Wednesday, August 29, 2018

I've been here too long

I think I'm going to take a little break after this post, recharge my batteries, so to speak.


Things are good, thanks.

           I'm coming up on 10 years in my current position, a 'temporary' job to make ends meet while I worked on other goals and got used to life after fishing for a living.
      I've got skill and experience at a job that I'm pretty content with... but Tankerman is a specialization within the industry that doesn't utilize all the training I had to do and all the experience I've gained over 30+ years of making a paycheck from working on the water.  It pays, and I provide for my family with it. Many, if not most men would be more than satisfied right there. So, bear in mind, I'm not complaining.

 After 10 years of spending too much time at work to pay for putting my personal life in order, it's getting where I want to be, truly. We work to pay for the things we want out of life, and I've started to collect interest finally on all the ideas and projects that come with finding love and building a family. There's less and less reason to work extra and trade time with family for money in the bank beyond what I am obligated to do. My weight is high, my hair is falling out, and I have bad dreams.

 A few months ago, I finally got off my ass and started updating my working credentials, taking classes, upping the tonnage on my captain's license, and renewing and refreshing some basic skills like advanced firefighting, water survival, and the like. I have to wait to go home and raid my records to submit some more shit to the Coast Guard for an Officer-In-Charge-Of-Navigation-Watch rating, one of the newer bullshit hurdles they throw in the way these days, which wasn't necessary before. I'll take care of that when I can.

 I feel a change coming, and I don't know if it will be small or big or what exactly it will encompass. I do know that it's been a while since I had that excited-to-see-what-is-over-the-horizon feeling. A lifetime of learning and something like 25 of my 44 years where I spent more than 270 days a year on a boat. It's probably time to start trying to devote some time to quality of life changes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Halfway Day

Well, yesterday was Halfway Day for this voyage. 35 days down, 35 to go. I'm feeling it now, for sure, although I'm also feeling the extra pay, too, which is going to a good cause- my bank account.

 God is celebrating Halfway Day by baking my balls off outside. It's hot. Damn hot. The Chinese ship we were bunkering today sent us down cold water and sodas, which is something that an American ship has NEVER done even once for us, which is kind of dickish, now that I think on it.

 Speaking of, Evergreen Shipping Company is a pleasure to work with. Their ships are uniform, for the most part, efficient, and the crew professional. Much of that impression comes from their expeditor/cargo surveyor, Danny, a Chinese-American kid who handles fueling their ships, acting as go-between between me and the chief engineer, which helps with language issues and safety, quite a bit, and makes all our lives easier. Plus, having a dedicated bunker station mounted low in the hull behind a hydraulically-operated watertight bulkhead makes my life easier. We spend about 1/3 the time at the cargo crane controls compared to other container vessels.

About twice the displacement of an aircraft carrier.

At any rate, it's been a busy week this far. A change in plans gave me a couple hours free tonight, so I'm cooking large quantities of food, so that we won't have to heat the oven during the day while the sun is beating down on the house.

Monday, August 27, 2018


The other night I put up a pretty nasty post about how I was satisfied that John McCain was dead.

       A night's sleep and a reread showed me that I wrote the post a bit too strongly so I deleted it.

 Don't get me wrong- I didn't like McCain and a man being dead doesn't absolve his memory from reproach.  He spend a lifetime working hard to put me and people like me out of work. Lord, he hated the US Merchant marine. He loved him some political contributions, though, and ADM, the largest American ag interest out there, sure loved filling up his pockets along with the defense industry.

     I can justify being critical of the man's warmongering and bloodthirsty global quest for empire, but why rehash it? As the Pakistani cargo surveyor politely told me yesterday "He  spent the Obama years mostly bombing civilians and took away any chance for peace in the middle east."

SO, yeah, that's legitimate criticism. At any rate, rather than rehash it and be (more) classless, I'll just say that I don't wish death on anyone, but there have been some people's obituaries that I have read with contentment.

Friday, August 24, 2018


      If you look at 'how to' videos on Youtube, and also boatbuilding videos, you're going to come across marine architect George Buehler's work.  

