Sunday, December 29, 2013

presented without (much) comment

So, for 2013, the #1 search term that got people here was 'hawsepiper.' The second? "Big bunda."   'Bunda', for my non Brazilian readers, is 'butt' in English.

 So... that happened.
Happy New Year!

Here's a picture of Sofia Vergara to brighten up your day, anyhow. 

rain rant

So, the rain loves me. Fact.

 The rain loves me and wants to be near me.

 I know this because it only rains when I need to be out on deck. The MAJORITY of the time, the rain will stop 5 minutes before the end of my watch, and start 5 minutes after it starts.

 It's enough to give me a complex. It gives my opposite out here the giggles. You see, the rain hates him. The rain goes away 5 minutes before he steps out of deck.

 The rain fears him.

 Whoever said that it is better to be loved than feared can work with me for a tour, and then kiss my big, white, presumably wet, butt.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Whether you're with loved ones, family or just your fellow crewmen, from us to you, all of us here on the floating Big Metal Monastery wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Memory lane: Lets go poaching!

In 1987, at the tender age of 13, I had my first brush with the law- not so much a brush as a near miss, but it resonated, and helped shape me into the lawman-avoiding man I am today. Honest to God, I hate being around cops. I immediately feel guilty, and I'm one of the most vanilla people you'll ever meet. I frigging hate breaking the law.

 But sometimes it happens anyways.

     So, 1987, and it's late in the year.  Mid-December, when we in the Boston area start getting the first consistently frequent hard gales on a regular basis. This particular year hadn't seen too many strong easterly weather systems, and a VERY strong nor-easter blew in. The Old Timer, my employer and sea-daddy, invited us (myself, Johnny Sparks my former roommate from my days at The Pickle Jar where I lived when I started this blog, and his own son, Joe, who doesn't have a nickname here because he's a friend but not someone I get to see too much as an adult) to go pick up some quahogs on Nantasket beach the next morning.

 Quahogs (pronounced 'Ko-hogs'),  Mercenaria mercenaria, sometimes called 'hard clams' or 'round clams' are large clams with a VERY hard, dark-colored shell and rounded shape.

best tasting clam out there, too...and I'm a man famous for his appetite for eating... hey, you know what? There's no way to avoid a double entendre here, so never mind. 

Now, some more background. The Old Timer really had a hair across his ass when it came to his God-given right to take clams from the sea. No bs, he got ticketed and fined about a dozen times a year by the local fish cop for digging clams in his backyard. Never stopped him. But you have to understand, quahogs are special. These aren't the little frying clams, Venus mercenaria, these big boys are the ones you stuff, which is a southern New England delicacy, and hard to get illegally, as they live subtidally, so you can't get 'em in the mud at low tide.

 So, yeah, in the summertime the three of us boys were constantly underfoot on the Old Timer's lobsterboat, and he wanted to give us a chance to try our hands at the ancient art of poaching clams, so we slept over atJoe's house (well, his dad's house, but you get the idea), and somewhere just after 5am, long before sunrise, we were on Nantasket beach, jammed into the Old Timer's pickup.
    Way back when, before Massachusetts became a police state, the fish cops were few and far between. They handled fishermen and deer hunting, and that was about it. They were stretched pretty thin.
     There was no suprise here, though. The generation before us knew which way the wind was blowing, and there were a fair number of trucks idling down the beach road with no lights on. None of us had rubber boots. We had jackets, pants and workboots which weren't waterproof back then. And we had bushel baskets. It was probably about 36-37 degrees out, and we were going to have to get wet. As we took instruction, we realized this was actually kinda gonna suck.
          As little kids, we had a shot at getting a pass by the game wardens, who were on the beach in force with flashlights. No one else had flashlights, obviously, so as we took instruction (the old timer stayed in the truck), we were told to run like hell from the lights, and not to drop our baskets, and then it was time to go.

 It's been 26 years or more, so the memories are fuzzy. We ran down the stairs of the seawall, with our baskets, and down to the tide line- there were clams on the beach, but not many at all, and the ones there had broken shells- strictly forbidden if you wanted to not die from ptomaine poisoning. The other adult poachers were all in water that was calf deep, picking up clams in a frenzy.

