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.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Don't mess with Texas... please?

Well, Texas' gulf coast is about to get hammered by Hurricane Harvey. 125mph winds as of an hour ago.

   I got caught at sea by Hurricane Ike in 2008. It changed the course of my career, which is a lot easier than many people had it. 3 days of misery.

 If you're of a mind, say a prayer for those people who are about to go through hell over the next few days.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Those poor kids

Safe spaces and ‘ze’ badges: My bewildering year at a US university

Fear of causing offence on campus is stifling free thought – as I’ve found to my cost

As a child in Glasgow, I learned that sticks and stones might break my bones but words didn’t really hurt. I’m now at New York University studying journalism, where a different mantra seems to apply. Words, it turns out, might cause life-ruining emotional trauma.

 Read the rest HERE

         Well, this brave student, a Glaswegian female, just got on the map, and this was a hilarious article, especially because it wasn't supposed to be. 

        I guess every generation looks and the next one as the harbingers of the end. I'm no exception, except that I blame my own peers for ruining so many minds. 

 20 years ago in Boston, I was better at compartmentalizing my belief systems. By day, Mon-Fri, I was a college student, a centrist and somewhat not liked for that, politically, but a reliable environmentalist. Most of my friends from college were to my left, and I was able to mix with them in social functions, and enjoyed it sometimes. 

 At night, during the week, I was a townie trying to get out. Since I lived in a Boston suburb, I just commuted to university. I drank at the local bar with a friend or two, and mostly hung out with people I had grown up with. I enjoyed very much not having to drink in the local woods anymore. I also pumped gas, unloaded trucks, bounced at a bar and cleaned laboratory spaces to squeak by when I wasn't fishing. 
   Weekends were for lobstering, playing in a heavy metal band, working and having fun.  

        I have a STEM degree from my undergrad days. College was not about this weird social police-state encampment that has developed today. For me, college was trade school, where I learned my trade, and learned it well. Biology, chemistry, study, work, write, publish. 

 I guess I missed out. I was a fair entry-level biologist with a focus on chemical physiology but an interest in better ways to collect and grow swimming animals that could be eaten for fun and profit.  Simple stuff, at its' core. 

 I didn't have to worry about all the ridiculous distractions that are being jammed down modern kids' throats. I learned how to eat while dissecting dead animals, and that I didn't have a mind for laboratory science, but enjoyed it to a point anyhow. I liked getting my hands dirty. Trying to compartmentalize the part of me that felt like my hands were soft and I would become ashamed at not taking the time to practice the masculine arts. Eventually I learned that I very much would take time to learn those things anyhow, out of interest, not obligation. I spent too much time worrying about being perceived as faggy.

 I hadn't yet encountered the real world to any large degree. I was very lucky. I treated college as a job. I did pretty well. Along the way I figured out that a truly open mind captures no ideas at all. They just fall right out. 

 I feel terrible for the kids who spend a fortune of their future earnings in learning critical gender theory and not the Ideal Gas Law or stress moduli.  I read the classics at my parents' behest, and I'll admit that an English class I didn't want to take introduced me to T.S. Elliot, Dylan Thomas and Ernest Hemingway and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I also admit that that professor, if he's even alive today, could never teach that material today without being crucified for being insensitive and something-phobic. 

 No, I'm worried about the kids who are being funneled into a lifetime of menial work by wiping their ass with their future, as taught by some of the same people I went to school with. Kids who go to college looking for direction, and having to learn to recite so many lies in order to proceed that their experience becomes part of their personality. 

 In retrospect, while I'm not using my degree much beyond volunteering here and there to help with data collection and management, it's an option that is open for me to return to, but approaching-middle-aged-me would be a real crank. I'm more comfortable swearing at someone than debating them, if I'm being honest. You can't be a mariner without having thick skin and a sense of humor, and my sense of humor would get me in trouble on a college campus today, where you can't laugh at someone OR with them. That kind of environment sounds awful to me, and it would have been awful for me. I'm very lucky to have avoided it. I hope that family and friends who have to send their kids to experience that are able to prepare them mentally for it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

little boat update

I've been lucky enough that my first night watch is thus far being spent at out mooring buoy, standing by waiting for our berth. There's thunderstorms all around us, which has slowed things considerably, transferring bulk quantities of flammables not being something you want to be doing in thunderstorms and all.

