Wednesday, April 30, 2014


When we moor alongside an anchored ship, we lower two dense fenders to hang between the two vessels. These act as shock absorbers to prevent metal-to-metal contact and the damage such things cause. They absorb a lot of energy and allow us to heave in our hawsers supertight to keep the vessels from losing contact so they don't smash off each other.

Mooring alongside to an anchored ship. This was a nice day. Today was not. 
 So, today that just didn't work. It was blowing a hard gale, and even in this protected harbor we were bouncing and rolling with a small load of oil to give to a waiting tanker. We are about half the size of this ship, and only about 10% of the weight. I've got 7 heavy hawsers on long leads. How much a rope stretches is determined by the elasticity of the line- if a polydacron rope can stretch 15%, for example, a 10-foot lead would stretch 13 feet, so a 30-foot lead will stretch 39- something to remember if you're working in a sea where you're rolling. You want the lines tight to keep alongside, but not so tight as to want to stretch beyond their elastic modulus.  And then we've got an ancient, round-hulled tug lashed to our other side.

 So, it went like this- tug was rolling and pitching, periodically bashing into our starboard side. This caused us to roll and pitch a little more, and created a motion where the tug would bounce off our side, rattling the whole barge, then we would pull a foot or so off of the ship as we rolled, and then come back to the ship with a crash.

 Picture the last coffee bean in the can when you shake the can. That's what was going on in my bunk when I was trying to sleep. When a particularly bad hit caused something to break in the galley, I got out of bed just as a lee-lurch (a rapid sideways thrust) threw the whole deck 3 feet sideways, and my ass shot across the room like a pinball and I rolled ass-end-over until I fetched up against a locker about 10 feet away.

 So, in the galley, the tankerman on watch hears everything on board rattle, then a thump, then, apparently a sound like a bowling ball going down the alley, then another thump, perfectly clearly through the usually-adequate soundproofing, a muted "Ow! Fuuuuuck me."   I come out of the bunkroom with a scowl, and he's waiting for me, giggling, with one arm propped against the bulkhead (wall) and the other against the dinner table.

 Rule #9 at sea:  in a storm, other people's stumbles and bruises are hilarious, until they're not.


Pouring rain. Can't get my daily walk. Feeling anxious, plus, too much hot sauce with dinner last night. My biscuits are burning today. Some days it's just not worth chewing through the restraints to get out of bed.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I feel completely...whelmed.

It's been awful busy here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat  Global HQ/Fitness center. Friday was by far the most bandwidth-intensive days I've ever had at sea. I got my lease and HOA paperwork for my new home in South Florida, thank the Seven Mad gods of the Sea (Long may they reign. Long may they piss light on the heads of the damned), and had to sign, initial, resign, and countersign about 75 pages in at least 4 different documents going to 3 different groups. I had to get my wife into the action, too, cutting bank checks and overnighting them, because despite leasing a house from the largest realtor in the world, the owner is fucking ancient, and being from the 19th century, demands payment by a note-in-hand, and damn the idea of banking using that child Edison's electric fluid.

 Anyways, all done now. Nothing left to do but wait for the Homeowner's association to do a background check on me. Considering that the Ministry of Truth, in it's personage as the Department of Homeland Security, does the same pretty regularly, as does the FBI at the Coast Guard's request, I'm not too worried. If someone trusts me to run a floating fuel tank with more explosive potential than 100 MOAB's, and do so within shitting distance of the Manhattan waterfront, I'm pretty sure it'll be OK.

 As I mentioned on the Facebook, though, I killed enough trees on Friday to BUILD my own house down there in Florida, heaven's on-deck circle.

 Anyhow, it's on to cleaning up the logistical planning that I already laid out.

 So, while that was happening, I was also doing work-related paperwork and the assorted tasks associated with keeping a busy workplace working. In the middle there, I got a sort of runner's high, in terms of the mild exhilaration of perfect situational awareness when you're completely engaged and not fucking up OR off.

