Saturday, February 27, 2016

Shipping slowdown- my 2 cents (Part 2- containerized cargo)

You can see part one here, watch me wrestle with big words, and smell the rust flaking off my brain.

         There are so many aspects of shipping performance, all mostly negative, that are being pointed at as benchmarks to point at the economy as going to hell. Indeed, many of the problems cited (profitability, usage rates, etc.) all point at serious trouble ahead, and nothing I've seen negates that... but I'm trying to get a sense of what the causes and effects are, and many of these benchmark issues are, in my opinion, mitigated, or are in fact only the result of other issues which are of equal or greater importance, yet don't make the news. The end result is that my own views are muddy as hell, and the causes and effects of the utter dumpster fire that is bulk shipping is in fact a far more complex issue than one simply of 'the economy is bad.' I don't know that it's appropriate to use the decline in shipping profitability as a measurement of the economy as a whole, not when so many of the troubles specific to container trade and bulk carriage companies seem to be weighted towards matters of the chickens coming home to roost rather than there just being less trade.

 This would be a hell of a dissertation for a student of economics, by-the-by. inthay inthay

 Container shipping is undergoing a series of changes that are challenging the industry- changes in the economies of scale, China's recession, way too many ships and changing nature of shipowners, just for starters.
     Ships are getting bigger, the Panama Canal expansion is almost complete, and some US ports are dredging channels, buying bigger container cranes and raising air drafts of their bridges so that larger ships can get in. There are just a shit-ton of ships available to carry containerized cargo, and, because the liner services are upsizing their ships so rapidly, the resale value of large (by 2010 standards) container ships is in the toilet, as there's just no demand for them, so large container companies now have their assets parked in places where they can't be rendered liquid, at a time when liquidity is needed to keep up with the times.
   I'm not 100% sure of what this will mean down the road, but it looks grim. Mitigating actions like slow-steaming in response to high fuel costs helped, but now that fuel is cheaper than cat food, slow steaming is no longer a cost-savings hedge. Thus far, looky-loos like me haven't seen any new cost-savings tools in our glimpses in the toolbox, but no telling what that means. The big players are big players because they're good at this shit.
    China's recession is another giant question mark here. With demand for goods already flattening out here in the West, and the fun-money environment of US dollar movement caused by Quantitative Easing making China's economic policies even more typically Chinese (to call it...enigmatic is the height of understatement), it's well beyond my amateur ability to say what will happen, except that China and the Fed are giving each other the hairy eyeball, waiting for the other to do something a little more concrete bout all this instability. Thus far, the practice of pretending there isn't a Sword of Damocles over the US dollar has, in typical maritime fashion, been pretty effective and pervasive, and now that China has Issues, maybe that means two swords up there.
 Still, I anticipate that shippers will continue to do what they always do; find a way. Shippers in socialist nations like the EU can anticipate having subsidies and bailouts, as they often do, although US interests probably will not.
     ... and this brings up an interesting tie-in between container and bulk shipping. Who owns the damn boats is a pretty good indicator of whether or not they'll be under current management in the future anyhow, especially given the shitty economy. There are shipping companies and there are companies that own ships.

Bulk carrier- carries bulk stuff, obviously. Self-unloading bulkers are common and carry cargo in holds under hatches.
An 'average' sized liner container ship, made to fit through the Panama canal

A modern large container ship. Already dwarfs ships made just 5 years ago

          There are some old names and old companies in container shipping. Not as storied or long-enduring as  as the tanker companies, but the major players have been in business and owned ships across multiple generations.  There are also smaller shipowning companies that are investment instruments owned by hedge funds, banks and other investment funds. These ships tend to change hands quite a bit, and often get managed right into the ground, which may or may not be an intentional strategy by the owners. This has consequences across the industry too, of course, and these groups, who were until recently a good source of potential buyers of ex-liners and such, play by their own rules. As I mentioned, running a shipping company into bankruptcy and dissolution of the company happens sometimes,and is one strategy to convert troubled assets and instruments into liquid form as a tax advantage. Making money by losing money. What a world. Still, that kind of economic gamesmanship makes me VERY hesitant to think that container shipping can be used as a benchmark for gauging the state of the economy. The numbers are far too nebulous and have already been manipulated and massaged so as to be unrecognizable when compared to raw data.

 Now, bulk shipping is another shit show, and that will be part 3, and the final part.

If Assholes could fly... wait, they can!

We all know this joke:

I generally fly American Airlines between home and work. I used to really like US Airways, but they got all bought up and became American, which, right out of the gate, pushed fares right up. Come high tourist season, they just get ridiculous, and, even though I'm a frequent flyer and get little gimme's like early boarding and shit, I bought a roundtrip ticket on Jetblue for next month when I go home, for less than the one-way price that American had online.

