Tuesday, June 28, 2016

the wait begins

Well, I made it back to the HQ without much fuss- I had a relatively empty flight, which is both rare and awesome. I sent off my license renewal package to the Coast Guard, so now I wait and see what happens.

     Last time I renewed my license, I had to hand-deliver it to the regional exam center, which was a good thing, as they discovered that my doctor had forgotten to list his medical license number, which would have caused my application to be rejected- while it made for a pain in the ass, the instant feedback was great, as I was able to drive to the doc's and back to the exam center on the same day. It made for a long day, but I got my papers in, anyhow, and a few months later, got my credentials back.

 So now most of this is done online. I'm pretty good with details and filling out forms, generally, so hopefully I did it OK. I'll find out in the days and weeks ahead, I suppose. I'm still not sure which is better, the old way or the new. The old way had its' drawbacks, but being able to talk to a live person last time saved my bacon, and, back in the day, when I first started sailing, I could do everything quickly- usually in the same day. I took the Able Seaman exam and turned in some endorsement certificates on the same day, and got them all added to my Z-card on the spot. These days that's a months-long process. We've certainly lost some efficiency there.

 Anyhow, I'm back on board, and I'll be working tonight, so I have time to sleep and to get on watch and on a watch rotation proper-like, with appropriate rest, and I already got moved back in, so it's time to go to work.

Friday, June 24, 2016

I'm running out of proctology analogies

So last week I had a physical exam, and it was not all it could be. Stuff got cradled, stuff got fingered. More than enough said.

This week I had the 5 year radar renewal course, and it was like being bent over the doctor's table all over again.

 At least today no one was wearing a clown suit.

 Just checking, seeing if you were paying attention.

 No, really, I had to do a radar renewal class- a 1 day refresher and evaluation that most licensed mariners have to go through.

 I'll tell you, I was mildly concerned- I did my original radar and ARPA at MITAGS, in Maryland, and they were awesome. I also did my first two renewals there, at 5 and 10 years after the original Hideously expensive, as far as such things go, but it was free for me back when I was in MMP, the maritime union that runs the facility.

 Last time, now that I'm paying for it myself, I did the course at Northeast Maritime, and found it to be overkill- rather than working on radar plots, I was trying to take radar bearings on land and sea and navigating a ship on a simulator through the strait of Gibraltar.

   Having been used to Mitags, where the focus is on rapid and highly accurate plotting (you get about a degree and a half between answers, so plots need to be accurate and mostly done on paper. Northeast Maritime had me doing the same, along with simulator exercises that felt like punishment and day 2 of the Electronic Navigation module in the STCW classes with a radar plot chaser. Expensive, too, but it used to be commuting distance to my house outside Boston.

    This morning I did the radar renewal class at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale, driving distance from my house in S. Florida.
     It was very different from the other two places- challenging, certainly, but in a different way. Where MITAGS focuses on mathematical precision and execution, and NE Maritime focuses on sensory overload, MPT's class focused on rapid assessment, planning and second-order effects, which was something I hadn't had to do in a dog's age- figuring out bearings, T/CPA's, relative speed changes after a planned turn- all stuff I learned almost 20 years ago, and haven't used since ARPA was a thing, but even so, it was cool stuff, and challenging without being overwhelming- where I made mistakes, it was always easy to see what caused it-
 The price was right, the instructor was cool. I liked MPT, and I'm sure I'll return there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


So I had my medical review for my 4th coast guard license renewal.

 I've got to congratulate the US Coast Guard on making the medical review process even worse than before. Between education requirements and medical review, we're now beholden to the powers that be in a fashion that leaves big-government enthusiasts hot and sweaty and aroused. Seriously, airline pilots go through less shit than we do, and they fly airplanes full of people all day every day. I'm pretty sure that some of the guys I've worked with over the years are actually mentally retarded, and I'm not exaggerating or using hyperbole for once.
    Well, we might have the odd mongoloid among us, but they're the best trained 'tards since Bedlam Asylum realized that they could charge admission to see the patients. Right?