 A busy weekend has followed. We're moving oil, Jack, and no mistake. Everyone's getting some. I've got a nice break this afternoon, and that will be taken up, once my ass gets offline, with walking in circles for an hour, some lifting and then back to business.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Vitriol, delivered.

Well, as I mentioned yesterday, I got downright poetic about the utter shit show that is earth day on facebook. Some friends commented, including one from my old days as a tree-hugging environmentalist. Funny how my ability to articulate effectively suddenly snaps back after a long absence once I get really, really pissed off. Otherwise, I'd have said that my vocabulary is about 70% of what it was 10 years ago. Turns out, I just don't need an artistic way with the wordies until I need it. I'm pretty proud of ysterday's imagery and metaphors. I think half the anger comes from the first of the month, when I send $700 to the .fed for my student loan repayment, and in 2021, that will finally be finished.

 Also, I had a near miss today at work. Something bad happened, we took care of it, and God damn me for a liar if years of training and drills didn't save the day. There's something VERY, VERY positive about being among close friends when you're working on the water. Non-verbal communication and being of like mind in terms of dealing with Bad Things means a more seamless transition from the Oh Shit reaction face to the I'm OK, are you OK's and then the Holy Shit We Better Do Something Or We're Fucked face.  Everything went bad, then everything went better, then everything went better than expected, then everything was good, but we experienced a very dangerous moment that couldn't have worked out better beyond actually not having happened, which, unfortunately did.

 Anyhow, everything's good now, but here's my rant from yesterday. I had to edit out names and some identifying things, but here's the gist of it.

 ... it's not a difficult idea. I hated my old life, hated what I was doing and the hypocrites who profited from it. On balance, there is no group more greedily grasping, more dedicated to minutia and nonsense, than the foul and venal people who make their living off of practicing environmentalism as you think of it. People can talk about the Evil Oil companies, but in my experience they're made up of (mostly) kind, careful and conscientious people who are happy to share the wealth for those who work for it. Am I bitter? Oh, lord yes. I worked for the most prestigious marine laboratory in the world for less than minimum wage, and had to share credit for every publication they squeezed out of me with people whom I had never met. I got $1000 a month out of the $5 million grant I worked under. They kept the other $4,986,000 as 'overhead' for providing me with a room, 2 whole electrical outlets, some naked lightbulbs and running water. I had to provide my own printer paper.

Environmentalism as it is practiced and promulgated is the intellectual and moral equivalent of masturbating in front of a full-length mirror, and today is Palm Sunday (heh) for its' vapid enthusiasts. Signing petitions, donating to non-profits and collecting signatures doesn't keep our beaches clean and free from oil; I do. Me. Not the people collecting donations or teaching kids about the true spirit of earth day; it's me, and my people. WE keep the ocean clean, not the organizers, not the worshipers of gaia as the cause-celebre. The feel-good pablum of celebrating the mindless talking about of something disgusts me. It's a placebo holiday, except that the people who actually make a difference aren't celebrating. We're too busy and dammit, we're on salary. And that's the short version. We're all the sum of our experiences. Mine have been overwhelmingly good, once I got the hell out of trying to make a living 'making a difference' and started actually doing something productive.

Anyhow, here's a nice Brazilian girl to take the sting away.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

crank up the Internet Hate Machine!

 Ever start writing something and accidentally open an emotional floodgate? I just absolutely POLLUTED Facebook with an anti-Earth Day diatribe that really came out of nowhere.

 I make no secret of the fact that I used to be a marine biologist, and not one of those volunteers at the aquarium, but a bona fide independent researcher at the most prestigious marine laboratory in the world. I am still kind of proud of that, especially because I got a nuclear rejection from the same institute the first time I applied to work there. A year after, they called ME.

