Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Back at it

Welp, back to work, and we're back on watches.

        The HQ is in the shipyard, so we're on board my company's oldest, most rotten barge, with living quarters that are... well, like everyone's granny said, 'If you don't have anything nice to say..."

  Gonna be a challenge to be my usual ray of fucking sunshine. So it goes. Good to be earning a paycheck, anyhow.

      I got some work done on my little model boat while I was home, too. I'm enjoying trying to downscale my woodworking skills, although hand-shaping complex curves in wood is a cast-iron bitch when you're working in such small increments. You can get away with a lot more with larger work, that's for damn sure. 

 The rudder is just two notched lengths of brass rod stock and some sheet brass that I rounded over using a dime as a radius. I pulled out my soldering gun and soldered it, much like you'd sweat a length of copper pipe.
 Soldering is one of those skills that I thought would be instinctual, you know, inborn expertise to nerds, like how Salmon can find their birth river or how baby sea turtles know to run for the sea. Turns out, no. Luckily, I learned that a long time ago, and, while it's been 15 years since I picked up a soldering gun, I still can do the work.

The little rounded frames and the windowed piece were covered in extruded PVC, which is like a glueable formica that takes paint well.  This piece will eventually be the wheelhouse.

I pulled out the soldering gun and some 1/8 and 1/16th brass rod stock, and soldered the handrails. Bending them to a uniform shape is a pain in the balls with such small, fine stock, and since I turned my hands into handsburger when I was a kid, fine work like even writing my own name is uncomfortable. Luckily, non-repetitive work like sitting with a 3rd hand and a soldering gun doesn't hurt so much as I have a short timeline to get things into place before my hands start shaking from the effort.

  I made the windows out of an old transparency sheet for an overhead projector. Just painted one side in black, and the unpainted side becomes a nice glossy dark window that I could cut to shape. The window frames were 1/16" strips of PVC superglued in place. The sidelights are just cast pot metal, and their boxes are painted pieces of 1/32 ply shaped and glued to pieces of leftover brass rod stock from the handrails.  The horn is cast metal and the searchlight is cast polyurethane with a perspex lens. Roof of the house is vacuum-formed PVC that I cut and sanded to shape, but that came as a mostly-finished piece, thankfully.

 I made the windows out of an old transparency sheet for an overhead projector. Just painted one side in black, and the unpainted side becomes a nice glossy dark window that I could cut to shape. The window frames were 1/16" strips of PVC superglued in place.

 I was really disappointed in how the trimwork in blue came out on the platform for the stairs. The piece itself is just sanded 1/8th basswood plywood, but the edges were terrible end-grain splintery.  I soaked them in superglue, resanded and shaped them, but they took the paint weird, causing it to absorb unevenly. My fault, I should have sealed the wood with epoxy and puttied it. End result is that it looks like I had a seizure while painting. Next time I'm home I'll glue a piece of 1/8" PVC strip to the edge, and paint that, and it'll look nice again.

 It'll be a while before I go home again, however. Just got back.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

clean up and pack up

Well... shit, that went fast. I spent the weekend cleaning up my garage, going over Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's car (I ended up putting a new CV joint/axle in on one wheel) and tidying up my work area and generally getting the house in order. Back to NY and back to work tomorrow.

 More later

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Mr. Poppins I aint

Well, one week in, and I am enjoying being home very much, although there have been distractions. It's 6am, which is not my usual writing time. I woke up at 0500, a full 2 hours early for me. Strange, too, as I went to bed late. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife had dental surgery yesterday, which has left her... grumpy and uncomfortable, let's say, and I've been trying to fill her shoes.

 My wife is a housewife these days, with all that that entails. With just one teenage boy in the house, the workload isn't horrific, but it's certainly a full-time gig. We generally eat all of our meals together. I don't give a shit if we're eating pizza, we're sitting down with real plates and glasses, napkins and all of that shit. No TV or cell phones, either. It's just our thing, one of the ways we accommodate being separated so often by the work I do. Plus, when we do eat more casually, outside by the grill or whatever, we enjoy it all the more.
I don't take the hard work my wife does for granted, certainly, but I'm still astonished by how fast the damn kitchen gets dirty and how much crap just always needs to be washed. I have a thing about dirty dishes- I don't like not being able to see the bottom of the sink. My wife's the same. I do cook about 1/3 of the time when I'm home, but I rarely have to clean much. Division of labor and all that.
         The support and comfort structures we put in place as a compensation mechanism in dealing with regular absences of a married mariner are repeated by some of my coworkers, although so often we arrive at these measures independently. People are so different and variable in our natures and ways that how we provide or seek out comfort and support might vary in infinite ways, but the results tend to look somewhat similar. Variables like kids and things like that seem to make this more obvious, but that may have more to do with the lifestyle attracting people predisposed to certain things, anyhow. Regardless, it seemed like the older sailors I worked with had done some of these things, too, enough that I noticed and noted it, and over the years between then and now, I've mentioned it to some of the younger guys. I think it will be harder for them. Different times.

