Friday, March 31, 2017

Eat the poop cake.

Well, another year passes. We bunkered the EMPIRE STATE for their spring cruise.

 The Empire State is the NY maritime academy's training ship. It's a well-preserved dinosaur from the golden era of US shipping, but make no mistake, this ship is elderly, and it's about to have a couple hundred 20-ish year old maritime students on board for a couple of months as they cruise to South America or Europe, make some port calls and learn how to drive a boat.

 I could write for a while on what the hell these poor pricks are going to do when they graduate, as there is already massive competition for unlimited-tonnage jobs on American ships- SUNY sends out some absolutely excellent grads, but the jobs are currently in tugboats and limited-tonnage work, mostly brown-water stuff, and they don't offer much in the way of it.

 My employer regularly recruits some grads each year. They have to spend a couple of years as Able-Bodied seamen on our tugs,  to learn how to do what we do, rather than sitting on a bridge spilling coffee for the watch AB to mop up in the dark, but they do make good towing officers once they learn what it is to work a workboat through experience.

 Well, at any rate, we bunkered the Empire state earlier this week, and as always, it was a bear.

 With a house mounted in the middle of the ship, and the heavy fuel manifold mounted at the base of the house on the weather deck, it's actually not a bad spot for us to moor up to them alongside- old ships have round, seakindly hulls, and not much parallel midbody, so they can be tough to safely come alongside and transfer fuel.

 The problem with the Empire State is the damn diesel oil. When the ship was built, they didn't NEED much diesel as they use today, as they didn't have environmental regulations delimiting fuel specifications, and they certainly didn't have Environmental Control Areas . To get diesel into their diesel tank, we have to connect to a fitting in a machinery space, directly over the tank, which is in the stern of the ship in the double bottoms, I believe. At any rate, our 100-foot diesel hose is nowhere near enough. We have to load two extra100-foot diesel hoses on board, connect them to my diesel hose and use the crane to send 40-foot bights of hose to the edge of their deck and 10-20 young kids will drag it bodily from the edge of the deck to the stern of the ship a couple hundred feet away from my own diesel manifold. We barely make it, and always, ALWAYS the last hose, my own hose for regualr service,  gets dented slightly, cutting its' service life shorter. I have never had a diesel hose reach replacement age (5 years), btb. 

   With so many students dedicated to marine engineering, they need to take part in bunkering too, so the engineer stations kids over each tank on the ship. In the era when ships like this were used, they had a LOT of small tanks to keep the ship in trim. at 50ish years old, the Empire State is elderly, and they're afraid to put much pressure on the fuel lines... or the students I suppose, so we have to pump the fuel with just one of my pump engines running only at idle speed- about 150 tons per hour, as we transfer 1500 tons of heavy fuel and 300 or so tons of diesel to them too. A smaller job by today's standards. 

 I was planning on taking plenty of pictures, but this year, along with constantly dealing with the engineer, who micromanages the fuel transfer, and the couple of hours it takes to connect the fuel hoses, we had heavy rain and some wind. It was just a shitty day. 

... and that's the problem. We do a pretty good job, and worse, all of us on here get along great with the chief engineer and the captain of the ship, who also always comes down to visit us for a bit and stretch his legs. They're great guys. I suppose they'd have to be, to deal with a couple hundred college kids in a tiny space and keep the right balance between discipline and teaching. 
      ... from my company's end, they use us, me, specifically, 75% of the time for this job. We do it OK, I guess, but it beats the hell out of us and causes a mess. We will take the poop cake and deliver it, perhaps with some mild bitching, but without having a tantrum over it, which has happened with other crews. No one likes delivering this particular poop cake.  I've got 200 extra feet of hose with no home, and disconnecting it makes a mess, plus there's no home for it, so it's coiled down and placed in the only spot where it won't get damaged, which is right in one of our walkways, so we get to trip over them for a week or two until someone sends a tug alongside to take them away. 
 It turns into a 16-20 hour day for us, and there's no avoiding it. 

