Saturday, January 30, 2016

from across borders

I had one of those nice moments that make my job unique, one of those things that makes me realize how lucky I am to have been set on the path that I tread.

      Alongside the ship COSCO GENOA, in Port Elizabeth, NJ, we're loading them up with diesel and a splash of fuel oil. We get tied up, a cargo surveyor comes aboard, and I swing the diesel hose over to the ship with our deck crane. There's a young Chinese kid, sitting politely on the gangway, obviously waiting to talk to me.

    Loneliness strikes anyone, and sometimes foreign crew just want to stretch their wings and try their English. No big deal, and I'm happy to meet polite folks from all over. Once the surveyor does his job, and the hose is being connected to the ship's manifold, I come over to talk to the kid.

 Turns out, he's holding a little sign, written in a mix of Chinese and English. It's a note for his girlfriend, whose name is Nuan (I think), and just says "Nuan I Love You."  The kid asks someone from every country to hold the sign for him while he takes that person's picture. And today, representing the US, it was my turn.

 After taking the picture, we talked a little bit. I only know maybe 4-5 words in Chinese, more's the pity, and I couldn't tell you which dialect they're in, and the kid's apologizing to ME for his bad English.  His English was very good for a non-native speaker. I asked him about his age, where he was from in China, whether he was going to marry his girlfriend (that got a big grin and a blush, followed by an 'I hope' so I might have been impolite in asking, I don't know.

    I've felt like that- like the ship is a fixed point in space, and it's the world that rotates under it, making every day the same. It's little things like this, meeting someone you'd normally never meet, and just talking from the gangway to the deck, that makes a mariner's job a little less routine, and a little less dreary. The golden age of the Merchant Marine is long past, but there are moments to be eked out here and there that echo back to that time so regretfully missed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

'Honoring the Mariner' (by discouraging him)

I've still got about a year to go before I have to renew my Coast Guard license and Merchant Mariner's Credential. This will be issue number 4 for me, marking 20 years for many of the original certificates I hold. Many of which the Coast Guard no longer recognizes as being valid in my continuation as a professional mariner.

    The Coast Guard is doing a tough job and if you judge them by anything but their Search And Rescue reputation, appears to be a big, sucking bag of suck.
        I'm sympathetic- in doing their job, they often do their best. But what IS their job? SAR, OK, they're the best in the world, and there's no one whose booty deserves more polishing than Uncle Sugar's Post Toasties when it comes to search and rescue. I feel a hell of a lot better in my professional capacity, knowing the're out there with underpaid men ready to risk their own lives to save mine, using rubber rafts, ancient boats that want to break in half and other equipment that, ironically, they'd be the first to suggest not be used in heavy seas, if it were civilians using them.

 So, where I'm critical of the coast guard, it's specific to where they're NOT making heroics and where they're also NOT free to do what they'd actually like to do.

 Let's start off with a softball- Marine Inspection. Marine Inspection used to be where the coast guard saved lives BEFORE they were at risk. Dockside inspections, drydock inspections, paperwork compliance inspections... you name it, these guys gotta be able to do it. When they do their job right, boatowners and mariners, the guys they're looking out for, grumble and resent them for making their vessels safer. And the reward for a diligent marine inspector was that it used to be a career killer, apparently. Not much glory and recognition to be had where everyone hates you for saving their ungrateful ass from disaster. Supposedly it's no longer a career killing job, as the Coasties underwent a cultural change, and having been an inspector is now good for one's career advancement- but that's tough, too, as it takes years to be competent, and decades to master being a good marine inspector, and with but 40 years or so to climb the ladder, an ambitious inspector may not have time to be a masterful one.

 Oh, and I speak under correction here- I'm going by scuttlebutt and shit I read online, and mariner websites are mostly modeled more after Mother Jones  than Science when it comes to peer review.