 When an easterly winter storm comes in off the ocean, the large swells that form (rare for the Boston area), shoo the clams off of their preferred somewhat deeperwaters and into the shallows. The waves physically push them up the beach and into the low subtidal and intertidal zone.

 ... and we figured out that we had to get the clams in the dark in about 1-foot of water. So we did, and after about 5 seconds, the 38-40 degree water stops being cold and starts to hurt.  so, yeah, we start flinging clams into the bushels, and working up and down the tideline depending on where the game wardens were... all the while we were suffering- after a couple of minutes the water is wicking up our pant legs, and we all know that the moment the seawater hits our balls, we're just going to die.

 We did it though. As a I recall, in about 15-20 minutes we picked up 2 half-bushels of quahogs, and then almost ran straight into a game warden on our way up the beach, when we realized that we weren't strong enough to lug the baskets AND get away. So we stretched two of the baskets between the three of us and ran in a dogleg, then ran down the beach road where the old timer was waiting in the warm truck.

      I remember that as the only time in my life where I was just about ready to cry from the pain in my feet. The running was hell. I've had hypothermia several times, once even on purpose (I was swimming in 39-degree water for an hour- impossible according to the numbers, but there's a NOAA scientist who carried me out of the water after my legs stopped working enough to carry weight), but the prospect of a free breakfast at a real restaurant (something of a rarity for me growing up) was enough to get me to bite my tongue.

 By the time I got home I had diaper rash running from the back of my neck to my feet. Wasn't enough to stop me from shifting clothes and coming back to the Old Timer's house to see the stuffed clams, which I wouldn't try eating at the time, having an aversion to clams in general back then.

 Worth it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ancient sailor's sailing secrets...

We spend a lot of time waiting for tugboats. There's never enough of them, and we can't do much without 'em. Still and all, it's frustrating to operate on a strict schedule, putting in overtime to be sure to make deadlines and avoid delays, and then sit and use our thumbs as fart corks while someone else's shitty time management (not necessarily the tugboat operator) makes us all look like shoemakers.

    We're between jobs this afternoon (Thank the seven mad gods of the sea; long may they shit light on the heads of the damned), but had to move a couple of times to make room at our lay berth. Phone calls that end with "they'll be right over" tend to disappoint.

 There's only TWO, just two ways to get a tugboat to hurry the hell up and bump you to let you know he's here; you've got to do something. Either a). make a sandwich or b.) take a dump. That's it.

 Honest, it works. It happens so often that you can hit the deck with a hammer outside the house, and 20 seconds later someone comes out of the house buckling their belt looking for a tugboat, even when you're in drydock. It's actually kind of cruel, which, obsviously, makes it funny.

Friday, December 20, 2013

early Christmas

Well, it's 4am and another cargo is in the books as we sail for our mooring buoy. I'm well and truly back in the rhythm of things now. The last week of my last hitch threw me- different style barge, VERY spartan accommodations, different port, different shipmates- certainly enough to put me off my tea for a bit.
 Then I got to go home. And there was much rejoicing.

 Seriously, there was rejoicing. My wife threw a family Christmas party. Most of the clan B and my Brazilian in laws &co showed up. I had a good time, and we did an early 1/2 Christmas so I could open presents with the fam. Christmas 2.0 happens while I'm away- at midnight on the 25th, as per Brazilian tradition.

 And I got the greatest Christmas present ever. oops. I mean EVAH!  I had told my wife I wanted a good pair of slippers. I tend to live in workboots at home or at sea, and I wanted something comfortable- something that says "I'm home," something that is well and truly 'me' in footwear. And my wife, God love her, came through.

Don't act like you're not impressed.

 Other stuff happened, too. We went to a party thrown by my wife's cousin, and, it being a Brazilian party, there was drinking and dancing. Not sharing those pictures, though. My wife would make me rinse my mouth out with a glock.

