Thursday, June 29, 2017

made my day.

Yesterday we were bunkering a Czech-flagged tanker.

 First one I've ever dealt with- the ship was Czech-run, Czech-owned and Czech crewed.

 Coincidentally, yesterday the Czech government acknowledged their citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms.

“Citizens of the Czech Republic have the right to acquire, retain and bear arms and ammunition.”

This is certainly the most notable news of today. While this legislation still needs to pass the Czech senate, given their government's position as being broadly defiant of the EU's creeping stranglehold on members' internal lawmaking, this looks to be something that can happen, and I hope it does. Citizens of this region are very concerned about the muslim incursion into Europe, and this does come at an opportune time, with tensions so heightened. 

 Well, I wish them well, and I had a great conversation with the ships' engineer. He talked about the revolution that saw his country split into several independent states and nation-states, and how optimistic he is for the future. I thought it was interesting that while the issue forcing the Czech government to allow muslim colonization was coming from Brussels, this is only the latest source of discontent over EU rule, not a stand-alone issue, however, he also told me that he was concerned that it might happen anyway, the EU leadership being made up of people who he felt would be more than willing to invade a member state who was getting out of line. 

edit- special thanks to reader Jonathan for discreetly reminding me to read what I write and edit the dumbs out. Hopefully he was one of the first few people to read this post, which has since been corrected to reflect his reminder. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Warm thoughts from the south (some NSFW)

 Ah, Brazil. I'm overdue for another visit.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

ups and downs

Well, I finally had a bog-standard watch yesterday, and it was really nice. Just a regular-length watch, with a quick bunkering job to a cruise ship, followed by a little free time, which I spent getting my books in order and doing some tidying up out on deck. Just a couple of weeks of being out of our hands, and I already lost the beat as far as things go on here. Normally, I know roughly when maintenance cycles are due, and little jobs need to be done- plus, having deep familiarity with the way things are and the way you like things to be, it becomes easier to stay on top of things in general.

     One of my pet peeves is having worn mooring lines. Doing what we do, we have mooring lines to hand nearly everywhere. There's so much variability in our work- visiting 300-400 so unique ships a year, each requiring us to moor alongside according to what they've got available for mooring points, our mooring lines wear at different rates. Some lines get used more than others, and over the course of months and years, you get to watch a line go from shiny and sleek to fuzzy to frayed, you might cut and resplice the eyes a few times (or have them ripped off bodily by an overenthusiastic tug) and then it's time to take the line out of service. Situational awareness is important, but just being there is important too. Having eyes on the scene, you know?

    So, when I got back the other day, the mooring lines were dumped in a pile and tarped over to keep blasting grit out of them in the shipyard. This is a good thing, but they were dumped in a pile midships, so we got to drag them back into place, and lines ended up in places other than where they originated, which is fine, but as they're in varying stages of use, a 140-foot middle-aged line is not ideal in a spot where we tend to use the line as a backing line at anchorages. A new, 200-footer is better, so we don't run out of room and the line is more robust. So I've been playing musical mooring lines every watch, shifting things, being anal-retentive, probably. Sweaty work, but good work... and I guess that's the theme this week.
       I don't remember 12-16 hour days kicking my ass this hard, though. Anno domoni is a real bitch.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

...on a dime

Holy dogshit, I'm beat.

      I'm back on the HQ. It's glorious. She was in yardbird hands and then destined to be laid up, but a change in plans sent me to her 4 hours before a job was scheduled. She's still ugly and verklempt  but I was under the impression that I wouldn't see the HQ again, and the new barge was tough. Crazy small and uncomfortable... but whatever, I'm BACK!  At least for now. Bunkering got busy again.

 So it's been nonstop work for a few days. Long days on the little beater barge I was on, then a surprise shift over here. The quarters were trashed, but they're coming along, and we're already making money for daddy. Some Dbags took a 5-finger shopping trip and I'm missing some tools and rope and such, but that's par for the shipyard. ANyhow, It's been a couple of 16+ hour days in a row, so I'll keep it short. My crew is still on the old barge, so I've had fill-in guys who didn't really know the business. Can't sleep like that, but I got a good guy on here for a few days, and I'll sleep the sleep of the comfortable.

   There's a Brazilian expression that translates to "My bed hugs me" to describe when you're bone tired and terribly sore, and the bed feels like a dopamine shot directly to the pleasure center of the brain... you know that feeling? Most of us have that feeling maybe once every 5 years... last night was my turn, when I got into my soft, clean bed in my own quarters, and could sleep without earplugs in.

 It was funny, my boss was apologetic that I had no time to fire up the gens,  test the pumps, and get the AC running, put away my groceries and start clearing the deck for work. It's still shamefully untidy, but better. I'm getting there. My back and shoulders are miserable, but damn if I'm not whistling while I work. Good to be back at the HQ.

