Sunday, May 31, 2015

busy little bees

It's been a busy week here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Money Making Factory.

 I'm not kidding- there has been the odd 3-hour break here and there, but for the most part, we're moving oil from terminal to ship, then steaming right back to another terminal.

 Someone's making money. Mostly the shipyards, I think. My employer is cranking out new tonnage every month, and there are a lot of new faces here around NY harbor as our mariners upgrade licensure and new entry-level folks are put in the pipeline as trainees.

Yesterday was a cruel mistress. We had loaded cargo for 2 ships the day before, and  finished discharging oil to the first ship at about 0200 yesterday By 0400 we were sitting pretty, and got a whole 90 minutes of lay time. After that it was time to head to the next ship. I woke up and came on watch as we got ready to moor alongside a cruise ship, and took care of that. We were hopeful of time to get groceries on board, trash off, and our supplies for the month loaded aboard before heading to the next load.

 It wasn't to be. A last minute change in plans, and we went right from the cruise ship to another dock, there to load a small quantity (about 150,000 gallons, miniscule, for us) of diesel for two dredge boats that want fuel after breakfast today.
   RayRay, my Sancho Panza here at the Q', woke me up at 2230. He polished sufficient booty over the phone to score us shore access at my company's NY HQ dock for the 9 hour break we have waiting for our discharges. So he and I got into his car and went grocery shopping at the ghetto grocery store at 11pm, which was better than you'd think. No 500-lb ladies screaming at each other and waving their EBT cards like bloated and deformed fan dancers. No hookers fighting while waiting for their pimp to pick them up at the curb. In fact, it was pretty peaceful, just RayRay, me, some old folks and some 2nd shift workers on their way home.

 We have this steel basket/cage that's about a cubic yard in size, and that we loaded with trash that was too heavy to survive being tossed onto the dock, and swung that onto the pier. Couple of trips with a trash cart, and we are feeling good about keeping the flies down for a few days. We threw our groceries in the cart, than loaded up the freezers and such. I'm leaving in a few days, and like to buy a month's worth of heavy shit before I go- soda, frozen meat and chicken, etc. That shit is ridiculously expensive to buy in New York.

 From there we headed to the warehouse, and the steel cages that contain supplies left for guys who come in after hours.  
 Once a month or so I order the stuff we need to keep going. Consumables, cleaning supplies, light bulbs, gloves and rags, etc... we stole a heavy cart and humped all the boxes and cases down the pier, and loaded up the basket and swung the crane back on deck. From there it was a matter of zipping up the ladder and stowing everything, and by then it was 2am.

 Anyhow, as soon as I sign this off, I have to start the paperwork that comes with our cargo discharges later this morning. I'll be going to bed before that starts, I hope. We work a 48-hour watch cycle, so every other day I'm up from midnight to 8am, which ensures that everyone gets to see the sun, and also that everyone gets experience doing everything that the barge is called to do. In that way, everyone can do every job that we normally do. Some guys hoard experience, preferring to do the complex jobs rather than delegate to subordinates. While I do NOT like training people, I make sure that every time I have to do something that my second man can't do with confidence, he learns how to do the job, so that next time he doesn't need me, or, at worst, only needs me there to hold his hand for cofidence building.

 My shoreside supervisors are kind folks. They know that neither I nor Big B, the other big cheese here on the 'Q, like training, so they don't punish us by putting trainees on here. I'm an INSANE type A personality, and so is Big B, and I'd be a miserable trainer, and worse, I'd be ready to suck-start a shotgun on day one. I do not play well with others, and the single biggest draw to my job (other than the paycheck) is the fact that our permanent crew here on the 'Q all respect the need for me to have my alone time. Having a trainee shadowing me is my idea of punishment. I just don't like people that much. We have worked hard to cultivate an environment here on board where we're all good, close friends, and that's such a rare and fragile thing that the least interruption causes gastric upset and hissy-fits.  Point in fact, one of the best things about working on the 'Q is that we can sit at the dinner table and talk for 2-3 hours if we feel the need, but some days we will sit at the table for those 2-3 hours, reading or watching TV or whatever, and not one word is spoken because we're not in the mood for that. Even living in confined quarters, it's possible to have comfortable solo time with another adult 5 feet away, if you're both of the proper mindset.

