Saturday, December 30, 2017

Frozen Fuel, Frozen Toes, Froze Froze Froze

Half the country is really damn cold right now, including myself.

           We've spent a lot of effort this past year to do better in winter with HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ and Detention Center. Living without running water every time the temperature went under 20 degrees was a good motivator, as was having water in our fuel, which stalled our pump engines. We've made great improvements on both those things.

 What we haven't done is make heavy fuel oil any less viscous at cold temperatures, and so we're still struggling, just like every other heavy fuel bunker tanker operating in single-digit temperatures.

        Heavy Fuel Oil, or #6 oil, is a glossy black, tarry oil, very thick and viscous (resistant to flow). It's like molasses, but more so. It needs to be heated up over 100 degrees to flow at a slow rate, and over 120 to flow moderately well. Generally, we like getting the stuff at about 130 degrees, but 120 is about the average. Wintertime, unless you have the capability of heating the product on board (we don't), you lose +/- 10 degrees a day, and the cold steel surfaces will collect a skin of congealed oil that won't flow, so no matter what we do, our retained bottoms (the sludge on the bottom of the tank that we can't pump) grows thicker by somewhere from our summer bottoms of about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch+. Regardless, we try to keep it to a minimum by begging for hot product and also rolling and trimming the barge as heavily as possible to get the stuff to drain down. Generally, over the course of a few jobs, we can get heavy bottoms back to a reasonable 1/4" or 3/8" if we get a good shot of 130+ degree oil here and there.

 So, that's one headache we deal with. We got extra heat-trace tape laid onto our potable water system, and between that and running a block heater on our water pump, we seem to have solved the problem of frozen piping. Taking a shower does wonders for morale.
       Water contamination in diesel fuel is a pretty common problem, and we got ice dams last year at several places in our cargo pumps' fuel systems. We solved this by draining and scrubbing down the surfaces of our fuel tank and improving our procedures for thieving and draining off water bottoms in our fuel before they get far from the tank. So far so good there. We're also trying to stay on top of moisture getting into our air system, as well. We rely on compressed air-starting for our cargo pump  engines, and have had issues of water vapor freezing up our starters, which means injecting antifreeze into the air line behind the starters and blasting it into the starter, a crude and really dirty, messy solution that cuts the life of the starter down considerably. Hopefully we've avoided that, too, this year.

 So, with those things seen to, we've still got problems here. It's the damn oil.

 There is heavy fuel oil, and there is heavy fuel oil. We move several grades of fuel oil, separated by sulfur content (environmental regulations, as sulfur is a great lubricant additive and also bad for the environment) and viscosity of the oil. Ship's engines and boilers want certain viscosity fuels to run properly, and this varies with brand and age of the engine, newer engines being more versatile generally but also more sensitive.
   Most ship engines can run on heavy oil or lighter oils like diesel. Both fuels have advantages. heavy oil (HFO for short) being much less expensive. Diesel being more clean-burning and  energy-dense, but expensive, which is an issue when fuel consumption is measured in tons per hour (a large container ship can burn several thousand tons of fuel oil in a single voyage).
Generally, we sell fuel oil at 380, 500 and 700 centistoke density. Centistoke is a measure of viscosity (it's 1cm X 1 gram^-1  movement at a standard temperature and pressure, I believe, but let's just call it a measurement of resistance to flow), so the lower the number the better it flows at a given temperature.  The higher the number, the less it wants to flow, but the cheaper it is, too. New, larger ships do tend to like the 700cst fuel for economic reasons.

   Now, below a certain temperature (the Pour Point), gravity alone won't cause a heavy fuel oil to flow. It's like upending a bottle of honey after keeping it in the fridge, but again, more so. You need pressure to move the oil (squeeze the bottle), and pressure is an issue. We have limits as to how much pressure we're willing to crank up to before stuff starts blowing up. We'll hit our max safe pressure with our cargo pumps pretty often even in summer when pumping HFO to a ship, and that number is quite high.
      We discovered this year that 700cst fuel will set up like a glue at low temperatures, and resist flow to the point that things lock up. We're moving more 700 fuel because the East Coast is getting more super-sized ships now that the panama canal expansion is done AND now that so many ports have been dredged and had some low-lying bridges replaced or raised up. So this is new territory.

Well, if it cools down, it turns into a plastic-like substance, turns out.

Looking inside a fuel hose

reaching in and tugging on the fuel column at full strength resulted in this.

    So that's not nice at all. A bunch of us are dealing with that. 380 or 500cst fuel, at high pressure, will get pushed slowly, like a tootsie roll through a garden hose. Eventually, the warmer liquid fuel oil will start flowing, and dissolve the chunky stuff once it breaks through at some point in a column. Well, the 700 stuff is better than a cork in a wine bottle, turns out.

      Although working conditions here on the HQ have been pretty miserable with this deep-ass cold and the usual winter miseries of hydraulics and valves not wanting to work right etc etc, the plugged line issue is a new one for us, but thankfully, we've been able to keep the fuel going. Our plugged lines were in places where we could swap out hoses. We're in good shape for the shape we're in.

 Word is that we'll be almost at 32 degrees one day next week, although that's well below the pour point for HFO, hopefully between us and our less-lucky peers, we might be able to fix any cold-related issues at that point. We haven't missed any work so far, and hopefully won't have to in the future, too, but it certainly has been challenging.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

back at work and small boat update!

Well, back to work, and while I'm grateful to have a job, I can't say that I felt ready to come back, but here I am, and lemons, lemonade, etc.  Crew change went unusually smoothly, right down to the HQ being loaded deep so that it was easy to transfer all my crap right on board from the launch without much fuss.
 Holy hell, though, it's cold up here.


 It's been a fair bit since I updated on the progress to date with the small boat I'm building on my workbench. I hadn't been able to do much on it these past few months- gotta be home to do that, first, and last time I was home, there was a hurricane to prepare for, plus I'm not one to forego time with my family when I can get it, so I didn't get to sit at my bench much. So it goes. This time I had a fair bit of time to goof off around the garage, which was great.

soldering a safety chain to the brass rails- should have waited to paint!

forward ladder

Forward ladder installed with brass rails bent, soldered and painted

lifeboat- still under construction
Progress to date

built rugged enough that you can trust a tard with it!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

much too soon

Well, it's Christmas eve, and tomorrow is Christmas Day, with all that entails. I have to fly out tomorrow afternoon for work, sadly, which casts something of a pall over things, but I'm determined to enjoy the time I have.

... that's sort of been my theme this vacation. It felt hurried. I'm not going back to work rested, things were just too busy and hectic to make that possible. I got a lot of things done that were necessary, though, especially in the days I was up north, although that tends to preoccupy me now, and there's more legwork than I had expected after the fact, but that's OK.

The crowning glory has been my time with my family, and that's saved me in what has been a somewhat stressful holiday season. It's been wonderful to have them with me again, and I'd have been ready to stick my head in an oven if it wasn't for them. In the 9 days I had at my house, we put in a LOT of quality time, and so I'll be going back to work if not rested, than at least fortified and ready to work.

 The timing, though, jeez. My first Christmas off in 3 years, and I have to bug out after lunch. Grrrr. Career choices again. Well, so be it.

      I got a whole bunch of work done on my little boat while my wife and kid were at school, too. It really came along well. Pictures to follow in a few days.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

...and then he rested

After getting off the HQ, I had to go up north to start the probate process for my mom's estate. I spent a couple of days between getting things organized and visiting family and friends. It was actually a pretty decent way to cap off the visits I've been making this past year. Much less stress. Along the way I got to shoot a couple of rounds of skeet at a rod and gun club located south of Boston, which was a load of fun. I've shot trap before, but never skeet. Harder than expected, but just as fun as I'd hoped.

