the Mrs. had some similarities, but I staged the whole thing above the high-tide line. Plus One point for me... Dinner for two, afterwards, as well.
Anyhow, the above story kind of smacks of Mail Order Bride Issues, a subject which I find hilarious, in my shameful way. Just in case it's legit though, I'll not say more.


Well, I got some nice emails and message responses to my last entry, which makes me think that I'm not alone out here in my feeling all back-of-the-bus for being denied shore access in my home country. True story: about an hour ago, we were tying up here on the Mississippi. The dock guy asks if we are sending his linehandlers wire or soft rope mooring lines. My watch officer tells the guy it's all rope on this ship. The dock guy (More on him later) says "Oh, good. I like this ship already. Rope is easier." His linehandlers are suddenly cheerful and chatty amongst each other... admittedly, the soft rope lines we use are a LOT easier to handle than heavy wire rope.

Yours truly sees the smiles, but over the heads of said linehandlers, only 100 yards away, he also sees traffic driving down the levee public road, right through the refinery complex.
So, with freedom a 45-second walk but a million miles away, I am feeling shifty, and my wiseass reflex is hitting 4th gear. I say something about our being restricted to the ship. Ain't gonna be repeated here, but it was crude and funny and on point without being offensive, and made everyone in earshot (on board)guffaw. The dock guy? Oh, man, wiped that smile right off of his face.

Now, I'm telling you this trite and smarmy story for a reason. The last time I was here, we had a local on board, guy with a new baby. He was told, by this same asshat: "Ain't no damn see-man stepping one foot on MY dock."

Moral of the story: we all have to enforce bad policy sometimes, but if anyone's going to be a total dick about it, I'm going to mess with them.


Also, in response to the messages left vis a vis the last entry:

I feel that there is little I can do to protest the No Shore Leave policy of some refineries. Legally, they're in the wrong, as signatories to the ISPS code, which is actually part of a larger convention put in place through an international treaty. There isn't enough wiggle room for a snake to pass gas in the applicable passages (which I looked through and saved on my last laptop, R.I.P.). Now, I spent tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of torture in discussing international maritime treaties in grad school. I can get at the meat of a convention, and find expert opinion rather quickly... but there isn't anyone so annoyed or affected by the lack of shore access as to bring suit to the dicks who are holding the doors shut.

Now, the suggestions I have received: Bringing up the gangway and denying access TO the ship, citing 'security concerns' : Funny, would feel good, too, but ultimately unfair to my employers, who would then be responsible for demurrage and costs relating to the charter party agreement... So that's out.

The US Coast Guard can't do anything in a competant fashion beyond saving lives these days. They've made a complete disaster out of almost everything they touch. Their response to violations of the ISPS code is limited to sending letters quoting marginally relevant passages of the ISPS code. Not much more they can do, really.
My union has been threatening to send more strongly worded letters protesting unfair treatment contrary to the spirit and language inclusive in the ISPS code. Unfortunately, this is like setting a toothless dog on a door-to-door solicitor: no bite.
In general, getting anyone to give a fuck is the main problem. It's an annoyance at most to the movers and shakers. To the little guy, it's another impediment, another nail in the coffin that contains our quality of life, and a classic example of why every generation born in the upper middle class places less and less value on the seagoing way of life.

Ah well.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Been a while since I put some pics up. Here's Big Manny looking down the steward stores hatch.

Juan the steward, one of the funniest and most entertaining men I have ever met. This pic was taken at the foot of the stores hatch. Juan can take the good with the bad and make it edible. I'm not fooling, the guy's a genius.


Waiting for all hands to be called, and we can get out of Houston. We're heading up the Mississippi for our next stop, there to load black oil (I think) for NY/NJ.

For the past week, I've been trying to get some boxes of books sent home, and despite a stop in Savannah and 3 docks in Houston, it was impossible for me to get to the post office. Our next stop is no good either. Here's today's thought:

You should see the mo-mo's that run refinery loading docks. There are some sharp cookies, without a doubt, but my goodness, the bulk of 'em look like they're stuck on step one at the wednesday night AA meeting in the local church basement. Rough.
Anyhow, these people go to work and do their thing amidst multi-billion dollar stockpiles of oil, and, more importantly, the machinery that refines oil. When they're not doing that, however, I suspect that quite a few of 'em are watching COPS to see their family on TV.

So, to work on a ship these days, one needs to go through a background check, medical check, and paid-for-useless-ID check. We get vetted by Uncle Sugar. Not to say that every now and again we haven't had ex-cons and lowlifes abord, but by and large, we undergo a lot of scrutiny to get permission to do our jobs. Unlike some of the folks who are working in the refinery.

So, it bakes my balls a little when we get forbidden to go ashore at some refineries for 'security reasons.' Security my ass. There are guys who are wearing monitoring bracelets working in the refinery and I can't go to the post office across the street. Homeland security my ass. Oh, but we've got these new $135 ID's that were required for us to access secure areas in refineries and shipping docks... but, of course we can't go ashore, so that's a moot point. Incedentally, the government contractor who runs the ID scam is a major defense contractor who just happens to be falling on hard times 'cus they can't build ships that the navy will accept, and no one wants their 70's era airplanes. Corporate welfare.

Does the UPS guy go through this bullshit? 'Cus his job is a LOT more sensitive than mine. He could do more damage than I could, certainly.

Anyhow, when we aren't restricted to the ship, we are arriving in the middle of the night after an extended period of wakefullness, or, of course, arriving on the weekend. And thus it'll have been 3 weeks before I get to go to the post office and see if anyone I went to high school with has gotten their picture on the board with the big boys.

Ah well. Anyhow, in other news, Ernie, the other steward, has begun decorating the crew mess for Christmas. Somehow, by mid-December, the place always looks festive. I've got to say, we do a nice job in decorating as a crew.

