Sunday, June 27, 2010

The cheese stands alone

If you read 'Manu's Scripts,' which is available in the sidebar, you'll see some well thought out musings from one very frustrated master mariner. His most recent editorial deals with the interplay of mariner supply and developmental infrastructure in the international trades- specifically, the changing roles of India and the Philippines in sending mariners to sea.
It seems that among most of the world, there has been a heavy demand for Indian officers and Filipino ratings. This reflects the job and training availabilities in both nations- only in the last few years, the Philippines has begun fielding officers at an increasing rate, and Filipino interests are investing in the infrastructure necessary to train and field officers... in the meanwhile, India's development of the HR portion of the trades has tailed off... and it seems that there is a visible withering on the vines of quality personnel...

Anyhow, I'm certainly not experienced in the matter. I know what I read... but I also know what I see.
It's no surprise that my experience reflects that seafarer quality is reflected in the ship and in the pay. You get what you pay for, and, with a shiny new $50,000,000 Korean-built product carrier, one might expect to see a higher calibre engineering department, than, say, in a 250-foot, 50 year old steam-powered fruit boat bought for $300,000 at auction in Haiti.

There's always going to be variation among the individuals, but I've recently had my assumptions challenged in other ways- I've been dealing with a lot of tankers recently, as far as bunkering goes, and I'm seeing some VERY well trained and professionally-behaving officers from both the Phillipines AND India. I've always assumed that with our national and multiple state maritime academies cranking out officers, as well as the most bloated and nepotistic maritime union in the world (The Seafarers International Union), that the US has the most professional mariners out there. We certainly throw a lot of training funds around. The SIU, especially, has many training opportunities available for their members; this makes sense- the 'family' management knows that they have to be in the right place at the right time to preserve jobs, and that means being good at what they do. Luckily, the SIU has always had a close association with another 'organization' that knows how to protect their investments, whether by providing members with lifelong security, or matching the right kneecaps with the right baseball bat.

The Filipino sailors that I'm encountering are really, really good at what they do, at least as it applies to my job. The officers, regardless of where they're from, are either good or bad, and the logo on the stack of the ship usually tells me all I need to know.

Anyhow, my assumptions seem to be off- the American deepwater mariner is becoming an anachronism, and that's a shame. The problems that have plagued our officer ranks (declining pay scale, decreasing job security, massive opportunity costs) are now plaguing the Indian fleet, and it will almost certainly be easy to economically model the progression of the officer supply and quality problem in India based on the American experience. Likewise, it should be possible to predict the expansion and development of the Filipino officer corps, based on the historical American decline and concurrent Indian boom.

Now, I've had more than one (Indian and American both) officer tell me sotto voce that Filipinos don't make good officers. There are culture-based behaviors that aren't conducive to 'occifering' (sarcasm mine) a ship. I call BS on this for multiple reasons. First off, having an Indian officer say this shocked me, because the reasoning smelled a lot like something British out of the days of the Raj. I'm pretty sure that something similar was said about the Sepoys. And, hearing this from an American voice, I can't help but think of how the Irish in Boston once couldn't get a job that didn't require standing dong-deep in a ditch because of their incurable ignorance and Papism.

Anyhow, as it turns out, while I'm still full of assumptions, forming predictive models of the economic impact of changes in the labor force is one of the few things I can actually do on a professional level... at least, I used to be able to do that. Once upon a time, I used to be pretty good at sitting up in front of a crowd and speaking on the subject... but, it's been a while.
I could be talking out my ass. As one tug captain pointed out recently, I should almost certainly 'shut up and be a floating pump jockey." Still, just because I see trouble on the horizon but aren't in a position to help, it doesn't mean that I have to like it.

I've got to say...

My new generator kicks bubblegum and chews ass. Twice the power, 1/3 the size, half the noise, and, this is no BS, the generator house is cooler than ambient temp. Usually it's a 100% shit show in there this time of year. Now, next year when Old Yeller (the other genset) reaches 15,000 hours, she'll be heading out behind the barn instead of going to the vet's office... you know, pistols for two, breakfast for one after?

