Sunday, February 28, 2010
This is where truck drivers transit between I-95, the Aorta of the eastern United States, and Philadelphia's container terminal. Amidst the broken ruins of a couple of power plants, some train tracks long since gone to rust, and the odd run of broken asphalt sits this prosperous bank-looking place.
This is not a bank, however, but rather, an 'upscale' strip joint. A nudie bar. A nipple ranch. Or, as we local sailors like to call it, The First National Bank of Boobs. You see, I park my truck at a lay berth nearby. I always drive by this place IN DAYLIGHT. This part of Philadelphia at night isn't a place where I'll drive unarmed, sadly. Anyhow, in daylight yon nudie bar is closed, and since I've never driven out of the parking area at night, I've never seen the customers of the Boobie Bank and Trust, so I can't say for sure whether or not it's 'upscale.' I use the quotes because the sign for the place includes the word upscale specifically, and nudie bars aren't known for classiness in general, so I'm assuming that it means that they serve beer in bottles and at about 10 bucks a pop.
Now, back in my yoot, I enjoyed a night out in Houston or two while on shore leave, which included a stop at the ubiquitous nudie bar on the way home from a steakhouse. Yeah yeah, waste of money I know. Actually, it's such a waste of money that I don't patronize those places anymore, anyhow. Haven't been able to justify spending money on that sort of thing in a long, long time. So I'm not going to be turning into the parking lot of the not-a-bank anytime soon.
Of course, in theory, I could probably lose less money in a nudie bar than I would in my own bank, judging by my retirement portfolio's performance.
I may be on to something. By losing money at a reduced rate ($1 bill at a time), I might actually do better at riding out the current recession than I'm doing now.
Finally, this is some retirement planning I can get on board with.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
As I write, we're alongside an absolutely beautiful orange juice tanker.
Yeah, that's how OJ is transported! Some is concentrated, and some 'fresh.' Either way, OJ is a nasty substance to transport. Biodegradable, yet incredibly caustic. The chief ingredient is, of course, ascorbic acid, and lord knows acids are fun to transport.
Anyhow, yeah, pretty tanker, and, of course, it's squeaky clean, which appeals to my sense of order.
I've also been offered an advance copy of Max Hardberger's latest book "Seized"
Capt. Hardberger is a modern adventurer- a ship's captain/admiralty lawyer/repo man. His books are excellent and document all kinds of insane and hazardous adventures between running a tramp freighter, buying and owning one, and boarding and sailing illegally seized ships out of hostile foreign ports. I'll let you know about Seized when I get a hold of my copy.
One of the largest surprises for me this weekend was in reconnecting with a former lady-friend via facebook. Like many of my friends from my days as a nascent biologist, she's a Ph.D now, of course. Without getting bogged down in details, it was nice to reminisce about our internship in the Marine Biological Laboratory down in Woods Hole, MA. Good times.
Just every now and again, I get a little annoyed with myself that I didn't see my way through to get a doctorate like so many classmates, but, if I had, I wouldn't be here, and here is pretty good.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
check it out:
...the socialist mayor of the northern city of Roubaix, who this month railed against his local Quick outlet over its Nov. 30 decision to remove bacon burgers from its menu and replace them with a version using halal beef and a slice of smoked turkey. "It's discrimination" against non-Muslim customers, Vandierendonck said. The mayor has filed charges with justice authorities against Quick for what he says is prejudicial religious catering. He has also lodged a complaint with France's main antidiscrimination authority on the matter. "Yes to diversity, no to exclusion..."
When France takes the lead in reigning in the spread of Islamism in the world, you know that we've fallen a long, long way.
Maybe it's time the EU invaded Jerusalem again, and keep the moors in check for a few more centuries.
Warning- some exposed boobage, so semi-nsfw. Apparently it was 106 degrees for much of the time! Now, I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, and damn it, we never had a big party to celebrate the upcoming season of Lent. Rather, we talked about what it is we were giving up for Lent, then moved on... then again, although there are some very beautiful Irish girls out there, the numbers just aren't in our favor... I want to know what the hell's in the water down in Brazil, that like 90% of their women are lovely to see. Ah well.
Anyhow, here's this year's gatinhas lindas . Gostoso!
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
If you're the reading sort, I would absolutely recommend Max Hardberger's "Freighter Captain," which deals very honestly with the dirty and ugly side of shipping, including a scandalous account of the captain selling off bunker fuel to buy food for the crew and spares for the engine room after the owners failed to make
payroll or send stores.