 Anyhow, time to go. I've got trees to kill and landfills to fill with empty ink cartridges. The HQ runs on diesel and paper.

Friday, May 29, 2015

beach day in Rio

Well, beach season is winding down in Brazil, with winter upon us, but let's visit the sunny days and the Carioca girls one more time.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

gray in sky and soul

I normally wake up ready to face the day, and, if not always cheerful, it's a damn rare day when I wake up grumpy.

 Today I woke up with the fuckits. I don't give as much of a shit as I should. Hopefully this will wane as my caffeine levels increase from overnight low to morning manic.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

bad accident on deck

I mentioned just the other day that I like painting and find it calming.

 With a few hours free today, I thought it would be nice to get up early and roll some paint out on deck for an hour or so. By 0600, I was breakfasted and caffeinated and was running a push broom across the area I was going to paint- the deck itself.
        So I grabbed a 5-gallon bucket of paint, mixed it up, and added a gallon of fine sand, and a pint of coarse sandblasting grit to make the deck a nice nonskid surface, so it doesn't turn into a skating rink in the ice and snow of winter.

 I rolled out the first bucket in an hour. I told you, I dig this shit. I was in the zone- mellow and enjoying the cool but sunny quiet morning, not a soul to be seen.

 So I mix up another 5-gallon bucket. While I'm walking to where I left off with painting, I trip over something, possibly my own two feet, and the paint bucket goes flying, and I follow it, end up in the rapidly growing pool of $500 worth of paint and sand now on deck. And, in trying to quickly get up, I slip in the wet paint, go down again, and roll right through the entire pool.

 So I sort things out, crawl out of the wet puddle of paint, and get up, start tidying.

 On the upside, the 3 cans of ether I used to clean myself off had a very calming effect. I was very zen about being in my underwear on deck, and took a dispassionate, philosophical view of  the fact that my taint is now a non-skid surface.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Don't sail and be stupid

In recognition of the annual slaughter of pleasureboaters that always occurs this weekend in the US, I submit these photos taken 2 years ago, when an idiot in a brand new two-masted sailboat sailed directly under my bow and had his boat smashed to shit, necessitating rescue and salvage.

EDIT: One of the senior captains in my company reminded me that I should mention exactly how the owner of this sailboat turned the derp up to 11: At the time this happened, we were not moving. In fact, we were moored securely to a bog floating mooring ball, itself about half the size of the sailboat. It's not like he misjudged my speed. Ever run into a parked car while jogging? That's pretty much how it went down.

Friday, May 22, 2015

deep thoughts

Click photo to embiggen

        We're transferring mad diesel oil here at the 'Q, as a side-effect of the rapid expansion of ECA (Environmental Control Areas)'s that happened on Jan 1 of this year. Essentially, sulfur-laden heavy fuel oils that power ships have been restricted to use on the high seas in most areas now, and the cost of stripping heavy fuels of the sulfur content is about in line with the cost of diesel oil, so the cleaner-burning diesel, which also has the virtue of providing faster throttle response to the house-sized engines in many ships, is a viable, if pricey option when it comes to how you get from the deep blue sea to alongside the dock.

