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.

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