Pay no attention to the less-than pristine coloration of the louvers. This winter when it's assy outside, they'll be getting a gloss coat of white. I'm a dick like that. I hate dirty fingerprints, so everything gets painted white. No hiding.

Friday, June 25, 2010

This is bad, bad bad.

Senator John McCain Pushes to Repeal the Jones Act


Like we say it home "It's the summa!" We've been in the middle of a heat wave here at work- nothing like you'll read about elsewhere, but still, it's hot. And slow!
Running a bunker barge is a service job. I'm not that different from the home heating oil delivery truck. In the summertime, there's still work to be done, but business slows down.
The Port of Philadelphia is a pretty busy place. The majority of the maritime traffic comes from fruit and refrigerated cargo, though, and the summertime sees a sea change in the infrastructure. From what I can tell between observing ship traffic and watching rail traffic wherever I may be, rail traffic perks right up as shipping traffic slows in the summer. This makes sense to me- perishables from the square states to our west are starting to produce. Oh, the cocoa bean trade seems to be humming right along- I don't think there's a busy season for chocolate, and Hershey, PA is only a short train ride from here, so the floating hoopties are still rolling in, looking for the most part like a floating trailer park, and smelling distinctly of feet and ass, which is the signature scent of cocoa beans.
So, with business slowing down, it's a great time for maintenance and beautification. Anyone who knows me from work knows that I have a deep affection for freshly painted steel. I'm a big fan of sitting on a boat or barge that looks good. My view is that since we go to the effort to keep everything working 100% all the time, we might as well look the part.
In the last week we've really sunk some serious cake into this tub. A new generator (Tier II compliant!), some new valves deep in our black oil tanks (along with much cursing and hand gestures to go with the black-oil footprints all over my formerly pristine cargo deck), and new winches on one of my cargo booms. It's unnerving, to me, that we can't start immediately earning mad money to pay for out new goodies, courtesy of the season, but they're there, anyhow.

Next week will see a big change here in the Hawsepiper afloat HQ. I'm getting a new crewman, to replace Scotty Doesn't Know, my last tankerman. ManRay was on here when I first came aboard to familiarize myself with this place last summer. I replaced him as tankerman, briefly, before getting kicked up the ladder, and he transferred to another barge. He's coming back now- I'm not too proud to beg, and he and I became friends before he left last summer, so he agreed to come back. It's been a long time since I worked with anyone but Grumpy, so I'm looking forward to being able to have a conversation.

Monday, June 21, 2010

one more thing I hate about Philadelphia...

...if I wanted sneakers, a check cashed, a lap dance, a bong, (excuse me, smoking paraphernalia), or plates for my car, I can walk or drive to a hundred different places within 1 mile of where I'm sitting...
...but I have to drive 6 miles and pay $16 for 1 hour of parking to go the nearest bookstore.

"I hate this place!"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bitch, please.

Oh Noes! The CEO of BP attended a boat race with his family!!!!! On a Sunday!!!!!

OK, granted, Yahoo news isn't exactly the BBC. It's still not supposed to be 3 steps below the National Enquirer.

Apparently, the head of BP is expected to spend 24/7 in a windowless room wearing sackcloth and ashes until this oil spill is ended. "People" (OK, one person who may not actually care, but was willing to be quoted by Yahoo news, who employs dogs and cats as their focus group attendees) are horrified that the CEO went to see his boat race. With his family. HOW DARE HE! He's the one who insisted that the Blow-Out-Preventer be put in place even though it... ah, I mean, he's the one who insisted that the well casing not be given adequate time to... ah, in a blur of intravenous drug use and unprotected sex, while taking the Lord's Name in Vain, he...

was the president of BP. He must be punished.

Like the brits say, "Fuck Off!" This is like blaming your pediatrician for seeing his child's school play, even though his secretary lost her job for killing someone while drunk driving.

