Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nautical trivia and ephemera

In trying to be more constructive with my filler posts, I'm starting a new focus on occasionally listing nautical jargon, terminology and trivia. Mostly because I have the morning to myself and can both type and eat leftover Chinese food from the comfort of my kitchen counter.

1) Advance and Transfer.  

       This refers to a ship's turning circle, how she maneuvers at speed. Picture a ship traveling due north at speed, and preparing to make a 90 degree turn. Once the rudder is put over, advance is the distance travelled north from the moment the rudder is turned until the ship is on her new course.  Transfer is the distance to the side that the ship needs to make a full 90 degree turn.

 This is actually REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT to know when you're maneuvering in channels. It's so important that it's required under international law to print out a diagram of the ship's advance and transfer characteristics and have it available for use on a ship's bridge.

2) Origin of the term "The Devil to Pay."
        The Devil is the seam on the ship between where the main deck lies and the hull of the ship. (Some will argue it refers to the garboard strake, but I say that's bullshit, as the Devil was worked on while underway, and the Bristish, masters of sailing ships, called the longest seam in the ship's planking the Devil during Nelson's time). 'Paying' refers to caulking the seams with oakum and pitch between planks.  The full expression is "The devil to pay and no pitch hot." It was shitty, messy work to begin with, but without hot pitch, it got worse.

3). Splice the Mainbrace!  To have an alcoholic drink. Traditionally offered as a thank you or reward for all hands after onerous, dangerous or miserable work.

4). Origin of the term "Mayday."   Mayday started out from the French  -M'aider means, literally, 'help me.'   It became popular because it's not a real word, and therefore can't be confused by being used in a non-emergency situation. "Help me" can refer to being out of beer and asking anyone in shouting distance to hook a brother up, after all. Saying the word "Mayday" 3 times, like calling Beetlejuice, is to ensure that it's very clear, and there's no mistake, you need rescue.

5) If you are swinging around on one anchor, you are Anchored. If you have put out 2 anchors to steady your position, you are Moored. 
          And yet, if you pick up a pre-positioned anchor affixed to a buoy, you are On a mooring. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

still not there!

Halfway through my vacation. Just finished my last spring-cleaning project- pressure washing the patio, walkways and driveway. It being Florida, mildew is a thing, so once a year to keep things bright and tidy I have to water blast everything.

 I've also got my mother-in-law coming to stay with us for the next month. She's been up in Boston for a few months, and will stay with us for the last month of her vacation here in the US before heading to Brazil. Obviously I laid in extra alcohol and ammo, which I plan to use to make the time go by, though I won't be using both at the same time.

     The weather has been a bit gray for south Florida- not much rain, and the temperatures have been warm, ideal, really, so I've gotten some beach and swim time in already. Can't complain.

 One week to go. And then I'm sure I'll find something to complain about.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Last watch

Well, I already had my last watch. We're wrapping up a job now, and in an hour or two we'll be at a dock, and, God willing, I'll sleep well and head for the airport tomorrow. All is well. Or appears to be. I should be at home in a little over 24 hours, there to not be here, which is my goal.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Gatas do Brasil (semi NSFW)

 Well, it's cold and rainy here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Palace of Health and Wellness. We're having a down day- a damp, drizzly November of the soul, as Melville puts it. I'm trying to eat healthy, so it's not like we can just fry up some chicken and fries and shit, either. I anticipate my salad with ennui.

       Obviously, it's time to look at naked and half-naked Brazilian women, rectify the humors a bit, and with Carnival 2016 in the bag, there's plenty of new material to share this year, and I'll parse it out here and there. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

no trainees

Among the tugbost deckhands in my company, there are always the guys you like more, and the guys you like less.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I tend to like guys who are friendly, polite and  respectful, which, in fact, describes most of the kids and men who work for my company as deckhands. Not surprisingly, I tend to like a lot of folks here.

 That being said, it makes me very happy when the best of these guys move up the ladder, whether it's into the wheelhouse as mate trainees, or out into the world as barge tankermen.

 Recently, one of the better of the young cadre of kids asked me specifically if he could train with us.

 It presents a conondrum. I actually feel that I'm pretty good at my job. It's not like I'm  a heart surgeon. One can be good at moving oil on and off a barge with ease, simply by  not spilling any. Knowing the million little details of esoterica related to not spilling oil and knowing what to do with it in the meanwhile is just a bonus. People skills, too, are also just a bonus. One can be a right dick to all and sundry and get by just fine if one can keep the oil in the tank.
     But the little stuff is additive in nature. And I know how to teach. Thing is, I don't actually like teaching. As such, I don't want trainees. To be honest, I just really, really need more alone time than most folks to keep myself happy. If I can spend 80% of my day alone, I'm doing well, and will tend to enjoy the other 20% of my time immensely.

