Saturday, July 30, 2016

"...if this catches lobster, Bob... I quit."

This is a repost of a blog entry from 6 years ago, documenting one of my favorite adventures with The Notorious B.O.B. when I was a commercial fisherman as a yoot.

"if this catches lobster, bob... I quit."


I wish, I wish, I wish I hadn't lost so many pictures from my days on the lobsterboat RITA C.
I fear sometimes that the seven years I spent aboard her as deckhand and eventually as captain will be the best memories of my working life. I fear this because the RITA C is no longer the RITA C. She changed hands earlier this year.

I've been through a few storms where the 700-foot ship I was on seemed too small, and had to play Texas Chicken in Houston, where my loaded oil tanker and another ship regularly went head-to-head in a narrow channel, but nothing challenged or rewarded me like lobstering did when I was home.

I've been saving this story for a long time. This is the story that The Notorious B.O.B. (the captain, and eventual owner) and I would retell each other in later years while we were sitting at the dock drinking of a Friday night, something we did on a pretty regular basis, both being single at the time.

The B.O.B.'s dad owned the boat. The B.O.B. was captain. I was the sternman, the deckhand, having been made miserable, poor, and ready for a life change (thanks to grad school) to go fishing, thus achieving my childhood dream of being both a marine biologist AND a fisherman. Sorta.

Anyhow, the lobster dealer we sold our catch to was trying to give a little back to his suppliers, and he occasionally secured us free lobster bait, which is both disgusting and disgustingly expensive to handle and acquire.

makes me want to throw up just looking at it. This isn't the RITA C, BTB.

Anyways, we needed half a ton of bait a day to fill the 400 traps we would haul.

So, one day the B.O.B.'s dad tells us that he's gotten four pickle barrels of salmon skins from a fish processor (Pickle barrels are big barrels with a screw-top lid), gratis, courtesy of Timmy the lobster dealer...only the barrels are in the back of the truck, too heavy for one man to wrestle down, and have been in the sun for a couple of days, so we have to use them fast, before they go completely bad.
When the day was done and the B.O.B. and I were back at the dock, we met John, the B.O.B.'s dad, who, with hand flourishes, introduced us to the four barrels that were attracting a serious cloud of speculative flies. The truck was loaded DOWN. Those barrels were straining the suspension.
The B.O.B. and I got in the truck, and with much groaning and straining, got the thing to the tailgate. We removed the tailgate, assuming that the weight of the barrel and us would be too much for it. We got the barrel to the edge of the bed of the truck, and the three of us then carefully muscled her closer and closer to the edge, when an odd thing happened. The 400-odd pound barrel suddenly slid like it was greased, and the barrel rocketed to the ground and up-ended, blowing the top off the barrel, and unleashing hell in the process.

I can't describe it to you. You know the sound of a beehive when they're doing movie sound effects? That was the sound of every fly in North America suddenly converging on us. And the smell... fish, and sugar, and shit and burnt cooking oil... all of us, hardened fishermen, gagged audibly for a few seconds.

Did you see that picture of the bait up above? I'd eat a ham-and-cheese with pickles, surrounded by that on a sunny day in July, no problem. And we were all channeling Ralph for a few seconds from the smell of this bait.

Like I said, I can't describe it to you. Salmon has a fishy smell of it's own. Not unpleasant at all. That hunger-inducing smell was still there, but so was the smell of corruption, and the 2 or 3 gallons of rancid Omega-3 fatty acid that collated at the top of the barrel was scattered across the dooryard of the dock. Fly heaven.
Anyhow, chastened, horrified, vaguely bemused, we muscled all the bait into the refrigerated bait shed for use in the morning. Then we washed down the dooryard with water and bleach and had a beer before going our separate ways. It was a 90+ degree July day, and the heat and salmon skins ruined an otherwise good opportunity for drinking beer.

Friday, July 29, 2016


I agreed to help out a friend and cover for him for 5 days while he went home to take care of some things in the middle of his tour... and then, after buying the necessities and coming aboard, discovered that no, I had agreed to stay 12 days, an entire extra week. I'm familiar with the charter that his barge is on, so that helps a lot, especially as the charterer is notoriously cranky.

 This is what happens when you are absent-minded and don't use your calendar.

