Friday, May 31, 2013

A walk in New Yoowk.

My first few weeks on board every tour, I share space and decision-making with my co-captain. Together, we hammer out cargo plans and work VERY well together, considering the potential for ego-clashes and other forms of butthurt over who gets to commit thought to action when it comes to operating our floating pickle barrel. There's been little headache, as we work very, very well together. Tonight was a rare, rare thing: 2-3 times a year HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/center for involuntary celibacy, we get to dock at our employer's NY HQ, and have the time to go ashore together. Tonight was one of those nights.
           We ended up going to see a movie. Not the most exciting night out, but it gave us the opportunity to walk through Brooklyn after dark, something that safety-conscious sailors often don't do. Well, we walked through a nice, upscale neighborhood to get to the not nice, downscale neighborhood we docked in, so the upscale part was a nice opportunity to see and poke fun at hipsters. Getting into the not-so-nice neigborhood, I felt very much the absence of the comforting weight of a nice heavy knife, seeing as I can't carry a handgun in New York because I'm not a criminal, and only criminals and politicians can carry guns here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Practical Environmentalism: Operating standards on a tank vessel

Christmas Day, 2008, North Atlantic, average weather.

You might be surprised at how hard it is on a tank ship to keep the oil in the tanks. The global standard of oil carriage at sea is "Not One Drop In The Water" under normal circumstances. This is actually a misnomer, as the real standard for keeping it clean is "No Sheen on the water," and a single drop of oil will leave a shimmering sheen.

 Let me revisit this standard. Connecting hoses to perform cargo ops, greasing and lubricating hundreds of valves and metal fittings, not to mention the myriad generators, diesel pumps on barges, and the main engine on a ship... these things throw oil. Think of your car's engine, and the fact that the oil spots in your driveway show up after the car is 6 months old. Now imagine the mess if the engine in your car was larger than your house. Imagine the oil stain under that bastard! Well, you'd be wrong. The grease spots in your driveway, well, if I let that much oil go over the side, I'd be writing this in an orange jumpsuit.

 Accidents happen. That's why they're called accidents. Unlike other industrial applications, even in a no-fault accident, someone is going to take it in the seat when oil gets in the water, even if it's not necessarily their fault. Like the Viking tradition of launching their ships by rolling them into the sea on top of fallen logs lubricated with a couple of slaves thrown in between the logs, if an accident happens and oil gets in the water, everyone's in danger of going under the bus. Sometimes, in smaller incidents, the outcome doesn't involve handcuffs and a game of 'Mama Bird/Baby Bird' with your new cell mate, but that's not a given, especially if the mortal sin of making the news happens!
When this happens, on the other hand, no one gives a shit. 

No, today's 101-level info is for visitors from my new group who will have no idea how much time and distance is covered on the deck of a tank ship by men on their hands and knees crawling between potential oil spots to make them disappear before the next rain.Click on pictures to embiggnify.

Standing at the bottom of a small tank, one of 14 on a smallish ship. Filled with heating oil, this tank has enough oil to heat every house in Boston for a day in January.

manifold (connection area) on a barge. No matter how careful you are, many gallons of oil will spill when you disconnect an oil hose, and not one drop will go on deck, or else.

We spend a lot of time looking inside the tanks sometimes. After a few minutes, you can taste colors!

connecting hoses in the rain. Uphill, both ways, and requiring a crane which will shed grease like an angry chimp sheds poop.

pumphead on the deck of a ship. 8 valves, all requiring grease weekly. x 14 pumps x 2-4valves between the tank and the manifold of the ship. That's a lot of grease, never mind the oil in the tanks, to worry about. 

the grease spots under your Prius? Imagine what would be in the water if a tanker's engineers weren't careful about caring for THIS. 

