Sunday, March 28, 2010

Once upon a bunker barge...

My barge is about the same length and width as this reefer ship. These fast little ships are designed to carry fresh fruit from the tropics to the US and Europe. You can see me passing a fueling hose to this ship. In this case, I transferred 1,080 tons of oil to the ship, about 300,000 gallons, or about 20 days' worth of fuel.
...and you thought it hurts to fill the tank on your car! Imagine that fuel bill.

porn for paint huffers, but in actuality, I'm trying to get the last couple of barrels of oil out of the tank without sucking air into my pipelines. You can't believe the stink of the fuel oil that ships burn! It's like matches, feet, and a homeless person's underwear were thrown into a dumpster fire.

The hospital ship "Comfort" seen in the background, shortly before sailing in response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti. In the foreground, you can see that someone forgot to dog down the hatch to my generator house on the left. On the right is the bow of a VERY large tugboat. This, in conjunction with us loading 'down to the marks' (i.e, to the maximum we can) led to this odd shot. Usually the tug has to put a ladder UP for the crew to step aboard my deck.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

a cage without walls or door. Or ceiling.

So, my schedule is all backwards.

My shipmate, Buddy, AKA "The Barge Whisperer" (his quiet voice has my deef ass saying 'what's that?' and "Excuse me?" and periodically the more crass "Huh?") has decided to work 12 hours on/12 off for the next two weeks. Since buddy was made barge captain before me on here, I have to follow suit. I am doing, if reluctantly, this for several reasons: first off, the past 3 months he's pretty much worked any night jobs we got, and second, he's the senior, dammit.
I don't like working 12-hour shifts simply because I get fatigued at the end, even if it wasn't a particularly difficult day. Honestly, my caffeine addiction allows me to compensate, although I shift consumption towards the latter half of my watch to keep me alert. I've long since passed the stage where being buzzed up will interfere with sleep. The net result of this is that I can't enjoy my diet soda addiction for the first half of my watch, which makes me sad. Not so bad.

Today is a light-duty day. We had our latest job delayed by 24 hours, which means that it will be piggybacked onto the next job (no problem for me) tonight at midnight. I slept part of last night away, but I'm still on a daytime rhythm, which is fine, as it's a sunny day and I need to go to the grocery store...

BUT, I can't go to the grocery store yet, as we're empty of cargo and sitting high out of the water, AND it's a spring high tide. I learned this a little while ago when I got prettied up and attempted to slide our longest boarding ladder down to the dock. Didn't quite make it.
So, while there is an easy solution (wait for the tide to drop), I also became instantly aware of how cut off I am from the knowledge of local conditions, and also I suddenly realize that I have failed to give a rat's ass about the tide, wind direction and sea state for the past few months... and I view this as a bad thing.

I tell everyone that I grew up on a fishing boat, and this is truth. From the time I was seven, I never wanted to do anything but catch lobsters. I certainly didn't want to be a seven-year old kid. I wanted to be an adult, right fucking quick.
The old timer indulged me. He treated me like a mini-adult when we were out fishing. I had responsibilities, and a salary. I was a gorilla by the time I was 12. Six feet tall, 200 lbs. I wanted to be strong enough to fish like a grown-up, so I fished, when there was fishing, and grew up.
The thing is, I have a character defect. Well, I have more than one, but the one I'm talking about is that I define myself by my productivity, which leads me to identify and assign self-worth based on what I do. I was a very, very junior marine biologist, so I became all about that, but identified myself as an out-of-place lobsterman, when, in fact, I was just a kid from the suburbs who worked part-time on a lobster boat. I had to half-lose my marbles and abandon my whole life and semi-academic lifestyle before I could really call myself a lobsterman. So, one day I did just that.
When I really, really went all in on fishing for a living, I asked a lot of questions and really got into the lifestyle. My education allowed me to dabble in the policy side of fishing, but I really just enjoyed the catching of lobsters, just like I did when I was seven. With the Notorious B.O.B., being a fisherman truly became part of my nature. I no longer had to struggle to consult the tide chart, could discuss local conditions, and didn't have to think twice before checking the weather. Knowing what was looming over the horizon to make or ruin our days became a ritual- I would no more debate about checking the weather than I would think about whether or not to use toilet paper... it was just something that was done in the morning before I started my day.
When the B.O.B. made me captain, I really struggled- business had been bad, and our arrangement led me to give my paycheck (and his) for bait, fuel and pay for Grateful Dead, my pothead deckhand. My favorite days, however, were the frequent days when The Dead would forget to show up for work, because I could go catch lobster alone. And in that time, I finally got to completely let myself get into a rhythm and consonance with my environment that bordered on a religious trance... though there was much cursing, throwing of things and fury, too. And that's part of being a sailor as much as anything.

