Sunday, September 13, 2020

Will this go on my permanent record?

Something interesting happened, but I keep wondering if I should talk about it. 

 We had a 'near miss,' an incident caused by equipment failure that wasn't anyone's fault. We call it a near miss because no one got hurt, there was no loss fiscally, and no damage to the environment. 

 But I spent 18 hours on deck unfucking the matter, so that sucked, and another 12 the next day, too. 

          Things are so messed up in our trade that I don't wish to see my employer look bad for something that isn't their fault, though. I had good support, and got the help I needed to see the problem solved. It sucked to go through, was likely unavoidable, and I'm sore as hell, being unaccustomed to the work I was doing. 

   So it goes. Makes me appreciate the quiet days when everything works. 


Saturday, September 5, 2020

I may have to be put down

I'm gonna call Dr. Kevorkian if this shit keeps up. 

 I don't care if he's dead. 

      The other day, I bit my tongue. I'm eating healthy and every 3 days or so I throw 5oz of steak on top of my rabbit food or whatever healthy shit I'm eating. 

 I got a bad, chewy steak, and managed to bite the ever-loving shit out of the side of my tongue. I bled like a stuck pig. It was almost a 'I need to put a stitch in this' bite, except it was too broad. I took like a 1/8" furrow off of about half my tongue. Why? Because I am an idiot.  And also because I blame that steak. Somewhere in Kansas there's a farmer scratching his head and wondering why he's got an extra cow but is missing a horse. 

  Still, I don't think I did even this this bad as a kid. 

    The day before I got a canker sore in my mouth. I've been eating a lot of spicy, acidic foods. I haven't had one of those in at least 5-10 years, either. So between the two, I'm hating life. Turns out I must move my tongue a lot in my sleep. I know this because ouch. 

I drool a lot. I'm sitting on an oil barge I don't know with a second man I don't know, and he's trying to talk to my while I'm drooling as I talk back, or just sitting there, like a mastiff, dampening my shirt. So there's a lot of respect there, I'm sure. Excuse me while I change my bib. 

the Harbor Whore returns

  Well, it's been a week, for sure. 

        I got moved. Again. 

        Look, I don't do well with change. I do best, and am at my best, when left in place, like an ivy vine, or asbestos. 

        Unfortunately, the temporary HQ was pulled out of service, being optimized to transfer fuel to cruise ships, which aren't working during Covid. Admittedly it made little sense to spend money on keeping the HQ crewed with no work in sight. 

      So off I go to... where I'm at. I'm on board the new new temporary HQ. I'm trying to find a name for it. The Obstacle Course, maybe, or the Pakistani Hospice. I'm trying to focus on the positive. It's work, after all, and it's poor form to be critical of the folks who are trying to keep me working. But it's not an environment I like. 

    The new new temporary HQ is a hodgepodge of pipelines and obstacles that make getting around on deck an issue. My clumsy ass is certainly going to be falling down a lot. There's not a lot of open space. The upside to this is that the barge is versatile, capable of handling a lot of segregated products. 

          Well, focusing on the negative won't get me anywhere. It's something to get used to, and it's work, like I said. There's a fair number of layoffs have happened around the area in our trade, and of course, in general there's little grace to be had in complaining overmuch that things are not as nice as they were a few months ago, given the state of the world. 

      Am I happy? No. Heck no. But so what? I'm working, family is fed, and usually some positive things come out of disruptive change. I'm not a roll with the punches sort of person, but maybe I should be. 

         So, trying to be positive. Some positive things:   I'm friendly with the senior guy here, whom I relieved this week. He'll come in in a few weeks, when it's time for me to go home. Nice guy, someone I've worked with in the past a few times. One of the brand-new generators on here cratered and is being rebuilt in-situ, so I am at a dock with shore access and no cargo for the weekend, which means that while I can't avail myself of the local restaurants, being on a diet and such, I can go for some long walks for a few days, which is good for the diet and also good for the mind. Plus, I've got like 10 days to go and I can go home. That's always good. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

The hammer-to-head method

 So after a few days on board, and in between cargoes, I felt more than a little put out when I got the call to pack my shit and move for a few days on a temporary transfer. 

 I basically went to our largest bunker barges, which I have never operated (I did spend 2 weeks on one 10 or so years ago, though, when it was just a seagoing barge), filling in for a crewman who had to go home. It's my job to go where the company tells me, after all. I had a little mild butthurt, in that we have guys who have done fuck all or next to fuck all for the past 6 months who got to continue dicking off while I was continuing to work, but with time came a moment's grace where I realized that with the slowdown, I better be grateful to be working, and also grateful for the opportunity to make myself useful.  It's like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer; it just feels so delightful when you stop. 

 It was busy, it was hot, and I am happy it ended. I've since returned to the HQ-in-exile, and wonder of wonders, my days away did great things for my attitude. I'm far more grateful to be here and standing by for cargo orders than I was. The work will come. We're at the tail (ish) end of the summer slowdown, and with Sep 1 approaching, warehouses in the US will begin stocking up on cheap crap from China, although I'm sure it might not be in the volume we had last year, but even so, the container ships will be making more port calls here in the fall than they did in the summer, God willing. 

I'm approaching the halfway point of this voyage already. Not much opportunity for shore calls, sadly, but the mornings are cooling off, becoming pleasant. We're coming into the best time of year in the northeast. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

1 week down

 First week at work has passed. It was a weird mix. First few days were pretty nice. No cargo, did maintenance, had a couple of little projects and got them done. I got transferred to our largest bunker barge for a few days, though, and got my ass kicked. It was a real slog, not least because I didn't know where anything was, and everything, EVERYTHING was bigger and more challenging to deal with than on the current HQ. Having to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the floodlights while worrying about sucking air on an almost-empty cargo tank, things like that, office calling, ship calling, things like that, the stresses are individually small, but additive. 

 Oh, there was a breaker panel in the generator room, behind the thermal oil cargo heater where there was no reason to be or to look. I found them, kicked the lights on, jogged up forward to the tanks being pumped, swung the valves shut just in time, then promptly vomited, since it was 90 degrees out and no wind and literally running around while overheated is stupid. Luckily, I had practice, since I had barfed the watch before, too, for being overheated. Unfamiliarity led to a lot of extra moving around. 

 So after that, I was awful happy to return back to the HQ-in-exile. After rehydrating and actually eating a meal, I found that I lost a pound a day, since I was too nauseous to eat more than an avocado and 2 hard-boiled eggs a day. Barfing up a bellyful of water was a loss each time, for sure. I sweated through my clothes so much that I think I peed once a day over there. The guys regularly assigned there go through the same shit, I'm sure, but with familiarity comes an economy of movement, since they not only know where things are, they also know the time sequences and can anticipate where they need to be. 

 At any rate, as the saying goes, the best part about hitting yourself on the head with a hammer is when you stop.  Getting back to the HQ was a treat, and today I am feeling much better. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Mixed feelings at crew change

 It was a heck of a time home. Drama, action, excitement, illness, productivity... all in there. I lost a lot of time just recovering from strep throat, which was odd, as I recall being younger and just muscling through it while on antibiotics, but needs must, I supposed, and I didn't have need. I actually was pretty productive. Got some projects done- bought a new car, and a lovely surprise when my AC unit crapped out, too, so at well over $4,000 that was a nasty shock, and not so timely. But I also got a good shipment of wood boards in, so I had stuff to play with. I built a barn door for the Mrs., who wanted a barn door to block off the hallway between my bedroom and master bath, so she got what she wanted, and I got to learn how to do something new- the door was easy. Bolting in the steel track was more work than anything else, mostly because I was working alone. Anyhow, got it all in. More than anything else, though, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I were glued together at the hip, near enough. We had a lot of time together. I don't think she likes seeing me sick or weak- it's not something she's used to seeing, so she was helicoptering around me, and yet we had a good time, and once I was back up to speed, a great time. 

         the night before crew change, I got hit hard by a sense of loss. After so much time with my family, and seeing some projects done (I cleaned and reorganized my shop, which was a project in itself) I felt very reluctant to leave- moreso than usual. I know things at work are unsettled as we try to get through these odd times, and that's part of it, but I suppose I got a more candid look about what I give up to do what I do- time. Lost time. 

We went to bed about 10:30pm, and I didn't sleep much, just held on to my wife. I was up at 4 to shower, and took a cab to the airport so my wife could sleep. 

 As often happens, by the time I'm in the air, I feel better. 


Monday, August 10, 2020

Yes! I have strep throat!

 It's strange times indeed when I am relieved and gratified to have strep throat. 

 Yesterday morning I started running a fever and getting a sore throat. By last night I had what felt like a golf ball in my throat and was sucking down tylenol to keep the fever under 101. 

 I went to the doctor today. Of course I got tested for corona, fever and sore throat fit in with that, but I also tested positive for strep bacteria in my tonsils. So I have tonsilitis rather than Covid, which is a relief. 