Sadly, Mr. Buehler passed away a few months ago. I spoke with him several times. He took the time to share some techniques with me for boatbuilding fixes after I complemented him on one of his beautiful designs. He was an interesting man, certainly, and one of the coolest things about him was that part of his design lines were made for amateur boatbuilders to make rugged boats out of easily available materials. He was really into helping people get into backyard boatbuilding, and his designs showed that- friendly design like large-radius curves and chines instead of wineglass profiles, things like that, so one could build a boat without spending 6 figures on wood alone. His designs are heavily influenced by Pacific Northwest-style hulls- narrow, high-deadrise hulls,  a vastly different animal from what I'm used to, as an East-Coaster with the big beam and Downeast lines as my comfort zone.  

 Now, if you want to build a wooden or fiberglass-over-wood boat, hardwoods of perfect quality and precision sawing are mostly what is required. You can't get massive white oak for timbers at Home Depot. Hell, you mostly can't get it at any store, and will probably have to go directly to a sawmill and get to know the tree before the cuts you need are sawn out of it, in order to get the right quality and grain orientation, which is also a very important thing. 

    With Buehler's home builder-targeted design, many of the custom cuts can be swapped out with lesser quality wood from big-box stores, laminated and glued to make larger pieces before being bolted together. 

 Modern materials science can be blended with old-school carpenter knowledge to make sandwich-core construction- using the combined strengths of materials to offset the weaknesses of individual components. This is why you can make a nice little skiff out of 2x4's, plywood, some screws and fiberglass for about 20% of the cost of a planked wooden skiff made of long-lasting materials. 

 Longevity is an issue- fir and pine boards and deck screws won't last 100 years like a properly built wooden boat will.  But they don't have to. You can make a boat to last 20-25 years using less-than-ideal materials, if it's built properly and built heavy. So Buehler did exactly that. His boats are built heavy. Where a plank-on-frame hull is sufficient in wood, a double-layered fiberglassed plywood-on-plywood-on-plank-on-frameusing weaker woods and a good knowledge of materials design and marine architecture can be more than strong enough. 

 So, in the Sea Dreamer Project, Scott, a  cop (and part-time woodworker) who never built a boat before is building a big and heavy cabin cruiser of sufficient size and quality for international travel. He's building it in his backyard. On a budget.  This is not a professional mariner. Guy's in upper-state New York, about as far from the ocean as I've ever been in my life, in fact. 

 I'm enjoying the videos that are being put out on youtube. You should check them out. In the early days of construction, when motivation is discussed, the 'if not now, when?' aspect plays heavily, as does the role of materials selection. For an amateur, being able to (mostly) shop at local, familiar stores helps a lot with comfort and actually getting projects started, and the role of compromise, in materials, design, choices, etc, exists in any marine setting. If I were to set out and build an oak and cedar masterpiece, is that any more practical than a lumberyard-sourced boat? Depends on what it's being used for, of course. We compromise in all things. I wish for all bronze fastenings for my boat, but end up with some copper, brass and stainless steel. I want quarter-sawn white oak, but end up with flat-sawn here and there. I want solid oak beams and natural-grown knees.  I get fir laminated with resourcinal glue binding it, which is just as strong, but ugly as shit, but who cares, as it's being painted anyhow.As you watch these videos, Scott discusses where and why he chooses materials, and how he or the designer must overbuild or otherwise compensate for his compromises. 

    It's impressive, to see something large and complex come together, and to see people risk the loss of time and treasure to pursue such big challenges. 


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Everyone's doing cool shit but me

Well, I'm in the doldrums now. 6 weeks to go. Another week to the halfway point. Another trainee coming tomorrow, which means forced socialization, which means the next few weeks are going to be a living hell for me, who relies almost entirely on minimizing human contact at work to keep sane. One very positive thing is that we're taking on the same trainee from last time, Two Weiner Peter (everyone gets a nickname) who is a great kid, and pleasant company. The poor bugger has to put up with me, though, which should be good for remission of all sin at least. 

