Tuesday, October 30, 2012

flood, fire: low tide

With the waters receding, all the cars and heavy equipment densely parked behind the warehouse in the last photo were uncovered. My guess is that an electrical spark, coupled perhaps with some liberated gasoline from a submerged fuel tank vent, led to a small fire. Which led to a big fire. And some explosions. We are upwind and have a decent-sized concrete dock between us and the cars, so we stayed put while our tug called 911. The fire department took forever to find the place. I saw them 10 minutes before they got in the neighborhood, and then another 15 minutes to dig up a masonry saw to cut through the fences in their way. Eventually they got to the fire and about 30 minutes later they put it out. My camera was overwhelmed between the lights, backscatter from the fire monitors on the tugs being turned on (monitors are the super-sized water cannon that you see on fire boats; many tugs have one just in case for situations like this ).
EDIT: This were, apparently, very expensive electric cars. Like, $100,000+ each expensive. And mightily flammable, as well. The Fisker Karma advertising campaign doesn't mention that.
in case being completely underwater for a few hours didn't kill one of these cars, God decided to set 'em all on fire.

car exploding. Quite a unique sound.

Newark FD response was slow but damn, everybody showed up. 

 Next high tide is in a few hours. Not supposed to be as high as the last one, but still might be rotten.

Monday, October 29, 2012

2200 Update (now with photos!)

We're still here! We're moored to a dock that is completely submerged. Our mooring lines are stretched tight to moorings that are 4 feet or more underwater. The surge is about 14 feet above normal high tide. Gusts are over 115mph, seems to be holding steady winds around 75mph.

 My truck is gone. I loved that truck. I shall mourn it.
My employer's office presumably is a total loss.
So far, no one has been hurt or killed within my company's ranks. This is a major success.
 I don't think we'll be moving tomorrow. It's nasty.

 If you can see from the pic, the water is receding now. It's currently about the height of the doorknob at the warehouse, so, figure about 3 1/2 feet above the dock. Quite a misery.

Not much of a calm before the storm (updated!)

Winds are getting a little more lusty and a lot more gusty while I was off watch. I slept like a baby, though (And what does that mean? You woke up wet and crying a few times, and at some point you shit yourself?).

         Storm surge for this high tide seems to be about the same as the last one. So far so good. The news is too repetitive to watch. A bunch of folks on a bunch of beaches asking each other what the weather is. Here's the weather: It's wet, it's windy. Back to you at the studio, Linda.

         Maybe they're false memories at this point, but I remember the hurricanes when I was a kid as coming with an eerie yellow sky the day of, before the wind started, and all the neighborhood dogs getting weird. No dogs out here- but the damn tide is high, for sure, and it's been blowing hard for about 24 hours now, so I guess this is the weather we'll be having until the wind starts to moan and whistle through the antennas up on the overhead.

Edit: it's about 0900 now. In the last 30 minutes the wind has seriously ramped up, and the damn tide is still rising. 6 inches more and the dock we're moored alongside will be under water. 

1300: Winds are gusty but holding, and the tide dropped. Next high tide around 0000 is the troublemaker for us- predicted surge is trending closer to the high estimate of 11 feet, which will put much of the shoreline under water. 

1430: That blast of wind you ordered has now arrived. Our mooring lines sang out when it hit. That's a disturbing sound... a sort of high-pitched squeal followed by staccato booms as the line pulls tight across the steel cleats. Feeling very glad that I have a shit-ton of lines out and my very own assist tugboat standing by.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

hunkered down

So we're in a hurricane berth, wedged between a couple of Army Corps of Engineers dredge ships, and there are 20 (!) dock lines out securing us to a dock that will probably be underwater in about 6 hours, but even so, we're in a nice protected spot up in Pt. Elizabeth NJ, which is good, because that bitch storm Sandy is about to rain on us directly overhead tomorrow.

 With a 6-11 foot storm surge predicted and 2 days of sustained storm-force or better winds, my psychic alter-ego, Nostradumbass, predicts a busy time tending lines and trying to keep us in the water and not on top of the dock or floating into the warehouses across the quay.

 Also, it occurs to me that my truck is sitting in Red Hook NY, which has been evacuated for fear of extensive flooding. My truck is in a lovely parking lot with a water view, only 6 feet or so above the high tide line.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

So...that happened.