 One time I watched a vetter ask one of these persons who the 'designated person' was.
 Awesome. Seriously awesome. 2 bucks says a vetter asks a cornered window licker who the company security officer is, he can answer. Anyone else asks, or if anything acually happens, the answer is 'ghostbusters.'

 I'm getting off point here.
    I had my medical review.
   The medical review is pretty standard. Make sure I am in overall good health, haven't spontaneously developed color-blindness, can see and hear and lift stuff.

But this happened:
Doc: "Everything looks OK, but your blood pressure is higher than we'd like to see."
Me: "Next time, have someone take my blood pressure BEFORE you roll my marbles around in your hand like Humphrey Bogart in 'The Caine Mutiny."

Friday, June 17, 2016

I hate message fiction

My wife conned me into seeing the movie “Me Before You” the other night.
Caution: spoilers ahead.

I highly recommend this movie if you’re interested in sticking your head in the oven when you get out of the theatre.

   Seriously, it was a nice movie, a love story, right up until the last 7 minutes or so, when it becomes serious message fiction- I call it “Right-to-Die porn.”
    Well, that’s what it was. It was packaged tolerably well, and being a love story with a euthanasia dessert, it presented fairly well the emotional trauma that would accompany someone offing themselves. By packaging it well and giving a nod to the heartache such things cause, you then get pimp-slapped but good, over and over with the message of the film.

 So, if you’re OK with the whole assisted suicide and choosing death thing, you might find it a touching love story.

 If you’ve got any moral qualms about suicide, or worse, practice any sort of Christian faith or come from a strong faith tradition, the ending is going to poison the shit out of the story for you.

 I found it abhorrent, in the truest sense of that word, and I’m not going to get on a soapbox about assisted suicide, except to say that in our broken-hearted world, with our modern culture of death,  I often feel pity towards those who lose their faith or embrace no religion, because it leads to false choices like that presented in the film, where the question becomes one of choosing life or death, rather than choosing to seek meaning from tragedy or embrace meaninglessness and forego love, fellowship and joy.

     Knowing my wife also loved the movie right up to the end, and unsure of how to broach the subject initially, we walked out of the theatre, saddened by the experience. “Honey, dat mang was a terrible coward” was all Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife said, and then the gates were opened, and we discussed how a sweet, lovely film turned into a piece of message fiction with all the subtlety of a kick to the balls. 

         Well, those with a less rigid moral compass may be able to winnow out some pleasure from the movie, but like finding a fly in a bowl of soup, it spoiled the whole thing for me. Not even that hot chick from Game of Thrones could make me like the movie, and she was cute as a button the whole time. 
Seriously, fuck that film. I have enough shit in my life. I can take a moral disagreement with a movie and still like it, usually, but present a point awkwardly and unsubtly, and you lost me forever. 

about right

Everyone who thinks it's a good idea to take away guns and rifles from law-abiding Americans, please raise your hand.

 Now lower it 45 degrees.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Blogging will be light. I'm home and enjoying myself.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Say goodbye to pants

Welp, tomorrow I fly home. It was a pretty mellow 4 weeks aboard.
 I got up this morning and threw some laundry in the machine, which sits in the head outside the galley.
     Turns out, apparently our gray water line got a clog at some point, because 45 minutes later I opened the door to the head, and there was 2 inches of water on the deck. The laundry water ran back up through the shower drain and flooded the entire head.
    So, that sucked, and what also sucked was that the wet-dry vac chose this exact moment to shit the bed, so I got to wade in and use a series of mops and old towels to suck up the 15 gallons or so that got on deck. Once that was done, I got to play plumber with a borrowed snake.

 Anyhow, it all happened, and while it wasn't an ideal last day, it wasn't bad. Currently it looks like we've got a unicorn here- I may be able to crew change at our HQ dock. Best I not dwell on it, otherwise it won't happen.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ramadan Bombathon 2016, week one

Prayers for those victims of the filthy moors. To the victims I pray that merciful God welcome them as his own, and comfort those left behind. For the Muslims who support them or just say nothing, may they face the righteous wrath of the father above, in this life and the next.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Today we're celebrating here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Party Central.

