Thursday, December 31, 2020

back to it

 I've been back aboard for a little over a week now. Back in the groove I guess. My time home was wonderful. Coming back was less so, but I'm not yet enough of an asshole to get paid to stay home. Gotta work on that. 

          It's been an odd mix of off-hire time and balls to the wall running around. We had Christmas day off, and that was great- we ate like kings, as I had shopped specifically for all the fixins while grubbing up for my first 2 weeks aboard anyhow. So Christmas and Boxing day, which was also free for us, were notable for the massive and satisfying meals. Big E, our new partner on here, had bought a turkey, and B had made a tray of cornbread dressing for us before he went home on the 23rd. 

  Actually, I have to say that I had the Christmas Spirit this year. 2020 was a pretty tough time for so many people, I am deeply blessed to have had less struggle than most, and self-aware enough to be greatly appreciative for it. With such a poorly-timed crew change as Dec 23rd, I was predisposed to be grumpy, seeing as I got snowed out and missed Christmas through bad luck last year and it'll be 2022 before I get another chance... but Sunday  the 20th, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I made a giant dinner, and my brother, sister and nephew came over, and we exchanged presents. It was truly a great day. I cooked a prime rib for only the second time, and holy cow it came out perfect. I was fit to burst with pride. 

    I mentioned before that Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife bought me a monster bandsaw that prompted me to actually lay out a real shop space in my garage shop. So that's on for the next few months. But I won Christmas this this year for sure. Not only did I get an amazing present, I gave an amazing present. 

      Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is somewhat vain, being, well, inappropriately hot in that South American latina sort of way. Back in October I commissioned a portrait of her to be done in oil on canvas, based off of a couple of photos I sent to the artist. It was a gamble- although his work was amazing, I was afraid it'd be cartoony or not capture the light in her eyes and animated persona... and my wife's her own worst critic when it comes to her looks. I got my son involved in November, when the first proof came back, and we conspired to make a few minor changes, and those made all the difference. After my siblings and nephew went home, we opened presents under the tree, and I was as nervous as a one-armed paperhanger when she opened the box and saw the framed portrait. No need. She was absolutely floored. Huge, shocked smile, and then she burst into tears. Happy tears, mind. I've never seen my wife cry out of happiness, and I think that moment was something I'll remember forever. So, good memories this Christmas. 

   Christmas night, after dinner but before presents, we hung out in my back yard, as it was a pleasant night about 70 degrees.  Still a novelty for me, as a transplant from the north, but fun. I had fired up the jacuzzi in my back yard, and we hung out in there for a bit, which for my poor brother, who has spinal damage and fairly constant pain, was a present in itself. It was a good way to let dinner digest. 

      So, after an amazing if not relaxing time home (I stressed over getting the lights up, the presents, being a good host, etc. Lol. Ass.), I find myself back to work, and among other things, undoing the holiday weight gain. Back to eating healthy since the 27th. I'm in what I hope is the tail end of the carb flu period, where I've had no energy for the last 2 days, and hopefully some time today or maybe tomorrow I'll feel better. The heavy feeling in my guts has almost passed. I attribute that to burning off what was probably 3-4lbs of glycogen in my liver as well as whatever ghosts of excess were in my guts too. Either way, I'm feeling less logy... which is a good thing. 

The last few days were crazy busy. We went from sitting around for a couple of days to running at full speed, and with a complex series of segregated cargoes... 3 fuels blended from 4 shoreside tanks, each proportioned differently into 2 parcels each in 2 of my tanks, for a total of 4 tanks aboard, and two wildly varying-sized tanks at that, my smallest and largest paired, which had to get the exact same proportion of the 3 types of fuel in each tank. I killed a couple of trees working out the blends. In tankerman language, we had two segregated triple-barge blends of Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel oil, from four shore tanks... and then in the same load we also had a large parcel of Very Low Sulfur Fuel Oil, and also a couple hundred tons of Low-Sulfur Marine Gas-Oil, which got segregated into my dedicated VLSFO and MGO-LS tanks, as well.

