Friday, December 31, 2010


While I was ashore the other day, I bought a couple of potato knishes at the local supermarket. My dad was a big fan of knishes, and when I saw them, I thought I'd give 'em a try.
So, when I woke up this evening for watch, I nuked my knishes. They tasted like unsalted mashed potatoes made with water instead of milk. Bland as balls, is what I'm saying.

And now I've got hideous indigestion. Maybe the second or third time in my whole life. This blows.
I went shopping in Brooklyn, fer gossakes, not Tijuana. Meanwhile, my guts feel like the office water cooler looks when everyone's getting their drink on.

Also, happy New Year. I hope New York has fireworks at midnight. I'm spending half my time outside so I don't stink out my galley, anyways. Godamn fancified potatoes.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bad Bunkering: Let us pray (for no mishaps)

Click to embiggnify- photo courtesy of

One of my favorite things to bitch about at work is when ships are built in such a way as to make bunkering operations scary, risky or downright just miserable. My belief is in the design stages of shipbuilding, figuring out how to get fuel in the tanks is either an afterthought or simply a series of compromises where ergonomics and optimization of safety maybe get shoved down a place or three in the list of what needs to go where and why.

Take the above vessel, a multipurpose vessel with RORO, LOLO and container configurations all in one. A versatile workhorse, perhaps, and a thirsty one, at that- a ship like this can carry plenty of fuel for itself.
Now, if you look at the photo, you'll see where I painted a red circle around the bunkering port for this ship. That's where the hose goes when this beast needs fuel. It's pretty high up, and waaaaaaaay in the stern of the ship. Now, look directly underneath the bunkering port- you'll see the turn of the bilge of the ship actually starts quite a ways forward of the bunkering port.

Now, while many places employ bunker tankers that are fair sized boats, and fairly tall themselves, many other ports simply use tugs and barges- in my case, my 30,000 barrel barge was tasked to tie up to a sister vessel of the one in the photo. We were carrying about 25,000 bbl of oil at the time, loaded deep... deep enough that regardless of where we put out our bumpers, the barge was going to fit very neatly under the turn of the bilge if we managed to get into a pickle.
Now, with safety being the number one priority of everyone involved, and an assist tug to make sure we didn't get buried, the largest problem a barge faces in this situation is that a sizable portion of the barge must hang in the stream rather than be snugged up against the hull of the ship, which is what one wants.
What followed was a very long fucking night, to be blunt. We got the barge positioned, after a very methodical and slow series of creeping moves- the tug captain had to keep his engines warm and his hands on the trigger. To top this off, an oddball ship like this one has no mooring points along the flat of the hull- there are recessed chocks here and there, but in order to put out headlines, a half-cable of mooring line has to be stretched up the 70 or so feet to the main deck, and there be shackled to a coaming or other sub-optimal massive structure. Compromises everywhere.
At the end of the night, the ship got her fuel. The tug crew got no rest, for certain, as between the OOW, engineer and deckhands (and myself), we were constantly nudging and heaving in (or slacking) lines. We had to place the barge kitty-corner to the ship to help keep the bow of the barge from getting wedged under the ship's bilge, and this meant tripling the stern lines and tightening them until the lines screamed in order to force the bow out away from the ship. As one of the tug crew said, though, "Of all the shitty jobs I've done, this one is by far the most recent."

So it goes. A few thrills, and maybe some sore buttcheeks what with all the anxious clenching, but we did manage to do the job safely. That being said, had there been wind, had there not been an assist tug, had any one of a dozen small factors been any different, and this job would have been either not possible, or could have resulted in a mishap, and the fault would have been shown to be human error, because while it is possible to rely on luck to keep problems from happening, it's better to simply build smarter... all the same, no one cares if luck was in favor for 49 bunkering jobs, but out for one.
I can't help but think that there are places in the world where the tug captains aren't so careful and experienced, where the deckhands maybe don't have radios to call in every little change in aspect between vessels closely interacting, and where maybe a person in my shoes isn't deathly afraid of going to jail if he pushes his luck in bunkering. Maybe I carry an inflated view of how we conduct ourselves, but it seems like there's got to be a better way to do this stuff when you're building a ship.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Quite a storm we're having. We've got about 2 feet of snow on deck- drifted into a 5-foot high pile pretty much over the entire working area, of course. From what I've seen on Facebook, my mom's neighborhood went underwater- she's on higher ground, thank God, but some friends have massive damage- one friend has already mentioned that there's a boat, a telephone pole, and somebody's dock sitting in her driveway, and another says that waves are breaking over the top of his house. Hasn't happened since the no-name storm back in '91.