 So, I've got a soft spot for Marine Inspection and the SAR guys, yes.  Even though I think it's a joke how very, very concerned they are with my air compressor. No shit, they absolutely lust after monitoring the condition of the machine I use to power pneumatic tools with all the attention and fervor I used to devote to Playboy as a teen. I don't know. It even has it's own special inspection date set aside. I once stuck a big cardboard box right in front of an escape hatch during an inspection (a massive no-no), and the inspector rested his gear on it while he looked over my air compressor nearby, completely singleminded, like a 12 year old seeking out the bra section of the Sears catalog back in the old days.

 Now, the Coast Guard has it bad because we love New Laws here in the US, and if no one can figure out who among the hundreds of government agencies has oversight of every one of these laws, the Coast Guard has to do the job singlehandedly on the waterfront. The EPA even gets a piece of the clerical cake on my barge- noncompliance with their deeply stupid, repetitious and unnecessary compliance paperwork falls to... you guessed it. While I already do the stuff the EPA requires that I do when it comes to environmental compliance inspections, the Coast Guard is the one who has to stop their safety inspection and make sure that I'm filling out the EPA forms correctly, even though the EPA's requirements are already the same as the Coast Guard requirements. Well fuck it, I'm no stranger to repetitive logging. Just to start a cargo pump, I have to log the event in the Official log, the DOI (another form), the charterer's paperwork, the company's remote access scheduling program and an ullage report, so what's one more logbook on top of that?

 Now, how the Coast Guard handles individual mariner credentialing and licensing is no longer how the Coast Guard WANTS to handle credentialing and licensing.

     The US no longer gets to make our own rules when it comes to most aspects of training and credentialing for mariners. We signed onto the STCW convention like a bunch of assholes, and now it's done bit us on the balls repeatedly, like a pitbull wih a particularly juicy baby.  The Standards of Training , Certification and Watchkeeping convention is an international agreement made to standardize the fielding of competent mariners.
 ... and, well, it does the exact fucking opposite, but that's a conversation for another day. Anyhow, the Coast Guard no longer has a say on how they want to see American mariners' trained up. We all know that the 3rd world is famous for being awesome and efficient when it comes to training skilled workers and managing vast bureaucracies efficiently, right? I mean, that's why Apple, IBM, Intel, GE and the Manhattan Project was all completely organized and staffed by the same 3rd world wunderkind who can't get running water or hand soap to their hospitals... and yet these are the people whose policies mostly guided the formation of the STCW regs. Well, to be fair, most mariners are from the 3rd world, outside of the US, anyhow, and the liberals and foreigners froth at the mouth because we require that Americans handle American ships built in America when doing business in America.
        Well, judging by the 50/50 mix of masterful mariners and retarded short-bus seat-warmers that most foreign shipss employ as crew, the Standards are anything but. Well, 3rd world being what it is, any regulation means there's a money-making opportunity to be had for those with oversight of regulation to find a way to circumvent it for the right price... except for in the West, of course, because we actually ARE more law-abiding than the 3rd world.
 Anyhow, long story short, the Coast Guard can't do the actually pretty fucking good job they used to do in seeing that mariners are qualified to do their jobs. Now there are classes and courses that have to be taken, along with refresher classes and courses. This creates a whole new oversight industry, and and takes away the ability of the trained overseers to do their jobs, in favor of money-making for-profit schools to replace trained assessors with lifetimes of experience, and instead give that job to young junior mates with no experience who prefer wearing ties to actually working on ships, or retirees, failed mariners, part-timers, and other folks who, for whatever reason, want to try teaching, even if they suck at it.
     I'm doing a disservice to some of the great instructors I've had, but, to be fair, many of the instructors I've had in periodic refresher classes, upgrade classes and the like, were just awful. And, if it's bad here, it's probably 20 times worse in, say, India, where you have to mortgage your house to bribe a recruiter to get you papers and a job even after you went to maritime college. Shit, they have to pay a professional briber to manage their bribery to ensure that the right people are receiving the bribes, just to get the opportunity to bribe the right people.  Poor bastards.

