Saturday, September 25, 2021

Ha! We think we're people.

 We got take out tonight here on the HQ. 

 The charterer messed with our schedule badly, such that we sailed from Newark NJ, planning to steam just 1hr to go to Brooklyn, with 24 hours until the next cargo, we could go get groceries and such. 

 Within 10 minutes of sailing, our plans changed 3 times. The last time, our next load got moved up, and we would head directly to a tank farm to take on 2 grades of heavy fuel oil. 


OK, disappointing, but so it goes. I don't mind the work, it's the dangling of free time, carrot and stick, that bums me out. I'm Charlie Brown, and on the other end of the phone is Lucy with that fucking football. 

 So we got all fast at the terminal about 45 minutes later, and the dockman notes that they're short a man on shift, so everything on his end is a little hectic, but he's going to order out for Greek Food and have it delivered if we want in. 

 Of course we want in. 

     It's funny to see a bunch of adults act like kids who hear the bell of the ice cream truck when the gate guard calls and says that there's a food delivery out front. One of the terminal operators rolled up on the dock not too long after with a big bag of food for us here on the HQ... and just like that, the day got much better. Sometimes it's the little stuff. 

 I guess it pays to be on good terms with the folks around you. The terminal we were at happens to be my favorite anyhow, because it's quiet and small, super professional, and I know everyone. And even so, after 10 years of coming here, this was the first time we were ever included in something like this. I've never actually gotten take out at a loading terminal before. I'm not going to make a habit of it, the logistics are such  that the juice isn't worth the squeeze, but still, tonight was a gesture from the shoreside guys that B and I sure appreciated. It took the sting out of losing our only chance to get groceries for the next week or so. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Coming on Strong!

 She's blowing a gale today, and Hawsepiper's Floating HQ/seagull crap collector is in an anchorage getting vibrated like a housewife sitting on the washing machine.

 I am smack in the middle of New York Harbor, VERY protected water, with about 2 miles of fetch to the north and south, and a mile or less of fetch to east and west. For you non-mariners, fetch is a stretch of open water that wind can work on to build waves. 

 With strong winds and short fetch, we have a small chop that is making the HQ's hull vibrate significantly and constantly, with a tangible 'bang' feeling from waves slapping on the hull, and the resonance from this as it travels back and forth along the stringers in the outer hull makes the whole place vibrate, with the occasional really loud vibration when new waves slap in resonance with the existing vibration, setting up a harmonic. Along with this, we're falling in little holes, as the chop is only maybe 3 feet tall, but the current is setting in another direction, and so we're slightly off-axis from pointing up into the wind and taking the slap of the waves about 2-3 points off the bow and so we're occasionally corkscrewing just 3 degrees or so, but it's enough to feel and add to the hum of the resonance. The whole effect isn't unpleasant, we're riding well in protected water, it's just... active. There's things to see and feel, and when the rhythm changes, it breaks concentration, as it should to any sailor. It's good sometimes to be able to feel the lift of the sea, especially for a spoiled harbor guy like me who no longer sails on blue water much at all. And best of all, we're at anchor, as there are flooding rains coming tonight and if the schedule holds we don't have a cargo fixed until tomorrow afternoon. Maybe, just maybe, I can keep my powder dry tonight. 

 I'm standing the night watch, as that is what I do on my last week aboard, to let B get his circadian rhythm set to days. When he first arrived last week, he worked nights, as I had already been aboard for weeks, and having been there, was more up to date on events, maintenance, schedules, etc. It's good for the day guy to have a masterful sense of situational awareness, as the home office only calls for routine matters during the day. It's also good to let oncoming guys get into the routine without fielding phone calls and handling minutia, IMO... and on the last week, to switch to nights and the more quiet peace that that can instill with no need to interact with the shorebound under routine conditions. Plus, sometimes after a month or so, it's possible to come down with the 'Fuckits' where there's a temptation to be short-tempered and less vigilant, so the shake-up of changing watches can mediate that by cutting down on routine. 

 Anyhow, it's a nice, slightly nautical day aboard. I'm feeling happy about that. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Mom Blogger Rant

 Dunning-Kruger is in the house. 

         I hate that the internet has given voice to people who used to be safely ignored and tuned out. 

 I wanted to find out if I could substitute evaporated milk for regular milk to make biscuits, so I did a search online. 

 I say 'did a search' because I can't say I 'did a quick search.'  There is nothing quick about what happened. 

       I am going to order more recipe books for my kindle. That's the only way I can  keep from having a stroke I think. 

   I used to be so happy about the community of online recipe-sharing for people who like to cook. I even contributed 2 recipes, for cilantro lime tilapia and a confection called Olhos Do Sogra. 

          I just wanted a fuckin' biscuit recipe. I have only been a southerner for 7 years, mea culpa. Shit ain't natural to me, and don't be shitty about it; people in the south can't choose or cook a fuckin' potato to save their lives, and I forgive them. We eat spuds along with mother's milk up in the Irish Riviera. 

 I'm not really kidding about that. My sister used to just grab a raw potato out of the bin and eat it on the way to school. I'm not even sure she rinsed them. My mom used to hate it. But you can do that with a Golden Harvest potato easier than you can with a russet or Yukon Gold. Oh, that's another thing. The south only has like 3 varieties of potatoes available. A paucity of choice, truly. 

        So, yeah, I click on the first 3 biscuit recipes those tech assholes send me, and I have to scroll through 20 hi-rez pictures that take a minute to load, the articles are so long and wander off point so much that I either give up or the scroll wheel on my mouse catches fire from spinning it for 45 minutes. And I still haven't gotten to the recipe! 

 Ladies of the internet: I am married. I do not want to hear your life story, and nobody wants a 15-page  creative writing essay when I just want to know CAN I SUBSTITUTE ONE TYPE OF MILK FOR ANOTHER! 

    The struggle and sacrifice these poor WASP's go through, my gosh. Tens of thousands of iterations, babies born in the pantry and back to work before the cord is cut, and OMG, here is a 2,000 word subsection on my favorite type of butter and a 12-minute mini-documentary on organic cow farming! Oh, and turns out, there is no listed recipe. You have to read my biography and the 5 pages of that contains the description of this particular recipe. There will be a quiz on my prom details from 1992. 

 While I was pulling out my white robe and a steak knife to commit seppuku after doing this on three websites, going through the trials and tribulations of motherhood, a treatise on why one cook is sure her 18-month old is trans, and how ungrateful we all are regarding her hard work to bring us a recipe that is available on the back of a Bisquik box, I gave up and decided to throw my laptop in the ocean. Humanity deserves to end.   I gave up on google and opened the Brave Browser I normally use and had a recipe in about 20 seconds. Thank you Brave and thank you Duckduckgo. You're not all that good, but you're better than the competition. 
    Tl;dr.:  yes, you can substitute evaporated milk for regular milk when you make biscuits. 

 You know who's recipes I like?  Cedar Sanderson's.    She makes great food, and being both a professional creative writer AND a full-time scientist, she writes a recipe and gives directions that make her cooking repeatable. 