We've been up all night shoveling clear paths along the deck edges so we can inspect the ground tackle. We're rafted up with some other guys here in NY harbor, and it's still very sloppy, but the wind has definitely dropped down to a small gale. At midnight it was blowing a full gale out there.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Like all New Englanders, I know enough to get out there early and keep the snow from piling up. I'd rather shovel 4" of snow 3 times than to get a foot of it over the side after it starts getting rainy.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

post-modern family

So, Christmas is over, and apparently I missed kind of a suck Christmas, as far as such things go. I'm lonely, though, it being in the middle of the night, us being anchored, and again, it being Christmas.
I had anxiety dreams all afternoon before waking up for watch, which led to an unpleasant sleep. The Staten Island Ferries are waking us periodically, which made me doze off quickly, the rocking motion being fantastic, but I guess my subconscious was working. I dreamed of my father's last days almost the entire sleep cycle. This being the first Christmas without him, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. So that sucked.
By way of cheering things up, I've been watching the TV show 'modern family' tonight, because my nieces have been telling me how much one of the characters resembles (and sounds like) Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife...turns out, they're correct-it's a fun show, and full of inside humor that manages to hit the bullseye when comes to being a fattish caucasian married to a very lovely latina. Speaking of which, I managed to give one extra Christmas present to the Mrs. before I drove to work, and she's coughing and sneezing and generally pretty annoyed at me for passing on a bug and then recovering very quickly from it myself.
By now I'm, if not immune, than certainly inured to the idea of holidays away. I am so happy that I was home for Christmas last year. So much has changed this year between my dad's passing and my oldest nephew having joined the Navy. My father (and a brother and sister, too) all spent time away for Christmas in the Navy, themselves, and their tradition (finishing work and climbing into bed with a comforting bottle of whatever) of celebrating Christmas away won't work for yours truly. Maybe it's like a famous captain said: "My mother was correct. I should have been a pimp."
It wasn't that long ago that I spent Christmas truly at sea, with no communication from the outside world. Days like today, it's easy to forget that it's only in my recent good fortune that I can call my wife and get yelled at two, even three times a day for making her sick.

In brighter news, today being Christmas, I finally got a chance to really crawl in and over everything in my new command. I got to climb the mast, poke my head in some void spaces, peer at the poop tanks (ew!), and tap and poke at all the corners and oddball valves and conduits. I finally feel like I can make a comfortable living here. Hopefully this bears out. I still remember the last time I worked on this class of barge. All the climbing over and stepping around pipelines and deck gear, I had my pants ripped damn near right off my body, to the entertainment and delight of the deck gang of the ship that we were bunkering at the time.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

low battery at sea

So, a few twists and turns, and I am sitting comfortably in my new home-away-from-home here in bee-ee-ay-yutiful New York Habah.
First off, it was a near thing, my coming to work. I made all the preparations, including an unscheduled doctor visit for a short-lived but raging fever that thankfully responded very quickly to antibiotics. So, despite a certain fear of having to bang in this close to Christmas, I was able to get a clean bill o' health and drive down to NY.
Driving through the city isn't so bad at 1am. That's the absolute best way to get into Brooklyn, in my opinion, should one need to drive into Brooklyn. I had planned on bunking on a barge for about two weeks until my permanent assignment opened up. I unpacked my truck, humped groceries and 200lbs of diet soda (well, it felt like that) up a ladder and stowed my 4-weeks worth of grub before going to bed, still washed out a bit from the whole being sick thing 2 days before.
Well, 5 hours later, somewhat refreshed, I was told to transfer all my goods to my permanent barge, and now, here I am. The soda, chow, frozen meat, clothing and toiletries were all repacked and unpacked, and we sailed as I was carrying the last bag aboard.

