Sunday, February 19, 2017


I am an extremely fortunate man. I'm self-aware enough to realize that. Between good luck, good health and a good mind, I've been able to do well. Good job too. Thank God for that, especially now when maritime work is so hit or miss for too many people.

 I do pray, and do remember to be thankful when I perform my examen.

  In a few more days, I'll be leaving here, and will spend some time in Boston. My family is flying up to meet me. My mother is so fragile that I want to spend some time with her, and help one of my brothers out as we do some upgrades on my mom's house, and fine tune the assorted paperwork that goes with maintaining a familial home.  My brother is disabled, and I'm more afraid of him trying to do manual labor than anything else. He's an artist as a homebuilder, but doing what he loves to do will put him in a wheelchair if he overdoes anything. 

 At any rate, it'll be great to catch up with the B family more completely, to see everyone, but there's a shit ton of work to be done, and a lot of it falls on my wife's shoulders- girl stuff, for my mom's comfort. Clothes, redecorating, some new furniture I guess, things like that. I mean, I might do some painting, hang hardware up, etc, she's going to be busting her ass running a cleaning crew through the whole house, organizing, and cooking for us, too. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is a natural caregiver, and while she's often  bashful about her thick accent and endearing habit of speaking English almost correctly, she is very much a part of the B family in both name and deed. 
Also, it's pretty damn funny, but she can't say her own last name 100% correctly. My last name is anglicized slightly, but it's gaelic, and contains sounds that she just can't emulate. Also an endearment. The longer I am married to her, the more I thank God for the very obvious assist in arranging for us to meet after growing up a hemisphere apart. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Patience and Overtime.

I really wanted to work an extra week this month, to start saving up a little more scratch for a European grand tour for the fam and I this summer.

 Can't do it... or, more accurately, can't get up the mental muscle to work overtime. I think I'm burnt out on OT.

 I've been working 9-10 months a year the past few years. Done some great stuff with the extra money, too. Helped some people out, developed a taste for some finer things, built up my portfolio, paid down my student loans, things like that. Mundane.

 Well, now it appears I'm about done with OT. I can't drag myself to do it without there being an emergency, it seems. I didn't even ask the powers that be this time. I just told my wife, 'I don't think I can do this and not be a shit when I come home," which was good enough for both of us to say never mind.

 Man, I was one of the overtime kings in my company. Ultimately, time is becoming more precious than money to me, finally. I should have reached that point long before this, but here I am, late to the party, maybe, but here all the same.

 And you know, I'm OK with this.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Momentum and motion

One of the more disarming and difficult-to-describe dangers we experience as mariners is how dangerous motions are often slow-moving ones.

 I've been rolled off my feet in a relatively rapid roll on a 700-foot ship. I've also lost my footing and gone flying in a slow and deep roll where I didn't have handholds or a bulkhead to brace myself on- and yes, in a long, deep roll, putting a foot on the wall to stay upright or to keep walking is a thing.
I've never been launched vertically, thank God. I know that it can happen, but in the times I can think of where vertical motion at sea has been an issue, it was a matter of being in reduced G, light enough that my center of gravity shifted rather than achieving liftoff. Several times, I've been clutching my mattress, and a combination of roll and heave was enough to lift my mattress up over the lip of my bunk and send me surfing across the room.
 It's very disconcerting.

 More often these days, for me, vertical motion is an occupational factor, not a danger to life or limb, but I'm very aware that this can change in an instant. We moor against ships, generally with a high angle between us and the much taller vessels we're moored alongside. Mooring techniques are a series of compromises- keeping an equal strain on all lines, a good 'lead' on spring lines, and breasting or head/stern lines that keep us snug to the other ship. If we have those things, we're in good shape... and it's not rocket science, it's basic seamanship. Describing these things is more difficult than actually doing them. 

     Momentum counts. When, through swell or roll, there's relative vertical motion between your vessel and another- whether it's another vessel or a dock or whatever, no hawser or series of hawsers is likely to have enough ass to hold you hanging in the air.
   The slow speed at which this happens at times can be disarming. Listening the other day while the hawsers were singing (approaching their maximum stress modulus) while bunkering in a swell (and 45kt winds), I realized we were in a situation where I truly did not want to be. Do I want to slack lines, bail out, or keep watching?  Each is an option, each has costs.
 Should I slack lines, it allows for momentum to build between our two vessels. Lines can go from singing to snapping. Should I sit and keep watching, it means that the warning that the lines are giving us is being ignored. Will it get worse? That's a gamble. Should I bail? At some point, I need to come back, and if we're already getting banged around, sailing off in that situation presents its' own dangers. All the same, that's sometimes the best thing to do. Experience, judgement and self-preservation make for good decision-tree price points.
   But yeah, the slow speed at which momentum and motion becomes an issue is disarming. Thing is, when you're dealing with thousands or tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of tons in motion, much like having sex with Bill Cosby, there's just not much you can do about it once it's started.

