Wednesday, May 30, 2012

running in the red...

I'm not quite well-rested yet, but I'm a lot better than I was.

      This past week has been the most intensely dissatisfying, work-wise, I've had in a few years. Mostly, it's the hours, but there's some other candles on that cake as well. I think I'm past having a pity party for one, but I'm certainly not quite recovered yet.
           We've been carrying crude oil for a few months, as part of cleaning out a refinery that is closing and going up for sale (seriously, that's what we need, less refineries, when the EPA hasn't allowed a single new refinery to be built in the US since the day they came into being). Well, we reached the bottom of a tank on the last job, and sucked a few thousand barrels of crude oil sludge into our cargo tanks, leaving the bottom of the tanks with a foot or so each of oil solids with a pudding-like consistency, sufficient to clog all our cargo pumps, begging the question of how the hell we're going to get that out of our tanks and into someone else's.
           This little mishap was compounded by having my right-hand man shanghai'd at another port, where he pissed too much excellence to be sent back to yours truly, so I was left with Father Time.
     Father Time is the oldest actively sailing employee in my company. Nice guy, too, but he had NO experience working with crude oil, so I was left to do my job, and his, but his presence satisfied the personnel requirements of Uncle Sugar's Sea Scouts (The Coat Guard- always there when you don't want them) so I made do.  Moving our oil sludge was a nightmare. The oil moved at 10% of its' normal pumping rate, and the pumps had to be screaming for the oil to move at all- balancing the need to feed the pumps to keep them from burning up, and the need to keep the oil trickling ashore to get as much as possible off. Every 5-30 minutes, the pumps would lose suction, and start to freewheel, necessitating a mad dash to get them stopped and reprimed before the oil congealed or the pumps burned up. A 73 year old can't be running around like a one-armed paperhanger for 8 hours at a time. A person unfamiliar with our equipment can't sit and listen through a pair of earmuffs to the sound of a 20rpm engine change to identify when the pumps have shit the bed, either, or smell the difference between scorched oil and burning oil in the pump drives- so I did the work, and a day and a half after the trouble started, I went to bed, waking up 3 hours later to clean up the pumps, shovel the congealed oil from around the burnt shaft seals of said pumps, water my tomatoes, which by this time were thirsty, and crawl around every tank top and ullage point (places where the cargo depth is measured) with cans of auto brake parts cleaner and some rags to scrub oil-soaked footprints and spatters from cargo samplers and surveyors who had made a mess. This being thunderstorm season, I'll be dead and rotting in hell before I leave oil on my deck to make a sheen in the water and get my name in a paper somewhere. At any rate, it was another 16 hour day after our disastrous ruined cargo discharge before I was satisfied that we were looking good. I had to really work to keep Father Time from getting on his hands and knees to help me, which says volumes about the guy's spirit, but I wasn't going to make him work and get hurt.
      After everything was lovely again and I was showered and fed and ready to sleep, I crashed into a coma at just before midnight. At 1AM, Father Time woke me up and told me to call my boss.
     An injured crewman on one of our ATB's (Articulated Tug/Barge, the largest tank vessels in our fleet, about 5 times the size of mine) had done a face-plant on deck, and a tugboat was going to be at our barge in 5 minutes to bring me over there. I protested, and, in my sleep-deprived state, was unable to articulate that I was a mess. So, 10 minutes later, now awake and boiling mad about being AGAIN transferred (the 4th or 5th time I was used to fill a gap in a short span) after being somewhat put-upon, I was on my way.
   Unfortunately, I didn't put my best foot forward on the ATB.I was so mad at this point, and so sleep-deprived, that I was antisocial, and, while the deck layout was easy to understand, I wasn't cooperative with the crew, and, when offered a chance to sleep, I was so bent out of shape that I couldn't do it. So I didn't get another chance to rest for 18 hours more, but I was completely a work-shirking ass at that point anyways, though everything that was necessary got done. And 24 hours after I was on board the ATB, I got off and headed home to my own little slice of steel heaven.
   That was 30 hours ago. In the intervening time I've slept some, got caught up on paperwork, saw Father Time off just this morning... Oh, that reminds me- my tankerman called last night, furious, and said that he was being sent to Baltimore for a few days to cover for someone else. He's been waiting patiently for 3 weeks to come back here. Between his ardent desire to go back to his normal place of work, and my desire to have a trained and competent able-bodied seaman on board to help me through the next few days with a giant question mark hanging over us as far as how the hell we're going to empty our tanks, I made an end-run and called in a solid with a big shot to get my guy back here. Both of us have taken a beating in the name of keeping things running, but I felt it was time that we looked out for #1 for a while.
   So, all's well that ends well, I guess.  My tankerman will be here in another 2 hours or so. It was a brutal week, but everything got done as it was supposed to, and I even got a personal visit and an attaboy of sorts from the VP yesterday, who came over to look in a tank at our nasty cargo and admire the vegetable garden now thriving in an unused cargo basket out on deck. The only sour note of yesterday was that we got around to painting the communal head (the restroom) off of the galley, and the lovely peach color is actually an unlovely orange color under the florescents, and quite hideous. No one is going to be able to enjoy taking a big post-dinner 'rest' (seriously, why do they call it a 'restroom?' No one sleeps in there) when it looks like someone blew up a pumpkin in there.


Harry said...

What you need now Paul is a couple of VGO loads to clean the bottoms,we used to always get a few of those loads before a shipyard period after handling asphalt all year. Sorry to see the Sun docks closing up there in Philly, I ran a lot of oil out of there over the years,some of my favorite facility's.And I feel for you on having to bleed your pumps every half hour, crude is messed up when your draining shoreside tanks. If its got to much water in it, your pumps heat will turn that water into steam and now gets air into the pumps. Always a fun experience.I don't wish that on anyone,I will never forget when I learned that...Anyway if your father times name was Chuck,he is a good dude and a good worker,just not a black oil man and please tell him hello for me.Take care Paul,this hitch is almost over for you!

Anonymous said...

keep up the literary work. i enjoy view from your steel beach. cheers.