 Oh, the ship uses a grade of fuel that no one stocks anymore, RME-180, so we make our own by blending RMG-380, standard heavy fuel oil, with ultra-low sulphur diesel. We blend it in our tanks by loading the diesel right on top of the heavy fuel oil (the proportions are calculated for us, and we adjust volumes by hand, using pen, paper and calculator, depending on the density and temperature of each product, in order to give us a known final volume and density. Sounds complicated, it's not really, but it is risky. If we fuck up,we own the fuel. No one will take back blended fuel, and the ship won't take improperly blended fuel. End result is that with our calculations, we have to run and squirt volumes of diesel, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, between our already semi-full fuel tanks. It's done at a jogging pace and with numbers and info relayed back and forth. I can do it by myself on deck, and like to, but this particular hull that is the current HQ is old school- laid out for simplicity and functionality, and I know how she likes to naturally feed some tanks faster than others, and can pinch down some tanks just so, so that no tanks finish up at the same time. 
 Oh, and this time, after the diesel cut, we had an additional heavy fuel oil cut to also blend into all the tanks on top of the diesel, to flushout the diesel in the terminal's pipeline, which normally carries just heavy fuel, plus a little extra to be sure the diesel is gone. So, proportioning that is another layer on the poop cake. In the rain. Uphill both ways. 
     Well, end result is that it was successful, and while we may have rode bitch on this job, we made money for daddy. 
Pictured: how I viewed the ops people who assign me the poop cake. 

 Every. Damn. Time. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Shifting Shipping patterns in NY

As I hinted at earlier in the week, we're seeing some changes in ship visits here in New York harbor. This is interesting because shipping traffic is such a bellwether for what the economy is doing.
 Now, I'm no trade analyst, and I'm also not documenting this info with much in the way of hard numbers. I'm reporting anecdotal observations, which are only one weak part of forming a picture of what's going on.

 Several things are happening at the same time. The Panama Canal expansion is complete, and shipping trade patterns are already adjusting, and in many cases, already adjusted. Some US ports are midway- or already finished in dredging their channels to allow for increased traffic and deeper draught ships. Presumably there's a sliding regime of scale and scope that allows for equilibrium between the two, but these programs are starting and finishing on their own time, so ports are coming onstream with their changed infrastructural capabilities on a continuous, chaotic basis. Must be fun for the shipping companies to deal with that.

 Hanjin Lines was a massive presence in the US, and their liner service between the Far East, EU and the US disappeared overnight when the company went tits up. And what a shit show it is. There's stacks of empty Hanjin containers at most terminals in the NY/NJ area cluttering up the place until buyers can be found. This was a serious disruption, but there are other companies with other ships all starving too, so the capacity was absorbed quickly. Economies of scale being a thing, and the fuel price crisis still being in recent memory, old-style Panamax ships are being scrapped before their midlife period even begins and newer and larger ships ordered back in the heyday of shipping construction are available.
   Awful lot of 100,000 ton container ships available or being scrapped. Wicked bahgen prices, too, like we used to say where I grew up.
          So the principle bottleneck here in port of NY/NJ has been the Bayonne Bridge, which is too low to allow new larger ships into the container ports of NJ, which have the infrastructure in place to handle super-size ships. (room, road access, and seriously big-ass container cranes). Some New Panamax or smaller ships can fit under the bridge at low tide, if they have a mast that can be articulated and lowered.
    This actually presented a real challenge when Hanjin went under. They had ships on the way to ports all over the world, and ports didn't want to take the ships- they weren't sure whether or not they'd be getting paid to empty the ships or whether or not the ships would be leaving their port since the company couldn't pay crew or buy fuel. On top of that, Hanjin's old Panamax-or better-sized ships could fit under the Bayonne bridge, but if they weren't going to be loaded with freight on the outbound leg, they would be too tall to get under the bridge. We had some ships anchored or slow steaming out in the ocean for a few days while they pondered what the hell to do.

 Well, since NY/NJ is pretty fucking broke after years of spendthrift government, they didn't have money to build a new Bayonne Bridge. So they're raising it up in what is either a brilliant or absolutely retarded delaying tactical scheme- I'm not sure which . You can read about it here.  This will allow larger ships to come into the ports on the far side of the bridge.
        We're already seeing a fair number of new post-panamax scale ships showing up here. With Hanjin's capacity up for grabs and container companies in the middle of their own crisis     any chance at making money, or, more accurately, losing money more slowly, had to be grabbed out of the vacuum left by Hanjin's passing. Chinese companies Yang Ming Lines and Evergreen have added liner service using some of their existing panamax fleets as a result, which is probably nice for them. Yang Ming is transitioning from monthly to weekly service, and Evergreen is still adding port visits too.
     With smaller ships, this also means more traffic, which is good for the pilots and and bums like me who rely on gassing up these beasts while they're here. I'm doing a LOT more full loads than ever before, servicing these ships, which also tells me that we're going to need bigger bunker barges too, eventually. Some of these ships are taking 6,000 tons of heavy oil, 500 tons of diesel and an equal amount of ultra-low sulphur fuel oil, which is diesel oil cut with a soupcon of cleaner heavy fuel oil. 