   The HQ 3 point-something being what it is, we were able to fit everything on board, with most of the tanks being only partially-filled in fact, but given the odd mix of products, we sailed from the loading terminal with absolutely abominable trim and list. We were down by the head by two feet and had a modest port list. Luckily, one of the two segregated blended cargoes went to a ship that was only 3 miles from the loading dock, and the second ship only a short hop from that, a car carrier that took our VLSFO and MGO. This solved out list issue, but not the trim, being still down by the head. Then back to load more ULSFO at a different terminal, a tiny parcel that was blended from 2 shore tanks, and had to be put in just one of my cargo tanks. The first portion only put 18 inches in the my tank, but it was pumped aboard through a heated pipeline from the terminal, which I didn't expect, and came aboard at 150 degrees, scorching hot and belching so much steam that I was blind and the vapors were obnoxious enough that I wore a respirator. The shoreside staff had to handle metering the correct volume to me, which I hate to do. They aren't as anal as I am about accuracy. Luckily, the second, larger aliquot of fuel came in at ambient temp, and did away with the steam, and I got a good blend, but we came away from the dock with a ridiculous list from having filled that one tank. We pumped off that tank in short order, and then pumped off the last of the previously-blended ULSFO, which, ironically was the first parcel we had loaded 2 days before. 

       Of course, the last job went hard for us. The ship's crew was... well, retarded, and made for a trying time. I have to credit the 3rd party surveyor they hired for unfucking much of the process, which isn't his job, but between the engineer who was practically eating the microphone of the handheld VHF I gave him to handle comms (seriously, it came back with the hand mic leaking saliva out of the plastic grate) and sounding indecipherable, like Charlie Brown's teacher, and his helpers who didn't know how to run their bunker crane or how to operate the accomodation ladder, and who kept asking me to jockey the throttles on my pumps. Some days are like that, though, and we got the cargo off and away from the ship in time, and there, gloriously, to a lay berth just across the street from the Newark airport, where at the moment we are expected to have New Year's eve off. 

 Well, I'm happy to see the ass end of 2020, and I hope I and everyone else have a better 2021. Hopefully there isn't a civil war before first of spring. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

A moral compass pointing due south

 I've got to brag up my wife here. 

 I'm still at home. Christmas dinner is tomorrow (Sunday) and I'll be heading back to work a few days before Christmas, so we're putting the dog on with the southern part of the B family. 

    Although my wife is an evangelical whereas I am a cradle Catholic, we're both disgusted with the administration of our respective churches, and have pledged not to tithe or give one single red cent until the corrupt bastards in both groups get their shit right. 

 So I discovered today that my wife in conjunction with a good-hearted relative back in the old country gave a bunch of money to an orphanage in Brazil last week, to buy shoes, clothes and a little present for every single kid there. Money that normally would have gone half and half towards paying for the legal defense of child predators, or a nice new jet for the already-wealthy suits selling salvation, instead went to people who actually needed it. I was near fit to burst with pride when she let the cat out of the bag.  

 The picture of those kids... Jesus, that in the past I wasted that money and gave it to the bloated Perfumed Princes of Rome. At least this year it went to the right place.


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Never enough time

 Halfway through my time off, and already I'm running out of time. It's been another world-class trip home, with lots of fun, family, and Christmas spirit to be had. Since I live in Florida, one of the free states of America, there are no restrictions on celebrating Christmas properly. We've been out to dinner, had family over for visits, and decorated, attended church... all those things that the serfs in the Occupied Territories up north are not allowed to do. 

 And since I work up there, still, when I work, it makes me appreciate that people here had the fuckin' balls to say 'no' to the evil fearmongering tyrants. 

    There is a shitpot full of retirees and old timers in Florida. This is Heaven's Waiting Room, after all. On a state level, the odd attempts by would-be dictators are ignored, while the more conservative factions including our governor, note that there are resources available for at-risk people, but those of us in the low-risk cohorts are allowed to carry out our daily economy according to the tenets of the US Constitution, not the extralegal exhortations of fear-mongering assholes with power. 