 And when I truly got to know the job, I discovered that however much I enjoy rigorous science and being on the cutting edge of empirical knowledge, the rest of it made me want to stick a gun in my mouth. Every subsequent job in the field was a nail in the coffin of that career, until the last, where I was an influence peddler, a whore, but without the benefit of having sex. I found peace in being a lobsterman, the job I had and loved through middle, high schol and my undergrad years, and rediscovered a liking for physical labor on the water, so I went pro at it, and here we are 15 years later.

 But yeah, I got called on being cynical and mean-spirited because I think Earth day is a crock of shit. I went all stream-of-consciousness, however, after seeing the phrase "I consider myself an environmentalist."  When I came to, I had cranked out a wonderfully hateful, mean-spirited and completely accurate rant about the hypocrisy of it all. It was awesome. You should have been there.

 Speaking of something you should have seen, check this out, too. Happened like 5 minutes ago: Here's a tugboat, sitting IN a barge, which is sitting ON a barge, which is being pulled by a TUG, past a nuclear power plant.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

news you can abuse

My luck's running pretty hot this week.

 Got the new house in FL (in theory. Contract is not yet in hand), Got a little money back in taxes for the first time since grad school, and work's light this week.

 A thing about the last. After completing my next voyage, I believe that will make it 20 of the last 23 weeks I'll have been aboard. Goddamn. I'm lucky I'm still married. Around Christmas my wife put her foot down and told me in no uncertain terms to come home more. My view has been that I should work when there's work available, and it's hard to leave money on the table unclaimed, but that had to change.

       What happened was that there was kidnapping in my neighborhood back in the late fall. The campus around the Ant Farm has become a Section 8 enclave over the past 3 years thanks to a foul ability to bypass zoning laws in Massachusetts for low-income housing construction... and then one of these douchbags kidnaps a kid, perhaps 1/4 mile from my home.

 Game changer. Thank Christ the kid was found quickly, but shamefully the kidnapper was arrested alive.

 Anyhow, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife stamped her 6-inch heeled foot and said no to moving to Maine. Florida was my 2nd choice, and hers, too, so we did some homework, and went down there about 2 weeks ago to look at houses.

 So there we are. Looks like I'm moving to FL. As for my new home, ocean on one side, a little pond in the back yard, seems nice.

   The thing is, I'm fried. I've been here too much, and I'm all, as my friend Johnny Sparks says, 'all cunty.'

 I am. 20 out of 23 weeks. By agreement, I wanted to pay cash for the move and not drain down our savings, so I've been working extra, when I should be home. The wife agreed, and now I'm really on the home stretch. When I get off, in 4 1/2 more weeks, I'm moving, and I'm taking some extra days, too, to do it. Gotta.
 As for being burnt out, I'm working aboard a beautiful, well-made diesel barge, and the workload is light. I've been able to go for a 4-5 mile walk every day in Brooklyn, which has been great for my routine and well-being. Yesterday we got moved to an anchorage, so that stopped. Today we're actually rafted up to HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/somebody else's headache, so I went ashore to go to Easter mass, then get groceries and get my walk in. Didn't make myself too popular as far as calling for a 3,000 hp taxi, but I figure that they've been asking me to work extra, I've been saying yes, and goddamn if I haven't earned an employer-assisted ride to church just the once. 

 Easter mass did nothing for my foul language. I didn't get to go to fuckin' confession.

Friday, April 18, 2014


I left a comment on one of my favorite blogs after having heard that a schoolteacher who lost many of his pupils in the recent Korean ferry disaster sadly chose to take his own life yesterday. The man was unable to live with himself for not having been able to keep all of his students safe in the course of the ferry passage. This is so deeply tragic, as it's not a stretch to empathize with the poor man.

 Anyhow, as you may know, the captain chose to follow in the footsteps of the accursed greasy former captain Shittino of the Costa Concordia, and abandon those under his care. My own closing comment was that the wrong man hanged himself yesterday.

 At least former captain Lee had the decency to be ashamed. I hope to one day visit their resting places, so that I may piss on them before I die. And if I never make it that far, I hope that others will find those graves a convenient place to let their dogs have their daily shit.