The tree, now... well, this was the first year we had a real Christmas tree. And of all the hopefully many trees in our future, I will always remember it fondly, because my wife bought the wrong base for the tree, as yours truly was buying the tree, and being stubborn, I just had to make it work... and to its credit, it worked well... for about 3 days. About 1 minute- literally, before the first guests walk through my door for the Christmas party, over it goes with a tinkle and the ringing of little bells! I propped it up in the corner and there it spent the night before I lashed it to a nearby wall with some festive yarn the next day. It pays to have a sailor in the house. The tree has a modest starboard list but is stable now.

 Anyhow, it was a completely successful week at home- one of the best I've had this year. I'm actually OK with going to work, even if I do miss the actual Holidays. I won't be home until mid-January.

Monday, December 16, 2013

coming soon...

Back to work tomorrow, and the free ice cream shall continue then. I've been home clearing the underbrush of my mind.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

So, I noticed no ring on that swollen, liver-spotted finger...

Since I drove down to Philly the other night to pick up this job, I have my wheels in a place where a lot of guys fly in. Last night a shipmate noted that he had forgotten to pack enough socks... so we went out to a store.

  Well, my new friend has good eyes, and spotted some Christmas-themed lingerie not too far from the socks-and-underwear aisle... so we wandered over, and the price was right, and lo and behold I found something that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife might wear, if I'm an extra special good boy for Christmas.

Wonderful thing about buying lingerie for your wife- you're buying it for her... and for you. Obviously, having been away for over a month, the two of us bought an outfit for our respective wives.

   Now, I'm not 100% on this, but I'm pretty sure that Brazilian women don't, for the most part, know that you can get granny-panty underwear like American women prefer. In their natural state, Brazilian women seem to prefer thong underwear, the fio dental (dental floss) of fame. Unfortunately, after they're here a certain number of years, they figure it out, and then I have to throw away a whole bunch of them every time I come home you have to deal with it. Buying an outfit with a thong might be the way to go, but it's dreadful embarrassing for yours truly.

   I, and many men, too, apparently, still get embarrassed at buying lingerie for our wives. For that reason, I think retailers often put an attractive and helpful female clerk at the counter to help us get through selecting and purchasing without running out red-faced. Often. Not always.
 Anyhow, the two of us politely and pleasantly line up at the unmentionables counter, and the surly, massive clerk orbits her way over after a few minutes, rolling her eyes and whispering to her helper, who is stage-whispering "just be quiet. You hush up now," and the like to the scowling leviathan who we probably interrupted at doing something much more important than the fucking job she is being paid to do.

 Well, after we paid and left, my shipmate, a man I don't know too well, generously didn't call her too harshly on her behavior. "Wow, what a bitch!" he said, at a decent volume just after we turned our backs... like I said, he was fair and generous in his criticism.

No school like the Old School (Thank God!)

 The US Coast Guard licensing exam always includes a diagram of a WWII style boom-and-stay cargo handling rig, similar to this:

 ...except that instead of labeled names, there are numbers, and you have to supply the name and know what it does. Granted, there is not a single cargo ship in the US that still uses these. The last of these ships, the PRESIDENT CLEVELAND, was made into razor blades long ago.But yeah, loading ships used to take days and weeks, using gear like this:

 Whereas larger ships today can load many times the same amount of material in a day.

With 4 almost idiot-proof cranes run by 4 guys, as opposed to 40.

 At any rate, I digress... My point is that learning the old boom-and-stay rig for the licensing exam is a source of serious complaint, as it's irrelevant for the most part, for today's American merchant sailor. Simply put, it's the equivalent of teaching someone how to handle a buggy whip as part of driver's ed.

 With me so far?   So, yeah, I learned that stuff, bitching just as loudly as my peers in the licensing prep class did.

 ... well... shit.  Here's the cargo boom on the barge I'm visiting:

 ... and the thing is, I still remember this shit from class.   This multi-ton rig used to get a fueling hose to a ship's manifold connection requires the user to have instinctual knowledge on how to use the damn thing in order to line up the barge to the ship's connection in order to get the boom at the right elevation AND angle off the centerline to the barge to reach just above the manifold connection on the ship. In other words, it requires an experienced eye and a certain grasp of basic geometry, something that is no longer necessary in an era where people like me are used to just using a frigging crane with 3 levers to do the job of a boom, 20+ pulleys, a half-mile or more of rope, hundreds of feet of steel cable, a capstan, a partridge in a pear tree.