  Anyhow, the problem isn't that I've only brought 5 days' worth of food and laundry... it's the caffeine supply. Even with rationing, I've got 8 days worth of caffeine.

 Obviously I'm stressed. Socially acceptable addictions aside, I'm already dealing with a big change in plans. If I can't get my fix,  Ima get all emotional.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

all that and more

The world's a mess, the pope is a pussy who is channeling Evita, and I'm disheartened by everything I read lately. Don't cry for me, Argentina. The wolves cut the throat of a French priest today, and the fucking pope feels bad for the killers.

 Other than that, things are great.

      A whistleblowing captain on one of the larger us shipping lines got a $1 million award in a suit the other day, and well-deserved, for having gotten fired after reporting continuous safety deficiencies on board his ship.

      Guy's blackballed, obviously, and $1,000,000 is a little on the low side, but that was the maximum the judge could impose, so he did, and that's good to hear. You can read the story here:

       Again, this makes me happy about where I am. I view additional safety measures with all the enthusiasm that I view prostate exams and dental cleanings, but that doesn't make me less inclined to follow them, with the exception of the use of some forms of extraneous PPE which are onerous and offer no safety benefits except being a dog whistle in transferring blame for accidents from management to operations. But, even though I don't like prostate exams or dental visits, I do them because I have to and because they make sense, mostly. News like the suit above makes me glad that I have something to complain about. At least my employer gets on safety issues like white on rice, especially material ones.

 In other news, what happened to the National Hurricane Center's prediction about this year being a nightmare of hurricane after hurricane?   It's been downright placid thus far, and for that I'm VERY thankful, but it sure as shit makes me question who the hell they pay to make these predictions.
       Maybe it was Miss Cleo, RIP. 

Obligatory- if they can't predict storms that happen EVERY FUCKING YEAR, I'm not going to entrust them to predict the weather in the next century, either. That's just a front for institutional racism by the people who gave us eugenics, anyhow. Lord knows no one wants the source of cheap global labor and unskilled work to compete with their lords and masters... you know, for their own good.


Well, laughter being the best medicine, I do like to laugh. I enjoy humor based on word play, especially. Although I'm not as articulate in the scientific language as I once was- minds, like machines, rust when idle, I still pride myself in being able to use language as both sword and shield, and that applies to humor like this:

 So I'll leave you with that fine imagery. Bon Appetit!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

everyone needs a barber like this

This morning started off warmer than usual. We're at our preferred lay berth in Brooklyn today; last night we finished up bunkering the last job of the week just before sundown, and were all fast at the berth by 2200. Big B promptly went out for a walk, the weather being nice and temperature more comfortable with the sun down. A 50-something year old man, Big B was a former marathon runner until his health made that impossible in his early 40's, but he's still a walker, and he was out collecting Pokemon until midnight, for which I pointed at him and laughed and can anticipate continuing to do so for some time.

   I was at my desk playing FARCRY 3, so pot...kettle.  At least I was sniping  pretend mercenaries in my game.

 This morning I was up and out the hatch by 0720. For once I was thankful for the buildings of Brooklyn and the shade they provided. I walked the 1/2 mile to our office, weighed in (19lbs gone this tour so far. I'm being healthy again, having grown tired of struggling to buy pants at nicer stores), and walked just under 5 miles before returning to the floating HQ.
   Along the way I stopped in to talk to the middle eastern cabbies we use for transport, again getting my belly slapped and hand shook for being out walking. I'm getting to know the men better and better as time goes on.
     I stopped in and talked with Mikhail, my barber, as well. A Kazakhstani Jew in his early 20's, Mikhail has the demeanor of a man 30 years older, and, along with his wife and his brother David, they have a small shop in a trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn; I stop in just to say hi- I tend to have them buzz my head in the summer, so I only need a haircut once every 3 months.  We talked about nothing in particular, but when I mentioned that I was planning to buy a ticket for the lottery today (it's up to 400 million), David walked with me to a local bodega so we could get our tickets.

    I imagine that mornings like this are an example of the Brooklyn of 50 years ago, when neighborhoods were communities in a truer sense.

 At any rate, the heat was fairly brutal, and I had to shower when I got back to the HQ before I could head out on deck and do a little painting.