       When all was done, I made my way home, and I've been here for a little under 48 hours. It's SO good to be home. I'm having my first real quiet morning right now- family is still sleeping, and I overindulged last night on sriracha chicken and spinach dip,  not to mention the couple of glasses of whisky I downed over the course of the evening, so my guts had me up before the sun, but so it goes. By 7am I had breakfasted and recovered, and I'm currently sitting on my patio in shorts and a tshirt watching the bass jump. It's a clear, cool 68 degrees here in God's country. I won't have as much time here as I'd like, but then again, I never do.

 The past months being particularly onerous, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife went all out with decorating and knocking out most of the honey-do list herself, but today seems like a good day to break out the pressure washer and tidy up the concrete outside.

 Funny thing about Florida- you don't have to shovel snow, but twice a year you do have to pressure wash your driveways and walkways. The humidity leads to a superfine coat of mildew, and sometimes not too super fine.

This week I had had a license upgrade prep class set up for myself, to start preparing to knock the dust off my captain's license and up the tonnage. I've never, ever ever been a person to let personal issues get in the way of a job to do or a responsibility to uphold, but this time I made an exception and delayed the class. I *could* have done it, and not had time with my family or simply time to myself... but in good conscience my family needs me more than I need that class this week, and the truth is, I'm tired in a way that is entirely new to me. Fatigued is probably a better word. I'm fatigued. I've never felt this way for more than a few hours, but since my mom passed away, I've had nothing but obligations to attend to, and with rare exception, I haven't slept more than 5 hours in a given day. I feel... not myself, I guess.
 I'm not having a pity party here. I'm grateful that I now have the opportunity to re-center myself, and I'm surrounded by people who love me even despite knowing me pretty well. I have many things to be grateful for, but I haven't been feeling grateful recently, and that should change too, starting with this quiet house, a full belly and a pretty morning.
 I can work on my career after Christmas. For now I have a little time to sit back and enjoy the holiday.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Uncle Paul and the Young Salt

 One of the coolest things to happen to me out here is that I was able to get my youngest nephew a job as Ordinary Seaman on one of our tugboats, and we regularly get to work together. Even better, his watch officer allows him to stay on board and visit with me when time allows for it, when they're not underway. He's been here a little under two years, but this is his last tour with us for now. In a few weeks, he'll be starting college.

     My oldest brother lives an hour from the ocean, west of Boston, so my nephews haven't grown up on the water like I did. When T came aboard for the first time, at age 18, it was his first day working on a boat. Everything was new. By 18 I had over the 1,080 days at sea needed to be rated Able Seaman. I had a lot of advantages, and a bit of confidence from it. My nephew did not. At 6' 5" and underweight, he'd get knocked over by a stiff breeze. He was so fortunate in the next months to be trained by some excellent tug captains, and even though it was overwhelming, and he was still an overgrown child who wasn't used to an adult's job and an adult's environment, he was excited and motivated.

  My nephew came aboard the HQ this morning- his watch officer calls me 'Uncle Paul' over the radio, too, screwing around with me. We had a great visit, and when it came time to get underway, he was utterly professional, utilitarian and precise, acting as an extension of the mate's eyes and hands- and I was very proud of him. He's put on at least 25lbs of muscle, and speaks and acts as a man acts, not as a suburban 20-year old. When I woke up again before dinnertime, he was here again, and we had another visit. Looking at our schedule, it's doubtful I'll see him at work again.

     I often wish I had run away to sea before going to college, before impoverishing myself with a debt from grad school that would gag a goat and isn't worth jack shit to me while I'm on a boat. But the fact is that I DID do those things, and they may come in handy. I have options. If I lose a leg, I won't be homeless, hopefully. I choose to be here because I prefer to be here.
      My nephew might be back. We might have ruined him. He's a big, cerebral kid with a penchant for complex math and a warm personality- he'll do well in college if he treats it like a trade school. He'd do well on a tugboat, too. He knows enough to keep his mouth shut when his captain gets a case of the ass, and when to bark back, now, I hope. He'll have options, too, after this.
   And really, after working on a tugboat, college is going to be easy. Sit, take notes, study, drink, find interesting-looking women, repeat. He's going to have to deal with his peers being mostly kids. I'd imagine that'll be a touch lonely at first.
 Going to be lonely for me too. It was so nice to be able to have time with family out here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

10 seconds

    It isn't that my job is boring, or that it's repetitive. It can be those things.

 It isn't the salary, or the stability, either.

    Despite my near-constant worry that somewhere, elsewhere, there is cool stuff going on and I'm missing it, every here and there I get a 10-second burst of "This is why I'm here," and it carries me through the doldrums.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Welcome aboard, new people!

If you're coming here for the first time from John Ringo's Facebook page, Welcome, and thank you for the spike in traffic! I am Paul B. I used to do something else for work, and could wear nice clothes and talk with nice people about interesting things... yeah, it was awful. Instead, I ran away to sea and have been a commercial fisherman and merchant mariner and hemidemisemiprofessional tankerman since. . I write about the things that happen, many of which are my fault. The last months have been something of a challenge, and blogging has suffered accordingly, but I have been up and writing again as I can.

Friday, December 1, 2017

signs of life

Today was a dock day here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Centres for Excellence in Breaking Important Mechanical Stuff.

         I went to bed after midnight yesterday, and after 30 minutes or so of reading, had slept for all of 30 minutes when Muscle Man, my OS tankerman, knocked and poked his head in my door.
      "Hey, cargo crane won't swing, man. I can't get the hose back."

   The part of me that stays conscious of sea state, pump and generator load and list and trim of the hull while I was sleeping told me that we were done pumping cargo, and that the hydraulics had been on for a while.
       When the swing motor doesn't swing, and there isn't an explosion of hydraulic fluid, I know that we sheared off the 2-inch thick short shaft in the swing motor unit on the crane. We've done this before. The crane was replaced with a boom 10' longer than the original that came with the base, and the increased torque this causes when there's a ton or of 100 feet of of oil hose hanging and swinging around 60' away can be too much on the swing motor's shaft, which acts as a brake when the hydraulic motor is not in gear. The swing motors last about 2 years. First time it happened to me, I was lucky enough that I had just handed off the cargo hose to a ship, and when they disconnected the hose sling from the headache ball at the #1 (the wire at the very tip of the crane), the boom swung rapidly like a giant propeller, completely unstoppable... only thing to do is to raise the boom vertical, take away the momentum.
     Last night, when I walked out on deck, and saw the hose leaning against the hull of the ship we wanted to sail away from, I knew we'd lucked out... and I got to make Muscle Man think I was either psychic or an insanely old salt. I told him to drop the #2 headache ball (which was holding up about a 25' loop of cargo hose), and listen for the clunk of the 25lb piece of steel scrap that would fall into the inside of the base of the crane when I swung the crane manually.

     Since I set the #2 whip about 40 feet from the base of the crane, there's a lot of leverage there, no matter how heavy the load on the crane. With a big loop of hose to drag on to, plus zero list on board, I dragged the loop of hose to the crane's boom cradle, and had O lower the boom and put the crane home. I heard the clunk of the broken shaft and the gear it was attached to as it fell out of the geared ring of the crane's base. Since we had no orders for later on, I just called the night guy and told him we were out of service until I could talk to a port engineer- we don't carry spare swing motors.
      BY noon we were all fixed and all was well again. The engineers used a shoreside crane to put the new swing motor up, and with access to the shore, it's given us a chance to get groceries, load up on supplies and offload waste and scrap, stuff like that. It's a rare chance- we don't get to the office dock more than once every 4-6 weeks, so since we're overnighting here tonight, too, tomorrow will be another dock day, too, God willing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

must get better

November was a pretty shitty month for me. I'm hoping December will be better. I'm sorta home for Christmas, well, I will be, but I have to fly back out to work on Christmas day, but we'll be doing our celebrating on Christmas eve, anyhow. My plan is to enjoy Christmas as much as possible. Thankfully, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is already prepping for decorating. I'm looking forward to things getting back to semi-normal.