Hard to believe that such things could be in the modern era, but I think back to my days with the Notorious B.O.B. and I'm dead certain that he did things like not pay bills to give me a paycheck in the summer doldrums when cash flow was nonexistent. Still, that's a far cry from having to defraud a shipowner because he is defrauding you. In the B.O.B's case, as the captain, and later as the vessel owner when I became captain, he was the one making the sacrifices. Capt. Hardberger's account was more dire, of course, though both his pragmatic reasoning (the crew needs to eat if they're to turn a profit for the owner, so that the owner can buy food for the crew) was rooted in the same altruism that the B.O.B. showed. As shipowner, though, Notorious B.O.B. set a higher bar morally.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Where the hell did that come from? I've never really thought about it, but, yeah, I probably would want to move there if I went back to sailing away for months at a time. The fastest growing economy in our hemisphere, a fine exchange rate with the concurrent higher standard of living (for us)? Sure. Not to mention that I won't be living at the Ant Farm anymore, and that's a fine thing.
Today, though, sees my first chink in the armor of the new regime.
As most maritime operators now know, there's a big to-do over the sulphur content of one's diesel. Environmental regulations vary so widely by region, that in theory, a ship operator could be forced to carry three or four grades of diesel fuel in order to stay out of handcuffs. And there's no joke there- a fuck-up could cause that kind of response, or, barring that, a serious hit to someone's wallet.
So this morning we're carrying a segregated load to the next customer. IFO 380, which is the gold standard of black oil, and some diesel in our segregated clean-oil system. BUT, the sulphur content of the diesel is higher than the ship requested, which means that they refused the diesel. End result is that we have to return the diesel to the refiner, and then fill up again with the proper diesel. Half a day lost, plus waiting time for a berth at the refinery... someone's going to take it in the seat for this one.
Anyhow, this is still playing out. As I write, I'm sitting alongside the ship, buttoned up and awaiting orders.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I couldn't resist. P
Q: My husband wants a threesome with my best friend and me.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Let's say you're going to spend... I dunno, between 15 and 75 Million US Dollars to build yourself a nice bulk carrier, or a handysized container/breakbulk ship... or even a reefer boat... whatever, you're building a new ship. Congratulations.
Why would you design a ship that is completely miserable to fuel up? Wouldn't you want your bunkering operations to be safe and fast, so that your crew can do the million other things to be done on board?
Now, chances are, unless the ship is being built for a highly specialized run between two ports, your first concern might be usability. You want your new ship to maximize profitability over the long term, and, aesthetics aside, this means being built to last, but at a low cost. OK.
Still with me? Check this out:
(Photo courtesy of marinetraffic.com)
This is your average medium-sized self-unloading bulk carrier, a versitile workhorse of about 450-feet I think. Now, once every few weeks or so, someone is going to have to bring their barge alongside, tie up to the ship, and pass a very, very heavy fuel hose to the ship, and transfer around 1000 tons or so of fuel oil. Now, the barge that does that will be anywhere from 150- 250 feet long herself, here in the US. If that barge is loaded, it may be carrying 3,000 tons of oil for other customers who are waiting in line. The barge might be big, and it might be heavy, is what I'm saying... and to add to the pucker factor, the barge will have to get within a meter or so of the ship, and then be lined up such that the fuel hose will be in the neighborhood of the fueling connection on the ship. Get what I'm saying?
There's a delicate dance to be done when a larger-sized bunker barge needs to line up with a ship.
Here's my bunker barge moored alongside a pretty little ship. Notice the little hose snaked between us. This is a small hose used for transferring small parcels of diesel. The fuel oil hose is twice that size, and the 30-meter (100-foot) hose we use most often weighs several tons, even when empty.
Now, take a look at that first ship again.
The fueling connection (called a manifold) for this ship is through a small hatch (door) on deck level, inside the house, about 15-20 feet (5-6 meters) inside the doorway. The doorway is next to the whaleback, under some stairs used to get from the elevated poop deck (the deck at the stern of the ship) to the main deck.
What does this mean? The gentleman who designed this ship put the bunkering connection somewhere where it can't be easily accessed, where a crane or boom can't get at, and where the guy who watches over the fueling operation can't see or hear anything going on elsewhere in the ship!
Anyhow, with the assistance of 5 men, two chainfalls, a length of rope and several crowbars, the crew was able to get my fueling hose to the bunker connection, which included dragging roughly 1000 lbs. of hose and steel through a narrow hallway without mechanical assistance. I'm pretty sure that I saw one guy stagger off holding the small of his back. I'm assuming that he didn't get that sore back from watching porn in the TV room.