 I'll walk again tonight, probably on the same route, though it will be after hours and I'll exchange familiar foreigners with upper-class leftist SWPL's with lamentable style, hopefully bookended by more interesting people to look at as I soak through another set of street clothes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

crybaby cry

The downtime we had last weekend gave me the opportunity to speak with our shoreside support staff and my port captain, as well- this is a good thing, checking in. We had pole position- right on the dock, so pallets of stores came out on forklifts and got loaded by crane on deck, and garbage, scrap metal and some old hawsers came off and headed for the trash and scrap heap.

 Summer is traditionally slower here in the northeast for bunkering- while we do have 10 or so cruise ships visiting a week, winter time we're feeding home heating oil into the national infrastructure using foreign ships, and those ships need fuel, so we spend much of winter feeding them.

 Yesterday I said goodbye to G-Ray, my longtime right-hand man, who left the nest to take over a bunker barge in Philly. Very proud of him, but I'll miss the dynamic we had on board. Really, to be surrounded by coworkers who are also very good friends is a rare blessing. The odds of that happening again are slim.
 Even so, later this morning G-Ray's replacement will come aboard. We're slightly nervous, of course, with the learning curve and the new dynamic to hammer out. It'll be a while before I can sleep soundly. It's hard to get rested when you're not 100% sure that the new guy can handle anything that comes up. This is an opportunity, too, of course. I'll be able to assess my ability to do my job in a slightly different way, based on how well I can integrate a new subordinate into a supervisory position. 

 One of the more interesting aspects of the conversation that I had with my port captain is how much effort has been needed fleetwide to deal with personality clashes among crew. I was amused by it, to be honest. Sailors are contentious often enough, and my own job, where a small number of people live and work in unusually close quarters often in isolation... well, even for sailors, it's not so easy. The subjective experience varies, even separate from the job. In times of  very low workload, there are idle hands and minds for the devil to mess with.
          When Big B and I butt heads, which happens of course at times, even between very compatible personalities, I like to go and paint for a bit and cool down. I like painting, in fact, he does too, so we tend to get painting done during the summer downtime. That's part of the reason we rarely argue- preemptive treatment. Not everyone does that, and guys who hate to pick up a paintbrush seem to be a little more costive this year. I pray that doesn't happen to us with the new guy.

Monday, July 18, 2016

weekend update

It was a good weekend here on the HQ. We had no bunkering to do, so I got to get caught up on paperwork, serviced our generators and pumps, and did a little painting, plus I got to go for daily walks in Brooklyn.

 Yesterday I crossed paths with actor Peter Dinklage, of Game of Thrones fame, who was out walking his dog. Nice guy. Softspoken, very polite. His dog appeared very well trained, which I see as a positive thing, and also very unusual for a New Yorker.

 There was the usual collection of assholes with man-buns, dirty people (seriously, why the fuck do so many foreign people in New York spit everywhere, and do so constantly? They don't have a dip in their mouths that I can see. It's gross, and I resolved that anyone who did so within my personal space would get a good hard shove, but I pussied out and just dipped a shoulder and lightly checked a guy to make him stagger. Kind of a dick move, but what the hell).

      The neighborhood I walk through is a mix of upper-class SWPL and the last vestiges of a Jewish-Italian neighborhood. Great for people-watching. The most obvious thing I see is a very unusual number of pregnant white women. Seriously, lots of waddlers, which I credit to the neighborhood being famous as a liberal bastion for the relatively well-do-do. This is the same neighborhood that inspired a piece in the New Yorker about a lesbian couple's fear that their adopted daughter would turn out straight.

    I also walked by the office of the car service we use as taxis for the airport trips and grocery runs. Middle Eastern men, mostly, many of whom I know somewhat, so I stopped by, said hi, and the older guys took turns patting my gut and congratulating me on getting out for a walk.
    Slightly embarassing, but what can you do? I get around as much a possible, but I do have a gut. Good guys.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Stand down day

It's been a hell of a week. In the larger world, terrorism, a failed coup. CNN focused on a piece about Mark Zuckerburg's jogging stats in the meanwhile, which is why you only see CNN in airports.

        Learning about Turkey's military secularism protections has been interesting. You should check it out.

