Friday, July 29, 2011

personality conflicts

In the 5 years (!) I've been writing online, in both this blog and BLUE WATER, its' predecessor, I've made the mistake of airing dirty laundry only once, but it came back hard to bite me on the ass, so I write this post with a little trepidation and a LOT of editing. Be warned.

Although I wasn't involved (this time), there has been some dust kicked up as of late by one personality here on NY harbor. Not every evolution can go smoothly, and not all personalities mesh together- When tug operator and tankerman on watch can't agree with the best and safest way to moor a barge to a ship, compromise isn't always possible, and the evolution can devolve into a pissing match in which the potential for trouble exists, where it isn't strictly controlled by a team-effort approach to safely mooring the vessel.

Tankermen have a set goal in mind with mooring a bunker barge to a ship- a fueling hose has to be able to pass to the ship's manifold connection, mooring lines have to not interfere with the operation of the barge and an equal strain applied to all lines, which means the barge must be kept relatively snug to the ship. This means that, effectively, that spring lines and breasting lines have to both be effectively and thoughtfully placed- headlines, of course, are nice, and optimally, headlines can be placed to act as breasting lines where possible, in that their primary role as shock-absorbers to motion can be rove to advantage by creating a more obtuse angle between the headline and the mooring point on the barge. Again, this is an ideal, and not always possible, as it's rare to find a ship that is rigged to moor a barge alongside properly. For me, headlines that are actually run properly are a rare treat. More often, compromisory configurations are employed. So long as the end result is safe and effective, the configuration isn't as critical so long as the end results in a secure arrangement that won't kill anyone or result in a breakaway if one mooring line is lost.

For the tugboat operator, priorities shift somewhat. The tug operator has to make a controlled crash landing against a ship while dealing with currents and wind. Once in the neighborhood of the ship's hull, presumably the tug captain wants to gain positive control of the barge with a line secured to the ship, so that the tug and barge unit can be moved into position by slowly slacking the mooring line(s). In the meanwhile, the tug captain is trying not to poke holes in the ship with the barge, or sweep the bow of the barge under the turn of the bilge in the ship (or swing the tug under the ship's bilge, too, for that matter, if they're so pointed). The truth is that I'm not a tugboat person. I can handle a boat well enough, and even a ship, for that matter, but tugboats, no. I'm not an expert there.
So, when a pissing contest erupts between tankerman and tug captain, the first thing that comes to mind for me is who is officially in charge? A loose tug and barge, the tug master is the master, period. When a barge is moored to a ship, the tankerman on watch starts to assume more responsibility, and here's where trouble starts when there's a disagreement.
I'm a firm believer in going along to get along. I don't like to fan flames when there's headaches. Ultimately, the tug operator has a hard job to do, and I want everyone to collect a paycheck and continue on as before. BUT, what if the tug operator hasn't put the barge in a position where it can be safely moored? This was a recent issue for a co-worker of mine. The first document that the tankerman has to sign attests that the barge is safely moored. But what if it isn't? Either the tankerman must hope for the best, or he has to take control of the situation. In a recent incident, the tug operator ordered the tankerman to run a breasting line in such a way that it would impede the movement of equipment on the barge. The tankerman, who was already taking umbrage at being told how to do his job, refused, citing a safety issue, and a disagreement ensued. So it goes.
Ultimately, a disagreement that can't be settled in situ represents a failure on one or both parties to find an optimal solution. Worse, by dragging outside parties into the mix, it shows that one of the personalities involved doesn't know how to do his job well. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, or, in the best case, a failure in perspective. When this issue begins to show up repeatedly with one of the parties, however, it may be troubling for both morale and efficiency. This troubling issue comes with a cascade of effects, however. In the case of a marked personality conflict where an individual repeatedly comes into conflict in operational evolutions, the downstream effects can be used to point to the source of the problem. In the case of a tug captain with a reputation for being inflexible or unwilling to take input from tankermen, the tug's deckhands may be reluctant to pass information along to the captain from lookouts, for example, knowing that the captain will ignore any external input. This leads to information gaps, of course, and a disconnect between people meant to be working as a team. For a tankerman who views the tug's master as merely a set of hands to move the barge, it may be possible to ask for the impossible, or to forget that an experienced mind is also watching the mooring operation from behind the windows; for my part, the tug crew has corrected me several times in making small mistakes, or has pointed out better ways of doing things; this is the benefit of a team environment. When a hardhead is involved, however, and looking for a pissing contest, quality control goes out the window.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Onslaught

