Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blasts from the past

Still dicking around with the new computer, still really hate Windows 8. So I'm throwing up these pics from the past. Not all are mine (but far too many are).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


BRB. My hideously expensive and powerful but somewhat aged laptop took a dump. New hideously expensive and powerful laptop has Windows 8, so I might be a bit before I get back here. Honest to God, Windows 8 is a real shitstain.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

quiet midwatch

After a short, blissful stint at a lay berth, it's back to work tomorrow around lunchtime. We took the down time to right some wrongs on board, throw a painting party, and service all the engines, generators, pumps, compressors, hydraulics, etc. Even the deck crane got some lovin.'  We had time to change out a round dozen grease fittings to encourage the main bearing to not squeak and scare the crap out of the operator when under heavy loads.

 Anyhow, after a couple days of sleeping like a human being, it's back to watches, so I got up at 2200 to start the day, as I'm on the midwatch (midnight to 0800). Job doesn't start until after my watch ends, so I have time to get my 3-mile walk around the deck edge (many, many circles) and kill some trees in preparation for tomorrow before watching TV.

 Anyhow, I'm tired and a touch out of sorts. Gotta get back into rhythm. Here's some nice Brazilian girls to make us all happy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

True story.

I am fluent in two forms of English. American English is my lingua franca . That's the language I think in and use to talk to my mom. I also speak Bad English at a level where I should be writing the Rosetta Stone primer.

 Bad English is the English spoken by maritime officers when they visit the US. All licensed maritime officers are required to speak English, which is damn convenient for yours truly, seeing as it keeps me from having to learn yet another language.
Here's an example, where I'm telling a chief engineer that, upon his signal, I will engage two cargo pumps at idle speed to pressurize his fuel system and allow for testing, then, when he can confirm oil flow to the proper tanks, he will direct me to increase flow to the desired maximum rate that he prefers.

 What I actually say/pantomime is "Chief, you tell me (spin right hand, index finger pointed upward in a small circle), I ( spin right hand, index finger pointed upward in a small circle) start slow slow. We wait, you call me when you want more (spin right hand, index finger pointed upward in a small circle). You show me stop (hold right hand in a fist) for maximum, OK?"

    That's an easy one. When we're finished with a cargo transfer, I have to talk to the engineer about pressurizing our cargo hoses with compressed air to blow out oil residue, to disconnect the hose, and to begin the closing paperwork process. All this time, the engineer is calling down questions and answers across the 30+ feet vertical and 20-60 horizontal to me, so we're conversing at screaming volume.
          At the very end of the job, the tugboat assigned to us will send up a deckhand to cast off lines from the ship and call out distances and angles to help the tug captain peel us off the ship. Often, new deckhands will hear me talk rapidly in Bad English to ask or answer relatively complex questions about legal paperwork, procedures and such. Many have expressed amazement that I can understand the tortured pidgin that gets spoken. I am often called to translate (Deckhand: "What did he just say?" Me: "He asked if I got my walkie-talkie back." Deckhand: I have no idea what he's saying at all. It sounds like he said 'telling you mumble in the dogface banana patch').
   Truth is, I speak solid bad English at home, too, which is why I picked it up so quickly. My wife and I have our own language. I know for a fact that at family get-togethers, my extended family is often wondering what the hell I'm saying when I talk to my wife in our Bad English.
      Really, I'm not doing my wife any favors. I'm an exceptionally articulate person, relatively cultured, too, I suppose, but I embrace and foster my wicked good Boston accent. You won't find someone with a stronger accent outside of Southie... that's a problem, too, for my wife. You see, Brazilian Portuguese is a phonetic language- letters for the most part have only one pronunciation, and while they do have some similar rules to Boston English (the letter 'r' when it's the first letter in a word is pronounced like our 'h')... but elsewhere, it sounds as it's written. So, with my disdain for the letter 'ah' at the end of a word, my wife has learned to spell English words completely wrong, aside from the Bad English influence.

 Here's some examples from her recent text messages to me:
Honey whats you there?  (Honey, where are you?)
"A burd just hit the winda next to my head"
"I told to you." (We already spoke about that)
"You OK today? You very chato with me." (Are you OK today? You are being a big pain in the ass."