So, all of a sudden today, when I realized that I had no idea that it was high tide when I got up, I understood much more the terrible complacency that can come with losing touch with one's environment. I feel very much the loss of that unconscious rhythm.

You know, I feel like the professional ordinary seamen I used to run down when I was on a ship... you know, the guys who are content to be a strong back and take direction without ever really educating themselves on their floating environment and home. Well, my complacent ass has learned 10 times more about cargo handling and safety since I made the switch from ships to barges, but I am no longer situationally aware of what's going on beyond my hull.
I allowed institutional laziness to place blinders on me, focusing me only on what's in front of my face... that tendency to define myself by what I'm doing? In order to maintain my self-worth, I have to regain some of what I lost. And the strange part is that it will have to be WORK to do this. It is not my nature just now to be in sync with the natural world. I need to get that back.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stabbing Southward

This terrible economy is doing wonders for my commute to work.

One year ago it took me 6 hrs and 45 minutes to drive the 350-odd miles between home and work. I'm averaging 6 hours these days. I blame the light truck traffic coming and going from New York City, which some jerk put squarely in my path between the Ant Farm and the 24/7 dumpster fire that is Philadelphia.

Anyhow, the journey wasn't pregamed by awesomeness, for certain. I got to listen to Brazilian soap operas coming from my brother-in-law's place (he's got surround sound, I have thin walls... you know, tomato, to-mah-to) while I was trying to sleep, which meant that I only managed about an hour's rest before making the drive south. Thanks to sugary caffeine-bomb energy drinks, I made it to work without incident, levitating an even 3 inches or so off the seat for the majority of the ride from the 5lbs of sugar shoehorned into 12 ounces of eye- searing green water in each can.
I'm not sure exactly how much meth they put into each of those drinks, but I can tell you for certain that I was itching all over and had the distinct urge to rob a bank after drinking three of those cans. I couldn't breathe, but baby, I could fly. And kill.
I made it through New York so quickly that I was worried.
Something that I forgot to mention: I cleaned my truck out before I left.
Now that winter is for the most part passed on, I was able to remove the 3/4 of a ton of sand bags that I put in my truck back before Christmas. The extra weight from the sand makes my truck ride nicely over hard-packed snow. Plus, the reduced fuel economy helps spur demand for gasoline in my area.
No, in all reality, I double my gas mileage when I take the weight out of the truck. I got rid of the sand, the wooden rack that keeps my sand bags in place, and about 200 lbs of old leaves, soda cans and what I'm pretty sure was once half of a seagull.
Damn seagulls, getting into the bed of my truck and dying there.
So, yeah, my truck was feeling the weight loss. She rocketed.
Probably the most ridiculous thing about the voyage is how much time I save by not driving down the northeast corridor during daylight. My daylight ride home at the end of a month-long voyage is horrific. I might lose 2 hours in the 10-mile stretch of rt. 95 that cuts through the heart of New York, and Connecticut...
Well, Connecticut makes me want to euthanize myself. It's a featureless 2-hr drive through vaguely outer urban/suburban areas, and perpetually full of traffic-stopping construction that never actually gets finished. I wish, I wish Connecticut was a suburb of Chernobyl instead of being an annex of New York City.
The highlight of my ride, as always, is the ridiculous mix of 80's and 90's hard rock and heavy metal music that I always program in to keep me company. I usually prefer country or classical music when I drive, but the long-ass overnight commute requires Kiss and Ozzy Osborne to keep me company.
I watched an alarmingly-colored sunrise over the River Styx/Delaware River while waiting for a tugboat to pick me up and ferry me across the way to my barge, which was just starting to discharge the first of three cargo jobs aboard. I promptly made my bed and passed out into it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

stuff and stuff

Approaching the downhill side of my vacation, and it's been busy. I've been running about like a one-armed paperhanger for sure.

As always, things are happening. Highlights and lowlights so far.