       So, yeah, it's one of those times where it's not so easy to see the silver lining in my clouds. There's much to choose from in terms of unhappy things going on, but the other column is thin on the ground just now, and will continue to be so until I stop wearing shit-colored glasses and can lighten up a bit.

 It's raining. Every day. On the upside, I saw the sun for like 5-10 minutes yesterday between the two rainclouds that dumped water on us. That was the first time I've seen the sun in... 10 days, maybe?

        We had a small cargo to transfer to an oil tanker yesterday, and once we were alongside I went to bed. When I woke up 8 hours later, we were barely halfway through a job that should have taken us 3 hours from first line fast to all lines in. Indian crew. Utterly unable to do anything in a timely manner, officious and inflexible, and, as they always do, enough letters of protest to wallpaper my galley. So a quick and easy job turned into a 12 hour trial of patience. So it goes. I try not to make generalizations, but goddamn sometimes stereotypes are spot on.

 A couple of the tugboat deckhands in my company who are great kids are moving on and moving up, gaining traction career-wise. That's always an exciting time, especially the initial moves, when the juice is still worth the squeeze. I'm watching videos of people making cool shit online, restoring and building boats, working with their hands to create beautiful things, where mine are mostly picking at my nose and such at least until I get home. Oh, I get to do some marlinespike seamanship, which is good and which I like, and we've been getting out-of-town tugboats moving us, so I've been seeing people I haven't seen in a few years, which has been cool. Waiting. A holding pattern. Even reading has become a bit dull.

 It's not all blah, obviously. But it's the doldrums. The long dark and dreary November of the soul. I bought my plane tickets to go home when my relief date comes, which provides a boost, and, 6 weeks out, is cheap, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Our Better Angels

It doesn't happen often, but every now and again, I get forced to be serious for a minute about something other than doing my job.

     A former shipmate of mine passed away the other day. It was not a surprise. He had had a stroke on board a manned barge a few years ago, and never really recovered. He was in his 40's, and obese. One of us, though. Part of the gang of us that hung out when we were all rafted up out in anchorages and occasionally had dinners together. He and I weren't close, but cordial, as in we'd sometimes stop by if we were at the same dock and talk for 10 minutes or so, catch up a little.
      It was he who took care of me when I got a particularly nasty case of food poisoning, and my company couldn't be bothered to send me a relief so I could go ashore. I was always so grateful for that. A simple act but supremely kind.

I'm coming up on my relief date here, in a few days. Sadly, I'm staying. But it's progress. Week 4 is almost done. 6 weeks to go. Ugh.  Well, the money will be nice.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Familiar Face

We got lucky here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ floating hot dog cart.  With my tankerman taking some time off, I've had fill-in guys on board. Last Week, I had The Pastor- a deeply religious man with skill and experience, a guy I know pretty well (who is, actually, in the final steps to becoming a baptist minister) and have worked with before, so when he was on board, I could sleep- more on that later.

 I also had Spare Paul, another experienced tankerman, for a short time. He, however, is more comfortable with dock-to-dock clean oil transfers, a somewhat different animal than the dirty game of bumper cars we play on here. I did not sleep well. In the end, he did just fine.

 Yesterday the Cuban Missile came aboard.
     I've worked with the Cuban Missile a few times, including an enjoyable but tough month down in the Windward Isles in the caribbean.He's experienced and very competent. I am sleeping well.

 Familiarization plays a big role in the effectiveness of how we carry out bunker transfers. Dock to dock work, you plug in the numbers, fill up the tanks to the numbers you want, and check to make sure you're not going to stress the hull. Maybe you ballast, but it's formulaic.

   Bunkering is more dirty and works on a lower profit margin, I'm sure, and requires a fair bit of back-of-the-envelope math. Blending oils to achieve certain densities, sulphur content or volume (or all of the above)- cross-tank loading without stressing the hull, unequal volumes of multiple products, stuff like that- meat-and-potatoes stuff, but things that require a bit of experience and understanding that is deeper than swinging wrenches and valves... not rocket science for sure. I mean, you can shave a monkey and make him do my job most days, but doing and doing well are different things.