 It's also killed my plans, but what can you do? losing 2 days rather than 2 weeks is a victory. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

I'm not dead yet! (part 4 of 2)

One week to go here aboard HAWSEPIPER's HQ-In-Exile.

 It's pretty slow. I'm concerned about talking out of school about things that my employer might not want me to talk about, but the fact is that there's less ship traffic coming into New York, where I'm currently posted, and we're servicing that traffic, but between the seasonal lag (mid-summer is our slow season anyhow) and the state of things, I don't think I'm talking out of school when I say that it's pretty slow for us.

 There's work for all of us, though. We are getting cargoes to move, so that's a positive thing. It's not like we're growing cobwebs on the pumps.

   With the downtime, I should be hammering away at things I want to do, like learning CAD, designing things for my house and shop, and making plans, but I haven't really been doing much of that.  My house is a colonial design on in the inside (I mean, it's Florida. Outside, it's just a big concrete box, like a 3/4-McMansion), and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife wanted me to put a barn door in to close off my master bathroom- it's at the end of a long hall in my bedroom behind a sitting area where we have  a couch, so it's already private IMO, but she wants it more private, so I at least got to design a barn door in a simple CAD program I already know how to use, Sketchup. It was actually pretty helpful in terms of being able to see the proportions and choose the right planks and such. So that sucked up a whole 90 minutes.

      Unfortunately, when we're not working, we're sitting at the company's mooring area at the lower end of Bay Ridge anchorage, and there's a donut hole shaped gap of cell coverage exactly in this spot. No bullshit, about 2 minutes out of every 5, and maybe 4 minutes out of every 5 during business hours, there is no usable cell signal. So working online doesn't happen.

 Well, small challenges. Anyhow, I could be being more productive, but what can you do? I'm ok. I've got a job, I have some free time now, so I can't complain. Maintenance on the temporary HQ is up to date, for sure, anyhow.

     The world beyond our hull is going mad, though. The whole mask kabuki theatre, people fighting, killing each other... if ever there was a time to be grateful that I chose a job removed from the horror that is other people, this is it.

  I have my opinions. They're probably what you think they are, and that's fine. I'm not ready to throw bricks at anyone who disagrees with me. I am going to do what I do. Keep my family safe, try to keep my job, and use economic, physical and class barriers to keep the mob away from my life as much as I can.

 Well, rumor is that there will be another Wu Flu refund, where the .gov is going to give back a teeny tiny percentage of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they've taken from me and mine and mostly wasted.

 Pretty sure I know what I'm going to buy to help do my part to stimulate the economy.
in case of in case of. And also because if I'm going to be accused of buying a penis substitute, I'm buying the John Holmes of pistols. 

Yeah, so I have to make flower boxes too for home while I'm there. And next week is Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's birthday, and I haven't been home for one of those in a few years, so we have to celebrate that too. Basically I'm living for the future this week. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

And on the 7th day...

We rested.

        After a pretty long stretch of standing by waiting for a cargo, our cups suddenly runnethed over with 4 in a row these past few days, the last of which wrapped up in time for a midnight docking here in Brooklyn where we currently sit. Yes, with shore access, which has been almost nonexistent for the past 6-8 weeks. So I was up at 0500 anyhow, and got to the grocery store in time for the opening bell. It's been a bear to try to get ashore, which, this being New York, is probably not a bad thing.

           With about 10 days to go on here, and the weather being just awful most of the past few days, going ashore for a walk would have been nice for sure, but it's just horrible outside. And truly, there's not much to talk about. I'm on the HQ-in-Exile for hopefully another 2 tours, and after that, who knows?

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The invasion

So we had a cargo fixed for tomorrow, but it got pushed back a few days. There's a lot of tank vessels anchored up around NY harbor, including us and now, some friends who have rafted up alongside us.

       Big Chocolate and Co. are lashed to our port side, and while he has several cargoes fixed for the next few days, tonight we get to hang out. It's been... a long time since this happened.

         Back in the primitive past, say, prior to 5 years ago. It was normal for us to have long stretches of time (3-4 days) between cargoes. That was just how things were. As a result, there was a lot of social activity between tugs and barges that were in the same vicinity. I've had dinner or fed Big Chocolate perhaps 40-50 times in the 11 years I've known him. We're friends, part of a core group of tankerman within our company that can trust and lean on others knowing they're going to be there.

 In the last 5 years, I've maybe sat down at the table with Big Chocolate perhaps 4 times. Once a year at best. The breakneck, inhospitable pace that is our normal now doesn't leave time for socialization, and we are far more poor for it.

 But that's a gripe for another time. For now, tonight we can visit. While all of us want there to be more ship traffic moving in and out of NY, for the job security, at the least we can spend time with friends while the world goes through puberty or whatever.
  Shame he went vegan and I'm on a diet, but at least we can catch up. I almost feel like  a mariner again, and not a gas station attendant.

Friday, July 10, 2020

being quiet

It's been quiet here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat HQ-In-Exile. We're currently getting hit by tropical storm Fay, which is throwing some wind and rain at us, bouncing us around a bit. We have a cargo fixed for this weekend, which is a good thing. If we're making money, we're likely to be left alone.

              I had a moment earlier, reading a very thoughtful post on another page, and I have had relevant experience that would be worth sharing. So I wrote up a fairly lengthy reply, and then sat there a minute. If I shared it, I would invite traffic here to my little dank corner of the web, and some of it would be people who disagree with me not because they don't like dick and fart jokes, but because of fundamental reasons of morality and politics.... and you know, I don't feel like inviting assholes here now. I'm already pretty jaded. So I deleted my post. I'd rather entertain people who are OK with dick and fart jokes interspersed with more thoughtful material. I like being read by people who are already OK with sifting the bullshit from the buckwheat when it comes to my writing.

  So what's up?  I saw a heavy-lift ship anchored in Stapleton Anchorage in NY yesterday. Something cool on board, maybe. They looked loaded down. I haven't seen a livestock carrier here in months. Maybe they're getting fuel in Boston now. Used to be they were loading Prime-quality cattle in Eastport ME for breedstock in Turkey, and they'd gas up here. I haven't seen one of those ships since last fall, though. It was kinda nice, the cows and bulls got the VIP treatment on that ship, and they'd clean it extra nice before getting here, so it wouldn't smell like a bible story.

 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I celebrated our anniversary while I was home. No fancy trips, just a couple of nights out. It was pleasant to get out of the house for the first time in months.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

better times

It was a bit of an odd time getting here. This was one of the easiest crew changes I've done in a long, long time.

     My flight was peaceful and not very full. There was a moment of dread when early boarding started extra early, as there were 20+ people in wheelchairs on a plane with 100 seats available. Oh, Jetblue actually does not sell their middle seats on their flights, which is wonderful. Delta and American both say they do not, but are almost always 100% full, from the 4 flights I've had with each airline in the past 2 months. Only once did I have a vacant seat next to me of those 8 total flights.

 So, yeah, big attaboy to Jetblue, and American and Delta can both eat a dick.

    Other than my kabuki mask, it was a  decent flight. Bumpy for much of it, but it often is, going up the eastern seaboard.
     My taxi was waiting at the terminal, and we now go to a new motel while waiting for crew change.-  the motel is in a word, horrible, but to be fair, it's less horrible than the last one. For one thing, it's a lot closer to the office, and in a decent neighborhood, and there are no Somalian refugees fighting and screaming 24 hours a day inside. The motel is very dirty, the rooms small, and the reek of cigarettes and weed is pervasive, but it's not too loud, and as I said, the neighborhood is better. I am not walking past burned out shells of buildings when I walk. And also I can safely walk. So, win there.

   My taxi the next morning was a little early, I arrived at the grocery store at opening at 0700, and the guy waited for me, since he didn't have anything going on. 20 minutes later I walked out with my grub, and headed to the office.

 At the office, I was told there was a hired launch at the tug dock, and I loaded my crap on board. I was the first one to be dropped off out in Stapleton anchorage, where the HQ is moored. Another win, being the first dropoff.
     B was standing by to heave up my bag and my food, and after a pretty crazy couple of months, it's been great to be reunited. We're almost definitely not going to be on here for more than another month or two, and lord knows what will happen then, but we're working together again, and that's a good thing. As I'm just arriving, I'm on nights for the time being, but that's OK. For this, my first watch, it's just anchor watch, and I have time to settle in.


Monday, July 6, 2020

travel day tomorrow

Another great time at home. Headed back to work tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The countdown begins!

I'm entering the last few days here on this tour. 3 barges in 4 weeks and a bout of homelessness. Quite a time. As I pretty much say daily, I still have a job. Gotta be thankful.

       So anyone who knows me knows that I do not like change. I like things predictable. I don't like surprise parties, I don't like shopping without a list or at least a mental list, and I don't like not having a destination in mind or a plan for the day unless that plan is to not have a plan. So not having a permanent home or any seniority is a challenge for me.