 Practically speaking, this is working out well for me. Chinese ships tend to have well-trained, disciplined crews who work fast and efficient together in teams. This means that I don't have to spend 2 hours watching a bunch of hung over surly Russian engineers using their thumbs for fart corks, berating the one 90-lb Filipino crewman trying to muscle 2,000lbs of fuel hose into position, or worse, the arab engineers who come down to my office 3 times over the course of 90 minutes insisting that I get up on his ship right now and connect my own hose to his ship. 
 Yeah, I know. Not very PC. If it wasn't truly a thing, I wouldn't be reporting it. 
          What all this means, big-picture-wise, is a mystery to me still. I know that on top of this Shepard's Pie of information, new fuel regs will drastically change things, too. Couple more years, fuel will get a lot cleaner and a lot more expensive in much of the world, as new environmental regulations come onstream. That's going to mess with things too. If container trade is already so unprofitable because of overcapacity, imagine what's going to happen when fuel is suddenly vastly more expensive. I suspect that the very largest of container ships will weather it better than the current sized-fleet. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Something different

We're experiencing some changes in trade patterns here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Sensory Deprivation Depot.

 As you might know, my barge services the NY/NJ ports of New York harbor. Bunkering, mostly- fueling the large ships that trade here. I've been watching the trade patterns informally, and I'm seeing some interesting stuff. As we're underway and heading to a lay berth for some much needed downtime between jobs, I thought I'd share and kill some time on my end, too. I'll be writing about what I've seen later on this week. What it means is up to the experts. I'm not delving too deep here, just writing about what I've seen from my little slice of purgatory, limited as it is.

First, though, last week we bunkered a cable-laying ship, which was pretty cool- not something we see a lot of here. These are the ships that lay out telecom cables undersea, working in deep and ultradeep water, laying fresh cable or repairing existing cable. I got to look in the cable tank, which is where the actual cable spool is, and dominates the interior hull space. Pretty cool stuff.Wish I could have taken pictures for you, but as we were transferring fuel, as a rule non-intrinsically safe devices like cell phones are verboten on deck. (Photos courtesy of

 What was interesting to me was that we were a lot bigger than this little ship- she's one of the smallest vessels I've ever bunkered, at about 250 feet. Normally, bunkering someone smaller than us means that they'll come alongside us instead of vice versa, but as the ship was involved in loading operations, we gently came alongside them at a dock. Luckily I was able to get one of our hanging fenders (we have two large fenders on slides mounted on each side, which can be hydraulically lowered or raised) against a section of hull, and hung a pair of portable fenders (3' diameter fenders that weigh about 100lbs each) about midships on us, and our tug gently eased us into place. I actually had called my office and requested a different tugboat than the one that had originally been assigned. One of our oceangoing larger tugs was supposed to move us, but they've got too much ass and not enough rudder for delicate harbor work, according to the tug captains, so one of our harbor whores operated by one of our best boathandlers got us in there. I'm not BS'ing either. I asked him to get our big fender between two stanchions on the ship- hydraulic something or others, and there was only about a 1-foot window to sit on, and the captain nailed it on the first try. Pretty neat, considering. I had to be fussy about it because I needed a big enough gap between us and the ship in order to lower a fueling hose to the ship's manifold connection, which, while mounted on their 2nd deck, was about 6 foot below our deck. I had to be very sure that we wouldn't slip forward or aft and bang hulls, as my hose would be between the hammer and the anvil, and I don't want to make the news for being Asshole of the Year 2017 and having a spill.

 So that was cool. The crew were very nice guys, very professional. Bunkering was straight diesel, no heavy fuel oil, which is a nice change from the regular grind for us, too.

 What was interesting to me is that the ship crossed the Atlantic, running from Copenhagen to New Jersey in frigging February, to load telecom cable. Upon completion of bunkering and loading cable, the ship was running right back to Copenhagen. The cable is such a high-value commodity that it was cheaper for them to take 10 weeks off and sail all the way here and back at the absolute worst time of year, rather than to ship the cable on a general cargo ship, insure it, and pick it up locally. Copenhagen is pretty centrally located in the shipping trades, and it's not like their neighbors in the Netherlands or the nordic countries are all that far off, either.

 Still, that's a good gig. I could deal with a 6,000 mile passage, just standing watches and rocking and rolling at times. Granted, I'd rather be here poisoning myself as I marinate in bunker fumes, though.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

That special post you've been wating for... CARNIVAL!

What better way to brighten up a cold Sunday where I ruined the morning by paying bills?