       As I mentioned, you might be surprised at how much oil ends up outside the tanks of a ship. Pipe connections can leak. Valves and engines, hoses, etc. All conspire to get a little bit of oil on deck, and multiply that by literally a thousand potential sources of oil, and couple that with a standard of practice that requires NO oil in the water. That's the workload we face as a standard of care. Consider that right now there are thousands of ships and tank vessels in the waters of the US. How often do you hear about trouble? That's a good record right there, considering how much the media loves an oil spill. Water collected on deck and in the bilges (the bottom of the engine room) is monitored for oil content. On deck, absorbent pads skim any oil from the rain/spray before it goes over the side, and when oil is transferring, nothing, not even rain, goes over the side unless there is an observer permanently stationed to look for oil. In the engine room, bilge water is run through a computerized oil/water separator before going over the side. Not using the separator comes with a mandatory prison sentence, so this is serious business. Many foreign-built ships, including cruise ships, have 'magic pipes' that bypass the separator so that there is no expense of storing waste oil. Whistleblowers who report the existence of these systems receive 6-7-figure awards.

 Operating cleanly isn't just about keeping the oil in the tanks. Engines belch exhaust, and people produce plenty of waste to be dealt with as well. All of these really require their own detailed attention, but I'll be brief, and here's the short form summary:  we are very involved and very aware of everything that goes into the air, water and waste stream on board, and all have massively-regulated standards. Quick notes:

1) Vessels have a septic system- human waste is either incinerated or goes through a biological and chemical treatment system that sends lightly-chlorinated wastewater over the side. This will not add to the coliform count and keeps the vessel from adding to the nitrogen load to the local waters, avoiding pollution. It's actually fairly effective at what it does.
2). Trash is regulated under international standards. Close to shore, worldwide, nothing can go over the side. Further out, food, metal, glass and paper can go, provided it's ground up finely. In the open ocean, it doesn't have to be ground up. UV and salt water eats up anything that will float pretty quickly, and hazardous materials including any plastic can never, ever go over the side. I can't tell you how many hours I spent picking the labels off of cardboard boxes when I was first starting out, so that the boxes could get sent over the side. In the US, for the most part it's much easier and cheaper to send all trash ashore for shipowners, rather than set and sort and hope for a longer sea voyage out in the deep to get rid of the paper and food. Conversely, a pure-O2-fed blast incinerator may also be used- the liquid oxygen feed is to ensure that the exhaust is so hot that even soot is consumed. Trash accumulated while overseas must be disposed of by licensed companies that compost the trash, sterilizing it before it is disposed of years (yes, years. It has to sit in sealed vessels to make sure the trash is inerted) later, to prevent disease and invasion of non-native plants and animals. 

           In truth, trash disposal is very expensive, and for that reason, keeping the waste stream small is encouraged, even in matters that aren't regulated. There are no plumbers, and the engineers are already working full-time, plus there's no civil services, so the crew cares for themselves, and trash is a potential source of illness. With the nearest doctor sometimes thousands of miles away, public health issues are critical. You might be surprised to learn that most sailors have far, far higher hygiene standards than you do. For us, it's more a matter of life-or-death than inconvenience to need a doctor.

One area that needs attention is the quality of the food that sailors have access to. Having fresh vegetables is not guaranteed when you have to have anywhere from a week to 75 days between grocery runs. The time to produce healthy meals from quality foods isn't always guaranteed, anyhow, and shipowners can save thousands of dollars every month by buying processed food that won't spoil, canned everything, and the cheapest sources of animal protein available. Plus, sometimes you have to get groceries in the 3rd world, and there is nobody, nowhere, more corrupt than a 3rd world provisioner. I have NEVER not had theft and expired foods be an issue when dealing with a provisioner, even a reputable one. Too much opportunity for graft. This past January, In the Netherland Antilles, we watched a supply boat with pallets of soda cans and bottled water on deck come alongside, and claim that they never received our soda and water. The provisioner's claim? "This is not New York. Coke is hard to come by." Our counterclaim? "Coke is easy to find in Somalia. Check your pants. They must be on fire." Even in the domestic trade, on places like tugboats and oil-field supply boats, there isn't a single boat owner out there who provides enough food money to feed their crew by shopping at Whole Foods. We're sailors, not rabbits, and a belly full of Quinoa isn't going to power you through 18 hours on deck, and food that is going to go bad in 3 days isn't going to help when you're a week away from shore.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Practical environmentalism