... and these are the folks we empowered to provide oversight of our regulations governing what used to be very successfully and competently done by one or two guys at every Coast Guard exam center. So, if I'm occasionally annoyed by the Coast Guard anyhow, chances are it ain't even their fault. 20 years I've been holding seaman's papers, taking classes and maintaining certifications, skills and such. Next year, some of those certifications are going to expire, because I'm not going to spend $5,000 to maintain certificates that do not apply to my job and the job above mine. I haven't forgotten how to do these things, and in fact I do them all the time. If anything I'm better at them than the instructor, because I do them, not just sit in a class and talk about having done something similar on my training ship 8 years ago, the last time I stepped foot on a boat, and now that your check has cleared, here's your certificate, next in line, please.

 No, that ship has sailed. No pun intended.

         Note: This was posted using facts, innuendo, tongue-in-cheek, and  a little hyperbole. If you can't take a joke, why the hell are you a sailor? More saliently, why did you read this all the way to the bottom? I no longer cater to the perpetually offended. If I offended you, good. That was my intent. If you enjoyed it, or merely tolerated it, thanks for sticking around, and I promise to feel ashamed of myself eventually, most possibly when I get home, where I have a full length mirror just opposite of my shower.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stuff and such

     I've turned on comment moderation for the time being. One of my daily readers, and regular commenters, my one troll, in fact, crossed a line and left a derogatory comment regarding my wife. So, comment moderation.

 And, seriously, to my troll... you've seen the pictures. I go home to her every month. There ain't shit you can write or say that will change that. So, I win, in both life and blogging, asshole. Enjoy going home to... whatever you go home to. And please keep reading my stuff. I'm up inside you so deep, I'm bruising the cervix of your aggression centers.

       I've also pulled out my email contact used for prospective mariners looking for work.  Entry-level work is getting pretty challenging to find. The oil patch down in the Gulf has dumped a lot of entry-level guys into the talent pool for new hires- unfortunately there are a lot of guys who never bother to upgrade their skills beyond entry level, and now there's a lot of legwork involved in chasing down regular sources of work.

         In less happy news, 10 families have settled claims with the owners of the lost American container ship 'El Faro.'   Details Here. 

       I can't imagine that this will do much to give the families a sense of closure, but if you're the sort, please keep them in your prayers, and for all those who have been lost in the past year.


 I'm in the market for new wheels. I sold my beloved pickup last year, as the snobby community where I live has a ban on pickup ownership for residents. No shit. That's actually a thing. I was actually pretty pissed off, as the truck was worth more than the average annual salary of a family, and SUV's are perfectly welcome.. and no one told me about that shit until after I moved in.

 I'm not sure whether to get an SUV or a low end sports car, to be honest. We have the family grocery wagon- my wife's Jap crossover, which, other than being bright red, is about as Wonder Bread as, well, Wonder Bread. A modern high end pickup is actually a great road trip car, if you get one of those engines that drops to 4 cylinders on straightaways. While I am secure enough, there's something to be said for a large man to be not hopping out of a Honda 5-door when you pull up to just about anywhere that isn't a church or a grocery store.  And Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I like road tripping, especially when you get away from the megalopolis between Boston and DC, and enter Free America. I know my wife is leaning towards sports car, but she doesn't get the whole truck thing. I guess I'm still not finished overcompensating for being a tree hugging enviroweenie back in college. That shit stays with you. Like Hep C, but with more shame. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Digging out

Well, first storm of the winter was pretty strong. We got 28 inches of snow on deck, drifts were twice that, and winds were pretty lusty. After 2 days, we're finally shoveled out, which means that our walkways are clear on the perimeter of the deck, and there are maze paths dug to all points of interest on deck; the places where we need to be to make-a da money are now accessible.
    We've got a small cargo parcel (1600 tons of heavy fuel oil and 300 of diesel, so the hot oil (heavy fuel oil generally comes aboard at 120-140 degrees) will do some melting of the snow on deck. In a few days it should be must more hospitable.

 New York is something of a mess, 2 days after the weather passed. I went ashore today to get grub for the next 2 weeks (tomorrow's the halfway point of this trip), and the city's employees are doing their best to make the roads more passable.

 Interesting thing, though. Only city trucks do the snowplowing.  In the Boston area, contractors and anyone with a 1-ton 4wd pickup with a plow rig can get a contract to plow snow with their municipalities, on an on-call basis. In NYC it's the trash men who handle it. And there ain't enough of them to quickly handle the 2+ feet that they got.