   The 'Q is now approaching maturity for her class. The new bunker barges that are coming out are compliant with always-evolving construction regulations brought about by the US Coast Guard in the name of keeping the Coast Guard in control of jobs that other nations relegate to private interests safety. The new barges are Swiss army knives, able to do more, but the HQ, in my opinion, is a Greyhound- less versatile, but more able within her purview.
   The one thing that strikes me in this photo is how open my decks are up forward. There's less steel projecting above deck, which means less rust and fewer things to trip and fall over- and let me tell you, there are damn few days where someone doesn't stumble while walking around any working boat out there. It's also why the HQ looks so damn good and surprises folks when we talk about her approaching 8 years in service. Well, that and my fetish for painting.
  Honest, I love painting. It relaxes me. I like being able to turn my brain on standby and lose myself in the work. There's a zen there, which makes the month of grinding though cargo much more tolerable.
    Painting season is well ahead of schedule, which scares me. The old HQ went from looking like a Pakistani hospice to a Cadillac in the 18 months I had her. The interior had custom cabinetry, a tasteful paint scheme, brass everywhere and potted plants hung. It looked like a home. As soon as we were wrapping up the massive project of beautifying and undoing 5 years of benign neglect, the old HQ got taken away, and the current HQ, which was in a similar state of looking like she had some city miles on her, was given to us.
   We haven't modified the interior of the current HQ. Bad juju. They might take her away or break up the band if we do. We're superstitious now. Plus, I hate the idea that some filthy caveman will be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor and let the whole operation go to shit while they sit on their asses and be allergic to the pride of taking part in proper seamanship. A shitty-looking boat is either the result of a shitty owner or a shitty captain. My employer likes handing out paint, so there's no blame there. We're not oceangoing, so there's no problem with having an inch-thick layer of dried salt everywhere, either. I'm not pointing fingers here, except that there's a subclass of tankermen out there who are pretty gross human beings. This is endemic to merchant mariners in general. One time I threw a chicken wing in a shipmates' bed and he didn't notice for 4 days.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

To question oneself

I've had some good moments on this trip, as we start week number three here on board HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Gas N' Go.

    One of the great parts of being secure on your own decks is that the whole operation becomes an extension of your will. If you need a tool to be set to hand, you see to it that the tool is housed where you want it, and kept there. If your personal pet peeves are being triggered (for me it's loud voices in the house and anyone disturbing me while I'm on watch. For that reason, I tend to discourage visitors and surveyors looking for somewhere to sit while waiting for a job to finish, and, more than anything, I hate anyone who isn't on the DOI (Declaration of Inspection, the document that says that the vessel is safe to move cargo) opening their fucking mouths when it's my John Hancock on the signature blank).

 So, when the operation is running smoothly, even if it's a shitty day in other ways, the de facto position of the 'Q is that things are for the most part the way I want them, and that's pleasing.

 Take yesterday, for example. Yesterday we had a large cargo being discharged, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why it was going so slowly. Everything was set up right, and I kept going back to the setup on deck, wondering why we were only moving oil at about half our normal speed.  I never did find the answer, and I checked everything. At a certain point, I had to say "A deiu va" ("To God it goes," the French way of ordering a crew to tack across the eye of the wind, a high-skill evolution from the days of sail) and just get the damn oil out of the tanks as best I could. Which we eventually did. Turns out the oil was just sludgy. So it goes.

   My opposite here on board, Big B, is like minded, though we are very different people. Still, we tend to agree on so many procedural items, we tend to up each others' game, making the operation run better and improving our own efficiency. Synergy, pretty much. People can go their whole lives and not end up sailing with a close friend, but it seems that I've been lucky.

 So why am I feeling restive? Things are running well. Next license renewal will be my 5th, I think. My first three licences never expired. I expanded my tonnage limitations long before the 5-year renewal date came up. But that's stopped now. My captain's license has stopped growing, and I'll have to go back to school for more classes if I want to up it, and there's not much point if I stay here. My next stop is an office job if I stay with my employer. Or I can stay and muscle through the next 25 years doing what I do now. I could do that, and be OK with it.

 Need to think more. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Crew change day today, but not for me. Screw Change day is always busy, and always a little more work than most other days... yet despite this, I made this tub my bitch today, got mad maintenance done while we were delayed between jobs, and then we went straight back to work.

 Obviously, this calls for a reward. I made venison-stuffed peppers, and they were wicked good.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Summah's heah!