I wrote a longish, rambling post about the annoying prick who gave me a Letter of Protest yesterday during a bunker transfer, but ended up deleting it after the rage subsided.
For the most part, getting a Letter of Protest happens because either we screwed up legitimately, or the Chief engineer or captain of a ship wants to play CYA or is angry that I woulndn't bend or break the law for them.
Normally, I don't worry when a ship gives me a ridiculous Letter of Protest. I've gotten one because the Chief engineer on one ship was angry that he didn't get the top copy of a form that came with multiple-color carbon copies. Dude was mad that he got a blue paper instead of white.
Yesterday's letter was almost on par with that last one. Today I got phone calls from concerned parties (which never happens in the case of BS letters) shoreside, who were obviously worried that I failed to wake up with a headache, and felt the need to ensure that I be properly discomfited.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


A shipmate lost his wife last night after a long, long battle with cancer. He was able to be with her at the end, due in part to the compassionate folks in management at my company, who arranged for him to fly home while he was on the clock, when it first began to look like she was having a bad spell with treatment. While a small point, for people living with a costly and debilitating illness, the necessity to pay the bills often impinges on time spent together. I, and my fellow shipmates, are fortunate to be working for an organization that doesn't force us to choose between paying the hospital and being there for our loved ones when they need us.

The ironic part for me is that I was in the middle of a long-winded complaint about missing my wife when I heard the news. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is spending a week on a fazenda, a giant farm in the Brazilian backcountry, with no electricity or running water, or phone service, and I missed being able to talk to my wife fairly strongly last night. Nothing cuts through the bullshit like tragedy. It'll be another 5 days before I can talk to my wife and son, but so be it; for the grace of God, it's only an inconvenience.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The 5-day hangover