 Still, it works, and as a teaching tool, it's great with new guys. If a tankerman can run this beast, you can give him a barge with a modern hydraulic crane and he'll kiss your ass for making his life easier.

 So, another thing about this old beast I'm on this week: it's undergoing some serious maintenance. New PTO's on the cargo engines (Power Take-Off, for you shoemakers, a controllable hydraulic pump that runs off of an engine; in this case, one otherwise dedicated to doing something else, like pumping oil. The cofferdams (spaces between tanks or tanks and the hull) are getting some new steel, and the after rake compartment is getting waterblasted and repainted... by yard crews, not us!  I'm happy to be JAFO, and also happy to report two very related ancillary discoveries- 1)it's still much harder to get my shoulders through a deck hatch than my ass (my shoulders have to go through one arm at a time, and 2). things like this keep me from succumbing to claustrophobia, which still does rear up from time to time, and is a very good reason not to be a professional mariner when unchecked.

every time I go into a rusty tank like when I was an OS, you can hear my hair falling out.

Friday, December 6, 2013

'It's got the basics, yeah'

Well, it's official. I'm spoiled.
       When I first left my last employer and entered the world of the brown water merchant marine, I ended up on a trunk-decked bunker barge. This is a fuel barge that is used to fuel ships, and is characterized by the trunk deck, as opposed to a flush deck. A trunk deck is a narrow walkway around the perimeter of the barge, essentially making the cargo tanks a box whose top sticks up past the deck of the barge, so that you have to go down a ladder from the main deck to the walkway to do things like tie up and anchor and such.
     Well, this particular barge type was modestly popular, and several companies have this model from this builder- my new employer had 2. They're characterized by an accommodation block that is about 60% of the size of the living space on most barges. Knowing no better, I was comfortable enough, even though the bunkoom had a smaller footprint than a full sized mattress, and a bathroom that measured 5x5 and still included a shower, toilet and sink.

 Well, I'm working an extra week on an old barge my company picked up recently for a song- same type that I started out on... only this time I've had 4 years to live in a real deckhouse... and I'm struggling. I wake up and hit my feet on the doorknob when I get out of bed. Then I hit my head in the same place. I bashed my knuckles trying to towel off after a shower. My ass fits in the space for the toilet, but my shoulders do not, at least not really, so there's that.
    So, all bitching aside, I lived comfortably on board a space like this for several years once, and I was 30lbs heavier than I am now. I guess I got spoiled. Still, I can't warm to the prospect of ever coming back.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

On friendship

        In "Whatever happened to male friendship," the author decries the lack of representation in our media regarding traditional male friendship. As he points out:

...what these four young men represent is a challenge to the common portrayal of male friendship in our popular culture.  It is difficult to find, especially on television, an example of male friendship (outside of the military or law enforcement) that is neither transactional nor idiotic.  For cheap beer, it’s the wingman trope.  In sitcoms, it’s stupid men doing stupid things in stupid attempts at liberation from wives or girlfriends.  Male friendships, we’re taught, are about finding or fleeing women; they are not valuable in themselves.

          And he's right, of course. Think of the formulaic, successful sitcom. The husband is a well-meaning idiot who gets together with his friends as a relief from his hot-but-kinda-a-bitch wife. Single guys have wingmen, not friends- male friendships are either presented as female friendships using male actors, grown-up play dates, wingmen or other idiotic shit. What you don't see on TV are guys getting together on short notice because one of them just got laid off and wants to get safely drunk to forget about his troubles for a few hours, or doing things like agreeing to drive a friend to the airport at 4am just so you can hide a dildo in his carry on bag. 

      And the shitty thing is that, in my experience, we actually are systematically denying our own male children the opportunity to make lifelong friendships with other boys. How many of us became best friends as kids with another boy whom we first met in a fistfight? A fair number, I'll bet. When do we give boys the opportunity to wander in packs around a neighborhood or into a patch of local woods undisturbed?  Think about it... if your local cops saw a dozen 12-year old boys heading for the treeline, I guarantee you he'll follow and call for backup and then force them to go to a fucking store or something where they can be watched and be sure no one gets a boo-boo.  If my wife saw my kid, at 10 years old, with my buck knife in his pocket and a 6-foot spear in hand looking for animals to hunt down, she'd light me on fire and have my boy at a shrink's office... yet, this is something I did with my friends on a regular basis at 10... and at some point, someone always stabbed someone in the ass cheek. If you saw 4 surburban boys heading down the street with spears, it'd be on the news.