Yup, first sign of summer. No, not hot weather. Being weatherbound by thunderstorms. For obvious reasons, we don't want to transfer oil whilst ye olde electrical fluid is jumping around outside.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

another turn 'round

Well, I'm 41 today. My birthday started early by about 30 minutes, when I woke up for watch at 2330. First thing I had to do was about 20 minutes of all-out labor, getting sweaty as hell, despite it being in in the low 40's and windy on deck.

    So, after my little wake-up task was completed, and I was feeling all soggy and hard to light, I discovered when I went back inside that Big B, my watch partner, made us a big-ass batch of pork ribs, and those things were AMAZING. So I had super tender pork ribs for my birthday breakfast at 0030.

 That's some good living right there, and turned my frown upside down.

       A well-fed sailor is a happy sailor. I wish that all shipowners realized what a good investment good food for the crew can be. In the old days, ships were classified as being a 'good feeder' or not, and more often than not, this went along with whether or not it was a happy ship. My days on the S.S. New River, we had two stewards who were diametrically opposed there. The company pretty much got by on the minimum, food-wise, and one of the cooks, promoted out of the engine room, pretty much ensured 75 days of diarrhea. The other, a true steward, an Italian guy from Argentina (they have those), could make a boot taste good, and often did, as I'm pretty sure we ate horsemeat a few times, which had been sold as steak, and yet when 1700 rolled around every evening, we all showed up ready to be fed and smiling about it.

    Ah well, anyhow, it's just another day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

stars align...

My employer leases access rights to a mooring buoy in one of New York Harbor's anchorages. This is good, as we've got more vessels than we do berths to put them. There's a 300-foot barge on the mooring line itself, and we can come along on either side and lash ourselves to that barge and just hang out.

   It's not that much fun, though.
        First, amazingly, being within a mile or two of the Statue of Liberty, the Verrezano Narrows bridge, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and basically all of Manhattan, there's no fucking cell phone reception.

 Seriously, we're essentially in the heart of New York, and I can't make phone calls and stay online for shit. So that sucks.
 Second, the damn Staten Island ferry boats run by every 10 minutes or so, a lot closer than they really need to, and wake the shit out of us, making all the barges smash off each other and occasionally snapping mooring lines that can comfortably hold a frigging WWII battleship.

 So it goes. On the upside, if we're here, it means we're not working, so the mooring buoy is a place to rest, do maintenance and prep for the next job, all wholly positive things.

 Between traffic, a surprisingly strong current and occasional windy days, it's not uncommon for it to be challenging to get alongside the mooring barge. Often, we'll get one  two lines on the bow, then throw a heaving line at the stern to winch us alongside. If there's no one to catch the heaving line, or if the guy throwing screws up, some non-NY homeported mariners will 'chase the buoy', spinning the entire mooring flotilla in circles like a dog going after it's own tail, trying to get the stern of a barge alongside the stern of the mooring barge. Often too, this results in the actual mooring buoy (a steel cylinder about the size of a minivan) getting run right over by one of the barges, which sounds basically like the apocalypse, and pounds the hell out of the barge in question, causing panting in the shell plating, where the spaces between frames get scalloped inwards.

 So it goes. 's why tugboat operators get paid pretty well. It's a high-stress job.

 At any rate, today the wind was 90 degrees to the current, which meant that when we came alongside the mooring barge, the wind shoved us right against her and held us there, and the current was at max flood, so the mooring barge did NOT want to spin. It was one of the easiest tie-ups we ever had. Maybe 3 minutes from first line to all fast.

 I wish they could all be like that.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Brazil's Carnival in May (semi NSFW)

Because it's pushing 2am, and because I'm looking down the barrel of a long tour here on the Big Metal Monastery, here are some nice pictures from the last Carnival held in Rio De Janeiro.

Painting season is here

Well, it's the most wonderful time of the year, again, here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center for Studies of the New Hotness.

 Painting season.

 Steel tub, salt water. Rust. So, out comes the needle guns and the Bumblebee (a 3-fingered pneumatic hammer), but no growlers on here, thank God. Needle gunning and buzzing rust spots with the bumblebee before painting are quite enough, thank you.