  I started a major redesign of my shop space in between all my other projects. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife bought me a monster bandsaw that is still waiting for a place to be put in. Thing's 7 feet tall and somewhere north of 500lbs. Gonna be the centerpiece of my shop for sure, but no way I can rig the thing to be on a mobile base as I do with my other larger tools. I'm going to need a few months, but it's time to put in a full series of cabinets and a more ergonomic workbench along with better tool storage. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Making money

 Well, we've been running around like a one-armed paperhanger here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ and Floating Prison. It's busy. The Christmas rush is here. 

     I'll say this- we absolutely didn't have this much ship traffic this time last year. The container ports are running full, New York harbor has NO spaces in the anchorage. It's full. I have never seen that before. Some of that is the 4 day gale that has been very slowly slacking finally this past day or so. It wasn't as intense as that storm that passed through last week, but a Nor'easter formed up and passed us by, slowly, offering a glancing blow that just kept going on and on. Inland New England got pasted worse, and we got 'lucky.' For values of luck. No snow, anyhow. That's a blessing. 

 So, yeah, the past 2 weeks we've been balls to the wall. This is my first watch off since Thanksgiving. I got caught up on maintenance and chores, and sat my ass down for a bit, too. It was awesome. 

     Sometimes you need to have a frenetic week or two to make you appreciate downtime when it happens. 

 So, between increased tanker visits (home heating oil season is coming), and container traffic being really high, it's been good for the wallet I'm sure, given that it's been so slow these past few months. Between big box stores and Amazon, this Christmas might not be a big one, but by appearances from my end, commerce is humming along. 

 And, I've got just 3 days to go. Almost time to go home. 

Monday, November 30, 2020

She's coming on boys, and coming on strong

 Blowing a gale here today on board the HQ. Well, off the HQ too. We sailed off a container ship this morning, and made a short jog to Newark NJ to come alongside a ro-ro... the wind went from a blustery 30ish to 50+ and blinding sheets of rain came down- unfortunately, we were taking the breeze di-reckly up the bee-hind, and that made tying up a chore. Luckily we had  the best tug handler in my company at the wheel of his chariot, and even with his mad skills, it was a nail-biter. It's been a minute since I was nervous out on deck. Lines screaming, can't settle down, half blind and all-deaf, we got fast with a combination of great boat handling, some old-fashioned linehandling, and using my capstans to winch us into position. The buffeting effect of the wind was enough to prevent us from getting snug alongside. My captstans were bogged down, and I regularly use them to winch us up and down a dock when we end up having to load multiple products at a single dock when one of the manifolds is out of the scope of my deck cranes. The capstans have plenty of ass... but not enough to overcome the weight AND wind. The tug did a little throttle mojo and eventually we got in there, though. After all that, the job itself was anticlimactic, and the wind settled down into a small gale about an hour after we got fast. 

 It's been a while since I was grateful not to be sailing blue water. The Filipino deck gang on this afternoon's ship is NOT looking forward to the first day or two of sailing south after this evening. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The rewards of Being Mean

 So some time last week I got a 30 day Fecesbook ban for being mean. And by being mean, I called someone low-class. A real pearl-clutcher, I guess. 

     You know, it's actually been pretty nice not having to devote any of my energy towards all that noise. I'm not an end-of-days enthusiast, but the whole 'wars and rumors of wars' thing seems pretty accurate. Truth and logic go out the window. I like both those things, and I'm a believer in choosing sides, perhaps because I have too much faith in myself and my ability to judge fairly and harshly. But whatever, it's been pretty nice not having to put up with all the bullshit and all the ridiculously awful opinions of idiots who lack the self-awareness to be ashamed of the things they say. 

           So... yeah, it's been good to have an extra 20-30 minutes a day to do things I enjoy, rather than get pissed off at everything. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

 I've got 90 minutes free before I have to start making bread for the rolls, but I wanted to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there, especially to those who aren't home to enjoy dinner with family. 

 I am very grateful to have a great partner/friend on board the HQ, B Himself. We've been working together for 10 years now, and God willing we'll have at least another 10 more. 

 I'm setting aside eating healthy for the next 2 days to feast. I'm down 53lbs so far this year, don't want to stop now, but I'm going to be dining well today. 

