Sunday, April 22, 2018

Finishing touches (not in the naughty sense)

Well, time is flying by now that I'm home, of course. The sense of 'never enough time' is strong as it always is, but it's been great to be home.

         I am well into the process of selling the B family home up in Boston. The million little things that everyone complains about really are worth complaining about. What a pain in the ass it is to sell a house! Still, another few weeks and if all goes well we'll be closing the deal and that will be one less pain in the balls for me. The implications of selling my childhood home is an issue to be dealt with after the work is done at this point. I'm mostly just sick of dealing with it, as is the entire B family, I'm sure.

         Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's cousin and her kids were visiting my home when I got here. I got to spend about a day and a half with them, which isn't a lot, but it was nice to see family, anyhow. When it was done, we spent 2 full days completely cleaning and rearranging the house. Not that the family was messy- kids are kids, and that's no problem there, but the opportunity was there, so we went all-out and two 14-hour days later, my house is looking beautiful. I declared by eminent domain that I needed more space for my hobbies, so I doubled my shop space- I have a 2 car garage that is more like a 2 1/2 car garage, which is now my personal ManTown.
  I've been opposed to having a man cave. My home IS my man cave. Part of being a neanderthal patriarchal pig that I am, I refuse to be relegated to a single room in my own home. But, truth is that I really only want my garage to be my space.
  At any rate, I extended my workbench another 7 feet, so now I have 14 feet of bench plus a 3-foot wheeled bench that I can scoot where I need. I also added shelving to keep my wood supply out of the way and some under-bench shelving for paint and such. Our bicycles and such got wall-mounted, too, to free up storage space. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife can still park her car in the garage when I'm gone- everything can be easily stacked and rolled well out of the way, so she's content enough. The last few days have been a nice distraction from the stresses of life. This morning, after church, I made a huge breakfast, and this afternoon my kid and I are going to an open house at one of the high schools in the area that he wants to check out.

 Domestic bliss? Pretty close.

 Oh, the little boat... I have everything I need with the exception of the electronic speed control to make the boat an r/c unit.  I fine tuned the reduction gearing, pulled the drive shaft and loaded it with lithium grease (waterproofs the shaft), installed a u-joint and the steering servo, and bought the ni-cd battery packs I wanted. I have to pick up 50lbs of lead for ballast, and finish wiring everything once the ESC comes in, and I can take the boat out for a spin. My neighbor is also a giant geek, and he has an rc speedboat. Since we share frontage on our pond, it's not like we have far to go.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

winding down

Well, I'm winding down here from yet another tour here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/The SS Betty Ford.   Looking forward to going home and enjoying all the rights and privileges therewith.

 That's (I think) three tours in a row that have been miserable. Morale in the toilet, weather just absolutely awful and a plague of headaches both onboard and off that have made me a bear to live with. Just a low time. But, whether things pick up or not, I'll at least get my full two weeks home this time.

I'm hoping that I'll come back with a better 'tude and maybe things here will get better too. If you've picked up on the tone here that all is not well in HAWSEPIPER land, you're correct. BUT, I'm not one to use my thumb as a fart cork, so whatever changes are required to make things a little happier, I'll look into it.

I don't like being a downer. Another couple of watches to stand, another storm to get through today and tomorrow, and I'll be home and sweating out some whisky fumes in 72 hours, Lord willing and the creek don't rise.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reining it in

Yesterday might have been a bit of a capstone for me... or, better put, a warning sign.

 I'm pretty good at multitasking, but I don't like it. Working with oil, multitasking is a bad word. Cargo watch is for cargo watch. Mishaps almost always have more than one cause. In Risk Management for handling liquid cargo, once you're at a post-oops moment, we refer to the root cause as an 'error chain,' something most people have heard of. Every link in the error chain is an opportunity to stop the mishap that wasn't taken, which means there are often enough multiple ways to stop a disaster.

     We had no disasters yesterday, thank the seven mad gods of the sea. Not even any near misses. Prior to signing on the watch, I had carried out a ton of personal business which left me stressed, but not preoccupied. I was able to focus on the watch.

 So why am I talking about error chains? I didn't carry any distractions into my watch, except for way too much general stress, which I am actually damn good at setting aside when I am on watch... except that I'm human, and the easiest form of delusion is self-delusion. After a good off-watch sleep, I woke up still feeling the lingering effects of the stress. So, obviously I dealt with it well but it was still extant while I was on watch.

         I'm selling the B family home, my parents' house, and accepted an offer on it the day before yesterday. Like it always does, prepping the house for sale cost twice as much and took twice as long as my time and fiscal budgeting allowed for. OK, no real problems there.
    Managing personal business that is a time sink becomes an issue when it interferes with work, specifically, elevating risk. But life does not stop because I'm on watch. Stress and preoccupying factors have to be managed before signing on the watch. I felt as though I managed the situation well, and stood a safe watch with proactive concern for risk management... mostly by being aware.
     Ten years ago, I would have laughed to hear me talking about worrying about my stress level before I did a job that I could do in my sleep. Holy shit, I actually might have grown up a little.
     Looking forward, I'm going to have to be careful about not letting personal business stress me out. I could get stressed worrying about getting stressed, and then where would I be? Taking stock of my personal situation, I suppose I should feel that I've crossed a small threshold when it comes to workplace safety... but it feels more like I just realized I stepped into traffic for a second and wasn't even aware of it. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Less Than Sacred Sunday

Sunday has never really been a day of rest for me.