I've recently been introduced to a discussion group on practical environmentalism, the idea being that individuals making small changes in large numbers can have a proportionate result over a long enough timeline (and this is my kind of math; real, low-key and hopefully, practical in nature). Jury's still out on my long-term involvement, but so far so good.
        As my friends and some readers know, I had a semi-aborted first career as a biologist. While I enjoyed it, I didn't appreciate being broke and having crushing student loan debt, so I went into my real passion feet first, after, and became a commercial fisherman, which gave me a chance to really put a practical spin on what I spent 6 years preparing for anyhow. Sure, along the way I got sidetracked and ended up doing something almost equally awesome and far more lucrative by cutting out the catching of fish and becoming a Delivery Boy for big oil, but I did and do have side projects that keep my hands in the marine bio gig, and keep me in contact with a range of folks from fishermen and hunters to scientists and university professors. I still eat and enjoy eating formerly-living plants and animals that I've killed myself. I take a perverse pride in driving an overpowered truck. Not saying I'm lockstepped in with the Big Green Machine. Hell, I hate most people who make their living off of trying to prevent others from making theirs.

Having been roughened around the edges had having had to watch the Rule of Unintended Consequences biting the innocent squarely in the ass on a somewhat regular basis, I've got little tolerance for noisemakers, busybodies and the willfully ignorant. I've got a hardon against stupid environmentalism. People who attempt to separate humanity from our ecology and who have no knowledge of economics are as useful as environmentalists as the Westboro Baptist Church is to funeral services. When a supposed environmentalist owns an opinion so tightly held, to the point where it will never face critical scrutiny, that person's voice needs to be muted. Where a person is becoming aware of the need for improvements and practical responses to how we care and interact with our environment, I'd like to think that I'm a strong supporter, and, given my concern for Unintended Consequences, a voice for reason.

 Anyhow, you're going to see some real environmentalism here in the future- human cost accounting, economic return, consequences of past actions... many highly negative, in fact, as environmentalism comes at a steep cost, being a qualitative concern. I hope that more people will come to realize that we CAN choose many easier, sustainable ways of doing things because we can afford to make those choices now. Where choices aren't available, the costs become more critical, and that can add up quickly on any side of any issue. What I truly hope is that folks will see that, in many cases, careful management and balancing of interests with a hands-off approach to management often works better than command-and-control management of environmental issues.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

stand by

So I managed to acquire a thankfully fast-passing but quite intense case of food poisoning yesterday.
 Unpleasant all around. Feeling better but yucky today. More later when I'm not quite so grumpy and sore.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I'm pulling the 0000-0800 today, as we're loaded deep, but anchored out at Bay Ridge in NY waiting until tomorrow night to discharge.

    Had a lightning strike somewhere close by just before I went to bed yesterday. It was raining so hard that the deck containment filled up, despite the scuppers being open. There wasn't a whole lot of lightning, just the one blast that rattled the dishes in the cabinet. Fast forward a few hours and I get chased out of my bunk after a series of continuous thumps chases away a lovely dream themed around Sofia Vergara and I and a conveniently located jug of olive oil. Some dink is having a massive fireworks show in NY harbor, and it's going off over my head. I fail to enjoy the prime location, being out on the front stoop of the deckhouse in my skibs.

 Not the most restful night. But hey, here's stuff to look at. Pictures ain't mine, tonight.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Masculinity, Machismo and maleness

Note: a few months ago I took the red pill. Something worth looking into for my fellow male readers. I've certainly found good reason to agree favorably with many parts of it.

I pride myself on being manly. True story.
Half the reason I'm a merchant mariner was because I was seeking masculinity in my life as an adolescent and young adult. Back then, I felt it was absent. Hell, it WAS absent. I was a large nerd from a long and distinguished line of unnerdy men.