I split my time in Brazil between a modern, touristy city on the coast, and a poor sprawling city on the plains far inland. Salvador, the city on the coast, was my kind of place. Vitoria Da Conquista, the inland city, was not. But, my wife's family is mostly centered in said city, and thus a 6-day trip ensued.
Meeting my mother-in-law was pretty much as I expected. Awkward with the language barrier, and my mother-in-law has been blind for about 5 years now, which also makes non-verbal communication something of a one-way street. To lubricate the wheels, my mother in law procured 5 liters of Cachaca de Alambique, a super-potent moonshine made of ultrapure white rum. Now, I've been drinking Cachaca for about 4 years- it's a beautiful liquor, with which one can make Caiherinhas, Brazil's signature cocktail. But the stuff's strong- a little more potent than scotch, as far as I can tell. Thus, I never, ever drink more than three, which is enough to make me pleasantly happy but unable to drive a vehicle.
So, over the course of my welcome party at her house, my mother-in-law and her friends gave me three shots of straight moonshine on the rocks. Nice stuff, and I relaxed enough to push the boundaries of my Portuguese language skills.
...but then, suddenly, it was 4AM, and I was barfing into the toilet in my hotel room. Confusion reigned. Why was I so sick? It didn't occur to me to wonder why I was in my hotel room at the time, as it felt as though the world was ending, and I was calling ralph on the porcelain phone, which took up much of my focus. Anyhow, I stumbled back to my bed and flopped on top. My wife sleepily asked me if I was finished arguing with her now. I believe I groaned, and curled up into a ball.
However many hours later, my wife pushed me out of the bed again as it was time to meet another series of relatives. I proceeded to dry heave for a few minutes into the bowl, again, and shower. At this point, I realized that there were some gaps in my memory. Now, almost 2 weeks later, I still don't remember any of it.
Apparently, my mother-in-law and her friends discovered that I will drink anything placed into my hands when drunk. I drank a lot of something far, far stronger than I had ever had before, and blacked out early on. I apparently drank about 10 glasses of almost pure ethanol, to the amusement of the folks in the room. My wife, however, was in the other room talking with old friends, and occasionally popping in to check on me. I was cheerful and funny, being my usual goofball self, if somewhat buzzed, and it wasn't until I had had 6 or 7 extra drinks in me that my wife realized that I had no idea what was going on around me, and brought me back to the hotel. Luckily, I was pleasant and polite, and behaved like a more sober man should behave at his mother-in-law's house. However, there is a 4-hour gap where I can't remember anything.
I do certainly remember the hangover. I barfed and napped and barfed every 20 minutes or so until 9pm the next night. I lost a whole 24 hours to the demon alcohol, and, I suspect, came very, very close to being poisoned by it, moreso than at any point in my life.
By 9pm I had managed to eat some crackers and was chatting with my wife, listening with shame and fascination as she relayed the argument we had had in the hotel the night before, when I swore up and down that I was OK, and she had been a party pooper by bringing me back. None of which I remember. After a blissful hour of not gushing from one end or the other, my stomach gave an audible growl, and I ran at full speed for the bathroom, and it started again.
Here's where it gets dicey- I drank the water. In Salvador, the water is treated, and it's fine. In my wife's city... not so much. Montezuma's revenge, and a more potent case I had never heard of. My body, already beat down with the hangover, simply protested, however feebly. The feeling was distinctly similar to that of a hangover, so I pretty much had a hangover for 5 days, which was unpleasant. I was able to work through the last two days so that I didn't miss out on too much, but it was something of a struggle. Nothing feels so good, though, as when pain stops, and I was ready to celebrate when I finally felt better. This next celebration involved no alcohol.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

more pictures from Brazil

Salvador is famed for having 360 churches- some of which practice a disturbing combination of Catholicism and Candomble, a religion based on a combination of Christianity and African deity worship.

The Miracle room at Sao Bonfim ('Saint of the good death'). Apparently you buy a wax limb and pray that yours heals well. When it does, you hang it up on the wall and make tourists like me extremely uncomfortable.

Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, at ease. After 12 years in the US, she would speak to me in Portuguese, then speak to everyone else in English, confusing all.

My ass fits in the plane seats, but my shoulders not so much. Great way to get the stewardess' attention, anyhow.

Lighthouse at Praiya Forte, a beautiful beach.

View from my room. Not bad.

The waitress at the hotel bar was so friendly she bought my wife a traditional headscarf, since my wife, who is from this region (Bahia), shouldn't be travelling the world without representin'

This is the equivalent of Wollaston beach back home- not somewhere you'd go to swim, but nice to hang out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I made it home from Brazil after a long 30-hour voyage of some 7,800 miles. After throwing myself into a rather empty bed in a disturbingly empty house, I woke up today to load up on groceries and change out my suitcase for a seabag. With a 24 hour layover in Massachusetts, I head out again for another sea voyage, starting with the punishing promise of a drive to New York in a little less than 2 hours from now.

ANyhow, what with all the things to do, I'll post more pix later. Here's a few, anyhow.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Liveblogging from Brazil!

Brazil is awesome. Beautiful. Many, many contrasts- multi-billion dollar hotels located a half-mile from 20,000 people living in tin shacks with no running water. Beer served on the beach. Teeny bikinis. German tourists sweating on everything. A pair of Nike's will cost you $500 US, but you can stay at a palatial hotel for $150 a night. Which I did.