Oh, and one week to go aboard this floating tin hot dog cart, too. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Using my brain for once

Over the weekend, I was contacted in reference to a VERY old post I put on a forum where I talked about solutions for water quality issues in fish farms. As I've mentioned a thousand times before, I spent a lot of time and money to become a marine scientist in my yoot, but in the end found it to lack satisfaction to both mind and bank account. I am a simple person but I also like money. Not much opportunity to be those things on the trajectory I was carving out. So, it was a big surprise when a few days ago I got an email from a forum post I made like 10 years ago on the subject. There's this whole backyard industry for moneyed people with time, space and energy who want to grow their own fish and plants on little cottage farms. I haven't kept up with the trend, as I no longer travel in those circles. In a chain of emails, the person who read my post told me that he wishes to expand his 500lb a year backyard tilapia tanks to a commercial level operation. It was fun to talk about, as the guy is in New York State, within easy trucking distance to NYC and had an idea about getting a labeling campaign about his 'clean' fish, tilapia being of questionable provenence when you buy it from a store. It turns out the guy stalked me a bit, which is flattering, as much of the work I did on the subject isn't available online, as I signed away any intellectual property rights to much of my work. So, we talked about design aspects, contingency planning, resources for consulting, applicable law (me being out of date, I still feel pretty confident that the EPA are still soggy and hard to light when it comes to permitting issues) and esoterica. and man, it's good we emailed, as brains, like iron tools, rust when disused. I found that I could still do the caveman math pretty good, but stuff I haven't thought up in years, like mitigating pump head loss to friction (lot of friction is caused by moving water, requiring bigger pumps or optimized systems to cut down pump size requirements) or Biological Oxygen Demand, bigger brain stuff. I can no longer recall the math for making good homes for beneficial bacteria, things like surface-to-volume ratios, etc, and I had to do a lot of pecking and hunting online to find information that I used to have on command. Ah well, time wounds all heels, I guess. It was really fun to break out and do critical (caveman) math on a napkin like in the old days. I regret not being up to date on technology in this area, as it was nice to use my brain for once.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The best scam ever- The Ocean Cleanup

 There's a lot of plastic in the oceans. 

     I HATE seeing plastic trash in general, doubly so in the water. 

        You might have heard about The Ocean Cleanup, the company started and run by a young Dutch kid who was Test Bed #1 for Greta Thunberg, an early iteration of the WASP green wunderkind , who envisioned running ships dragging massive nets to scoop up trash from the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch,' a semi permanent ocean gyre that has roughly .1% more trash in it than the rest of the ocean. 

 I'm not going to link to this company, as they're about as legitmate as the ol'  Gypsy Driveway Paving Scam . I WILL link to that scam, as unlike the Ocean Cleanup, the gypsy scammers will do about 10% of what they said they'll do, which is about 10% more than the Ocean Cleanup will do. I mean, that's just science. 

According to the company, 'We develop advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. 

 Apparently 'Advanced Technologies' now means using the same techniques Jesus and the Apostles used to catch fish, but catching plastic instead. 

 That's advanced?  

 Note that I said 'roughly' when talking about plastic in the ocean. The oceans being unimaginatively vast, the numbers used are imaginary, best guesses, because nobody knows how much plastic is actually in the oceans. I mean, it's a lot, obviously, but have you seen the oceans? They're 72% of the world's surface!

 Look, to put it in realistic terms, if you had just one coke bottle every square mile in the pacific ocean, just one little teeny coke bottle in a mile of sea, you would need 60 MILLION bottles just to do that in the pacific, never mind the Indian, Atlantic, inland and polar seas. I believe the pacific is like 30% of the world's surface. So you'd need, what, another 70 -80 million more soda bottles? 

 So Greta 1.0's idea, which the green weenies got all erect and drippy for, was to drag for plastic IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.  This got millions of dollars in funding and investments to make this into a company, to which He-Greta, a scientist of some renown  boy who bombed out of college and monetized a C- (at best) junior-high science project as CEO.  

 So, Maersk, the world's largest shipping company, is supplying two of their many and mostly idle PSV's, small ships (or gigantic tugboats, I suppose), because this is some fine-ass window dressing. And also because Maersk has a bunch of these ships moldering all over the 3rd world doing fuck all but costing them money. 

Wow, look at all that 'technology'. 2 boats and some rope!

At any rate, because brown people are all NIMBY to green WASP's , The Ocean Whoozits  is not collecting trash at its source, seeing as 90% of the world's plastic waste comes from just a handful of rivers in Asia, and not the clean asians, like in Singapore where you do hard time in jail for spitting on the street, but the Asia where child slaves work to make green weenies their Iphones, fleece jackets and sneakers. Who the fuck is going to make your Trader Joe's 100%  hemp tote bag if not an 8-year old chained to a weaving machine for 18 hours a day? 

  So, yeah, it boils down to that. The Ocean Cleanup collects money by running a kabuki show to end all kabuki shows, taking the SS Minnow out for a spin and going where the trash isn't. Like, save the planet, dude. 

 Holy-O-dogshit, you know how many tons of sulfur those PSV's are dumping in the air while they're not collecting much plastic at all?

 You know who does far more for the environment and DOESN'T pollute in the process?

 Yeah, the guys with idiot sticks working off community service punishment from local courts.  Green legends, these folks. They're actually doing something. 

    The Caribbean has VERY reliable trade winds. As such, there are many places where geographic and oceanographic features form a confluence of features that make them depositories for plastic trash. 

 I've seen one or two of these places, there are many. It's absolutely heartbreaking. Honestly, if you're a Haitian kid, malnourished and destined to be target practice for the macouts in your area, you can be forgiven for not being overly fashed for dropping plastic trash on the beach. Bigger problems to think about, kids like that. Panama has many ruined beaches that have plastic trash feet deep all along the shore. 

 Now, I'm pretty tongue-in-cheek today, because I hate scammers and I don't like green kabuki. I'm an actual environmentalist. I get to make a difference every day, because I work for an oil company, and I can be a positive force in my little square of metal. It took years for Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife to not think I was a dope for always picking up a little plastic wherever I went for a walk out away from people.  I don't like places where people are. I actually really like nature, and I like it clean. I have a vested interest in keeping plastic out of the pretty places where I like to be, away from people. 

 I don't take the green weenies seriously because they're not serious people. I don't respect the green scammers because... they're green scammers, and the cynicism they show off sends a completely open message. We Care. So Hard. Pay us.  

 Doing something for the sake of being seen to do something is the very essence of what for-profit faux environmentalism is about. 

 Now, put a floating  pair trawling net out in a river estuary in Malaysia, Egypt, Nigeria or China, and you're going to be a highliner in the plastic trade. But nobody is doing that. They're doing blood dialysis to a body with Leukemia.. You don't filter the blood. You bomb the shit out of the marrow aggressively. 

 "But at least they're doing something!"

 Yeah, they're f**king the dog. 