So, of course, I missed a few things in my hurried repacking. My watch cap, for one, which bodes ill for my oversized ears, which, for all their lift-producing capability (rivaling that of a Piper Cub), do tend to get frostbitten, and already have a permanent air like a wilted potato chip.

More importantly, though (to me), is the fact that I can't find the charger for my cell phone. Whether it's sitting at home or simply on the barge I slept on, this got me thinking about how dependent I've become on modern communication equipment to stay in touch. I started my sailing career in time to experience the long lines at the dock's pay phone, where I'd call my mom and girlfriends maybe once a month at most, and be grateful for the experience. These days, I talk to my wife twice a day, and am still calling my mom maybe once a week or so. My cell phone is my lifeline, and while I'm still trying to figure out where the hell the knife drawer is in the galley, my laptop and wireless modem are up and running already.
Social media, e-mail, text messages, blog updates and phone calls are all something that the coastwise mariner can take for granted now. Today, facing the prospect of having no cell phone, I feel the loss quite sharply.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

manna from geek heaven

If you're a sci-fi geek like me, this is like Superbowl Sunday, winning the lottery and meeting the cast of 'Firefly' at the same time. Maybe better. If you are between age 30 to 42ish, you're going to shit when you see what Japan has finally made for us:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bad news for all

Well, proving some skeptics right is inevitable, I guess. Claims that Global Warming is nothing but the new land grab for this century are apparently bearing fruit... well, if not bearing fruit, they're definitely flowering, anyhow.

THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. Despite the rank and massive failure of both the Cancun and Copenhagen Global Warming conferences to produce effective resolutions in slowing carbon-based pollution, the stakeholders have put the first serious chink in the armor of international shipping. About half of the states represented being socialism-flavored, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a new international tax on bunker fuels was proposed.

The massive redistribution of wealth from developed to developing countries proposed is absolutely jarring. Mexico, among the most corrupt and shameworthy governments in this hemisphere, stands to benefit mightily. Considering that their jefe, El Presidente, is being hailed as the hero of the Cancun summit (for proposing a 0.00004% reduction in Mexico's carbon emissions, *funded by other nations of course*) .

So it is with perhaps a jaundiced eye that I watch this new proposal, to place a tax on bunker fuel, as the means of dealing with carbon-based emissions from shipping.

Why, oh, why, in the name of the seven mad gods of the sea, was it not proposed to make global the requirement that ships burn low-sulfur fuel oils? As it stands, we've got a patchwork of regulated areas that are a pain in the balls to comply with and monitor, especially when ships are on tramp runs. Some places require that ships burn low-sulphur intermediate fuel oils and diesel-analogues, and other nations have no beef with dirty fuels... yet the atmostphere does not conform to national boundaries. If the goal was to effect a change in global emissions, this would have been done. Rather, a whole new level of administration will become necessary, and this will create wonderful opportunities for graft and inefficiency. The smart money is on the tax, of course. It creates jobs, and, since, sadly, outside of the US, Germany, France, the UK and Japan, corruption is considered part of the cost of doing business, a whole new administration, dedicated to collecting and spending a tax, would be a massive boon to whoever lands the office location.

Anyhow, I'm disgusted. By skipping over the most effective solutions in favor of redistribution of wealth, the true colors are shown here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Detox diet myth- don't be an idiot, dumbass.

Here at Hawsepiper, we're not all about poop and fart jokes interspersed with maritime musings. I'm all about the PSA's, too, especially when it comes to Bullshit Science.

As a person with a relatively reasonable level of critical thinking ability, I do tend to get all bent out of shape when science gets perverted and misused, either for economic or social gain. This is why I've landed in the cynic's camp whenever scientific evidence is misused as justification for social engineering, like the very incomplete data used in support of Anthropogenic Global Warming theory.

Well, today I end up in a completely depressing conversation with another employee at my company's office. The subject of holiday weight gain came up, and I (being overweight but finally now being comfortable with a low-sodium and low-cholesterol diet that seems to be working well) tried like hell to get out of this conversation with any sort of dignity, as I was speaking to a very thin and opinionated person. It didn't work.