      Bear in mind I'm not bitching here. I landed on my feet. I like the new ride, I like the guy I'm working with too. I got lucky. I'm not the easiest person to live with because I like to be left alone, and for a social person, that's not always easy, wanting to talk with someone who doesn't want to talk with you much of the time. and my new shipmate is cool with all that. We have a nice talk 15-20 minutes a day, and that's about it.
 I dunno. I'm not that much of an isolationist at home. Just at work. Balance in all things I guess.
   The new ride is comfortable enough. The quarters are small, but tidy. I have all I need except storage space is at a premium, which often happens on a boat. With B and I spending more time than average aboard for this company (90% of the crews work equal time. The other 10%, including us, work more), we've tended to bring our lives with us, rather than having a rigid separation between home life and ship life.  We like our creature comforts, and generally more stuff than you can fit in 1-2 seabags.
           I don't know if this will ever be my home per se. Not just because we may get sent elsewhere when business picks up and laid up vessels break out, but also because the guy on here is fairly senior, and has been on here a long time, and besides that, he's had his crew ganked and replaced not with a new subordinate, but two equals. So now we're all chiefs, no indians. The last thing I want to do is piss in this guy's cheerios after he's already been messed with. It's not his fault that we got our barge taken away, I'm not going to take it out on him, and make him suffer too. End result, I'm not doing things the way I'd like exactly. I'm doing things HIS way. His way happens to be just fine, he's good at his job. But it's not the way we do things at home, so to speak. Of course. I'm used to co-parenting the HQ with B. Policy is a matter of comfort, not compromise with each other, which it must be on here for now, with no indians and all chiefs.
 Thing about compromise, no one gets what they want. They get what they can live with.

 Again, not bitching. Things are good. A golden era ended, and we're in the interregnum at the moment, not on unemployment or trapped with no crew change for 8 months like so many sailors.  Shit happens. Payday came and went already, and will come again.

           So, looking ahead, I'm excited to head home. I might be able to go out a little more while there, although I'm actually very happy not going out. Best quarantine ever.

      One big positive about getting sent to NY, direct and more affordable flights home are resuming. I don't have to pay a fortune for a discount ticket on a grade-z dirty airline, sitting on chicken crates and trade goods.
 Seriously, flying from America to Philadelphia, Occupied America, was pretty stressful. Nothing says pandemic like 100% full flights and 3 layovers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Working in the Third World (Brooklyn, NY)

Things are going OK. I'm settled into my 'maybe temporary maybe not' barge, and although it's pretty quiet (ship traffic being slow still), we've spent a fair bit of that time at a lay berth in Brooklyn, near downtown, and that has meant good shore access, so I have been walking for 2 hours a day when I have that kind of time. It's looking like later this week and weekend will be busy, so the past few days' idle time has been good but is coming to an end. That's not a bad thing. Pretty sure my employer would like to get paid.

      I've got just one week to go here at work, and to make things more comfortable for the one guy on here who kept his position, I will work around his preferred schedule, the hated eight-and-four.  This was based on the horrible suggestion of the Human Performance Eval studies carried out a few years ago. I tried it for a few weeks once. It was so bad it made 6 hours on/6 off look good.
 Basically, you work 8 hours, then sleep 8 hours. Then work 4 hours, and sleep 4 hours.
 Supposedly this is better than anything else. I found it exhausting and disorienting and apparently so do many other people. Hell, there are guys that prefer 6 on/6 off and chronic fatigue rather than the 8/4.   Still, it's just for a week. I'll be fine.

            The weather has been amazing. Cool mornings, comfortable warm (not hot) afternoons. It's been great. Normally, with some idle time like this, I'd be out on deck chipping and painting, my version of therapy, but I'm not comfortable enough here to do that, so instead I've been walking and lifting weights after daily chores and maintenance is finished. We have had a couple of small jobs prior to sitting, so bills were paid, at least.

 It's peaceful-ish. If I was truly feeling at home here, this mid-Covid time might have been a golden era here at work, strange as that is. Even so, I've really enjoyed the past week.

 We've got a fairly decent sized cargo fixed for later this week, so we'll stay rolling.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


The term 'rehomed' is a nice way of saying 'given away' or 'unwanted' in many cases. Problem dogs spring to mind.

 Hopefully I'm not a problem dog. I have been rehomed, though. We left Philly last week and this week I was assigned to my new home. Whether it's temporary or permanent rides on a number of factors, not least of which is the recovery period from the quarantine.

     It's good to have a place to store my crap. My new assignment is fine. Pretty similar to the original HQ, in fact. It's not mine, though. Of the existing crew, the senior guy is still here, and this has been his home for a number of years, so while I am aboard and would wish to make some changes to the quarters and some very minor changes to the SOP aboard, doing so would really be stepping on the crank of the guy who happens to be home this week, but who left here a few weeks ago thinking things would be normal when he got back.

 Think about it, you've got a new associate at work, and you get to work on day 1 and he's moved your stuff, changed procedures, and everything is different. You'd be upset, and justifiably so.

 So I'm moved in, but not all the way. But I'm working, and given the upset of the past months, that's about all I can hope for. It's disheartening, but the alternative, to be sent home or to bump other guys and take their place, send them home, would be worse.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Return

After 8 years aboard, we had a lot of stuff to move off the HQ when we vacated her this morning.

    Hawsepiper's Afloat Global HQ/Refugium is no more. It is now being run by people we do not know.

      As for us, we packed up our duffels and ditty bags, and drove to New York. Well, B drove. I navigated, which is to say I rode bitch.

    We have a LOT of stuff. We filled a 15-passenger  cargo van to the top, and also filled the bed and cab of B's truck.

   It's uncertain times here. We knew that our final disposition was not set, but it's even worse. There's a glut on staff at the moment with so much of the global economy shut down. Many companies are having layoffs. Rather than follow suit, my employer has tightened belts and cut costs to maintain the employee roster, something I was aware of, of course. So in meeting with the bosses when we arrive to NY and commandeered half the warehouse floor temporarily,  we learned that we do not yet have a new home. It will be a few weeks at the soonest before we are assigned a new permanent home.

    And that's disappointing but understandable. B and I have been split up for a week, something neither of us wanted, but which is temporary. I am camping out in Brooklyn aboard a bunker barge for the week, and have settled in temporarily. B is hanging out on a gasoline barge. He's right next door to me at the moment.

 We're good. It's not the same, but it's work, and we're back amongst friends, and given how many people are either laid off or just had their places of business burnt down, I'm doing just fine.

     I don't love change. I really don't. But I do love being able to feed my family, which today's events will allow me to continue to do. 

 In talking with the big boss, I saw first hand that he was troubled by not being able to just give us a nice home and send us off with all our crap. I watched him game out how to get us a permanent berth, and know that the dude is absolutely doing his best.
   Am I anxious? A little, of course. I am homeless at the moment. But they brought us back to NY for a reason and I'm working. I really can't complain.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Leaving the HQ behind

We got word the other day that we're being kicked off the HQ.

     We've been working between Philadelpha, Baltimore and Wilmington DE for the past 2 months. It's been good. I was initially worried that we'd be under the watchful eye of far too many office folks, and indeed our first days seemed to bear that out. We were getting 4 phone calls from 4 people over every single decision, piece of paper or issue that arose. Some calls were from people who were looking out their window and asking about things on deck... this isn't something I'm used to, where I tend to have a more holistic vs. command-and-control relationship with the supervisory layer that sits between operations and management in NY... but you know, it worked out, and I've gotten to like the work dynamic down here, and the people too, especially their availability, since many of the office folks are sitting within 200 feet of us when we have an issue, whereas NY, space constraints, traffic and the pace of work make a visit to the office a rare treat.

 I enjoyed working here, is what I'm saying. It's not the pressure cooker environment that NY is and the people were way nicer than expected.

 But, sadly, we are a known quantity, and our time away from NY operations was always a TDY mission. We are experienced and have our niche, and they want us back up there. Sadly, the HQ, being a reflection of our values, is an ugly-ass mean lean bunker machine, and the Philly folks want to keep it. So we're heading up, but they're keeping the band together at least, and moving us up as a crew to a new HQ.

      Sigh. This is the 3rd time. The HQ was the HQ for 8 years, and we never really did get over the last time this happened, where after a year of sinking our own time and money into the living quarters of the original HQ, they had to swap us out and give us this place, which was well kept up outside, but the quarters looked like a Pakastani hospice because the crew were pigs.