 So when this kid, who I like and want to see do well, asked to be trained, I felt like a dick in saying no,but I said no. Another deckhand, an older guy with history under his belt as an AA group leader, whom I respect mightily, btb, guilted me a bit for not sharing what I had to share. What can I do? I don't mind teaching, but I can't stand the idea of not being able to have some time alone, and I know firsthand that having a trainee means that in order to do your job, the trainee is so far up your ass all the time that he's wearing you for a hat. I'd rather stick a gun in my mouth.

 So I apologized but gave a firm no. The other day, I saw the kid on another barge, training with another guy. I was happy to see him, and he me, I think. I think he'll make a great tankerman, and I'm happy he joined our ranks. But part of me is also happy that I didn't have to train him. I just don't have it in me.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Death, Severe Injury and Survivor's Guilt at sea: Reflections

    I've been working for pay on boats since I was 7, when I was paid the grand sum of $10 a day baiting lobster traps for my neighbor, and mostly getting in the way... so, just under 35 years.I continued lobstering part or full-time until I was in my mid 30's. I still miss it.

 I saw my first dead body at age 8, despite the best efforts of the two old timers on the boat at the time. A floater than happened to pass by. Boston in the 80's, it happened. It was disturbing, but whether the soothing touch of anno domini or a child's innocence, it didn't make a massive emotional impression that I recall- I was more wrapped up in sneaking out of the cabin through a skylight in the overhead and worried about getting caught than anything else. Thank God. The old guy chewed me out but good, like an adult, for my actions. First time in my life someone swore at me, and he had a gift for it. I remember that a lot more than the body.

          I've since seen death on a ship again, as an adult, and a fair number of severe injuries and a few medical emergencies, too.  I remember each well, although of course with time the emotional component that accompanies the memories gets attenuated.

       On a merchant ship, the medicine chest is fairly extensive, and there is more help available. I took the 'Medical Person-In-Charge' class years ago, and learned a lot, but it's still little more or less than a basic EMT class- bandaids and first aid, CPR, that sort of thing, with some extras, like stitching, intubation, injectables, AED's,  and IV's and lessons on sticking tubes in and out of awful places.
      Sometimes none of that is enough, and the one thing that can save a person, getting them to a real doctor, is just not possible, and the person dies. In the case of illness taking a life while on a ship, everyone just feels awful, as you might expect, and, if you've never worked on a ship, one of the senior officers has to prepare the body for cold storage. The body has to go in the fridge, not the freezer, to prevent freezer burn and ensure that the family can have an open-casket funeral.
      The details of body preparation are as undignified as anything one might imagine, and involve washing the body, stuffing it everywhere, full of cotton batting, and bagging it up in one of the body bags that all ships carry on board, and in it goes in the fridge, next to the eggs, orange juice and veggies.

      A traumatic death or a severe injury comes with survivor's guilt, which I certainly never expected, perhaps because I never joined the military.

       Off of Cape Hatteras, years ago on the tanker "The Monseigneur" the ship took green water over the bow, really buried the bow deep, while a half dozen of us were working right there. We were in 20' seas, it was clear and cool out, and a life raft canister had broken loose and was rolling around on deck. Many tankers have a life raft up forward, as they do sometimes snap in half, and no telling which half you might be on at the time.

