Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I'm not dead yet!

I'm here, I'm here. I'm home, actually, and running around like a one-armed paperhanger.

 Awesomness ensues.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

last watch

Another voyage done- this was a quick one, just 28 days.

        I''m hoping to be at the airport for lunch, and home for a late dinner.

 Might be a marathon double-tour next time. Got some stuff in the works, have to see.

 In the meanwhile, Cargo was pumped off, and we're sitting at a lay berth. I've got an awkward tugboat to dock ride, then a taxi commute into NY at morning rush hour (We're in beautiful Newark, NJ, the Paris of the northeast) before I can go get my nuggets juggled by a 400-lb TSA agent prior to getting on the plane.

 Oh, I have resolved to start breathing heavy and whispering 'oh, yeah.' during my TSA pat-down, because why the hell should I be the only one who feels uncomfortable?

 Anyhow, feel free to look at the Brazilian cheerleaders until I get back.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

guess what?

30 minutes after started a cargo load, orders changed- cargo volume to be loaded got cut by 75%. Reason being, one of the receiving ships isn't going to be in town for a week yet, so there's no point in loading oil that has to be heated to flow until the receiver is ready to take it.

 It blows my mind that there's so much disorganization in oil tankship logistics that last minute changes are a common thing. Seriously, that ship is bringing in a quarter of a million barrels or more of something to one of our local terminals, and then is getting tanked up with our stuff before going to the next port... and chartering these ships ain't cheap. 10 years ago, Citgo was paying $38,000 a day plus fuel to charter my ship, and that was with the discount for doing a 2-year charter. Even so, there were many occasions where we'd be sailing up or down the East Coast, and the destination would change... sometimes we'd even turn around. Once I remember sailing from Corpus Cristi, TX to New York, dropping the anchor in Stapleton Anchorage, sitting for a day, then suddenly raising anchor and sailing for Lake Charles, Louisiana.

 I guess you never know. I'm not complaining- our workload got cut in half, after all... but I was loading tanks for a larger parcel of oil, so in cutting it all short, I've got slack tanks- tanks only partially filled, which will cool off fast, and also prevent us from taking on more oil for another customer if the need arises while we're waiting for our receiving ship to arrive in town.

 So it goes. Screw it, I'm going home in a couple of days, anyhow. S'all good.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tug Life

I may have to rethink my position that harbor tugboaters aren't 'real' merchant mariners.

 Overheard between two tugboat deckhands:

       "Why are they trying to sell that to me? I can't go ashore, and when I'm home, if I can't drink it or f*ck it, I'm not buying it."

Makes me think about the old saw about the second thing a sailor does when he gets home.

 He puts down his seabag.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

we're all going to hell

Visualize actually saying this out loud, and then...profit.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Well, I'm failing to engage this afternoon, and feeling pretty good about it.

    Current cargo discharge is a mess. The ship in question is one of the new breed of super size container ships, and they've hired a cargo surveyor with whom we already have an antagonistic relationship, because, well, the guy's a fucking idiot.

 Anyhow, start off with a French company with a French cadre of officers on their ships. After immediately surrendering to us when we came alongside the ship, we knew that the job would take double the normal time. While these guys have fabulous hair, showcasing obvious access to high quality hair products, they're passive-aggressive in that they insist on not multitasking. If the surveyor is measuring oil in their tanks, they can not connect a fuel hose. If the 4 guys connecting the fuel hose are working, no one can sign paperwork. If someone is looking over papers, a messenger can not answer the radio... well, you know how it goes.

 Anyhow, all this is lead my Mr. Potato Head, the only cargo surveyor we actively loathe and mistrust in the NY/NJ area. When I woke up after lunch (I was up all night), I heard his voice, then my #2 guy's raised voice in return, with increasing volume but only on my guy's part. Mr. Potato head is an expert at failing to engage, too, although I'm pretty sure the guy's too autistic to understand why he's an ass AND an idiot. I guess you can't blame him. Potatoes gonna potate.

 Still, it's a truism that people will rise to the level of their maximum incompetence. Expecting Mr. Potato head to get himself fired is a mistake- the guy's older, and obviously has run that gauntlet.

 Anyhow, it's already cost us our next job, so there's no use yelling about it. Although I will, I'm sure. Gotta please the townspeople, and if I don't shame someone for being slow, incompetent or deficient in some way, my head will explode.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mr. fix it

I pride myself on being pretty handy around the house.
Watching my dad (a former ships' electrician) mess with wiring, and my brother with carpentry, auto repair and pretty much every other form of home ec for men, I've got a good handle on being able to handle a lot of tasks on my own around the ol' casa.

But shit like this past weekend make me awful happy that I'm not a marine engineer.

 You see, our deck crane shit the bed the other day.