 I had an issue with Jetblue once, and it really pissed me off. I spent half of my flight on my hands and knees when a fellow passenger collapsed, and I had to organize the medical response, which amazingly, had a happy ending, but for which the stewardess tried to detain me after the flight to fill out paperwork while I was trying to catch a ship, and, far worse, wouldn't give me a damn drink after I sweated through my now-grimy travel clothes.
   I'm quick to forgive, normally, but not quick to forget. I remember who fails to offer me a damn can of diet soda after helping them out. They name streets after people like that:

I'm already overweight. I don't like looking slovenly in public, and I blamed Jetblue, though I don't recall being mad enough to suggest that anyone eat a dick over it. Maybe I did, though. Can't remember. Can't escape the impact of Tempus fugit I guess.
     Anyhow, I remember Jetblue having better legroom than American. With my stubby legs, I still feel like my knees are up around my ears on American.
   So, we'll have to see what happens. Generally, I like things organized, which is why I try to stick to just one airline, but hell, I just can't justify spending a couple hundred bucks out of brand loyalty. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tunnel Vision and Situational Awareness (and politics)

I'm very aware that I don't always know what's going on.

       I wrote on the subject of situational awareness a few weeks ago, and now that I'm back at work and getting caught up on politics and other things that I blithely ignore when I'm at home (in favor of good barbecue, shooting guns, fishing, swimming, boating, cold beer and chasing Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife around the kitchen), I realize where some of my knowledge gaps lie.

   I can't help but note that there is truly nothing new under the sun. Whether it's Clinton's corrupt yet unstoppable machinations, worthy of Crassus, Sanders' promises of increased bread and circus, channeling Graccus, it's all the same old shit.

 More broadly, the Republican elite are losing their minds in fear of Trump crossing the Rubicon and establishing himself on the banks of the Tiber. There's certainly a sense that should this happen, things will change... but history says otherwise.

 I don't know where my vote lies now. I know who I like (plural), not whom I will support, just yet.  We sure could use a Cato the Elder, but Cato, being brilliant, could only rise so far. I think we could do worse than a Trump presidency, but the man's no conservative, just a wave-rider with a good sense of the flow coming from the Vox Populi. "You could do worse" is a challenge to do so, not a comfort.

     Our multi-culti masturbatory one-world fantasies have failed us but refuse to die. The world has gotten a lot uglier, and there's not much value, in my opinion, in spending time decrying the condition of the Vienna Opera House when the Ottomans are at the city walls.  Lots of folk accuse Trump supporters of being an undirected monomaniacal cult, but there's a point when it is worth taking seriously the mob's concerns. We really don't want to rely on another Charles Martel to save our asses from the Turk. What happens if our great military leaders can't pass the Loyalty Test and display enough concern about Global Warming?

    Too many questions, not enough answers. But we know what happened to Rome. It wasn't built in a day, or dismantled in just one, either, thank God.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Back to it

Yesterday I flew back to HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center for Excellence in Loneliness Studies. So today we're back at it, loading up for work.

    The flight from Margaritaville to Sodom on the Hudson was on the high end of the usual unpleasantness, but within parameters. February is high tourist season in south Florida, so my flight, usually pretty full anyhow, was jam packed. 6am flights up north are usually full of businesspeople and commuters like myself, with tourists filling out the bulk. I recognize familiar faces now, here and there.

  Yesterday was a bit more of a madhouse. It's usually a less than 5 minute delay in line to get to the rape-o-scan and getting finger-blasted by a 400lb guy named D'onte, the usual procedure, you know, to get to your gate. High tourist season, it's 20 minutes. Hardly troublesome, really, compared to urban hub airports, but the extra bodies, coupled with the age of my fellow travelers, means the air gets saturated with the smells of Sanka breath, damp Depends and nervous little dogs.

 Oh, yeah, there's an unusual proportion of women traveling with nervous little dogs on the plane. And what's up with that? What happens to folks who are allergic? Those little dogs belong in steerage with the cattle and the Irish. You know, as God intended. Those little dogs stink when they get nervous.

 Anyhow, I'm back at work, and it was 78 and sunny most of my vacation, I got sunburnt, had a great time, drove boats, shot guns and drank whisky and got to spend time with my family, so that can't help but send me north with a more positive attitude. It went from clear and about 75 degrees at 5 am to rainy and windy and 34 degrees in the course of my travel, which certainly was a literal splash of cold water on me, but after a suspiciously easy crew change (taxi dropped me off at the base of the ladder to the barge, which happens about once a year) and a quiet, restful evening, I'm ready to work.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

I'm not dead yet!