     New York is run by a communist cartel, pretty much, and as you might expect in a worker's paradise, there's a serious iron fist when it comes to state control of everything. I'm not talking about the trash trucks, either, but the fact that the city declared a travel ban on their streets during the storm. That doesn't sit well with me. Granted, it's best to keep idiots where they can't hurt themselves or others, and in a storm that means keeping them off the roads, but an order, enforced by police, absoutely rubbed me the wrong way. Well, I don't drive here, so I don't have a dog in this fight, anyhow, but during the blizzard portion of the storm, my watch partner and I were at a lay berth in Brooklyn in a good position to ride out the storm, so we went ashore and walked around for a while in the middle of the empty streets.

   It was actually pretty nice. There were other folks doing the same thing, and everyone was smiling and waving, chatting for a minute with us before we passed on. Lots of parents dragging kids on sleds, right down the middle of roads where normally you take your life in your hands just crossing at a crosswalk correctly.

   Well, yesterday dawned calm and with the sky that lovely winter blue color, and the shoveling aboard commenced.

 Back to normal.

 Meanwhile, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife tells me that she had to bring her orchids inside at my house, because it almost got down to 60 degrees! Well, it's in the 70's today, so things are back to normal, anyhow and the orchids are back outside. 2 more weeks and I'll be there. I'm awful tired of shoes and long pants.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Shipping slowdown- my 2 cents (Part 1)

 Please bear with me. I don't write as much about this stuff as I used to, and minds, like machines, do gather rust. My ability to articulate thoughts has gone way downhill since I started just being a tankerman and not doing side work as a scientist. I'm more used to speaking bunker barge pidgen English, these days. Trying to explain this stuff is like trying to speak the King's English after 20 years of speaking only in Ebonics.  


The world of shipping and ocean trading is getting some publicity this week, mostly because it really, really sucks to own a ship right now.

Here's a great thumbnail sketch, with, more importantly, many supportive links that connect some dots for you. I'm going to refer to matters covered therein, so I feel that it's worth reading and following up on those links. The reporting is solid.


The tankers are piling up outside Galveston.

Yes. It's been warm, oil is cheap and plentiful, and Galveston bar is the gateway to the largest source of refining capacity in the US. There's a backlog in other places too, if you look at real-time ship tracking sites lik

 There's a lag between when oil gets ordered and when it arrives, and contracts for oil delivery don't always run concurrent with terminal and refinery capacity. If there's no demand for home heating oil, there's no place to PUT the home heating oil already made, and the feedstock storage fills up, and ships already underway carrying feedstocks become very, very expensive floating storage.

        This also is an issue because we don't have anywhere near enough storage for oil in the US. Like Wal-Mart, oil production is pretty close to just-in-time delivery thanks to profitability and permitting issues courtesy of a perfect storm of overregulation and an increasing reluctance of major players to invest in multiple parts of the supply chain. If you've noticed, the blue-chip oil majors have shrunk their footprint in the infrastructure significantly. More and more, companies owned by investment trusts handle more and more of the supply chain, and the former blue-chip major players sell off their more diverse portions of the market share. Sunoco used to own everything from the oil field to the gas station, and could manage Every. Single. Second. From the well to the gas station, all over the world, they had the wells, the pipelines, the refineries, the ships, the trucks and the gas stations. Exxon did too. Mobil, Shell, BP... none of them do that anymore. Some still have some terminals, some still have refineries, I believe that none have ships, and most divested themselves of assets to reduce their footprint and exposure in the supply chain. The new owners of these assets are banks and investment trusts and other partnerships, which means that they ride the wave economically, and expansion in infrastructure is often not part of their business model. Why spend money when you're going to have to sell everything the moment that some investors get nervous? Plus, Jesus Christ, have you ever had to buy land near any sort of body of water? It's a nightmare just dealing with small-town legalities. Now add a billion times more regulation, a professional cadre of overseers and permitters and bottleneck their efficiency by only allowing government employees to do these jobs. It takes more effort and oversight to expand the parking lot of an oil terminal than it did to build a new World Trade Center in New York. Who the fuck wants that kind of headache just to build some oil tanks so that the price of gas doesn't quadruple every time there's a storm?