 Now, if we were to, say, embargo or tax the ever-living shit out of  products from places that don't police their waterways for trash, and companies that don't help,  that'd be something. I'd be on board. It'd be an idea. It'd be 'doing something.'   I like ideas with teeth. I also like being smart about it. Plastic is a miracle for the 3rd world, for hygienic purposes. Not every place that pollutes is a land of desperation. Nestle or Coke isn't making billions in Haiti, but they are in Malaysia, Africa and much of Asia. They're actually serious bad actors in those places, in all truth. It's shocking how awful they are where round eyes aren't watching. They could actually help reduce plastic pollution at the source via initiatives like smarter packaging.  But that's it's own article, and actually deserving of discussion, and I was here today to fling crap at some green scammers, not to go all kulturkampf at corporate lowlifes. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

4 months to wait

 Finally, we're at the good lay berth at work. 

 It's been 4 months since we moored at the lay berth near Brooklyn Bridge Park here in NY, where my company rents one entire pier, suitable for tubs like mine to lie to. I can't imagine what the rent is on a berth like this, prime parking, really, with a million-dollar view of the Manhattan skyline. Great vista to enjoy while peeing over the side. And for anyone in Manhattan's high rises who happens to have a telescope: you're welcome. Add some mashed potatoes and you have a traditional Irish lunch. 

        So, with a pretty good current down Buttermilk channel, getting into a berth 90 degrees off axis of the current during max tide is a bit of a maneuver, and the HQ being what it is, bit of a naughty girl, the Village Bicycle, if you know what I mean, I guess our dispatchers probably don't like putting us here where we can be called out on short notice to load cargo. That's a shame, because this is by far the best lay berth we have in NY harbor. We have several, and the company HQ dock besides, but all of them either lack shore access or require shuffling to move hulls in and out, so even when you can get ashore, you often can't get ashore because someone else has to move at a certain time, and that means you have to move, too. 

 So, here I am, after 4 months, I can go ashore, shortly. I'm just waiting so I can get lunch before I go to the grocery store. One of the ONLY real benefits to working in NY is that there's amazing food from anywhere in the world close by to you, no matter where you are. Today I'm going to a Cajun place run by two displaced Coonasses who're probably grateful at the moment to not be in Louisiana. Cajun food doesn't really agree with me, so because I love my wife I don't cook or eat it at home, but here, I'll just make the cargo surveyors and other visitors work ever faster to get the hell ashore. They tend to linger more than I'd like, the cargo surveyors, I mean.

 I'm not kidding about Cajun food kicking my stomach's ass, though. One time on the tanker SS MONSEIGNEUR , after 2 days at Buck Kreighs shipyard across from New Orleans, I set off the carbon monoxide alarm, woke up the whole ship. Not bad, considering that the sensor was on the engineer's deck, one deck above mine.  One AB, I forget his name, called me 'The Punisher' for a few days after that. 

Friday, September 3, 2021

One of the best sea stories I've ever heard

 I'm going to leave this one up a while. 

        When we crew change in New York, my company often hires a launch service, a small steel passenger boat that acts as a water taxi. At the wheel is the owner, a retired tug captain in his 70's, a well-known Dutchman who was a fixture in New York harbor. 

      He and I get along well. We both worked as Ordinary and Able Seamen on ships, although he did so 40 years before I did, having started as a cabin boy around age 10 in his native Netherlands. 

      We got to talking about ports we liked and disliked. I mentioned my father's deep dislike for Recife, Brazil (he got stabbed there one time), although the captain said he said the worst barfight he ever saw was in Argentina, but it was also deeply satisfying. 

   As I mentioned, the gentleman in question was born and raised in the Netherlands, at the end of WWII. And so he was talking about sitting in a bar with some other Dutchmen from his ship one day in the late 60's, somewhere close to Buenos Aires. The bartender was speaking German, and all the sailors could understand him more or less,  but one of the mates from the ship kept staring with a sour look on his face whenever the bartender was talking. . Sensing trouble, the captain was pretty keyed up as the mate quietly drank and drank and got into a darker mood. 

        Finally, hearing the bartender answering another customer in German, the mate jumped up and spoke loudly.  "Don't talk to him in German. I know you. You're no German. You're Dutch, like us. And you know how I know? I remember you. Yeah, your name is *says his name* and you're from the same town as I am... Not only do I remember you, you son of a whore, I remember you collaborated with the Germans during the occupation!" 

 The mate in question then proceeded to attack the bartender and beat him unconscious, then continued to beat his unconscious ass some more for good measure while everyone watched in shock.

 20 years and halfway across the world was apparently not far enough to start over after the German occupation of the Netherlands ended. As smart sailors know, there is no such thing as fair treatment for foreign sailors on shore leave, so, once the beating appeared to go on too long, the whole crew grabbed the man in question and ran for the ship. And they got back aboard too. 

Night watch


Blogger still won't upload photos properly for me. I'm tech savvy enough that I no longer believe that this is my fault. Grrrr. 

         Well, I'm at work, anyhow, and we got to work through the remains of Hurricane Ida. and boy howdy didn't that suck. We spend the majority of the storm at a terminal in Bayonne NJ, where the city made national news for having gotten utterly tooled on. The on-shift guys at the terminal all lost their cars when 5' of floodwater hit the parking lot. Poor guys. This is NOT the time to buy a car, either. Folks died in the flood, and a fair number of them, too. We weathered the weather pretty well, beyond some minor inconveniences, and resumed normal operations the next day. I bunkered a loaded bulk carrier out in Stapleton anchorage, and it was apparently an all-hands affair, as I had no shortage of crew to work with. It may have been the single most smooth-running bunker job I've ever carried out. Nice crew. All Russian. 

       My first week back I always work night watch, and tonight, after 2 busy watches, I'm at anchor myself, and we are enjoying a quiet night. I'm about to start cooking, and firing up Youtube. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Cleaning up the woodpile


 I spent a lot of the week just cleaning out and organizing our home. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife had a list of heavy things that needed moving, and of course there's almost always a set of stairs involved, because of course there is. 

 With the price of wood coming down to somewhat less insane levels, I dug into my cut-offs woodpile and made a seed starting bench for my wife's houseplants. I've been getting the side-eye from the War Department about the growing assortment of boards and bits that are too big to throw away but too small to ordinarily find a use for. 

 In addition I took a glued up walnut and maple board that I had started laying into a few months ago when my bandsaw went all cattywampus and ruined the cut. With my shiny new bandsaw I finished the cut, but the ragged ends from the first sawing were too messed up to work with, so instead of trying to fit compound curves, I made up a thick paste of food-safe epoxy and coffee grounds, and troweled that into the gaps. The resulting black curves look less bad than they once did, after shaping the board,  bringing it down to 1000-grit finish and dunking it in mineral oil. Anyways, it was a bit of a rescue but making a cutting board out of a sow's ear is better than throwing it all in the trash I guess. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Reporting from on scene at my house

 I'm home, and I've been home for a week now. I don't think I've been more than 2 miles from my house since I arrived here. All is well. I've been productive in my shop, my little projects are going well and there's a bottle of champagne cooling for a night swim with the Mrs. tonight. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Home stretch

 Well, under a week to go on this hitch, and that's nice. 

     We've been pretty steady work-wise, with cargoes every day, or at least movements every day. There were times when we'd have 18 hours off, which was nice, although this time the off time rarely coincided with my watch. Right now is in fact the first watch off I've had in the past week. 

