Friday, May 29, 2009

Why I'm praying that Brad Paisley gets Scabies

So lots of you are sailors, or from the country, or have listened to country music, right?

You might have heard of Brad Paisley, a corporate-country creation who sort of sings Ok. Personally, I've always thought the guy was pretty much capitalizing on the fact that although he sounds as gay as Dick's hatband, he's actually straight. but it takes all types, and the guy sells.

In real life, the guy's a scumbag when out of the public eye- check this out, and you too will wish cancer upon him.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

NY hahbah

Hard Times

One thing I’ve touched on only lightly is how much this life has altered my social landscape. Before I was sailing, I was lobstering, or data gathering, or pumping gas, if I go back far enough. Somewhere between age 8 (when I started lobstering) to 35, today, I started hot and cold as far as being social goes. If I’ve been drinking, I like to be the center of attention, and I try to get there by making people laugh. When I’m not drinking, I like to keep a small circle of friends. I always have.
Now, I’m not the easiest of people to be friends with. Before I was sailing commercially, I was getting up at unearthly hours of the AM every day to go lobstering. Before that, I was in college, grad school, or traveling, or working in remote areas of New England. I am always coming and going, and that is the epitome of a sailor’s lot. In that sense, my habits are often idyllic for my current lifestyle. But sometimes... it just gets old, even for me.

One of my best friends from the college and post-college days was recently home on leave from her own traveling circus of a job (she’s a crime scene investigator for the US Army). This marks the third or fourth time she has come home whilst I was floating somewhere away from New England, out using my thumb as a fart cork... It’s been three years, in fact, since I’ve seen her. In that time I’ve married, moved and matured, I suppose. But this is a shitty thing to realize: I really, really regret, of all my friends, that I’ve lost touch with her.
Here’s the ugly rub. This woman will always be ‘the one that got away’ for me. It’s been a long time since I was reconciled with the fact that our initially romantic(ish) relationship evolved into a friendship. That’s not the problem. The problem is, in this life, we’re only given so many people that get to know us at depth, and still like us despite that knowledge. This person is one of those people.

In many ways, this woman knows me better than my own wife at this point- more history and shared experiences in the bad old days will do that, I guess. Of course, that will change as Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I go on, and that’s a good thing. But even so, I miss my friend.
Now, I’ve lost touch with other good friends. I regret that, and I accept that in those cases, that was the price I paid to maintain a good relationship with my close friends and immediate family- in order to devote what time I have, I have only so many days to touch base with other people. I have other regrets in the same vein, but this one really bothers me.
So why not reconnect? I’ve asked myself that, and haven’t come up with a good answer. I’d really like my wife to meet my friend, get to know her. This last time she was home, her mom got married. I missed that. Her mom is an exceptional person who has fought through some serious bad times. I would have liked to have been there to share that particular experience. Nope. Missed it. Again. I surprised myself by not being hardened to this sort of thing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Singing: "Yes I love Technology..."

Crazy points for anyone who recognizes that quote...
Amazing thing, technology. Right now, I am doing laundry in our newfangled high-efficiency washing machine (which I used at a laundromat in northern England 12 years ago... glad we're so modern here in the US. I also paid my bills for the month, received some nice pictures of my family via email, am streaming some crazy 70's funk music (Tower Of Power, if you're interested), and have me the option at any time to open another window and see me some nekkid ladies in diverse stages of undress.
And yet, I still want to go home.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

one of those moments...

Among the most difficult things to get used to in my transition to brown water sailing has been the lack of privacy. Outside of quality time spent in the bathroom, there isn’t any. My room on my ship was about the same size as the living quarters on the bunker barge I worked on a couple of weeks ago, which I shared with two other guys.

Yesterday was a mini-milestone for me. Finally, I was ‘cut loose’ to work on my employer’s larger oceangoing barges, which, thankfully, have slightly larger accommodations. I suppose that the significance of that is all about trust, more pay, blah blah blah. Really, for me, I’m just glad that I can share this space with only one, not two, other guys.