 You know, almost 20 years ago I got my first little license, a 50-ton certificate, with the assistance of a schoolteacher who was moonlighting as an instructor.  This guy, who never captained anything larger than a cabin cruiser, knew enough to drill into our heads that the single greatest obligation we had was the safekeeping of those who placed their lives in our management and care for their time on board. 

 Still, no one who hasn't been on a sinking vessel can understand the pressure such a thing creates... but we can see that all but the most craven do their fucking job, even when it's hard... so fuck these guys, and I hope they die.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

the not-so-subtle prison mattress

When I make or accept a request to 'work over,' to work when I'm scheduled to be home annoying my wife and stressing my liver, one of the first things that pop into my mind is 'what kind of mattresses do they have there?'

 Despite what I'm sure are many requests to the contrary, we're still equipping workboats with prison mattresses- coil springs lined with felt, encased in rough synthetic fire-resistant fabric. Costs $39.95.  I checked.

 My own floating palace, the Afloat Global HQ, has better mattresses than I've got at home. And you know, I sleep better at work than I do at home. Consequently, I may be ill-tempered, inclined to bitchery (I'm a sailor. Like seagulls, we're known to do 3 things only: eat, squawk and shit.), and just a fucking ray of sunshine all day, but I'm usually able to fall asleep in short order, and sometimes wake up hours later having not moved an inch, and still comfortable for it.

 Take this week's boat. One of the finest-built and well-equipped small barges I've ever been on. Someone at Bollinger needs to be knighted. BUT, prison mattresses, which means my rotator cuffs feel like I've got hot sand in them, and I wake up every 20 minutes to move. It's a teeny-tiny mattress, and I'm not a teeny tiny man. I'm waking up to roll over, as I can't actually roll over and still be in bed. I have to wake up, prop up on one arm, and do a barrel roll in place. So it goes.

 "But they're fireproof!" No, they're not. They're fire-resistant. And you know, I'd rather be well-rested than have the extra warm fuzzy that comes with the knowledge that my bed isn't going to burn as fast as the mountain of clothing, rugs and other cloth sundries in my bedroom will. I don't wear nomex underwear. My clothes would still catch fire even if my bed didn't, and if I slept naked to be a little more fire-safe, I'd be creating a hostile work environment. Jealousy affects productivity, you know. You don't get this physique just by sitting around. You've got to eat AND sit around.

 Anyhow, I'm not actually bitching just to bitch. My point is that there's a disconnect between vessel construction and crew productivity as measured by cost containment. Design a vessel with poor athwartship movement access, you get guys hurt and slowed down by crawling over and tripping over everything that gets in the way. Prison mattresses rob crew of essential sleep, which is it's own reward payable in decreased productivity and increased long-term medical costs... not to mention that the $300 mattress I sleep on is 5 years old and as good as new, while the prison mattress is good for maybe a year. The downside there, though, is that sailors can be filthy, filthy bastards. I've had to throw relatively new mattresses overboard (in the open ocean, on a ship, not in the brown water I sail over these days) because a filthy animal slept fully-clothed without using sheets on a mattress.
 Actually, I don't know what's worse- a disgusting man with poor hygiene who sleeps in his work clothes, or a disgusting man with poor hygiene who sleeps naked. Needless to say, that experience ended in a lot of work gloves following the mattress into the water, and the man in question being blackballed from returning.

 Well, thanks for listening. The tylenol kicked in, and now my shoulders feel better.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

a little extra, no charge

As if going back to work after just 1 week free wasn't difficult enough, my ride from Boston to Brooklyn was... challenging. pouring rain/sleet and black ice all the way from mid-Rhode Island to southern Connecticut. The ass end of my truck was swaying more than Shakira's delightful backside. Then the 2 hours to go the last 10 miles across the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway in rush hour because of the slow icy driving beforehand. Well, end result is that I was ready to get down on my hands and knees to kiss the pavement like the pope stepping off his plane.