 I made the most of it, though. We took on stores, and I overheated badly towards the end. It's 98 and sunny without any wind today, and so the steel deck was radiating heat as well. Still, stores and spares are on board, and I'm inside the house with the AC blasting and B is catching a nap, so I have privacy too. 

 I have some repairs to make at home, and a little furniture building project, and I got a sheet of 1/8" plywood that arrived at my house the other day, so if we get a rainy day I might try to cobble together a little model boat for my new office at home. I was thinking I'd make a Swampscott dory, one of my favorite designs, and something I've never made in model or full size.  

It's a pleasant thought, but between indoor and outdoor projects at home, I don't know if I'll have time. 

 In the meanwhile, I'm done with my projects on board for this tour, anyhow. We're into the Dog Days now and I'm old and senior enough that I feel no particular guilt in not working until I vomit for something I don't get paid for anyways. I'll try not to break anything, in the meanwhile. There's lots of things here I can accidentally turn in to a smoke machine if I break it enough and I'm looking forward to sitting on my ass at some point this weekend. 

Friday, August 6, 2021


 I was returned to the HQ this morning, to much rejoicing... well, I mean, I was rejoicing. And B seems happier, although I'm sure he'll miss being able to eat spaghetti and meatballs in his underwear with his feet up on the galley table while playing video games.   Just 48 hours, and as I expected, the work part was fine. Actually the work part was easy and pleasant... of course, I didn't sleep much to speak of. I never do, for the first few days somewhere new, until utter exhaustion sets in and I can sleep finally.

 I think I mentioned how much I hate change. I'm not the most pleasant person during forced socialization, and not sleeping for 2 days doesn't make that better. Mostly. I'm writing now because I am doing laundry and in a little while, like the colicky baby I am, I am going down to sleep for a few hours so B can have some peace too. 

              On a positive note, I got a ride from Newark to Bay Ridge anchorage on my friend Tim B (of Youtube fame)'s tugboat. Always, when I hang out with Tim, we spend a lot of time laughing. Politically, he and I are probably close to 180 degrees apart, and it doesn't matter. I always enjoy his company; he's one of the handful of people I work with who I wish I could sit down with at a bar in our off hitches.  That's the way it's supposed to be and it's a shame that it is rarely so. 

 Anyways, laundry is about done. I'm for bed. I'm happy to be back on the HQ. I guess I can cancel my appointment with Dr. Kevorkian. 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Ganked, or My Turn In the Barrel

 Yesterday promised to be a good day. 

 The HQ is out at our favorite anchorage here in NY, with a cargo fixed for this weekend, giving us a few days off-hire, and an opportunity to turn our eyes inward for some maintenance. 

    Weather was nice, a bit overcast, and not too hot. I was up at 0445, as is my wont, and after breakfast, I pulled out a 5gal bucket of deck paint, a gallon can of nonskid additive, and some painting tools, and figured I'd get to rolling paint around 0700. I knocked out a few procedural things in the meanwhile, specifically the  NPDES inspection, an EPA-mandated weekly walkthrough where we look for sources and potential sources of things that could put oil in the water. As nothing changed in the last week, I took a little extra time to really look over the hydraulic hoses on our capstans and deck cranes where the potential for UV damage can make the outside layer of the hoses brittle. Nothing yet. The hoses are only about a year old, having been renewed after the last shipyard period. Oh, fun fact, I got Ganked last year (definition to follow) and put on the current HQ for a few days, whereupon on the very first job a hydraulic hose INSIDE the base of one of the deck cranes blew out, dumping 80 or so gallons of hydraulic oil into the crane's interior, which oozed out and had to be collected and cleaned up, as well as repaired. While it was pouring rain. It was a whole thing, and my 2nd man had just come back to work after a hip replacement, and was in real pain still, and refused to not help, making things more stressful, seeing a very nice and earnest person putting himself through agony. It sort of gave me a set against the then-future HQ, but actually worked out well, a systemic defect in the crane being found and fixed after the cleanup. 

 So, when 'Something'  (anything really, but the office never gets specific) happens, and a Qualified (read: has a heart beat and/or is not dead) tankerman is not available on board, the office will occasionally choose someone situated nearby whose week they wish to ruin and pull them off of their own assignment, and will give them 30-60 minutes to get their shit together and move them to another vessel for a few days. This is sometimes called being Ganked. 

 I've been ganked 3 times in the past year, and have been increasingly cunty about it. Now, I don't have the magical ability to say no, as generally, short of  *clutches pearls*  calling someone in  from home, there aren't always willing and smiling faces available, and, you know, being a tankerman and all is what I do. Do I feel picked on? Fuck yes. A combination of availability, bad luck and not being a bad tankerman conspires against me, as well as not having enough Fuck You Money to dare them to fire me for saying no.  I came close this time. I have a very good relationship with my shoreside boss, though, and I know he needed to put meat in the seat, and I didn't want to insult him. But fuck me, it's not easy.

        I'm not a kid anymore. In fact, I forgot to bring my glasses with me here, and it's been a problem. 

        I don't like change. I like being alone, and working with my shipmates who know my ways like I know theirs, and I'm not someone who beings the A game when my wa gets disrupted. What does that make me? Other than a whiny bitch, I mean. I don't feel good about myself, being so perturbed by helping out elsewhere, but there it is. Sure, there's a part of me that wonders about fairness, as I don't know anyone with a permanent assignment who gets ganked as much as I do. I'm sure they exist, I just don't know who. But I do know that fuckups and aggressively angry people don't get ganked. I have joked in the past that I either need to start caring less about the quality of my work or pick fights with everyone.  And yet I realize I sound like a bit of a bitch here, or a prima donna. Maybe I am, or maybe I'm just a grumpy asocial coot who can't sleep and can't function optimally without a sense of permanence of place. Realistically, if I was more tolerant of impermanence, I'd be chasing the  higher salaries that some other companies offer. 

 And really, I don't mind working at all. The work part is fine. I can turn valves, type and sniff toxic fumes all day.  The increased risk of being unfamiliar with the workplace and the stress of being on a strange deck an in a strange bed is unpleasant. Being less than 15 feet away from a stranger the entire time is far more stressful. There's nowhere to go other than the bathroom for privacy. I can't talk to my wife in private, and must rely on the discretion of the other guy not to listen, as he hopes for the same in me. Close Quarters ain't innit. 

 Anyways, I'll hopefully be back aboard the HQ tomorrow, whereupon B, who has been keeping up the home front and likely playing video games in his underwear in the galley, will make fun of me for being grumpy and oversensitive. 

 This shit isn't getting easier as I age. On my personal wish list, being left alone more is currently #1 with a bullet. 

 #2 is still being reincarnated as Sofia Vergara's bicycle seat, so there is that, anyhow. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Smiles and Miles

During one of my several rare and always ill-fated attempts to work indoors, a female co-worker said to the group around us that I always had a smile on my mug when talking to people, and as a European it made her wonder if I was simple-minded at first. 

    Cultures vary widely on how to get along in forced social interactions, I get that. Generally, I am someone who appreciates a positive atmosphere, so I tend to try to start off that way when dealing with people. Be friendly, you know?  Apparently, for certain cultures, that is off-putting. Someone who smiles too much is creepy in every culture, but 'too much' is a YMMV definition. 