      I had about 10 hours' time to work on my little boat while I was home. Not as much as I'd like, but I find it to be a better morning/early afternoon pastime, as that's pretty much the only time there is no real constraint on my time at home, and it keeps me from missing out on time with my family. Hopefully I'll have more time in the upcoming months, but who knows?

 The little wooden rings will become portholes, and the blocks will become watertight doors. I simply glued little wedges of wood for the hinges, and then glued 1/4" nibs of plastic rod to the wedges to complete the look. Thankfully the rings were pre-cut and I just had to sand and smooth and paint them. 

 I attached the portholes with dressmakers' pins, which, when painted, will look like rivets, and glued them all, too, to firm everything up. I predrilled the holes with a 1/32" drill by hand so I wouldn't have to take a hammer to the wood.

  Making the side ladders was a bitch. They're made from 1/16" round stock brass rod, cut to length and soldered together. After a couple hours of filing, they really looked nice, although this picture only shows them partially soldered together.

 Unfortunately, after priming and painting, I then bent the ends of the ladder to shape without adequately supporting the brass, and little ladder rungs went flying. Boy wasn't I pissed. I had to soak the parts in xylene and start resoldering. I ran out of time and only got one soldered before it was time to clean up and pack my bags for another trip.

ah, fuck.

priming the deck and bulwarks
  The watertight doors and portholes were topcoated and installed next

upper house primed and trim completed. Portholes are painted and watertight doors installed. 

 I topcoated the deck and lower house (I'm still not happy with the wheelhouse), as well as the fantail and bow raised platforms. The bulwarks and gunwales still have to get painted, and I'll do those in satin black to match the hull. The hatch you see in the main deck is still just roughed in place. That'll be a watertight access hatch to the motor, speed control and steering gear. There will be a motorcycle battery under the house, which comes off but is watertight when on.

   My hands shake. Always have. Detail and fine work isn't always so easy for me, but I find that the focus and concentration and effort helps. Finding ways to prop my hands and rest them against something steadies them up considerably. All the same, I bet a person with steadier hands could work considerably faster and neater. By the time I'm done with this, I'll be able to do much better on the next one. Just figuring out how to repurpose everyday items to simulate boat parts is challenging enough on its' own.

 Next time I'm home I'll be installing handrails on the lower house and railings and chains on the upper deck. Hopefully I'll get started on the davit for the lifeboat, too... and maybe the lifeboat, if there's time. That'll be a challenge in itself. The damn boat is getting big. It's 4 1/2 feet long, and takes up a fair amount of space. I've got a lot of detail work still to do.

Monday, August 21, 2017

...and just like that...

Damn, that went quick! I'm in my hotel room in Brooklyn, and tomorrow AM I'll be headed back to the HQ for another fun romp around the block.

 All in all it was a successful trip home. Most of this time was spent supporting family things- on the upside, I got to spend time with my family. On the downside, we spent a lot of time having to be productive. I was able to help my wife with one of her bigger projects, and navigating that series of events and the paperwork involved kept us both running. In between productive stuff we had time for family stuff, and did some traveling just around Florida, exploring our new home state. Good stuff, although after that, my last week was spent firmly at home. I needed some time sleeping in the same place for a bit.
Why I moved to Florida. One of the few upsides to being in a gated community.

 I got to work on my little boat, and that was VERY relaxing. Beyond having a cigar and a glass of whisky out on my patio, I'm finding the work on the little boat to be about the most relaxing thing I can do. My shop time was limited this particular time off, as there was lots to do and some non-fun work to be done in the shop, too. Work-work. All to the good, and this was one of the more well-balanced trips off I've taken.

 Looking ahead, I'm not sure what the next month will bring, beyond more of the same sort of cargoes that pay the bills. I'd rather be home and ruin my liver, but sadly, no one is paying me to do that. Yet. So, off I go.