   Well, I happen to know the former crew of the barge where we're likely to end up, and they're clean people (and good tankermen), and the barge itself will be a tolerable HQ. Not quite as lean and mean as the current one, but workmanlike and well-maintained. Beyond moving 20 years' worth of stuff (B has been with the company that long, and does not travel light)  and a shitton of food, the overriding emotion has been relief that we're together.
   Seriously, B and I are a great team. He's very much like an older brother to me, and we complement each other's style, and both of us are compatible- we both suffer badly when forced to live with incompatible personalities,  and fear loss of efficiency and quality of our work output as a result.
 And seriously, I get to work with my best friend. It won't, or can't, last forever, but after 9 years, the work environment has become more important to me than the salary. Should that change, I would seek out a higher salary elsewhere pretty quickly. Some things are more important than money, and some are not.
   So, who knows what the next few weeks hold. I, as someone who doesn't like change, anticipate that it will be annoying, stressful, but will result in good things in short order. Hell, 11 years here and I still like to come to work. I don't want that to change.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


I've been home for a week now, and I took some time to do very little while I was here. It's been great.

 Being unproductive has never been easy for me. Despite knowing that I needed a few days where I could actually relax, drink beer and swim in the pool, I continue to feel slightly guilty for doing so.

 It was just a few days. And I'm much better now. I spent about 6 hours today pressure washing outside, which is like the Florida version of snow shoveling. Rainy season started last week, so there's afternoon thunderstorms every day now. Tomorrow I head into the shop and make some sawdust.

   Coronavirus has been awesome for my marriage, I'll say that. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife have always been mostly joined at the hip when I'm home, but the New Normal means we don't go out for dinner, which we tend to do twice a week when I'm home. Instead, we cook, and with our son home, and of an age when he's gotten interested in cooking, it's tending to be a 3-person event every day. I have a large kitchen, which helps.

 Next week I head back to Philly and back to the HQ. Going by the quality of my first week at home, I'll be going back rested and restored.

   And tan. pressure washing isn't worth doing with a shirt on.

Friday, May 8, 2020

A saint is made

So far as I remember, I've met three people who were living Saints so far in my life.

 I use the term in the Catholic sense, big S, not as in a really kind person, but an actual Saint. In all three cases, meeting them left me with the impression that while we were fully engaged at that moment, the person I was meeting wasn't all there, that part of them was already on a higher plane... and that's a shitty description, of that feeling, but it's about the best I can do. Makes the hair on your arms stand up, like being in the presence of a lion at bad breath distance, or I guess what people talk about who believe in ghosts. I dunno, I'm sort of agnostic about that sort of thing.

 The first one was Mother Theresa, who I met (and got a hug from) when I was in 2nd grade, in an unlikely series of coincidences.  The second was a blind priest who was prescient, and talked about things that were happening in my life that I was struggling with just after shaking my hands, and who gave me some amazing advice.  I'm less agnostic about that. Dude had a gift.

 The third one was Father Donald Sybertz, an African missionary whose sister lived down the street from my parents, and who became friends with my father. I only met the guy twice, at age 7 and again somewhere around 18. He lived in Tanzania for 65 of his 91 years. He's also the only priest I ever knew who was an exorcist, although he wouldn't talk about that and I only knew from my father's talking about it in his own last years. I'm even less agnostic about that. I respect the man enough that I believe that he could do that sort of thing.

 Father Don passed away a few weeks ago. I heard just about an hour ago. Strange that I was thinking of him a lot in the past few days, wondering if he was still with us.  He was a beloved man in his home region- all of western Tanzania, and to date still as far as I know the only Catholic missionary to ever not 'go native' after more than 30 years of working singlehandedly. 
 He was also the biggest Red Sox fan I ever met, even in the 70's, 80's and 90's. Obviously a man of faith.