 I come from the place where Thanksgiving happened, which always made it sort of special, and next to Easter, my favorite holiday.  So today we celebrate when a bunch of religious exiles came to this wonderful nation, experienced great hardship, and then successfully withstood enormous peer pressure from the natives who tried to bribe them in an effort to commit genocide on all other native tribes from Maine to Connecticut. 

 Not only did those brave people not commit genocide, they shared their faith with all natives, and over time, taught many of them to not commit infanticide or practice cannibalism. For these brave souls I am grateful too. 


Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Christmas rush is here

 I've been watching a slow incremental rise in container ship traffic for a few months now, and this week the nation has noticed it too. Amazon has been having an unusual spike in shipping delays- last minute delays, in fact, with long-lead items... and this is where my laziness coupled with a certain intellectual rustiness has left me unable to form a clear picture in my mind of what is happening in my business right now. 

  So I'm going to speak off the cuff on trends, and what I see, and all three of you who read this can make of that what you will, and bear in mind that free information like this is worth what you paid for it. 

       All the major container ports in the US are experiencing delays, but throughput appears relatively normal, (though perhaps slightly off the maximum efficiency experienced in the past year or two because of shitty governance given the lockdown kabuki). China is by all accounts operating at pre-covid efficiency and throughput there is at highs and at times record highs. Demand for goods seems to have recovered. Ship traffic is... seasonally appropriate, I guess. Oil and cruise traffic is in the toilet still, so I don't know what I'm looking at. For my own part, we're looking at steady business, although we still are feeling the burn of lost business from the cruise and oil trade, although a cold winter could certainly mean an extra ship or two a day just in NY/NJ for the heating oil trade, which will be a blessing, sort of. Anchorage jobs with ships in the winter are uncomfortable jobs for yours truly. Small volumes, a lot of delays, and a lot of arguing.

        So, have our ports recovered from Covid?  Sorta. Local restrictions are still messing with things, by all appearances, but the presence of anchored container ships coupled with steady throughput suggests that demand is driving this spike... but what about the season?  The Christmas rush is a real thing in container ports, and it's late for that by a few weeks. I thought that October's increase in traffic was a combination of things returning to normal and wholesalers starting to stock up on inventory for the holidays. That, along with November's ramp up on traffic and ships simply being more FULL (it's pretty easy to see the difference in  a full vs. partially loaded container ship), suggests that we're doing better and the seasonal rush is happening, albeit delayed slightly. So what's driving that? I'm not sure, myself. Perhaps late orders, and also perhaps differences in shipping efficiencies pre- and post-covid, too. Shippers formed some alliances to weather their own problems in the past few years, and some for Covid, too. So I don't know what I'm seeing, given that. I'm optimistic, though. 


Saturday, November 14, 2020

work begins

 I've been on board the New HQ 3.0 now for a few days. I'm settling in. My partners out here had been plinking away at our master list of things to make living conditions more comfortable out here, my shoreside manager has approved these little comforts, and it's become a happier place to live for sure. Everyone gets along, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. 

    Business has picked up, too. The pre-Christmas rush has begun, and ship traffic has been increasing month by month. I expect this year will be a moderate Christmas for many, but I'm happy for my coworkers and I that there is work to be had.

 The world's going mad in the meanwhile. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife took so much abuse by her native family for wearing a MAGA shirt (having grown up in a country that went from a military dictatorship to a socialist shithole and back out again, and is currently backsliding, she's awfully fond of her adopted country as a place of sanity) that she took a break from social media. Me, I'm in. I've chosen my camp, too, even if I don't go on and on about it, but it's still more important to me to put politics dead last in my hierarchy of needs. 

        So holy shit it was warm when I got up north, and now it's damn cold for me. The difference between the weather some 1200 miles of latitude is startling. 

        Covidmania continues apace. I live in a place where we mostly ignore it, and live our lives. Masks are worn indoors, still, and that is what it is.  I come to NY and it's fear and madness, so rather than embrace the suck, I avoid it, and stay aboard. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Eta Porra!