   Here at the HQ, we're standing down for the day. We're ideally located, as much as someone who hates New York can be ideally located, in Brooklyn where it's not too congested and the nearest hipsters and trust fund douchebags are a 15 minute walk away.

 G-Ray has transferred 5 years worth of stuff to his car,  and is winding down his tenure here as right-hand man. His replacement dropped off a couple of bins of stuff here this morning, in preparation for moving on board next week. We got to talk a little bit about expectations, idiosyncrasies, etc, all the little stuff that is so important when strange grown men live and work at arms' reach from each other in a little box for months at a time.
      Really, I dwell on it, but I'll be spending as much time with this man as I do with my wife and son. It's a strain to do so with a stranger or someone you don't like, so one of the things that I look for is a person who is personable, can do the job and has the potential to become a friend. While that last part isn't a requirement, it sure makes life easier.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On Not Being at Work so Much

2 weeks down, 8 to go.

 Since I moved to FL 2 years ago, one of my overall goals has been to work less.

 Usual issues apply. I sure do miss the extra 20% or so that I made by working over, but after years of being away from home for 9-10-11 months a year, in 2014 I spent only 50-some days with my family, had a crisis of conscience over it, and starting living a little smaller since, with great results.

 On of the problems I have is that I'm a creature of habit. While I enjoy trying new things as much as everyone else, I'm very comfortable with having a routine. This is true for both at home and at work. So, my routine after being away from home too long is often to overindulge in the things I enjoy. I end up celebrating too much, going over the top with gifts and getaways, eating and drinking too much, etc... painfully, I admit that it's guilt driving part of that- my family putting up with me being away when they should have me there... well, I overdid that. When I'm home after a long trip, it all ends up being too frantic- I have to do everything, and do it fast, before I get back to sea.

 So, after 2014's marathon year of work, where I spent more than 300 nights sleeping on a boat, I had enough.

 It took me about 8 months to pay down debt and set up some projects that I needed finished, started, or at least significant progress made before I could start getting onto a healthier rotation between work and home life. I haven't worked any extra days in the past 11 months or so.
    I miss the money, but I don't need as much as I did, and the past year has been wonderful, as far as the experiences and time I've had with my family.We've grown particularly jealous about having our time together, rather than the opposite, which seems to be the case with couples who live with the 9-to-5. Someone mentioned at my wife's church last time I was home that my wife and I are in physical contact more than most couples- whether it's hand-holding, or just sitting beside each other. I suppose that's an artifact of the job, like the starving men in the Essex's lifeboat, all of whom hoarded food the rest of their lives after rescue.
   Still, it's a lot better than the alternative. Lots of friends out here are on marriage #2.

         Much as I hate to do it, I'm working instead of going home when my rotation ends in a few weeks. There's a few things I want to do that a couple extra grand would be called for, and that aren't pressing enough to be worth going in debt for- So, here I am, back where I was, but this should be it for overtime 2016, God willing.

         I'm mostly doing this to buy wood, stock, and supplies. That's all I'll say for now. I'm going to do... something. You might laugh if you see what I've got planned.

Brazil Carnival 2016 (NSFW)

2am and most of the work for the night being done, here's some nice pictures from Brazil's Carnival 2016.

Monday, July 11, 2016

There are unions and there are unions. I guess I was in the latter. (Part 2)

As I had mentioned in part one of this post, learning how to make myself useful on a ship was easy and natural for me, which I credit to the working environment we had on the ships I was working on. We had  a union, and from top down, the entire crew was in one union. This is rarely the case, but that is how it happened.
       MMP's offshore engineers and offshore unlicenced unions were a bit of a joke. MMP is a deck officer's union, or at least it used to be. There are inshore and tugboat divisions now that include engineers and unlicensed now, but 15 years ago we were the red-headed stepchildren of the union, with a grand total of 2 companies to work for and 5 ships. But bills got paid, and while the pay was very low and the union's strength was laughable (the shipowners dictated the terms of the contract, the union agreed, and see you in 5 years for a repeat), there was some sketchy shit in the past between the union and the shipowners- the union financed the ships, originally, for the CEO of my company, (and got their pee-pees slapped by the SEC as a result, so I heard)... but on the pointy end of the stick, I had a ship to work on and a job, and that was enough. Plus, the benefits were very good, except for the pay.

