Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Gimme more!

Blogging is going to be light for two more weeks, as I'm still at home, enjoying the longest break from sea I've had in 10 years.

 Not gonna lie, it's been nice.

     Since I'm in school mode, I signed up for some refresher training over the next two weeks. Advanced Firefighting and Basic Safety Training recert classes, specifically. It takes a lot of classtime and money to maintain even relatively simple merchant mariner credentials. Le sigh.

 Unfortunately, I can't justify renting another Jaguar for a pair of one-day classes a week apart. Also le sigh. I'll be using the family mommobile I'm sure.

Something else, something huge, something awesome happened. On Saturday, I made my LAST STUDENT LOAN PAYMENT.    After just under 20 years, my student loans are paid off.
 I barely know what to do with myself.

Thursday, May 24, 2018


It's been a busy week. I've been in school for the first time in years. Tomorrow I sit for a higher-tonnage captain's license than I currently hold. I'm looking forward to getting that. The first few days were rough, not gonna lie- I really noticed how much I had forgotten. But between homework, a good program, a damn good instructor and some skull sweat, it's coming back. Tomorrow I am pretty confident that I'll be able to pass all the modules in one shot.

 I like the feeling of feeling competent. In conversation with fellow students, and in going over the material, especially the stability and cargo calculations, the tankerman math I do at work really made things easier, especially density problems and free surface effect calculations.

    Azimuths and Amplitudes have always been intimidating to me. They require dozens of repetitions to ensure that the right values go in the right place. I knew how to do that once. Sin D over CosL yadda yadda yadda, it came back, and the instructor we had made it easier to undertand than my original instructor years ago.

 Oh, since I'm driving an hour each way to school, and I had a credit at the local car rental place from a colossal fuckup on their part a few months ago when Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's car got beaned by someone's nana... well, long story short, I've been driving a 2017 Jaguar this week.Thing hasn't even had its' first oil change.

 Driving a Jaguar on the highway is like wiping your ass with silk. OMG.
 I'm gonna hate to give it back tomorrow night.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Made it home today, and much of my to-do list has been done. My time won't actually be my own until next week, but there will be time for time, I'm sure.

           It's been not nearly as emotional or stressful a few days as I've expected. All's pretty well, actually. I credit much of that to being too busy to worry about minutia.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

One Last Visit Home

Well, I'm down to my last couple of watches on this cut-in-half voyage, which is cool.

 I haven't been writing much. I'm getting ready to sit for a higher-tonnage captain's exam at the end of next week, and studying. On top of that, I'm tooling up to work on a small but complex fiberglassing project that will take about 30 hours to complete over the course of a week or two after I finish a woodworking project when I get some free time.

It was  Mothers' Day yesterday and this is the first one without my mom. Hard to believe that she's been gone for 6 months already. I sort of kept to myself yesterday. Not that I was feeling bad, just feeling the changes going on around me, I suppose. A somewhat introspective day. 
 Oh, and I'm 44 today, though I look older and have the emotional maturity of a 15-year old, courtesy of a lifetime spent on the water and in the sun while being a ginger. I weigh 60 lbs less than I did a year ago, and while I have a way to go to get to an ideal weight for me, the end is in sight. I'd kill a man for a cheeseburger, though.

With both my parents passed away now, and none of my siblings interested in living in the B family home, I decided to sell the house a few months ago, and have spent pretty much all my lunch money on making the place ready and appealing to new owners. The house sold after just 3 days on the market, but the intervening processes (inspections, code enforcement, etc etc) has been a shit show to deal with, though I'm given to understand it was actually very smooth compared to the norm in MA.

 At any rate, the closing is in a few days, and I'm tired AF of dealing with it, as are my siblings.

With almost 50 years of memories, the decision to sell the family home was easier than expected, though it certainly has been emotional at times. Without my parents there, the home became a house, and it was a fantastic home to raise a family in... but despite the enormous sacrifices and hard work to keep the house, it turns out that the years of love and warmth didn't transmit into the walls for any of us. Home was the place where my parents were, not the house they were in. Now that they've gone ahead, home for me is where my own nuclear family is, not where it was, if you understand me.  Perhaps one day my son will feel the same way. I've been too busy to really dwell on the impact of selling my childhood home, a place I dreamed of buying for years, to keep it within the B family.

      ... But dreams grow and change with us, and despite my deep and abiding love for dick and fart jokes, I have actually grown and changed. I've always been a person who looks to the future with optimism and makes plans to enjoy it as best I can. 'Itchy feet,' my mom used to say, where I couldn't stay in one place for too long, as I always had something in the works and was anxious to work at it.
  I haven't outgrown my childhood home, but I have changed, turns out. I'm aware that I stand on the shoulders of giants, and might not be as good or fine a person as my parents (but good enough for them to be proud of me some of the time, which is about all any son could ask for), but they gave me a foundation and the confidence to build my own life. The 4 walls of that home contained what I needed, but to live in that house todaywould run the risk of confining me.

 So I don't know what will happen when I hand over the keys in a few days, or the night before, when my brothers and sister and I walk through the house one last time and talk about a half-century of memories. I don't know exactly what I'll feel when I turn off the light, or lock the door on a house that never had working locks until a few weeks ago. I don't know if it'll be a 'goodbye moon' moment or a nervous-making off-come-the-training-wheels moment. Maybe all of the above.

 But you know, I'll have my siblings there. We won't have the house, but we'll still have everything.