With huricane Sandy on the way, and back to back large cargo parcels to be loaded and doled out, the last thing I wanted was a delay in loading the first job. Looks like we'll be discharging the second parcel in some strong breezes tomorrow before running for cover. Hope we get to go somewhere decent, and not an anchorage where our undersize anchor can drag every 30 minutes.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Looks like we might get some saucy weather early next week. The National Weather Service is already blaming global warming, president Bush and the 1%.

 But, no, seriously, it looks like the weather might be shitty after the weekend. The NWS, having seen the writing on the wall after Italy threw their seismologists under the bus last week for not predicting an earthquake, have predicted a 70% chance or rain, snow, wind, Kansas-to-Neverland wormholes, frogs, locusts and death of the firstborn son of the pharoh for New York. In between the chicken little screaming and running in circles, there is an ominous, slightly more worth-taking-time-to- ponder pressure gradient forming in the upper atmosphere, which, when coupled with the predicted tracks of said systems, could be quite shittay.

 I'll keep my eye on it. I might have an unwanted day off next week, spent getting sandblasted by flying dust while trying to keep secured to a lay berth somewhere.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ta dah!

Back at work again for another 4 weeks. My vacation consisted of 5 1/2 days at home, which was nowhere near enough. I made it back to my job, and that was good. Asking me to do so with enthusiasm might have been a bi much. I've bitten off more than I could chew with the schedule I set up for myself. I figure that now that I'm back at work I'll take a few days to get into the rhythm in terms of the sleep cycle, then I'll be 100%. In the meanwhile I'm here and working, and doing my job, and that's a good thing.

          My first cargo discharge this time has come with some complications. A brand new diesel engine, so new that it hasn't even had it's first oil change, has been soggy and hard to light since it was handed down to us by the powers that be. Today the cooling system got airbound, and after I worked up the courage to poke around and find the issue, I rectified the problem after a bit of a to-do mostly consisting of me questioning if I dare to touch a new engine and then about 5 minutes to actually fix the problem.
         Am I mechanically inclined? Meh. 50/50 I guess. I'm not a natural, but once I'm oriented I do OK. It's the orientation that is the issue. It's need-based for me. I'm not going to tinker unless there's no one to tinker for me.
          As an example, when I was a new nugget of a biologist, I tore around the sleepy Cape Cod community of Woods Hole, MA on a motorcycle. Being in my early 20's, and therefore 8-foot 12 and bulletproof, I drove my bike, often as not, in man-sandals and shorts, long hair flying. The bike was what it was, something that a 20-something guy with $100,000 in student loan debt and a $18,000 a year job would afford. A P.O.S. (Piece of Shit, if you were wondering), in other words. The starter was worn out, so unless it was above 80 degrees outside (a rarity in Woods Hole), starting a cold engine required a running start to pop the clutch and turn the engine over. In the two years between buying the bike and investing in the next vehicle, the best pickup that $500 could buy, I became a pro at tearing down that bike. After, with the truck, I became conversant with the Chevy 305 block, as well, though, to be fair, it was the things you bolted to the block that were always dying on me.
      Nowadays, with engineers here than there in my job, it's a rarity for me to dive into an engine and hope that I can put it back together in the same shape I found it. As a habit from those days of being poor and driving shitty vehicles, I always buy new, and when there are two shop visits in the same year for the same vehicle, trade it in. With my free time so scarce, I'm not going to lose a half a day sitting waiting for AAA if I can help it... and in that vein, I couldn't justify sitting and shutting down a job with a recalcitrant cooling system that was sitting on a factory floor 3 months ago. Amazingly, it worked. I'm pretty sure I know what I did and everything. 

Friday, October 19, 2012


I am home, just for a few days. Talk later?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sideways (again)

Last (full) day of this tour. 5 weeks, without a doubt the busiest, oil-carryingest 5 weeks I've ever had. Whatever hell the economy is going through, my employer's efforts to diversify and adjust to changing markets has seriously paid off. I've never been so God-damned busy as I have been this time.