Anyhow, if you'll excuse me, it's time to caffeinate in preparation for saying Bon Voyage to Houston and her many unsavory smells. I'm looking forward to our next stop, despite it being one of the no-go refineries. I always like steering the ship up the Mississippi. The ship usually tracks great, and the pilots are satisfied with us keeping the heading within a degree or so of where they ask, so we can relax a little and watch the river roll by. Good times.

Friday, November 28, 2008

ephemera (and stuff)

Well, I can add Cajun dirty rice to the list of foods that I can no longer eat. It's hard to focus on my job when it feels as though my gut is a war zone. Longest. Watch. Ever.

Houston in the late autumn... well, it's not as hot as it is in the summer, so there's one leg up. It is, however, raining constantly, which, on a tanker, is a massive pain in the ass. We live in constant fear that the Thought Police will drag us off should the least sheen of oil ever even give the appearance than it might consider going over the side in the future.
What's funny to me is that the waters around Houston, on a good day, have a nice even coat of oil floating on the top. Sludge pools migrate out to sea in the same vein that herring work their way out of the rivers in my hometown.
Anyhow, we stay on top of it, but it becomes a constant worry, and staying dry an impossibility. Diaper rash for all my friends!

So, tomorrow will mark the 90th on board for yours truly. This is not so much a milestone as a fold in the corner of a page... in less than 30 days I will have the days at sea to upgrade my little license to 3rd mate. After this, it remains to be seen where I will end up. I've sort of got my heart set on getting off of tankers for a time. We'll see. I'll be in a good position to do that anyhow.

Lastly, although there wasn't a bit of festive atmosphere yesterday, I've got to say that I've been getting a lot of well wishes from the guys I've been taking the AB-to-Mate classes with at MITAGS. Of the 12 of us who took Terrestrial and Coastal Nav and Stability&Trim, I've stayed in touch with 6 guys. That's some good networking. I'm looking forward to doing some heavy, studying with some of the guys prior to classes picking up again this winter.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving day started early here... at 0005 all hands were mustered to take on food stores while we were at anchor... Seriously, at midnight? Naturally, it started to pour out, too, so the cardboard boxes didn't fare too well. I foresee a run on flour and rice, too, in the near future. Not much we could do there. Anyhow, it went pretty well. No turducken sightings, either, which brings me to my next point:

I received my first ever piece of hate mail!

Of all the offensive things I've said here in the past few years, it was the turducken-inspired comments that made me famous. I'm a victim of my own poor writing skills again, though, because things got taken a little out of context after I went overboard goofing on southern cooking. Look, what is northern cooking? With the exception of all things Italian-American, there is no northern cooking. Has anyone ever heard of an Irish Iron Chef? No. And lord knows, the WASP's can't cook. Have you ever tried Yorkshire Pudding? If someone approached me and said that northern cooking was awful, my response would be "Uh huh. I know."
The fact is, people down south unwittingly insult northerners all the time, for our reservation towards strangers and rampant desire for privacy. Believe me, when a stranger starts asking personal questions without invitation, it makes me uncomfortable. My idea of a personal question is a long way from that of my southern co-workers, but one gets used to cultural differences when one is a tankerman, and, well, you have to have a thick skin to work in any outdoor job, of course.

Anyhow, I struck a painful chord with someone, perhaps the written equivalent of the controversial Brown Note. It's difficult for me to consider than anyone would 1) take me seriously, and 2) be offended by my indulgence in one of the most harmless stereotypes extant regarding any aspect of Americana. I suppose that a certain amount of pride is at stake, and my own ethnic group takes no pride in their cooking, naturally.

I'm going to consider changing my blog to invitation-only, which will mean that I would be able to control who gets to have a peep down the drawers of my mind. If I go this route, please sign up. The note that I got may or may not have crossed a line, but I don't like my blog being used for anything but entertainmant and communication with friends and family.
So, seriously, Dear New Writer, I promise to try to not write anything which you would find objective in any sort of professional or private capacity, from here out. In return, please stop reading. Also, I apologize if you were offended. Wasn't my goal... I'm a one-trick pony, anyhow. If I'm not talking about commercial fishing, economic theory, biology or something related to being a sailor, I'm writing about something personal, and, please, leave me my privacy, or, at the least, use my private email. Gracias, and happy holidays to you and yours.

Anyways, I'm going to have to be more careful about shooting my mouth off, I guess. I'd rather make people laugh than frown.

Quarare: Turkey/ham, or Turducken? Which would you prefer, and more importantly, have you tried both?

Anyhow, in Merchant Marine fashion, Thanksgiving Dinner will be eaten while we're maneuvering to our dock, and supper will be eaten later, while we're pumping cargo. Not so restful, but still, hey it's what's for dinner.
If you'll excuse, me, there's about 2 pounds of Thanksgiving turkey with my name on it. The food coma will have to wait. It's going to be about a week before I can sleep uninterrupted.

Happy Thanksgiving to you! Hope you got to be with your loved ones, and if one of your loved ones happens to be one of mine, too, ask 'em to make sure my truck is OK. And my family, too, I guess.

Seriously, don't show that last one to my wife. I hate sleeping on the couch, and it was just a joke. But please check on my truck.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

be optimistic!

OK, I'm a little nervous about Thanksgiving. We're getting food stores at some point, hopefully before the holiday. This is what I'm thinking of:

My company is run by southerners. Don't get me wrong, the idea of deep-frying a whole turkey is apparently genius, so they've certainly gotten something right. But southern cooking to me is simply this: rooting around in the trash after northern cooking is done, then pan-frying the contents of the compost heap.

But yeah, I''m a little afraid that they'll offer us a real 'treat'. A 'turducken'

Bloody savages.