 That's sort of where I'm hanging my hat. I feel... stretched out and worn, I guess. It's been a helluva time, so I'm going to lick my wounds, drink whisky, shoot guns and hug my family. Still got to get through the next few weeks here on the HQ, though.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

He did it again

If you don't read John C. Wright's work, you're missing out. A recovering lawyer and reporter, Wright can WRITE. Guy's an artist. On Thanksgiving, where I write with sarcasm and poor wit, Wright hits it out of the park with an immensely thoughtful post.

Most literate people of my generation know the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims. I will recount it in brief for those of you who went to public school.
The ship was blown off course by storms, failed to make port, and put it at Plymouth. Here they found fields already cleared, and maize stored up, but no people. Had these things not been here, or had there been any hostile Indians in the area, the Pilgrims surely would have died.
Even with this help in place, that winder, the colonists suffered a dramatic death toll due to disease and starvation. Half were dead, and the half a dozen hale and healthy folk in the colony tended to the others, dressing meat and cleaning and changing their soiled clothing for them: five or so nurses tending fifty or so sick and doing all the other labor of the colony besides.
They had seen no Indians save for a few who stood aloof, running away when approached, or who stole some tools left unwatched during dinner.
Winter ended. In March, an Indian came forth from the woods speaking perfect English. His name was Squanto. Befriending the Pilgrims, he showed them were to find fresh springs of water, where and when to fish, where and how to grow maize (which we Americans to this day call corn) and how to make popcorn.
His story is dramatic and terrible: for he and four others had been lured aboard an English ship, captured, enslaved, given away, used as a native guide, and abducted a second time to be sold to the Spanish. Squanto was saved by a Franciscan friar and set free, and spent years looking for a way home from Europe.
Meanwhile his tribesmen back home had come across sailors shipwrecked on the American shores, whom they slaughtered, except for three, whom they enslaved, and sent around from chieftain to chieftain to be tortured for their amusement.
The Europeans, however, carried diseases to which the Northern Americans had never developed any immunities. Before ever the first Pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock, the Patuxet Indian villages were wiped out by plague so swiftly that the Pilgrims found their huts still standing, eerie ghost towns, with the dead unburied. The surviving Indians naturally feared a curse and fled the area, so that by mere happenstance the one spot in America that was unoccupied was where the storm-tossed Pilgrims were driven ashore.
Squanto had labored for a shipbuilder in London and eventually made his way back to Newfoundland, and, later (on John Smith’s ship) to New England. Here found all his family dead and his tribe practically extinct.
So the storm just so happened to blow the Pilgrims into the only spot on the coast where there was food and cleared fields waiting for them, no enemies, and the one Indian on the continent who spoke perfect English happened to be living there.

     Read the whole thing. HERE Picking a selection was difficult. It truly doesn't encompass this lovely post. 


Friday, November 24, 2017

Season Saved

There were no plans for Thanksgiving across the entire B clan this year. 

 My mom's funeral and burial were a week ago, and none of us were in a celebratory mood. I know when I'm not at my best, and the past week at work hasn't been my best. I didn't make mistakes or anything, but neither did I truly do much beyond doing the necessary, which for me, isn't enough. I don't like or appreciate someone who chooses to do the bare minimum out here, and for me, that's exactly what I did this week.
         I cut myself some slack. It's been a shitty time.
         So, surprisingly, my watch partner and I put together a massive Thanksgiving dinner, 2 main courses, including the requisite turkey, several removes, sides, and dessert, too. And when we dug in yesterday, I was thankful for it. I felt pretty good after really filling up. I felt better. And grateful.

       My oldest brother and his wife, turns out, rethought Thanksgiving, too. Although when I left Boston they said there wasn't going to be a celebration this year, yesterday they opened up their home and filled it with B family members and had the full dinner after all, and everyone was grateful for it.

 Sometimes when we push ourselves to have a good time when we don't feel like having a good time, it's truly for the best.

 So I got up for anchor watch tonight, thankful that we've got the night off, and had leftovers for breakfast. It was still damn good. And we won't be doing much cooking, just reheating, for at least another 2 days.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Routine routine

NOW I'm back in the routine.

 My first two cargo discharges went off badly this tour. This happens, especially when we work with engineers and ships that don't normally visit the US. In this weekend's experiences, it was a matter of routine on my part and inexperience on the part of the engineer, at least when it comes to how we bunker vs. how the rest of the world bunkers a ship.

       From start to finish, our focus on safety and honesty in what we do is not the usual M.O. when compared to many places in the world.  AB's are surprised and often unhappy at the number of mooring lines they have to heave for us and that we expect everyone to move quickly and instantly when it comes to evolutions like making fast or unmooring.

Great example- in a pretty decent current and swell and 25+knots of wind, we caught two of our 6 lines and lined the barge up with the manifold area of the first ship, but the crew disappeared and we waited to catch more lines. They were given another task to do or wandered off, and it took some tooting of the tug's whistle to get them back to work. Meanwhile our tug captain was sweating bullets trying to keep in position without straining our lines. Time being an issue, I let the AB's know we needed more speed ("Let's go, girls, the captain is struggling to keep us in place and you're up there f*cking the dog now."). I do make a point not to directly insult foreign deckhands. I don't want to get brained by a monkey's fist in the dark and they do pay us to get fuel, not to be shitty to them.
        What follows is the usual mess. Letting the ship get organized enough to connect the diesel and heavy fuel hoses, praying that whoever is directing me while I'm at the crane and working blind is good at their job, and waiting for the engineers to come down.
            Newly-arrived foreign engineers expect me to attempt to screw their company out of oil and or money. They're wary. Some give us the benefit of the doubt, and wait and see if we're out to screw them, some will preemptively try to screw us. It's how they work, elsewhere, and I hate it.

            The one thing that these folks don't expect is utter honesty. I WANT them to measure the volume of oil in our tanks, before and after we pump fuel. They receive an exact accounting of how much fuel they took, out to 2 decimal places in barrels, which is about 3 pints. So, they might get a million gallons of fuel, but what's on the bill is accurate to within a soda bottle's worth of volume.

 This is a double edged sword. These guys expect us to dick around and to have the ability to dick around when it comes to the numbers.   The first ship we dealt with this weekend wanted me to convert everything to metric and then round things up to whole numbers.
 Me: "No."
 Then they wanted to negotiate the volume listed on the Bunker Delivery Note.
Me: "No."
"Well, we won't sign for anything but the exact volume we requested. No decimals."
Me: "Yes you will."
"Well, we need you to round down to an even number, then, for our computer."
Me: "No."

 It went on like that. I was feeling pretty patient, so I eventually said we don't negotiate and we don't cheat anyone, including the ship or the supplier, so the numbers are the numbers. Eventually they get the idea. Usually they threaten to give us nastygrams, Letters Of Protest they're called, which are used to establish details in an official record should arbitration be required at some point by a court. What they don't expect is that we like these. "Yes, sir, please send the letter down and I'll be happy to sign it."   What the hell do I care? I know the right thing was done on my part, and they're being dicks more often than not as a pro-forma exercise.