    Thing is, I had never belonged to a union before, and I took advantage of the benefits, spending 2-4 weeks at the union's training school after each 4 month voyage, saving $8,000-12,000 in classes each time, and the union NEVER said no, and I was always encouraged by everyone I met to prep for and sit for an unlimited license.  I had no idea that this was unusual.

  Occasionally the union would be unable to fill a job for unlicensed AB's or QMED's, and for that we had a pass-through agreement with SIU, the other maritime union for unlicensed mariners. SIU is gigantic, having hundreds of times more men than my union's unlicensed offshore division with it's 100 or so guys. The SIU guys were uniformly the same, in my experience; they talked a lot about how much they knew their jobs, and were always adequate at them, but complained at each and every turn about everything, from the pay, to the living conditions, to the hours, to the work. And that's OK, everyone can deal with a sea-lawyer sometimes, but it was EVERY. DAMN. TIME. and that shit got old. A Sea-Lawyer can absolutely destroy morale, and does so almost universally. On the upside, they always left after a few weeks or a month.

 So it's obvious that I have a bias against SIU as an institution. There were men who left SIU and transferred to our union, or who quietly did so while still SIU members and double dipped, and often these guys were great to work with; self-selection meant that guys who did this often appreciated the lack of conflict and the collegial environment as the price to be paid for lower pay.
  SIU trains their men well, in my opinion, but was a standing joke on our ships. Everything I've seen to date cements my original opinion that I was VERY lucky to not need to join them.
      Where I learned my job by watching, asking questions and volunteering to help people, they have to attend a literal prison work camp, and when finally allowed to work on a ship for less than minimum wage, there is no sea-daddy appointed to teach you and keep you safe- rather, you have to do scut work in an environment where no one wants to teach you because they're afraid you're trying to take their job away- and if an officer sees you instructing a trainee, maybe that officer takes your pay away and gives it to the trainee instead, maybe not, because every moment is billable in SIU- there are rates of pay for work, for overtime (separated by type), for sailing and making fast, for every little thing, it's billable time at varying rates (dictated by contracts negotiated by appointed-for-life union officials whose 'families' mostly come from Sicily and whose names all end in a vowel) and wink wink nudge nudge, dis is a nice ship, shame if sumpin happens to it.

   So, in hearing universally the same horror stories about adversarial shipboard environments where many officers are a representative of the owner's interest first and an maritime officer second, and every SIU member is holding the line of an us-vs.-them tug of war, holy dogshit, did I get lucky. I do NOT have the personality type for that kind of work environment.

 And yes, there are many exceptions, and the SIU prison work camp attendees are a mix of motivated mariners in training and urban yoots avoiding jail time via second-chance programs, and I guess that's why they run it exactly like prison, but I admire the strength of character that it takes for nice people who volunteer to be there to get through it.

    I know a few people who went through their bullshit boot camp, and I swear some of them got PTSD from it. What kind of asshole makes it punishment to learn how to do a job? That sort of shit goes a long way to explaining why so many people find maritime unions a big scam.
       I wanted to learn how to do a job, I asked. The boatswain or mate or whoever handed me off to someone who showed me. End of story. I didn't need to secretly watch how someone did their job and pray that no one saw me learning and accused me of taking the food out of their kids' mouths. If that's the kind of environment that SIU encourages, or even tolerates, I should probably kiss the ass of the people who told me 'don't join SIU' when I was looking for my first job.

 I never made as much money as the guys in the better-paying unions did, when I was in that side of the industry, but I learned how to do my job and looked forward to doing it, for the most part, and the supervisors were often happy to teach me how to aspects of their jobs, often while they were learning the job above theirs.
      Feeling welcomed and part of a team was more than worth the difference in pay. For all that I didn't make a lot of money, and sometimes had to wait a couple of months to get a job, I was making consistent progress towards advancing myself through classes. There just weren't enough jobs available to me in that union, and when my employer went tits up after a funding crisis, I had already seen the writing on the wall- there weren't any other companies to work for in that union, and I had already left.