     Just after noon, we secured at the NY home dock, having completed the last cargo discharge on the schedule- a somewhat annoying and too heavy 50,000 barrel parcel of heavy fuel oil. After, we changed the oil on the pump engines (1 drum of oil each- they're big engines), swept and mopped the pump houses, took out trash, cleared the deck of old rags, grease spots and dead birds (the weather was shitty yesterday- high winds bash the birds against the houses on deck), serviced the septic system, swept, wiped and mopped down the accomodations block and did laundry and paperwork- about 5 hours of work, leaving us pretty beat, as we didn't have time to get the usual 2 hour naps in at the end of our watch- when you only have 4-6 hours a day of free time to eat and sleep, a 2 hour nap is critical. No problem, though- we're fast to the dock, and tomorrow we just have to get into a van and back to Philadelphia where we started the voyage, where our cars are parked.
   Then the computer shows a pending job, at the end of the trading day. Last minute 50,000 parcel of #6 oil to be loaded tonight/tomorrow AM, across the bay, and then discharged immediately after right next door to the HQ dock tomorrow, also AMish. Right in the middle of crew change. So, work clothes get unpacked again, paperwork gets pulled out, valves and calculations placed just so, and it begins again.
   I keep trying to recall my mantra- "I'm lucky to be working"  But now, my 6 days at home have just been reduced to 5 1/2, as it's going to take hours to get our relief crew out to the back 40 up a river somewhere to where we're going.
 I'm lucky to be working. I certainly feel...something. Maybe it's lucky. Probably. Kinda Sucky-Lucky though, after 35 days of nonstop activity.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Opportunity Lost (The American Phoenix job)

       It's been a busy time here. I'm working as second fiddle on a large barge that has been engaged in reverse lightering- running between a refinery and an anchored ship. Everything's fine- a little more stress as I deal with differences in scale, paperwork and vessel characteristics- figuring out how to accurately load the tanks and tweak the loading rates of individual tanks so that they finish in sequence, things like that. The sleep schedule is kicking my ass, as this barge works a schedule mirroring that of most tugboats- 6 hours on, 6 off, which equates to about 9-10 hours on, 2-3 hours off. No bueno. Add to that the fact that I jumped in at the start of busy back-to-back double loads and there wasn't much rest to be had for yours truly. At the end of the day, however, the job is what it is, and after running one load and one discharge, I am competent enough that I am no longer scared to death of an incident occurring while I have my face stuck in a tank trying to see the bottom.

         So, aside from the excitement and strangeness of the week spent on a new vessel, what was truly unique about these past two jobs has been the fact that we were working with the oil tanker "American Phoenix," the newest ship in the United States' merchant fleet. I have a personal connection, you see, with this ship. When built, she or one of her sisters was supposed to become my new home.

 I worked for AHL Shipping Co. (American Heavy Lift) for 8 years. I started on my first voyage in the engine room, or, more accurately, under the ancient steam engine in the engine room, chipping rust and painting in the double bottom between the underside of the floor of the bilge and the hull of the ship, 10 hours a day in the dark, for 120 days. AHL was a can-do operation, probably doomed from the start due to under-capitalization, but one that fielded 4 tankers for years and years and kept myself and hundreds of other mariners employed gainfully. The economy tanked during the construction of three new ships, and a hurricane wiped out a staging yard containing much of the material for said ships, which, with insane cost overruns by the shipyard, did for the company. I, luckily, saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship about 6 months before things started getting ugly, and landed here where I work (mostly) happily to date.

    At any rate, a venture capital firm that dabbles in shipping picked up the half-finished ship hull in passing after AHL went tits-up, and had the badly-managed shipyard (barely) finish her over the course of a couple of years, which is a couple of years longer than it should take to finish a ship, and pretty much explains why there is no AHL today. And the finished vessel entered service weeks ago, and we reverse-lightered her twice these past few days, loading her deep.
     She's a pretty enough ship, stubby and shiny, and looking not-quite finished in her primer-coated hull and topsides. The crew on board were friendly and the officers seemed very competent, but a small part of me hoped that one of my former shipmates might have been aboard. No such luck. The ship itself is mechanically interesting, taking the best features of the old AHL ships' deck layout and incorporating them into the design, while seemingly cutting out some of the worst parts- no stooping and crawling and hitting of heads to get at discharge valves, for instance, and no "up two flights and down one" to carry stores 400 feet from the deck crane to the stewards' storeroom. There are some classic AHL-style oddballs, of course- the ship has grain hatches for loading bulk solids, and there's a lot of thin-walled stainless steel piping, which will be interesting in 10 years after a few hurricanes (stainless steel doesn't like to flex like good ship-quality steel will, and is relatively brittle).

