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.