Look, I like turkey. Duck, too. Chicken? Fine. Put 'em together and what do you get? Poultry-flavored chunky jello. Smells like heaven, tastes like feet. I'm afraid that one year they'll forego the turkey.

I know that not all southern cooking is bad. But I know bad cooking, too. I'm of Irish descent, and 90% of what my ancestors ate is stuff that should only be eaten on a dare. Black Pudding. Blood pudding, Donkey's Gudge, whatever. I like it. I even like Haggis. But Turducken makes me want to cry.

Being honest, I could give turkey a pass. Give me a nice spiral-cut ham anytime for Thanksgiving. I come from the place where the friggin' holiday started. 400 years of friggin' turkey is enough. Let's mix it up a little. Slaughter a swine for ourselves. But no turducken, please.

Anyhow, parting shot: I always wonder at the Pre-thanksgiving stores delivery. The chandler always puts 4- 25 lb birds in one box that breaks open as we lift it up the stairs. Think: it's raining frozen blocks of meat. Anyhow, the birds then skitter across the deck like a curling match is going on, and we've got to go recover them and bucket-brigade our now-tenderized turkeys back to the stores hatch and down into storage.

If you're the praying type, pray that we go to anchor for Thanksgiving. It's actually a nice holiday on board, when it's not inturrupted by cargo ops.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

clarifications and improvements

... having just read my last ranting post, I realize that I was a ranting dick.

AM. Sorry. I am a ranting dick. sometimes. But most of the time, I'm cool.

Anyhow, skip the previous blog entry. Written quickly, and poorly. I was in a snit, and you see what came out. I actually went to bed in said snit.

Luckily, HotForeignWife called. Perhaps the best part of being married to her is that she can pull me out of bad moods without effort. Well, when she's not the one who put me in them, anyhow. Every now and again, it amazes me that she didn't just marry me for the green card. She married me for my money. Joke's on her, I have none.

I joke. Seriously, although I could now digest a Harley-Davidson with all the stomach acid that I produce as a byproduct of worrying, My life is blessed for her presence. Next step is to get what she calls english under control so she can make more money than me, and yours truly can relax.
I wondered, when we were dating, if, when she got really, really mad at me, she was going to sound like a Brazilian Rosie Perez, minus the NYC nasality... 'cus, you know, there is nothing less attractive to me than that there... Obviously, she doesn't, as we're now married.

I just want to say here that the cook's helper in the next room has a ridiculous booming voice. Whatever African language he's yelling into his cell phone just now is keeping me awake. I'm trying to wait him out and writing is filling the time. Nice guy, but loud. Very African. Great sense of humor. He always doles out little shitty portions of dinner to the crew though. I accused him the other day of mistaking us for Ethiopians. He gave a good belly laugh, said "You crazy, son," or "You gravy gun," maybe. It's hard to say. My ears were ringing from his lack of volume control. Seriously, the guy should have been a singer. Wouldn't need a microphone.

OK, I'm giving him 2 minutes, then I'm going all Rorke's Drift in his doorway.

Mad points for anyone under 40 who gets that one. My best obscure reference in a week.

GD landlubbers

Well, now that Uncle Sugar has freed up 700 billion dollars in fun money to fuel monolithic business' desire to not respond to market forces, the automakers are now crying poor.

Folks, I want to make this clear. What if I said this: I need money, too. If you don't give me money right now, I don't know how I'll provide for my family. Never mind that I've been providing for them just fine up until this point. It's not my fault. I'm just the figurehead. there's free money available,Gimme money, goddammit! And don't try to take away my Christmas bonus, either.

Does that or does that not sound like a real dick talking?

Anyhow, I didn't want the bailout to go through. Even now that we've all realized that gambling isn't the best way to prepare for retirement, people still aren't trying to secure their retirement income in more reliable investments. Why bother? Uncle Sugar will take care of it, just like it did with our $500,000 mortgage secured through our job selling hotdogs at baseball games.

Look, the bailout is going to fuel a lot of bullshit, but also hopefully do some good. I'm not arguing about that. It's the car manufacturers that piss me off.

Yesterday, I heard that the Chinese are interested in Chrysler. Now, if I owned Chrysler stock, I wouldn't be so hot to hand off management to people who will have to hand over their business to their government if their government decides that it's a good idea. I am not at all convinced, anyhow, that the Chinese are good business partners. The Russians helped us out quite a bit in our past, too. Look how that worked out.

Here's the thing, though. All of a sudden, these publicly-owned companies are 'weeks' away from bankruptcy unless they get a piece of the free money. Part of me says Fuck 'em. Sell off the assets to cover pension costs.
Bad management has existed in auto manufacturing on many levels. Despite my pro-union leanings, I hate to see how heavily involved the UAW is with this crisis. Not that they're solely to blame. The death of Regan's trickle down economics came wheh the money stopped trickling down past upper management in the Clinton years. When a CEO's salary increases by 1600% in 10 years, the worker bees are going to want more than cost-of-living adjustments.
Still, it pisses me off that an unskilled assembly line worker makes more money that I do, and will have a bigger pension than any cop or firefighter does. The UAW wields the power of numbers, and the corporate philosophy of operating at the margins ensured that this crisis would happen.
My own union took pay cuts and rate increase freezes in order to keep the few American shipowners solvent in the recent past. We recognized that we could help or hurt, and so long as a living wage was paid and a reasonable pension could be had, we could sacrifice along with the shipowners. Now that the shipowners are becoming fat cats again, with executive salaries blooming, there is no incentive to place restraint on moneymaking on the part of my union. Competitiveness becomes the last restraint on shooting for the moon, paywise.