Meanwhile, St. Barrack Obama enjoyed his regularly scheduled golf game today with noted mongoloid Joe Biden. The Presidential Biweekly Circle Jerk was followed by an obligatory visit to the 19th hole, of course, (and no, I'm not talking about the First Lady) where they probably threw 21 orphan babies into a furnace to appease Molach, their evil god.

OK, I'm pissed. I hate seeing stupid people being stupid being given media attention. This sort of bullshit is something that the dinosaur media would do. Now we see a sad artifact of mass media: dumbing down of 'news.'
I was a fisherman. I think of myself as a fisherman. I feel so horrible for the people who are being hurt by this. But I have a question: During the Exxon Valdez cleanup, why was no one scandalized when the CEO of Exxon took a long weekend during the spill phase, so he could spend some time with his family? What was he supposed to do, commit suicide?

People want someone to blame. Do we blame President Obama when a muslim military officer goes nuts and opens fire in his office? No we don't. Even though Obama is the Chief of the US military. The CEO. Hell, Obama was busy having his balls washed on the green by the media whores while Americans are suffering in the Gulf. He was taking time off from not managing two wars and the worst environmental disaster in living memory, and the press was there to tell us how handsome he looked.

Fuck, I wish I could order mandatory euthanasia for all media whores.

PS. Sorry about the bad words. I'm pissed. No one show this to my mom, K?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ridin' the WAHmbulance

Well, I'm back at work. Once again I left the serenity of my climate-controlled bedroom to return to my little steel floating box for another 4 weeks of adventure and hijinks.
You know, I just really got the atmosphere in my bedroom to idyllic proportions, too. Cool air, warm wife. You know that wonderful, peace-inducing scent that comes when you've fallen asleep with your nose buried in your wife's hair, just above her neck? Shampoo, warm sleeping woman, and maybe just a touch of her perfume?

Yeah, I miss that.

Anyhow, it was a pretty easy transit from The Ant Farm to my little metal box. I woke up just before 1am, and while I was in the shower, my wife packed a night lunch for me. This seems to be becoming one of our traditions. Once I'm up and coffeed and energy-drinked to the gills, we both stop into my boy's room so I can check on him one last time.
It's a nice, peaceful way to be sent off to drive to work. I think I have to talk to my wife about not looking so damn good when I leave. I need her to wear curlers and a muumuu or something. It makes it that much harder to say goodbye when she's looking all exotic and distinctly not dowdy.
Anyhow, once I'm rolling in the truck, I start mainlining energy drinks and the 80's and 90's heavy metal music starts. There ain't no one feeling sleepy when Ozzy Osbourne's 'Crazy Train' is cranked to 11.
The ride from My part of Massachusetts to the Rhode Island border is pretty quick. I can drive through Rhode Island and be in Connecticut pretty fast, too. 90 minutes from door to the CT border during the overnight. It's the Connecticut drive that kills me.

By the time I'm halfway through Connecticut on Rt. 95 (the main highway running down the eastern seaboard of the US), It's now at least 3 AM, and it's just me and some long-haul trucks. By now my ears are bleeding from the music, and I've got soothing country or some Irish music on, as the caffeine and sugar from my drinks threatens to make me explode.
Something about Connecticut: they're always digging up and repaving the roads, and they don't know how to do this one lane at a time. Always in Connecticut, I'll be going from 70 mph to 0 on one of their fine 3-lane highway portions, just because there's a project being done in the breakdown lane on one side of the road. For some reason, only in Connecticut, they need 3 lanes of traffic to be closed to work on one lane. This means traffic stops. The good news is that it's 3am, and there's almost no traffic, so even stop and go traffic only takes 5 minutes, but still...
I'm pretty sure that they don't actually finish any of these projects. They just dig holes, then fill them in and pave them, then dig them up again.
So, while I'm entertaining myself with fantasies of stepping out of my truck with a brace of grenades and a clean conscience, I try to take notice to see the difference in the price of gasoline between CT and NJ, which will be the next place, God willing, where I'll be stopping the car. There's usually between a 45-50 cent price difference per gallon, which makes me wonder just how much of that gasoline tax in CT is taken up by the highway department playing tonka trucks on 95.
Anyhow, rather than be tempted to go inside a rest stop in CT and buy a $10 Mcdonald's diarrhea-inducing combo meal, I tend to pee on my back tire in the comfort of a dark parking lot and eat some fruit or a granola bar. So it goes when one is a late 30's fat guy trying to eat healthy. It ain't easy, is all I'm saying.