Last few days before I head back to work. Much fun was had, and tonight, as always, I'll get the pre-departure crankypants going on, where I mope about a bit before rediscovering that I have a decanter with whisky, which helps considerably, but inevitably results in my snoring, and my wife ruining my sleep because she's continually elbowing me to stop. But that's OK.

      I got a whole bunch of range time in, and one of my brothers came down to visit for a few days, so we got to catch up, and I got to use the excuse that I prefer home cooking so I didn't have to eat restaurant food, and all was well. My brother was escaping sub-zero temperatures, so even though it was fairly cool by our standards, 77 and sunny suited him just fine, and we got sunburnt sitting out on the pool deck, and then even more sunburnt a few days later when we were wandering around the waters around Key Largo, where we rented a center-console sportfisherman and spent a day on the water. We jumped into the gulf stream, which was only a couple miles offshore, and it was surprisingly cool, which means that it was still warmer than Boston Harbor at its warmest.

 ...and I got a sunburn on my stomach, which I haven't done since I was a teenager. I'll tell you what, my gut has been seriously growing back this past year, and man, I FEEL THAT SHIT now, rubbing against my shirt.
    I console myself that I will look nice with a little tan, instead of being my usual fishbelly white beyond where my usual summer farmer's tan resides.

 Well, off we go.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016


This is how I spent some of this week's  beer/whisky budget. Less calories, better breath, about an even trade-off in terms of fun. The stock looks more filthy than it actually was, for some reason, but regardless, I tidied it up even more after this picture.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

crew change tomorrow

Tomorrow marks another crew change. Time to go home. I was planning on working an extra week, but never got up the minerals to ask for it, rather, in a fit of pique one day a few weeks ago, I just said the hell with it and booked my trip home.

 Good pique.

Anyhow, the downside is that now I won't be spending my filthy lucre on wiping out the local ammo supply back home. instead, doing my usual, trying to ensure that I go back to work with 250 more rounds in each calibre I shoot than I started out with. And that's OK, too, I guess.

        Lot of home maintenance scheduled this time. It's unusually cold this week (60's during the day, 50's at night) down in Margaritaville, so it's a great time to fire up the pressure washer and flush out all the mildew and cobwebs and such around my home's exterior, pathways and patio, which means, obviously, that I need to purchase a beer hat to ensure proper hydration and to work the cobwebs out of my liver, as well.
     Tax season is upon us as well, and I joyfully anticipate not filing state taxes for the first time since I was 14. Massachusetts can truly go and eat a dick now that I'm in Heaven's Waiting Room.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

wakey wakey

Situational Awareness has always been important to me, even before I had ever heard the words in relation to safety management.

 I've got a nice fairly cushy job, compared to what I used to do when I was younger. The easiest day I ever had fishing was harder than the average hard day in my current job. Routine for me has always been both comfort and curse. I hate realizing when my situational awareness has slipped.

      I grew up knowing that my father was living on borrowed time. That colored everything in my life. Between age 12 and my late 30's,  I was woken up in the middle of the night at least 20 times to meet everyone and possibly say my goodbyes. When my wife and I were first married, and her asshole friends would call from Brazil in the middle of the night just to say hi, I once threatened to leave her if she didn't turn her phone off when we went to bed. It took a while for her to understand. Couple of late night phone calls on MY phone changed that, seeing me in fight-or-flight, outwardly calm, but very directed, you know? that and a couple of 'stop calling at night or I'm going to end up divorced' calls on her side of things stopped that shit too.

    More than anything else, I'd get angry at my reaction to these events. I'd be mad at myself for not being prepared better for them, despite long practice. 

    Whether it's sleep or just the appalling drone of long routine, when something breaks through the fug and brings on Full Awareness, it's astonishing how negative it makes you feel about yourself, even when you've been relatively good at maintaining situational awareness. You tend to focus on what you didn't see, and that holds true in a professional capacity, as well, and we've all been there, when you realize that you've been smelling burnt insulation or scorched oil for a minute, but it takes longer than it should have (as in it wasn't instant) to realize that action is needed.

      Situational awareness is one of those concepts that is, while not downplayed, not always emphasized enough, in my opinion. You can't legislate love, or safety-mindedness, it has to be user-driven. Situational awareness, too.

         I have a better-than average record for safe, complete cargo transfers. I've had some near misses, and a direct hit, like everyone, but I'm very proud of my record there, and I credit much of that to good training and an emphasis on situational awareness, taught by men whose efforts I didn't always appreciate at the time.
          The Cake, one of the chief mates I worked with on a tanker, was one of those guys. I didn't always treat the guy with the respect he always deserved, and I truly regret that. I had a mad-on for the guy because I thought that he was oblivious to the impact of morale on his crew. In the years since I last worked with or saw him, I realized that he was suppressing his own sympathy and empathy for his crew, trying to get a difficult job done on a ship that was circling the drain for reasons out of the crew's control. I am ashamed of myself because I should have seen it; emotional maturity lags behind the physical, I guess. I regret never truly apologizing to the man. My lack of awareness cost me a fantastic opportunity to learn more about my job.