Restraint. We haven't seen that in car manufacturers. I own a Dodge ram pickup. I don't love Dodge cars, but the dealership I went to sold me another car at a good cost years ago, when I was a starving student, and when the electrical system failed a month after the warranty expired, the owner of the dealership himself came out and told me that they would pay for the repairs and for a rental car while it was in the shop. Well, they got themselves a lifetime customer that day... until the dealership was closed last year when DaimlerChrysler said that they weren't interested in smaller dealers anymore, even successful ones, and the dealership that I patronized was shut down days later. So, I won't buy a Dodge again. Loyalty goes both ways.

So, if we're going to bail out the car makers, even though we shouldn't, let's hope that conditions are strict: Interest rates set at Prime or 1 point below, no bonuses for anyone, salaries capped at $200,000 for senior management while the government holds the note, pensions due to be paid out immediately, and the right to renegotiate contracts with labor immediately, including benefit contributions retroactive to the day that the loan clears.

Can't believe that I wrote that last part. Part of me feels that pensions are sacred, but part of me recognizes that it's not unreasonable to reduce pension payments to current workers who aren't retiring imminently, if those payments are disproportional. On the other hand, the retirees need to be protected. I foresee some serious screwing of the little man coming.

Monday, November 17, 2008

unkind words were said me tonight when we were tying up the ship. Note to readers: I am part of a team, not its' leader. No place really for me to fuss. But I did, when the 3 linehandlers pulling 3/4 cable of mooring line to the bitt (450 ft) took forever, literally because one guy was working, and two guys were warming their thumbs.
...and again when the AB on one of our docking tugs didn't want to throw his heaving line up to us, so he untied it from his towing hawser and motioned for us to throw one to him...
...and again when the guy on the shore crane lowering their gangway ignored my watch partner's hand signals and took 15 minutes (literally) to perform a 90-second evolution.

The off-watch 3rd mate, who came out to help, summed it up perfectly as he walked by without breaking stride:

Some days you're the windshield, and some days you're the bug.

Too bad, too, 'cus it was a very nice ride from NYC to the Delaware capes and almost 100 miles up the Delaware river. Nice weather, I was able to get an almost-full rest cycle off just as I was getting cranky from not-quite-enough sleep.
Really was a lovely day. The day after a spell of rotten weather is always nice. It's like being hit in the head repeatedly with a hammer: It feels so good when it stops.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Head-Aches, a retrospective.

You might have noticed a certain lack of content on this blog for the past two weeks. The quality control people are out to lunch, here at HAWSEPIPER. You see, I’m in the Doldrums, the Horse Latitudes of my 120-day stay here on the S.S. Bucket O’ Blood. Progress is minimal, the days seemingly stretch out into forever. 74 days on board, 46 days to go. The days have run by in a blur, only to come into a screeching halt these past two weeks, and so it will go for two weeks more before I start the home stretch.

So, yeah, I am… uninspired. Things are going well at home, there’s plenty of peace and goodwill on board, nothing to bitch about… well, except for this one thing… naturally.

Consider, then, ye dogs, the impervious horror more pervasive than that of a lee shore. I’m talking about… the communal head, the shared toilet, the seat of ease for six well-fed men who don’t get enough fiber or exercise.

Yeah, I share a bathroom with six guys. Two working toilets, most of the time.

But lets go a little deeper into this: a 48-year old men’s room. Consider that. The ghosts of 48 Christmases, Thanksgiving Dinners, not to mention A Hundred Thousand Gallons of chile con carne.

Sailors are, for the most part, fairly fastidious. We clean the head regularly. There’s always at least one slob bachelor on board, of course, which makes the place… well, unsanitary, at times, and this is a misery that must be dealt with.

Feel free to comment or correct me here, but I believe that there are some unwritten rules to keeping the peace when it’s a 1:3 toilet: man-who-ain’t-family ratio. Number one, of course is, if there’s a pair of shoes with the toes pointing out, come back later. There might be a seat available, but leave a man in peace. It might be the only 3-minute block he has to himself all day. There is Nothing, NOTHING worse than having to sit in shared discomfort with only a ½ inch wall between you and another man attempting to launch the Brown October.

Rule Number two (heh), is don’t dribble. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put my coveralls back on, and realized that the cuff or a spot on the shoulder is wet. That’s another man’s pee. That’s not right. Believe me, if I could identify the culprit, I’d knife ‘em. I gotta change, or worse, if I'm running late, walk back on deck with that shit on. No wonder I get rashes.

Anyhow, you get the idea.

While I’m here, however, I have a question. Why is it that old men can completely blow up the bathroom with apparent ease? Always, every time, the old guys beat the bathroom into submission. There is no misidentification of these phenomena. First off, The hallway outside the bathroom smells like a bible story from 50 feet away. Also, the head itself has an aura more than a stink, and covering up the horrors requires more than just Lysol. You’re going to need an old priest, a young priest and an exorcism. And it always happens when you’re making a gear-up landing, with no chance that you’ll be able to wait. You rush into the stall, which smells like a miscarriage, and worst of all, dear God, the seat is warm.

When the weather is rough, taking a leak, or worse, requires acrobatics, planning, and quite possibly a good pair or workboots. Thing about it: ship rolling, weight shifting… that’s all it takes to lift the whole can off of the wax seal in the floor, just a bit. No one wants to see that happen, so a sitting man has to set his feet in the clamdigger pose, 5 feet apart. Use one hand to brace against the downhill stall wall, and be ready to change hands and leaning walls, fast. Peeing is, of course, simpler. Lean against a wall at the shoulder, forming a triangle, with feet splayed against the other wall, and have at it.

Well, now you’re informed, and when you take that next cruise and the weather turns foul, your wife and kids will thank you, and so will the maid.

Friday, November 14, 2008

much ado

There is a lot of planning going on here at blog HQ/my room.
So much to do.