        I still sometimes call Boston 'home' in conversation. I don't think of myself as a Floridian yet. But in a few days, my last physical tie to the area will be gone, and several of my siblings are going to follow me south, I suspect. Regardless of how difficult or emotional the next few days will be, my itchy feet have already carried me towards new plans and dreams, and while I'm sure I'll have the odd pained thought about the sale, I also know that I'm not one to spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder. I tend to look ahead.

The old neighborhood

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Joy vampire is on Vacation

Thus far, one of the most significant changes in my job this year has been that we no longer get much shore access in the 4 weeks we're on board.
     While this is not a big deal in and of itself, we don't have cold storage for 4 weeks of grub. I mean, after a week, which is the time limit for about as much fresh stuff as we can store, I can eat dry goods and frozen foods, I suppose, although it's pert near impossible to do so in a healthy way. Food is morale, as every sailor knows.
          Shore access was the jewel on the crown when I started working in brown water sailing. Being able to change the scenery, get away from routine makes for a much more pleasant work environment.

 Unfortunately, the reality is that the area where I work is oversaturated with equipment, and the response my employer chose to tighter carriage rates was to decrease lay time by laying up some barges, which means we work more hours per month with cargo than before, which makes sense financially. The downside is that there is less time for maintenance and painting and such, but we get by OK and part of my employer's strategy has been to keep newer tonnage to reduce downtime from maintenance issues. End result has been a more efficient fleet I think, but there's no damn berths open to get ashore, which makes getting fresh grub a logistical exercise.

     Now, as far as such things go, this is manageable. It's definitely come at a cost, but having a paycheck is nice, and if the cost of doing business gets too high, people will vote with their feet anyhow. We're managing.

    What got me thinking about this was that this week has been exceptional. We had TWO daylight sessions with shore access at a real lay berth! I got to go for two long-ass (9 mile) walks, and get groceries and generally just not be a lump for two afternoons, and it was great.

 That used to be normal, but you know, I appreciate it a lot more now. Hell, it made Brooklyn a lot more pleasant to walk through, too.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Doubled down

So, last week a co-worker had a sudden-onset cardiac arrest while bunkering on his barge. I was home at the time, but I got a call from one of my shipmates who was deeply upset. The gentleman in question was someone I knew by name and face, but hadn't really spoken to, but my watch partner knew him well.    Poor guy pulled an Elvis, lost the number of his mess on the seat of ease.

 At any rate, I've been losing weight steadily for the past few months, and this gave me the incentive to double down on my exercise routine. I'm ashamed to say that I am damn sore from simply using 20 and 40lb dumbbells and doing pushups, along with an hour's walk every watch.

 It's just as boring as I remember, but as the weight comes down, my tolerance to heat increases, too, which bodes well for me at work and at home. We had a 2-day heat-wave here in NY this week. It was 92 on deck, and I spent much of the day outside and dealt with it ok. Mildly toasted by the sun is all.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

back to the oil mines

"Well, you're back, then."

    In 1997, those were the first words said to me in the town of John O'Groats, in Scotland, where I was visiting for the first time.It's a quiet place. Desolate, to the outsider.

  I only spent a few days there- unlike most of Scotland, I just couldn't find a companionable group of people to hang out with in my travels, and the local pub was closed, it being Easter weekend. Couldn't find a fishing boat to work on either, which I did (for free or for pay) a few times in the 6 months it took for me to work my way up and down the coasts. So it goes. Other than being kicked out of the city of Inverness for disturbing the peace (I got punched in the back of the head while taking a leak in the men's room of a bar, beat the bag off the kid who did it, whose friends then proceeded to return the favor with interest), I never felt unwelcome as I did in John O'Groats... and it wasn't as though I was unwelcome so much as a feeling that nothing was quite right at the moment. I ended up meeting some great friends at my next stop, and made some money fishing and drinking my way into the Hebrides. But I always remember the man I passed as I got off the bus from Thurso (or was it Wick? Can't remember).   You see, it would have been discourteous for him to have not recognized me if we'd met before, so he was being safe... I immediately returned the greeting with an "I am, and I hope you're well, sir."  "Ach, aye, the cold and all but good." And that was it.

         So, flying back into New York after a super busy two weeks at home,  I didn't feel like I was supposed to be here... not in a bad sense, just an uneasy feeling that my head wasn't in the zone, you know? And it wasn't. It took a few hours on board the HQ before I felt like I knew what was going on, to get my head in the game. The Uncanny Valley feeling did pass, eventually.

         Selling the B family home has turned into a stressful, gigantic pain in the balls for the whole fam. Someone always wants something, whether it's paying the local fire department a ridiculous sum for coming down and testing the fucking smoke alarms and giving me a certificate that they work (seriously, this is a thing in Massachusetts. Jesus Christ), or one thing and another, every day for the first 10 days at home required between 1-3 hours of phone calls, emails and getting the right people the right information... not to mention my poor brother and sister, who live nearby and have to stop what they're doing to deal with things I can't do over the phone. It's been a shit show, and the disturbing thing is that by Massachusetts standards, its going smoothly.

 Well, enough bitching. Almost there, anyhow. I'm just not suited to doing normal people stuff.

 I did get plenty of time with my wife and kid, and that was awesome. I had to work at not letting my annoyances become distracting enough to take away from our good times, but I think I did ok, absent a few hiccups.

 I even got a 2 full days and a couple of half days in my garage, which I spent expanding my workbench (it's now 15 feet long) installing the Radio control gear in my little model tugboat, and building the not-really little new model boat, too.