     Really, all you need is someone to teach you, some classroom time, and experience under an experienced tankerman, and you can technically do the job. This is what happens some places- you get a short-bus seat warmer who can sign the DOI (a document saying that you did this and that correctly) legally, but who can't be trusted to unwrap a lollipop otherwise, and then you get an unhappy, experienced person watching over him and not sleeping.I've had a touch of that here and there, like when Father Time, the ancient of days, used to camp out and eat my food and sign the DOI but was otherwise not able to do things like turn valves or run the crane. But he technically fulfilled the letter of the law, which only requires warm bodies with a participation trophy from the Coast Guard. Father Time was a kindly gentleman, so we dealt with it. Guy bunkered the Ark for Noah.

 So, with the Cuban Missile on board for a week, I'm sleeping well. He's familiarizing himself relatively quickly, and is willing to ask questions to get up to speed quickly. Plus he's good company, too. And I'm sleeping well. I trust him not to blow us up or cause a scene.  Still, I'll be glad next week when B comes back and things get back to normal abnormal.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Lost in Translation, unintentional hilarity

Peter Grant has a great post up today about the hilarity than can result when you assume that British English and American English are interchangeable.  Read the comments, too!

    About 90% of the disagreements that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I have are based on misunderstandings because of language.  You might think it's like 'Three's Company' style hilarity, and sometimes it is, but man, it can cause trouble.

 Sometimes, however, it can be damn funny however.

 My wife and I speak a form of pidgen at home- When I speak, I tend to use nouns in portuguese, because it's easy to learn the names of things, and the rest in english. My wife tends to do the same in Portuguese. Her english is fine, but when speaking rapidly, she hates to hunt down the name in her mind for places and things, which interrupts the flow of conversation. Anyhow, it works for us. Except when other people hear it. Even worse, my wife learned English with a Boston accent, poor girl, so spelling out words doesn't work. If you know me in meatspace, I have a WICKED STRONG Boston accent.

 So as far as my wife knows, Car is spelled C, A, H.

       The word 'fork' is really hard for my wife to pronounce correctly. It sounds like 'fohk.' My fault, I think. I say it like 'fohahk.' At the Top of the Hub,one of Boston's most expensive restaurant, on our second anniversary, we met some very nice people at the next table because of this. Due to a snafu, her place was improperly set up with utensils. To their credit, the people at the next table only stared for a few seconds when my wife announced that she needed a big fohk before she could eat her salad. When I heard a little giggle, I couldn't help but laugh at it too.

      But that's nothing compared to what happened at my brother-in-law's house.


 In portuguese, 'pintar' is paint.  'Pinto' is a juvenile chicken. Pinto is also vulgar slang for penis, turns out, like 'cock' here in the US.
... I did not know these things. 

  My brother-in-law is a very handy guy, a monoglot with almost no English. My sister-in-law speaks very good english, but doesn't get much opportunity to practice. They're very nice people. Super religious evangelicals, but my brother-in-law retained an earthy sense of humor. My sister-in-law, too, I'm told, but she'd never exercise it in front of a man who wasn't her husband, so I haven't seen it.

 One day we went over there for dinner, and I was impressed at the hanging bracket my brother-in-law made to set his giant TV up on in the corner of the room.  He said it was almost done, but needed paint, and he was waiting to see if his wife wanted it in white or black.

 So, after dinner, at some point, in an effort to contribute to the all-portuguese conversation at the table, I turn to my very sweet but shy and religious sister-in-law and say " O Karina, voce prefeiro um pinto preto, or pinto branco?"  'So, Karina, do you prefer a black paint, or a white one?"
 ... only I didn't say paint. I said the other thing, turns out.

 Silence. Then LOTS of laughter, thank God. To maximize his enjoyment, my brother in law made his wife explain the error in my word choice.  You'd never think that brown people can blush, but I assure you they can. Luckily my sister in law also thought it was hilarious, but didn't want to embarass me, as at the time they had no idea just how lowbrow my sense of humor can be.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Carnival! (NSFW)

Well, it's another long midwatch, and like it seems to do every damn day this year, it's raining. Again.