Here's a picture of us bunkering in a swell, on a beautiful day where a 400,000 (seriously, there was 70 foot of draft on that ship)  ton ULCC was just barely rolling, but when you're 250+ feet wide, a little roll translates into some respectable motion, and that, coupled with the swell, made for a 10-15 foot heave.
 (Note. I estimated that the writing on the hull was 25 feet tall. It is probably about 15-20)

 A more recent video from another mariner showed a pilot boat trying to get alongside a rolling container ship, and the pilot door being submerged in the process, much to the consternation, I'm sure, of all involved. The principle issue on this next vid is the lack of communication between all parties- something I'm unfortunately deeply familiar with (one of my pet peeves is when I have to shut down a fuel transfer because no one will answer radios, sledgehammers against their hull, blowing the air horn, etc. I just don't get it). However, my point in showing it to you isn't from a comms and safety perspective, just to show you how slow that roll is, and how there us just fuck all that can be done as a proximal solution to dealing with it for the man on the scene. It's not quite slow motion, but it might as well be for all that there's much can be done on the spot.

Now, this is a fair-sized container ship, and a relatively sedate roll. But there wasn't shit that that poor sailor could do about getting thigh-deep at that moment. At least he had a good handhold.

 I occasionally have nightmares where we snap all our mooring lines when alongside a ship, and I have to watch the slack being pulled out  of the cargo hose as it comes tight, stretches and snaps. Obviously, overseeing an at-fault spill is one of my deepest fears. Second only to a loss-of-life incident, although, judging by my dreams on a longer timeline, showing up for school in my underwear might still be the longest-running deep fear I hold. Jury's still out on that one, but about 10 years of dreaming that when I was younger has to mean something.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Stumble start, strong finish?

Well, this week started off pretty rotten. I picked up a bug that left me on the pot with my head in the trash can, emptying from both ends, for pretty much a full day. While working. So... that sucked.
 Worse, it's my own damn fault. I've been eating clean for a few months- nothing processed, just fruit, chicken/fish and veggies, the odd egg and bit of cheese. It's given me a little more spring in my step, too. But Tuesday evening I was pretty beat, and there were leftovers on the stove for whoever wanted 'em. potato and some other processed shit. I ate it, after it had been sitting uncovered for a few hours.
    The usual mark of food poisoning is that the toxins involved are fast acting. Generally you get sick within 15 minutes of eating. So it wasn't traditional food poisoning, but either way, Wednesday I was pretty unhappy, and we were doing dumb shit, getting shuffled around, so there wasn't much opportunity to rest.
 So it goes. Sure as shit, I'm happy it's over, anyhow. That is NOT the way to lose weight.

 So, today we got hit with weather. This morning was really raunchy. Blowing about 40-45, and we were in an exposed anchorage dealing with an initially uncooperative ship. The snow was a mix of small flakes and frozen rain, and since a ship at anchor will fetch into the wind, the sleet and snow was blasting me in the face full-force, blinding me. This especially sucked because I was running the deck crane, and had to watch what I was doing while blind, until I got the crane and hose vertical and swing it to the ship, anyhow, when I could turn 90 degrees to the wind.

 And you know, rotten as it was, I was just glad my guts felt better.

         Well, there's no sleeping when the hawsers are singing and the sea is slapping you around in an accordion motion against another ship. I was actually very surprised that VTS allowed us to do the fuel transfer. They've shut us down and kicked us out in less weather, although it may be that the being blinded and chilled made me overestimate the shittiness of the morning.

 Well, and result, I called conditions marginal but doable, and we kept a tugboat with us the whole time on standby. It all worked out OK. I'm currently at a dock (I got a nap), standing by for our next job tomorrow before dawn. We shoveled as we could- ice and snow froze fast, so there's only a matter of pushing drifts over the side. The base inch or two of hardpack is with us for the now.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Bob and Paul go fishing

 In my yoot, I walked away from a lot of good jobs to go lobstering every spring.

  I got serious about it after grad school, when I realized that I didn't want to be a scientist anymore, and that being a policy administrator was no longer open to me for moral reasons, environmental policy administrators mostly being venal, self-serving and parasitic sons of whores who destroy their hosts to collect a government salary paid in blood, with a goal to destroy the people whom they reign over via boot to neck (I've got a childhood friend who's a fairly higher up admin at NOAA. I hope he's still an exception, though we've grown apart and haven't spoken for years, I'd still count him a friend, I suppose. Can't say I much respect his employers).

    I had already been a season out of grad school and mostly settled on being a fisherman when I started working for Bob and his dad. I had been fishing the year before with Chuck Z, another lobsterman down the dock, and mostly enjoyed it, though I got a hair across my ass when a friend from the New England Aquarium recruited me to design a build a small-footprint fish farm in Boston, and I spent 6 months doing that, and relearned why I wanted to be a lobsterman after all.

 At this point, being in my mid-20's, still a polite person, not messing with drugs and being a mild drinker, getting a job meant walking from one end of the marina's fishing pier to the other and saying hi to people. Being a sternman on a lobsterboat is not exactly a high-demand job. Passing by the RITA C, a big white newish boat, I got to talking with Bob, the captain, who was a childhood friend of my brother. I met his father, who knew of me, (I worked 150 feet away on other boats on and off for the last 8 years after all). We talked about fishing, and fisheries management, and I admitted that I swam around that pond a bit and found it horrifying.
 Anyways, end result was that I had a job, starting the next day. Other than trips to sea on ships during the off season (which eventually became my full time gig), I found a home.
      Bob's dad gradually went back to semi-retirement, coming out to bait bags and band lobsters and shoot the shit with us every now and again. From there, Bob and I would work together for the next 8 years, becoming partners in the process, and eventually I would be captain on the RITA C, when Bob got a job running a research boat.

 Still the best job I ever had.