    To their credit, these two bad jobs took longer than they should have to perform because of shipside foolishness, but no one tried to outright steal, and no one was unbearably rude on either side. So it goes. While I always hope bunkering goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn't, and that's part of our routine, too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shaking out the first reefs

Well, I made it back to work a few hours ago. Back to the routine.

 My mom's funeral and burial was yesterday. We laid her down at the closest national cemetery, alongside my dad. The funeral and interment service was lovely, and we closed the night by eating together, just family, just under 30 of us. After 3 emotionally exhausting weeks up north, I would have preferred to go home for a few days, but practically speaking, it was time to go back to work, according to my wallet, and so as our family dispersed last night, my own nuclear family went back to the house one last time, and long before sunup this morning, we said our goodbyes at the airport, my wife and son to head home, and me to head to NY.
        I'm tired, in a way that is somewhat unfamiliar. Physically, sure. I've been on 5 hours a night for 3 weeks straight. Making final arrangements and herding family members towards resolution on planning and carrying out things is work too. Overall, I hope that with a couple of decent sleep cycles and getting into a routine that is familiar, things will turn around a bit inside my head, which is currently a slightly unfamiliar place too, somewhat more dark than usual.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


My mom passed away yesterday. It was gentle and pain free, and the hospice nurses and medical team that made her death as peaceful as possible were absolute angels. The entire B clan came together for the first time in years and spent days together in her home. It was exactly what my mom wanted, for her children, great grandchildren and family to be cemented together in order to ensure that we don't drift apart overmuch upon her passing. We were all there when she passed. It was hard but I managed to say something intelligent for once. Something like, 'I'm crying for me, for us, for what we've lost, not for her. She's free and at peace, finally."

 In the 24 hours since her passing, it's been a whirlwind of activity, but the enormous level of support and caring from our friends and community has been humbling. Our cups runneth over, as does our refrigerator, freezer and beltlines.

 I still don't know exactly what I'll be dealing with beyond feeling a touch lost and more than a touch like I'm being carried by the rest of my family. I'm still always on the verge of falling apart but never falling apart.

 My parents were married for 48 years. My mom died yesterday evening. Today was my parents' wedding anniversary. Their marriage defined their lives, and my mom's only real statement this past weekend on what she was thinking about when she thought about her last day was "I hope your father is there to meet me."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

more important things

Nothing quite works to plan with me, and that's OK. Things tend to work out right, if on a longer timeline than I'd often prefer.

    I never did go home. While I was visiting my mom, she brought us all together to let us know that she was stopping medical treatment and wanted to come home to finish her days among the family.

      It's been a long time coming, and while my mom now is sleeping and no longer conscious, we had some wonderful days, and our entire family has been gathered for a final watch, and it's been an opportunity to reconnect with everyone, and it was all done on my mom's terms.

 We're down to hours, not days I think, but everything is taken care of, and the tears are less common than they were, and there's more laughter at all of the great memories.

Even at difficult times, when surrounded by loved ones, the mutual support makes such a difference. In my own family's religious context, funerals are noted as celebrations of life, not of death. Call it a remnant from the Irish Wakes we no longer practice.
    My mom's dog, a little neurotic rescue dog who is ugly as sin and absolutely cute because of it, cut the tension yesterday by cutting the cheese. My uncle must have fed the dog some people food. In the early afternoon, at a particularly low moment, an unbelievably foul, mephitic smell hit us one at a time. We all assume my uncle, a lifelong bachelor, crop dusted us, and we cried foul to his cries of innocence.

 It happened again when we were all around my mom, later on, after we finished praying together. I noted my mom's dog scuttling like a little crab out of the room, shamefaced, and recalled that she had done the same when we had blamed my uncle.
 From then on it was on. It was too cold to put the dog out, and she'd go ballistic locked in any of the other rooms, so we just tried to shuttle her to where the people weren't, but she got out and has a gift for stealth.

 She snuck by when we were eating Chinese food, bombed the whole kitchen, to cries of horror, nausea and laughter. An hour later, in the living room she did it again, all the while scuttling crablike, and as the 10-12 of us went from room to room escaping an 8lb dog's utterly toxic ass, she'd eventually follow and SBD us again.

 So, it's my hope that when my mom is gone, and we recall these funny moments at hard times, the little moments, like everyone yelling and laughing at the dog while bolting from a table full of Chinese takeout, we'll be able to take comfort from it and remember that with a family together there can be little rays of sunshine that break through so many dark clouds.

 I don't expect I'll update this blog until after my mom is gone and at rest, and I'll be back at work and back to a routine.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

looking ahead

Well, I'm entering my last few days of what has been an emotional tour here at the HQ. Rage is an emotion, shut up.


 So, hopefully I'll be headed to my own house after a few days up north, there to enjoy my own family, who I have missed terribly in all this, notwithstanding 20ish years of being practiced at dealing with difficulty while away. As I said, it was an emotional tour.

 Some new and interesting things are happening at home. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is in classes during the day for the next few months, so I will have my house to myself for the most part. I've got a honeydo list longer than my crank to deal with, so I'll be able to handle some of that, and after 8 years of sitting on my ass, I'm going to up the tonnage on my ticket, too, for work, come December, so I have to study for that. I'm just rusty as hell there. Not much call to practice navigation plotting when you spend as much time huffing oil fumes as my work requires. So that'll keep my busy.

 I've got my model tugboat to work on too. I should have time to get a lot of that taken care of, which is a good thing, as I've got another lined up for after, and I find the whole creative process fun, especially as it gives me  a chance to work on fine motor control issues, which is a thing for me. Courtesy of having gotten my hands crushed as a teen, and having lived with persistent infections from lobstering for so many years with open cuts on my hands, things like writing my name are pretty painful, which is why I type so fast. Needing sub-mm accuracy is challenging to me, but it's also helpful, as my shaky and sometimes weak hands do well in response to fine work. Not that my work is super-fine, mind, just that the discomfort goes away.

The pace at work continues to be very rapid. We're still running almost all-out, and I'm still not used to it. Finding time to handle maintenance isn't an issue. I can get up early to do things that I can't get to in our occasional off time while we're waiting for berths or a tide. Coordinating shoreside engineers and mechanics to come aboard and handle things I can't do myself isn't as cut-and-dried when you don't know where you're going to be 12 hours from now. I guess the days of having our schedule set up three days out is long gone, now. Things change constantly. I don't like or do well with chaos, so it's a burden, but one that is going to be lived with now.

 I feel as though there are changes that I need to make. What's that line from the poem about Provisions must be made... and I have made them... something like that. Except I haven't made them yet.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Father Goose

It's been a busy damn week here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Center for Second Thoughts About Career Choices.

      While I'm still working through my own family issues related to my mother's health, my right hand hand man O had to extend his time off to deal with a health emergency involving his own mother, who, thankfully, is now on the mend. He came in last night, but in the meanwhile I had 5 days of fill-in tankermen.

 The HQ is about the best designed bunker platform I can think of. Though not perfect, of course, her design represents the pinnacle of a balance between usability, safety, utility and ease. She's a one-off, having been rebuilt and altered at the deck level from a common design that my employer had built 10-12 years ago and still uses. My employer gets a lot of use out of us, and our safety and job completion record shows that she's a right good 'un, and our injury and lost-time injury record is a testament to her fine ways, too. 
    Not to say she's idiot-proof. We are known as the Hose Slayer of New York;  at least our port engineer calls us that.  Blind spots at our crane controls, and catch hazards on deck when working at low angles means that we've killed off more cargo hoses than most. At $5,000 a section, we went through 5-6 hoses in our first two years aboard, and although it's been a couple of years, it can still happen. But she's comfortable, I believe she's the most user friendly barge that my employer owns by a wide margin.
   ...If you know her little ways.