I’m not a loner, per se, but I think that I do enjoy spending time alone more than many people. What I don’t love is sharing a tiny living space with strangers. The forced camaraderie of living on top of each other does have the effect of enforcing politeness, but even so, it’s going to be as rare to be compatible and comfortable with another man living and breathing in close proximity as it is on shore, which is to say, damn rare.
I lucked out this week. Yesterday I transferred back to the first barge I trained on. My former trainer is now my co-worker. This is unfortunately a temporary assignment, as I’m just filling in. My shipmate is a good guy, and we’re compatible (read: similar sense of humor, lack of maturity outside of work issues, and clean and neat).
Anyhow, last night was a good night. We were working (and yet it was a good night?), and had a last-minute cargo dumped on us, as well as a hard cut-off time to finish cargo that left us unable to completely fill our tanks. The cargo is destined for New York Harbor, which means an ocean passage.
Here’s the skinny: this barge isn’t huge- it’s bigger than an inland barge, but smaller than most ATB units. It has no receivers for coupling systems, meaning it’s a traditional unit meant to be pushed using push gear or hanging on a wire being towed by a tug. Also, there is no loading computer or sensor array that can be used to calculate trim, the difference between our forward and aft drafts. This is important because it requires a bunch of hull stress calculations be performed to accurately predict how the barge will lie in the water after it’s loaded, and the problem there is that we had an extremely variable load rate, and no word on exactly when we’d be shut down, so I couldn’t predict just how much cargo we’d have on board. Gene, my opposite here, on board, set up a cleaver load plan that would minimize slack (partially filled) tanks while maintaining something approaching proper trim- very well done.
So, with our load plan in hand, I worked alone for the last six hours of loading, and this is my whole point in writing today: I had one of those great moments at about 0445 this morning. Light was beginning to appear on the horizon, and the moon and stars were still visible- the temperature was perfect; I could just see my breath. I had my brain wrapped around my work; there was stuff to do, but not too much, just enough to work out the cobwebs from my mind. I could hear the water lapping against the hull, which was NOT trimmed like a motorcycle doing a wheelie, (which was what I was working to prevent), and a small flock of Canadian geese was honking as they flew by.
I was at peace. This doesn’t happen to me very much. Great feeling. Another instance of the 30-seconds per month of inspiration that keeps me a sailor.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

seeing red

The captain of the tug that pushed us to Piney Point yesterday was making fun of me on the VHF radio today. I've gotten to know the officers of the tug 'Choptank' a little more now that we've had some tea time.
Yesterday was an absolutely lovely day. We finished loading up near Philadelphia, and spent about 20 hours en route to the southern Chesapeake. I spent about 5 hours on the bow and watched the world go by as we sailed through the C&D Canal (Chesapeake and Delaware). Along the way we passed by nature at its' mid-Atlantic best, and I saw some other boaters, as well, many of the semi-professional type that are tolerable to be around.
So, let me paint this picture- 5 hours, lightly overcast skies, warm weather, modest breezes... and yours truly, being of the more phosphorescent type of palely-complected man of Irish descent, well, you might guess that I'd be a little sunburnt, and you'd be right. Not only am I now so red that I glow in the dark, I had sunglasses on, so I look like a baboon's ass with a white stripe.
So it goes. In the meanwhile, this is my first time at this end of the Chesapeake, and it's pretty as hell. It's rainy again, which is a shame, and I'm going to be up all night tonight, but that's OK too. I'll be able to sleep tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

shots from over the horizon

So, this morning I got word that Uncle Hugo, (Hugo Chavez, I mean) 'nationalized' (read: seized) the assets of a major US oil service and supply company, Tidewater Marine, down there on Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela's major oil transshipping point. This is relevant for several reasons:

1) Citgo, the US arm of PVDSA (Venezuela's national oil company), has been rather unpopular of late, which has affected revenues.