My hotel is beautiful. We have a suite, a corner room, with an incredible ocean view on two sides. Seriously, it's ridiculous. About 75 feet below us is the ocean, where 6-8 foot breakers have been roaring the past few nights, making sleep a pleasure. The trade winds blow through one of our windows, making AC unnecessary. It's about 85 in the day, 70 at night. The dead of Brazilian winter.

The artistry here is wonderful- I got a massive boner from hanging out at a stoneworkers' gallery (which included jewelry, so the Mrs was also content), where slab stone was made into these beautiful marble and other exotic stone tile floors that are everywhere, as well as tables, vases, etc. Getting a 2,000 lb jade dining room table home might be expensive, though.

The markets are also different- open air buildings, like the old Quincy Market in Boston, are here and there- inside you have to haggle for everything. I spent at least 30 minutes out of the 2 hours we were at the largest market in the city trying to get away from hagglers who were all out to outfit me as Malcolm X's pimp.
The women here are a trip. Empowered. When I got busted checking out one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen at the Salvador Mall, she stopped what she was doing to eyeball me back, making me blush terribly (and making everyone in my retinue laugh way too loudly). Apparently I give off a wicked American air, what with being blond with blue eyes, with an ample helping of American Patriotism hanging around my middle straining my belt. It felt strange to be the only fat man in a crowd of about 3,000. Regardless, apparently I smell like money, and the Piranas were circling me like a fat kid zeroing in on a donut. The girl gave me what I could conservatively describe as a good eye-rogering, which was nice. I grabbed my wife's hand like it was a lifeline, and she simply shrugged her shoulders and held her ground. It was disconcerting. I defused the situation by simply turning an alarming shade of red that made all the far-less pale folks around me very concerned for my health, at which point I was laughed at. Again.

So, other than being mugged...Oh, yeah, I was mugged. I forgot and wore a necklace out in a bad neighborhood we were transiting through, and an emaciated douchbag got a handful and broke it, getting exactly the clasp and receiver for the clasp for his trouble, and probably costing me like $7 to fix. Lucky break, literally.
Anyhow, So far so good. The locals have gone to the trouble to test and identify all the local fruits that go good with alcohol, and I have been making sure that commerce runs briskly. I may not be leaving my heart in Brazil, but after my first few days here, I can say that I might be leaving at least part of my liver here.
So I wrote a nice 2 page note about my first few days in Brazil, and lost it in the aether. So be it. Brazil is awesome. The rumors are true.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


A change of scenery. Going to Brazil for a few weeks. I'll try to write, but don't wait up. We'll mug-up when I get back.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

holy hell batman, I'm dumb.

I'm reading a summary of the works of Father Pierre Teilhard Du Chardin, a Jesuit who wrote an extremely controversial series on evolution, celestial mechanics, the nature of consciousness and the evolution of God as an inescapable requirement of existence of matter.
My mind is completely and utterly blown.

Picture completely unrelated, but hilarious. When reading a scientifically justifiable treatise on the unity of science and religion, I respond with dick and fart jokes until I can digest what I'm reading, which should take about 30 years, if I hurry.

Friday, July 1, 2011

at the tail end

Coming into the last few days of this voyage, and it looks as though we're starting the last cargo load of the trip, which is a pleasant thought. I'll be bailing this weekend and heading home to mothball the Ant Farm for the B family's impending voyage.
For however many hundred thousand sea miles I've sailed, I've never crossed the equator. In less than a week, I'll be around 15 degrees south, and sadly, my first crossing of the line won't include a line crossing ceremony as I won't be doing so by sea, but rather by air. I figure that, in the spirit of tradition, however, I'll punish my liver heavily to mark the date, using materials at hand.

Anyhow, the last weeks here at work have been notable for their lack of notoriety. With next week's vacation, I've been preparing for our travels by practicing the art of not ogling, especially in regards to Fio Dental, ('dental floss'), the Brazilian bikini. Therefore, I present to you some more glimpses of what's what where I'm going.