 There have been a few challenges in my first week home. With my company tightening belts and the oil transport trade in general looking like a shit show just now, I've been looking ahead wondering what the future holds for yours truly. If you follow any of the folks on my sidebar and bloglist, master mariners like Captain Jill have been struggling for a while to find stable employment. I've been lucky, but I am not longer able to take my great good fortune for granted. I need to be able to survive instability in our trade, and am starting to take notice. I need to take some more classes, be ready to sail on my license and up the tonnage, too, which I have been coasting with for a while.
Since I moved to Florida, pressure washing in the summer has replaced snow shoveling in winter. Spiderwebs in my screenhouse and mildew on my driveway and patio just won't do, and every 4 months I pressure wash outside, and it's a wet and messy job. I managed to blister my right foot pretty good last week, walking around with wet feet for a couple of hours, so I've had a gimp. The other night I slipped getting out of the shower, and strained my LEFT ankle, so I've had a double gimp. I've been shuffling like an old man or walking like a penguin, but also sitting on my couch at night, which is NOT my style. I tend to keep busier than that. So it goes. I have always been... maladroit, let's say.

I'm just starting to feel better today on that, although I'll be driving my kid to school in another hour and plan to stop at Home Depot on the way back, so we'll see how a little walking around goes.

Friday, May 19, 2017

home, thankfully

Well, I'm at home, typing this from my kitchen. It's nice to be here. I have done VERY LITTLE in the 2 full days I've been here, which has also been nice.

   I've got a full day of fixing and maintaining stuff going on.

 Work was pretty wonky the last few days. I was bummed to learn that I'll be reassigned to a new bunker barge when I get back. Not sure if it's temporary or permanent, yet, but we're going over as a crew, so that's positive, at least. I'm thankful to still have  a job. The past month has seen a LOT of layoffs and laying-up of fuel barges throughout the US, and it's finally reached the northeast, too. Lot of good people are getting sent home.
 I don't feel like writing more on this. While it's an interesting subject, it's also a business issue that my employer will have to be dealing with and I'd rather not throw gasoline on a fire without putting on some asbestos underwear first, thank you.

   At any rate, I turned 43 shortly before coming home. I've never much given a shit about my birthday, anyhow. When I got home, however, my wife and kid surprised me a lot with presents, a cake, decorations, etc. Very cute, really. My wife kicks ass.

 My kid especially, in this case. He found some old albums, and, after laughing about my appearance as a college student (long, big hair. I played bass in a heavy metal band, God help us), he painted a picture of me and gave it to me when I got home.

Not my finest hour, appearance-wise. I do miss my old hairline, though. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Homecoming 2017

OK, I've got things back to abnormal here at the HQ. My right-hand man O is here, and with just 6 days to get through before it's time to go home, we've had the time to work on some medium-priority projects, so the HQ is in good standing overall.
 Time to hit it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Opportunity lost, or...I'm just here for the quiet

I've got a shiny new tankerman here on board Hawsepiper's Afloat Global HQ/ Sausage Emporium.

 O, my regular tankerman and erstwhile 2nd man, is working elsewhere this week. He's about ready to be promoted, so he's filling in as Big Boss Man elsewhere for a week.

 In the meanwhile, I've got a newly minted tankerman, fresh out of training, someone I'd normally not want on board. No fault of the person in question, but the HQ is where my company sends oddball jobs and the odd 'we really can't screw this one up' work. Not to say that we're special- we're pedantic and reliable, that's pretty much our thing. We're the Honda Civic or Ford Taurus of the bunker fleet, I guess. As such, between O, Big B and me, we know a little and give enough of a shit that jobs get done, the barge is in workmanlike fashion and good repair, and we stay on top of things that tend to bite one on the ass. We're not setting records or breaking new ground, that's for sure. But it's enough for us, and it's not an easy thing to set the proper dynamic to do good work and to create a work environment that's comfortable, stable and satisfying, with an absolute minimum of having to put up with annoying shit.

 So, new guys can fuck up any one of those things, between knowledge, drive, habit and personality mix.