 Today is my right hand man g-Ray's 34th birthday.

 After I took over the watch at midnight, I made sure to stand in the bunkroom door and sing "Happy Birthday Mr. President" in my best Marilyn Monroe voice.

 I gotta say, I nailed it.  Not bad for a 40-something balding, overweight guy with a powerful Boston accent. I sang wicked good. It was pissa, kid.

    In what I assume is unrelated news, Ray had bad dreams all night and we are having some trouble finding people to work on here. 
You don't have to be out of your mind to work with me. But it sure helps.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

When do you pull the pin?

Author's note: as almost always, there's a lot of tongue-in-cheek here. Don't quote me. I hyperbolize, theorize, simonize and satirize. If you don't like it or are looking for deeper meaning, go away and get an I ching or study Kaballah and other forms of  masturbation or something. 
       Seriously, it sucks that I have to write a disclaimer just because I'm trying to teach someone's grandmother to suck eggs. 
*     *     *     *     * 

           One of the absolutely European (In the derogatory, shift blame downhill sense of the word) class modules that all sailors have to take now is the official STCW class on Personal Safety and Social Responsibility. (PSSR. It’s even got an acronym).
 This is actually a thing. I’m not joking. Well, the whole thing’s a fucking joke, but you get the idea. This is actually no shit.

        PSSR is a class that informs you, among other things, that accidents, injuries, your deportment and anything that happens that the ship, employer or insurer doesn’t like is your fault and you should have known better. This includes acts of God and accidents, which, despite being Acts of God and accidents, are now the fault of the victim, and you should be ashamed of yourself. 

Remember, it takes just a few muscles to smile, but loyal employees use ALL their muscles to support the company.

                THAT is a very STCW/ISM/maritime safety culture statement. It isn’t out there as policy…yet.

     The large and robust parasitic training industry that has been foisted on mariners has resulted in less accidents and increased safety… on paper. I can’t say with any authority, but I expect that this comes just as much from administrative handwavium by shoreside staff as it does from mariners. When is a lost time injury not a lost time injury? When the injured employee sits around and stays on payroll until he gets better!

My employer’s Risk Management people have thus far retained the style of a mom-and-pop business when it comes to getting hurt. They do pretty well for us- not too much handwavium, and not too much finger-pointing, and when someone does get injured, they’re consulted in the further prevention portion of an investigation. I’m not complaining, and while it’s a bit of a constant theme, I count myself lucky that I there is so little administrative gamesmanship with my current employer.
After 7 years with my company, I have found that old habits from previous employers die hard. I’m still not used to not getting blamed for anything that happens to me. When I’ve been ill or gotten hurt, being treated like a human being instead of a parasite still feels unnatural, makes me wary.
Before, the couple of times I had to report being ill, it was invariably a shit show, and somehow it would always be my fault, like the time when I was in the Gulf and 4 of us were threatened with being fired because we asked for respirators when ordered to spray paint the unventilated after cofferdam of the ship. When we climbed out of the painted compartment, blind and with severe vertigo, and all passed out in the lazarette of the ship, we got yelled at again. THAT sort of shit isn’t prevented by PSSR classwork, but being able to deflect blame certainly get enhanced.
 So, the end result of all this is probably unsurprising. Most shipboard jobs, you get hurt, you DO NOT want to tell anyone about it if it can be avoided. This is exactly the opposite of what our wonderful industry-wide safety culture explicitly teaches, but it is exactly the implicit message of what the safety culture teaches. Why create more trouble for yourself? You’re going to get blamed for anything that happens, anyhow, regardless of fault. You get struck by a falling satellite while on deck, the first thing that you get asked is whether or not you were wearing a hard hat, safety shoes and proper eye protection. You get food poisoning, first thing that happens is someone shows up with a breathalyzer and asks why you chose to eat something if it was going to make you sick. You get my meaning? It’s always your fault. 