I'm having a slight issue with reading blog comments on my phone. I'm pretty sure I was relatively sober at the time, but on several occasions I've fat-fingered the comment review button and deleted shit I meant to post. I prefer to blog on my laptop, but I do have a habit of clearing out the cache while sitting on the hopper. An old friend left a fairly stark comment that I was going to have some fun with, but nope, fat-fingered. Probably for the best.

 Oh, and seeing an eclipse from a plane sucks. Parallax issues. It pretty much never happened for us, that we could see. Planes just don't roll that deep. I couldn't even see a change in the overall brightness of the sky. Oh well. I saw one in 1984. Good enough. On the upside, I didn't have to deal with any of the hoopla.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Assholes everywhere

Well, I'm enjoying my time at home, and I saw what's going on with the riots, but I couldn't bring up too much empathy for anyone involved.

      When assholes carrying nazi flags clash with assholes carrying communist flags,'innocent' people choosing sides can reasonably be painted with the same brush.

 Far as I'm concerned, unless they're picking them up off a battlefield, anyone picking up either of those flags deserves to be wrapped up in them and burned along with the flags. There were simpletons who thought that everyone on the right was was a Nazi. There were alt-right non-racist people on the nazi side of the street, too, who believed everyone allied with Antifa on the left was a commie, but as soon as punches were thrown and peaceable assembly ended, it was time to leave, and the people who stayed on either side got what they had coming, many of them. The cops who were killed are the only real victims, and they should be sailed down a river of blood provided by the participants of the violence in a Viking funeral.

    Most Americans who aren't idealogues are just tired as hell of this BS. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

last watch

I think the last 3 times I volunteered to work a 10-week hitch here, I said it was the last time I'd ever do that.

 So I'm not going to say that this time, but I feel like saying it. This sucked. It took the joy out of working on the water just a little bit more for me. Anyhow, it's the last watch, day 70, and in an hour, we'll head to a terminal to load up, but by noon, God willing an' the creek don't rise, I'll be on my way up north for a few days to visit family before heading back home to be with mine.

 I feel like a timer has started counting down on how much longer I'll be doing what I do. I've been very complacent in enjoying the stability of my position, but my personality used to be that of someone who was always pushing to rise, always looking up and forward, and somewhere along the way, I plateaued voluntarily, got fat (ter) and happy.

 Well, no more. I signed up for some more classes to up the tonnage on my captain's license. I'd be crazy to leave my current position given the job market in the maritime sector, and have no plans to do so immediately, but I also can't sit and warm my thumbs in my own exhaust too much longer. I need to start looking up and ahead again, see what's out there.

 In the short-term, what's out there will be visiting the people I love and enjoying my life for a few weeks prior to earning my crust of bread.

Friday, August 4, 2017

lubes and looks

So yesterday I got to have a watch off, and it was glorious. Gave me the opportunity to do 90% of the end-of-tour paperwork that needs to get done, plus I got to go out and do some elementary maintenance- greasing fittings.

    Doing routine maintenance and daily walkarounds is one of the most potent ways to proactively care for a vessel under your command. Strictly speaking, I make a point to do maintenance that routinely gets palmed off on the second man elsewhere, but my point in doing that is that it's MY eyes on scene, and I get to see a million little details overall, on wear and tear.

            With a whole lot of valves on board and many many moving parts, mostly made of metal, we go through a lot of lubricating grease on board. Every two weeks, I head out on deck with a grease gun and lube up the cranes, pump PTO's, valves, cargo crane, anchor windless, capstans, electric motor drive units, hydraulic fendering, stuff like that. It doesn't take long, maybe 30 minutes, and I could do it in half the time, but it gives me a chance to kick the tires and look more carefully at odd spots on board, little things like our emergency pump stops, a long series of cables that enable us to shut down our cargo pumps from anywhere on deck simply by tugging on a wire, like calling for a stop on a busy bus.That comes to mind because last time I lubed up, I spotted a damaged section of wire and got it replaced. This is important because we pass a rope tied to the emergency stop to other ships when we transfer fuel, so they can kill our pumps too, if something goes tits up on their end.