 If you don't know her little ways, the HQ is a handful. The cargo crane can turn a heavy fuel oil hose into a wrecking ball or a grappling hook, and does, to those who don't know. A seemingly-perfectly lined-up position with a dock or a ship ends up being way out of the crane's ability to spot the hose, necessitating a phone call, bringing a tugboat out, sliding one way or another and adjusting or resetting mooring lines, and then being slut-shamed by dispatch, the tug crew and the people on the other side waiting for the hose.

 Unfortunately, most bunker tankermen, when they get off their own barge, want NOTHING to do with a strange bunker barge. They know better. In the search for warm bodies to put meat in the seats, our crew scheduling ladies take a perverse pleasure in putting gasoline bargemen on board to fill in when a bunker tankerman is out. Think about what happens if you put a taxi driver behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.

      I was fortunate this past week to have two nice and experienced gasoline tankermen come aboard for ballast to satisfy the COI. SInce I deal with 6 different fuel suppliers each with differing policies and needs and charter agreements, the devil is in the details when it comes to making them happy. Like Burger King, we believe our customers should Have It Your Way.
 Unfortunately, we've also been getting nastygrams from our pimp daddy saying 'quit fucking up the paperwork or you're going home' aimed in general to everyone working in the region. So I can either encourage our visitors to memorize a matrix of 50 procedures across 6 companies (and the ancillary paperwork requirements for each), or I can do the work and paperwork myself, mostly. There's no real choice. You can shave a chimp and make a tankerman out of him. Making a good tankerman takes time, and weeds out the monkeys with tails and also about half of the clean oil tankermen. Making a competent one takes more. Making an experienced one takes even more. You see where I'm going. It's not going to happen, and trying to teach detailed procedure and policy won't work if you're working for 3 different charterers in 36 hours, WHICH WE DID.
   So, I got to work with guys who took time to do their job to the best of their ability, which was actually pretty nice, except that they didn't know enough for me to really rest. I had to do that sort of sleeping where you stay aware of the heading, the state and RPM of the generators and pumps, and the trim and list, which means no REM sleep, so it gets tiresome, at least, if you give a shit about your job. In my own way, I was very fortunate to work with fill in guys who left their ego elsewhere, were pleasant and polite, and could make the oil go where it was supposed to go, and not where it was not supposed to go. I just couldn't sleep much. I believe that if I either gave less of a shit, was better at teaching or was a more sociable person, it could have gone more smooth, but overall it was good.
...and this is not to toot my own horn, either. I've gotten to the point where I have to restrain myself from lashing out when my comfortable ways of doing things have to be changed. I like the systems we have on here, and how well we all work together as a team. I am extremely fortunate to work with fantastic shipmates who are also good friends of mine, too here on the HQ, and to have a good relationship with the core group of tug crews who charioteer our ungrateful asses around. I can't take credit with any of that, as had they had to get to know me recently, they'd likely not be over fond of me. I am not what I was, in terms of being pleasant to be around. Too much shit happening on shore for me just now. I'm working on it, and I still basically like most people. I just don't want to interact with them.
       So it was with great joy to me that O, my right-hand man, flew in last night, and I slept the sleep of the innocent... well, actually I had bad dreams all night, but I was sleeping deep enough to have bad dreams, so that's progress. I'm looking forward to catching up on sleep over the next few days. We're working at about 90% of our maximum, getting a couple of hours off between jobs, which is somewhat more sustainable than going nonstop, as paperwork, filing and basic maintenance can be carried out. I still have a week on board to go.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When the world can't shrink down

When I get stressed or when there's a lot of things going on, I tend to compartmentalize. One of the ways I cope with stress in general is to shrink my horizons. Eyes In The Boat, like the old saying goes. I tend to try to work on things piecemeal, manage events and issues as they come, rather than doing so holistically. It works for me.

    Sometimes, when things happen that are not in our control, but which we are unable to cope with easily, it makes it harder to put ideas and issues, and feelings, too, in neat little boxes.

 My mom is getting ready to pass on. She's at the point where she'll soon be making the decision to stop fighting a progressive series of illnesses and age-related end-of-life challenges that are starting to add up faster than her ability to deal with them and enjoy a minimal quality of life. That time we all know can come for us who live long enough.

... and it's something that most every child of an older parent has to deal with. So many people have, and that includes me. I remember very clearly the day when my father decided that he had gone as far as he could with medicine, that it was time to go home and enjoy the time he had left.

 So why the hell am I sharing this? It's pretty private, even though I know some of my family reads this stuff. I guess I'm still wrapping my head around all of it. I'm saddened but not traumatized by it. Anyone can understand the desire to have time to surround themselves with loved ones and have a quiet, dignified death free of the indignities that sometimes come with life-extending medication that requires sacrificing one's awareness or ability to enjoy the last days.

 With all this, we don't know exactly what will happen and when, and that is where my being at work on the water, and my living 1,500miles from my mom gets second-guessed. I could have worked for the fucking aquarium or run a ferry boat or something. I pray I'll have time to be there, and that I'll be able to ferry my family north to do the same.

 At any rate, I'm not writing to collect sympathy, just to clear my own thoughts. Without being able to keep my mind in the boat and my eyes in the boat, it's not as easy to juggle the million little things we all juggle. I rely on my time at work to center me, I guess, and it's not working.

Friday, October 13, 2017

more of the same

Slogging through the second half of this 7-week trip, and it certainly is a slog. Morale is at a low ebb. We're seeing an uptick in cargo volume among the idlers, the clean oil carriers, while black oil is still moving like crazy. Those are all fine things, but pay and now benefits are are on the chopping block, while the workload is increasing, which is hard to swallow. Obamacare well and truly fucked us. There are so many unhappy people complaining that it is truly a depressing environment on deck just now and I find myself avoiding all but the people I truly like out here, which is not a lot of people. My company has a high proportion of nice folks for a maritime environment, but you can only have the same conversation so many times before it gets just boring and depressing as shit.  At the same time, somewhere in every conversation comes a 'well, we've still got a job, let's be thankful,' which, when you think about it, is an interesting juxtaposition. Lord, it makes the days drag by.

 Anyhow, in an effort to keep my chin up, I'm re-reading the Master & Commander series, which, if you haven't read it, you should. It's my absolute favorite book series. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Being Nice to Other Sailors

I've learned through experience that it pays to be nice when working with foreign ships and foreign sailors.

 Quite often, we see the crew of foreign ships as being of lesser competence and not particularly good sailors in general, and while sometimes this may be the case, it's often enough an oversimplification of sometimes complex factors affecting our interactions; one thing remains clear, however: when working with foreign ships, being nice generally pays off.

      When I first started bunkering, I was shocked at how awful most ships were in terms of professionalism among their crew, when bunkering. We'd have to come alongside and blow the whistle, holler, fuss on the VHF, and hit the hull of a ship with a sledgehammer to get their attention. In all the years I was on a tanker, not once did a bunker barge, bunker tanker, water barge or lightering vessel get alongside of us without an AB to meet them, heaving line in hand, and a length of heavy rope thrown over the manifold to show exactly where they needed to line up to send their hose up to us to connect. Not. One. Time. did another vessel touch up to us without us being there.

 Foreign ships visiting the US, it's a different story. Maybe one time in twenty does an AB run outside trying to meet us while we're already alongside.
 It was frustrating. The rest of the world just doesn't operate on the same wavelength, but it's a mistake to conflate that with being unprofessional. They just don't give a shit.