Friday, June 16, 2017

RIght In The Feels

Summer during my college years meant lobstering and going to Maine. I'd spend the spring season setting out lobster pots with Mr. D, my high school English teacher, fish a while, and then head to Maine for 3 months, there to live in a cabin and work at my university's remote biological field station.

    A field station is a simplified laboratory for natural science study. In the case of  'up the College'  ( the local downeasters' way to reference the field station) the Friedman Field Station was a central chow hall/lecture hall/dry laboratory and a 'wet' laboratory (with running sea water and tanks available, piped in), plus about 20 cabins with electricity but no running water or appliances. Bathrooms and showers were about a 1/4mi from my cabin, as was the chow hall. This was all located in an isolated town way, way up in downeast maine, about 7 hours north of Boston, and about 30 minutes from Canada.

   I loved it. Oh, there was the usual college-era growing pains to be dealt with, but I instantly fell in love with the region. I'd move there in a heartbeat, but it'd kill my wife. She's not a country girl, and the winter there is LONG and damn cold.

 I saved my money as I could, and in the off season, while in college, sometimes in the winter and spring I'd take a bus to Bangor, and the little coastal passenger van that ran to the region, about a 3 hour ride from Bangor, was cheap enough, and I'd spend the weekend in Eastport.
  If you're not familiar, Eastport is a sleepy little downeast 'city' of 5,000 people located on a couple of islands connected by causeways to the mainland. I fit in better there than I did in my own hometown, to be truthful, and made some friends during my college years.

After I gave up on being a scientist by trade and went back to fishing and started working on ships,  and it being a small world, the chief mate on the New River, the ship I spent 8 years on, was from Eastport. We knew some of the same people, and have been good friends since. I spent 2-3 weeks a year at his house up until I moved to Florida.

 Well, even though poor Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife would be a popsicle if I moved her up there, I still dream about it. I've never seen a more beautiful part of the world, and, as lovely and enjoyable as my home in Florida is, it's lovely in an exotic way, not in a 'this is perfect for me' way.

 I still look at real estate up in that area a couple of times a year, just killing time online.

 My alma mater closed the field station 2-3 years ago. Demographics change, and science is just expensive as hell to teach, so the real money is in transgender Southeast Asian Studies and other grievance mongering bullshittery. You don't have to pay the useless motherfuckers who teach that fake social science shit squat since they are as useless as tits on a tree and only suitable for use as firewood and coffeefetching, and there's no shortage of WASP girls from middle-class broken homes to fill up the roster at $40,000 a year.

 I knew the field station was closed. I didn't know it was for sale, ridiculously cheap for what it is, but slightly out of my range, considering it's not winterized.

    I need for either my 2nd career as the world's first middle-aged plus-sized male underwear model to take off, or to play the lottery more. I'll always have the memories, but visiting the field station was always something I enjoyed as an alum.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dat's Hot

Dang it's hot today.

 97 degrees, sunny, and we're taking a load of black oil that is coming in at 135 degrees.

 I threw a pack of frozen turkey kielbasa on a tank top (Painted black) and forgot about it for about an hour. When I came back, the plastic had melted away, and the skin was crispy on the spot where it lay.

 So I unpackaged it and turned it, came back in an hour when it was done. Later on I'll saute some vegetables and make a stir fry.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Where's The Love (for this barge)?

I can't bring myself to like this barge, so love is right out.

         You might hate the work you're doing on a good boat. You might love it. Same with a bad boat, but it's a lot harder to enjoy your work when you're cursing the builder who, say, put a trip hazard just so, or made it impossible to walk where you really need to walk.

      This hopefully temporarily-assigned barge we're on is impossible to love. Knowing it's probably not going to be our home for very long, we also haven't really taken ownership of it in a committed fashion. The last few men to manage it were abusive at worst, benignly neglecting it at best. Oh, she'll pass inspection, but no one has gone the extra mile to make it a home, or to make it anything other than a place to load and discharge oil, with a campsite located in a cramped and filthy berthing space. It ain't Bristol Fashion, that's for sure.

 Well, we've got it hygienic, at least, now, but there's a miasma. Can't get the smell out of the berthing. I'm thinking mildew under the decking and cabinets, and the like. I don't like badmouthing coworkers, but what the fuck.

           I had a similar barge when I first started with my employer 8 years ago. Similar condition, too. No one wanted that one, either, but my then-port captain prompted me early, promising me that if I gave him a 100% effort and a year, he'd see me into something bigger and nicer after. Over the next year, with needle gun, paint, supply requests and a couple thousand man-hours (we weren't so busy in those days) I made that barge nice. Nicer. I mean, the quarters were awfully small, and the head and bunkroom are... cramped. I've always tended towards if not claustrophobia then claustro-hateia. I hate being confined.

       I can't love this design. Few can. It pays the bills, and to be fair, the shithouse on my old similar barge was better laid out. My shoulders could fit in the toilet space, for example, so I didn't have to launch the Brown October of a morning while looking like I'm water-skiing.