     Another cargo load, at one of our regular stops, and I'm at the base of the crane, swinging our 100' heavy fuel oil hose over the side, and as I'm swinging the hose over, there's a big boom that leaves my ears ringing, then a smaller boom, and then the crane stops.

      The swing motor assembly is no longer working. Well, the swing motor, a compact hydraulic motor, is working fine, it's just that nothing is happening. Turns out the gearbox for the swing motor is Pining For The Fjords.

   The gearbox is the size of a shoebox, weighs about 150lbs or so, and is bolted to the turntable on the crane.

 We end up finishing the load, get the hoses back aboard (more on that later), sail, and spend the night lying to at my company's HQ dock, to await repair before the scheduled discharge.

        Between rolling in chop and swinging heavy, awkward, sometimes very unbalanced loads at high angles for years, turns out the main gear that runs between the gearbox and the turntable gear (the base of the crane IS a giant gear) sheared right off- a very stubby 2-inch thick solid steel cylinder, sheared right off. That's a LOT of force to be able to do that.

 Anyhow, getting the damn gearbox switched out was an exercise in awkwardness involving a smaller crane, chainfalls, and working at close quarters with another man. Very awkward business, trying to get a 150lb shoebox out of a space that's 4 feet in the air, or just tall enough where you're working to lift something at waist height, and bring it up to eye height while reaching inside a space inside a cylinder with steel obstructions everywhere, and all of it just tall enough to make it impossible to lift with anything but your forearms and lower back, with the only handholds being just large enough to use two fingertips for leverage.

     I don't know how our engineers and shoreside mechanics do it day in and out. By the time we got everything buttoned up and working again, I was feeling pretty grumpy and had grease in my hair and down my shirt.

 There were some pretty scary/funny moments, though. Getting those hoses back aboard at the end of the load was an all-hands effort, and even the dockmen helped. Without the swing gear in place, the crane swung in the breeze, and, when I first asked the dockman to let go the hook that was dangling on the cable, holding the hoses, the crane took off like a rocket- there wasn't anything holding it in place anymore, and it wanted to feather into the wind, which was quite strong. Well, with a 60-foot arm, plus another 40-feet of cable out, we basically had a 100-foot diameter propeller with a 120-lb wrecking ball (the hook) at the end. Unable to control the swing, and in fear of wiping out pipes and light towers on the dock, I did the only thing I could think of to make the swing circle smaller: I raised the boom.

      Well, centrifugal force being a thing, when you decrease the swing radius of a turning object, you increase the angular momentum, so the higher up the crane went, the smaller the swing radius, and the more force applied, so it looked pretty dramatic, the crane swinging in circles until I could get the boom up and the cable reeled in.

 Getting the hoses back aboard was a simple matter of recreating the old boom-and-stay rig, and using the #2 cable as a power block, to heave the crane around. We were going to attach the #2 hook to different objects and use it to haul the boom around, but it turns out that with a couple of warm bodies available, we could just muscle it into rough place, lift the hoses vertical, one at a time, then everyone on the #2 hook dragged the whole crane assembly around and the hoses came back aboard. I grease the ever-loving shit out of that crane, so the bearings are smooth.
 Anyhow, Flintstones power carried the day.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

In which our patience is tested.

Oh, Lord, protect me from the good intentions of idiots. Please, Jesus, God and St. Jack Daniels, I wish you were here right now.

           But it's up to me. I've got a chief engineer who is... well, challenged, who went from zero to potato in 3.6 seconds, bypassing Full Retard in the process.

 Honestly, my day thus far has been like a Laurel and Hardy routine.

 I really want to call our dispatcher and say "This is another fine mess you got me into."

 But that's kind of his job.

     Anyhow, a first today. An engineer playing the 'you didn't give me the fuel you said you did' game, which is usually the opening for negotiations on discounting his fuel, is playing in the wrong country. The deal is the deal, and we do not negotiate. We calculate.

 Anyhow, it takes a special kind of potato to claim that I held back more fuel than the ship actually ordered.

 Seriously, this is what I get presented with.
 "Sir, I am showing that we are short 200 metric tons of fuel oil"

Me: "Chief, you ordered 170 metric tons. I gave you 170 metric tons."

 "Yis Yis, We are showing 200 tons less."

Me: "Chief, you received 170 tons, yes?"

"Yis yis. One Seven Zero.  But we are showing 200 tons short." 


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The hands of White Privilege

 Something I should have done the other day when I wrote this rant about checking my privilege.

Here is a picture I took about 12 hours ago of my hands, which bear the brunt of all my white privilege. Note the manicured nails, lack of calluses, and background, which was taken at my local country club, where myself and fellow co-conspirators drank mint juleps and ordered around  the colored servants through our monocles.


   I am the descendent of slaves and terrorists- my family is American, for two generations now, but the B family was of Ireland, from the north on my dad's side, and the south on my mom's. So quit talking about reparations. 800 years of killing, all the blood still washes away.