Father Donald F. Sybertz, M.M, died on Sunday, 19 April, 2020 at the Assisted Living Center at Maryknoll, New York, USA.  He was 91 years old and a Maryknoll priest for 64 years.
          Donald Francis Sybertz was born 23 July, 1928, in North Weymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Frank W. and Helen Bronder Sybertz.  He had three sisters and one brother.  He attended Bicknell Elementary School and Weymouth High School (where he played second base on the varsity baseball team) and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Boston College before entering Maryknoll in September, 1950.
          After his ordination in 1955, Father Sybertz was assigned to Maswa-Shinyanga, Tanzania, where he served in the Kilulu mission in Shinyanga Diocese, the plains region of northern Tanzania.  Father Sybertz built the first home there to provide shelter and care for aged persons lacking families and housing.  He was later assigned to Gula Parish, a large sprawling parish undergoing expansion geographically as well as in the number of parishioners.  Eventually the parish was divided into several parishes, and Father Sybertz moved from Gula to Mwanahuzi and developed that center into a separate parish.
          Over the years, Father Sybertz was one of the Maryknollers most proficient in the Sukuma language.  His facility in the language, interest in the culture and knowledge of how to inculturate Christianity among the Sukuma people led him into a continuing study of how to relate Scripture and the African wisdom proverbs, sayings, stories and parables of the people. This study resulted in the publication of several books in Swahili, Sukuma and English as evangelization materials for the Tanzanian Church.
          Don Sybertz spent a lifetime (1955 to 2020) researching, writing about and using Sukuma (Tanzania) Proverbs. So far there are 19 Sukuma “African Proverbs of the Month” on our African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website ( Some of his favorites:
  1. June,1998: I pointed out to you the stars (the moon) and all you saw was the tip of my finger. NOTE: This was our very first proverb on our website.
  2. October, 2003: The hen with baby chicks doesn’t swallow the worm.
  3. February 2014: The hoes of two people cultivating together in a field sometimes clash (hit) against each other.
  4. October, 2018: The salesperson (seller or merchant) does not have only one door.
  5. February, 2019: The medicine for a rising river is to go back.
  6. October, 2019: Even an elephant, that is, an important person, can be sent.
These and many other Sukuma proverbs and stories are published in Joseph Healey and Donald Sybertz, Towards an African Narrative Theology, (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1996 (1st Reprint 1996, 2nd Reprint 1997, 3rd Reprint 2000, 4th Reprint 2005, 5th Reprint 2012) and Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997, (many reprints, New Cover 2012). Available as an Ebook on Amazon (for Kindle) and Google.
Orbis Books Website:
All this research and writing culminated in the creation of the:
Sukuma Legacy Project Website
The Sukuma Legacy Project promotes the history, culture, oral literature —  Proverbs, Sayings, Riddles, Stories, Myths  and Songs — and visual representations of the Sukuma People in Tanzania in East Africa. There are various examples of SCCs and community values. This website is dedicated to Father Don Sybertz, MM who stayed among the Sukuma people for over 50 years in Shinyanga Diocese. While staying in Ndoleleji Parish he researched the rich folklore and culture of the people. See a short film about him HERE. The research committee that he created at Ndoleleji Parish (known as the Kamati ya Utafiti) is still working up to today.
Reflects what traditional African proverbs, sayings, stories and songs used in Christian catechetical, liturgical, and ritual contexts reveal about Tanzania, and about all of Africa. Includes appropriations of, and interpretations of, Christianity in Africa.
Chapter Three on “African Christology” is called “Jesus Chief Diviner-Healer and Eldest Brother-Intercessor” and Chapter Four on “African Ecclesiology” is called “Church as the Extended Family of God.” It includes sections on: “African Metaphors of Church.” “Communion Ecclesiology from An African Perspective.” “Trinitarian Communion Ecclesiology.” “We Are the Church.” “Theology of Small Christian Communities as a New Way of Being Church.” “Ecclesiology of Church-as-Family.” “African Communion Ecclesiology and Pastoral Inculturation.”
          Father Sybertz spent his entire missionary career in Tanzania. He served as Pastor of the Mwanahuzi Catholic Church until it was turned over to a diocesan priest.
          Although Father Sybertz was given Senior Missioner Status in the Africa Region in 2001, he continued to work full time in Maryknoll’s inculturation and evangelization apostolate in Shinyanga, Tanzania.
          In 2015, Father Sybertz was assigned to the Senior Missioner Community and took up residence at Maryknoll, New York. He was appointed to the Mission St. Teresa’s Prayer Partners Team in 2016.
            Don was a huge sports fan – following closely every Boston, Massachusetts, USA team. He was a good winner and a good loser. We had a lot of fun over years talking sports. Sports was second to spirituality in his priorities. Years ago Don and I traveled to Ethiopia, Amsterdam and on to Newark. The first night home we stayed at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in New Vernon, NJ. After arriving at their house, within minutes the first thing we did was start watching the Red Sox – Orioles playoff game on TV! Don never got tired of baseball.
Many stories have grown up around Marehemu Padri Don Sybertz. Here is one: When Maryknoll priest Father Ed Hayes, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Susan Nagele and Maryknoll priest Father Joe Healey were preparing for the 1990 Maryknoll Society General Chapter we distributed a written questionnaire in the Tanzania Region. All answered but two Maryknoll Society Members including Father Don Sybertz who was “notorious” for never answering anything. After a weekend of a Red Sox – Yankee baseball series, I called Don in Ndoleleji Parish, Shinyanga from Musoma on the radio call phone system that we had between parishes.  For all to hear I said, “Don, I will give you the results of the Red Sox games only if you promise to send in your questionnaire.” He answered, “I promise,” for all to hear. Then I gave him the results of the Red Sox winning two games to one.
The next day he sent in his questionnaire! baseball series, I called Don in Ndoleleji Parish, Shinyanga from Musoma on the radio call phone system that we had between parishes. For all to hear I said, “Don, I will give you the results of the Red Sox games only if you promise to send in your questionnaire.” He answered, “I promise,” for all to hear. Then I gave him the results of the Red Sox winning two games to one. The next day he sent in his questionnaire!baseball series, I called Don in Ndoleleji Parish, Shinyanga from Musoma on the radio call phone system that we had between parishes. For all to hear I said, “Don, I will give you the results of the Red Sox games only if you promise to send in your questionnaire.” He answered, “I promise,” for all to hear. Then I gave him the results of the Red Sox winning two games to one. The next day he sent in his questionnaire!
            Father Sybertz was the brother of the late Dolores Hoyt, Loretta Sybertz, Ruth Hyland and Norbert Sybertz.  Father Sybertz is survived by many loving nieces and nephews and his extended family in Tanzania to whom he devoted his life.
          A Funeral Mass (Mass of Christian Burial) was celebrated in Queen of Apostles Chapel at Maryknoll, NY on 23 April, 2020 at 11:15 a.m.  Father Michael Snyder, M.M., was Celebrant. Father Daniel Ohmann was homilist and Father Edward Davis read the biography, Scripture and the Oath.  Burial followed in the Maryknoll Society Cemetery.
In the Memorial Mass for Marehemu Don Sybertz, Mwana Helena, in Nairobi, Kenya on 23 April, 2020 we tried to inculturate some Sukuma values in the liturgy. The “Prayer of the Faithful” ended with:”…in the name of Jesus Christ, our Eldest Brother/Chief Intercessor.” This is the Sukuma people’s name for Jesus Christ. It is the eldest brother, the firstborn male who offers sacrifice to the one God in the Sukuma Ethnic Group tradition. Compare Colossians 1:15: the beloved Son who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” We used Preface III of Easter on the theme: “Christ living and always interceding for us.” It includes the words: “Christ never ceases to offer himself for us, but defends us and even pleads our cause before God.”
In this Memorial Mass we had a Dialog Homily when the homilist promoted interaction with the congregation participants using questions, invitation to make comments, proverbs and sayings (first and second parts) and open discussion. This was Don Sybertz’s favorite way of preaching. More of a conversational style. Example: Don: “I pointed out to you the stars (the moon)…Congregation: and all you saw was the tip of my finger.”
Some tributes: “We pray for and with our dear Marehemu Padri Don Sybertz, MM. He is now one of our ancestors in Christ, one of our “living dead.” The Sukuma people in Shinyanga Diocese, Tanzania loved him very much and called him the endearing name “Mwana Helena” (‘Child or Son of Helena’) after his mother.” “Padri Don Sybertz’s other Sukuma name was LUKALANGESE that means the one who finishes all the weeds in his field. Meaning: Take away all that is against the will of God in one’s life and put into practice the Lord’s commandments. Don prepared nicely his spiritual life by putting into practice the teachings of Jesus. That is why we consider him as a “Saint.” He also helped others in weeding their fields that spiritually means developing their lives by living according the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. He taught us on how to live a holy life.” “He was a living saint. What a blessing to have known him. Enjoy your heavenly reward.” “Raha ya milele umpe ee Bwana. Na mwanga wa milele umwangazie.” “Pole sana mwanajumuia Ng’wana Helena ametuaga yangu juzi tunatoa mistakes ajili yake Mungu ampokee. Kazi zake njema zimpeleke kwa Baba akayaone yale aliyotamani kuyaona.  Namatumai ikwamba ataiobea kazi yetu ya utafiti. Siku ya mzishi yake nitaongoza misa hapa kwetu.” “May the good Lord rest his soul in heaven. This is yet another African elder who has left us. Fr. Don pumzika kwa amani.”
“His co-edited book on African Narrative Theology was a wonderful resource to tie in
with scripture reflection in Tanzania. Helped bring the readings to everyday life.” I never met Padre Don, but this book was a great tool for me and my friends when we were studying theology at Hekima College. Even now as a communicator this is a great resource to appreciate our ancestors’ practical wisdom.” “Going through the African proverbs work, Father Don Sybertz really liked and invested his time in the proverbs collections and in sharing. A lot of work and enthusiasm in the project is truly seen.” Yes, Don was a great missionary. I remember him from the time that I was working in Shinyanga, and later from the Sukuma research. Accept my condolences  to you and your confreres. May Don rest in peace.” “He was committed to the SCCs Model of Church and promoted SCCs in his ministry of evangelization in Shinyanga Diocese, Tanzania. He integrated Sukuma proverbs and stories into his SCCs ministry as part of inculturation.” “My heart hurt yesterday when I heard this news. I bet I can tell some great Sybertz stories too. He was a faith filled priest. I will miss him.” “We can honor Don by promoting the Sukuma Legacy Project.”
“You and Don had unconditional love and esteem for the African culture and people. Together you compiled African verses. You both spent a life time in East Africa. Don loved what he was doing each day out in the bush. Several year ago, I visited Don and his brother when he was staying with his family in Weymouth, Massachusetts. His niece and family lived next door. It was a wonderful Sybertz compound. His brother also has passed away. Don never forgot his roots namely, New England, Weymouth, Boston College, Red Sox and Patriots. He never lost his enthusiasm for the games. Perhaps these and other aspects of his life made you and Don soulmates and at the same time adversaries in the world of sports. Don witnessed to us all what is the very best of a Maryknoll vocation. Now he has finished the race, may he receive the prize of eternal life and sit at the heavenly table with many friends from Tanzania who went before him.” “We loved Don very much. He will always have a special place in our hearts.”
During his last years Don would listen to St. Therese of Lisieux’s famous book Story of a Soul on his Alexa listening device given to him by his niece. In these sorrowful times we can be consoled by the words of St. Therese of Lisieux on her deathbed: “I am not dying. I am entering into eternal life.” RIP
Complied and edited by:
Rev. Joseph G. Healey, MM
Maryknoll Society
P.O. Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
0723-362-993 (Safaricom, Kenya)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

a gauntlet to run

Yesterday was a crew change day, and the halfway point for me for this voyage.

  We're pretty busy here at the HQ. We've been sailing between Philly, Baltimore and Wilmington a fair bit. Lot of work to be done. Today, in fact, is our first fully free day, and sadly it's gonna rain, as it'd be a great day to do a little painting outside, which is something I enjoy for some perverse reason.

        I've been trying top figure out how to get home after this trip is done. My original plan was to rent a car again and drive the 1200 miles, but it seems that people are now choosing rental cars for travel more often, and the price has tripled from the last time.

 As much as I don't want to spend all day in a flying leper colony that may or may not get me to my destination, it seems I am going to be flying home, which is a disappointment... and judging by the lack of seat choices I had for the tickets that cost twice what they normally do, I'm going to be in close quarters with other potential plague carriers.

   Well, hopefully I get home on time, but hell, at least I got a damn job. I've been saying that a lot lately. Florida has a HUGE service industry, and so things at home are not good. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I are essential workers, and haven't had any interruption in pay, and that is a real blessing in a time and place where so many are struggling. It seems indecent to complain.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


Well, I've already been on board for about 10 days. Time is passing pretty quick. We're staying busy, too. It looks like clean oil demand (gasoline, jet, diesel) is in the toilet, but black oil (which is what I carry) has been popular here along the Delaware river, where the HQ is currently working.

       There's pretty obvious reasons for that, however. The Delaware river hosts a lot of food and metal processing plants. That is to say, there are a lot of food companies that own their own dedicated refrigerated ('reefer') ships, either old school bulk carriers with refrigerated holds carrying breakbulk (palletized or unitized) or container ships with a set of electrical connections for every single refrigerated container. Add to that, the steel ships. There are a lot of small ships that call on the area, carrying steel blanks, rolled sheet steel or other forms like scrap. This is a gateway area to the Rust Belt, after all, secondary maybe to the Great Lakes, but a hell of a lot easier for metals going across oceans to and from the adjacent Ohio Valley.

 So we're actually pretty busy here on the HQ. It seems like when I went home last time they had a fair bit of time lying to between jobs, but we're not doing a lot of that while I'm here.

    I'm content enough, though. Happy to be working. I still don't know too many people who lost their job, myself, but I'm aware that there are millions struggling.