 If we were to use a dog analogy, this barge is a Pitbull: wide, heavy, stubby, rugged, ill-tempered, not agile and hard to work with, pretty good at what it was meant to do, but also constantly biting the guy on the leash and not something you'd want to expose to the unwary. The HQ on the other hand, is a Sheepdog. More streamlined, reliable, a bit less beefy but taller and made for long days of work, basically good-natured and good looking when you take the time to clean it up. Something you'll remember always for it's pretty ways.

I've fished on boats I couldn't love, where you can't trust the boat, and even when the fishing's good, you're still on edge in some corner of your mind. I have that feeling 24 hours a day here. The noises and vibrations that speak as to the operations, conditions and the hundred little things, the language of boats, doesn't really work here. Oh, it has its' ways, certainly. The resonance of certain vibrations that tell you even in your sleep that an engine isn't right, or that there's air, or a pump is being starved, those things that translate into situational awareness, they're there, but they're not the same. The gestalt of being a mariner isn't here, and that's an issue- working on a barge that doesn't leave port is a starvation diet for the soul; doing so on a barge that constantly bruises you, where you can't cook and enjoy it,  can't sleep soundly, can't eat like a civilized person, can't have a moment for a private conversation with a loved one, can't take a god-damned shit in peace- how can you love that?
 It's a paycheck, and thank God for it. But it's costing me something that I never expected, too. I no longer feel content.  

We Go

Damn, it's busy.

 The past week has been nonstop, with one 6-hour exception. I wake up, eat, go on watch and load or discharge. I cook 2-watches' worth of food when we're underway between jobs, which, in NY, means only 15-45 minutes from berth to ship and back. Finish watch, hand it off to my relief, and go to my bunk. Wash, rinse repeat. Every other watch, I shower.

 It's been back-to-back jobs. Our office calls, pesters us to finish as they've scheduled our next job 30 minutes before we finish the current one. We work, have watch change, heat up whatever is already cooked and eat on the fly. I wrapped a cold chicken breast in a napkin last night and ate it while topping of tanks. That was dinner. That was the only time I wasn't running around. I had to stay literally on the top of the tanks.

 So, we're hustling. With the fill-in barge we're not sleeping much, so fatigue has been an issue. We've got some broken equipment on board, but no time to get it fixed until we actually can't do our jobs, I guess.

 So it goes. Anyhow, no real time to write, or inspiration to do so. I can't even take a dump in peace right now. The fucking bathroom is so small that my shoulders don't fit in the stall, so I have to stretch out like I'm doing wheelchair yoga.

 Kinda hating life right now. Grateful I am still working in this economy, but I feel like an old man. My hips, shoulders and knees hurt like hell.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Eyes In The Boat sounds good now

There was an expression I got thoroughly sick of, after hearing it  multiple times during training classes and in my first two sea voyages.


     It's an important lesson. Pay attention to your immediate environment, which is where the action that can help or hurt you is likely to be found.

           Once I knew enough to not hurt myself tying my own shoes while on a ship, I didn't hear that expression anymore. At some point the lesson sticks anyhow. The Near Misses or close calls, little saves, things like that, come from situational awareness, specifically, focusing on the immediate environment. In my case, the floating metal tub I'm on, and all the valves, engines, trip hazards, ropes and pulleys, shit like that, which need to be just so for life to go smoothly out here.

     Hawsepiper's Afloat Global HQ/ Money Making Machine is in the shipyard, and with bunkering in the northeast being the healthiest sector of what has been a paltry spring oil season, my company transferred us to a cramped but functional barge for now, to keep us going. Normally, shipyard is a chance for us to do deep maintenance, which will get done by shipyard and company staff, even while we're not there, but some projects we were excited about, quality-of-life stuff, won't get done.

 So it goes. We're working, Many are not.

  We've been watching with horror the events going on in the larger world, in places like London, and in the US, with our toxic and often asinine political games. All the whining and gnashing of teeth is annoying as hell.
           I make no secret that I have been miserable my first few days on here. Conditions are nowhere near as nice as we have on the HQ, which has been our home for the last 4 years, 11 months and 3 weeks and is a reflection of both the vessel's good bones and our hard work at making it comfortable. This barge, we just can't love it. I lived on an identical one for two years. My partner for 6. It's not so easy.
    Still, with an unfamiliar vessel and the sore shins and such that come from that, and the increased potential for trouble that comes from not being intimately familiar with the barge, it's been necessary to tune out the outside world some, to keep our eyes in the boat, and make sure we do a decent job. That's been something of a blessing. I haven't had the time or energy to shitlord it up online. Thank the Seven Mad gods Of The Sea that I'm on here with a good friend. When I worked on a barge like this 7 years ago, I didn't like my shipmate, and he just hated me. Bad times. At least with O and B, we're all friends and can sort of suffer through the month or so that the HQ is out of our hands together.