Wednesday, December 9, 2009

big changes

So, as was stated before, I got promoted a week ago. Since then, things have been decidedly busy. There were some marathon days by necessity, a new mate to train, mechanical issues, and, finally, some downtime. All part of the deal, I guess.
My first day in the new job, we were given a series of cargo orders that presented an issue for me- in order to maintain stability, keep this barge at a reasonable trim, and also load all the oil necessary to fulfill the orders, I had to stop-gauge some of my cargo tanks- in other words, it was necessary to put oil belonging to more than one customer in some of my tanks; this doesn't present too much difficulty, but it does create a make-or-break issue: when I'm pumping off cargo to a ship, the first of several, I have to make sure that they get enough oil to fulfill their orders, without taking any from the next customer- this isn't difficult to do, but there's only one chance to get it right, and I'm not the chance-taking type with oil. So that made me nervous. But I did it.
The last ship to get oil for that particular load was an old fruit boat, a 'reefer ship' with a friendly Russian crew. The engineer was a control freak, however, and this was patently obvious by the way he shooed away his helpers and ran back and forth between his bunker tanks while I was slowly pumping oil to him... he missed a mark when topping off one of his tanks, somewhere, and created a mess. A 4 hour job turned into a 12-hour job. So, my first day as captain turned into a 24-hour day.
There is a whole series of regulations that dictate how and how much rest an oil-transport worker must be given time to maintain alertness. At some point responsibility falls on the man on the scene to throw up hands and say 'enough.' This, while being perfectly legal, may not endear said man on the scene with the pointy heads who look at schedules and do things like sign payroll receipts, in all truth. Luckily, I work for a proactive, careful group of people, whose response to my submission of paperwork at the end of the marathon job was to tell me to hit my bunk while they sent out a substitute to load the next cargo. This I did, for 10 hours, and it was awesome.
When I woke up, we had loaded a small cargo for our next job (per my orders), and were about 30 minutes from our next discharge point, a small handysize bulk carrier. This ship carried a friendly chinese crew, and after we tied up, I ended up chatting at the rail with a couple of the guys while we exchanged papers.
This job took forever- the crew was fantastic, and there were plenty of them- their ship had a major design shortcoming, however- their fueling point was located on the centerline of the ship, down a small hatch to the engine room, and about 60 feet from the rail of the ship. I have an extremely heavy 100-foot fueling hose available, which weighs in at well over 1 ton when empty. Using a massive team effort, we got the hose to his fueling point in a series of bights, but it took almost 2 hours and almost the entire crew to make it happen. I couldn't see anything, so I sat at my hydraulic controls and got rained on for a very long time. Then the ship started dragging anchor after we started transferring oil.
With an awkward and very securely fastened oil hose between us, there was no question that we weren't going to cast off and get away from this ship whilst they got to a safe place. We stayed securely tethered to the ship and waited while they got underway and reanchored, and then started fueling again. The ship immediately started dragging anchor again, but by the time the ship got far out of place, we were done with the small transfer of fuel, and began the hour-long process of getting my hose back on board. Again the crew was fantastic at helping out. Still, I felt like I was cursed.
The next load was a pain. Two separate cargoes, one of which was a triple blend of fuels, and the other a double blend, and my ass was the mixmaster.

Just as it is with calling a stop-gauge, there's no possibility of recovering from an error when blending oils by hand in a barge. Once the oils are comingled, they're forever blended (barring being re-refined, which more than doubles the cost of the oil). And I have to blend three types of oil into my cargo.

Here's how it works: The refiner gives me a list of what they're giving me. Three volumes of three types of oil. I have to beg and plead with them for the density and temperature for each, as well as the order in which they'll be loaded. This refiner, for some reason, does not like to give that info out at the start of the job, however, it is critical information for me.
Using a series of formulas, I can find out how much of the first cargo to load into my tanks. I then figure out what the final temperature, volume, and density of the cargo will be when I comingle the second cargo. I then do the same thing for the third cargo. Each time, I come up with 'stops' for my tanks, places that should give me the volumes I need to make the final product come out to the right volume and density. One mistake on my part, and the oil will 'fail' analysis, and I will have cost somebody a hundred thousand dollars or so on this modestly-sized cargo. The worst part of this is that I have to look at the man on the loading terminal and make an estimate of how much time it will take him to shut down cargo from when I start yelling. This terminal I am at is not famous for hiring sharp cookies. I go with 10 seconds for the pump shutdown, and 30 seconds for fuel to gravitate at reduced volume, which equates to 3/8 inches in my final cargo tank, by my best guess. I then write down my 'stops' and have the dockman start the pumps. I have four cargo tanks to fill for this job, and three cargoes. 12 chances to screw up.
My trainee mate and I do a decent job- it works. Oh, and it's raining again.
The next discharge goes smoothly- the first of 5 discharges to do so. About time.
I am still barge captain.
At this point, I turn theory into reality.

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