       When someone complains that they're not making enough money sitting on their ass in a cubicle, or answering phones or making people lunch, I refer them to my picture. When your natural sleep position is to cradle your hands, which are curled into cramped claws when you doze off, I might be more interested, but for sympathy, I refer everyone to Webster's, where it can be found between "Shit" and "Syphilis."

   And I'm not looking for sympathy. My hands look like a bird's foot because it's the price I pay to do something I actually like to do. How many people, down deep, enjoy what they do for work? I certainly do, and it's something I choose to do. I could do other, less interesting things, and make less money and spend more time with the people I love... who would probably not like what that would do for my personality.
     I worked at Burger King. When I was 14. I made $3.25 an hour. You know, I didn't like it, but it wasn't terrible. Thing is, I knew minimum wage isn't something an adult should be satisfied with, but it's better than $0.00 an hour. It'll do to keep from dying of malnutrition while people look for better-paying work. And that's the business model- you're supposed to be smart enough to know that you're not going to feed your family and retire on McDonald's burger-assembly wages, and everyone knows it.
      Thing is, when you see all those people working at a fast food place, half of them have other jobs, and work far more hours than you do. And that's a good thing. A hard thing, but hard work is good work, on payday, anyhow, and my hats are off to those folks who bust their ass and put in the hours to make shitty pay work for them, but even then, it CAN be temporary, and probably should be. As much as I don't really mind, the 90-100 hour workweek isn't something I'll do forever. Eventually I'll slow down. I have enough odd and esoteric skills that I can choose to do that. Not everyone does, but everyone CAN, and that's my point.

In which I get a little jealous

So, I like to help prospective mariners get through the miserable labyrinthine credentialing process to become a US Merchant mariner. I don't usually do this for free, as, well, it takes time to do everything well, but I earn beer-money here and here, and that's about it. It's not a cheap thing to do, and I don't want to prey on folks who just want to learn a new trade.

      Short form is that I talk with guys, find out what they might want to do, what they're willing to do, and how long it will take them to come up with the fees that are associated with credentialing and training, where such things are necessary. After that, it's a matter of helping them find the right classes and offices and addresses, and then, when they get their papers, tweaking their resume and reaching out to see who among companies in their preferred line of work might be most amenable to looking over an entry-level resume. 

     Anyhow, this morning I sent off my first steward utility, a cook's helper, himself a trained chef and experienced short-order cook, who will be working on a ship with a large crew, to see if he'd like to make a career of it, or merely just work a few years and save up the money to open his own diner.

   In asking him to stay in touch, I am reminded of the phone call I made just before my airport taxi came, on the night I first left to join a ship. I was so fired up and excited, and grateful to the guy who helped me, so I called to say thanks to him for the advice he gave.
     I heard that same voice this morning when I picked up the phone, only I'm on the other side of it now. I miss that feeling.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The most interesting baby in the world

 I'll probably be ashamed of this when I stop laughing.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I checked my privilige... couldn't find it.

I read a great post by author Dave Freer on Privilege-checking for writers.

 I have a massive beef with this whole 'check your privilege' thing that is used to one group's advantage, as a means of quelling supposed ism's by simple one-upmanship.

 Last time I volunteered some time with the educational foundation I used to work with, I got that particular epithet thrown in my face by a former colleague, a pushy lesbian lady who I used to be very fond of for her wicked sense of fun and humor. In the ensuing years since I had seen her last, I coarsened considerably as I transitioned from a humble marine biologist who lived grant-to-grant and became a merchant mariner and, well, honestly, a little more masculine and loud- well, even more honestly, I always was these things, but used to hide my light under a basket, so to speak, which was good for socializing with other academics. But I did coarsen. A lot.
       After grad school, I immediately started fishing commercially full-time, and worked as a marine biologist on the side and off season. Sometimes I took extra time off to do certain projects, and traveling to conferences to give presentations on my work was a way to drum up future business, so it goes.

      Things being what they are, I got tired of being broke all the time. The only person who makes less money per hour than a marine biologist is a commercial fisherman, and the usual injuries, broken and rebroken fingers and toes, torn muscles and tendons, etc, are as much a part of fishing as the continuous infection that plagued my hands.

 I've got bad hands, you see, and this is where Dave Freer's writing really grabbed my attention.

   I worked as a deckand or captain of fishing boats since I was 7. No shit. $10 a day every Saturday, when it was nice out, with my neighbor, and twice a week in the summer. After school and weekends through high school. Whenever I had a day off in college, and on-and-off full time right up until 6 years ago.

    The shit with my hands started when I was 13, and severed two fingers on my right hand, and mangled the others. Long story, but I recovered really well, and the surgery to repair everything went perfectly- I have all my fingers- the skin on the underside of my fingers wasn't completely cut through- just everything else.