You see, the US Coast Guard is tasked with doing everything on the water, and is constantly being asked to do more. Along with their unstated mission of stifling the US merchant marine through ridiculous and ridiculously expensive and restrictive licensing policies, the Coast Guard also stifles the merchant marine through nationalization and centralization of the licensing system, thus making it impossible to discuss licensing issues live with the people actually doing the processing.
And so it goes. Remember when the Coast Guard was mostly interested in saving lives?

Yeah, me neither. My dad swears that it was true, though. Long time ago.

You see, let's go through the training and certification for deck watchstanders in the US Merchant Marine, now, and 20 years ago. This is based on what I have been told by my shipmates, who are great guys but may, indeed, have been goofing with me, a little.


Rating Training (and cost) certificates required (Cost)

Ordinary Seaman Basic Safety Training ($1000) Merchant Mariners Document ($220)
TWIC CARD ($135)

Able Seaman Above plus sea time, Lifeboat school above plus STCW certificate,
($1000) exam fees ($400-600) Rating Forming Part of a Navigation Watch,

3rd officer ($30,000), includes 26 weeks of classes for mandatory certificates in Watchkeeping, Advanced fire fighting, Bridge Resource Management, Terrestrial and Coastal Navigation, Celestial Navigation, RADAR, Automatic Radar Plotting Aids, Global Maritime Distress and Safety Systems, Search and Rescue, Emergency Procedures, Shiphandling, Medical Care Provider, Cargo Handling and Stowage, Stability and ship construction, and some others, too. At the end of this, a comprehensive examination ($500 more) including medical review, pre-exam evaluation and acceptance for testing, and the exam itself.

Now, lets look at 1988, the same deal.

Rating Training (and cost) certificates required (Cost)

Ordinary Seaman on the job Merchant Mariners Document ($25)

Able Seaman sea time, Lifeboat school ($200) above, with AB endorsement
exam fees ($40-50)

3rd officer On the job-training. ($500)includes Radar observer exam and all exam fees.

Now, I've met some recently-upgraded 3rd mates in the last two years. Training wise? I am NOT impressed. My small-boat time prepared me far better than their classes, it seems. It seems like the hawsepipers I've met were taught how to pass a coast guard exam, not how to safely and efficiently run a watch... and here's the funny part. The experienced hawsepipers I've met are some damn fine seamen. It must be that the winnowing out process works slower than with the academy grads. I hate to say this, but in my own limited experience, the academy grads are far better at learning and integrating new experiences into their skill sets. I'll happily admit to correcting some seriously whip-smart kids fresh out of school on how to not blow up a ship or run over a small boat. One more than one occasion, I tried telling a new hawsepiper almost anything, and it's like I shit in their cornflakes. It's not like I'm critiquing subjective stuff, either, . I'm talking about almost anything, from stripping cargo tanks to marlinespike seamanship, the real meat-and-potatoes stuff.

This makes me nervous, 'cus I'm going to be one of those new hawsepipers, soon. Will I turn into a prick who takes offense at suggestions? Will I become one of those people, an armchair commander, able to quote the CFR's from memory, but unable to box the compass? You know, the ones who probably prefer masturbation to sex? Or am I going to be one of those cool guys I meet at the bar at school, unruffled, professional, like James Bond but with less stick-in-ass?

Well, we'll come back to that next year at this time, and I'll have your answer. If there isn't a poop or booger reference, you can assume that I'm either a dick now, or that my mom complained about my language again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

celestial navigation rant

So, there's a short formula that we use for doing the longhand (Ie, not with a computer) form of shooting an azimuth, and last night the moon was almost full and above a crystal clear horizon. Prime time for getting a nice clear shot. BUT, I had to use a borrowed calculator to fill in the formula.

Here's my celestial nav bitch for tonight.

The formula used to solve an azimuth equation uses a lot of parenthetical notation, and contains three principle sub-equations. Why does every fucking calculator have a unique way in which a guy has to input the fucking formula in order to not get an error message?

Goddamn. Tripled the amount of time it took me to get the gyro error. 0.1E, if you're interested.

AH, and as for the ride up from Savannah? at midnight local time I shot a lunar, Dubhe, Proxima and Betelgeuse, my personal favorite. Everything was idyllic...

and I was still 15 goddam miles off. I suck at shooting stars still.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Underway and making way, heading for sea and, hopefully, a clear enough night tonight to get a lunar and 3-star fix on our way across the canyons. I need the practice.

Pray for no rain and a visible horizon for me, will ya?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Think you had a bad day at work?

Detective Scrotes says, "I've got a listening problem"

Sorry, folks. I promised to do this. Meet Detective Scrotes. He's got balls.


milestone or millstone?

Dammit, it's a nice morning.

I'm having a great day, and it's only 11am. I got a bunch of errands run this morning... I went ashore after waking up for breakfast (I sleep from 0430 to 1115 most days), got some banking done (even though it's Sunday), as well as loading up on soda for the next few weeks. I am flying high on caffeine and it's cool and sunny, a full 20 degrees cooler than the weather in the Gulf of Mexico has been, and we're working our way north, which implies that I'll have some frosty days coming up this week. I also got to check in with about half of my immediate family. The dock we're moored to here in Savannah normally smells like a hot dog factory, which is to say, burnt hog lips and horse assholes, but the wind is carrying the stink of the paper mill next door in the opposite direction.

I also finished a major financial project which I'm particularly glad to be shot of. I managed to pay for my wife's immigration paperwork finally. Goddam, that stuff is expensive. By the time the doc's visit, immunizations and filing fees are done, it cost us a couple of grand to get everything in order. So, slightly more than halfway into my prospective last voyage as an Able Seaman, I am now flat-ass broke, but happy. Normally, even with some heavy purchases, at the 60 day mark I'm usually 2 months ahead on my bills, but this time... whoo. No one warned me how expensive the first year of marriage can be!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

from zero-to-A-Hole in 2 seconds

Sometimes I surprise myself at the things that come out of my mouth.