  I need to decide how the hell to get home next time. My 2nd man lives in Dallas TX, and getting home was a shit show for him. He ended up at 3 different airports around the country from what was supposed to be a direct flight, and that doesn't seem to be too unusual. I can rent a car one-way for about the price of a round trip ticket, so the math suggests flying, but I don't relish the idea of being trapped in a flying leper colony and not getting home, either.
 Plus, there's a sawmill in NC that has a deal on walnut wood, which I love the look of, and which would keep me supplied for a long time at home.
 It's a conundrum.

Friday, April 17, 2020

sorta routine

I've been back on board the HQ for a few days now, and settling in. Things proceed as they usually do, just working the routine watch, on the routine jobs. Comforting right now.

 We're still working out of Philadelphia, running a 30 or so mile stretch of river, and keeping fairly busy.

   I started out here with this company, 11 years ago. I spent about 2 years working these same waters. It's been fun to wander across old grounds, seeing some old faces. There's some positives to having been shifted down here... the biggest, of course, being that we're not in New York for the shitshow that has been their response to the Kung Flu. Philly is quiet in comparison, and especially so for everything being idled.

       I'm extremely grateful for being fully employed. Although I didn't want to come to Philly for many reasons, I'm happy enough to be here. I'm insulated from some of the struggles that so many (Most?) people are dealing with, but that doesn't mean I'm ignorant of it or ignoring it.

       I got to drive from S. FL to Philly earlier this week, and it was surprisingly pleasant. I set the cruise control at 80 most of the ride, and with the diminished traffic I made excellent time. I stopped in Dunn, NC on the first day, about 6 1/2 hrs from Philly. I hadn't been sleeping well, and so I was pretty beat after just a single long day of driving rt 95 the whole way. Ate well, slept well, and off I went.

      My employer provides a hotel room the night before crew change for anyone who is more than 6 hours' drive from their home port. The last time I was working in Philly, we stayed at the Red Rash Inn, a discount hotel outside the city that was also housing whores, drug dealers and the semi-homeless. Somewhere between then and now, they switched to a NICE mid-priced hotel, and my hotel stay the night before crew change was actually really pleasant. I still didn't sleep well, but that's not the fault of the hotel at all. I don't know what's up with that. I wish the management in NY would follow suit, but to be fair, the shithole welfare/refugee stash house that they send us to probably still costs more than the nice hotel in Philly.

   We're looking at a busy weekend here on the HQ, and although it's going to be rainy and I'm on nights for the week, I'm content enough. We had time at crew change to stock up on basic supplies, so we're good and ready for some isolation.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Life among the natives

It took 3 days for me to get toilet paper in my home town.

      In the end, it wasn't hard to do. It just required a little bit of being a bad person.

 I tried, I really tried to be patient and follow the rules. But it wasn't working. I couldn't get shit tickets, chicken, clorox or a goddamn loaf of bread.

 Oh, I got them. On day 3, after wasting two half days, I came home with everything I needed by 0830.

 OK, so I live in South Florida. Sorta a hotspot for the Kung Flu, because the snowbirds decamped from NY/NJ and all came down here a few weeks ago, and brought their plague with them.

   To protect the vulnerable elderly, all grocery stores are having senior-only opening hours, where the first hour of business is for people 60 and up only.

  Again, I live in South Florida. Fucking EVERYONE is over 60. End result, by the time senior hour is over, everything is cleaned out. I learned this on day 2, when standing in line outside a local Publix with all the other early birds, and the old folks came parading out with shitpaper, meat, clorox jugs, and what have you. By the time I got in the store, there had been hundreds of seniors in before me.

 So, the next day was Sunday, and I was up at 6am, and at the grocery store by 0645. There were 20-30 cars there already. At 0650, I put on my surgical mask and took my hat off, to show off my being half-bald. Being fair-haired and fair of skin, and with a now mostly-white beard. and working outdoors, I look older. With the mask, I thought I looked plausibly middle-aged.

 I rolled in about #10 through the store, made a beeline for the TP aisle, and got a 12-pack of shit tickets. I raced on for the meat section, got a pair of steaks, and on to the next thing on my list, in descending order of scarcity. All told, I was in the store about 15 minutes. I had a system in place.

 By the time I recrossed the paper goods aisle, maybe 3-4 minutes after I picked up my poop paper, there was a crowd of irate elderly people all jostling for access to the goods. The TP was gone within 7-8 minutes of store opening, I would guess.  I hit the registers and bailed.

       So, yeah, I might be a bad person for impersonating a fossil, but I'll be damned if my family is going to have a TP shortage.

Friday, April 3, 2020


The 18-hour drive home took about 16 hours all told.

    Man, driving rt95 for well over 1000 miles was actually nice.

      With a certain amount of the population being good do-bees and staying home, I was able to barrel home with the cruise control set at 80 for much of the ride. The rental agency in Philly gave me a pickup, too. A chevy Colorado, which is OK, but which I certainly wouldn't buy for myself, it being cramped and feeling very plastic and squeaky on the interior. I've always been a Ram guy, anyhow.

   So I'm home now, and I stopped outside Savannah on Wed night for an attempted  nap. Ate some horrible food that stayed with me like a brick in my belly all Thursday, too.

 Unfortunately, some yoots had themselves a party in the room next to me, and the stink of cigarettes and weed lingered in my room after they finished shutting the hell up, so sleep was elusive, but I was on the road by 0430 anyhow. They were don't-bees for sure.

   Across the Florida border, all highway traffic was stopped and questioned as to their origins. My rental truck had Texas plates (plates from hotspots got sent to the waiting area) and my point-of-origin, Philly, is also not on the list, so I was on my way in about a minute. The sun wasn't up yet, but I imagine this will get busy fast during the day. 

  I arrived home and received a king's welcome. My favorite dinner, time with the fam, a massage and a long shower. I was so relaxed that I fell asleep on my couch with a tumbler of whisky and ice in my hand, which I proceeded to dump on my crotch and which woke me up with a yell so I was wide awake for a while after that obviously.

 Today?  Bills and a hunt for TP locally begins.

Monday, March 30, 2020


We're keeping busy here at the HQ for sure. Work every day, but not at the pace of our time in NY. The longer distances between load and discharge locations helps break up the days. It's not unusual for us to load in southern New Jersey and discharge in Wilmington DE, a 3-4 hr sail. Short hop by maritime standards, but after bunkering in NY, where our 'long ride' was an hour, it's a nice change.

    Crew change is coming, and it ought to be interesting. I'll be driving from Philly to south FL. And then driving back in 2 weeks.

 I'm not looking forward to having to drive south and NOT stop at South Of The Border.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Love in the age of Coronavirus

With one week to go here at HAWSEPIPER's floating mobile gas station/hot dog emporium, I'm starting to think ahead about  going home.

      I have been blessed with the gift of introversion. In the past 3 weeks I've been ashore to go buy groceries twice, and that's it. I have practiced social distancing religiously for the past 11 years. I was warned that becoming a tankerman in a brown water (coastwise) operation would make me misanthropic, and that was half correct, turns out. I was already misanthropic. Now I am more so, even before the pandemic.

          I'm happy to be in Philadelphia today. Apparently New Yorkers are NOT welcome in Florida anymore, as  funny-talking snowbirds have fled NY and brought their plague with them and now all flights home from NY require the passengers self-quarantine. I haven't been to get food in a couple of weeks now, so I'm doing well. I'll have been out of NY for over 2 weeks come crew change day.

 I worry about going home. If I drive (I reserved cars in both Philly and at home on either side of crew change in case the airlines shut me down) as much as a 20hr drive might be unpleasant, it might be better than flying, exposing myself AND possibly getting stranded or quarantined.

 But here's the rub. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife works with the elderly. She absolutely can't be exposed herself, or she could kill her patients. My coming home is already a managed risk. My coming home after spending all day in a flying leper colony is a less-managed risk, so I believe I'm road-tripping it.

 So it goes. In the meanwhile, the HQ is a pretty good place to be at this point.

Monday, March 23, 2020

New port/Old Port

We successfully completed our first two jobs here in Philadelphia. No one at the loading terminal remembered the HQ, or me, for that matter. I saw one dockman I recognized, who is now gray and walking a little slower than I remember. That's going around, though, in the years since I was here last.

        These first jobs were small, as are most of the jobs I will be doing here. The Delaware River area, where I'm working, is pretty diverse. There are a lot of smaller ships that serve secondary ports, and it's probably a more 'normal' sample size of what's out there. It's gotten to the point that anything under 1000 feet long is a 'small' ship for me to bunker. So these first jobs entailed fueling up two fruit ships. The upper part of the river is more shallow than much of NY harbor, and that is important too.

   There are still cargo ships with refrigerated holds out there, the 'reefer ships' that were once famous have mostly been replaced with refrigerated cargo containers carried on standard container vessels. But not always. Cargo movement has evolved so much in the past 20 years, but companies that bought new ships 20+ years ago and invested in the infrastructure and distribution system of the time can still do fine with older-style gear and transshipment.