 But my right hand never got very strong. To this day, I do things like open bottles and plastic with my teeth or a knife. My 'good' left hand got broken up pretty badly the very next year, and a glut of redfish used for bait the year after that wiped out the elasticity of the tendons- redfish is bony, and the bones puncture the skin, introducing infection about 95% of the time. I got blood poisoning at least a half-dozen times when I was 15 from that shit. The infection never fully went away until I fully quit fishing, and even then it took almost 2 years. Oh, and a nasty burn from sodium hydroxide (caustic soda is the trade name) sloughed off all the skin on my right hand's pinky, leaving it covered in scar tissue that doesn't completely heal, so my right hand pretty much looks like a bird's foot which turns a lurid purple when it's cold outside.

     So, this picture that Dave Freer put up, and the story accompanying it (read it! You'll like it) really caught my eye.

No this is not a slightly younger Uncle Si


     I absolutely know that look. That's how I feel after I touch salt water and oil (all the damage, skin constantly sloughing off, etc also makes me sensitive to oil- and I run a  a goddamned tub carrying thousands of tons of it).

   These are the hands of White Privilege. Bloody, unable to be straightened, painful.

 Shit, I can't lay my hands flat on a table without pain. Their natural position is a nasty hook shape. I can't write longhand, and couldn't, easily, through college and grad school, so I can type faster than any two people you know.

 But I'm Privileged. I'm privileged to work 100ish hours a week, spend 10 months a year on a goddamned floating tub away from my family, where the stress makes my hair fall out and leaves me unable to sleep more than a few hours at a time. When I do go home, there's no generator screaming 20 feet away from my bed, so the silence leaves my ears screaming shrilly from the tinnitus of living intimately with 4 big fucking diesel engines within earshot 300+ days a year. My wife turns over in her sleep, and I shoot out of bed like a watermelon seed squeezed between two fingers, because the sound of someone in your room without knocking on the door means they were too panicked to remember their niceties and are about to grab my shoulder and breathe the stink of old coffee and fresh panic in my face while talking about whatever got fucked up.

 And that's the world I live in. I CHOSE it, I embrace it, I accept the imperfect parts as cost of doing business for the better parts. But I wouldn't call it privilege.

   To call me privileged is to deny my experiences, and to deny me agency as architect of my own life and life choices. It's infantilizing, bigoted and asinine.We get from yesterday to today mostly in the course of reacting to our circumstances, and little more than that. From what my WASP friends describe as growing up, it sounds awful, maybe worse that growing up in an Irish Catholic enclave, with not-quite-enough-money, but both parents present and involved. Whatever, I wouldn't want the childhoods I heard described, but I'm not envious of a certain feeling that life might have been easier for them early on.  Whatever it is, it ain't my business, and if certain people just can't get over the fact that someone, somewhere, might think differently than them, well, fuck them, because, you know, it's not the quiet folks who are busy working hard who make the noise. It's the leisure-riddled guilt-mongers, and that is what my lesbian former-acquaintance had become, and why I never went back to that group with whom I used to find so much satisfaction in working.

 So, if I'm privileged, it's because I fucking worked for it. I AM privileged, come to think of it. I get to see things that most folks never see- a bow wave blasting 100-feet into the air- sunrises and sunsets are part of my every day- that's my normal, where others have to stop everything and try to remember to take the time to look- I see them daily, usually both the same day, and more often than not, they're lovely. I see marine life up close, and I know exactly what I'm looking at because I was actually REALLY good at what I did, and since I grew up knowing that I wanted to work on the water, and all the shitty jobs and broken bones and hard-won life lessons made me appreciate what I have and what I can do with it, and, really, I don't mind working 100 hours a week. In fact, I hate when people who only work 40 hours a week complain about not having enough money or not having enough time. Fuck it, I've already put my 40 hours in by early mid-week. There's 60+ hours more to work with before you cut into sleeping time, so anyone with the time to bitch also has time to work.


Welp, crew change tomorrow, but not for me. I'm just at the halfway point. Looking forward to getting the next two weeks knocked out and behind me, of course.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Happy Easter!

Sorry- no dick and fart jokes, or naked Brazilian women this weekend.

On this most solemn and joyful weekend, please keep in your thoughts the men and boys who have been martyred for their faith. ISIS has begun crucifying adults and even kids, and, although there is so little mention in the media of this, in this horror we are seeing the making of saints who choose death over ISIS' perverted 'reversion.'

PATER NOSTER, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.

“The Lord will overshadow thee with His shoulders, and under His wings thou shalt trust: His truth shall compass thee with a shield.”  Psalm 90: 4-5

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Old vid from a steamship engine room

   Testing this interface out, see if it works. This is a quick vid I took years ago of the engine room in the 40,000 ton steam tanker NEW RIVER,  just the operating deck in the engine casing, nothing of the boiler casing or bilge decks.