 I have two older brothers. One joined the navy, following my dad's footsteps, disappearing when I was a child and coming back home and starting his own family in short order some years later.

 Middle brother was the manly man. Built like a tank on legs, a construction worker and carpenter, admired by peers for his well-paying job, creative skills and inherent ability to 'attract more ass than a public toilet' as one of his friends told me. My brother thought nothing of working a 10-hour day in Boston's Big Dig project, then coming home to roof my mother's house and refinish the interior room-by-room by himself. I wasn't competent enough to help, and had no interest in such things, being shy and obsessed with school and, at the time, playing heavy-metal music. Lobstering wasn't a full-time obsession just yet, as I didn't have the ability or skill to truly do a man's job as a deckhand on a commercial boat. That came later.
 In college, I started really fishing, and in the summer up in Maine, working at a remote biological field station mostly consisted of stumbling my way along in maintenance projects in between learning how to be a scientist. I learned the ancient and arcane art of chainsawing, handling power tools and the use of cutting implements in between jobs being a marine biology gunga din. Lobstering began to evolve from something I did as an exercise to feel more masculine to something I did because I liked it and had an affinity for despite the physically challenging environment. My brother went from being a hero figure to my brother. It wasn't until I took time off from college to do my first independent research that I found that I had arrived into manhood. I was working on a salmon farm in Scotland, and realized that I had a mix of skills that worked very well on a farm, which, as everyone knows, requires that one be a jack-of-all-trades in order to be employed within. And I did fine, and, in fact, outworked my coworkers- not in terms of speed, but I worked harder for longer and with less fuss, I guess. Anyhow, that job paid for my beer for a long, long time in a place with a lot of beer and a lot of beer drinking.
            I'm still not where I want to be, masculinity-wise. I can't put in a replacement window single-handed, frame a house or rebuild my truck's transmission. I still have no interest in watching professional sports, with the exception of mixed martial arts. I need to work on my skills, but on the attitude? I'm OK there. I married a woman who actually likes traditional roles for their efficiency. She calls me a caveman at times, knowing full well that I take an obvious pleasure at it. My more cerebral interests don't always fit the mold, of course, and for that reason I don't think I've crossed over from being masculine to being macho, which I define as having an unbalanced sense of gender roles and critical thinking skills.
      Friends and acquaintances from college certainly didn't like my transition from quiet science nerd to a more nuanced masculinity in my day-to-day living. The feminists, especially, being mostly of the third-wave variety, foamed at the mouth, and, eventually, gave me up for a lost cause, I suspect. I'm OK with that, though it's worth noting that with rare exception, the heterosexual feminist friends who were peers from my college days all ignored me sexually until I had started showing more masculine traits, at which point, I began to pull Indications Of Interest- fumbling outright passes, for the most part, putting the lie to the idea that educated women most desire a beta male version of themselves. Point of fact: the most aggressively (and artlessly)I've ever been pursued was by a radical feminist not of the third-wave variety (a point in her favor, but overshadowed by her explosive temper), which was amusing but ultimately called off due to my deep fear of her making a wind chime out of my genitals if she got mad at me.
   Bear in mind, too, that this is something that I've been unable to articulate, but not for the lack of trying, for a long time. I am grateful for the characters of the Manosphere, the online community that led me to think about the things I think about when I'm thinking about things. Outliers, haters and fruit loops aside, there are some remarkable men out there who are worried about the dearth of masculinity in today's men.


      Moving forward, I hope to identify and counteract the prevailing culture's impact on my thinking where I find that such things have impaired my ability to make critical judgements based on logic and reason. I hope to instill a sense of pride and masculinity in my boy, to counteract the ridiculous stereotypical programming he receives in his all female-staffed gradeschool, and allow him to develop himself as a person capable of taking pride in himself rather than being ashamed of his natural talents and abilities because he fails to meet the expectations of his largely-unmarried and childless female teachers. I fear for my boy, in truth. He's got some talented and dedicated teachers, most of whom wouldn't know a confirmation bias if it ran up their legs and bit 'em where the good lord split 'em.