       When I arrived at the Weed Palace, the rent-by-the-hour Brooklyn hotel that we use for crew change, I said hello to a prostitute and her pimp who were ahead of me in line, while we waited at the front desk for the woman behind the bulletproof glass to process their check-in. After dumping my bag in the room, I headed back downstairs to walk to a store for my caffeine fix, and ran into a very good friend and coworker, one of my former crew, in fact. D couldn't stay long as my 2nd man because he was too good at the job and was all ready for promotion when we met. That was 10 years ago, and we've been good friends since. In D's truck was a young guy with the same Mississippi accent, his nephew in fact, and introductions were passed. Turns out, D's nephew was getting ready for his first job on a boat, and day one was the next day. He was to be paired with an experienced deckhand who I know pretty well, and was excited to start.

   The next afternoon we sailed for our first load in Bayonne, NJ, a short hop, and our assist tug made up to us, and there was D's nephew on deck. We both grinned at each other. Me, for my part out of happiness for the guy, and also because I know full well that a friendly face and a few kind words on day one at a job make all the difference in the world career-wise. 

     The job itself was uneventful, except that it made me reflect on a few things I said. At some point I had to explain that we had no good heaving lines on board, as I got tired of making them after the first hundred or so got stolen. At this point I think I am known well enough as a somewhat curmudgeonly sailor when pressed, so it's rare that I hear much griping when I tell someone that I don't have the things they want.  As I do, I quickly made up a heaving line by tying a Franciscan Friar's Knot in the end of a length of rope, and performing an underhand throw like a softball pitcher, threw it with precision. 

 Experience counts. Years ago, during my first transit through the Panama Canal, I bought a switchblade knife with a mother-of-pearl handle from a linehandler, and overpaid him to teach me how they threw heaving lines with precision. The softball-fastball pitch for medium-distance throwing was the result. The Franciscan Friar's Knot is a makeshift workaround suggested by the WWII-era Merchant Seaman's manual. Worth reading even today. 

 Now, compare that with an interaction I had with a hardheaded deckhand a few weeks ago. A young and green-as-grass Ordinary Seaman of about 9-months experience. Fairly rugged, quiet kid. Reserved. 

     When I meet deckhands, we're on my barge, but when a tugboat is made up, for multiple smart reasons, the man on watch on the tug has to call the shots. Barring safety concerns, I am required to defer to the guy with his hands on the throttles and the TOAR in his little red book. My first concern, speaking honestly, is that the job go safely for all of us. My second concern is that the job goes smoothly and efficiently FOR ME, because the tugboat is only relevant for 10-15 minutes, the time  we're relying on his skillset and knowledge, and I will have the next 6-12 hours to do my job, which does not include the tug or any of the people on it. 

         I know what I am and what I'm not. My M.O. tends to be that I observe a lot, and tend to use the tug's deckhand like an extension of my own hands while I'm thinking about what I'm doing. The deckhand works for the tug, not for me, although ideally we all work as a team, and 95+ % of the time that is what we do. For that reason, and hopefully because I try not to be a prick, I am often given a bit of leeway when it comes to asking deckhands to do things that I am capable of doing myself while I'm thinking over what I want to do. I'm also not a 19-year old anymore, too. That's a hard truth.

  So, occasionally, all the smiles and goodwill in the world won't help with an obstinate, surly or unseamanlike tugboat deckhand, or one that just plain doesn't like me. 

   The kid I had an issue with hadn't yet picked up the ability to listen and talk at the same time. He wasn't someone I knew, and wasn't regular crew on the tug. He wasn't very polite, either. I really try to leave my ego at home, but politeness is important when strange men have to work together. In an environment where you can punch someone for pissing you off,  it's not as important, but my job is not one of those environments. Throwing a punch gets you fired and if unlucky, gets you referred to the Coast Guard. So no dispensing Great Justice in situ

Right away he had a habit of ignoring me, which while rude isn't a big deal, until it is. I mean, the job's not done until we're all fast and in the right place to my satisfaction.  After failing twice to listen to me (which was frustrating and irritating) when we were trying to pass a line to a ship  with a tricky current making the tug mate's life hell, the kid finally acknowledged my existence and said "I have to listen to  the mate, I don't have to listen to you." I had been speaking with the mate and I was OK with his plan for what we need to do, so I felt the kid was being rude unnecessarily. Well, no more smiles from me.

  I said something mild about needing to work as a team, which felt weak  to me, as I really wanted to kick him into the water. Not being a hardo in that case left me feeling pretty dissatisfied. Then the kid cussed out the Filipino AB's on the ship. Already feeling like I wanted to throw my weight around, I told him to be respectful of the poor pricks on the ship, as they were perfectly capable of throwing a shackle at either of us and caving in our skulls, and to satisfy the shameful little part of me that wanted to be shitty, I said that the ship's AB's knew twenty times more than he did anyhow. 

 When we finally did get a line up to the ship, the kid immediately went the wrong way with it. I don't know if he was being contrary or just got turned around. Doesn't really matter, I guess.  I called out, probably too sharply, that I didn't want the line running that way, and the kid said 'that's not what we're going to do.'  This being something simple that I've done thousands of times, the kid's rudeness coupled with poor seamanship finally made my cup runneth over. The whole time I was thinking, however, that if I said or did anything out of ego, rather than professionalism, I was going to get called up short or end up feeling bad over it, as kicking someone off your deck almost always ends up getting back to the office, and new hires don't always weather that well. 

       I'd like to tell you that I kicked his ass, or said something smart and pithy. I will occasionally swallow when given a mouthful of shit, though. Instead I just said "OK, get off my deck and go back to your tug, right now." He said something quietly about that being fine by him and I was an asshole anyways. I didn't even swear; I was that put out. Talking to the mate on the handheld radio, I worked alone to get us all fast, and the mate, to his credit, said nothing about my kicking the kid off. I can handle people being rude when it's just their nature. I am less able to handle disrespect. 

    The cool part of this was that when it came time to cast off the tug, the mate and I, who are on good terms, bantered back and forth briefly, ignoring the deckhand. He never came up at all. I'd like to think that the office never got wind of what happened and maybe the tug's mate or captain could get through to the kid that pissing off someone who gets along with almost everyone is a bad thing. Of the few people I truly don't like that I have to deal with, almost all of them are hated near universally, so it's not just me. It does make me wonder about who thinks of me in the same way I think of that small number of people, though, and that I've never been made to feel unwelcome when on someone else's deck. Is that a sign that not too many folks find me an asshole or that others are more professional than I? Hmmmm. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Dread

 Well, it was another fantastic time home, but today I fly out to New York for crew change tomorrow. 

 Usually by the weekend, I start getting a touch maudlin, but this time I was pretty happy, right up until 11pm last night, when I suddenly felt like somebody pissed in my cheerios. 

 It's a weird one today. I usually fly out around noontime, so I can get up a little late, have a couple of hours at home, and then I start the journey north. Today I have a late afternoon flight, and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is at work, so it's really quiet. I'm not used to my house being so quiet. It's a touch depressing, and by a touch I mean it's awful. 