    Today I luxuriated in a late sleep- I didn't have to set my alarm. At 0730ish, I realized that I'd been smelling hot lube oil for a little bit, and when it finally got through to me, I shot outside and into the generator house like an underwear-clad watermelon seed squeezed between two fingers. The rear main seal on one of our generators had let go, and lube oil was dripping right into the damn fan shroud at the radiator, there to be scattered on the four winds all over the deck, bulkheads and overhead in the generator house.
 So that was my morning. 

Friday, February 5, 2016


My post on the shipping slowdown has been delayed- I've got a little more homework to do, trying to organize citations to explain what the container industries are doing, digging their own graves to avoid taxes. I'll get back to you.

 Couple more days here at the HQ, then I can go home, at which point my productivity will plummet, I hope.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

wasting time

Had one of those extended fall down moments today.

 If you're a, uh... maladroit person like me, you get used to just falling down sometimes. I'm clumsy, and I'll cop to it.

    So, today we're at a lay berth, and I hang an aluminum ladder over the side, tie off the end, and down I do to the dock. No big deal. I get to the bottom of the ladder, which is in about a foot-deep snow pile, step over it onto the pavement of the dock, and my foot slides... so I'm either going to end up doing a split or landing face first in a pile of filthy black snow... but like a dumbass, I try to stay upright, so I stagger, step, stagger again and start drifting off to the side, still not quite balanced, and still moving- I made it a good 15 feet from the ladder, step dancing, doing jazz hands, everything, and no matter how fast I move, my ass is outrunning my upper body, so I get the brilliant idea to aim for the side of the warehouse on the dock- and I almost made it, too. About 5 feet from the wall of the warehouse, my feet finally lock up, and I end up with my top half bouncing off the wall, and from my gut to my forehead, I hit that wall like a fly on a windshield... but I don't stick- with back arched, I just slide down the wall and end up toppling over on my side.

 Total time elapsed had to have been at least 20 seconds.

 So, being a dignified, proud man, I jump up, immediately, and look around. Obviously I must kill any witnesses. Thankfully there are none.

 So, since I'm wearing work clothes, I'm OK. They were shitty clothes before I rolled around on the damp ground. I walk back to the ladder with the intention of setting it properly so it won't get crushed if the barge moves in and out at all, and when I get back from my walk, everything should be easy.

 One hand on the ladder, I slip in the damn snow. Down I go again.

 I got up, got on the ladder, and went back on board. Fuck going for a walk today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

a question...

How come the most vocal opponents of Abrahamic religions like Judaism and Christianity are the first ones to post asinine shit about angels and crystals and the 'universe' having a plan for them?

 Oh... wait, excuse me a second, my chakras are misaligned. *cups balls.*

 There we go. Much better.

turning the corner

OK, things are looking brighter.

1). First good sleep on my off-watch in over a week.
2). Finally got cold medication that helped. I can sort of breathe. Not quite the same as not being sick, but better.
3) People realized that there is a difference between Trump supporters and Trump voters, and maybe the very accurate things he was saying will be attended to.
4). Comment moderation is working. My troll sent me a message, but I sense that his heart just wasn't in it.
5). One week to go, then I can go home. I have a week to get healthy.

Monday, February 1, 2016

boo hoo

Holy shit, I'm sick.

 I have a cold.

 No shit, I've folded like a card table. From a cold. I'm not proud of this.

 I've worked with broken fingers and toes, torn tendons, stitched up slashes to my hands, head and arm, broke my nose at work at least a couple of times- I didn't miss a day when the Notorious B.O.B. dropped a 50lb lobster trap on my face from about 10 feet over my head. Just drank a bunch of beer, made sure it healed straight, and back to work at 0530 the next day.

    But give me a tummyache or a cold, and I turn into a 6-year old girl.

 Typhoid Rayray, my right hand man, has 3 little girls. Kids are plague magnets, we all know this.

 I haven't had a common cold since my senior year of college. 1998, God help me. Riding Boston's subway system every day, coupled with working out in the weather year round to pay for it, I was constantly infected with something. Boston's T system  is a leper colony on wheels. But after I got out of undergrad and refused to ride public transportation afterwards for the most part, I've been skating on what was an ironclad immune system.
      Ah well. I'm sure I'll survive. I'd damn well bettter. I'm going home in a week, and want to enjoy the sun and fun. No fun enjoying summer in winter if you've got the sniffles.

 Anyhow, I'm not feeling too inspired, so bear with me.