 So, with dampened spirits dragging me down, I thought I'd share some pictures from Brazil's Carnival to brighten up everyone's day. Lord knows I feel better already.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

There goes another thing I said I'd never do again

I dun goofed.

 Or did I dun and gont goofed? 

 Sure feels like it today.

 My right hand man here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ floating prison with a chance of drowning besides, has taken a leave of absence.  Big O, my tankerman, is taking a few months to start a business and see it fledged before returning to work. Faced with the prospect of 12 weeks of fill-in guys who rotate in and out and are not familiar with the HQ, My partner and opposite, B and I agreed to work over, to stay on board rather than take out next scheduled time off. We are each staying for 10 weeks. Mine already started. I've been on board for 2 weeks already. B is going home to do the necessary to prep his family and his own personal business for an extended work period.

 Now, after 7 years of working 42-45 weeks a year, far beyond what is smart or necessary, I told myself, and my family, that I wouldn't be working extended tours anymore while in the employ of my current employer. When we need fun money beyond the normal, sure I can work an extra week and then go home for a week before starting back on my routine, but working 10 weeks straight was supposed to be a young man's game.

   BUT, with B gone, and a certain amount of experience in the price we pay in having strangers working as tankermen on the HQ, we agreed to support each other- and make some money without leaving our place.

 That's the secondary stress of working overtime- you work over on a boat or barge that needs crew. Not yours. In this case, we're working on the HQ, working from home, so to speak, so that should help.

 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife wasn't super pleased, but understood. In the end, the extra money I'm earning is going towards another big project for us, so she was appreciative, even if it is viewed as a costly but ultimately good decision.

 Still, at the 2 week mark today, with (oh fuck me.) 8 more weeks ahead, you'll understand if I'm not feeling inspired.

Friday, August 3, 2018

No religion or politics at my table

A standing rule at my house, and even aboard the HQ when we have guests is 'no religion, no politics.'   To maintain peace in my house, and at work, we don't mix the two when we don't know intimately the people involved.

 So, sadly, I have been forced to delete the maritime news website 'Gcaptain' from my sidebar. Their social media people are forcing politics into their reporting, and, even overlooking their deep and abiding boners for anything embracing global warming theory, I've had enough. As it happens, my politics are not in alignment with their social media opinion pieces, but that's actually immaterial. I don't want opinion pieces about politics in my fucking maritime news. I want maritime news.

 Ship blows up. Man overboard. Company sold. Company started. Ship being built. Laws changing. Important stuff.
 How global warming could maybe possibly affect widget supply if the worst happens 200 years from now. Why this person we don't like is, like, bad for business, man.  Not important stuff.

 So, sorry gcaptain, you're done. You're Mother Jones of the maritime world now.

 So instead, I'm going to put a link to 'The Maritime Executive' which is more about maritime business and trade than down n' dirty news, but at least  their writers know the difference between news and opinion.  Check 'em out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

HAWSEPIPER COOKS: Coxinha, the Brazilian treat

The best part about Brazilian food is that generally it won't kill you. Brazilian food is not heavily spiced, and relies more on savory than spice. Healthy, simple ingredients make for wonderfully flavored foods... which is part of why people happily line up to spend $30-100 a person for buffet service at a Brazilian BBQ joint in the US.

     When it comes to snack foods, my absolute favorite, as a man who loves to eat too much, is the Coxinha (Pronounced "Ko-sheen-ya,"  a fried chicken treat that is widely available... in Brazil. Think chicken salad wrapped in dough and fried into a teardrop shape about the size of a small egg. Sounds... weird, right? Make these babies or find them in a Brazilian grocery store and you'll be instantly hooked. And holy shit, talk about awesome finger food for a party. After trying these, you'll never make nachos again. There's a reason why Brazilians in America think Mexican food has no soul.

     This is street-cart food in Brazil- great snack or meal on the go, good with booze or beer, too. Since we eat on a Brazilian schedule in my house, dinner is at 4pm, and the main meal of the day. Around 8 I'll do a charcuterie plate, or Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife will throw together an appetizer of sorts along with bread or fruit and cheese, and on weekends, coxinhas or Pao de queijo, a type of cheesy bread.