 'Eta Porra' is a Brazilian Portuguese expression that doesn't translate well but is quite versatile. I sometimes here Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife mutter it when something goes wrong or when I say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Directly translated, it means 'that is semen' which doesn't work, but the real meaning is something like 'that is some messy bullshit.' 

  There are other unladylike colloquialisms that get said here and that which also make me laugh. Saco translates to 'ballsack' and is an expression of frustration. Also, again, making me laugh. 

 I said all these things when I had an incident in my shop the other day. About 15 hours in to a series of laminations, shaping and jointing some VERY expensive hardwoods, it was time to make some sweeping curved cuts with my cheap bandsaw. And at the tail end of the 40 minutes of shaping, I realized that the bandsaw blade was wandering all over the place, ruining every bit of the work I did. 

 It's the height of stupidity to trust about $200 worth of wood to a $300 bandsaw. 

    Do I really want to buy a $1500 bandsaw?  Yes. And no. I'm deeply torn. 

 Anyways, the project that was going to make me proud of what I did on my time off is so much trash now. I'll be headed back to work in a few days, so I only have time for one more little project. We're currently getting pummeled by feeder bands from tropical storm Eta here in Margaritaville, so there is time for one more good shop day. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

accept no subsititutes

 My time was up, I went home, and I'm really good at it. 

  I heard the northeast got snow today. It's sunny and 85 at my house. A tad warm still, but around sundown it should be a nice 75 or 78 with a breeze down at the beach, which is surely where I'll be. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

On Board HQ3.0: Home of That Smell

 Well, the Harbor Whore has been reinstalled here aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Retirement Castle. I came aboard a few days ago and we went to work soon after. Month over month, business is picking up. This month is merely anemic, where as last month was more or less a writeoff as far as work went. We've got a busy weekend planned, with 3 cargoes fixed. 

          The New (to us) HQ was in pretty poor shape. A friend was the lead guy here for the past few years, but he was partnered with two old timers who lived, well, like slobs, to be fair, and gave the bare minimum of fucks. E, our friend on here, after years of being the only one who actually did maintenance, recordkeeping and cleaning, lost some motivation in the face of so much apathy, but did his best. With some new blood aboard, things are coming along nicely on HQ3.0. My first 2 weeks aboard were mostly putting out fires and cleaning the quarters- the smell of unwashed old men and unwashed old linens was powerful and resistant to exorcism. I failed to eliminate it completely, but did get it reduced. Every bit of linen and bedclothes and blankets went in the trash- some quite ancient, all quite crusty. Scrubbing down the decks and overhead, soogeying the bulkheadss with straight bleach (at one point my wet soapy hand left a clean print on the bulkhead prior to cleaning. Turns out the bulkheads are off-white, not dark yellow! Anyhow, I got a fair bit of cleaning done, but not enough. We had multiple mechanical failures on deck. HR didn't keep one of the permanent crew on board during shipyard this past summer, and as a result, no one was onboard who gave a fuck about the place or who knew her ideosyncracies. Sad. Dumb avoidable things, some serious, and some not avoidable, too. 

       With a newer, younger, dare I say more hygenic and seamanlike crew aboard, while I was home, E and B went nuts, outside and inside, and cleaned, organized, repaired, replaced and maintained their asses off. E was pleased as punch at coming back to a tidier home that didn't smell like unwashed old timer. The two of them blitzed the quarters, and I came back to a much nicer place than I'd left. It was gratifying. 

    The new HQ has a long way to go, and has some issues... it's LOUD- the sound of the cargo pumps is unbelievably present when one is trying to sleep, and that sucks, and also I hope that whoever thought to put the fucking engines 25 feet from the house and then not insulating the place well gets himself a flaming case of scabies. But so it goes, we'll survive. There's a lot of potential, too, though, and I do enjoy the opportunity to work on projects that improve our quality of life. Cargowise, it's a little weird but doable, and she strips (empties the last of the residue in the tanks) like an absolute dream. That's wholly positive. It's nice having two long cargo cranes instead of one, like the old HQ. 