 Sharing pictures from this year's Carnival!
 This post focuses mostly on the women of Rio De Janeiro, although many Brazilian large cities have their own Carnival celebrations.

 More to come as other shitty days happen.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Let's go shopping!

We're actually pretty busy here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Money Factory. We're cranking out quality cargo on a daily basis, and between weather and scheduling, there just hasn't been time to get any damn fresh groceries.

 Tomorrow was set to be St. Famine's day- the day when I ran out of caffeine. And also food, but the caffeine is the important take-away here. I've been grumpy for 2 days, husbanding my precious supply of caffeine. Being out of green stuff and frozen meat/chicken, but having canned stuff onhand, I could have held out a while, at least another week on canned food, but I would have been an absolute a-hole to live and work with.

 It's the caffeine, not the food, that's the issue. I needs that shit. It's my Lithium.

         So, this afternoon we have a break between jobs, but there's no room at the inn for this virgin Mary, so after anchoring I hitched a ride on our assist tug and got a ride into Brooklyn.

 The grocery story I chose is right next to the Barclay Center (a stadium) in Brooklyn, and turns out, there was a basketball game going on. So that put 10,000 excitable people between me and the damn store, but OK, I can handle that.  For some reason, the crowd outside the stadium was really ill-behaved. People screaming, cops wading into the crowd and yanking people out, etc, etc.
 Oh, turns out, it was also EBT recharge day. The grocery store was a fucking war zone. I'm barely even exaggerating. I saw tho very large women in a shoving match over fucking doritos. People were yelling to other people in other aisles, kids were throwing shit (I got a can of tuna wedged under the wheel of my cart from one feral little bastard, made one of my cases of soda in the underside rack fly out into the aisle. Little shit.), and navigating the aisle was barely possible.
 It was like the Cabbage Patch Doll mall riots from the 80's meets Black Hawk Down.

 We use a car service to do grocery runs- it's a benny arranged by my employer. As such, I didn't have to use the long and ungovernable taxi service line out in front of the store. I called for my ride, waited 20 minutes, and the guy showed up. Then a very loud, very fat woman (I think) tried to get in my ride before me. I was polite, kinda off balance, really, and just said that this was a company driver who was picking me up. The woman then got in front of the car, looked at the plate, and argued that the car had a TLC plate, so it was her taxi, as she was ahead of me in line (she wasn't actually first. There was a wild-eyed Jamaican couple who were as miserable as I was there). I let the driver handle it.
  While this was going on, a Nigerian taxi driver was screaming at another group that he wasn't giving them a ride, as black people never paid without a fight, so he was holding out for a white or asian person.
 Well, that went over just great, and unfortunately the prick was ahead of us and we were boxed in, so I got to watch that little show while I was sitting in my cab being eye-murdered by the Brooklyn Hambeast who had tried to Shanghai my ride. I lost count of how many times that women said 'fuck you' to me through the glass, but I'm sure I could ask her daughter who was with her, who might have been 8.

 Overall, it was a pretty good reminder of how I am not an urban aficionado.
 But you know, the best part, was that when I was on the road home, the night dispatcher (between lost time and lines, it was now 4 hours after I left the HQ) let me know that one of our assist tugs would be bringing me back out to the HQ, and it's the one my nephew works on, and he's just 18 and just got back a few days ago from a trip to Ireland, so I  got to catch up with him and see some great pictures of the Auld Country.

   And Today's St. Patrick's day, one of my favorite feast days of the Catholic church, and I got to see pictures from places that thus far remain unknowns to me. By the time we got out to the anchorage, I was recovered from the melee.
 Well, I still hate people, but that was already the case.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Snow day

A nor'easter, hopefully the last nor'easter of the winter, is upon us.

      Thus far, it's dumped 6 inches or or of ice and snow on the Floating HQ's decks, while we sit at what can laughingly be called a 'hurricane berth,' a berth that isn't one of ours, but which, ironically, provides no shelter, as it frigging faces northeast. So, we're getting rattled around like the last coffee beans in the can, because while the snow hasn't been bad, the wind is pretty zippy, kicking up a nasty chop across miles of fetch, open water for the wind to grab a bite of the water and build up a heavy chop.

 So, yeah, we're pretty much in an awful spot. So it goes. Last nasty disruptive storm, a close-call from a hurricane (Matthew?), same thing happened. Our luck isn't in, so much, but hey, at least we're not working in this shit, because brother, it's shitty out there.