 The thing about cooking coxinhas, is that you don't always have to. If there is a Brazilian grocery or bakery in your area, you can get these things fresh or frozen, and they're often really good- They're mad in big batches and the uneaten portions frozen, so they don't have to be made very often. They freeze and reheat REALLY well. If you buy them frozen, you do need to find out if they've been fried or not yet. They need to be fried ONCE (never refry them, it turns into mush!) but after, if they've gotten cold or were frozen,  they can be baked back to life and still be perfectly good.

    This is NOT a complicated recipe. There are a bunch of steps, though, and it takes a little time. I suggest catching up on a documentary or Deadliest Catch on TV, or splitting a bottle of wine with your spouse while doing the prep, and talk about your day, or why Pinochet did nothing wrong. You know, whatever makes you happy. Brazilians often  make the mix up at night, freeze it, and cook portions if it another day. With the steps, it's easy to clean up after yourself. You can freeze this stuff at any step in the process and continue on later.

 A word on cheeses: The best cheese for this is catipury cheese, which you'd need to get in a latino grocery. Cream cheese is a perfectly good substitute, though.

A word on flour:  The authentic coxinha is made with cassava (often called manioc) flour. Although it is gluten-free (I don't care) it can be hard to find outside a latino grocery, and regular old white flour will do.

  • 1.5 pounds chicken breasts, boneless 
  • 4 to 5 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 1 tsp garlic, chopped fine
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 softened 8-oz pack of cream cheese or catipury cheese
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour or manioc
  • 2- 3 cups bread crumbs
  • 3 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
  • salt and pepper to taste

 To make:

  1. Put the chicken  in a large shallow pot. Cover them with the chicken broth, adding water if necessary to make sure the chicken breasts are covered by at least 1/2"
  2. Add the carrot and one of the onions (peeled and halved) and bay leaves
  3. Bring to a LOW boil, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through (you want a little pink in the middle ). It's necessary to cut into the chicken to tell when it is done. Remove pieces as they finish, so as not to overcook.
  4. Set chicken aside to cool, and strain and keep the broth.
  5. Shred the chicken into very small pieces. Food processor is easiest but you can also use your fingers or two forks.
  6. Stir the softened cream cheese and lime juice into the shredded chicken.
  7. Finely chop the second onion and the garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of butter until soft but not brown. Don't burn them!
  8. Finely shred the carrot (or toss in a food processor and drain). Add the carrot, hot onions and garlic to the chicken mix and stir well.
  9. Measure the chicken broth you saved.  You need at least 3 cups, so add more canned chicken broth to make 3 cups if you have to.  Boil the broth in a saucepan and gradually stir in the same amount of flour as you have broth. If you have 3 cups, add 3 cups of flour. If you have 3 1/2, add 3 1/2. 
  10. Stir constantly (don't stop!) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. This makes a stiff dough.  Remove from heat and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Also put the shredded chicken in the fridge for an hour, or overnight.
At this point, you can refrigerate everything for a day or two, or continue.  Very forgiving stuff.
  1. Flour your hands and take a piece of the dough about the size of an egg. Roll it into a ball, then hollow out the middle for the filling.
  2. Press a golfball size (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) lump of the chicken filling inside the ball of dough, and press the dough closed around the filling. Shape into an approximate drumstick or teardrop shape. Be ready to reflour your hands as needed. Stand the coxinhas on a baking sheet, so that the pointed end sticks upwards. Continue until you run out of dough or filling.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Place the bread crumbs in a shallow pan or bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Dip the coxinhas in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs to coat. Refrigerate the coxinhas for 1 hour, and then either cook or freeze them.
  5. Fill a  pot with enough oil to cover the coxinhas. Heat the oil to 360 degrees. Fry the coxinhas in batches until deep golden brown.
  6. Bask in the adulation of everyone you feed. 

EDIT: I had to add some details about the carrot and garlic, thanks to an astute reader.