 I'm very happy to say that my fill-in guy is a good 'un. He knows the fundamentals, knows what he doesn't know, and learns fast. He's also a worker. No shit, I told him to take a watch off while we were at anchor, to relax. I was doing some therapeutic painting (I painted the deck in the gen house. Some dingleberry nonskidded it when it was brand new. Absolutely retarded. This is the first time it's been painted since it came out of the shipyard, 10 years ago), and he's not permanent crew, and there was nothing pressing to be done- we keep things in order as we can, after all.
    Well, he went down in my afterpeak, and organized the filters, spares and racks that hold our bolt bins, pipe fittings, things like that. A job I've been putting off for a while because the afterpeak is messy and dank, and easy to put off. I've got to say, I was pretty tickled by his initiative.

 Look, what I do, it's not rocket science. I've had a few tug captains and mates bitch that we're overpaid for what we do. They get offended that  the guys who were their AB's and deckhands last year are making money at or near parity with the mates and engineers this year. So it goes. Economics is a thing.
         Green tankermen or tankermen evaluees (experienced guys who come from other companies) come in one of three general flavors; 1) guys that captains wanted off and away from their tug but who were reluctant to go, 2), people who don't like people, ranging from autistic to misanthropic 3) people who are in the middle of the bell curve of intelligence who don't want or aren't quite able to be an engineer or small boat officer.
 I'm in the #2 crowd for sure. That's my burden. I just don't like working with people too much, which is one of the best parts of my job- I get lots of time by myself, and that, coupled with the environment we foster on board the HQ, means that I work with like-minded people who just get it, both on the job and as shipmates, and we don't annoy each other. Best of all worlds. New people can fuck up that dynamic.

       I tend to find that newly-released tankermen and evaluees are undertrained for what we do. Bunkering, I mean. Fundamentals are best taught during dock-to-dock work, not in bunkering. I wrote earlier that it's not rocket science, and that is surely so. However, it is a job that can be done adequately, poorly or done well, and there is a LARGE gap between done well and any other condition. It doesn't take long for a tankerman to be released (ready to work solo, qualified to stand watch as Person-In-Charge (that's a thing), 1,000 to 2,000 hours of training. However, a green tankerman might be able to do the job, but experience alone teaches harshly the rules governing contract-specific compliance for charterers, personnel and conflict-resolution skills, dealing with language barriers, regulations and paperwork, the detail stuff. Those things are introduced by the tankermen trainers, men who are tasked with teaching new tankermen and evaluating the castoffs from other companies who end up infesting ours.
    If you can't tell, I'm generally not overwhelmed by the job that some of the trainers do. We have some guys who really do well, and some who are just awful, but volunteer. Unfortunately, where I fall squarely in the "does not play well with others" camp mentioned above, so do a lot of guys. 's one of the big attractors of the jobs. So there are plenty of smart fellas who just can't or won't train new guys.

 Periodically, I'll be plagued with a deckhand who wants to get a jump on training and who takes an interest and spends a few hours on deck with me while I'm carrying out a cargo discharge. I think it's a great idea, but it absolutely ruins my day. I don't like not being able to focus on my job, and having to explain and answer questions. For that reason, I know that I do NOT have the personality profile to be a tankerman trainer. I'd be in hell, absolutely miserable. Honestly, it would make me start thinking about doing something else for work. I enjoy what I do, but not so much that I would continue on if I hated the idea of getting out of bed in the morning, and I'd rather stick a gun in my mouth than to do my job AND have to talk about it all day with no alone time.
    I tolerate the occasional deckhand who wants to shadow me for a watch. It's not their fault, and if I were an asshole to them, it could poison them against bucking for promotion, and I don't want to do that, to be that person. But when it's over, I end up reading in bed for 3-4 hours before I can sleep. It just makes me desperately unhappy.

 My boss, the port captain ashore, once threatened to get me into a training position. I know it'd be the final step between doing my job and moving into an office job ashore, which I sometimes think about, but I explained why it'd be a nightmare for me. He countered with a reminder that I'd be getting paid more. I asked him if I could pay him NOT to saddle me with a trainee.
      Thing is, I know I'd be good at it if I enjoyed it.  I've done some teaching in biology, and I've lectured to college students and at conferences on the work I used to do. I actually enjoyed it then, but not now. I have a little guilt about it, as the men who are coming up have such a crap shoot when it comes to getting assigned to a good or a bad trainer. Plenty of guys overcome it, but they pick up bad habits, and we all know how hard it is to shake off a bad habit once it becomes habitual.

 So, at any rate, the new guy, while green as grass and hesitant, knows his shit, as much as a green tankerman can, and has to be schooled now through experience and practice.  He's also a decent shipmate, seems to know when to leave me be when I'm enjoying a quiet moment. I've had to get on him to get enough sleep a few times, but that's part of being younger and interested in your new environment. I want to foster that interest, so that's OK, but pushing him to sleep enough to be alert for the next watch is a good thing, and I think he knows it now. I used to do the same thing.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hey. Hey! Listen to me!!