 Anyhow, look for yourself:
Cargo Surveyors measuring volume transferred

We had already taken in the cargo hoses when I snapped this picture. You can see them on my deck. We can transfer about 12,000 bbl/hr (500,000 gal) through one of them.

Traditional raised fo'c'sle vs our spoon-shaped bow

After a few months, the deck gang on that ship has to know the name of every pipeline, valve and piece of steel visible. I don't miss that learning curve.

All in all, I prefer my life today to that of a few years ago while I was with AHL. All the same, I feel a certain tug on the heartstrings to see this ship, and all the dreams that propelled it from a little company's strategy session, into a shipyard, then a bankruptcy court, breaking up, among other things, a great crew aboard my particular ship. This was a glimpse at the road not taken, for me. No regrets on my part, but some sobering thoughts about the pain it caused others through little fault of the people who envisioned her.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Im working over on a different vessel for a week. Unfamiliar layout, in a class I've never dealt with before, doing work that is also a bit unfamiliar, and I lack situational awareness to the extent that I have to learn this shit instead of sleep for now.

  Will get back to you when I don't hate the world quite so much, or after next Wed, whichever comes first.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I should come with a warning label: AKA your annual reminder)

When I say "I'll give you $10 to eat a hot dog underwater" I'm not responsible for injury, drowning, emotional damage or your fantastically shameful new nickname. 
I'm only responsible for the $10. 
And your fantastically shameful new nickname.
Also, have you carved your pumpkin yet?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

tug life

We're running around with scissors this week at HAWSEPIPER's afloat global HQ/ironmongery.  The big ass radiator on one of our brand-new pump engines sprung a leak, causing quite a fuss, seeing as the diesel hasn't even been on board long enough to need its' first oil change. So, that's ungood. Then a generator dies, and parts are nowhere to be found in the places we infest here in NY. Double ungood. Then the clothes dryer dies, but hey, after a week of heavy rain, the weather finally brok... oh, never mind, it's raining again today, so now our galley smells like a hamster cage. Double Plus ungood.

      But, as I mentioned on FacePage this morning, I'm still happy to be working, and we're working hard. Our little breakdowns haven't necessitated coming out of service, and we've been nonstop here for almost a month now with cargo flying in and out of our hot little hands. I'm absolutely looking forward to the end of cruise ship season, when our too-big-to-be-comfy hull has to raft alongside these white cattle boats to give them fuel. Today marks the start of my last week aboard before I'll be relieved for 2 weeks, but, sadly, I'm not heading home just yet. I'll be harbor whoring for an extra week around town, filling in for missing warm bodies.
 In the meanwhile, feel free to enjoy this lovely beach scene with Sophia Vergara from TV's 'Modern Family'

Monday, October 1, 2012

bathroom privacy and marriage?

Do any of you married or formerly married men out there notice that nothing is sacred when it comes to women in the bathroom? On returning to work, having at some point retrieved my ditty bag from the master bathroom, I'll be searching for ditties tylenol or something, only to discover that my wife fished my little bottle out of the ditty bag rather than running up to CVS one day while I was home. I get that- she's in a hurry, needs something quick, and then forgets to put it back in my bag. No big deal at all. Until it is. At any rate, it was getting out of hand. Luckily, I busted her yet again while I was at home, before she forgot to repack the item below.

Seriously? She has like, 40 of those asian pick thingys for exactly this reason. The 10 foot walk from the bathroom to her bureau must have been too daunting. 

 This happens with hair stuff, skin stuff, toothpaste, you name it. In addition, she'll think nothing of walking in to ask me a question while I'm sitting in the bathtub- not that I care, to be honest, but having been married for a few years now, I should be used to it.

 So, this last time I was home, I busted her rooting through my bag, and made her return what she had borrowed.