Back to work, again, and, after a wonderfully uneventful ride down, I'm settled in and ready to give out oil to all the good little boys and girls of New York. I must have done something right at home, as I feel remarkably logy and run down. I hope to perk up after a day or so when I can get back into a rhythm and get into a healthier sleep cycle.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

NEW: Paul's Mexican/Brazilian Soap Opera Drinking Game

OK, here's one you can try at home. Just put on a Mexican or Brazilian soap opera "Novella" for 30 minutes, and open up a bottle of Bourbon, Whisky,, Tequila or Rum. Here are the rules:

1) Every time a woman cries, drink. Double if she is talking to her ex-husband.
2) Every time a man accidentally runs over his ex wife with whom he is still secretly in love, drink twice.
3) Every time a much younger man takes off his shirt in front of a MILF, drink.
4) Every time she loses the baby, drink. Drink twice if the father was actually her husband.
5) When the leading man tries to reconcile with his ex-wife, flip a coin. If you call the coin toss wrong, drink.
6a) When the helpful but angry-looking older woman tries to kill the younger woman who was looking for advice, drink.
6b) When the younger woman turns the tables and the older woman is handcuffed or is made to cry, drink.
7). When your latina wife gets really angry because you showed this to her, *Drink.*  Repeat until the temporary celibacy passes.

*Paul takes a pull from the bottle*

Noto Bene: If the player to your right no longer responds to verbal questions or the game lasts longer than 30 minutes, dial 911 and contact a poison control center.

another lap

So, I'm 39. I discovered Bulleit bourbon last night, so I feel 49. Good stuff, though.

Friday, May 10, 2013


No free ice cream right now. I'm home, and probably killing fish and liver cells. Back later.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sharks are assholes

THIS. This is why The Notorious B.O.B. and I used to kill sand sharks (Spiny dogfish) that got into the lobster pots. Sharks is dicks.

         Click on pic for animu!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bad mood rant

Well, last night sucked. Today too.

 Last night we had an incident which I *shouldn't* talk about much, as there's an insurance issue involved now. We're OK, we're still floating, and by next week we'll be 100% again. Had a quick physics refresher, so thank you buckets Sir Isaac Newton for another 24-hour workday, and after we visit a shipyard to undo what was done, we'll be sound as a pound.
     Today I came alongside the QUEEN MARY II to deliver a couple of hundred tons of low-sulphur diesel for their generators. We had the diesel loaded already when we had our incident, so we have to get rid of it anyhow.

Mary, you're a bitch to get close to. 

I'm not sure why the designers had to make the QM2 damn near impossible to fuel in a safe manner. The architect who failed to design the vessel to accomodate at-sea transfers with bunker vessels should have a rubber band wrapped tightly around his privates for a few weeks to prevent the passing of his stupid, stupid genes. Cunard lines, too, is culpable. They're the ones who hired an architect who never thought about how they were going to makes the wheels spin.

 I say this, not to be malicious, but to note that punishment has already been meted out. Although the QM2 is relatively young, her hull along the waterline has more ripples and dimples than a fat grandma's ass, so I'm not the only person who has struggled to get moored to her. My psychic alter ego, Nostradumbass, foretells of much time and treasure spent on restorative steelwork on her shell plating at the waterline over the next 50 years.

 Also, the ship has two bunker stations- one forward, ahead of the parallel midbody (the flat of the hull, where there's no curve in the steel from the bow or bilge), where you can't possibly get moored alongside securely (thanks, genius!), and one aft, where you can get a line or two secured to panama chocks even though they're mounted waaaaayyy to close to the water to be truly safe from letting the lines slip off as the barge comes up when pumping off.

These, recessed into a ship hull, will keep a guy like me from poking a hole in your boat when trying to give you fuel. Spend $5000 more in construction, or replace half an acre of steel plate every 10 years... seems like a no-brainer.

 Anyways, we did OK. I'm admittedly not in a fine form just now, so bear with my grumpiness. The QM2 looks like a dream to visit, but to bunker her is an utter shit show.