Now, another awesome thought about ship design: If you're going to expect your ship to be refueled, you need to put the barge somewhere. This has several implications.
1) Take a good look at the shape of the hull of the ship at the base of the house. Beautifully curved- a hydrodynamic wineglass-shaped stern with a lot of reversed tumblehome, in fact. Very nice in a sea. Not so nice for a bunker barge to get close to. In fact, it is very easy to get ones' barge and/or associated tugboat pinned under that flaring stern, or to poke a hole in the side of the ship should the barge not land squarely against the hull. This happens about once a year between Boston and New York, alone, and always results in spilled oil, it seems.
2) Without a flattish hull profile, it gets increasingly difficult to get a barge smoothly and squarely against a ship's hull. Note the second picture, however. The ship in that photo had a hard-chined stern- lots of hull for us to bounce off of in the process of getting tied up... but then again, the manifold on that ship was midships.
3). IF BUNKER BARGES ARE GOING TO BE ALONGSIDE, THEY NEED TO TIE UP SOMEWHERE!
About 20% of all reefer ships ('fruit boats') don't have any chocks or bitts for another ship or barge to make fast to along the working portion of the cargo deck.This means that a couple thousand tons of ship and fuel might just have to be shackled to your handrails, which, for the most part, are designed more to support hands than bunker barges. There's always a 10% or better chance to break the sturdiest of handrails when this is done, which is part of the reason why reefer ships usually look like pieces of shit when viewed up close. Lots of repaired welds, dents, and bent steel.
And this brings me to the crux of my questioning. When designing a ship that has fuel storage tanks throughout the hull of the ship (an oil tanker, conversely, will usually have its' bunker tanks aft of the cargo tanks, just forward and maybe under the forward portion of the engine room and machinery spaces), like many bulkers, break bulk carriers and container ships of all sizes, why wouldn't you put a fueling point midships, where the crew and barge can easily work unimpeded, and the fueling point is in the middle of the main bunkering line that runs the length of the ship anyhow?
For that matter, why not have more than one manifold, to give the ship maximum versatility in terms of being able to bunker in almost any port? The only ships I've seen with multiple bunkering manifolds are oil tankers and a couple of old rickety OBO's (which, in the end, don't even have forward fuel tanks, anyhow). For the cost of 2-4 extra valves, a meter or two of modestly-sized piping, and a pressure gauge, bunkering could be done with 1-2 people on deck, as opposed to 5, and I wouldn't have had to watch Ivan Ivanoff stagger away like a drunk trying to shake off a rabbit punch. Realistically, one lost-time injury could pay for a second bunkering station in ships of the sort I've shown here.
I can't say much about manning in the international fleet; I suspect that a replacement is always a phone call away, and I've heard of foreign ships sticking AB's with internal injuries on 12-hr flights, only to have the sailor die in the air. In the US fleet, however, there are plenty of retirement-age sea-lawyers just waiting with baited breath for a soft-tissue injury or a blown knee to counteract a long career of living paycheck to paycheck. Imagine the JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) that would go along with an awkward bunkering operation like what I saw today. OSHA would shit kittens.
The US doesn't build ships better than anyone else; they just cost 10 times more than anyone else's ships, and take 10 times longer to build. We have the same bunkering issue; All the same, fueling-related injuries and accidents make up a visible portion of the media- covered shipping news. Minimizing those incidents should take greater priority, and could be done with a few strokes of the architect's pen in newbuilds.
Finally, when the day comes when criminalization of accidental oil spills is a more uniform practice, dingleberries like me, responsible for refueling operations, are going to have to protect ourselves, and that means refusing bunkering jobs.
Bills of lading- Velu is the captain of an oil tanker, and yet still answers my fan mail. Obviously, he's either very cool or has no spam filter on his email account, and can't figure out how to make me go away.
Very Demotivational- used to be hilarious, now sort of hit-or-miss, but still worth a look. In the end I included it because of the easter eggs- once a week or so, it's good for a laugh-out-loud moment.
Clark Island Boat Works home of my fantasy lobster boat, and builder of the best looking boats in my past life as a lobsterman. Kind of makes me feel bad, in that these guys build beautiful boats one after another, and I've still got that 23-footer in my mom's driveway, 90% complete, just like it was a year ago.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I've got to hand it to that little booger Leonardo DiCaprio. He nailed the South Boston and south-of- Boston accent. Matt Damon, himself a native, supposedly, overdid his version of a Southie accent again, coming off like a Rhode Islander, which, as we all know, sounds as bad or worse than a New York accent. I guess they didn't teach that part of the accent in the acting classes way up there in Rockport, next to New Hampshire.