One of my most shameful character flaws is that when I try to be nice to someone by listening to them go on and on, is that I have a time limit. After x number of minutes, I try to steer the conversation elsewhere, or, if they're talking out their ass, I try to present an alternative to their viewpoint and give them the opportunity to consider another opinion. Sometimes this works, and the conversation moves on or actually gets interesting... and sometimes it doesn't. My point, though, is that I try not to correct people in a harsh fashion, and I expect the same in return... the thing about opinionated people is that they very often can't be persuaded in an argument, even when they're dead wrong. They take ownership of their opinion, even when they've staked a claim on rotten ground.

I challenged two people today to give me the name of five toxins that a detox diet would eliminate from their diet in comparison to what a healthy balanced normal diet can do. I wanted the full chemical names. I told them that if they could do it, they could have my beloved truck.

Anyhow, in my own, perhaps too polite way, I was trying to make a point without pontificating. It's a goddamned shame that people aren't being taught critical thinking skills.

Far worse, to me, is that people are putting faith in the mystical when it comes to their diet- that rather than being able to rely on scientific evidence in their choices for healthy eating, they're bombarded with products that claim to detox, cleanse, and otherwise rectify the humours of the body. We have a muilti-billion dollar industry producing organic snake oils for the faithful idiots who don't know enough to question whether or not packaging some pills, a cream, or a can of magic beans in a printed plastic bottle is evidence enough that the advertiser ain't full of shit.

Anyhow, it makes me sad that people aren't, for the most part able to smell bullshit when they've got it under their nose. Whether it's taking advantage of parents of kids with autism by telling them that they can feel free to blame their family doctor for having given them immunizations, or selling a $2.99 box of repackaged Flintstones vitamins for $40 and telling people that by eating healthy for a week and eating their magic pills, their ass will look as clean as a chromed bugle, whatever. I don't know who's to blame more: the salesmen, or the consumer, for being so easy to mislead. Still, when you think that people are relying on Jenny McCarthy and some guy on TV with plastic hair and a $40 suit for medical advice, Christ.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


So, today the world's most corrupt organization, the UN, the people who subsidized Middle East instability for 10 years via the Oil-for-food program, and continue to prevent Africa from stabilizing by sending in free grain that gets sold under cost, preventing African farmers from being able to grow their own... yeah, that group. Today, the UN is butthurt about global warming, again claiming that Thermageddon is imminent unless we all agree to starve to death voluntarily.

Well, OK, I'm exaggerating. India and China are being smart, saying that their first responsibility is lifting their people out of poverty. The US is also being smart, saying that our first responsibility is keeping our people out of poverty. And europe continues to say one thing and do another, like always. SNAFU.

I am reminded of the great short story "Harrison Bergeron," by our own MA-based literary whack job Kurt Vonnegut. TO recap, everyone is made equal in our future: attractive people wear masks, strong people wear suits of heavy metal, intelligent people have ear implants that provide blasts of sound (preventing concentration) and everyone is finally on a level playing field enforced by violence. When two strong, beautiful and graceful people in the world break free, it is the (sort of) head of the UN who personally cuts them down with a shotgun.

We see what happens when playing fields are leveled- the bottom is brought up a little, and the top is dragged down a lot- the average is actually lowered significantly compared to the normal uncontrolled state. This is a major tenet of so-called game theory- averaging forces and compromise actually reduce overall results, and therefore are less desirable than all-out risk of total loss when any possibility of total gain exists. How it is that everyone in corporate negotiations, economics and military theory knows this rule, but no one in the UN, (who does nothing but negotiate, manage economies, and operate a clearinghouse for military police forces) does? Does Science Theatre have to exist, too? By that, I mean the need to be seen as doing something is emphasized over actually doing something. How sad.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

back again

After my week of bunkering ships in New York, I was ready for some time off. I got about 10 days, in which I managed to do my Christmas shopping, put out the occasional small fire at home, and see my best friend married off. It was a busy time, and I'm glad to be back to my regular slot in Philadelphia, although, to be honest, it's a hard thing to be running on short sleep for a few days, then go be the best man at a wedding, then change in the bathroom at the reception hall and drive 6 hours overnight to work. Needless to say there's a few empty energy drink cans drifting around the bed of my truck this morning. Maybe more than a few.

As always, I finished about half of what I wanted to accomplish, arrived at work beat all to hell, and am ready to work.