...mad points to anyone who can identify the song intro I pulled that from.

I spent some time today going back and forth on a friends' Fecesbook post about health care. He's a liberal Republican (I suspect he believes himself to be moderate), a Massachusetts Republican with libertarian leanings, definitely above average intelligence. Great guy. We agree on many things, although he's to my left, but politics has never really mattered to me with friends, anyhow.

 So yeah, I revisited the post a few times yesterday, contributed some thoughts.

 After a post where I was accused of being 'monstrous' (by someone I've never met) for suggesting that taxing income to pay for health care may have unintended consequences, and that economics very clearly shows that subsidizing a private industry never drives down costs, there was some pearl-clutching and name calling, mostly at me and other 'taxation is theft' minded people.

 Name calling means I'm either dealing with a tard or have made my points, generally, except where I'm being called an asshole, which I am, and which I am on Fecesbook even more, in which case it's being honest.

 There was a glorious moment of autistic screeching when I used the phrase 'dead wood' to describe the unproductive class, because now apparently that's offensive...something about a Chinese prison camp where medical experiments were carried out and the poor bastards who got dissected were referred to by that name.The term iteself comes from maritime usage, like most things, with a parallel origin that's literal, describing dead wood.

 Oh, it's the part of the ship's upper keel, at the stem, against which the heels of the forward frames are abutted if you care.

 At any rate, once my friend inserted that bit of trivia, I was the devil for not caring or, apparently not being appropriately ashamed of myself.

 Yeah, I'll reconsider when gay means happy again or no one can say 'gas' because gas was used to kill people in concentration camps.

 Anyhow, I was immediately thinking this, but was able to move on.

 My point in writing this is that 1), thank you for your patience, because I know you didn't come here to read political shit, and 2), when I was being called a monster and such for not agreeing with all the leftists, my friend chided the name-caller, and asked him to stop, but he wrote something that struck me funny. I'll have to paraphrase, but it was something about 'we'll never find solutions if we resort to name calling.'

 That actually killed my interest in the post. We weren't finding solutions, we were choosing sides and speaking our minds. No one of the hundred or so commenters changed their mind or was going to change their mind, so what was the point? Me, I have a couple semesters in college  and grad school in economics and no training or background in health care policy. Neither did anyone else there. It wasn't a MENSA meeting, or the G7, or a Scientology... meeting? service? I don't know what those dingleberries call getting together.

 Sadly, we didn't find any solutions, except that I got blocked I'm sure by some folks I never interacted with before.  I didn't even get to unlimber my id and start tearing into people. Must be getting soft. But then again, we weren't there to find solutions. I was there to pass time while my lunch was cooking, and other people were probably taking shits at work and the like.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

headache my ass

I've been getting tension headaches for a while now. Back of the neck, distracting, occasionally nauseating tension headaches. Everyone gets them at some point. Right now is my turn.

     So, today we're between jobs, moored at our mooring buoy. The last couple of jobs have been pretty rotten, and both of our generators were acting the fool at some point, too, so there hasn't been a lot of sleep for yours truly. Last night I was able to catch up some, and woke up to a bright, sunny morning to relieve the watch, who went to bed, leaving me in perfect peace. Right away the headache started. Seriously? Usually I get a few hours and then it sets in, you know, when things happen. But headache or not, it really was a pretty morning. I called Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife to check in, talk about our plans for the day, etc, etc.

 After breakfast, I cracked a can of paint and painted the deck in our generator house. I got halfway through, which was a good piece of work. Somewhere along the way, my headache went away.

 I actually miss doing mindless work on a boat. Losing yourself in the repetitive motions and simple tasks can be very soothing. I used to find that I was able to think through a lot of problems when I was needle gunning or painting. All these years later, it still holds true. It was a really nice morning.

 Headache started up after, but it went away when I spliced one of the hawsers on deck. Hmmm. I sense a trend.

   I'm past the halfway point of this voyage already. The first two weeks were steady and busy with enough lay time that we could get our maintenance and shopping done- optimal balance, you know? This week no one wants bunker oil. It's disconcerting to have a full 24hr day off. I'm not complaining a bit. I was happy to get a bunch of things done here on board. But with fuel so cheap, I'm surprised that people don't want more of it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

boo frickin' hoo

You can identify a crisis when the people who tell you there is a crisis act like there is a crisis.

Al(Jazeera) Gore and some people who play make pretend on film for a living notwithstanding, I'm apathetic because I have a half-decent background as a scientist, not in spite of it.

 Anyone who comments about consensus can 1) Kiss my big white ass, and 2), expect that I'm going to come to your house, beat you with a phrenology textbook, then sterilize you because Eugenics.