Mark Wahlberg sounded hilarious. His accent was spot-on, and the creative and frequent cursing made me forget that I was floating around in the Delaware river watching the movie. I guess growing up in Southie, being only half-Irish and 4 feet tall must have made him fairly tough as a kid.
Anyhow, good movie. made me feel like I was home.
My reason for writing this? I know that I have a heavy, heavy South Shore accent. And my wife obviously does not, being Brazilian. Anyhow, my wife's English language skills have really started growing exponentially, and now she's writing quite a bit in English, but she writes phonetically, as a native Portuguese speaker would. So when she writes me that her 'cah' needs a new battery, and that I need to get rid of the 'bumpa sticka' on my truck, I know that it's time for me to talk to her about the particulars (pronounced 'pa-tick-u-lah's) of the Boston accent. The funny thing is, Brazilian's don't really use the letter 'ah' either... which is pronounced 'eye-tha', thank you. My Brother-In-Law's name, Ricardo, is pronounced 'heecahdo.' I'm hoping that this will be an easy lesson. For now, I am enjoying the hilarious misuse of English in her text messages and emails. Makes me homesick more than anything.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
We're having a stand-down day today, the first I can remember since New Years... I think that there was another almost-full day of rest back there somewhere, but tempus fugit, so who can say? Anyhow, yeah, snow showers.
After I woke up, I headed out to the generator room to do a walk-through in the course of my morning ritual of eyeballing every valve, line and gauge on board. My boots are drying out nicely after a day of non-use (really, getting wet boots to dry 100% is harder than you might think when you're working 12+ hour days), so I put on a pair of sneakers, and promptly slipped and slid down the catwalk stairs as soon as I stepped outside. I made my way down to deck level, sliding on my ass, landing safely on deck.
I landed on my ass, sort of sideways, on my hip, which was aching a touch when I woke up anyways.
In cold, wet weather, my hip is always a little sore, courtesy of the bumps and bruises we all get in the course of time. Landing ass-first on a cold deck failed to improve the feeling.
Anyhow, wet ass and all, I made my rounds, slipping and sliding the while.
Kind of makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking. I push my tankerman mate to think safe 100% of the time, and here I am, wearing the same shoes that already lost traction when I have a nice set of almost-dry deckboots under my chair. In the meanwhile, I could have slipped an fallen again.
Rather than expound, I'm just going to say that I was being willfully foolish, and am lucky to have only ended up with a damp bung for it.
I'm sharing today out of guilt, I think, because I'm a careful person, at home and at work, and not the type to make stupid mistakes when it matters. I think that I tend to follow my own rules fairly rigidly. To wit:
1) Be safe in all things, always.
2) Work hard, play fair, everyone gets paid and goes home safe.
3) Not one drop of oil on deck.
4) Situation awareness at all times.
5) Sleep light, but sleep enough.
6) Ask for help before you need it.
All common sense, right? Then why why why, in the name of the seven mad gods of the sea, did I walk onto a snowy catwalk with sneakers on? The same reason that people lose eyes, fingers or take unscheduled swims.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Harbor whoring, which is a charming term meaning 'staying local' (but pronounced 'habah hoain,"), allows for the potential for several occasions to get to the grocery store, in theory. In actuality, this hasn't panned out for me, so I tend to pack heavy when I come aboard for work, bringing 2 weeks of goodies with me. I consistently seem to buy the same items about 90% of the time.
Diet Pepsi- 6 12-packs. (Continuing on with my love affair with Diet pepsi, I shamelessly admit to being hooked. Can't stomach coffee, so I get my caffeine from diet soda, and if anyone comments, I tell them that I have to I drink too much soda, or I start killing hookers. This usually works to keep critiques to a minimum.
Chicken- 6 breasts, 1 package of 'pahts', 1 6-pack of frozen patties
beef: 1 lb hamburger, 2 steaks.
Sausage: one package blood pudding, one package Kielbasa,maybe some Italian sausage.
Bacon: 1 slab (about 2lbs) side, unsliced.
One lean ham steak.