 What percentage of boys become Boy Scouts now?  How many men still maintain friendships with the guys who they went to camp with, or the guys who helped on their Eagle Scout project?  I feel we're raising some lonely boys, and yet no one seems to want to connect the dots between isolating and neutering boys and the neuroses and psychological conditions that are rampant in teen boys. How many boys who are heavily involved with team sports and outdoor activities end up on medication compared to their effeminate and sadly lost peers who get dropped off at a mall to go shopping on glorified play dates in their teen years?
  Boys need to be boys, and our now-mostly single mom parenting and female-dominated education system us setting them up for disaster by medicating and shaming and shaping them into a destructively joyless and pliable mold that is desirable only because it is easy to manage... or it seems to be, anyhow, until here and there one boy loses his shit, goes off his meds and gets on the news. 
   Boys need the freedom to learn to overcome adversity. Not just conflict, but to fight and manage their environment, to achieve understanding at multiple levels- we learn cooperation through shared goals, through messy, often difficult and incomplete victories. We don't lean that at the fucking mall. We learn that at a fistfight where we lose, out in nature, or on a rink or court, but we do that in groups, and denying the opportunity to set a social hierarchy through dominance denies boys the opportunity to learn their place and then rise up beyond it. 

 I'm incredibly lucky to have several long-standing friendships. I don't have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have are with guys who I went to grade school with, or met in junior high. I always think of one of my older brothers, who had hundreds of friends and was the most popular guy I ever met... and who lost all but one of two of those friends when he damaged his spine and stopped going out to party... and yet, I still feel he's better off with those small number of proven friends. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Master Baster

Damn, I'm on fire today. I loaded cargo, serviced a balky generator and cooked Thanksgiving dinner, too. Not bad. The secret to good turkey is to baste often. Be a basting expert, in other words. A master baster.

 Wish I was home, but I've got a distended belly, a couple of free hours and have time for a 4-5 hour nap before getting up for the midwatch tonight. Not bad.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christmas in November (slightly NSFW; you're welcome)

I'm feeling sorry for myself, being stuck on a damn boat on another damn holiday. In the past 15 years I think I've been home for Thanksgiving 4 times. Anyhow, maybe this will cheer us all up: here's some nice girls from Brazil to look at.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

winter is coming

50kt winds, below-freezing temperatures and a busy schedule makes for a shitty day. The forward 200' of my barge is solid ice- not a smooth sheet, though, because of the wind, so the rime ice on deck is like a frozen sea writ small from the wind- millions of little 1/2" bumps as wind-driven rivulets freeze as they rear up when the wind rips the top off them. Not very bueno to walk on or work in.

 Perhaps it's no surprise that yours truly had a little trouble catching a nap today. Mooring alongside a rusty bulker at anchor, the 3' chop had a habit of smashing us against him. We damaged our fendering system, which is made to protect us from exactly what we were doing, only less so.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

heavy weather

Man, I'm getting tossed around some tonight, and we're in protected water. Cold and gusty, maybe blowing 50. God help the guys who are just a couple miles to seaward.

why wasn't this on the news?

Hey, remember when that crazy stripper bitch accused the Duke lacrosse team of gang-raping her, and then, after everyone's lives were ruined, it turned out she made the whole thing up?

 Yeah, she's in her local news again. She just got convicted for murder.

A Durham jury found former Duke Lacrosse accuser Crystal Mangum guilty of second-degree murder Friday.
       Mangum previously made national headlines in 2006 when she accused a group of Duke University lacrosse players of sexually assaulting her while she worked as a stripper at a party. The accusations were later found to be false and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dismissed all charges filed against the students.

       Oh, they failed to mention that the prosecutor got busted too for lying about all this. Remember Mike Nifong? Guy who got convicted and disbarred?  They're still working out the civil penalty over that. Last I heard it was somewhere around $180 million.

