Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Well, that escalated quickly

Irish Whiskey is like Lay's potato chips: You can't have just one.

...and that's why I'm hung over and wasting an absolutely lovely day by sitting on my couch.

I've been home for a week. My family's little homecoming rituals have evolved this year based on my only being home for a week at a time. Every year I say that I'm going to slow down a little, spend more time at home... and end up spending more and more at work. This time I pulled the plug on that. I've still got almost 2 weeks to go here; the longest I've been home in the last 6 years. 

 After 6 months, decorating Heaven's Waiting Room is truly complete. I'm not a believer in the man cave concept. I'm the man of the house. My house IS my cave. Now, the garage, however, is Mantown, distinct and different from the man cave.  Mantown is the site of my workshop, which is in the primitive stages.
I very proudly built my first real project this week. A workbench. As we don't plan to stay here more than 2-3 years, I built the bench so that it can be knocked down in under 5 minutes, with the legs through-bolted and braced. The bottom shelf is the brace. Removing that allows me to fold the legs under the bench, and the whole thing stows like a card table. Pretty proud of that. I got cheap, though, and used MDF for the work surface, and I can tell already that it's not going to last more than a year, even with my ass usually away to sea.
    My tool collection is truly sad. Somewhere along the way in the move, most of my power tools disappeared. My old home up in Boston, the Ant Farm, was a glorified Soviet-style apartment block. No shop space. Much of my stuff stayed in my mom's garage, site of my last shop. Tools grew legs, and I suspect there were some sticky fingers, as the garage was a busy place what with brothers and a teenage niece that discovered it made a great party spot for her and her friends. So it goes.

 Strangely enough, my vast collection of various power sanders made it. I still got like a dozen of the damn things. I swear I collect them, and I'm pretty sure I grabbed one of my brothers' too, so, wicked sorry, bro.

 But, yeah, my drills, saws, grinders.. all gone. Sucks. Gotta buy new ones.

 New shop, new opportunities, though.

    Christmas is just around the corner, and the palm trees in my yard are all lit up nice. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I bought bunches of lights to decorate outside, as my neighbors go all out, and I didn't want to be the guy with the dark house. Nice, really- about 80% of the houses on my street have something going on for Christmas/Hanukkah lights. Really makes you feel happy.

 Turns out you can get fir Christmas trees in Florida. I wasn't sure. Actually cheaper than in Boston.  The Mrs. went all-in, decorating inside and out. It's my first Christmas home in 3 years, and she wanted to make it memorable. Minus today's hangover, it's been a lovely week, and while the folks back in MA are freezing their nuts off, tomorrow, Christmas Eve, we're going to the beach, again.

 Oh, I took a 15 minute break in the middle of this post to throw a line in the water and take a few casts in my pond. Either I've got all 1lb bass in my pond or I catch the same retarded fish every day. Little dude's gotta be getting pretty beat up.

Monday, December 15, 2014

...see ya!

I'm typing this while waiting for a surveyor to finish his paperwork to document the volume of oil we loaded this evening. When he finishes, I can button up, call a tug, and we will sail out of this oil terminal to lie at a lay berth in Brooklyn to wait for the discharge orders to come in...

    ...once we're at the lay berth, I can call a taxi and go to the airport.

 Remember Wile E. Coyote's rocket-powered rollerskates? I really, really want to strap a pair of those bad boys on the surveyor's ass and get him off my deck. Foom!

      I'm looking forward to later on, despite the prospect of going through the rape-o-scan and possibly getting fingered by a 350lb woman in a too-small TSA uniform.

 Ah well. Used to be you had to pay to get your bells jingled.

I'll check in at some point. It's sunny and 78 most days at home, so don't wait up.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Next time I tinker with my blogroll and sidebar, this dude will be the first new addition, but meanwhile, you should be reading him. John C. Wright is a man of my own tastes, but what I would call "Wicked smaht."  He doesn't just crush the opposing view in arguments, he flat-out murders them. But like a gentleman.