  In the intervening years, after yelling myself hoarse at men standing often far overhead to hurry up, lift a line, throw down a heaving line, etc. etc, I just don't see it as neccessary, and eventually, I realized that for the most part, it's not helpful either. Generally, I rarely got aggressive or rude anyhow, so me yelling at some poor foreigner was generally a reactive event anyhow. As I've matured, I've come to view it as a mark of professionalism, anyhow. If I can respond to idiocy calmly or at a minimum with an aggravated tone, things tend do go more smoothly.
      Also, being shitty to an AB who is standing with a monkey's fist 50 feet over your head is a great way to get a concussion. Just saying.I've had to dive out of the way of a fastball thrown directly at me a few times after yelling at someone who wasn't moving fast enough to suit me.
      I've been on the other end as well. I once bet my watch partner $5 that I could knock the hard hat off a particularly mouthy tankerman when I was AB on the tanker SS MONSEIGNEUR. I dropped that rude coonass like a felled tree. Didn't knock his hardhat off, though. Turns out it had a chinstrap. Still, it kept him from getting concussed, and he ended up with just some road rash on his ear and cheek. They had great nonskid on that barge's deck.
 My attitude grew out of pragmatism. While I was somewhat mindful of trying to be professional early on, coming to grips with the idea that fostering a gestalt of smooth operating on board meant integrating all these concepts of professionalism, calm, efficiency and speed without being laissez-faire about getting the job done right frigging quickly took a bit of time.

 Last week we were coming alongside a tanker out in NY's Stapleton anchorage in the dark, and the tugboat deckhand who was with me was pretty gung-ho, especially as he's an older guy. A real square peg, though, as the guys's something of a donkey. At any rate, after we get the first line up and get us lined up with the ship at a point where my crane will reach his manifold, things usually run pretty smoothly. The deckhand kept being slightly rude and ordering the ships' AB's around, however, so I had to say "(Name), quit antagonizing the AB's. I have to work with them for the rest of the day." That was enough for things to settle down quickly... and it also meant I might not get some teeth knocked out by the monkey's fist, either.

      Generally, unlicensed crewmen on foreign ships are grumpy Eastern Europeans, timid Lascars or gregarious Filipinos. It's a bit of stereotyping to class them like that, but it's often enough the truth, viewed through my own cultural lenses, anyhow. Each ethnic group comes with caveats in terms of working well together across a language barrier. The bohunks, you have to be fast, quiet and direct. Lascars, you need to address the officers, not the crew, who will not break wind without a signed JHA and an officer's permission. Filipinos, you call them 'amigo' and 'my friend,' say please and thank you, and they'll absolutely do their best to do as you ask while laughing and talking... and while writing about these things is absolutely not PC, it's often enough the best way to get the job done safe and fast.

 I often think about what these ships' crews must think of us. I often enough find that our tugboat deckhands are rarely professional or cordial to ships' crews, especially, and this is not kind to say, those people who don't work here in NY harbor full-time. More than anything else, I tend to get defensive about our operation. I have to work with these guys. The tugboat deckhands emphatically do not. When we are all fast, they go back aboard their tug and leave. I get to live with the aftermath if they've been shitty to the ships' crew. If they piss off the bosun and I don't put a lid on it, the bosun will see to it that the flange on my cargo hose, for instance, might not be bolted down as tight as it could be, so when I lay it down on our deck at the end of a job, I'll come back out a few hours later and find a 2-foot diameter puddle of cold black oil on my deck, or maybe stick a rag in my cargo hose, which will clog one of our two pumps when it gets shoved into a tank the next time we load and discharge. These days I'm VERY quick to put a clamp on a tugboat deckhand who gets a case of the ass and tries to take it out on the people I need to establish a relationship with over the course of the next hours. Ultimately, it's my job to do exactly that... and that pisses me off more than a ships' crewman being a dick. Having a stranger come up on my deck and poison the well I'm going to be drinking from is extremely disrespectful to me AND to the ships' crew.
    I'm no angel; I've said some pretty rotten things to guys when I've lost my temper. I try not to, and beyond blowing up when things get truly unprofessional on the ships' part, I don't start fights with the people who are our customers. It makes my company look bad, and any sort of unprofessional behavior on our part usually gets met with the same, or worse, gets met with polite silence because the people getting yelled at can't respond because they're ordered not to by their own officers. There's just no angle in attacking a man who can't respond, simply because you're frustrated. Now, I'll meet rudeness with rudeness, and with gusto, across the barriers of culture and language. I speak pidgin english. It's how my wife and I communicated until we learned each others' languages when we were dating. I can make it known you're being a shit in almost any language.

 When I work over, on someone else's boat or barge, it makes me sad to see how rude some of my friends and shipmates can be. It's not pervasive, thankfully, but it's more common than it should be. It makes me mindful of whether or not I'm guilty of the same thing, and how awful it looks from up on the deck of a ship when the bunkermen down below are being vulgar or rude.
 "Man, that's guy's a real asshole." I've said that a few times to the mate on my ship when I was an AB. "Have the deck cadet piss in a can, and pour it over the eyes of the  bunker barge's mooring lines. He doesn't wear gloves."

 Being nice avoids all that. Sailors being sailors, debts get squared one way or the other. The only way to win is not to play.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Better and better

Well,I'm back on board. It was an interesting 2 weeks of whoring around the better and worse parts of our fleet, but it's always good to get back to the HQ, where things are tidy, comfortable and familiar. I'm settling in, and it's been VERY busy in general. Things are certainly looking up for business, judging by how it's im-fucking possible to have a quiet moment to go for a walk or get groceries without someone bugging you to hurry up. Can't make much of a beef about it, I mean, they're gonna pay me, it's reasonable they expect me to work, but damn I miss the old days when I first started with this company at times, where you could get groceries and stop for a sandwich before having to rush home while fielding off 3 people calling asking why you're not doing whatever it is they want.

 Well, that's the face of the industry of late. Tighter margins= more stress. It's sure as shit not what I signed up for way back when, but so it goes.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A slight case of the ass

It's been too busy too blog these past few days. I get up, I work, I shower, go to bed, repeat.

  Whatever the word from on high may be, this rotten little POS barge, my company's red-headed neglected stepchild, has been nonstop, and trying to keep it running is a nonstop business too. Pumps overheat, gens shut down if you look at them funny, oil just ends up everywhere and the accommodations are about on par with a Pakastani hospice.
 That being said, I'm doing well. I'm working over, so this is just money to be made beyond my salary, so that's nice, having it available. I was excited to have gotten a tugboat babysitting job, but my current home away from home away from home needed someone, of course. No one will voluntarily stay here, and it shows the worst of what a tankerman can do if allowed to go feral. Pots and pans put away dirty, decks and bulkheads unscrubbed, engines with unknown hours on the lube oil, etc etc... and it's a bad luck boat, too. Some career ending injuries... and today.

 This barge has 3 pump houses on deck. 2 amidships, and one more forward. We were alongside an oil tanker in ballast today, and 1/2 way through a small transfer. I had just gotten out of the bunk and was looking over the papers and computer while caffeinating, and hadn't taken the watch yet. The other guy on here is talking about what's happening, as we start the info exchange that comes with assuming a watch. He's looking out the porthole and says in a slightly alarmed voice "What the fuck?" 

 I look too. There's a ballast overboard discharge on the ship, about 8 feet above our deck level, and an 8-inch torrent of white water blasting out at fire-hose force, all over and inside one of the pump houses, which have a hatch propped open for cooling, unfortunately facing directly the ship.