2) Citgo has divested themselves of several large refineries in the past two years in the US, including their newest, largest refining complex which contained the most efficient refining tower of its' kind capable of making liquid gold out of the shitty sour crude that Venezuela posesses in abundance. I suppose, in hindsight, that that was an obvious foreshadowing of some serious power plays going on.

3). PEMEX, Mexico's state-run oil monopoly, has nationalized US assets themselves, paving the road for this shit. Of course, PEMEX has been run into the ground since then, pretty much, so maybe Chavez has something in mind to prevent that. Doubtable, but the path between planning and execution is a long one.

4). This is not the first time in recent memory that Venezuela has done this. ExxonMobil is still trying to get something back for their multibillion-dollar infrastructure seized two years ago. I supose that Tidewater was hoping for the best, and unable to get out prior to today's events, or, more likely, something happened to 'La Mordita,' the greasing of the wheels, that I'm certain Tidewater has been paying in one form or another. Who can say?

Either way, it's a tough day for Venezuela- The falling price of crude has probably put a lot of pressure on Chavez, who has been throwing money into bullshit programs at home, in an effort to emulate Fidel Castro's investment in education and healthcare, which has been the only thing keeping Cuba on the map. With Chavez, of course, being a pale copy of Castro, this is unsurprising. His emplacement as a tin-pot dictator is certainly firm. We'll see. One thing's for sure, Venezuela's internal struggle to prevent Chavez from being declared emperor-for-life affects us a LOT more that most folks think.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Yesterday I was reassigned to a different barge whilst my currently assigned mini-barge underwent mold remediation. What this means is that I'm back on a larger vessel, with larger living quarters. Compared to the teeny tiny living space I've shared with two other guys for the past week, this is a pure pleasure. I feel like I'm on vacation.
This place is classy. Well appointed. And these guys can cook. Dinner last night was awesome. So was breakfast and lunch today. I slept a solid 10 hours, which is damn near unheard of for me. Today I feel good. This past week, I've kind of felt like ass, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I think it's just a matter of being with guys who are individually very likeable, but who are obviously just there for work, whereas here I am with two guys who like being here.
So I'm gushing, maybe, but I feel like a thirsty man does about 5 minutes after someone hands him a jug of ice-cold water.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I scoff at preplanning

So, as some of you know, I have been able, through an alignment of the stars, the selling of one kidney and the decimation of what's left of my savings account, to send Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and The Boy back to the home country for a visit.
Now, let me go back a step- have you ever had a conversation where you're just speaking extemporaneously, not really having a deep thought in the process, and out pops something fairly surprising, even from yourself? I had one of those moments the other night, where I was talking to one of my shipmates about married life. I said something along the lines of how it's a wholly good thing, but requires a certain mindset, blah, blah, blah, and then I said that a year ago, not only could I have never envisioned my life as it is today, but also that I couldn't handle it, that the whole experience is full of high-pressure moments that prepare one for tougher times ahead.
Go ahead and reread that. It's actually one of the more concise things I've blurted out, and it's true. I'm not the kind of guy who just blows off security, but I'm also no longer a pushover. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife hasn't seen her mother, or any of her family, for nine years. Many of those people have never met The Boy. So, when she asked me about going to Brazil for a few weeks next month, my first reaction was thoughtful and well laid out. I said "No fucking way."
My wife has a tendency to get her way, which is why I'm married in the first place.
So, the thought of spending 9 years away from my folks sealed the deal. I couldn't handle that. God knows how she has. Now, I'm contemplating some things... she needs a new car, too, but that's a problem for another day. For now, I'm just relieved that I was able to put this together. One of the most difficult things for me was facing the prospect that our schedules will be almost dead opposite for two months- that is, when I go home this time, for one or two weeks, tht'll be it for most of the summer. After that, I won't see my wife again for almost two months, and the prospect of living alone without her or the Boy, on my next rotation home, is simply awful. Then it hits me- this is how my wife lives over half the year. This is what it's like to be married to me.
So, she'll be going to Brazil, and, sadly, yours truly will not be going. No butt-floss bikinis, no flocks of naked dancing girls, no fruity drinks with funny little umbrellas. Rather, it'll be me, and I'll probably just be in the garden.
I've gotten spoiled,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I haven't been particularly inspired to write in the recent past, and that in itself is unusual. Usually, I write whatever comes to mind, regardless of whether or not it's interesting. My shoe is wet. My dog's breath smells like dog food. You know. Hell, you've read it.