       When you do get hurt, when do you pull the pin and tell someone? On paper, it’s immediate. Failure to report the least injury can be hazardous to your career. Reporting every injury means that you’ll never get anything done. Seriously, we work on boats. It’s a contact sport. You have bruises, abrasions and aches for 80% of the time. Comes with the job.

        If you need help, you need help. I’ve asked for it when needed. I’ve muscled through stuff, too. Shipping companies like to pat themselves on the back for what they refer to as a ‘safety culture,’ which can mean something or nothing, depending on what happens when no one is looking.
 And that’s another reason I chose the word European as an epithet. Americans get viewed askance for not understanding the nature of sin for much of the rest of the world. That’s how we end up being viewed as Lenny to the rest of the world’s George. The sin, the crime, is not in the action, but in the getting seen or caught in the commission. This logic leaves us scratching our heads. So, most shipping companies, if you have to report being hurt, regardless of what the paper and platitudes say, you’re going to be paying for it one way or another. PSSR is a concept that shifts blame down to the victim. If you got hurt, it’s your fault for allowing yourself to have gotten hurt. That is our current maritime safety culture. There's no shortage of Filipinos, Ukrainians and Indians anyhow.

    American companies can get on board with this system because in America Someone gotta pay. Our culture, when there’s an issue, someone has to go under the bus for it. Enough blood appeases the gods. It’s enough of an analogue to the European M.O. that regardless of the source of the shit, it still rolls downhill.

 I wonder how the conscientious safety management person deals with this. My experience with past employers, the principal concern is that the ship’s liability insurance folks not get word of it if possible. My current employer, being formerly a mom-and-pop business that tries to retain that model, you get patched up, come back when a doc says you can, there’s maybe a talking to, if there’s an investigation needed you often get to contribute, and if there’s enough potential for a repeat, it gets discussed as a safety issue. As such, people are usually smart enough to ask for help if needed, but not always. I’ve seen a couple guys get yelled at for trying to tough out an injury. Some folks, that’s just what they prefer to do, and will risk being fired over it. I don’t have an answer for that, beyond the vague hope that people will act in their own best interest and in doing so, see the right thing get done for all parties.

In 2003 I did a 90-day job on a ship I had never been on before, and a dude tried to hide his broken forearm for a couple of days, until his hand turned the exact color of a plum and his broken arm and hand swelled up to the dimensions of Popeye’s. He begged us to cover for him, as he had been hurt before, and was afraid of getting let go and blackballed over it.
      PSSR doesn’t cover that shit, either. It doesn’t teach how the hell you pay the bills when you can’t find a job.

I'm back

I took a couple of days off from blogging- workload is light, and I pulled a muscle in my calf out here the other day, so I was lying low, stumping around pretty good, and basically in no mood, you know?
 Going home a week from today, so that's pretty damn good. 
 Anyhow, it's better now. I'll get back up to speed.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Very cool

Cancel the visit to Dr. Kevorkian's clinic. We got our AC back.

     The AC died first thing yesterday morning- a combination of busy day and jobs that took longer than they should have kept us away from the dock an extra couple of hours, where the AC guy was waiting on us.
     Living in a hot metal box that sits on top of another hot metal box is rough without the AC. By the time the tech got to us, the supply houses were closed for the night, so we slept without AC, which, through cold showers and a light breeze, was possible, after sipping ice water and sitting outside for a couple of hours w/ no shirt on, something no one wants to see. Still, it worked. By midnight it was 77 degrees inside the house, and while not comfortable, it was good enough to get a nap. By 5am, it was in the 80's again, and we were up, but we got the AC fixed by 1400, and off we went. In the meanwhile we got some work done, not as much as an ordinary standby day, but productive enough.

 Oh, and I got to meet New England Waterman who comments here, sometimes, and has an excellent blog that is in my feed, but for some reason, I never put it up on my blogroll- until today.
    Wicked nice guy, good boat handler, too.

 Anyhow, the AC is on, and I'm gonna sleep early tonight, I suspect.