    Mind the hyperbole, but you get the idea, I hope. There's obviously money to be made, but pimpin' ain't easy, anymore. The return on investment in oil is nowhere near as good as most dildos in the public might think.
 After writing the world's most boring treatise, I once traveled around  to several universities in the US and EU to cure insomnia by lecturing on the impact of regulation on international trade in gene lines and broodstock for commercially grown foodstocks.
       This wasn't what I actually was supposed to focus on, but my focus evolved from labor force issues to policy. This was in 1998, so we're talking ancient history, when it comes to genetics, but the regulation hasn't changed as much as you might think. Biosecurity protocols have evolved, but are constantly behind the times, creating a massive drag even today in these commodities markets... BECAUSE... government works at the speed of government. Half of the time I was meeting with government employees who lamented this very fact. I'm still in touch with some great guys in Scotland doing the same job they did 18 years ago with the same complaints.I made it about 3 years, talking about this shit, and by then it was a matter of either shooting myself in the head or turning my back on it.

      Unfortunately, the oil trade has many of the same issues and their analogues specific to the oil trade.

 Now, I wandered far afield of where I started, but you hopefully see where I'm going here. There are many issues that affect the oil trade, and the lack of robust stability (and long-term ownership of assets in the supply chain) makes it a fairly decent barometer of the governing economics behind everything I can see. When you combine this with conditions in dry bulk shipping (absolutely beyond the worst you can imagine) and containerized shipping (bad, probably getting worse and a classic chickens-coming-home-to-roost story), you get a more in-depth, nuanced view, but one that is pretty frigging consistent across the board.

 Part 2 will discuss the amplifying and delaying effects of current management practices in dry bulk and containerized shipping economics, and why the increasingly horrific outlook is both their own damn fault and must be viewed through a lens rather than being taken as a snapshot of global economic conditions. And also probably some dick and fart jokes. You know... for the people.
   And finally, I've got to remind everyone that while I'm using solid facts to form my opinions, they are MY opinions, and I'm neither an economist nor a scientist anymore, just a dude with some time and some

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Disaster preparation, New York Style (NSFW)

So we're expecting snow tomorrow night. 8 inches, or, as I still think of it, just enough to cancel school tomorrow in Boston. But we're not in Boston, and I'm not in school. In New York, this is considered a fairly annoying pain in the ass, perhaps moreseo than in Boston, but only somewhat, as there's less places to put the damn shit after it gets plowed.

     In the media, of course, tomorrow is armageddon. The news is freaking out, with massive erections everywhere as they spread the joyous gospel of fear and clusterfucks.

Snow is also annoying to put up with here aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Halfway House for Unrepentant Capitalists. Preparation includes taking an ax to the barrels full of salt to break up the chunks, getting any moveable shit off the deck that doesn't belong there, pulling out the tarps that lie under the mooring hawsers (there are I think 17 of them) and putting them over the unused hawsers like a blanket, and that's about it, except for the shoveling after.
  There is a LOT of shoveling that gets done. Sucks, but I grew up with it. No big deal. We already have food, so it's not like we need to run out and do battle for our supplies to make french toast, as all northerners do when there's a snowstorm coming.

 Well, anyhow, to keep the cold at bay, I recommend warm thoughts. These Brazilian women should help.

        As always, I try to keep the quality of these photos and the respective models to the high standards my readers expect. Periodically, I do have to do some research.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

that'll gross him out.

There's an oil terminal in New Jersey, one of the larger ones, and they've got some annoying people working there.

     This place is massive, but the pool of dockmen (the guys who babysit the dock and oil manifold connection when we're tied up and transferring oil) is pretty small.

 There's one guy who is really obnoxious. He's slow as hell, talks too much when he's supposed to be working, and constantly calls us on the radio asking for 'updates' on our condition.

 Look, I like being safe. I believe that in the name of safety, little things like my being annoyed are not important. At some level, constant interruption of the watchkeeper becomes a drain on safety- like pestering a watchstander during topping off of tanks.