Anyhow, New York is really for me the crossing of my own Rubicon. Much like sex with Kobe Bryant, no matter whether or not you want it, it's going to happen.

I've had good luck traveling southbound through New York. Coming home, I always lose between 1-3 hours no matter what I do. Going to work, however, is usually done fairly smoothly... it's just when things aren't so smooth that make me want to seek out a tall building and a grassy knoll.
New Jersey is home to a fairly efficient highway system, which is good, as close to New York, New Jersey is merely the Cloaca Maxima for the fabled city. At the rest area, I can fill the 35-gallon tank of my truck, and have a nice cry over the bill, perhaps have a pee, and it's lunch time. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife makes a mean night lunch. Usually it's a mix of leftovers and new stuff, whatever, it's good. By this time, it's starting to get light in the east, or maybe that's a trash fire, but whatever, traffic is picking up. Every now and again I get caught in front or behind a convoy of oversized cargo-carrying tractor trailers, and I have to boogie to stay ahead, or have to eat a leisurely lunch to ensure that I don't get caught behind the 35-mph convoy at one of the intersections where truck and car traffic come together. Either way, I tend to keep a weather eye open while I'm scarfing down lunch.
To celebrate my successful transit through New York City, I tend to shotgun a 16-oz monster energy drink, which makes me howl at the moon, foam at the mouth, and, I'm pretty sure, gives me the ability to fly and kill with my mind powers alone. Whatever it is, I drive through New Jersey and vibrate like a meth addict on check day. This is fun.
The rest of the ride is a lot like driving in the highways that cut through Boston Suburbs, pretty much at the same time of day. Traffic is heavy but moving well, periodically someone will cut you off and slam on their brakes, and then I'm off the highway and cutting through the industrial area of Philadelphia, which might be mistaken for Iraq's better bombed-out suburbs. From here it's just a short ride to one of the places where I'll either meet a boat to take me out to wherever my metal box is moored, or, if I'm lucky, I can pull up alongside the boarding ladder and throw rocks, bullet casings or dead cats (whichever is closest to hand) at the side of the House, so my relief will gently wake up to the sound of a bell gonging 6 inches from his ear, and know it's time to go home.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

ch ch cha changes...

I went by my old laboratory today.

The building that houses my old basement laboratory now sits mostly idle. There is ample parking available- a far cry from 12 years ago, when I bought a motorcycle specifically so I could get to work on something other than a bicycle. I was an environmentalist of sorts, but one that liked to be able to do 140 on the way to work.
The Fam and I went to High Anus, Massachusetts (OK, it's spelled 'Hyannis') where we went to an unbelievable Brazilian restaurant called the Brazilian Grille, and I made sure that there was no question as to whether or not my wife was driving. Two very powerful Caiperinhas (Take a pint glass, slice and crush a lime into it, add 2tsp of sugar, and fill to the top with Cachaca (high octane Brazilian White Lightning)) later, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife appropriated the keys, and yours truly settled in and enjoyed the ridiculous parade of meats that came my way.

If you haven't eaten at a Brazilian Churrasco (slow cooked BBQ) restaurant, you're in for a treat.

Friday, June 11, 2010


So, while the Mrs. and I were celebrating our 2nd anniversary, my dad ended up back at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston for a record-busing fourth round of heart 'procedures' to tweak the performance of what's left of his heart. This was a very unscheduled visit, but he returned home just last night, which I view as a sign of good things.