1) My protracted battle with the North Korea of New England (The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to everyone else) came to an abrupt and conclusive end. Rather than send me a bill telling me that after rechecking the numbers (at my request 2 months ago), I owed $1500 more on my taxes from two years ago, they just took the money directly from my checking account.
It seems logical that either your bank or your government would tell you before the state takes money directly from you without either a court order or some sort of notification.
Well, rather than sour grapes, I got to pass the buck. "Honey? Remember that car I don't want to buy you next weekend? Guess what?

In what I swear is a completely unrelated coincidence, my wife now hates the Massachusetts government, too.

I call that one a wash. I did my civic duty, completely unintentionally, of course, and I can avoid a big-ass car payment for another month or two.

2) Some dick steals the side-view mirror off of my truck.

That really happened. It cost almost nothing to replace (they left the frame doohickey, merely popping out the mirror from the assembly), but still... I'm on the lookout for other Dodge Rams here at the Ant Farm. Everyone is suspect.

3). St. Patrick's day- was spent cleaning junk from my mom's basement, which got flooded after the record rains here last weekend. Luckily, I celebrated so thoroughly the first three days while it was actually raining that I was completely uninterested in anything to do with alcohol or any activity involving food or drink.

4). Something positive- my niece asked me to teach her to drive. Considering that this young lady has no one to guide her into a career or other intellectual interests, and no one to be a cheerleader as she develops her own already-considerable talents with the English language, teaching her to drive ought to be easy.

5). rampant guilt. I fussed at one of my brothers, who's in recovery from a nasty addiction. I complained about my sister's sleeping habits, after she spent an overnight pumping out my mother's basement before collapsing just prior to my showing up to finish the job. And then I go 100% completely sick-dog on a woman in a car, like get-out-of-the-truck-sprint-at-her-car and point fingers and yell, because she made me slam on the brakes and go up on the sidewalk rather than go all monster-truck on her while my wife and kid were in my truck.

6). come to think at it, the idiot in #5 is lucky at having just been yelled at. Had their been anyone on the sidewalk, I would have happily plowed her Prius under, probably killing her and putting myself in 20 years of psychotherapy in the process.

So, storm aside, I call it a wash.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

this just in,,,

This guy makes me smile. He believes in people, is job-oriented, and doesn't ever, EVER let his personal life mix with his job.


Much like a belated "Yesterday you were ovulating, Trudy!" message, I missed a seminal date by a mere 24 hours...

Yesterday was the Ides Of March... No, I'm not telling you I missed the thrice-yearly feast of Mars, the god of war, I'm telling you that I missed the anniversary of a couple of politicians stabbing the bejaysus out of their buddy4life, Gauis Julius Caesar.

Anyone want to bet that Pres. Obama's crew keeps a special eye on Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton this weekendMuch like a belated "Yesterday you were ovulating, Trudy!" message, I missed a seminal date by a mere 24 hours...

Yesterday was the Ides Of March... No, I'm not telling you I missed the thrice-yearly feast of Mars, the god of war, I'm telling you that I missed the anniversary of a couple of politicians stabbing the bejaysus out of their buddy4life, Gauis Julius Caesar.

Anyone want to bet that Pres. Obama's crew keeps an eye on Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton this weekendMuch like a belated "Yesterday you were ovulating, Trudy!" message, I missed a seminal date by a mere 24 hours...

Yesterday was the Ides Of March... No, I'm not telling you I missed the thrice-yearly feast of Mars, the god of war, I'm telling you that I missed the anniversary of a couple of politicians stabbing the bejaysus out of their buddy4life, Gauis Julius Caesar.

I bet that Pres. Obama's crew keeps an eye on Hillary Clinton and Joe biden this weekend.

boats and boating and boatbuilding

Color me wrong about surviving the Spring Flood of 2010 with minimal fuss.

My older sister being present at the time, I maintained a stoic demeanor when I found the blueprints for my skiff moldering in the corner of Ma's basement.

To wit:

I built some beautiful little skiffs from plans purchased from an online designer. I built and demo'd one, then built and sold another, then built and sold a matched pair before losing my shop to a brother's ridiculous purchase of an overpriced high-performance vintage muscle car a few years ago. To make a long story short, one of my brothers had his midlife crisis 20 years early and bought a 600hp 70's cock rocket, then parked said cock rocket in the middle of my lofting space, never to move again, to this date.

Anyhow, no more skiffs, and now, really no more skiffs, as blueprints aren't water-soluble.