Friday, October 9, 2020

Well that's better

 All my whoring around the past week has come to a halt.  #soblessed 

        No, really, I haven't been needed in the past few days, so I have been able to babysit the barge I'm sitting on and catch up on things... not to say that I'm sitting on my ass. I've been walking 6+ miles a day, doing basic maintenance on here- oil changes and the like, and sleeping soundly at night, which is the best part of all. Not sleeping well sure made me cranky(er) the past week or so. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Harbor Whore and Clock Watching

 8 days to go. 

     Now that we have an assigned HQ (which I'm thinking about calling the Handyman Special), it falls on us to get into a proper crew rotation. This has resulted in my partner B working 8 weeks straight, and with me staying on rotation but working elsewhere for my first 2 weeks at work. 

       Sadly, I was given a babysitting gig about a week ago- that is, I would be boatkeeper/watchman on a laid-up barge that is awaiting the end of Covid to go back in service- a dream job, in other words... except that I would also be used to fill in where people are missing or short on crew. 

 So far it's been... unpleasant. I don't like change anyhow, and I don't like filling in in general. Without a baseline level of familiarity with a vessel, the odds of an incident increase, out of ignorance. Still, it's my job to be there and to be able and ready to do my job, so I go, elevated risk and all. 

 Right off the bat, before I even stepped foot on the layup barge, I get assigned for 48 hours to a hardworking, large unit to cover a guy who will be in 'on Friday morning, early.'  I buy groceries and soda to last me 48 hours.... and then spend 5 days there, waiting for the guy to show up. 

   I'm a caffeine fanatic. Now, I can't drink coffee as it will make me crap myself or at the least will give me debilitating intestinal cramps. I drink energy drinks and diet soda. Too much of both, if we're being honest, but even so, I have never gone on full caffeine withdrawal before.... and the next three days were busy, and not much sleep to be had. 

     Hey, so you know I learned that despite physical exhaustion from sleeping 90 mins to 2 hours twice a day, it is very difficult to sleep with a screaming headache that no medication will touch for severity... luckily I worked with a very quiet, nice guy, who like me wasn't a conversationalist at work, so we talked for a few minutes at watch change and not at all after. So that helped. It got bad enough that I drank coffee, and while I did not in fact poop my pants (VICTORY!), I was severely cramped and it was a near-run thing a few times... and the headache stayed albeit at a lesser level. 

 So, anyhow, the guy comes back to work at 3am, 3 1/2 days late, but off I go and 90 minutes later I'm on the layup barge, having sucked down a couple of diet pepsis from the tug (and Ohmergerd, thank you to those guys), and in bed. I get up at 9am, walk the half mile out to the gate from the dock, and stock up on sodas at the grocery store. I return, hump back all the soda from the gate (no cars allowed), and head back out to buy actual food, and bring that back too. 

 By then it's 4pm, and I shower, do laundry, and cook. 

 The phone rings. 

 Tomorrow they need me to go to Port Elizabeth to another barge for 'a few hours.' 

 Tomorrow arrives, and I am on a tugboat headed for Port Elizabeth.  The few hours change to '24 hours' on the hour steam there. Had I believed the text message I got, I would have been in trouble. Luckily, I packed a seabag for '24 hours' with a change of clothes, extra socks and drawers, a couple of meals, and 3 days worth of soda and energy drinks. 

 If they're gonna use me like a bitch, I'll bitch a bit about it, but it's work. Today looks like it won't be a hard day. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

This is NOT Singapore!


    I've yelled those words over a radio, yelled from my deck to another ship's deck, yelled through a bunker hatch in the side of a ship, yelled from a gangway, yelled from a pilot ladder... and spoken those words calmly and/or firmly but at a reasonable volume no less than 1,000 times. 

    Singapore is famous as the largest ship refueling port in the world... and also as the most corrupt ship refueling market in the world. 

 I've written about this before. In many places, the vast majority from what I can see, bunkering operations are rife with corruption, prone to scams, lies, and dishonest practices.

 And nowhere is this more blatantly carried out than in Singapore. BUT, every now and again, someone gets a little too greedy, a little too blatant, or perhaps gets a touch near with the baksheesh for the local officials, and gets put on the altar.