 "Chato" is actually a very useful and versatile word. Pronounced "Sha-toe", is means 'Pain in the ass" but for the whole time we were dating, I thought it was my wife's pet name for me.

 At any rate, you maybe can see why at work I'm a wiz at incorporating body language, pidgin and interpretive dance into a seamless stream of English commands. At work, the worst thing that can happen is that I end up staring at an engineer like two dogs hearing a strange bird call. At home, though, a language misfire means a good fight. With stakes like that, the pressure's on to perform, and like a good dose of Viagra, I don't let you down.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mine is the righteous fury

I'm really pissing myself off with the reading that I've been doing.
        Honestly, people are dumb. I'm no super genius for certain, but reading online articles and social media posts... there's so many examples of people taking proud ownership of dumb, dehumanizing and outright ignorant opinions... honest, I wish spellcheck never existed, so we could have some warning when a writer has a 3rd-grade education and the critical thinking skills of a goldfish. I hate the fact that I have to sometimes read 3- 4 sentences before I realize "Holy dogshit, this is retarded."  I resent highly having my time wasted and then going all

 And just as a little apology for making you read my verbal diarrhea (and I still didn't need spellcheck. Thank you Sister Thomas. You were a gnome in a penguin outfit, but you taught us well), here's a picture of Mr. Spock playing 'tune in Tokyo' with Ohura's life-affirming milk trucks.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I swear to God...

 There's a truism in working on the water that if you're waiting on someone or something, the best way to make it happen is to either sit down to eat or go to the bathroom.

 This morning, I'm in the bathroom, and within one minute my cell phone rang, the UHF shore radio beeped for me, and on the far side of the door, there's a tugboat calling to ask me a question on the VHF radio.

 The tugboat had to wait, for the sake of decency and crew retention.

Friday, August 9, 2013



 Watching "Pacific Rim" and enjoying the hell out of it for the entertainment value, btb.

     There's a scene where the protagonists are using a ship as a handheld bludgeon. Sure- it's roughly cylindrical and resiliant and made of a lot of steel.

 From my perspective, though, a ship is much too fragile to be used as a baseball bat. To me, a ship is a fragile conveyance, might as well be made of glass as far as I'm concerned. Stretch, wrack, deflection, bending modulus and all the myriad physics issues that make my ass pucker on a daily basis. Keel cracks, shell plating fractures, spiral keel fractures... those things you can do by simply loading shit on board badly sitting against a dock. A bludgeon? Hell no. I spent enough time on deck in heavy seas, feeling the deck springing up and down like a teeter-totter, like the feeling you get on an elevated section of highway when you're stopped and a tractor trailer roars by on the far side.

   Still, seeing a giant robot beat the balls off a Godzilla monster with a bunker tanker was awesome.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Got a week to get reacquainted with the family. I'll get back to you.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The lost navigation art of Bottom Sounding

     As a kid of 8, in my first year of lobstering  with the Old Timer (who was in his early 70's by then), I asked a lot of questions about the things on the old boat. His new, smaller lobsterboat was his retirement exercise plan. It was a pretty 31' boat with a Detroit Diesel 453, a loud and reliable engine that today, 30ish years later, is still running strong for her owner.
       The Old Timer had been lobstering in Boston harbor since WWII as a second job. He owned gas stations and an auto body shop, so the boat was always his refuge, but with 50 years of fishing experience, the guy knew his shit. The new boat had a VHF radio (never turned on) and a bottom sounder (turned on once when new), and that was about it for electronics. No LORAN (the nav system of choice for lobstermen- a radio-based almost-grid system that gave numbered coordinates instead of lat/long in the days before GPS), and chart plotters hadn't been invented yet. It did, however, boast of an expensive compass that was annually adjusted by a professional compass adjuster (yes, that's a thing!).