     We both run outside, doing the pee-pee dance/shut down arm-wave semaphore and yelling, and the water slows down and stops after about a minute. The pump is running- as luck would have it, the stream was broken by the top of the hatch coaming of the pumphouse, so the engine deep inside didn't get hosed... but there was a foot of water sloshing around inside the pumphouse, which doesn't have drains, as it's also a containment zone for the engine, a big Detroit, which slings oil everywhere by nature... so now there's about a thousand gallons of seawater in the house.

 Luckily, a coolant leak the other day led me to get on hands-and knees and wipe out the whole deck of the pumphouse, so there was almost no oil sheen in the water.

 Since this barge has no permanent crew, feral tankermen behaving badly while away from their own homes get awful sticky fingers. Fuckers have left almost no pans or silverware, spares are nonexistent, and there's no portable pumps, so I cut an old piece of hose, make up a siphon, and dump the pumphouse water on deck, where I can watch for a sheen and also where we have means of containing any oil from getting over the side. Of course I get a mouthful of ballast seawater/oil traces/20 years of soot, footprints and what have you, too, and start gagging. It tastes like soap and shame. But I decant 90% of the water by simple siphon and there's no oil in it, it being under the surface of the skin of water still sloshing in the pumphouse, so that's a good thing. We have a draft load of oil to load tomorrow, which means the pumps will be cranking out overtime, and hopefully these prone-to-overheating pump engines will boil off most of that leftover water. Still, I expect I'm going to get steamed like a carrot when I check on the pump throughout that discharge.

 If it was a little colder, I'd be tempted to make Detroit Diesel Fish Chowder, but I don't like chowder when it's not below freezing outside. It's a winter dish for me. Still, if you want to make it, it's easy. You just need a Detroit Diesel, a metal coffee can and some ingredients.I don't make it on the HQ, because we have Cummins engines, which, obviously, just isn't the same.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

+1skill, -2 comfort

Well, just a few more watches here, and then it looks like I'm going to go be a deckhand on a tugboat for a week, which will be something different for me. Despite working for a tug-and-barge company for 8+ years now, I know little about tugboats, really, beyond what I pick up in conversation with crew and having read a few books on it. Really, not the visceral stuff that makes the difference between a sailor and a tugboat sailor. So I have a chance to maybe address that knowledge gap, just a little.

   In the meanwhile though I've still got a couple of watches here and I can say that while I like gasoline service and the positives involved, like the cleanliness and predictability of moving from dock to dock to dock, I still prefer the ballet and conflict of bunker service. It's just more my speed. I'm pretty beat at this point. I have a lot of little bruises and scrapes from working with unfamiliar gear and the increased size of my current barge compared to the HQ, which is rugged but smaller and more manageable.

 I am finding that old skills and old training comes back readily enough. It's been 8 years since I did gasoline service on a similar barge, and the old knowledge does come back. The longer voyages are nice, too. Currently we're heading 6 hours away from the loading dock to anchor prior to discharging later today. It's peaceful and not at all the breakneck hectic rush that bunkering requires. When you have 10 minutes to print and fill out about 15pages of forms, that shit stresses you out. None of that here.

 Well, nothing too exciting to report. We'll see what happens mid-week.

Thursday, September 21, 2017


This week I'm 'working over,' which means that I'm on my scheduled off time, but am working anyhow. Since I took a week off to ride out hurricane Irma, I decided to work rather than go home on my regular time off. The work was available, and it gives me a chance to keep in coffers full.

      For whatever reason, I was placed on a clean oil barge, something I haven't done in I think about 8 years.

   Clean oil service is actually quite a bit easier than bunker work, which is my usual m.o. It's mostly dock-to-dock and closed gauging, which means that the tanks are physically kept closed for the most part, and vapors are collected and burnt off by the terminal when loading, so there's no pervasive and eye-watering stink that is associated with black oil. Good thing, too, as gasoline, which is what we're carrying, has far more VOC's (volitile organic compounds) that are hazardous or harmful, compared to the relatively tame but still not healthful vapors of bunker fuel. Both are dangerous and unhealthy. Gasoline moreso, so there's greater emphasis on containment of vapors.

     End of the day, it's much of a muchness compared to my usual work. Oh, it's cleaner, much cleaner work, and there's no ships and foreign ships' crews to deal with. The schedule is generally less breakneck and far less chaotic. It's actually pretty nice.

 Nice isn't high up on my list of things I have to have, though. Truth is, I could see this getting awful boring before too long. One week isn't very long, I don't have much to worry about there. Things are unfamiliar enough that I have to be more vigilant and mindful of the differences between what I'm doing and what I normally do, so my stress level is up, which is not  a bad thing. Increased vigilance. Still, it's not rocket science and there aren't a million charterer-specific rules that I have to parse when dealing with the half-dozen companies who own the oil that I normally carry. There's ONE charterer on board this barge, and they have their rules, which are mostly the same as everyone else's... and don't get me started on the paperwork! Oh, so nice here. 3 pages of documentation. Bunkering, each load produces a half-inch thick sandwich of tax forms, declarations, MSDS's, contracts, pro-forma declarations, etc etc etc. Wasn't always that way, of course. Bunkering required about 4-5 pages just 5 years ago. Progress, my aunt Fanny, I guess.

    I can't say as I know enough to really know what the next 6 days will hold. Either way, it's something different, and given my recent feelings of work getting somewhat dull, this is to the good.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Carnival! (NSFW)

Something to brighten up your day. Warm thoughts.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Red Light District on board

I was pleased to see that our new Dangerous Cargo light came aboard just before I returned to work.

     Vessels moving fuel oils or cargo with an explosive nature have to display an all-around red light while engaged in their business at night. We're no exception, and shortly before leaving last week, I managed to break the old one.


 Very simple little doohickey. I broke the old one because I had to run a breasting mooring line up to a ship, and it passed about 8 feet from the light, crossing from my centerline to the deck edge of the ship, and as we came up out the water, we edged forward a few feet, and when our tug nosed into position after the job was done, the mooring lines stretched enough to let the breasting line in question get against the steel pole under the light... and here's where I got lucky. One of the 3 bolts at the flange sheared off, and the base plate bent rather than the whole 30lb  piece energetically flying off into the wild blue yonder.
 The pieces in question went ashore for repair in our shop. Later it will be painted and be as good as new, and I can again advertise my services at night... uh, I mean, be in compliance
 At any rate, I took advantage of the lovely weather and bolted up the now-repaired light. We have spare solar-powered portable lights for exactly this sort of boo-boo, but it's never the same.

 Well, it's sort of good to be back, but it's absolutely good to be back drawing a paycheck. I hadn't planned on a spontaneous vacation and home repairs. Things are going back to abnormal it seems.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

We now return to our life in progress

Well, Hurricane Irma blasted through, and we made some memories at home. I'm heading back to NY tomorrow, and back to work. My unscheduled week off worked out as well as it could. I put my house back together, although there's some damage outside that will need professional attention. Overall we got very, very lucky.

 Welp, back to it tomorrow, anyhow.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


1300, Sunday.

   Storm is underway. It's gearing up to bomb the Gulf coast, while I'm on the Atlantic side, so I'm hopeful we won't get hit too hard. Say a prayer for the poor buggers on the other side, though. It looks pretty awful for them.