   I enjoy seeing this sort of thing. Not that it represents anything other than a single point-source of news; there's no big changes in practices coming here, but it's nice to see someone get ganked anyhow. 

 In the 6 years since I wrote the above blog post, I have seen a mild reduction in the number of engineers that have tried to run scams with my assistance, but have seen an uptick on the number of engineers that have accused me of shorting them on fuel. I attribute this to the change in trading patters for fuel, with the US becoming a net exporter, and with the Hovensa transshipment tank farm on St. Croix being shuttered (although it's actually being rehabbed to reopen, rumors are). From what I've seen, smaller tankers were (pre-Covid, anyhow) bringing more expensive finished products out of our area moreso than we were seeing crude ships coming in, although this may be an artifact of ships taking on fuel prior to sailing overseas, and also, more recently, the shift in sulfur requirements that changed the types of fuel ships take on.  Regardless, a near-constant 20, 25, 40 or 50 ton claim of fuel shortage has become a near-standard claim whenever I complete a bunker job on a tanker. 

 Funny, though, only about 1 in 100 of these claims actually result in extra paperwork. When I reiterate the usual platitudes  ('This isn't Singapore, chief, we don't cheat here. Where am I putting the fuel, in my pocket? Please issue a Letter of Protest and I will sign for it (a LOP is a legally admissible document, the first step in documenting a dispute for legal resolution). for some reason the claimed shortage goes away.  I've only twice proactively asked a priori an engineer how many tons of fuel he was planning to accuse me of stealing. This was related to one particular tanker company who has never simply signed a document without trying to fuck me in any one of several ways. Both times the engineer did not enjoy my humor, but both times I called it correct. 

 Ah well, lie down with dogs, wake up etc etc.  I can't help what other companies do, or other nations' well-deserved reputations.  Provided that I'm not being rained on, or otherwise discommoded beyond just wasting my time, I can usually laugh at it when it happens. Amazing thing about honest business practices. There's very little need to stress. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

and on again...

 Well, back to work for me. 

 I'm being turned out like a whore again, but this is, strangely, part of the plan. 

 After a few months of not having a permanent assignment, we now have a home. It's not nice, but it's ours. Sort of. My partner B and I have to get into a rotation that will work, which meant that there wasn't a place for me on board for 2 more weeks from now, but my back-to-work date was today, thus, I am being used to fill in the gaps. IOW, I be a ho. 

 Currently, I'm on a big ass barge that stays busy. I was over here filling in for a few days last month, so I already have the basics down, at least. At the moment, I'm only supposed to be here for a few days, and while my first watch on board was hectic, and the watch rotation is the dreaded 6 on/6 off, my second watch, the 0000-0600 right now, tonight, we are sitting with a small load on board that a local terminal wanted to get out of their tanks and which will get blended into something else in a few days, hopefully by the grace of God, after I'm already on to my next assignment. 

      So it was a whirlwind of a time off, for sure. I was productive, I had fun, got to spend time with family... everything was as hoped for. I knew I was going to be a harbor whore for this 2-week period, so I determined not to worry about it, and thus arrived to work without all the usual preoccupation that has been bothering me these last few months, wondering when I was going to get reassigned yet again. 

 I don't like change. I'll admit it. I gasp, I expire, whatever, I wither on the vine without I have some sense of permanency. Hell, this is a temporary job I took almost 12 years ago. I should probably use quotes on the word temporary at this point. 

       We're coming into the fall season, when American companies start stocking warehouses and retail shelves for Christmas, and the cooler weather shifts gasoline blending to winter blends. And business has picked up a bit for us, which is a blessing. I'm more sanguine now about us getting by in the next few months, me especially. I went home with a vague dread that my new barge assignment was going to get yanked out from under me, since there wasn't much work on board my first 2 weeks there. I was worried for a bit that she'd get laid up too, but in the past week there's been plenty of work for her, which is a fine thing. I hope there will be more. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Still not dead

 I'm home, on my scheduled time off and I'm having a great time. Been a crazy busy but productive time. Nothing maritime-ey to write about, though. Just fun, sun and family. 

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)