   While I am religiously observant, I have never been good at observing the Day Of Rest rules for Sunday. That started with one of my first legit jobs at age 14, and continues. Perils of not liking working indoors, I guess.

 When I was lobstering, Sunday was airport day. I'd work for the local lobster pound, (the buyer of the local lobstermen's catch), who was located across the parking lot from the docks where we kept the boats. The pound was a 50x20 concrete tank about 4 feet deep, with a recirculation system and biofilter, refrigerated so the pound was always pretty cool and damp. There was a pump room, storage area, pump with stacks of styrofoam shipping coolers, lobster cars (floating wood or plastic crates that held about 100lbs of lobsters each that we would fill and keep in the tank), a pair of reefer chests for ice packs and a small office.

I'd unlock the door, shut off the alarm, and check the office for the order. The owner of the pound was a schoolteacher who didn't like working Sundays and spent about an hour a day at his shop. Great 2nd gig for him. It was damn near self-serve for the local lobstermen. The price of lobster off the boat is actually very low. It hasn't changed much since I was about 10, because lobstermen were obligated to sell to buyers, and forbidden from selling direct to customers in New England. While this has changed, it is still discouraged via arcane and ridiculous legal hoops that must be jumped through.

 At any rate, once I saw the order, which would look like
 "12 chickens, 5 quarters, 3 halves and 1 select" (translation: 12 25lb boxes of  1.0-1.2lb lobsters, 5 cases of 1.2-1.4 lb lobsters, 3 cases of 1.4-1.7lb, and 1 of 1.7lb and above.

 To get these, I would first raid the pre-sorted cars- as lobstermen come in, they pull lobster out of the holding tank on the boat and place them in lobster cars which are usually stacked on their dock. These are hoisted up to the pier from the dock with a block and tackle, 2 at a time, and then dragged to the back of the owner's truck and driven over to the pound, where each car was weighed on a scale.  At that point, the lobsterman is done with the owner, unless there is a 'split price' in summer, when new-shell (recently molted, and therefore holding less meat) lobsters are sorted from hard-shells, which haven't molted yet this year, survive better in shipping, and contain more meat per pound.
 When lobsters molt, they have a bigger shell than they need, which they grow into. While this is happening, they fill the space in between the shell and muscle with water. Shell hardness is tested by grabbing the lobster by the carapace and squeezing just above the legs. If you can buckle the shell inward with a strong squeeze, she's new-shelled.
 So, after weigh-in, the lobster cars are either opened and the lobsters sorted by shell hardness and weight by whoever's at the pound, or simply closed up and thrown in the tank. Cars were identified by using colored pipe cleaners to mark who was whose, and also to mark the sorted cars.

 So my job was simple. I'd slap preprinted shipping labels on a number of styrofoam coolers, drag the digital scale over by the tank, and pull out a couple of cars of pre-sorted hardshell lobsters, and fill the coolers up. If I ran out of pre-sorted lobsters, I'd have to pull over a couple of cars of unsorted catch and grade them, return the sorted cars to the tank, and continue on. Once I had the right number of coolers filled with the right weight and type of lobster, I'd put the lid on, wrap the cooler in packing tape and set it aside. At that point, I'd back the owners' box truck up to the garage door, load the truck and clean up, reset the alarm, and drive to the airport.

 Airlines have their own cargo terminals. Your passenger flight is probably carrying a fair bit of cargo along with your ass when you fly. In this case, all the lobsters went to a single food distributor in Switzerland. So I'd drive to the cargo terminal at Logan airport in Boston, unload the lobsters onto a pallet at their loading dock, sign a sheet, collect a reciept and drive home. It took about 4 1/2-5 hours from start to finish, generally, for which I received $50, and it was a lot less back-breaking than lobstering. Plus, Boston has awesome Irish music on AM radio on Sundays, which helped.

   I did other work on Sundays, before and after my time at the pound, but none was as pleasant.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


I'm reviewing the Rules of the Road in preparation for an upcoming licensing exam to up the tonnage on my captain's license, and oh, Lord, am I rusty. I'm muddling my way through OK, but minds and metal do rust with disuse, and it's been a while.

 It still strikes me how much easier this was to retain when I was younger, and getting around in a fog with only a stopwatch, the engine tachometer and a compass was pretty much the standard. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson yet again, nothing concentrates one's mind like the prospect of being hanged.  I've been able to view fog as mostly an inconvenience for quite a while. I'm sure I'm going to miss the apathy.