I am working on a bunker barge, as I've said. It's teeny, and I'm the 3rd man on a bicycle built for two. Check it out.

The galley/living room is an unergonomic 'L' shaped space that requires one man to go outside or step into the head should another resident decide to redeploy from their chair.

The good news? The bathroom door is solid. That motherfucker is soundproof. The bad news? The bathroom is located within swinging distance to both the galley AND the bunkroom.

Wow, it looks so much bigger from the outside.

I'm kind of fond of this photo. At the top you can see the bottom of the arm of the hose boom- a crane that holds the main fueling hose slung to its' underside, if that makes any sense.

DISCLAIMER: all photos were taken with an intrinsically-safe, unpowered camera.

Monday, May 4, 2009

me, ranting

So, God help me, I'm watching TV (I hate TV!) today, not by choice, and there's a weepy d-bag on some Philly talk show, talking about how humiliated he is that he can't buy an X-Box 360 for his kid like all the other kids in the neighborhood have. The guy goes on and on about his college education, and his lack of options, and how it's all the gu'mmint's fault.

Am I a cheap prick, or am I right to wish that this hemorrhoid gets his oral cavity cauterized?
My grand plan for this year is to get the boy a wiffleball setup, as well as his first baseball glove, along with a soccerball.
I confess that The Boy has a video game. He's got a handheld DS, which was kind of expensive, but not so expensive as any sort of XBOX. Really, I got it for him to help with his English, which is still slightly behind that of his classmates (none of whom, of course, are bilingual like he is, so, I fugure, on balance, The Boy is ahead of the game).
There was one time when I was visiting my brother-in-law's house, and I got downright downtrodden. The BIL has mad electronic toys for his kids and himself, about $30k worth of TV and electronica, I would guess. I felt kind of bad for The Boy, who's got a more, shall we say traditional set of toys... and then, thank God, reality set in. Well, a power failure set in, and the BIL and his family went crosseyed for a night. I would venture to say that all things being equal, The Boy, though X-Box-less, would have been fine.

On a lighter note, I'm really curious which way The Boy will lean- soccer, like his countrymen of genetic memory, or Baseball, like his fellow citizens... Nature or Nurture will see.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


The training continues. Apparently, since I appear to be on the way to becoming a brown-water sailor for the time being, my employer feels that I would be best served in being a more versatile tankerman, and, thus, I am currently planted on a bunker barge.
For those of you who aren't in the know, a bunker barge carries black, smelly oil destined for use as fuel for ship engines. Bunker-C, the classic dirty fuel oil, isn't used so much anymore, but we load up with slightly cleaner variants and run up alongside ships at anchor, and then load 'em up.
There have been...adjustments to be made. First off, the living conditions are substantially more tight than they were on my last barge. The fact that I'm the 3rd man on a barge built to house two guys doesn't help. Also, we're all gorillas, so there's no getting by without brushing shoulders or whatever.
So far, I find black oil work pretty disconcerting. It's dirty, for one. My two-years-old foul weather gear got zebra-striped in the course of one 4-hour discharge, and now smells... well, like ass. Bunker fuels smell like sour crude oil, which has a distinctive stink.

Anyhow, the guys are cool. That's the important thing.