        Well, long story short, while we were out there, the ship took a deep roll to one side, a good 35-40 degree roll, and when it was rolling the other way, the bow buried. At the time, my watch partner and I had a great spot to hold on. We were just forward of the mast, and, although we were facing aft, when I felt the ship shudder, hesitate, and heard the boom of the slap of water against the hull, coupled with the sky going dark, my watch partner and I looked right at each other, both perfectly round-eyed, and hugged the mast. Both got knocked straight down from the wall of water landing on us, then spent a few seconds under water, holding our breath and getting bounced around before it calmed enough that we could stand in the still knee-deep water.
    Every one of us found something to hold on to, except for one guy, who just got fucked up, and rolled with the wave about a hundred feet aft, hitting every piece of steel on the way, and there were many pieces of steel. Ruined the guy's shoulder, broke his arm, sprains and strains in his ankles. Tore his clothes right off him- no shit, the guy ended up with just half of a leg of his coveralls still on him. But his boots stayed. I remember that because taking them off  later was the only time the guy screamed. I was in the room. The guys who were not in the room, who didn't know it was coming were much more shocked at the sound. Worse case of road rash I've ever seen- the decks are nonskidded by mixing sandblasting grit into the paint. It's about 60 grit, what you'd find on a metal grinding wheel. So, imagine being wet-sanded for 100 feet while bouncing around like the last coffee bean in the can.
      Not knowing if another wave was coming, we picked the guy up and ran with him about 400 feet to the house, which probably didn't feel good either, but without talking about it, waiting for a backboard was a recipe for a repeat, so it didn't happen.
     After, when the  guy was cleaned up, treated, made comfortable and medicated, and put in bed, we all sat around the galley, feeling bad for the guy and feeling guilty for being elated that it wasn't us.
           It elevates you, a close call like that. Part of you feels really bad for the guy who didn't escape harm, but a larger part of yourself is dealing with the euphoria of being on the side of the angels when bad luck takes a swing and a miss. The treatment for this is socialization. After we saw our shipmate made comfortable, we were ordered to shower and change, then come back to the galley ASAP. There we started talking, and it wasn't too long before the first smiles and laughs, and over the next 90 minutes or so, with coffee, bug juice, fruit and some pastries laid out by the steward, we proceeded to relive the experience, laughing, comic, pantomimed actions ("You should have seen your face! Completely pie-eyed." "I saw the shadow of the wave, and I hear Dave say "aw, fuck me" in this little voice."), occasional laments for the guy in his bunk, more laughing. We didn't talk about the little guilt. It gets overwhelmed, but it's there, and, perhaps worse, it's like a spice to the dish we're eating, in it's own way.

      Years later, after getting caught in a hurricane and witnessing a casualty on the bridge, it was weeks before we really had the opportunity for a counter-reaction. I remember it because we were all standing on the bridge, underway on a lovely day, everyone who was witness to the accident, and a few folks who came aboard after, just listening. There were some chuckles from all of us who were remembering, often related to how damn lucky we were, and how random it was. I was more aware of feeling guilty that I should have gotten away with no more than a couple of bruises and a bloody nose, while there was just broken shit flying through the air everywhere, and I had the ship's wheel to hold on to when we rolled onto the beam.  Fuck, I still hear the sound of that 3rd mate's head bouncing off the bulkhead after she slid like a hockey puck across the deck.
          Even so, with all that, there was some laughter all those weeks later- not for our poor injured shipmate, but for having whistled past the graveyard, and come out clean on the other side. The feeling of exuberance, of relief, is difficult to describe. We're not made to handle massive amounts of emotional energy for long- look how fucked up people get when time can't buffer the emotional intensity of memories- when they DON'T fade, that's when people need help. For my part, I accept the guilt as part of the price of the pleasure, the other side of the coin. I could choose to embrace the guilt, hold it tight, but I prefer to acknowledge it's presence, just as I admit that I liked being able to walk away from danger, that not getting hurt was exhilarating, and made me feel very happy and aware of being alive and present in the moment.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Just a little something to keep you going. It's snowing and all shitty on deck today. Good day to not be here, but alas, I am, and making the best of it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Assache my eye

First time in a long damn time, I ended up with something in my eye today, a speck of rust I couldn't see or get out, stuck to my upper eyelid somewhere.

      You know how it is, you get something in your eye maybe 0.2mm in diameter, it feels like an elephant.

             You might think that this is a common occurence, working on the deck of a metal boat with rust, dust, rope yarns, etc here and there, but safety glasses are a thing, and safety sunglasses are an even better thing. I'm more likely to use my hard hat for an emergency toilet than put it on my head, (now there's a visual!) but I'm damn careful with my eyes.
     I once spent a week's pay to have a surgeon pulla piece of barnacle out of my eye when I was fishing for  a living. On several occasions I anesthetized my own eye and had to fish bits of stuff out that just didn't want to come out.
      But that was a long time ago, and since I just work coastwise now, I don't have a full ship's medicine chest to hand, either. No medications for home surgery.

 Instead I dumped a liter bottle of eyewash in my eye (fun!) and manged to free up the little fucker enough that it started to migrate and I could fish it out with a twist of paper towel.

     You know how it is when you get something out of your eye. It feels good. After fighting with this stupid thing for 45 minutes, never mind good, I almost came. Like hitting yourself with a hammer. It just feels so nice to stop.