*                *                   *
         These days I'm in a different side of the industry. I'm not in a union at all, and I don't need to be. I work for a large company that started off as a small family business and tries very hard to maintain that atmosphere- I could join a union again and make more money, and fund the lifestyles of a bunch of legal gangsters in suits who are 'looking out for my best interests' but why would I? I keep what I make, pay no dues, and can look out for my best interests just fine.

Friday, July 8, 2016

There are unions and there are unions. I guess I was in the latter. (Part 1)

I've been reading the blog of a new mariner who is finishing up his training at the Harry Lundeburg School, the training school of the Seafarer's Union. 

 He's still getting his feet under him, but hopefully you'll meet him one day.

 I never did belong to the SIU, the largest maritime union in the US. I spent 8 years in MMP  back when they had an unlicensed division. I stumbled into my first shipboard job. At the time, I was VP of a regional commercial fisherman's association and was doing side work as a marine biologist here and there.
      Anyhow, after growing up with stories of shipboard life from my dad, and faced with growing discontent with my career path (I loved fishing, but I lived check-to-check), I approached a new member of the fisherman's association who was also chief mate on an oil tanker, and started jumping through hoops to get my Z-card.

     My first trip on a ship, well, I spent it in the double bottoms of an engine room, chipping rust in the dark for 12 hours a day, wearing a respirator and a mining light. Filthy work, but I loved being on a ship. In my off time, I could explore, walk out on deck, ask people about their jobs. I knew I wanted to be on deck, but I enjoyed my time in the engine room. My supervisor was a real asshole, but so it goes. You meet the best and the worst people on boats, and he got fired or quit after about a month, and the chief engineer took over looking after the 4 rustbusters, and he was a great guy. Really made me see why my dad preferred the engine room.

 I didn't know it at the time, but being humble (no, really, stop laughing. I was), I asked questions and did my job without complaint. Someone heard my wicked strong Boston accent, a new 3rd mate, and we talked about home, he having grown up 30 miles from me. From him, I got permission after a couple of months on board to learn to hand steer the ship, and I met the captain that way. The bridge was off limits except by permission, but I was there late at night and with permission, and loved the quiet and the feel of the wheel in my hand, and steering a 40,000 ton ship is different from a lobsterboat, but the principle is the same, and 20 years of that helped, too. The captain was amused by it, and encouraged me to learn all I could. It wasn't exactly a marriage made in heaven, but I was able to go upstairs once a week and was welcomed. I never stayed longer than an hour. Didn't want to wear out my welcome. Towards the end of my trip, the captain poked his head into the crew's mess one day at lunch, and told me to clean up, that I was going to hand steer us to the dock in Savannah, GA that afternoon. Which I did. I had been prepared for it by the 3rd mate and captain, between learning the commands and learning how to compensate for the inertia of the ship while making course changes at sea. The added complexity of current and working in shallow narrow waterways with other traffic was a new challenge, but learning how to feel my way in the dark out at sea with no reference points,  and not oversteer while the captain and mate tried to make me do exactly that- it was good preparation. The pilot on board gave his permission for me to steer, the AB on the wheel was happy to get to sit in a chair and relax, and all went well. It's silly, but I was more proud that day than I was when I graduated from college or when I published my first scientific article.

 Along the way, over my first 4-month voyage, I learned the job of the AB's on a tanker, and in my off time, I got permission to help out. It wasn't paid work- MMP's Offshore unlicensed union was pretty watered down. I already had close to 3,000 days at sea before I stepped foot on a ship, from my time fishing, so I knew how to be an AB, and took the exam as soon as I had 180 days on a ship- 2 voyages, so I could get the helmsman certification.

  So, my learning the ropes on a ship was a natural, organic process, I guess. I had a lot of freedom, more than I ever really appreciated. 12 hours on/12 off for 120 days, there was time for learning, making friends, going ashore (I didn't stand watch, so I explored, drank while ashore, and, being single, mapped out the titty bars of the US seaports to a point). There were some little headaches that the passage of time has smoothed over, but overall it was a great time in my life.
     What I didn't appreciate at the time was how lucky I was. A combination of intertwining series of good luck, in fact. I got on a ship that had an existing cadre of misfits and professionals in equal number, no conflict between officers and crew, decent food, shore access in most ports, and all I had to do was do my job, be polite and ask questions- I had no idea at the time that it's a rare ship where someone will not just tolerate a new mariner, but give them free rein to indulge curiosity and actively assist them in advancing themselves.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


The heat got to me yesterday morning- I'm not sure why, but I overheated just 20-30 minutes after starting my watch.
     I get VERY irritable before I get dizzy, as heat issues progress. I flipped my shit over something extremely trivial, immediately picked up on what was happening, and went inside and stuck my head under a faucet with the cold water running. The cold was a shock, and wonderful.