To wit:  " I have worked hard to lower my taste to appreciating the things as common and simple as fairy tales, and all the simple and true things under heaven. I hope one day my taste will be as coarse as that of St. Peter, who was a fisherman."

like attracts like

Well, it really is true that water seeks its' own level. The combined effect of having posted half and fully-naked Brazilian women and some experiential scatological boat humor pushed my site hits to this year's high last week...  nice to know I'm not alone in being a grown-ass man with the maturity level of a 14-year old.

And this tour is almost done!  today is day 33, and in 48 hours I'll be in the air, headed home. We've been at anchor for the weekend, so it created another opportunity for a stand-down day and a make-and-mend day, so I'm leaving HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/flopouse in good shape. We've got nonstop cargo starting tonight, running right through crew change, so it's going to be busy again, but that's OK. We're good to go.

I'm going home for an extended stay. Looking forward to it. This will be the longest vacation I've had with my family since I stopped working on tankers coming up on 7 years ago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Punisher

So yesterday was our annual Coast Guard COI inspection, where the CG looks ever the vessel and safety systems and gives us a certificate to show that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing.

      It was hell. Oh, not the inspection. That went really well, other than two light bulbs on the alarm display (what we call the Christmas Tree)  that chose that moment to die. No surprise there. They're always shitting the bed when it's pouring rain and blowing 40, as they're 15 feet in the air.

 No, the reason it was hell was all internal. I thought I was going to die, or at the least, explode.

       Grocery store had fiber-laced granola bars for sale. Calorie count was excellent, and I had a sweet tooth. I'm not going to lose ground now, with the 100-lb mark in sight, so I did what seemed right.

 Horrible, horrible idea. Those fucking granola bars should come with a warning label. Not for me, so much, but anyone within a 50-yard radius. They really do have some sort of fiber. Tannerite, or C4, maybe, based on the constant series of pops and explosions going on in my digestive system... which I could feel quite distinctly, thank you, as they moved from kind of funny-feeling to sharp pains and a full-on sprint to the head every now and again.

 OK, that happens to everyone now and again. But my God, they don't make Lysol in the kind of concentration that could touch that. I was so bloated up that I had to let my belt out two notches. And I totally crop dusted my poor tankerman. Like every 30 seconds for about 3 hours. He was ready to call the Vatican for an exorcism.
      At any rate, the Coast Guard showed up, thankfully after I had the foresight to switch the ventilation system to "Always On" and open all the hatches, despite the rain.

 And all was well... for a little while. Then that feeling, you know, like the air bubbles rising in the office water cooler... then the pain. Throughout, I was clenching fabric tight enough to taste the naugahyde of my office chair. I was sweating, it was so bad. I could feel my belt getting tight.

 Finally, after a while, we had to all go outside, and I got to put on my full, winter-weight foul weather gear, which is now 3 sizes too big, and I could relax a little, but ended up marinating in my own exhaust for far too long, sufficient that I wanted to change my clothes after we finished.

On the upside, that was the fastest COI renewal I've ever been through.  I'm passing this on as a service to my fellow mariners who also get impatient when suffering through vettings, inspections and terminal staff who won't get off your goddamned boat. Fiber One bars. They might kill you, but on the upside, by the time they're partially digested, no one will ever want to speak to you again, and you will no longer fear death, but rather, welcome it as a release from the pain.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Coast Guard annual inspection today here on the 'Q.  Look at this until I get back.

Monday, December 8, 2014

stand-down day: boosting morale since forever.

With the prospect of a weekend off, we got a whole shit ton of work done here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ floating hot dog stand.

      So much has changed in how we operate the 'Q day to day, since we were given her.