 I've met more neighbors here in the past few days than I've met in the past 3 years. Nice folks. The men in the neighborhood had already formed a plan to button up my house for Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife if I was unable to make it home before the storm. Luckily, I was here well beforehand, and bolted up the hurricane shutters- steel corrugated strips that bolt directly into threaded studs sunk into the concrete walls of my house that ring each window opening. So for now, my house is as dark as 3 foot up a welldiggers ass during a new moon. We're snug and secure, and still have power too. Wind is currently 50ish, gusting to 60. I'm poking my head outside periodically to look around. All is well as can be, currently.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

This might suck

Well, pretty much every prediction is that my house is gonna be in a trouble spot when Hurricane Irma says hello to Florida.

 I'm hopeful. My town proper is between all the models' spaghetti paths, which might mean we take our beating and be thankful it wasn't worse... might not work out that way, too.

 Either way, I'm breaking this tour and heading home tomorrow. On the chance that we'll take a direct strike from a category 4-5 hurricane, my place is there, not here.

 I'm in touch with a bunch of folks from my region. I've been able to chat with some very cool people in the gun and literature world in the past 24 hours. Kinda neat. Storm brought us together.

 Well, regardless, I'm going home. Back next week, all things being equal.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Be Prepared

Whether I'm at work or at home, I like to have enough food on hand to ride out any disruption in supply.

 At work, I'm not as diligent about this as I should be. I'm sure I could survive just fine with what we have on hand for a few weeks, but as I'm not far out at sea pretty much ever, these days, I like to have a lot of fresh green stuff on hand. I find salad dull after a while, but I do eat a lot of it.
     At home it's a different story. You'd think that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife would be the food storage cheerleader in the house, coming from the 3rd world, but this is not so. Her parent culture has a definite preference for every-other-day market visits, and that's about it. Shopping day is entertainment.

 As I am still a relative newcomer to Florida, I've been blessed in that we've only had to shutter the house and hunker down for a hurricane just once so far, and it missed us, thankfully. Even so, while I was here on the HQ at the time, my wife got to watch the utter shit show that happens when there's a run on food, water and gasoline.It gets ugly, FAST.

       Peter Grant has a great post on prepping and being prepared for disruptions for the exact purpose of not having to take part in the angry mob that forms when gas, water and bread gets scarce. 

We keep a minumum of about a week's worth of drinking water for my family on hand, plus plenty of dry stored food and a spare propane tank. And ammo. Of course.

      We're all watching Hurricane Irma closely. At the present moment, it doesn't look to be heading for my neighborhood, but that can change easily. The damn thing formed up so fast and so far out to sea that anything could happen, and she looks to be a monster. Whatever happens, stay safe.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Short Volume Kabuki

Well, this has been an interesting night.

    Started off pretty good. I'm on night watch tonight, which means my day started at 2320, yesterday, and I'll go to bed after civilized humans start on breakfast. No problem. It's my turn in the rotation here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ tanning emporium. We're morning people on here; working nights isn't a favorite, so we switch off.  Tonight's my night, and wonder of wonders, it's the first night where I stepped outside before watch for my inspection, and had to put my coveralls on all the way. Generally, until I sign the DOI (Declaration of Inspection, the checklist that says you're in charge and everything's peachy keen), my coveralls are being worn as pants and the upper body part is tied off at the waist. Tonight I went outside and suited up a few seconds later. Between the temperature and the delightful breeze, it's been a lovely night.

      Tonight we were transferring fuel to a car carrier, a RORO, PCTC, whatever you want to call it. Car ship, and it was their first visit to the US. Like 99% of the ships we deal with, this was a foreign-flagged ship,

       At any rate, tonight we pumped 1,300 tons of fuel oil and 170 tons of diesel to this car ship, and, the engineer not being a regular visitor to the US, but being Japanese, he was obligated to perform the Short Volume Kabuki.

 Now, you don't have to be Japanese to perform the Short Volume Kabuki- you just have to sail a lot in 3rd world countries. Everyone who's handled bunkers outside the US has likely done it. It's formulaic.

 In much of the world, when bunkers are transferred to the ship, someone's going to try to cheat. Often enough, it's the bunker supplier. From ridiculous to subtle, there are a million scams to try to get free fuel and fuck over some strangers.  The most subtle trick is the Singapore Cappuccino, where unscrupulous bunker suppliers will aerate the fuel and increase it's apparent volume by trapping air bubbles in the oil, making a viscous foam. As the air eventually works its' way out of solution, the volume magically decreases, but by then the supplier is long gone.

 I've written on this stuff before so no need to rehash it too much, but the essence of Short Volume Kabuki is that no matter how much fuel you transfer to a ship, they're always short. What follows in the 3rd world is 'negotiations' where both sides try to come to an agreement on what is a reasonable amount for the thief to steal.

 This being America, it doesn't really work like that. It's just too much work to try to steal bunkers, and when delivered by barge, there's nowhere to go anyhow. Plus, a bunker thief will be caught and will be reamed by someone, and do time, whereas elsewhere, it's just part of how some folks make a paycheck.

 At any rate, after years of doing this, I try not to take it personal when someone's trying to sneak one up my Windward Passage without benefit of Ye Olde Reache Around, and I'm past the days of being scandalized and upset by it overmuch.  Under normal circumstances, the Engineer claims a shortage, the bunker supplier claims and overage, and they meet in the middle. Some days you win, some days no. Negotiations happen.

 Here, we calculate the volume and temperature of the oil, adjust the net figure for density, and arrive at a standard volume calculation before we leave the loading terminal. Most of the time, we have an independent cargo surveyor do the work with us as a disinterested party.
 On arrival at a ship, I do it all over again, and invite the ship to take part and observe. Sometimes they hire another independent surveyor of their own. Sometimes no. At any rate, we really like to have the ship at least come aboard and observe the volume measurements before and after we transfer fuel, to be sure there's no claims of tomfoolery. This helps. We also DO NOT NEGOTIATE. The volume is the volume, and is documented as such, and claims of an error are made through a formalized documentation system that ensures that should a volume disparity be grave enough, both sides can engage in legal mediation to discuss the matter and come up with a solution. This is thankfully far over my head, but I'm very fond of doing things the right way and keeping my ass from hanging in the breeze.

         So, once an engineer has unzipped and whipped out his street theatre cred and claim a volume discrepancy, I can pretty much predict how it will go.

 1) How much you give me?
 2) I missing x tons.
3) You give me more?
4) Oh, OK. You write (1/2x) on BDR, OK? 
5). OK.
                20 Minutes  Later..
6). OK, Thank You. No, no need. Bye Bye.

 That's about average. Now, from my end, it's

1) I show y tons, the number on the BDR.
2) OK. Chief, the volume is measured from my tanks, and is correct from my end. I realize you might need to recheck your tanks. You can come measure mine if you want again.
3) No, I'm empty. I can't give you more.
4) No. Is this your first visit here to the US? We don't negotiate, Chief. The volume is the volume.
5) Please give me a Letter of Protest showing the difference, and I will sign it for you.
6) No Letter of Protest? OK. Have a save voyage.

   That's about it. At this point, I don't see any return on being upset by the whole thing. It's impersonal. I used to get pretty upset about being accused of being a thief or a liar, but that's not what's happening. It's automatic, like pulling your hand off a hot stove- the signal doesn't even go all the way to the brain.

   At any rate, 90% of the time, there's no additional paperwork involved. Periodically, and especially with Indian/Pakistani engineers, they will go full Kabuki and engage in a waiting game and throw paperwork at me, which I duly sign. Sometimes they actually do see a difference between what I gave them and what they believe they received. Often enough it's a math error or an observer error, when it happens, in which case I really am sympathetic. That's easy enough and not always easy to find when it happens. For the most part, it's just a pro forma procedure; I don't have to like it, but I do have to deal with it. On the upside, after a few visits, it stops.