 Out of curiosity, I stuck my hand near the drain- the water was coming off my head pretty warm.

       Watch yourselves, everyone!

Monday, July 4, 2016


It's been a long while, but G-Ray, my right-hand man, has been promoted and will now be taking over his own barge in another port, and that leaves us here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Adult Day-Care Center with an opening. We were hoping to start auditions soon (we're peculiar people and need peculiar people to continue spreading excellence like a farmer with a shit-tank full of fertilizer), but were informed that we would be taking on a tankerman with no say-so in who comes to live with us.
       This is a bit unusual, but not startlingly so. Normally, I plead special circumstances- we're isolated in very close quarters, blah blah blah, just like anyone else on a boat, I suppose. I guess we're not actually that special, when I think on it. 

This went over slightly less well than a fart in church, but what can you do? Sometimes you're the windshield, and today we're the bug. Our supervisor doesn't have to live butts-to-nuts in a teeny tiny metal box for a month at a time with a total stranger, after all. Probably, not doing that was one of the big factors in his deciding to be a supervisor. Some small, shitty part of me wishes I could invite him to live, sleep, eat and carry out his daily economy with an utter stranger, and then ask him how well he sleeps... but he's got to put meat in the seats, just like I've got my job to do.

      I do quite a bit of thinking about the how's and why's of why I'm here and how we do the things we do. Whatever productivity differences we have between us and other barges in my company is based mostly on qualitative, not quantitative variables- We're good at our jobs on here, and so are many other people. That's not an issue, unless I'm asked to enumerate the value of qualitative aspects of the job. Saying 'look at the value of the output' is an honest answer and a legitimate metric of the impact of qualitative input, but quality-of-life issues at work are a set of scalar variables that have a non-linear cost/benefit relationship with output.
        I hate to throw in soft-math concepts like the idea of investing in the development of a gestalt in the job environment when having a sulk, but we ARE very protective of our gestalt on the HQ. There's some pretty miserable motherfuckers doing our job out there, and doing it well. Who the hell wants that for a life? OTOH, perhaps we overvalue our contribution. Those miserable men I was talking about, they might be a pain in the balls to deal with when human factor issues pop up, but bottom line is that they produce, too.     Being nice, being happy? That's good. It doesn't put money in the bank for the owner, does it, though? Or does it?
        When things go bad, when men are tested, certain qualities rise up and shine,and others turn to shit.  I prefer, when being tested, that we already be performing at out best. Bad times show up unannounced for the most part, and fortune favors the prepared mind.

        The best second man I ever had, I met as a stranger- we had an opening, no one in mind, and the office sent a guy over. What followed was a golden era, and we lucked out heavily when G-Ray came aboard after to fill that spot.

 So, things are going to be shaken up here on the HQ, and that's OK. We'll survive, and it's an opportunity to develop  in new directions and see what results. We've had a phenomenal run, and I've been extremely fortunate to be able to go to work and be among good friends. I suppose that's what I'm really lamenting. The odds of that magical combination of personalities coming together are pretty slim. I'm fortunate to have experienced it at all, so I'm anxious, knowing that it's ending.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Need a F***, give a F***

I do like to complain on here, but I like to think that the complaining has a point.

 I give a shit about my job. It's important to me that I do my job well and that everyone gets what they want, whether that's fuel, a paycheck, or just getting away with limbs and digits intact.

 I like to speak flippantly, am quick to anger at times, shoot my mouth off without thinking, and do so often, which sometimes gives a different impression than one might get, if, say, we were sitting down across the table discussing something that required my full attention.

         This morning we had a small cargo parcel- two products destined for two ships- one ship was taking black oil and diesel, the other just diesel.

Dragging a hose, operating a crane, those things are easy and just bear mindful watching-over. Tankerman math is likewise easy- addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It's simply a matter of knowing the order of operations.