 The original HQ was a converted clean oil barge. The deck was a warren of piping, valves and small storage tanks. This was where I met my hetero-life partner, the other captain on here. It was his place, and with his focus on making the quarters of his barge beautiful and posh, and my deep love of deck maintenance and painting, within a year that barge was among the best-kept in the fleet. BUT, when our last contract was up, with 0 minutes' notice, another barge came alongside us, and two otherwise nice tankermen walked aboard our barge with their trash bags of clothes and boxes of canned food, and said they were being given the barge, and we had to take theirs. I called the office, furious, and learned that this was true. They needed that barge to stay in Philadelphia, where we were working. They needed her crew in New York, where we were going. So our perfectly painted, not-a-spot-of-rust, custom interior'd home for 3 years was handed off to four nice gentleman who didn't much care for cosmetic maintenance and seagoing hygiene.

 You've got to understand that, wives' impressions far to the contrary, most midsize or large boats and ships are pristine on the inside, run down or not. Sailors are far more fastidious than you might imagine. This makes sense, as, living in close quarters, infection and illness will get passed like a joint at a Grateful Dead show. So, best to minimize that sort of thing.

 So we get handed a rusty, not-maintained-to-our-standards tub, which had recently undergone a major conversion from its' original design, but hadn't been put back in service or tested yet. Mechanically, she was pristine, fresh out of the shipyard, with engines recently overhauled and a whole new cargo pumping system added to allow us to carry a mix of segregated fuels. Cosmetically, well, they didn't have time for that in the shipyard. And I suspect that they didn't have an interest among the crew aboard at the time. This made our new 'Q a one-off, which comes with its' own headaches. I, personally, discovered the new design had some flaws, like blind spots when operating the new, heavier, far larger deck crane. I spent a good $20,000 of so of the company's money by destroying several cargo hoses over the next year. Them shits ain't cheap, and it's pretty embarrassing to call your shoreside big boss at 10pm with a 'I I did it again' but it happened. Kind of a lot. But we idiot-proofed our new home, one blind equipment-destroying spot at a time.

         We had time. We made this place the new HQ. The exterior got organized, the tons of supplies and parts and spares and consumables got reorganized (their last shoreside boss hooked up the former crew. We just had to make it ours). Over the next few years, needle-gunning and painting put paid to some of the exterior's appearance.Thing is, we had time.

 Time is a commodity we no longer have. We work a LOT more than we used to. New contracts, and my employer's dominance on the eastern seaboard did that. We don't have the time to spit-shine the 'Q like in days gone by. And in some ways that's a shame. In terms of bottom dollar, of course, things couldn't be better.

      BUT- trying to keep the 'Q working and nice to work aboard is something of a challenge with the schedule. And, as a result of all the wear-and-tear and less downtime, this weekend saw us out of service for a big repair job which is ongoing as I write. The last time we had this much free time was a LONG time ago. This is a good thing for us.
          First thing was to take a day off. Saturday was a stand-down day and it was pouring out, a freezing rain, all day. We didn't do anything. It was awesome. I slept like 9 hours straight. That almost never happens. And it was real sleep. Most of the time, part of my mind, even when sleeping, is aware of where we are, what we're doing (rpm's of the generators, cargo pumps on/off and their rpm's if on, hydraulics on/off, under load or no, tension of the mooring lines, whether or not there's a tugboat attached to us, and if so, who it is, based on the engine make and yelling of the crew). Even when sleeping, I know what's up.  Well, that wasn't happening. I was out out.

 Sunday we attacked. At sunrise, I got up, chugged a couple of energy drinks, went for a 10-mile walk, worked out. Late morning, we got out on deck, in the bright sun and cold, and tidied up, took on supplies, swung trash and oily waste off, stowed said supplies, did oil changes on the engines, greased all the grease fittings on all the valves, engines, crane, winches, falls, etc. Tested the anchor. Held a fire and abandon ship drill. Had our monthly safety meeting... all stuff that we normally shoehorn in between jobs, we took the time and did it just so. And it shows.

 This morning is Monday. We're alongside the pier at my employer's HQ in New York. When they come aboard with the engineers to do our repairs (and prep for the Coast Guard annual inspection, which will happen tomorrow, and for which I am now ready thanks to the weekend off), they will find the HQ a little dented, a little rusted, but workmanlike and seamanlike. Shipshape, if you will... and the crew? We're shipshape, too. We're ready to go.

