Friday, November 29, 2019


I got home in time for Thanksgiving, and completely enjoyed a gigantic meal with the Florida contingent of the B family. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's aunt is here visiting as well, so the extra person at the table was very welcome for my wife and son, who don't get as much opportunity to speak the mother tongue all that often.

   I've been eating clean for the past month while I was onboard. Nothing processed, nothing that grows under ground, low carb, no sugars. No alcohol too, of course, but that's normal at work. Felt great, lost weight. Today, the morning after a mountain of turkey, bread, sweets, potatoes and whisky and champagne, I feel hung over, logy and debauched.
 Worth it.

 Now I am actually home. I flew  in on Wednesday night, the night before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year. I have notoriously bad luck when it comes to flying in and out of New York for work anyhow, with about a 90% rate of delays, and 2-3 flights outright cancelled per year. After listening all week about what a shit show Wednesday was going to be... it was easy and everything ran smoothly. Like storms, politics and any other bullshit the press reports on, everything was not a miserable disaster despite their best efforts to present it as so. God I hate the press.

    Seriously, that was one of the easiest travel days I've ever had. People were in a good mood despite being there in higher numbers, the bartender at the bar I chose had a heavy hand with his pour, and it wasn't too crowded. Flight was mildly turbulent the whole time, which seems to be normal on the east coast, but it wasn't too bad. I got home at about 2100, caught up with the fam and was asleep by 2300.  B, my relief at the HQ, got caught in that blizzard that bombed the midwest, so I didn't have a relief, so I only got about 2 1/2 hours sleep in the last 36 hours of work, so I conked out pretty quickly on getting home.  8 hours later I was up and prepping the turkey. I didn't slow down until about 7pm, when my brother, sister and I went outside to sit by the pool in the warm air.  By 2200, the house was cleaned up and everything stowed, my siblings headed back home, and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I had a last glass of wine together before calling it a night.

   Oh, and after 6 months of owning my home, I finally ate in my dining room and had to lead the prayer. First time in a long time I was at a loss for words, and it took a minute, but being generally grateful for all that I have, it wasn't too hard once  I got started. 

 So, finally here, in this moment, while I'm caffeinating and waiting for the slight headache I woke up with to pass, my time is my own for a few hours.

 Whether you were at work or home alone, I hope your Thanksgiving was enjoyable.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

going all out

My writing has been pushed to the back burner this month with all the work we're getting here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ. It's been a while since we had a real blitz like this, where we're finishing one discharge and headed directly back to load more. It's pretty widespread. Berth congestion is an issue at the moment.

 At the moment, the HQ is the only dedicated Heavy Fuel oil barge that my company keeps in NY/NJ. Everyone else is transitioning to Low Sulfur Fuel oil and Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel Oil as the December 31 deadline for sulfur content limitations approaches. With demand dropping, feedstock supply has been erratic apparently. We're loading from multiple tanks, every job, cutting fuel with better fuel to get to an acceptable level of quality for the recipient. Pain in the ass, really. We loaded a few days ago directly from a ship that was a few berths over, using the terminal's pipeline. That was fun. We talk to the shore, the shore talks to the ship, the ship talks to the shore, and the shore talks to us. Worked fine, just slow. Only reason I have time to write at the moment is that I am waiting for inspectors and samplers to come aboard and go over my load figures and pull samples out of my tanks prior to us sailing off for another discharge.

 And they're coming down the pier now.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

gee that's swell

I had a heck of an off-watch time last night.
(he said sarcastically)

       Long couple of days, with not a lot of quality rest. Our plans keep changing, with the upcoming rule changes to fuel quality coming on Jan 1.

 So we loaded for two ships a couple of days ago- a large quantity of heavy fuel oil and a lesser quality of Marine Gas Oil (basically that's diesel oil). We loaded just enough for the two ships, so when we were done we'd be empty in case the next job that was available was for another customer.

 We discharge the first ship, and then the customer cancels the second job, and instead we go back to the loading terminal and load for two more ships, plus the job we already have on board. No real problem, a lot of paperwork, but my 2nd man is not up for blending calculations yet, so I had to get out of bed twice the other night to get the calculations done and write up a loading plan for him. Twice.

       Yesterday I went to bed as the first of those three jobs was coming up.

 I had a long day yesterday and in the break in the middle of the day I actually lifted weights and walked around the deck for an hour, so I went to bed sore, and it being chilly, I was pretty content under the covers after dozing off.
     And then we started rolling.

 It was strange. We were in the middle of Bay Ridge anchorage in New York. Alongside an anchored containership, and pretty well secure. Our tug had left as he had other work to do while we were pumping off. Pretty normal.The wind had come up to a small gale, which was predicted, but we were rolling and rolling and rolling, and it didn't stop. Deep into a harbor, that's really unusual, unless we anchor in the mouth of the Verrezano Narrows during a NE gale. But we weren't in the mouth and we weren't in the narrows. We were off to the Staten Island side. But wind and tide were opposite each other and while I was dozing off, we swung broad to the swell, which surprisingly, was pretty decent, and worse, was timed in some fraction of our natural rolling period, so over the course of 5 minutes, we were rolling a good 15 degrees each side, which would not be much in a traditional situation, but when you're rafted up to a giant ship and you start bouncing and swaying, with mooring lines screaming and a couple of them parting, it can actually be quite dangerous.On getting out of bed and looking outside, I had my 2nd man run new lines to the ship plus some extras,  made a few changes on where they were running, and called my office and requested a standby tug ASAP in case we ended up drifting off. We didn't. Eventually, after 15 minutes more, the ship swung into the wind instead of the current and we settled down. I was only out of bed about an hour, but I didn't sleep soundly for sure.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

halfway day

Well, today's the halfway point of this trip and it's been busier than usual for sure. We had a little downtime- yesterday we were free and there was one other 20 hour period last week, too, but beyond that, it's been steady work. But time has passed by pretty well so far, too, as a result.