 To explain: when we're topping off a tank, we run the tank to 95% full. At 96% full, a buzzer and a flashing yellow light go off. There's only about a minute's grace there, but we want the level of oil in the tank to be within 1/8 of an inch to our target, so there's only a couple seconds' grace there. Now, if someone goofs, at 98% capacity, a klaxon goes off and a red light comes on, and there's a few seconds to respond before Bad Things happen, like oil erupting out the tank tops and directly onto the evening news.

    So we coordinate topping off, working in conjunction with dockmen and the barge itself. Except for the last tank, as we approach our target ullage (height of fuel in the tank), we open other tanks up, slowing the flow of oil in the target tank until it's time to shut off.

        So the dockman, usually about an hour after we start, relays a projected flow rate from the terminal, and we run our own time trials, projecting a finish time, so everyone's ready and in place when the action starts. When we're in the last cargo tank, 15 minutes before we top it off, I talk to the dockman and terminal, and park my ass over the tank top and watch the paint dry, pretty much, calling out increments of time, so the terminal will shut down their pumps within a second of when I tell them to shut down.

    At times we shut down with just a few feet in the tank- no danger of spilling, but if the volume isn't spot on, everyone gets upset. If you order a splash of diesel just for your ship's generators, just 50 tons, you don't want 52 or 48. You want 50. Good coordination makes this not difficult.
 So on a smaller job the other day, just 1000 tons of heavy fuel oil (about 270,000 gallons), we figured out we had about 2 1/2 hours to load, and I reported this to the dockman. And this guy must have had a close call recently because every 10-15 minutes, he called for an 'update.'

       This was new to me. On a big job, where we're loading down to the marks (fully loaded), you might update finish times more than once, as you're working across a couple of work shifts for both crew and dock staff.
      So, the first couple of times, I duly responded "We're on time for an estimated XXX finish. I'll give you 15 and 5 minutes warning before we shut down."
         The 4th time, I think it was, was only 10 minutes after the last, and we still had half an hour to go. I said "no changes," and nothing more. 
         "Well," says the guy, "is that with the old estimate, or a new one?"
        I heard the guy asking me to do a new rate calculation. Which takes time, and requires that I be at my desk to do the math, and I didn't want to be away from my tank. Since I was literally watching the oil rise, I had a perfect handle on how long it would take to finish in this last tank, and my initial calculations were still valid. No need to leave a fairly full and actively loading tank unmonitored.
         So, enough. I put the radio in my pocket, and I could feel from the mild buzzing that the guy was talking to me.   I walked over to the rail, stuck my head over the side and yelled  down to the man, politely telling him to stop calling unless there was an emergency, he had about 30 minutes to wait,  and I would call him with his 15 minute notification. The guy looked up at me and I shook my head, and I followed up by saying that said he was distracting me when I needed to be at the tank.

 The radio kept buzzing. The guy was annoyed, I guess. I could hear what he was saying, but didn't respond except for occasionally yelling aloud 'OK" rather than use the radio. He could hear me, he was only maybe 50 feet and 10-15 feet below my deck level.

 Anyhow, it all went fine, of course. We got our fuel, the terminal got their notifications, world kept on spinning. The dockman was offended. While I was at my desk going over paperwork with the cargo surveyor, the dockman stumped into my office, which was weird, as he generally stays on the dock. He complained about me ignoring him.  I said that he was a distraction, and was interfering with my ability to focus, and something along the lines of 'We do it the same way every time. My way and the terminal's way, not your way.' And this is true. The dockman is a helpmeet, not the boss of me or the terminal, but if anyone, terminal rep, dockman, terminal pumpman, me, or the surveyor fails to work as a team, the cost gets paid out of our safety margin. This annoys me, and, rather than get upset, I decided to go another route.
      I said thank you to the guy as he was leaving. He turned, semi-quizzical, so I said "When you kept bugging me while I was trying to monitor the flow, I put the radio in my front pocket, and the vibration when you wouldn't shut up felt really nice. You got a nice voice. If you give me your cell phone number, I'll put it on speakerphone in my drawers, and you can read me the daily news anytime."