The first ship was a Del Monte reefer ship.

      Yeah, all the peas n' carrots and fruit cup you can imagine.

The smell coming from the holds was amazing. It smelt like the produce section of a really good grocery store, or a fresh produce shop if you've ever been in one of those. It, and clean.

 It's been 8-9 years since I bunkered  one of these. They load SLOW, however, compared to an ultra large container ship. Where I usually pump at 500+ tons of fuel an hour, the engineer on this ship was nervous at 150 tons an hour. I had one of my two diesel pump engines on, just ticking over above idle speed.

       The pace here is slower. A lot slower. We sailed down to Wilmington Del after that first ship, a 3hr steam, to bunker a Dole fruit ship. This one was a self-unloading container ship, not a reefer. Newer ship, slightly.

   I have to be more creative here to safely tie up and to get my fueling hoses to the ships' manifold area. An Ultra Large Container Carrier, the manifold is usually within the same general area on a one-house ship, and it's way the F up high above us, which is why the HQ has a larger crane than anything my company has down here in Philly.  Down here, a big ass crane gives me a lot of flexibility as to where I can tie up along the ship, whereas I have a 5 foot 'window' spot on an ULCC or I won't be able to reach their manifold.
      The tugs down here aren't yet sure what to do with me. I've only dealt with two of them so far, but both have commented that they were weirded out by where I spotted the barge relative to the dock to load and relative to the ship to discharge.  The HQ is laid out differently that the barges down here, even though we have the same hull as several of them. I have to be 40-50 feet further forward than they do, as my longer crane is mounted further aft than anything down here. This is done so I can lay alongside a ship snug rather than have my ass end hanging past the stern of the ship when we're made up together.

   It seems to be steady work. Plenty of ships are still moving on time and on schedule more or less, and I've got a rough schedule set up for the next week, as far as scheduled bunkers. Some more might show up from the spot market, when ships just call for it a day or so in advance. The Kung Flu has slowed things down a bit, but we're holding our own I think.  I don't know what the collapse in fuel prices will do to us. We don't own the fuel, we just move it, but I can't imagine the owners of the fuel will happily open their pockets if they're not making any money themselves.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Tugboater for a day

Well, it was a hell of a trip.

       I got to sail on a tugboat from NY to Philadelphia, a 27-hour voyage, and I got a little bit of everything in the experience.

     I'm not a tugboater. I've spent a grand total of 3 weeks on tugboats in my life. 1 week on an elderly ship assist tug about 12 years ago, and 2 weeks on a tug moving oil barges, of which there was only 2-3 jobs done, in daylight, none of which required moving more than 4 miles.

 So, yeah, I'm not experienced. I came from ships. Different world. I have been on barges that were towed, so the experience of seeing everything from the tugboat's perspective was really neat.
     Essentially, the HQ was moved to Philadelphia to cover for another barge that went into shipyard. So this is supposedly a temporary move, God willing. The tug that towed the HQ is run by a good friend, and a boat I'm familiar with, and perhaps more importantly, with a crew who actually like me, and who I like, so it was an enjoyable ride.

 The weather was gorgeous. Once we were on the tow wire, hove short, things settled down.

the HQ, looking back at the Verrezano Narrows, the NY harbor entrance

 When we got out of Ambrose Channel, the approach to NY harbor that runs to the south of NY harbor, and into deeper water, the tow wire was stretched out to somewhere around 1300 feet, as a fairly large swell was coming in from the east. The motion was interesting. We were rolling pretty good, but every now and again there was a resistance, which I guess was from the tow. It wasn't snatching at the tug, which can happen when the tow and tug are out of sync and the tension on the tow wire gets tight enough to restrain the natural motion of the tug. At any rate, I stayed in the wheelhouse on the captain's watch, catching up with my friend and enjoying the cool air and seeing the stars a little bit- I haven't seen much dark sky between living in south FL and working in NY, and I wasn't seeing much, but it was more than I'd seen in some time.
     The swell was not enjoyable. I'll say that. I wasn't nauseous, but the AB and the engineer certainly were. I was uncomfortable. The captain and mate were deeply content, in their element.
 I went to sleep around midnight, and for the first time in 11 years, I had to stuff a life jacket under one side of the mattress to wedge myself into the bunk and the bulkhead so I wouldn't roll over if I dozed and wake myself up. It's not a very comfortable way to sleep, but I could doze here and there. I've never really been great at sleeping in a swell. I get by. Somewhere around 4am we turned, however, and started taking the swell on the quarter, and then the motion settled down and I got a nice hour's sleep before waking up at 5. Watch change was 0530, and it gave me time to wake up and clear out of the room, as my bunk was in the mate's room, and he would be going to bed at 6.
            I came out to a very different ocean. Conditions were glorious. The swell was a bare 3 feet maybe. When I went up to the wheelhouse, I arrived before sunrise to calmer seas and an absolutely beautiful morning.

aaaand that's what I do my job

 Now I remember why I do what I do. I need these moments, and one sunrise like that has always taken away 20 bad days. It's been a long, long time since I got to wake up to that feeling.

   The rest of the morning passed rapidly.

 Too rapidly, really. After noon, I slept another 2 1/2 hours. We were starting to sail up the Delaware river, but I was pretty beat after 2 long days between not sleeping in the swell and making the HQ ready for sea prior to that. The captain and mate shortened tow at several points, until after a good dinner we made up alongside the tug and the deckhands and I climbed aboard the HQ and unlashed the mooring lines and such.
     Now, I felt an odd anxiety on leaving the HQ. It felt like a betrayal to shut down the generators and dog the hatches down the day before, and it felt good to fire them back up and open up the house. The deckhands helped me unlash and generally get the HQ ready to dock when the time came, and then headed back aboard the tug while I soaked up the feeling of being back home. 3 hours later, we were docking at company HQ in Philly, and my 2nd man was waiting on the dock, having flown in earlier.

       Saying goodbye and thank you to the tug crew was fine, and they needed an hour or two to make ready to head right back to NY light boat (not towing). My 2nd man came on and helped me pull the towing gear back up on deck, which took a lot longer than it should have as I'm badly out of practice. Once that was done, we got him and his stuff moved back in, and since we haven't seen each other for a few weeks, he clued me in on conditions in the real world with the COVID virus. That's another story, and one most people know more about than I, as I've been aboard for the past few weeks.

 I dumped my clothes and went to bed, slept like a dead man for 6 hours and was up at 0500 again. Tonight I'll go to bed early and hopefully get a good sleep.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Make Ready For Sea!

After 7 (!) years, the HQ is putting to sea.
 7 years ago, B and I and our 2nd man, D, Were exiled to Philadelphia on a 6 month crude oil contract on the original HQ.  When the contract was done, we were kicked off the HQ and given a new HQ fresh out of shipyard, only this one, the crew quarters were disgusting and the overall level of care was absolutely marginal.
 We had spent 2 years on customizing the interior of the HQ. Cabinetry was custom, there was an entertainment center built by us, we put up brass fittings, hung potted plants... basically made the place like a wealthy person's study. And it was taken away from us. The guys who had lived like animals for 5 years and turned their crew quarters into a maggot-filled shit-encrusted dump got the HQ, and we got their... leftovers.
 That always left a bad taste in my mouth. The managers who fucked us that badly did so out of necessity. But at the end of that contract, B and I headed back to NY and went back to work.

 So we got the call last week that they want the HQ down in Philly. Thing is, B and I are a known quantity, we'll get shit done. The HQ is also known. It's needed down there. Ironically, our old HQ needs to go to the shipyard. They're sending us to fill the gaps.
 B and I never made the HQ luxurious like the old one. Frankly we couldn't afford to do that twice. The  old HQ was put in the hands of the pair of disgusting,unhygienic shitbirds who fucked up our present quarters originally. It's since changed hands repeatedly, and hopefully the guys who have it take care of it but who knows. Regardless, we're nervous. Our employer absolutely rewarded us last time for fulfilling a difficult contract by fucking us directly in the ass without benefit of lube or even a token thank-you 7 years ago, when we were given a great hull in exchange for a good one, and told to pound sand about our complaints about it being rat infested, disgusting and dirty.
 Thing is, the good people who let us throw money at the quarters to turn the HQ into a home were here in NY. In Philly? The office drones who are reputed to me more interested in appearances and less in people are there.
 I pray we are pleasantly surprised. I'm good with the change of scenery. I am happy to do some new jobs in places I haven't been for 8 years. Temporarily. I prefer the known quantities of our present managers. All I know about the Philly shoreside crew, last time I worked a bad job there, after 36 hours of  killing myself without a break, I got shit for not wearing coverallls with the company logo.

 So I'm nervous, slightly, about going there. Excited too, though. Last time I dealt with these folks I got a big mouthful of shit and got fussed at for not being grateful for it, though, so I'm nervous. On the upside, I am ready to fly the flag and show these guys that after 7+ years of working in the pressure cooker of NY, the small potatoes they have to deal with can be met without breaking a sweat.