         I'm sort of watching what's going on in the news, all the chaos, 6 different stories on the same subject all with radically different points to make, and twisting the news into propaganda. It's disheartening. Folks who put out work I like to read often point out that in order not to be subsumed one must stay engaged, but hell, not wanting to be bothered with the bullshit of our culture is half the reason people want to go to sea in the first place. No, I'll enjoy bombing people I disagree with using sarcastic points while I'm sitting on the can, but I'm not going to waste quality oxygen during my non-bathrooom time by pissing myself off reading all that crap.

          With the death of D, my old captain in my teen years, his daily reminder that even a bad day is pretty good on the water if it don't kill you, I feel a bit recentered. His death hit me more than expected, especially in that I haven't spoken to him much in the past 5 years, and of those times, many were him chiding me about the value of my time spent being a shit to people online.  Smart guy, was D.

       Today I had the fortune, good (for me) enough to finish loading cargo about 90 minutes after the turn of the tide, while we're in a tide-restricted berth- that is, unless we have 2 tugs working together, we have to sail only on the tide, and so I get a 4 1/2 hour break. I cooked lunch, got my paperwork done for the day, and headed outside to splice a broken line and wire-lock some shackles that weren't wire-locked on our hydraulic powered fendering system. Busywork, really, but necessary in that I don't want to waste a lot of budget losing a $6,000 fender over a $1 shackle pin, which has happened.

 Today is the first real cold day here in NY harbor. It was blowing pretty good and in the low 20's when I woke up at 5am. Going out on deck was a bit of an effort of will, until the sun came up and it got above freezing. Hydraulic controls were stiff as hell, valve wheels didn't want to turn... all the things that make us not love winter. So it goes, though. If I got upset over every one of those things, I'd be a hell of a pill. It's still better than being at a desk for me. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Oh Captain My Captain

"Stop! Look around! Today is a beautiful day and it is never going to come again!"

     It took a couple of years before I grew to understand when he said this to me, on days when the weather was poor, that he was right.  

    My dad gave me the love of the ocean, and of ships and science. The Old Man taught me how to catch lobsters, and how to steer a boat. D taught me how to make my living from the sea, starting with cutting classes twice a week, with the connivance of my teachers, his coworkers, to go fishing with him.

 DOHERTY, William.
   Seize The Day! If you're reading this, I am dead and you're not. William Doherty of Weymouth died November 1, 2019, with family beside him including his wife of 52 years, Dorothy Kamison Doherty. With apologies to Dylan Thomas, I have raged, raged against the dying of the light, but now it is time to go gentle into that good night.

 God Bless and keep you, D. Thank you so much. I will miss you.  

Friday, November 1, 2019

settling into the routine

As much as I wish I could stay home full time, I'm not enough of a prick that my company will pay for me to not go to work. I've been back for a few days, and have settled into the routine again. My first week back, I'm working nights, which is never fantastic, me being a day person, but I don't have trouble with circadian rhythms. If I've been up and moving about for 12+ hours, I can sleep. I'll make the adjustment back to working days next week.

 It's been a busy time here on the HQ. Lots of work. The whole maritime industry is struggling to adapt to new anti-pollution legislation that will change the type of fuel ships can burn after Jan 1 of next year. Refiners have added Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil to the types of fuels sold to ships recently, and between finding storage space and vessels to move it, it's been an adjustment. With sulfur content being a huge deal in fuel (cost of the fuel is inversely proportional to the sulfur content), and fuel being the number one expense on ships, this is a big deal.  Now, terminals have to have stocks of Heavy Fuel Oil in 700, 500 and 380cst viscosity, as well as Low Sulfur Fuel Oil, Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil and Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel oil.
Now, to an extent this can be offset by cutting fuel oils with Marine Gas Oil (a type of diesel fuel) to decrease viscosity or lower sulfur content, and therefore there could be ways to not need to rent 6 tanks for 6 grades of fuel, but this is offset by increased risk of contamination or improper blending by custom blending fuels for individual ships.

     Without going into massive detail, the greatest challenge I see here is getting the infrastructure in place to get the right grade of fuel to the right people at the right time. Currently there has been a dearth of berthing at fuel storage terminals to get fuels to ships. Only a modest percentage of ships have invested the millions of dollars in an exhaust gas scrubbing systems to allow them to burn high-sulfur fuel after the cut-off date of Dec 31. Everyone else will need LSFU or ULSFO... but this represents such a high cost to shipping, which is a VERY low-margin business, that many companies have been paralyzed, waiting until the last minute to see if things change, and this has led bunker suppliers like moi and co. to also not have a way to read the tea leaves, too. Now, my particular dog in this fight is not a big one- I sign my name to documents that certify that as far as I know I'm giving a ship fuel in compliance with the law, but it's my employer and the oil majors who have their asses in the breeze here. Recently, some of our barges have been flushed out and put into exclusive service for low and ultra-low sulfur fuel. Currently, the HQ is probably going to carry the heavy stuff still, which is fine for me.

 I'm as curious as anyone as to what will happen Jan 1.