    Well, anyhow, taking the time to take time is one of my best habits to try to keep ahead of problems. Every large vessel has problems and upcoming soon-to-be-problems. That's just the nature of the beast- things that Need To Be Watched, which generally means that they're coming to the end of their life or slated for replacment or service... but not yet. Doing routine inspections and getting dirt under one's nails provides a focus, a driver, to supplement motivation as the tool that keeps your ear to the ground when you're feeling bummy or lazy.
      A good PM program provides multiple layers and opportunities for this. One other example is that every two weeks I have to physically inspect every coil of mooring line on board. I think we have 16 in service at any one time. I also have to do an anti-pollution walkaround, look for potential sources of oil that could get in the water, and document that. Plus my daily walkaround, pre-cargo transfer inspection, things like that. It keeps you out there and on top of things, but even when you're on your game, there are still surprises. A scupper plug left open, a line chafed part way through during the overnight... There's a chicken-and-egg question when it comes to getting and maintaining a gestalt for the deck, to get to the point where situational awareness includes semi-consciously being aware of the thousand little things that you want to be just so under your purview... and things can still get by you, which is where having a second set of trained eyes and good rapport with watch partners and subordinates becomes critical. It just takes that ONE time, you know? We've all been there at some point, where a confluence of unlikely events gathers together and just ruins your day. I'm certainly not immune to it, and giving enough of a shit to stay on top of things becomes increasingly difficult when, say, morale is low or distractions are prevalent. For me, this is part of why I like to keep lubing up the deck fittings as something I do towards the end of a tour. It keeps me engaged, and helps get me over the motivational hump that comes when you've been too long away from nice things.

EDIT: Thanks to the anon commenter who pointed out my inaccurate phrasing. It's since been corrected. You're sweet.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


Welp, we're getting there.

        We've been working steadily here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ discount brothel of the mind. I'm just about ready to go home, and, fortuitously, I will do so in a few more days. I think today is day 65?  They all start to blur.

          I've got another writing project that's been sucking up blogging time now. There's just only so much free time to be had lately- in fact, there's goddamn little of that. I haven't been able to go for a goddamned walk in Brooklyn in I think about 2 months. As I tend to do, I overeat when I get stuck on here, and without the exercise, I've blown up like a damn balloon. Luckily I had been doing well a few months ago, health-wise, so while I'm just feeling pretty gross lately, I haven't set a new record or anything, but I've undone a lot of hard work.

 So it goes.

        Workwise, the pattern continues. We're busy as all hell on the east coast, bunkering ships, and the rest of the small-parcel trade is stagnant and shitty still. For the first time since I was in like 4th grade and wanted snow days off from school, I'm praying for a harsh winter in the northeast, to pick up business.

     Now, I AM seeing a lot of product tankers, handysize and barely medium-sized, all smaller than Panamax, in tiers like 20,000 tons and 40,000 tons... it seems like I'm seeing a fair number of them. Are they carrying crude oil out of the US? I'm not sure. I don't seem to see them on the way out, and still, most I see on the way out are heading to sea empty.

         We bunkered three tankers today. The first, where I tied up before sunrise, was heading to Portugal after they topped off their tanks. They're doing a transatlantic trip in ballast, which... no thank you.  Third ship headed for St. Petersburg, as in Russia not the suburb of Tampa, and they were heaving anchor as soon as we sailed tonight.

 Well, I slept the heat of the day away today, the way the schedule worked out, but I finished stinking of sweat and bunker fuel, and with it sprinkling a bit and being steamy, I was absolutely gross. One of those showers where the water feels much hotter on your back when you stick your head under the faucet. That shower was one of the highlights of this trip.

 Anyhow, I still have 2 hours of free time this watch, so I'm going to work on my other project a bit.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Et Alia

One week to go. Today is day 63 at work.  I'm pretty beat. We're busy, too. We keep getting rinky dink small jobs, but they're jobs, and there are a lot of them. Good to have the money coming in, I suppose.