In Savannah (How Crazy Is This?), 800 miles from home, my bank has a branch with a nice new ATM.

Did you know that new ATM's let you deposit cash right in the machine? No slips, no envelopes? Very disconcerting. That's one receipt you won't see me lose track of. But, yeah, one at a time, I was feeding $100 bills in there, to be piped directly into my account.

I was carrying a large sum of money... well, large for me, anyhow.

You can see where this is going... naturally, I'm on high alert. I'm in public, on a sidewalk, at night, stuffing loose $100 bills in a goddam ATM. I look around, see nothing to set off my apparently unreliable alarms. Rustle, rustle rustle, the Benjamins get sucked into the machine and my blood pressure rises.
"Sir, can I ask you a question?"

I look- scrawny, well-dressed 30ish white guy. Banana Republic. WASP. No problem. He's outside my 10-foot ATM-on-the-sidewalk bubble. Just.
Afterthought: Dude's got no visible pupils. I didn't actually see that, it was just an impression.
He's going to either attempt to mug me, or ask for money. Neither of which is is a positive thing.

I'm funny about money. I decide that if the guy's going to do something dumb, I will throw his ass into traffic. I can do this, I was a bouncer; throwing people is safer than dragging them, and easier, too.
Can I really contemplate sending some desperate schmuck into a bad place? I'm not Charles Bronson. I would have horrific guilt. But this is money that my wife needs to run the house. We really need it. Yes, I can see this man hurt bad, God help me.
Being pretty smaht, I see a compromise: without bluffing, I can answer his question honestly, and maybe stave off disaster. Or, if he's just an idiot brand-new crackhead, I can deter him without doing greivous injury to himself or to my psyche.

I'm mean looking. I know this. People love to tell me that, 'cus I'm not a mean guy. I frown when I concentrate. I hunch over a bit. So, I give the guy a deadpan look, and a quiet response. "Not right now. Wait. "

45 seconds later, the money's in the machine. I've got cabfare in my wallet and little else. I am centered, and the guy politely waited. Also, another guy got in line behind me, and the dude waiting for me to acknowlege him? He starts a spiel that I've heard a million times at a hundred T stations back home as a college kid commuting into Boston. I'm out of gas, blah blah, blah.
I finish my transaction, scan the reciept, and give a downright murderous look at the ATM. Don't mess with me, machine.

It worked better on the junkie, but that ATM didn't give me a line of shit, either, so I'm saying that I must have had my mojo working.

Quarare: Why don't I own any handguns? I'm pro gun, certainly. Second Amendment is my friend and all.
Second Question, and one requiring answers: For a man who spends a lot of time away from home, and can't carry a handgun to work, what is the best option for gun safety? A nice heavy safe, where a weapon can sit unmolested for months, or a nice heavy safe belonging to a responsible gun-owning friend. Bearing in mind that Mrs. Paul The Pirate is a foreigner... she's qualified, has owned several handguns, but is not getting a permit and has no interest in guns anymore, herself having gone armed as part of her former work in her home country. Therefore, any firearm in the house would be a white elephant for 200+days a year.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

the day arrives

Today's the day. Get out and vote. Like our Uncle Tedward Kennedy says to the little old ladies from Southie back home,
"Vote early, and vote often."

Monday, November 3, 2008

la Dee dah

So I got invited to be the speaker at the annual meeting of the local yacht club back in my old hometown. I've been asked to take an hour and talk about my time on the water, both as a townie, from my lobstering days, and as a merchant mariner.
At first blush, this sounds like fun. Open bar+walking distance to my parents' house= a nice way to exercise my liver. Plus, I do like to flap my gums of an evening... I spend 8 months a year not drinking; I'm a true 3-beer queer now when I'm home and can actually free up enough time to have a pint, but still, on principle, I'm going to have to demand top shelf booze.

How to fill an hour, though? Sea stories, a pitch for job opportunities for a bunch of WASP problem kids? I dunno. In the old days, I had an agenda. I'd talk like lightning and blur through 30 powerpoint slides in 12 minutes to educate the masses (of fellow science geeks) on sea urchin fertility predictions or lobster learning and memory. This is different. No agenda, really.

So what can I talk about for an hour? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Here's my agenda so far.
1). How to eat soup in 20-foot seas
2). How me and the Notorious B.O.B. used to wake all of your boats at like 6 in the morning.
3). Keeping the peace despite sticking 23 men in a little steel box.
4). Quit stealing our fucking lobster pot buoys.
5). The pleasures of sailing with professionals.
6). The difference between a weekend on your Hatteras and 4 months of standing watches.
7). 4 months without women: Life on a floating hot dog cart.

Just 'cus my employers are probably reading this, I'm not going to include my gag #8, which is the most tasteless thing I've thought up in a while: shoot me an email if you want to know.


This is why I can't be left unattended without a leash and a bell.

Putting a Coppus blower (a big piece of steel, OK?) away up high on a shelf, I felt muscles in my lower back, just getting ready to let go... you know that feeling, like a rubber band just before it snaps? Yeah. I backed off fast.
Getting old.

Anyhow, finally back in AGAIN to Houston (3rd time) to finish loading cargo. Maybe we'll leave tomorrow for Savannah.

And, it's time to dock the ship. Dammit.

Friday, October 31, 2008

staying the path

So this afternoon I got a call from a tug company, offering me a job.
Pretty much the highest-paying, most sought-after tug company in the US, and they want my fat ass in.
I have friends who work there. They really like it. They got me to apply this summer, when I was horrifically broke after getting married, buying the new place and taking the helm of an instand family. I ended up with another tug job, but that's another story. This company just wasn't interested in someone with no tug experience. But that's not me anymore.
My pay would increase by about 20% on Day 1, and could double in a year.
So, with that in mind, you can imagine that it's really hard to say no. After all, you've been reading about complaints related to my current job for the last three years in this blog, right?