    Some crew changes are like that. I mean, nobody is joyful at the prospect of leaving home, but sometimes it hits particularly hard. Still, it's time to cowboy up and get paid for it, and after 2 weeks of eating and drinking to repletion far too often, the more austere and health-conscious diet I follow at work will perhaps stifle the screams I hear coming from my liver, whose criminal treatment has earned a respite. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

HAWSEPIPER COOKS! Which it is an Syllabub

  Having recently completed Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin series of novels (AKA the "Master And Commander' series, made (more) popular by the movie of the same name), and being at home with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife out for the day, I thought I'd destroy her kitchen and do a little historically-inspired dessert-making. This is the third time I have finished the series, and as it was last time, it is still my all-time favorite read. 

 Syllabub is a relatively easy to make dessert from the 18th to the 19th century, but has fallen into obscurity, or at least I hadn't heard of it until reading O'Brien's works. It's a wine-based dessert, which made me doubt that I'd like it, wine being somewhat wasted on my working-class palate... but nope, it has a simple, refreshing and complex flavor that makes the wine very difficult to discern, but when discerned, it adds to the dish considerably.

 With my claim to be a true Triple Threat of a husband (The greatest and most powerful in the kitchen, in the bathroom AND in the bedroom!), I felt my kitchen game could use a little support. And, so, we have an obscure treat that would be found on a King's table. 

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/4 pint of WHITE port wine

5-6 oz of powdered sugar

3/4 tsp orange blossom water

juice of 1 orange

zest of one large or 2 small lemons. 

   Put the cream and the sugar and mix them with a beater until the sugar is dissolved. I  use slightly less than 5 oz because Brazilians don't like refined sugar, preferring the sweetness from fruit, but the recipe calls for 6oz.   Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until a meringue- like foam forms, with hard peaks. Takes about 5 minutes with a stand mixer, and like a meringue, probably about 30 mins if you don't have a little electric mixer of some form or want to go old-school and whisk by hand.  Portion it out, and refrigerate.  

    Seriously, that's it. I could probably have bullshitted my way through talking about this, and you can if you want. The flavors are complex and very pleasant and subtle. It doesn't taste like the ingredients above.  The dish as I make it is sweet, but not cloying, which to be fair, many American cakes and baked treats are to me now. The orange blossom water I had to order off Amazon, but you can get it at an Arab or Indian ethnic market.  It's bitter on it's own. I think it worth repeating, and luckily Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, who is a real bear to please in the kitchen, was suitably impressed. Although she somehow managed to contain herself, I absolutely could feel her undressing me with her eyes, despite her denials and also her telling me I had put my shirt on inside-out again. 


Friday, July 2, 2021

On sympathy, and gratitude

  Although I mostly use this blog as a place for my id to go potty during the course of my time at work, I'm self-aware enough that I mostly just talk about myself and the blog probably resembles my ego whacking off in front of a full-length mirror on a weekly basis. 

        My world has shrunk a lot in the past few years. I work, and we have our company work culture, and I have real, true friends at work, who are 75% of the reason why I still do what I do for a living. When I leave work, I go home, and as I age, and as my marriage and nuclear family matures, I find I value and cherish my home life and my marriage, specifically, more and more. I'm fortunate there. My parents were the same, in fact, and I had wondered in the early years of marriage, if I'd ever have what they did, where their marriage was their world, the not-so-secret but private joy that defined the course of their lives. 

 I have that. For someone to ask me 'Who are you?' over the years, I'd probably first talk about my job, which was my identity. It's not that anymore. Hasn't been for a while. To explain the gratitude I have, gratitude to God, my parents, my family, and my nuclear family, I am completely unequal to. 

 *       *      *      *      *

 If you don't know who Elizabeth Simenstad is, she's a mariner who is also a blogger, one of the few people I follow on Instagram, with my VERY limited diet of social media. She's a better writer than I am, or at least certainly more inclined to write in correct detail whereas I am intellectually lazy; having not written professionally for almost 20 years now, tending to skim, shame, and generally use my writing skills to make dick and fart jokes.. I prefer the world to see me as an overgrown 12-year old rather than share my private life authentically. Shit's private, and while I absolutely am someone who values dick and fart jokes down deep, I'm not someone who shares the private pains we all experience, for fear of intruding into my most treasured place, my marriage and nuclear family.  When I do share something deeply personal, it's either something I need to share for catharsis or for a specific point.  

     I have that luxury. I have a centuries-old Old Boy network that has a niche for someone who camouflages himself, or who uses humor as a weapon while performing work at a high level. 

    The flipside of that is that it also allows for high performing skilled mariners who are utter scum, genuine plain villainous bastards, and supports them too. That is the Old Boy Network too, although any asshole can recognize that a mariner employed by a large organization will also  have the same protections in exchange for job security, regardless of positives OR negatives to their personality and to a lesser but significant extent, regardless of their ability to perform, at least beyond satisfying ancillary metrics like paperwork. We all know people who are utter soup sandwiches at work who can pencil whip their way to job security. 

*      *     *      *      *       *

     Female mariners don't have an Old Girl network, and aren't welcome in the Old Boy network. While I personally have always enjoyed the impact of an all-male work environment on my personal sense of morale and job performance, I have also, with ONE exception, long ago, always had positive experiences working with women on the water. I've worked with some really great female mariners, and I recognize that in going from wanting to be there to actually being there, few women have been able to get into the industry without a fair bit of bumps and bruises and all without the degree of bonhomie that is how men find support. 

   To add to that challenge, I have no idea what it is like for a woman to have to go from the maritime environment to the home environment. Sure as hell, though, the things that women may want in terms of work-life balance are a damn sight harder to have.

        I had my parents' example, my father being a mariner as well, and my mother being a sailor's wife, and having had experience with the life, was able to warn Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife beforehand about it, back when she was just Disproportionally Hot Foreign Girlfriend. I had some restraints on my choices, sure. I left sailing deep draught ships so my wife wouldn't have to raise a kid and have 4-6 months alone every year. My mom said it sucked, mostly, so I made that change, but I got to stay in my trade. 

         What happens when you want to be a sailor and a parent, when you're female?  Choices. Hard Choices. 

         So, Ms. Simenstad shared some personal information on Instagram that shows the difference between what we all can experience out here. She miscarried for the second time, in trying to have her first child with her husband. 

   There's no words to explain how awful that is. Of all the panoply of tragedies that we encounter as mariners working in somewhat isolated conditions, we are not equipped with experience to empathize with a lady who has gone through that. We can be sympathetic, and I'm sure that everyone is, at least I hope so, but as mariners, as men, we tend to seek out advice or comfort in empathy on board. Divorce, death, tragedy, we often end up growing close to a shipmate who has some experience with our particular hurt. That avenue, though, it not available for women in that situation. Sympathy is the best we can offer, for the most part, though hopefully that will be enough to be helpful. The ancillary challenges to mental health that such things bring may be worse than the moment itself, though. For that reason, I very much applaud Ms. Simenstad's willingness to talk about the negatives, the pain and challenges she faces, while at the same time, I asked my wife to include her in her prayers, as I will too. Writing about it, in a trade that isn't always sympathetic to differences in what we need for support, is very brave. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Swerve in the road

 As things always seem to go, there was a flurry of phone calls from home right at watch change. You know, watch change, when you're supposed to start winding down in preparation for blessed rest? 