      I'm not sure why this isn't in the headlines. Maybe because it doesn't fit the victim narrative. False rape accusations aren't something the media likes to acknowledge as a thing. Murder, on the other hand, should be apolitical... obviously not.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Captaining 101

When one of your shipmates or subordinates on board is suffering from sneezing fits from a cold, allergy or whatever, the best cure you can give them is to force-feed them coffee, cheese danish and a strong laxative.

45 minutes later, they'll be waaaaayyyyy too scared to sneeze.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Finally, some answers- IMPORTANT NEWS FROM BRAZIL

Well, the results are in, and we now have confirmation that Brazil has crowned this year's Miss BumBum, the owner of the most round and lovely backside in the world.
      Brazil has a lot of things deeply, deeply wrong with it. This is not one of them.

 Anyhow, judge for yourself. I'm inclined to think that, despite the controversy (there were accusations of Bribery by the 3rd place winner, which, knowing Brazil, means that she didn't offer to bribe whoever was in charge of security for the judges who she bribed), they chose well. She's pretty- not a knockout by Brazilian standards, but lovely all around, and with a 42-inch bottom, not in danger of being soon forgotten.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

needle guns and deep thoughts at 2am

So tonight we're moored in be-ootiful Bayonne, NJ, or as I call it, "The Paris of New Jersey."   Carrying about a half-load of 380 centistoke (a unit of measurement) Intermediate fuel oil , the standard in ship fuel. Smells like death. I've got a 6 hour break before we gas up a cruise ship, and, since this is about 2x the normal load of fuel for a cruise ship, we're sitting comfortably deep in the water.
  With some extra free time, this has given me the opportunity to handle some paperwork and cook up some mean ass mid-rats. Tonight I cooked up a batch of boneless pork chops and then deglazed the pan and braised a big batch of red cabbage.  The side effect of this epicurean feast won't be so nice, and I'm sure that by the time we finish discharging this oil tomorrow the galley and office on board is going to be a hazmat site in clear violation of the Clean Air Act.

 Oh, and if you've ever worked on a ship, you'll get a giggle out of this:

 That little tool is called a needle gun, and it vibrates rust off of steel. Ships always have a lot of both, so it's a pretty pervasive chore. The amazing thing about it is that it is LOUD. Aside from the direct noise, which is deafening (seriously- long term, it's best to wear earplugs INSIDE your earmuffs), the resonance from the vibration means that it's no problem for someone sleeping, say, 300 feet away to feel and hear the damn things perfectly well while they're in bed or taking a dump or whatever. Sound-and-vibration dampening materials help this significantly, but are expensive, so they're pretty rare on board.
 For this reason, needle gunning is often restricted on board to certain hours, and as they do throw sparks at times, can't be carried out during cargo ops or near certain places where flammable things are stored, like in our cargo tanks. It IS possible to be so fatigued that you can sleep with them running, however. I slept off one of the worst hangovers of my life in a dark 4-foot tall 3x6 compartment under the ship's boiler room with a needle gun running (I taped the trigger to the handle) 3 feet from my head. While wearing a respirator, goggles and a face shield in 15' seas.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


 Rev up your hankies, boys and girls. If you don't get choked up by this, there's something wrong with you.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Well, operational necessities seem to have taken a shit on my plans. Not feeling warm and fuzzy, so no free ice cream.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Well, that was a busy two weeks home! Tomorrow I make my way back to Sodom On The Hudson and another 4-5 weeks of work. I've been busting my ass doing some kick-ass stuff and also just getting my ducks in a row after not being home for 2 1/2 months. Things like, getting a haircut.



 I got to go to Downeast Maine, my favorite place in the world that isn't between a ladies' knees.

...I even got to go for a boat ride around my old hometown and summer lobstering grounds.

 Not pictured is the 2-foot high pile of bills that I went through. God help the many poor trees who gave their all.

 Oh, and I broke my hideously expensive computer. I'm dealing with my now-repaired older computer for this trip. My backup computer only has 1Tb and 6gb of RAM, but, you know, I manage. Anyhow, I'm dealing, and will write more later after I get back onboard.