 Anyhow, I'm whoring myself out again for a week before returning to my regular job.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Light Falls on Marble Head

Last night was the first time I slept more than 6 hours in the past 3 months. I slept 6.5 Then I dozed for another 4.5 with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife. Awesome.

 What followed was a lazy day. Made a light breakfast before meeting most of the entire Family B for lunch. Noted that I'm still dog tired. Still am.

 I'm being productive- point in fact, this is my first of only 3 full days at home in the past 3 months. I'm going back to work a week early to pay more bills to keep our post-move life more stress-free.

 In the meanwhile, I'm still a zombie, but I'm showered, beer'd and fed, and hoping for another 10-11 hours tonight.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I'm home. Got off the boat a few days ago, immediately went to FL for house hunting. Just got back. Total zombie.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Last day

Well, tomorrow I head home. 77 days is enough. I get 12 hours to sleep and shift my dunnage, then Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I fly out to go house hunting somewhere much warmer.

 Last day is always a marathon of cleaning, paperwork, updating logbooks, packing and mundane chores. Given that, I'll leave you with some nice things to look at. Here are April's Brazilian girls for you.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The End

My childhood is officially dead.

   The controversial adult video store that opened up in my old hometown when I was a teen mysteriously burnt down last night. Considering that no one has bought an adult DVD in the past 10 years, thanks to Al Gore's Internet, I'd say this qualifies as 'suspicious.'

 A whole generation of men in the region I grew up in will be sporting black armbands on our strangely muscular right arms.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

not feeling it

After a solid month of working on logistics, and less than a week to go for our 1,500 mile house-hunting trip, I'm burnt out on the idea of moving. This coincides with a lovely and unexpected slowdown in our schedule here at the HQ , so I'm going to take the morning off, watch some 'justified' and eat a steak.

 I've had some great luck in seeing friends at work the past few weeks, btb- not everyone, but some good folks, some of whom I haven't seen in a while. A good reminder of why I'm here. My company has one of the highest good guy-to-dbag ratios in the maritime industry. Maybe like 50-to-1.

 In all reality, after spending so much time here when I was supposed to be home, I'm probably edging to the disfavorable side of that list. At this point, I can definitely brighten up a room by walking out of it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A short but ugly thing

Illegal commercial fishing is a thing.

 You ever eat Orange Roughy? Patagonian Toothfish? Chilean Sea Bass? You've probably been eating illegally caught fish. Most of the fish marketed in the US of those species is landed illegally. No big deal; I mean, the entire EU fishes illegally. They set a quota in conference with the US to regulate the catch of expensive fish like sword and tuna. When the US catches their quota, these Highly Migratory fish are no longer fished by the US fleet under a treaty sharing that same name. Well, except where the EU member states fudge the books and drop zeros in their records wink wink nudge nudge. Funny thing. Pulling shit like that also is partially responsible for the piracy problem in the Horn of Africa. The Europeans sign treaties, but maintain the moral flexibility to ignore them when no one's looking. Take away a nation's livelihood by catching all their fish and then using their coast to dispose of your toxic waste, well then the entrepreneurs branch out.

 Asian and European distant water vessels have been supplying illegally caught fish for the world ever since fishing was regulated. Unfortunately, the big money items like Patagonian Toothfish are found in butt-ass cold places south of Tierra Del Fuego and in Antarctic waters.

 Well, apparently a few days ago a 250-footer's EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicting Radio Beacon) went off, indicating trouble. Nearest vessel was over 1000 miles away. No one is exactly sure who the owner is or what or where the boat is, because of 'confusion' over ownership.  Worst thing that could happen to the owner is that the boat and crew were found safe, but that's not bloody likely with the Antarctic winter approaching. They've already called off the search.  The poor pricks who signed on to fish, 3rd world nationals, chances are, are long dead.

 Eat up, folks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014