 I'm one week in. Bunkering has been average- we've had some cargo, and presumably this week will be pretty busy as we catch up on fueling up everyone who is waiting to get in or out of town.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Let there be (more) light

Well, we're moored for the night, dinner for the next few meals is in the oven and Daylight Savings Time kicks in in a few hours.S'all good.

       I'm a fan of our seasonal time changes. Doing what I've chosen to do with my time, I've worked through a lot of sunrises and sunsets, and I like having the clock adjusted to keep my circadian rhythm more in sync with the sun. I've never had to deal with depression, thank God, but I'm aware that daylight, like with lies, tends to be sovereign against it. Maybe it helps.I dunno. Maybe all the acid and vitriol that I spit out like one of those lizards in Jurassic Park keeps me flushed out inside, too. Being a shitlord supreme online provides a healthy outlet.

          During my college years, I tended to home base out of downeast Maine, because they'd pay me and lobstering in Boston used to suck during June, July and August anyhow. Being an aspiring marine biologist at the time, and wanting to work on practical shit like keeping fishermen fishing and working with animals that I could eat when I got sick of them, I was in my Graceland for sure.

 When I realized that I hated most of the people I was meeting who weren't fishermen or the guys I lived with in Maine, I left and took the only other job besides being a marine biologist that prevents one from having a savings account- I went back to fishing for a living, and it was nice.

 I'm very lucky in that I don't have any particular problems with getting out of bed whether I'm rested or not. Time to get up means I get up. For some reason, I almost never wake up cranky. That takes a few hours. End result is that I've seen a LOT of sunrises without being a true morning person. I don't have a set wake up time if left to my own devices. I'm a light sleeper, anyhow, so when I'm home, I'm  up usually when my kid is up, who IS a morning person, but at times I'll sleep to 9am if I've been particularly tired. Ruins my day, though. Ideally, I like to be up by 0730 if I've got nothing to do. 0630 is better, but my wife and I like to sit on the porch at night and watch the fish jump in the pond and decompress from the day, and some days, especially if there's whiskey or champagne involved, we stay up late. We're both up by 0730 anyhow, but if we've been up 'till 2am talking, we'll end up sleeping in after my kid's off to school, and then the day is shot. Despite that, it still happens at least once every time I'm home.
      Everyone has their own strategies for dealing with sleep and circadian rhythms, and since my job is mostly an outdoor job, I have mine as well. I have blackout curtains in my bedroom- I like a dark bedroom when I'm sleeping, and the light leaks after sunup will wake me up anyhow. Some guys I work with live on farms in the midwest, so with the nearest neighbor miles off, they have no curtains at all in their bedroom, and rise and rest with the sun. It works for them too. I like the flexibility of sleeping in, even if I don't actually like doing so.
     At any rate, the sun will be up earlier, which does make going to sleep in the morning after a long night at work a touch more difficult, but we have methods of compensating for that too. Me, I read, to relax, after watch. That works for me. I have a deadlight over my room's porthole, anyhow. I actually sleep better at work most days than I do at home. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

because reasons

Well, I had a nice post half-finished, but thanks to the hipsters that infest Brooklyn like flies on shit, my much-anticipated chance to walk ashore was a shitty experience.  

 Lord, we need BASED STICK MAN more than ever.

EDIT: And, seriously, fuck Brooklyn 2 times. I can't upload the picture I planned, because there's no cell signal to speak of.

 I hate this place.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A time to rest

After the whirlwind pace of my week spent in Boston, I spent my last 5 days at home, and thanks to the hard work of my wife and kid, managed to pack plenty of family time and rest into my days, so I returned to work today feeling energized and ready for another 4 weeks of making silk purses out of sow's ears.

 I even took a morning to work on the little boat, and got it all set up to continue on next month, when I get home again.

It's up to about 5lbs now. Best I can figure, I'll need about 40lbs of ballast at some point. I'll probably just use some old dive weights.

 At any rate, I'm back at work and moved back in. Expect greatness... well, mediocrity, really, soon.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Well, time is flying by- already in the last few days of this vacation- I spent the first week in Boston, and it was busy as hell- got a whole bunch of productive stuff done, spent time with loved ones, etc etc. Only downside is that it didn't leave my much time to decompress down here in paradise once I got home, but we're making the most of it.

 I finally had time to do a little work on the little boat, too, which is my therapy. Got it primed to look for spots that needed fairing, and did that- I'm trying to get the hull about 95% fair before continuing on with installing bumpers, chafing strakes and the like. Spending a little time with wet sanding has been a trip down memory lane from my teen years.

 At any rate, I'll be back in the land of ice and snow in a few days.