Friday, March 6, 2020

My my Corona!

I'm back at work, and the month or so I haven't been blogging was... pretty ordinary. I worked, I went home, I'm back at work.

 Home was amazing- B family reunion, and my ONE surviving cousin on my side was there, too. We spent 4 days together down my way in S. FL. I hadn't seen half the fam since my mom passed away a few years ago. I think I can say with confidence that we'll be getting together more. We really do share the same humor for the most part, although I did tone it down a bit, as there were ladies present, so all was well.

     Flying back earlier this week, there were a few folks in surgical masks, dust masks, bandannas, etc over their faces.  Traveling has certainly been curtailed by the coronavirus. The Miracle Flight out of Palm Beach airport (30 people preboard in wheelchairs, 27 exit under their own power) which is completely full 9 times out of 10 had nobody in the middle seats, so it was VERY comfortable.

 Not being immunocompromised, I wasn't worried, and am not worried about my own health. I have several weeks' food stockpiled at home for the fam. Hopefully there will be minimal disruption in services and those among us who are at elevated risk take good care of themselves.

       Thus far there has been plenty of container ship traffic in Port Newark, NY/NJ's busiest port. I'm led to understand that there's a big dropoff in container ship sailings from China, so that will work its' way over here eventually. Have to see how that works out.

 I am tempted to be optimistic and dismissive of the claims of armageddon, but I am starting to think that the disruption of supplies will create a lot of headaches. China's main ports are reporting a 20% decline in year-over-year volume for the month of February, but we're talking about China, who are NOT famed for being honest even on good days and these do not appear to be good days. So who knows.

 We've swapped over on the HQ to handle exclusively low-sulfur fuel products in the face of the new global cap on sulfur content in fuels. With March 1 having passed, ships are not even allowed to carry high sulfur fuels aboard unless they have scrubbing systems aboard, and not a lot of ships have scrubbers. With skyrocketing demand for low-sulfur fuel, plus the cascade effect of having to make room for low-sulfur fuels in shoreside storage, this has caused a bit of a spike in high-sulfur fuels anyhow, so I suppose this was inevitable.  Between increased fuel costs and decreased container traffic, I expect we'll see some container ships laid up if things don't get resolved in China soon.

 I don't know if I'll be blogging more now that I've had a little break or not, but I'm open to the idea. Might be a nice way to pass the next month until I come home again.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

I'm alive!

It's been a few weeks since I posted, and honestly, I didn't miss it. I guess I really am winding down here.

   I got to go home for a few weeks, and I'm back at work again now. Much has happened, not much of it newsworthy. Going home was good, a touch stressful at times. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife got promoted at work, which is welcome news for her, as she wasn't overly enamored of her supervisor, but turns out her employer wasn't overly enamored of her supervisor neither, and now she's much happier. It was hard to focus on anything more than the mundane when my wife was coming home so stressed all the time.  We completed several major projects at home, which is always rewarding, and my son needed me to help resolve a bunch of things, which left little time for relaxing.

 Well, I got a bunch of shit done, and I had a little time to spend in my shop, 2 afternoons only this time, but it was enough to get some things done at least. After that, there wasn't time for much else, couple of little projects at home, that's about it, and back to work.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

What does Armageddon smell like?

Funny thing, I didn't decide to quit blogging, just came to understand that I didn't need to do it anymore. This place was my outlet for stress and also for sharing some of the cool things I get to see and do... and the past few weeks I've been staying away from the kulturekampf as much as I can, and it's paying off. I feel a touch disconnected, but that's not a bad thing. I've been doing things that normal fools do, and it's kind of been nice. No stressing, no arguing... well, less of those things, anyhow. The people we surround ourselves with have such a strong impact on us, and for the past number of years at work, I've been extremely fortunate to have worked with people that did a great job and were pleasant to live with.  I was so lucky in that regard that it happened twice, where we captured lightning in a bottle with our junior man. Third time... not the charm.
I think that's part of why I have not been motivated to write or create. Perhaps I've grown too susceptible to  influence by my shipmates, and being forced to take on a coworker who isn't so able to do the co part of the work has been a drain on our energy.
 I've gotten soft. I never wanted to be a sea-daddy, and refused, threatened to quit over it. They called my bluff, and I folded. So despite knowing I am a shit sea-daddy, and having done my best, they salted the wounds and gave me the man I didn't want to train as a subordinate. I lack the energy, enthusiasm and grace to live 24/7 with a strange man and teach him too. Just not built for that. As I do, I worry I didn't prepare him enough to be a tankerman. So far, he's an acceptable tankerman, but things that can't be taught- leadership, decisiveness... not there. Maybe with time. Thing about being a tankerman, you're expected to be an experienced seaman, and until recently, at a minimum rated as Able Bodied (experienced in seamanship and able to pass a proficiency exam on paper and also by demonstrating marlinespike seamanship) by the coast guard.  I sometimes lose my temper when a mariner can't splice, box a compass or handle basic rigging.  Those are things that should prevent a man from being rated Able. Used to be, anyhow. Well, they're all things that can be taught, thankfully, but no,no, and fuck no I'd rather be lit on fire than stuck teaching that. And guess what I'm doing in my spare time these days?  

 Now, the rant isn't over. Not by a sight.

     I tend to work 0600-1800, which generally means from 0500-0545 I'm up and available too if needed, and from 1800 to 2100ish, I'm also up if needed.  I want 8 hours to sleep, because ideally I need 7 to wake up refreshed and fully rested, like most any man in his mid 40's. I can survive on a lot less. 3-4 hours a night for a while, 5-6 for a few weeks for sure. But I don't want to.

   With regulatory changes in what type of oil that ships can burn having changed on January1, there's been some procedural changes in how oil companies fulfill fuel orders. 90% of ships are burning more expensive fuel, while some ships have scrubbing systems that clean their exhaust gas contents to remove some contaminates, which allows them to burn cheaper oil.
    During the transition months, oil companies are taking heavy, viscous and just nasty fuel oil and cutting it with ultra clean diesel to get it up to spec. This is done by blending the two types of fuel in specific ratios... well, specifically this is done by ME  blending the two fuel oils in specific ratios... the process and calculations for which my second man can't wrap his mind around despite a lot of effort on his part. So it goes. This means that if we're loading oil when I'm off watch, I get up to oversee the process. So there goes my rest schedule. It actually hasn't been bad, and it's gotten better with time, too, as Jan 1 approached. I was up about 3/4 of my nights on board in Nov/Dec.  The past few weeks, maybe just twice. Some of the oil companies are able to source good quality oil that doesn't need altering I guess. So I'm sleeping more...
...except for the other night, when SOMEONE decided to microwave fish at 3am.

 I'm sleeping soundly, which means that I'm aware on some level of changes in list and trim and the load on the generators, but definitely asleep. The stink of some sort of fishy smelling fish being cooked woke me up like a gunshot. I don't know why, it was nauseating and awful, and really, really pervasive, having worked its way into my room, with a tightly closed door and no common ventilation between the galley and my room.

 I grew up fishing, spent 20 years living and working with the stink of dead partially-rotten baitfish around me. Every car I owned smelled of fish until I was 30. That smell doesn't bother me.

 You microwave fish, it smells different. Wrong. It smells wrong. And my shipmate, a bachelor who in his oblivious habit of living his daily economy isn't used to thinking about others, overcooks a fucking piece of fish. In the microwave. And it smells horrid. Like a bible story. Like someone took a shit in an open grave and then poured rancid fish on top.

 Well, there wasn't much chance of sleeping any more so I got up, got dressed, had a nice yell at my 2nd man, and went about my day.

 The smell was there all day. I bleached and scrubbed the microwave first. I washed down the galley with lemon-scented soap after sanitizing it. I wiped down counters and the stove with  a halved lemon, even the steel eyes on the stove. Put the trash can outside and mopped the deck. The smell was gone... for a little while.  After I had started working, I had to spend a good 45 minutes outside. I walked back in... and fish. It stank of micowaved fish.
 Turns out that smell got into the sweatshirts and raingear hanging in the galley coathooks. They reeked. So I got some laundry going, and lit a really awful and choking incense stick that was in the junk drawer. I hate these things, they're so cloying that it's hard to breathe. I lit a second one, put them on opposite sides or the room and moved them about every few minutes. Like one of those unmarried middle-aged women we all know who do hippy pagan bullshit like burning sage saying they're eliminating bad juju or some such bullshit. Well, I'm here to tell you, I have a new sympathy for the multiple cat fake religion ladies. I smoked the shit out of that room trying to exorcise the demon of the microwave. I was getting asthma and I don't even have asthma. And in the end, I emerged victorious.
 Oh, not that the smell is gone. I ruined my sense of smell, burnt the hell out of my own nose. It's fine now.