   Like the maritime tradition of Sundays At Sea (half day off, clean everything, do laundry, be ready for an inspection and have a particularly big dinner), a stand-down day, or two, makes a big boost to morale and efficiency. It costs money to do this, but over the longer-term, it's a good investment and good for everyone, including the vessel.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


One of our cargo pumps is broken. Based on the number of things I have seen recently in the bottom of our cargo tanks here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/4,000 ton paperweight, I'm thinking that a cargo surveyor got us again.

    When we load oil, some companies don't trust us, or the charterer doesn't trust the receiver, so sometimes an independent 3rd party gets hired to survey the cargo. All this means on the loading end is that they measure the volume of the cargo in the storage tanks ashore and the volume of our tanks on board before we load, and then do it again afterwards. Then there's documentation that we've got what we've got. Usually the loading terminal's people just do it themselves, but not always. When there's trouble, this is the stuff that an arbiter sees.

 Rather than being a prestigious job, cargo surveyor is a dirty business. Most surveyors are immigrants, many of whom are former merchant marine officers who either don't want to go back to sea, or don't qualify because of citizenship issues. Yet it's a critical job, and pays pretty well. Decent oil surveyors seem to earn in the 6 figures, but tend to sleep in their cars when they actually have time to sleep at all.
        As I said, though, its' a dirty business. Unlike product tankers, the versatile workhorses of oil shipping, bunkering doesn't require that you clean your tanks often, so anything that gets in the tanks that isn't supposed to be there tends to stay there. Product tankers, well, we tended to clean tanks at least once a month, and tank dive (go down the bottom of cleaned, aired out and dried tanks with a broom and sweep up any dust. Looked like this when we were done.

That's a steam coil in this picture. De-superheated steam is run through it to warm some oils, which have to be hot to flow

     The color you're seeing is pigment traces in the tank coating. When we were done, the tanks were clean like a hospital floor.

 Bunker work, however, is bunker work. You're not going to suddenly take a load of jet fuel following a load of bunkers. You put black, shitty oil on top of the residue of black, shitty oil, and here at the 'Q we don't have tank cleaning apparatus, anyhow.

 Problem is, surveyors come and go. They can be messy, dripping oil everywhere when taking samples (some of them do that, too, and others bring an assistant to fill up liter bottles for analysis, make sure no one messed up the oil), and not cleaning up, or, more rarely, but by no means rare, dropping shit in the tanks. Sample bottles and rags for cleanup go in there, and eventually can get into my pumps, clogging them, which slows down the pump by starving it of oil.

 Currently I'm aware of 2 sample gauges (measuring tapes with a foot-long weighted bob at the end, 3 bottles, a hat and what I think is a damn 2x4 in my tanks. Not much I can do to get rid of them. Pulling the 'Q out of service costs tens of thousands in lost time, plus the cleanup and prep work to make a tank safe for human access is damn expensive on top of that. So they'll stay put, hopefully, until the next tank cleaning prior to a coast guard inspection, or when some straw breaks the camel's back vis a vis my pumps.

 More often than not, the surveyors drop rags in the tanks and don't tell me. With heavy #6 oil, the rags get sucked into the screens guarding our pumps and bung it up tighter than Dick's hatband. Which happened yesterday. I saw it coming, reported it months ago, but until we can no longer physically pump oil, we're not coming out of service. As I write this, we're heading to a job where we will have to ultimately discharge the oil with one pump, which will take just an hour or two short of forever. So it goes. Now, the working pump absolutely has a partial clog too, but it's still working OK, and thus, so am I.
    Removing the pumps is a big deal. They're about 15 feet long and are filled with oil and garbage, which makes cleanup a shit show. It's an all-day affair to remove them. And we've got two to do, so I don't begrudge the Powers that Be wanting to make a little hay while the sun's still shining.

Monday, December 1, 2014


The Lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

Tennyson, Ulysses

   I post this every year or two. My favorite .