 I got a look that said it all. The surveyor roared and the dockman left with a mug like he just bit into a lemon, but I got a smile out of the guy.  I think we're OK now.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

January to January

At this point I don't think anyone except for the tastemakers in the White House is saying that the economy is recovering. As for that, well, I get that at some point you need to keep talking about the emperor's new clothes lest a panic develop over the monarch being butt nekkid. Nobody likes a panic among the people.

 But it's nowhere near like it was last January here at the HQ.

 Our workload has picked up some, but it's not the nonstop frantic running around it was last January. This is nice in that everything is working, we have time for preventative maintenance and are well-rested. But last year we were making mad bank for daddy, transferring thousands of tons of oil every day. That, coupled with the then price of oil, I wouldn't doubt it if we were moving more than a million bucks a day.

    We're maybe doing 40% of that these days. More work than we used to do when I first started bunkering in Philadelphia, but I'm sure that money last year was nice from those of us whose boats worked the spot market.

    The maritime industry is hemorrhaging jobs down in the Gulf of Mexico, as it does when the economy goes to hell. The insane, unsustainable tonnage and salaries very obviously were never intended to last very long, and they didn't, but it must have been nice for those who rode that wave.

 Me, I stayed the course, conservative that I am, and it's paying dividends now. I'm working, while many folks are not, and believe you me, I'm thankful. Without engaging in too much brown-nosing, I work for a company that seems to keep the golden rule, and that keeps the meat in the seats when it comes to mariner loyalty, at least for my friends and I out here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Serious Business

Kinda cool, kinda not. That's my take on being recognized for my blog by a stranger.

       A cargo surveyor recognized me yesterday, and asked about my blog, which I thought cool. Then he listed his complaints about it, which I thought not cool.

 OK, this is my little agony column, and I realize that you might not like it, or parts of it, and that's fine. It's a mirror of what's going on inside my head at times, in being apparently directionless and prone to tangents. Running down an idea inside my head is a lot like visiting Wikipedia. You get what you came for, maybe, but you've just also opened up a bunch of new tabs for further exploration ever time you chase down a new point... and that's how it is. Chaotic, unless you keep in mind that the mind is a neural net, and there are multiple pathways to a single synapse, which, in turn, determines the context of the flow of information.

 And if you don't see the big picture, that's fine too. And it's great if you have some thoughts about some of the smart and stupid things I do and say, because some reflect reality, and some do not. The guy I was talking to was 'concerned' that I say some irreverent things on here, and what that would do for my 'long-term career prospects.'
         Ugh. Lord, spare us from Concern Trolls.  Look, I go back and forth between biblical references, science-based arguments and dick and fart jokes pretty fast, just as we all do, pretty much, within our own heads, at least with respect to rapidly changing contexts. I just give voice more often than most in that situation, I guess. I've been in a situation with a previous employer where they didn't like something I wrote, and, after some comical back-and-forth about it, it's worked out well.

       The CEO of my last company got mad when I goofed on southern cooking, and sent me a 50lb case of Spam cans once, all wrapped in a big bow. I don't shit where I eat, and it took a minute for him to get that, but by then I was a superhero to the Filipinos on board my ship. They take to Spam like a horse to hay.

        The final thought the surveyor had was about my temper. I'm a firm believer in respect, given and received in equal measure. Where respect isn't an issue, among strangers, politeness becomes even more important. I'm a New Englander, and we're diffident as a rule, but folks being impolite under normal circumstances explains about 90% of my anger. 'Take no shit from any man' has worked pretty well for me. I'm OK with being taken as cold or difficult, even if I don't mean to be, but I make a point not to be rude about it, right up until I choose to be rude about it.

     Anyhow, I was happy to see the surveyor leave. No one likes a critic.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

downright nautical out

Well,I've never been truly bothered by the cold, but it was still a shock to get back to work. Wake up, it was 68 degrees at 4 am, then by noon I'm standing at the curb 1,500 miles to the north and it's 32, and 8 hours later I'm out on deck, and it's 28 degrees out and blowing 40 knots while we're pumping off cargo.

