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.