 Yeah. Always, big things happen at home either when I want to sleep, when I want to use the bathroom or when I have only 20 minutes to cook my only hot meal of the day. 

  At any rate, my plans for my time home (a week from tomorrow!) just got changed utterly. Not in a bad way. Or in a good way, really. Just... life intervened. 

 I'm being deliberately vague, yes. Not a big deal, just a private one... and anyhow, as I tend to do a little more these days now that I don't do social media, I'm looking at the positives as much as possible. 

 So, suddenly, I have a whole week that I no longer have commitments made. That's awesome. In exchange for a bunch of logistical legwork for me to do today, to undo a long-term planned process, I will have 6 days that were originally planned to be busy doing something else. Hot damn. I'm annoyed at the last-minute nature of the changes, but dang, I have time to do something. 

     Now, being, well, me, I don't like last minute changes to long-lead projects and plans. But who does, really? I guess I just dwell and ruminate over such things more than I should. What's the word? Hidebound? Yes. I am hidebound perhaps more than I should be. 

 Well, annoyance aside, what to do with my time? I'm going to have more time with my wife and kid, and my son and I will surely go to the gun range. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is mulling getting a Concealed Carry permit, I think more in a show of solidarity with her adopted culture and also to be a nine-days' wonder among her 100+ cousins and their insane online community. But that might be fun, and now we have time maybe to knock that out. 

I REALLY want to build a ladder-style planter for an indoor herb garden that she also wants, but I don't want to have to take out a mortgage for the 4 2x4's and sheet of 3/4" plywood it would require. And for the first time in years, almost decades, I'm performing daily exercise and eating healthy on a daily basis, so days of swimming, drinking booze and eating comfort food, AKA my weekends, are also no longer an option. 

     I have an idea in my head for a little wooden rowboat. I think I have a sheet of 1/8" plywood somewhere. I might work on that, see if I can make something without a plan, try to work by eye, like the old school skiff builders when I was a kid. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

painting season!

 Of the many, many weird things about me, the fact that I enjoy painting at work is certainly one of them. 

 It's painting season, the time when, until my employer went supersized, the port captains inquired just how much paint we wanted for the year. They allowed us to set goals, and then in our idle time, we'd paint for a few hours when we had an off watch, to pass the time. 

   Well, idle time until recently was nonexistent, and morale being in the toilet generally as we older mariners adapt to a more corporate employee structure with management, painting became something we didn't do, one, for lack of time, and two, for lack of interest. The era of taking pride in your barge ended when... when it ended. Frog, warming water. 

    last winter was a 6-month flurry of jobs the likes of which I've never seen, but we're having a little summer lull compared to that. In fact, we're working on a schedule reminiscent of my early days bunkering 10+ years ago, which is to say, we have work, we have cargo, but we have idle time too, not so much that we're bored, but enough to think more than 6 hours ahead. Morale for our little crew has rebounded. Without the constant pressure of jobs stacked back to back for days on end, this little interregnum has been very, very welcome. We have maintenance done, we have identified some medium-and long-lead projects we'd like to do on board, and I get to paint. 

Photo taken this morning

 I enjoy painting on deck. I always have. It's mindless work, and I tend to get some things worked out in my head while I'm doing it. Being a type A personality, mindless work that doesn't bore me to shit is soothing, and painting isn't a daily task for me, and the rewards, well, nobody likes working on a deck that calls to mind a junkyard. So I like to put my tall socks on, an old pair of dad shoes (New Balance 4lyfe, yo), and my last (and treasured) pair of Jorts, and get down with a roller, a man-helper (one of those extension stick broomhandle things) and some International one-part topcoat. 

       So, for example, while we have a job at midnight tonight, today is hot and sunny, and so I can hit the ladders over my fuel manifold with some yellow, and it'll have more than enough time to bake on before dark and be hard enough to withstand foot traffic. And honestly, I enjoy being out on deck without my 10lb Red Wing boots on. 

 I'm going to get out there now. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Exam Day

 Well, today was our 5-year renewal inspection for our Certificate of Inspection, the master document that the Coast Guard issues to say what we can do, who we can do it with, and what we need to do it. This is the big certificate, and the big exam, too. 

 We actually did really well. Always, always always the Coast Guard finds ONE THING if they can't find anything important as a material deficiency, something that we need to fix but that isn't a big deal. It's an unwritten rule. Usually I put a box in front of the emergency escape hatch in the generator room to block the hatch. This gives the inspector an out, and presumably a warm feeling, knowing that he issued a correction. 

 Seriously, I've been doing the box trick for the past 10 years. I actually forgot it today, in the rush. And we didn't get ANY corrections and of course, no deficiencies were noted, because we don't play that shit around here. So that's a first. 

        The rush I'm speaking about is the rechecks and detailed examination of absolutely everything that happens before an inspection, because they can and do look at everything. Today, for example, the inspector took a moment to look at our little air compressor, a model you'd find in any amateur handyman's garage, and had us test the pressure relief valve on it, to see the PSI range where it would open from overpressure. Dude had us overpressurize the tank by shutting down the shutoff, and watched when the valve popped out. Took like 5 minutes. I didn't even know that was a criterion. 

       We actually have a good preventative maintenance and safety inspection program companywide, and I do my best to keep us in compliance, so little stuff like the condition of our survival suit emergency lights, a verbal quiz about the communication chain for oil spills, stuff like that all went down as part of the inspection. Now, at 6am today, little maintenance items that had popped up on the pre-inspection prep got sorted out, and I spent breakfast splicing a line rather than reading a book, but all is well. 

       We even have shore access tomorrow. I mean, we have it today, too, but it's raining, and I hate being rained on. Good thing I always chose outdoor jobs, I guess. 


Thursday, June 17, 2021

This always happens to me

 Man, I really misunderstood this whole 'Pride Month' thing. 

    Anyone want 15 lions? Make an offer. 

Monday, June 14, 2021


 Nothing continues to happen here on board. We work, we rest, repeat. Cargoes come and go, and the weather is fine. It's a good time, but nothing exciting to share work-wise. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

...and back again

 That was one of the best long weekends I have ever had. The Blue Ridge mountains are amazing. As is North Carolina's high country. Wow. 

 my last week at home was spent working on my house and in my shop, and I got to see family, which was always nice. 

 Less nice was the results of all that fun on my waistline. Holy crap. Now that I'm back to work, I'm hitting the weights and walking in circles on deck daily. I have to. I ended last year about 60lbs lighter than I'd started it, and have no interest in going backwards... well, pretty much I just did, to the tune of 20lbs or so, so I'm back to it. What really sucks is that the extra weight can be felt in my joints, so I have to proceed slowly at first. 

        Nothing else to report, really. I fell back into routine pretty easily, although I was pretty homesick my first night back. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I spent a good 10 of my 14 days off together about 23 hours a day. Something of a treat, really, as we're neither of us sedentary types. We overdid it one day, spending the day outdoors swimming, drinking beer,  ordered takeout and next thing you know it was 1am, and we'd been in the backyard for 12 hours. I buzzed my hair the day before and got a pretty fair sunburn on the top of my head, so, yeah, that sucked. Still, great day. 