 The HQ is looking good. This year we really came roaring out of the gates, painting-wise. It was such an insanely busy winter, we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves when the odd 1/2 day off starting showing up here and there, so we'd get out there with a brush and a bucket of last year's paint and frig around a bit, and it added up. Once the first pallet of this year's paint showed up, we started in on it, and have made great inroads.

   It's always a never-quite-finished project. I don't anticipate that we'll completely paint the entire vessel, but it's looking like we'll get a lot done, anyhow.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

we don't stop, we can't stop

but now we stopped.

 And thank God, too, because shit just keeps going WRONG here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Dog and Pony Show.

 I came in on a long-ass flight, and the 'Q was transferring heavy fuel oil and diesel to the NY maritime academy's training ship "Empire State" which ALWAYS orders too much fuel, so that we end up with the dreaded R.O.B (Remainder On Board).

 Now, when a ship  orders a ridiculously exaggerated volume of cargo, we'd charge the owner for the cost of returning the untaken volume on board, at least the costs of returning that stuff to the terminal we got it from. For the academy, though, where about 1/3 of my company are alums, even though they ordered some stone-age custom blended oil that is half diesel (easier on the 60-frigging year old turbines), we're just left trying to figure out how the hell to blend it back with some real shit and make normal oil out of it.
 Anyhow, even though we knew it would happen, told everyone it would happen, we left the ship with a couple hundred tons of oil that we weren't planning on leaving with.

 So it goes.

 We had cargo for 3 ships on board when we left for the training ship. Even though we were a half a day late (no one believes us when we tell them that the floating dinosaur that is the EMPIRE STATE takes twice as long as a modern ship to gas up), when we got to the next ship, which was slated to take some fuel oil and some diesel too, they claimed that we switched numbers somehow, and they wanted x number of tons of diesel and y of heavy oil, where we showed up with y tons of diesel and x of heavy oil. Our oil supplier denied this and they fought it out Kumite  style (I assume. It could have also been a peaceable discussion, but I was kind of hoping for a fight to the death), and basically we sat there for 6 hours while third parties duked it out, then we actually worked, and left with MORE oil we didn't want.

 Well, the last job, the third ship? It went to an exposed anchorage, and the anchor wouldn't hold. So we were 5 hours watching them dick around, and then coming alongside, making fast, and then casting off when the ship couldn't hold ground and had to reset the anchor. At any rate, 8 hours late fo that job, we eventually actually finished it.

 After that, purple in the face and hoarse in voice, we headed for our HQ dock, because, wonder of wonders, it was pressure-test day.

 Once a year, all our hoses and cargo piping is pressurized to 150PSI, to make sure it's rugged enough to be used for work. Takes a few hours, and there's office staff there, including my boss, and we get the hairy eyeball, too, making sure we're all legal and shit. On top of that, one of our Fire technicians comes in to swap out our many, many fire extinguishers and test our atmospheric test equipment.

 Oh, and we also got rid of a month's worth of trash and oily waste, and all our papers and such from the jobs we did.

 Pretty full day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

holy crap

Back to work. I'm on watch tonight, managed to get a whole 2 hours' sleep, which makes 6 hours sleep in the last 48 hours or so.

 And that was the theme of my 2 weeks at home. Too much busy. Can't brain good...

 Well, the insane amount of red meat and booze I consumed was probably responsible for that. I was actually happy to have a  reason to stop drinking about 36 hours before I flew out.

 But, yeah, successful days off. Seemed a lot longer than 14. Mad visitors; friends and family came to visit, and we went out. A lot. And barbecued in. Also a lot.

    So, while I'm not happy to be here, not fully, anyhow, it's a bit of a relief. I can start working on filling the smoking hole that is my checking account.

 And if that ain't a good indicator of the time I had, I don't know what is.

Friday, May 1, 2015

food coma

Can't post much. Too much awesome at Havana Cuban Restaurant in West Palm Beach, FL.

    Too full. Too mas Cuban comida.