    In summer fogs, the old guy preferred to stay in, and this was a bummer for yours truly. Occasionally, though, a fog would spring up when we were working, and we'd get socked in. At those moments, the old timer would pull out his watch and clean the mud off the compass, and figure out where the nearest navigation buoy was. Using the compass, rough knowledge of the direction of the tide, and his watch, the old guy would run to the channel marker, do some math in his head, and either head for the next marker on the way home, or to the next set of gear to be pulled. If there was a Groaner or a Bell Buoy nearby, we'd fish around that area before going home. Channel markers with an audible signal were our breadcrumbs, and knowledge of the bearing and distance between channel markers would let him know when he was in the neighborhood od

 In the next 10 years, only once did I see the old timer miss a mark. He was about 75 at this point, and, in running for home, we missed a buoy. He looked at his watch, did a round turn, nothing.
    With a sigh, he went into the little cabin and came out with a sounding lead and some knotted rope.

 For those of you not in the know, a sounding lead is a heavy weight with a hollow cup in the end, made of, you guessed it, lead. It is kept on a rope that has been marked at certain intervals- fathoms, in this case, or 6 foot increments. It looked like this, only smaller.

        When the lead strikes bottom, you read the depth of the water by reading the marks on the rope. This was how ancient sailors checked the depth of water. The cup in the end of the rope was filled with tallow- this picks up any pebbles, shell, mud or sand, and lets you know the bottom type. Even today, navigation charts list the bottom composition, for exactly this reason, though this is a lost art now, and the bottom composition is mostly used for figuring out where little boats can anchor.
It's in there. There's a whole book ("Chart #1") that helps you read charts, so don't sweat being confused .

     Anyhow, as you might imagine, there wasn't any tallow to be had on a little lobsterboat in the 80's. There was plenty of ale grease, though, so a plug of that stuff went in the cup of the lead, and over she went.

 The old guy read off the depths and showed me the sandy mud in the grease. We ran for 30 seconds in one direction, and he read it again. With the bottom composition and a general idea of where we were, plus the depth info, he figured out where we were more precisely, gave up on Arming the lead (loading it with grease), and had me turn and steer a compass course slowly until the depth of water rapidly increased, at which point we were in a shipping channel, and he had me turn quickly, giving me a direction to steer, (up the channel) and pulled up the lead. A few moments later, a channel marker came in sight, and the old guy went back to his compass and stopwatch and we headed home.
      After, all tied up at the dock, he told me that that had been the 1st time in 30 years he had used a lead to navigate, but that he got caught in the fog more frequently when he was younger, and had become fairly adept at getting around, and without the pressure of relying on fishing for his sole source of income, he never saw fit to buy a LORAN.  The ideas made perfect sense to me. Knowing the general area, bottom type and depth you can figure out where you might be. Using the changes in depth and bottom composition, you can refine where you think you are. Each factor can be used for rough navigation with local knowledge or a chart. Combining them increases reliability of any position fixes you might make.
Just another tool in the toolbox. In our modern era of multiple GPS, plotters, ECDIS, ARPA and AIS, many old skills go by the wayside. Some are preserved- celestial navigation is done for traditions' sake more than anything else, though it is still useful and important skill for emergencies. Others, like quadrants, the 3-fathom curve, bottom sounding... those are passed into history, but that makes them even more important to me

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Special post: God Bless You, Internet.

 So this week I'm filling in on another vessel here in New York. This one has an older crew than I'm used to. For example, they have adult magazines in the communal head out off the galley. Up to date, too. 2013 editions, some of them.
      I guess it's easy to forget that not everyone needs 5gb/a month just for their newsfeeds, and another 5 to watch TV and 'other things.'
 More amazingly, did you know they still advertise phone sex numbers in the back of those magazines? At this point in my life, I'd happily pay someone $2 a minute to NOT talk to me about what they're doing.

 Most of all, in this day and age, I can't see anyone under 60 ever calling one of those numbers. As it is, internet porn wouldn't be half as popular as it is today without a mute button standing by ready to deliver the user from the talking distracting noise.

*Insert obligatory obese woman on phone picture* Oh nevermind, here's some more Brazilian girls to look at. If you talk to these ladies, at least you don't have to pay to listen. You wouldn't understand anyways... but if they go "ai ai ai dios meu" you're probably OK .