1 doz eggs
1 bag onions
5 lb potatoes
1 lb carrots
1 package celery
2 med. zucchini
1 bag baby spinach
1 head of lettuce
5lb bag of rice
3 loaves of bread
10 misc cans of soup, canned veggies
1 sm. bag of goldfish crackers
1 box of pasta
2 cans of tomato sauce
1 lg can of hearts-of-palm
4 cans of tuna
1 sm jar of fat-free mayo
2 frozen pie crusts
1 lb plain oatmeal
1 box granola bars
1 box of cornbread mix
... and that's about it. With the diet pepsi, we're probably talking about 50lbs of food, but realistically, I eat pretty healthy, for a fat guy. In my defense, I'm overweight because I eat my own cooking and trade food for sleep too often, not 'cus I'm lazy. Oh, and I drink beer and scotch when I'm home. That shits not good for the body, though it's like poetry for the soul.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I came back to work a day early to avoid driving down the Northeast corridor during a heavy snow. This worked out in my favor, as I was able to drive up to the dock where we were moored to unload my grub and sundries for the next few weeks, and, hey, that shit's heavy. Anyhow, not long after we got underway for our first job of the new tour.
What followed has been a 48-hour blur of snow and shoveling, with some cargo operations in between. Today is the first post-storm morning, and it is a beauty- crystal clear blue sky, light breezes, and temps above freezing.
My hands are wrung out today. I have weak hands as it is, courtesy of a propensity to get them squished and slashed when I was younger. Shoveling snow requires a lot of gripping of a shovel, which requires some exertion with the hands... you get the picture. I spent last night with my hands curled up into claws, somewhat achy, as you can imagine... you see, my barge is a trunk-deck barge, and the narrow walkways along the outboard sides require some attention to keep 'em safe. Lots of shoveling. Anyhow, it's over now, and my hands, though achy, aren't too bad, really.
The break in today's weather also brought out the birds. A pair of hawks were sailing above my barge at one point, and I heard one of 'em let out a shriek when a canadian goose honked in alarm nearby... it made me realize that I've never actually heard that sound before- you know, the lonely scream of a bird-of-prey that's always paired with a scenic view of a forested mountain on TV? Turns out, in real life, the sound is mildly alarming when you're not expecting it from a bird that's 30 feet above you. Pretty neat, anyhow.
So, although we don't have a coveted post-snowstorm draft-load black-oil job, (black oil is heated to make it flow better, and the waste heat heats up the tanks, including the tank tops, which is my deck) the next few days will see us working some piddling small mixed-oil jobs, and, by juggling which tanks we utilize for these jobs, we'll be able to melt the snow off of our decks. As things stand, we maintained a maze of pathways to get to where we need to go on deck- where there are no paths, there are 3-4 foot tall snowbanks. Hopefully we'll be back to a near-bare deck in a week or so.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
1) The gunfight on the far side of the Ant Farm. Thank you Massachusetts M.G.L. 40b, for requiring 10% of all new housing in middle-class towns to be set aside for low-income housing. 30 shots were fired in 2 minutes. 30. I counted, while I was collecting my wife and kid and getting them away from the windows.
2). Coming back to work a day early to get my mate home before the next snowstorm. Which is going to start in about 3 hours.
3). I applied Preparation H for the first time. On someone else. Well, on my mother's dog. And that is the last time I will ever speak about that subject.
4). Having reread #3, I don't think I can top that one.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Now, I am NOT a fan of the current president. Fine. Still, the guy's getting toasted by the media for saying what every single fucking middle class person in the world says every day. It's not correct, acceptable, or right, for a family to spend their children's education money or on a vacation to Las Vegas, and there's no difference between that and a bank that accepted bailout money sending execs to 'conventions' there. This is a time to save and wait, period.
Anyhow, Nevada is america's place to go off and die in a puddle of your own fluids when you don't want to sit around in Florida all comfortable-like for your last 30 years, surrounded by friends.
Score one for the Prez. After just over a year in office, he finally said something I agreed with.
Of course, I agreed with elderly comedian Bill Cosby, when he said that black parents should be ashamed when they spend $200 on their kids' shoes, but won't spend $10 on a book. He got all kinds of shit for that too.
Common sense has no place in politics.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Anyhow, I've been thinking about building another one of these little beauties:
I used to build boats when I was bored.
I'm bored now. Ergo, I would like to build a boat.
Not the most straightforward justification for spending a couple hundred g's, but there you go. I need a garage for a couple of weekends, so I ought to think about buying a house.
PS. Anyone want to commission a new boat for themselves? One of these rowboats for $999, finished in varnish or the color of your choice. Weighs out at 135lbs at 9-foot 9 inches- fits nicely in the back of a pickup.