Anyhow, after his last round of surgery was delayed by about 6 hours, I ended up being the only one to be there when he was able to receive visitors. What amazes me is that he ended up 100% coherent and alert only 30 minutes after waking up. I suppose that's the sign of a hell of an anesthesiologist at work.
We talked of this and that, and, of course, we discussed my 2nd anniversary, as well as my folks' upcoming 49th. At the end of the visit, I headed home to the welcome of my family, where my wife had a fairly hefty glass of scotch and ice waiting for me.
The next morning, I drove down the coast a ways to the welding shop of my old roommate Johnny Sparks. Johnny's boat is now a ripe antique of 28 years, and in excellent shape, with the exception of some panels of the after deck, which has gone spongy with years of water having intruded into the core of the fiberglass. Johnny had pried up the worst panel of the deck, and transported the panel to the shop.
Johnny and I share a common work ethic. Once we settle in, we start to work hard and fast. I haven't spent 8 hours with John since we lived together back when I was dating Inappropriately Hot Foreign Girlfriend, and I had forgotten how enjoyable it could be. Working in a well-equipped welding and metal fabrication shop meant that every tool conceivable was available at arm's length. Working together with chisels, mallets and prybars, Johnny and I pried out all the rotten fiberglass and plywood coring of the deck panel, ground the panel down to bare fiberglass (making it nothing more than a flexible shell about 1/8 of an inch thick, and fragile as glass, then Johnny stepped back and I went to town.

John invited me to help him out, but I'm no pro, and I'm certainly not at John's level when it comes to building anything. I've built a couple of little boats, and I've repaired some boats as well, which has made me comfortable with fiberglass. John and I settled on a core for the panel which we split down the middle, to allow the panel to flex a little (thin fiberglass can flex to 3-7 degrees of inflection before it fractures, so the 'give' has to be right- too much and it will age and grow brittle- too little and it will shatter under impact stress). I then bedded the core against the
panel with a glue made up of polyester resin and a thickening agent, bonding the two, and, after an hour's wait (lunch), the two were bonded solidly. After that, we layered fiberglass matting and woven fiberglass strands over the core, sealing it and stiffening it. At the end of the day, the end result was as pretty a thing as my craft can produce.
I had forgotten that I'm actually pretty good at that. People get turned off by the chemical stink and the pain in the ass of working with woven glass fiber, but with practice, it's actually pretty neat work.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

das ist gud, yah

So, about halfway through my vacation period, and things are good. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I celebrated our 2nd Anniversary in style, spending the night at a swank hotel in Boston, dinner at the most ridiculously expensive restaurant in the city, and a beautiful night overall.

Creme brulee is waaaaaaay better than cake, anyday.

I've got to give a great attaboy to the folks at the Lenox Hotel who really went the extra mile to help me make a memorable weekend for the Mrs. and I. I'm not going to share too much, for once, but the concierge really, really went out of his way to make for a fantastic experience.

The Top of the Hub is probably Boston's most famous restaurant. It's located at the top of the tallest building in the city. Very nice place. Luxurious, certainly... and again, they went out of their way to make my wife happy- she was absolutely radiant, anyhow, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

One of the best parts of the night, for me, was that I got to see my wife tipsy for the first time, ever. After-dinner drinks got to her... My wife is NOT a drinker. The bar made me a variant of my favorite cocktail, Caiperinha, which was excellent. My wife asked for a sweet martini, something to surprise her, and apparently they did an excellent job.

Anyhow, one more week to enjoy before heading back to work.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

pack it up, pack it in...

Well, since half of my last post went into the land of wind and ghosts some time after I hit the 'publish button' I'm a little stumped. It's too bad, too, as the lost paragraphs were among the funniest I've ever written, and deeply insightful, and, dare I say it, genius.

...either that or it was more poop and fart humor.