         Lots of flying spray, and we're getting two tugboats to escort us around NY, as we're getting pinned against some docks by the wind. It's just starting to die down some now.

    I fell back into the routine pretty quick this time. January is one of out busiest months out of the year, and we're working hard, right out of the gate. With blustery weather the norm for the next 8-10 weeks, we're well set up for this, but it's still not always fun. So it goes.

I'm catching up on news and such, and rather wishing I hadn't. Shit's still fucked up. I need more guns. My first couple of days, I mostly focus on getting into the rhythm and seeing what needs doing here on the HQ over the next month or so while I'm here. I'm certainly looking forward to not being here as soon as possible, but while I am here, I'm content enough. The early days, I've built up a fine store of patience and peace which will erode over the days and weeks ahead, and I'll be back to being a foul-mouthed a-hole shortly.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Almost time to go to sea

I'm running out of fresh limes. My lime bush (I trim it to 5', as my wife is short) is down to 2-3 ripe limes, which means that it's obviously almost time to go back to sea.

 As an experiment, I bought rum this time. I drink Brazilian 'rum' which is not properly rum, the eponymous cachaca, a lovely drink used to make caiperinha, the national Brazilian cocktail and also a very effective liquid panty remover. 
 Cachaca is to rum as scotch is to whiskey, if that helps.

 Anyhow, muddled limes being the key ingredient, the lime bush is running low, as we also did some cooking that required limes- my barbecued shrimp and a few other things.

    Honestly, it's been kind of 'meh' here at home this time. I really didn't get enough free time to relax, but there was some good if stressful stuff happening.

    I got off the HQ on crew change day and took the train to Boston to have a late Christmas with family. My wife road tripped up there 10 days before, a 1500 mile drive with her mom, a blind senior citizen who speaks no English, and our kid, who's 12, and not yet ready to spell his mom at the wheel.

    So we had a few days together, saw family, and it was lovely. Really great. But the car was making an annoying noise when you stomped the gas, and for the life of me I couldn't find the issue, and I lost half a day out of my 3 days with family chasing down an exhaust leak, spent a small fortune for a single part, and it didn't help with the noise. So that soured me a bit. Her foreign car has a 200hp engine, supposedly, but you can't hardly squeeze a hand anywhere to prod at the thing, and it looks like mad scientist's masturbation fantasy under the hood anyhow.
 At any rate, along with saying 'wow, it's ugly and dark and dirty and cold here' about 20 times a day to each other, we also made racecar noises every time one of us stepped on the gas, as that's pretty much what it sounded like.
 (note: turns out, the problem was that the air filter box had become unclamped from the air intake at the engine. So... that happened. And I failed to catch it, so I should probably turn in my penis and testicles. But I won't.)

So, leaving my mother-in-law behind for a few months with my wife's brother, the nuclear B family road-tripped the 1500 miles back to Margaritaville, along with all the people over 60 from the world, who also drove down the 95 corridor from north to south. In a Jap car that sounded like a Vette when you  stomped the gas.
 Fuck it, Savannah was nice, anyhow. We stopped there to sleep, but didn't get to sightsee except for the view from a lovely hotel room.
      Once we got home, it was a matter of moving back in after a couple week's absence. My wife packed 4 giant suitcases for herself, and my kid and I pretty much had little bitty gym bags, but that equaled a lot of laundry. Pretty much most of this week has been about my wife's admin work at her church, which hasn't left much time for much beyond the odd hours here and there for us to bask in the sun (or moon) and enjoy the fact that everything is green and warm again... which sounds nice, but in reality, I actually need a lot of that to keep my head in the game. I may sound like I'm bitching about nothing, but I rely on my home life to keep me in balance against my job, and I'm probably getting spoiled there, as I no longer work 45 weeks a year like I used to.
  Ah well, couple more days, I'll sober up some, get back to work.

Friday, January 8, 2016

I'm alive (an update)

I'm alive and well, and at home. Lots of stuff going on, as usual. Back to work in a few days. I haven't been online much, so I'll hand out some free ice cream later.