Yes. And No.

I need to say no to this job. The truth is, I want to take it. My family could use the extra $. I know for a fact that the company is managed by people like me, practical, handy and open.

But, still, no. I shouldn't.

Goddammit. (sigh)

It's like this: I've got a job. You've read about the squalor, you've read about the apathy towards the rank-and-file, and you've read about my willingness to be the guy who airs the grievances that everyone else on board talks about. I hope that you can figure out why I'm so harsh about the things that aren't perfect on my ship.
I like my job. My ship is more familiar than my home. I like my company. A lot, really. I like being part of a team peopled by a handful of underdogs who started something big and are seeing it begin to flower after a whole generation of squeaking by. I like working on a class of ship that is referred to as 'fit for applicants only' in my union hall. (Not my words!)

I like having dirt under my nails sometimes. You already know that I'd like to use my brain more in my work, but the fact is, I need to have dirty hands, too, to silence the Puritan work ethic that brings me guilt when I'm off the clock and not working. And I like the people on my ship especially.

So, when I see things that aren't so great, I want to see them corrected, especially when I see long-awaited change for the better beginning to bear fruit; I want to see it ripen faster. I am impatient. This ship isn't my home, but it is my house for most of the year, and this is my company who runs it. Regardless of the fact that no one in management gives a flying fuck about my opinion, I want my core group of coworkers/friends to widen on board, and I have the background and ability to gather data towards questioning, discussing and denoting the things that will invite and encourage like-minded individuals to stay longer than one trip. It's not so grand a thing as tilting at windmills, mind, but it's worth fighting for.
I feel as though I owe my company something, too. They work with me and my schedule, and put up with my BS. They let me run interference and help train new officers and assert a certain degree of influence, so that they utilize the crew and cargo deck operation more efficiently and keep operations both running smooth and running in the way I've been taught to aspire to. I have it on good authority that they've killed a lot of trees in archiving this blog, so maybe one day I'll be consulted on some suggestion or criticism. Or fired, of course. Even with that risk, some thing are worth fighting over, especially now that my company is expanding. They're going to need more people who give a rat's ass, and I can give at least two rat's asses!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

manspotting and sundry


I spent last night fighting off Crosshatch Ass, the waffle-like impression of an inverted milk crate on one's behinder when one has a seated position for a longish period of time.
Sitting on my Ass, in other words.

You see, stuff was happening, and I wasn't in the work party. Rather, I was working as the safety net.

Technicians were working on one of our deepwell pumps in one of our 14 tanks- shown thusly:

When we've got guys tank diving, several things are happening behind the scene: I am hanging out at the tank top, with a radio in hand, and making sure that the guys down there are conscious and safe. The officer of the watch is watching over me and making sure that everyone who went in the tank comes out. You'd think that this is unnecessary, but I find it a comfort when I'm working in a tank myself.
Anyhow, last night I had to hang out at the tank top, ass cradled on a milk crate, leaning on the lip of the tank hatch and listening to the bangs, clanks and curses of a work party, and standing by.

It was boring, but hey, it was also nice not to be in the tank. Usually, I'm one of the guys down there, 'cus hey, it's a different sort of job and worth volunteering for, though, realistically, I balk at going down in the tank unless there's enough beef topside to get me back up should something happen. There's only one guy on the ship who could sling me over his shoulder and climb up 3 flights of an extremely steep ladder singlehanded. Otherwise, it'd be a team effort involving a sling.

Manny the bosun, on the left, is the guy who could prop me up and go for a climb without breaking a sweat.

I took this great pic of my buddy Orlando just the other day. If the Captain is the heart of the ship, Orlando is the soul. He just doesn't get down or discouraged, and is always able to keep a smile and try to keep everyone in good cheer: Also, like Manny, he has old-school sailor skills that aren't taught anymore, like worming and serving, splicing wire, stuff like that.

As you can see, Orlando is a bit of an artist with the oils. His canvas is the whole ship this voyage.

And this is me. Hi Ma!

Monday, October 27, 2008

busy busy busy

This is the kind of port work that I like sometimes. We're keeping busy and keeping positive. Much of my optimism here is flavored by the fact that my watch, the 12-to-4, has been collectively keeping the golden horseshoe of good luck clenched tightly between our cheeks, which is to say that we've been tying up and letting go on our watch, so we haven't been called out of a perfectly good sleep to go sling lines. Eventually we'll lose our streak, but for now, it's all good.
I managed to get ashore for about 3 hours in our last port, a dumpy little place called Bayport. Something about coastal Texas, man. Every town looks like a damn strip mall or a warehouse district, and the houses that are visible are all built in those prefab neighborhoods that require one to listen to one's neighbor peeing at 3 in the morning should you forget to close the window. No yards!
Anyhow, I got to a local Wal-Mart and stocked up on Diet Pepsi, which is a mighty good thing.
We shifted down to Hotfoot in the Houston Ship channel last night, on my watch, and today we took on food stores, engine room stores, removed garbage, took on bunkers and a load of diesel, too for our Inert Gas system, too... also, all on my watch. So, yeah, i was in a lather from all the running around, but it made the time go by quickly.

Oh, and in classic form, I again proved how unbelievably cool I am...
We had an inspector from the P&I Club (Insurance for the ship), as well as some big shots from the office here this afternoon. I was walking by them as they were out on deck, and managed to walk directly into a bitt on deck, flopping forward like a Frenchman to Madame Guillotine.
What an ass.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Houston Makes Me Want To Cry

...seriously. I don't know what it is about this place, but every time we get here, I get the worst itchy red eyes. Drives me nuts. There are so many chemical plants and refiners belching nasty stuff into the sky that it's no wonder, I suppose.