So, without too much fuss beyond my internal turmoil and some acid-reflux, I threw away my skiff plans, and also a bunch of crapola. I am the youngest son of a long line of packrats.

Tomorrow's a long day. While I had originally hoped to buy a kayak tomorrow for myself, I instead got to pay some unexpected dental bills for my family today, which is almost as good, except, of course, for me, the only guy with good teeth who is now distinctly kayakless for another year, but is paying for the dentist to send his kid to Harvard. So seeing as my original plans are already smoked, I will work on filling up a dumpster with 40 years of Christmas ornaments, paintings, old unused books, couches, chairs and such.

Should be awful. I'm packing my hip flask, and filling it with some 20-year old single malt. If I'm going to wallow in the wet crap my family didn't need but couldn't bear to part with, I'm going to do it stinking of wet basement AND expensive scotch, dammit.

Hell, it's not like I'll get to go out in the damn kayak I can't buy, anyhow.

up at the crack of 9am

No, I actually woke up at a reasonable 7am today, to the pleasant sound of no rain or wind lashing against my bedroom windows. Silence being a tad unusual, it actually woke me up, I think.

My home range is sodden. We had record rainfall, supposedly (I don't think it was that bad south of Boston. I actually remember it being worse in the Perfect Storm... at least I didn't see anyone's boats float off their trailer in back yards and driveways this time). Anyhow, my mother's house is something of a disaster, so my vacation time ends in about 30 minutes, when I head out the door to start overseeing the pump-out of the basement and arrival of the dumpster and such that is going to preceed the removal of at least 2-3 tons of wet ruined knicknacks down there.

I'm pretty sure that I contributed a wetsuit and maybe some diving boots to that mess, although I'm pretty sure that they'll come through some wet weather pretty well. Just a hunch.

Monday, March 15, 2010

tough love

So my mom's house has a flooded basement.

record or not, this is a 10-year storm, in my eyes. I certainly remember worse.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

So I met up with a bunch of old friends today, most notably the Notorious BOB. So, now, it's over, it's been several hours, and I am, strictly speaking, drunk off my ass. God almighty, it's like i never quit fishing. So much fun.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

last job...

yours truly, 6 months and 20 pounds ago.

Always happens. The last job gets screwed up. 30 minutes from topping off a modestly sized load of oil, the refiner calls and says they accidentally injected a slug of oil slurry into my cargo, and I have to pump it all back.

OK, so's I swing the valves that allows me ter switch-out, like, from load ter discharge, fires up me' prime movers, and start pushing oil at 100PSI back to the shore tanks. I pump cargo 'like a mad bastid' as we says at home.

And then I wait. And wait. Hopefully not too much longer, as there's a thirsty ship waiting, and my relief will be here tonight after that, so's I can go home and maybe say good morning to the Mrs. tomorrow.
The last job's always a bitch.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

times are tough

So, one of my acquaintances slash sort-of-friends from back in the college days works as a legbreaker in South Boston for the Irish mob. I guess you could call him a bill collector if you are feeling squeamish. To be fair, he wasn't a professional punisher when we first became friends, and it's not something that we talk about, really. We mostly talked about Irish history (he was a serious history buff) and bemoaned the slow pace of peace talks between Sinn Fein and the UK government, and how Margaret Thatcher needed to get out of office before there could be an end to violence (which turned out to be 100% correct!). Anyhow, it was more interesting than your usual bar conversation, so we ended up being drinking buddies for a while.
Anyhow, those days are long gone, but when we do talk now, a couple of times a year at most, it's just to make plans to meet for a drink and lament what needs lamenting.
So when I called last night to make plans to meet up for a pint and watch a soccer game on TV, we chitchatted, and he tells me that this economy 'is killing him.'
Apparently, the 'independent loan industry' is way down this quarter. People are reigning in spending, even illegal spending, apparently. Apparently, from what I gather, the only business out there for loan sharks is in the construction trades- keeping businesses afloat while waiting for customers to pay their bills.

So, maybe Chairman Obama is telling people to celebrate this week because unemployment rates didn't go up, but from the man on the street's perspective, times are still tough.

Oh, and my friend of sorts also tells me that it's no longer quite so easy to obtain an illegal loan, too. Even the loan sharks are denying credit these days. Small businesspeople, sure, but the unemployed get nothing. Apparently it's not worth working up a sweat by beating on someone if there's just no money in it.

