Saturday, July 10, 2010

winding down

With only 4 days to go to the end of this tour, I'm starting to get antsy. To recap: It's hot, it's sunny, and we've had a spate of not-so-easy jobs of late... or so it felt until last night, anyhow.
Last night I discharged a tiny sip of bunkers to a pretty little Chinese asphalt tanker. The ship was only about 30 feet longer than my bunker barge.
I'll say this: The Chinese know how to build a ship with easy bunkering in mind. The bunker port was midships, though not in the cargo manifold area on their deck... the bunkering port had a separate area of its' own, behind a heavy rail that was ideal for propping up the fuel transfer hose.
Here's how it went: we arrived at the ship, came alongside, idled forward into the current (the ship was at anchor) until I figured out where to place the barge to best allow for my hose to be passed to the ship. Then we came forward another 15 feet. The deckhand and I passed two lines to the ship- the ship had heaving lines ready to throw (!). One line ran aft to a chock in my bow area, the other was led to my offshore side as a breast line. We heaved both lines fairly tight, then I walked back to my manifold area, and called out over the radio that we had to fall back 8 feet. The captain of the tug let her slip into neutral, and the deckhand let the spring line slip until we fell into position. Within a few minutes, we had thrown up 6 lines, and were made fast. The ship had many chocks and ports for mooring alongside- My capstans winched us tight to her hull, and the tug was shut down.
This is where it got downright pleasant for me: The ship was small, and my barge is not, as bunker barges go. Our decks were of a height. I was able to use my short (60-foot) fuel transfer hose to do the job. This is good because the hose weighs less than a ton when empty. I can drag it if I need to. Which I didn't.
I got the end of the hose to the ship in short order. I had wrapped a cargo sling around the flange of the hose, so I had lifted the hose by its' terminal end, and had dropped the flange within a foot or so of the bunker connection, which was about 3 feet above deck level. The crew quickly loosened my sling and slid it about 8 feet aft, then had me lift the sling with my boom. Working quickly, they removed the blind cap from my flange, removed the blind from theirs, and lined up- 2 guys on one side, and one bigger guy on the other. They lifted the end of the hose and slipped a bolt in place. Two of the guys then were dismissed. The third quy slipped the other 7 bolts in place, cranked them down, and we were done. Total time, from when I lifted my hose off the deck until Hose On, was 7 minutes. Has to be a record for me.
Anyhow, this is where the trouble often starts. This is usually the point in time where I discover whether or not someone speaks the same version of English that I do.
Now, in my opinion, this is also where American tankerman make a big mistake- we tend to speak as we normally do, and hope that someone understands. One thing about this ship last night is that I never spoke a word while we we lining up, making fast, and getting the hose on. Internationally-standardized hand signals did the job perfectly.
So, when I went to the rail, it was with a sense of optimism- a ship so well run, and organized as well, would probably have someone on board who could do a very good job with the English language. And the engineer didn't disappoint.
As I said, the ship was of a height with us. The Engineer leaned over the rail, as I did, and we shook hands. I said one of my two chinese words (I can say Hello and Thank you). The engineer, in clear but heavily accented English, asked some questions, I asked mine, and we settled into our pre-bunker conference right there, with none of the usual asking and re-asking of questions that so often has to happen to get everyone on the same page.
Having experienced before the need to pass and exchange subtle information without the concurrent common language usually needed, (from first dating my wife, when neither of us spoke much of each others language), I'd like to think that I'm pretty good at having a valid bunkering conference despite language barriers. All I can say is Thank God that English is the gold standard for maritime exchanges. Learning another language is hard for me, and I've got the largest incentive to do that already, being married to a foreigner. I don't know if I've got it in me to learn another language just to do my job. Intellectual laziness, maybe.

I dropped the bunkering hose onto the containment pan for the bunkering area.

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