It got wicked hot in our ride through the Gulf of Mexico. For 2 1/2 days I was swimming in ball soup 30 minutes after starting work. And, to my chagrin, my schedule hasn't been conducive to working out some celestial fixes on the ride down. This was my week to be a dayworker, and the skies were a tad murky for what I needed. Dammit.

We're going to be a floating pharmacy for a while, doling out little parcels of cargo here and there, according to rumors. This should take us into November, anyhow, and there's a further rumor of a port call in Savanah, which I'm stoked for. Savannah is my favorite port on the East/Gulf Coasts. The city itself has a very european architectural appearance reminiscent of the neighborhoods just downhill from the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the old city surrounding the Castle, and for a time, one of my regular hangouts when I was living in Scotland. It's hard to believe that it's been 11 years since I came home. I still reminisce with my brother's Mother-In-Law, herself a proud Scot from Glasgow.

Anyhow, as you know, rumors can be found between Rhumatism and Shit in Webster's dictionary, so there's no use delving further into speculating on our next ports-of-call. I'll be happy to be out of the Gulf in a timely manner, of course.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

give and take

Just a quick note as we pass Port Everglades on our way around Florida en route to Houston.
The ride out of the Chesapeake? Wow, bad. Stiff gales, big, big seas. Absolutely dirty. We were running at 6 knots for almost 24 hours. In a happy coincidence, the engineers were repairing a big forced-draft blower on the main boilers, so we had to slow down anyhow, which did ease the ride quite a bit. It wasn't awful- after a couple of hours, we made our southing in quartering seas (halfway between the stern and the side of the ship, for you lubbers), so we pitched a rolled a bit, but the yawing was a huge pain, requiring that we hand steer the ship to keep from broaching to (turning sideways to the waves). We were yawing (swinging) about 10 degrees each wave. The ship was secured for sea, so other than having to eat with one hand to keep the dinner plates from flying off the table (more than one of us forgot to hold on and ended up with our/our neighbor's dinner in our laps), there wasn't any trouble. We didn't get to sleep much with the rolling, which was fairly deep, but thankfully slow.
Now, after getting our salads tossed, a bone: 2 days of the nicest weather I've ever seen- calm, a super mild swell, just enough to barely move the ship and remind us we're not on land, and sunny and clear- just a sparkling day, with the temps perfect! Absolutely makes me happy I'm a sailor.
'nuff said. Time for me to go to work again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Random thoughts

During a few slow moments today on cargo watch, I was talking with Cliff, the QA (Quality Assurance guy, sort of a purser's mate/expediter/safety/liaison guy on board), and we got to talking about lobster- him as a diver, and me as a former marine biologist with a woody for lobsters. It was really nice to talk about something I am a subject matter expert on; there's only a few things in the world that I actually am an expert at, and lobster biology is #1 on my list, anyhow.

My 15 minutes of fame as a scientist came when I discovered that lobsters can integrate neural input from both chemosensory and mechanosensory nerve cells and quickly adapt to minimize the impact of gaps in information availability.

Can you give a rat's ass about that? Let me explain why it's interesting:

Following a chemical trail to its' source (i.e., the smell of fire or food is easy to imagine, but this applies to chemical traces of explosives or oil in air or water, too) is actually very difficult to do. No one knew how animals actually did it- our brains don't use the information in any way you might think to track chemical stimuli. So, creating a bomb-sniffing robot or a machine that can track an oil leak underwater was impossible to do... But the navy gave my collegues 5 million bucks to try to create a mine-sniffing robot and solve the problems.
My contribution to science helped to disprove much of the existing theory about how our nervous systems integrate data from different types of nerve cells. I showed that there isn't a set of hard-wired behaviors- we already know that chemicals moving throgh air or water are dispersed in chaotic patterns- chaos math helped out, for certain, but the answer had to be more meat-and-potatoes than chaos-math derived (our brains don't work that way, exactly).

Anyhow, end result, I learned a little bit about how lobsters deal with chemical smells and flow data to find food. In the process, my little contribution helped robotics technicians to program their robots to deal with their sniffing sensors.

Not exactly Isaac Newton, am I? Still, I'm pretty proud that I was able to cram crash courses in physics, chaos math, chemistry , animal behavior and neuroanatomy into a cohesive study that worked within brain/behavior.

And hey, when there are bomb-sniffing robots on land and sea, and oil-sniffing robots on the sea floor, I can say that I helped to eliminate the need for putting a human in harm's way to reap the rewards.

But here's the thing: of the three biggest things I contributed to the world's knowledge base, my favorite one, which you know know a little about, is getting dated. My sweat and tears (well, sweat and diaper rash, really, from sitting in wet clothes for 14 hours a day for 90 days), are now relegated to footnotes. The field is advancing at a rapid pace, and my little cog is suffering from decreasing significance. I certainly can't dine out on it at the Harvard Club as I once did. I ain't even set foot in that place in over 10 years. Sigh.

Rather than performing cutting-edge neuroscience, I am on the shit end of the stick these days. Last night, my contribution to the world was limited to shooing a guy from shore from the fridge in the crew galley. Fucker was inhaling the Nitrous from a Whip Cream can and putting the dud can back in the fridge. Ain't that some juvenile shit? The guy actually had whip cream on his chin. I thought he was shooting the whip cream into his mouth, which is unsanitary as hell and license to get a kick on the side of the knee, as far as I am concerned. Anyhow, I restrained myself and told him to throw the whip cream away and get out, and I'd let it go.

I shoulda gotten than damn Ph.D.

You know, as much as a love a well-prepared cut of flank steak, half of it ends up between my teeth. Flossing after dinner is like having a second helping, you know?


Anyhow, heading back to Houston around midnightish. Looks like we've got some dirty weather to get through all the way down the Eastern seaboard. Crap. Glad we're running down full, anyhow.