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.