What a world. Sometimes I feel like such an innocent. I can't even break the speed limit without getting guilt.

Friday, March 5, 2010

feeling kind of small...

We're bunkering a VLCC. I feel wicked small. Very nice crew, which is always nice. The engineer on watch insisted that we get on a first name basis, and I was invited to the officer's mess for a drink. Sadly, I declined. GD Alaska, jumping in front of someone's damn tanker.
Anyhow, drinkless and everything, it's a beautiful sunny day. I'm sort of waiting for some kind of other shoe to drop, like the toilet seat catching fire or something. Don't know what's making me glum. Could be the channel fever. I've got it wicked bad. See? I'm even starting to write like we talk at home. Anyhow, 5 more days, then a wicked hahd ride home through NY, but I'll be home.

It'll be pissa.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

no arguments!

I just got to use a wonderful quote from

For those of you not in the know, Shit My Dad Says is a project started by ad adult male who lives with his cantankerous, elderly father. It has since taken wing, and is full of crude and often witty hyperbole-disguised-as-homespun wisdom. My favorite kind.

Anyhow, I posted a quote on another forum that is credited to Jay Leno, where he lists all the natural disasters and calamities of the past year, then asks the crowd if anyone else feels like it was a bad time to debate taking the words "under God" out of the American Pledge of Allegiance.

It was supposed to be funny, but of course, got hijacked by atheists. So be it.

Anyhow, rather than being an adult and fomenting debate, I shut that door with gusto, and put in a great little quote from shitmydadsays. "Yeah, Democracy is wonderful... until it fucks you."

And there's the rub. Our admittedly-close-to-mob-rule form of government is just fine, but when people don't agree with the law of the land, it's viewed as injustice, or tyranny, when personal views run contrary to the collective will of the citizenry. Whether it's atheists, gun-control nuts, abortion enthusiasts, whatever, I find that people with liberal agendas get all pissy when they're on the shit end of the stick, while conservatives seem to be more dignified, if self-righteous. I can't stand some of the laws that exist here in the US, but by God, (so to speak), when my view runs contrary, I don't cry conspiracy.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

the troof

Bowsprite hit this one out of the park. For a moment there, last night, I was living someone else's vision, and that vision was darkly hilarious.

To wit:

If you're a mariner in the northeast, and you poke around on teh interwebz, you'll come across Bowsprite or someone's reference to Bowsprite. There are only so many artists who focus on the maritime world here in the industrialized portion of the northeast, and Bowsprite works in watercolors, which I have a particular fondness for.

Now, I've seen this drawing for a few days, but late, late last ni... well, early this morning, I guess, when we were casting off from alongside a rusting Russian reefer ship, the fuckers dumped my bowline in the drink.

For my friends at home (hi Ma! sorry about the f-bomb), when we mate up a bunker barge and a ship, the hawsers preferably run in a predictable pattern. On the bow, a bowline runs from the outboard side of the bunker barge to a point well forward on the ship. This prevents the barge from sliding aft AND keeps the bow snug against the hull of the ship. Same thing on the stern.

When the job is done, and it's time to move on, the deckhands on the ship cast off out hawsers one at a time, and, for the most part, throw the eye (the end of the hawser) onto the deck of the barge. This prevents the bargemen from having to drag a heavy wet, and often cold rope out of the water, and is the polite custom. The thing is, for the most part, people don't just drop your hawsers in the water, but, for some reason, many foreign ships take great pleasure in throwing off the bowline into the water. This is shitty for several reasons- one, it is often the last line connecting the barge to the ship, and therefore should be removed only with the captain of the tug's say-so. Second, a polite sailor will wait for the tug to push the barge under the chock on the ship, so the upwards-to-half-a-cable (anywhere up to 300 feet, in theory) of heavy-ass hawser can be taken up slowly on board without too much fuss, and then the eye can be thrown on deck, waves and wishes for a safe voyage passed, and life goes on.

OR, the deckhand rushes forward and flings the eye in the water, and there is now a couple of hundred feet of hawser to pull out of the water before it drifts under the barge. This results in scrambling and cursing and wet, numb hands and legs, and maybe I give someone the finger, and that's not nice at all.

Anyhow, Bowsprite has captured that dismay forever, and everyone is cracking up when they come aboard and I show it to them.