          This morning our cargo surveyor got LOST in the paperwork on something that was very easy. I tolerated it well- when I saw the guy struggling on a VERY simple process, I walked back my description of what I was doing, and went over it stepwise. I was more than nonplussed that the guy was confused. This is a guy I've dealt with periodically for the past 5 years. He's supposed to be able to survey chemical ships and shore installations- places with 40+ tanks with many different products, and he is a legal representative- he documents exactly how much and where someone's oil is sitting at a given time, and his documentation is THE most critical part of enabling a change of custody of someone's oil.

   OK, I thought we weren't on the same page. No problem. Maybe I hurried through the explanation? No, that wasn't it. Brain fart?

       Panic is an issue that causes delays in doing tankerman math. There are multiple variables, multiple volumes, and you have to deal with standardizing volumes by accounting for how temperature and density affects volume. Simple math, but it must be handled step-wise, and often you are juggling multiple numbers in your head, and once you get confused, the whole thing becomes a dumpster fire of a mess.

 So that was happening, and man, I sympathize.

 But this is something simple. Rather than go into painful detail (tankerman math is an arcane, delicate and forbidden subject, and not to be spoken of, lest people figure out that you do most of it by counting on your fingers), I'll just mention that there was one curveball- one product we were loading would be comingled- that is, we would have oil destined for two different ships in the same tank.
     Comingling is an easy thing to deal with, especially now that we have software that helps us track such things- really, it's very simple to calculate, once you've done it, if you keep your documentation easy to read.

      I got frustrated because the surveyor was sloppy- not to say that he was messy, but he wasn't paying attention to details and was not very concerned with doing things the right way, and this came out in several ways. And, since the guy was already struggling to track the numbers, I couldn't complain, raise my voice or whatever, otherwise he'd panic again, lose track, and we'd be back to square one.

        The issue was documentation and procedures- things are done in a standardized way for reasons- reducing errors and the possibility of errors, comfort, familiarity, even legal reasons.

    I'm a bear when it comes to my paperwork because transferring oil is a chain-of-custody procedure, and paperwork snafus tend to blow shit out of proportion- Where my principal concern is that the oil comes and goes to the right place and in the right tanks, and not in the air or water, the documentation of this varies- every charterer has company-specific procedures and papers, and of the 6 charterers I mostly deal with, every one gets real soggy and hard to light if the numbers don't add up. So the math is the key, and is an important thing to keep standardized.

     The surveyor was having a hard time visualizing what I was doing, but we got over it- his math was all wrong from the earlier panic, but we fixed that together. You know, doing our jobs.

 Because I found the man's work sloppy, I took a look at some of the ancillary paperwork. I discovered that his sampler, a guy who was filling up glass bottles from our tanks for analysis later, absolutely messed up the chain-of-custody documents, and both men tried their best to get me to ignore the mistake, which I did not, would not, could not. What resulted was a second clusterfuck, and that was what made me go from frustrated to angry.
     This guy knows from experience how important his documentation is. This wasn't a matter of too much math or a complex procedure, this error came from not giving enough of a fuck about doing one's job. It was the sampler's fault, he didn't read his orders correctly, and that's OK, mistakes happen. What made me pissed was the attempt to resolve the issue wasn't an attempt to fix the problem, but to hide the mistake. That's what I mean by calling the guy Sloppy.
   Anyhow, I dug in, hard, after that, and got a real fix made up from my end. I got my people covered, but the guy wasn't concerned enough about the quality of his and his helper's work to truly fix the problem from top down- I got my barge and my customer's ass covered, but the guy made no attempt to fix his own issues, even when I offered to give him the material and time he needed to do his own due diligence! 
  Well, I can't point a gun at someone's head and demand they care about doing a good job. All I can do is take care of me and my people, I suppose. I'm reminded strongly about a dressing-down I once witnessed, where the chief mate on my ship got very loud and very pissed off because of errors made, not because of the errors, but because of the fact that they came from careless work done by people who didn't give a fuck about whether or not they did a good job. As the mate's yelling tailed off, and he went from furious to upset, he said something I took to heart. "I just want people who care about doing their job right."
           That was the year we put together the permanent crew that gave a shit on that ship, and that was the ship we did a damn good job on as a result, from then on out.