          And here I am on a quiet night watch at anchor, a blessed event, and rare for it, too. Routine. Not much blog fodder. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Home. And then home again.

 So, I went home about a week ago, and arrived to the car loaded and ready to roll out on the next morning.   It being our anniversary, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I rented a cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains, about 10 miles from the nearest store, and shared a mountain with just 3 neighbors for a few days. I have never been so truly isolated. 

 It was amazing. If you can swing it, go. The 800-mile drive was not as bad as I thought at all. 13 hours, including a stop for a sit-down meal and the odd pee break/gas, etc. My only regret is that I just rented the place for the long weekend. Gotta stay a full week next time!

 Well, today is my first 'real' day at home. Time to get to business, get the house in order. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

This Week In Shipping, or Everything Is Awful Again

 Well... quite a week we're having. 

        As Peter noted in a great summary about shipping woes this week, Things are looking grim for consumers.  After a couple of years of shockingly low freight rates, bankruptcies, accelerated ship scrapping, an insane and poorly-planned out drastic tightening of global marine fuel environmental regulations, the virtual elimination of competition between mega-corporations and then Covid-19, the shipping industry appeared to look like this:

 But, it's worse than that. Oh, the shipping mega companies are doing well, thank you. Record profits for the largest of them. 

 If you looked at the article above, Peter points out correctly that we're going to feel the squeeze as transport costs get passed to consumers.  This will happen, and is beyond my ability to competently discuss, so I'll leave that be.  I'm more curious about the muddied waters in the trade at the moment. A freight forwarder who wished to remain anonymous noted that the explosion in freight rates the past few weeks is 'largely academic' as there are no more actual spaces left on transpacific shipping for at least the next month. 

     This is pissing off some folks, for sure. Shippers aren't just not taking orders while there's a backlog. Prices continue to rise after a reservation is made. At the point of sale, you pay 'index price,' or whatever the shipper is charging at that moment. However, before your box gets in the queue, you pay any fees levied between having made your reservation and the time of shipping, and some of these, like 'priority fees' that guarantee your box will be on the boat in a timely manner, can be quite steep, in the thousands. 

           It's just as bad for Europe, if not worse. The Loadstar, a trade publication, has recorded that the most recent data indicates less than 10% of ships are arriving on time to Europe. Despite this, there have been a great deal of cancelled trips, as shippers try to get their ships onto some sort of schedule again, despite delays at load and discharge ports because of congestion. 

 And that brings us to congestion as an issue. Mega-terminals such as the one that I work to service, are operating at 100% capacity for extended periods to deal with the insane spike in imports. The shift to larger and larger ships means that, like rush-hour traffic, congestion is an issue even when ports are operating below capacity. I'm watching AIS tracking sites to see where our ships are, as it's not unusual for us to rush rush rush to load a cargo, fussing at the terminal operators to hurry up and fill us up so we can get oil to a ship that is only in port for so many hours and needs fuel, only to learn on topping off our own tanks that they've dropped anchor and will be coming in tomorrow instead... container ships lose MILLIONS by being a day late to port. 

    Another interesting nightmare is that it is getting increasingly difficult to ship stuff to Asia. No, really, shipping companies used to HATE having to ship mostly empty containers across an ocean. They don't make money doing that... but demand for containers is so high at the moment that empty containers are taking priority in loading for export from the US, over, say, actual cargo. 

   It's an odd thing to see, a completely full containership, boxes stacked to the sky, riding high enough out of the water that the prop wash is full of foam from the ships's wheel being so close to the surface, like it would when the ship is in ballast. 

    When your container isn't loaded on the ship it was supposed to be loaded on, this is called being 'rolled.'  Rollover rates are presently a record-shattering 30-50% which says something about the present moment, certainly. In our era of 'just-in-time' inventories, this also means that suppliers have to beef up inventories earlier than in past years, and with at least one shipper noting that they've already sold 80% of their container spots for this year globally, it implies that the chaos will continue at least in the short-term. I suppose that in 2021 there is less focus on long-term, given how unstable things are. 

 Now, a word: I am NOT a logistics person and NOT an industry expert. I am the maritime equivalent of the guy at the rest-stop gas station on the Jersey Turnpike who sullenly puts $15 in 87 in your tank. Except that I also fetch the truck that carries gas to the stat.. you know what, that's not a great metaphor, but you get the idea...but I make my living off of these ships that come to call, and when the industry is a mess, eventually that trickles down into my little oasis of sanity and rationality here aboard the HQ, such as it is. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Other People's Sea Stories

 Finishing up our cargoes from the weekend (today being Monday), just before lunchtime today, we sailed from a small container ship to the next berth forward, which is one of my employer's lay berths, where we can go to sit and wait for the next cargo load. In the New York harbor area, having 800 feet or so of waterfront property is NOT cheap, and so having a place to tie up when we're not making money is an expensive proposition... and we have four of them scattered around the harbor, by necessity. While we do utilize the anchorages, too, to lie around and fuck off  do maintenance between jobs,  we can't leave barges untended by tugs, and we have a lot more barges than tugs.

 So I am in the lay berth, and with the latest job complete, I was able to file my papers and change clothes (it was raining this morning), and get lunch on the stove finally. 

    Our tug today is crewed with all guys I like. The younger of the two deckhands, an experienced 25-year old, is someone I get along with especially well. We work very well together, and he's very level-headed, and pleasant company besides. 

        So today we had a little delay while waiting to sail from the container ship we were moored up to. While I was waiting for the last of the papers to be passed, the kid and I got talking, as we do, and the subject of family, we're both children of US Navy 'lifers.'  We shared a few of our fathers' navy sea stories... and that got me thinking about how much harder it is to acquire sea stories today. 

       Sea stories are how we come to grip with memories of the past at work. Often really bad ones, sometimes exceptionally good, often both, in hindsight. During my first 'real' voyage to sea, and having grown up on my father's sea stories, both war stories from Korea, and merchant marine sea stories too, I had made peace with the fact that I would never do the crazy and insane shit my father did, and never have the memories to go with it. Things are just too safe and regulated today. 

    Well, turns out, I did acquire sea stories of my own, over time. Perhaps not to the Elysian heights and hellish lows of my father's, but enough to make him laugh, commiserate and be proud that I was living a free life when we got to talking. I'm fortunate enough to have done some shit and come away with just a few little scars, a touch of a limp at times, and some friends and memories I don't regret making. 

     Most sea stories aren't things that happen from your choosing. I met a very nice girl at a bar in Savannah one time, having wandered into the ladies' room by accident while drunk on shore leave. I almost got away with it until a local girl recognized my shoes from under the stall. My friends and I entertained her friends and she for the night as penance for my sins. During Hurricane Ike, at a moment when my ship's survival was absolutely not guaranteed, and I felt the hull hesitate to roll back from a deep roll onto her beam, not just once, but a few times, The captain sent the mate and I into the gyrocompass room to stop whatever was banging around in there before it knocked the gyro off it's stand. Turns out, the captain had a couple of 50lb sacks of his private stock of coffee beans in there, and they're been ripped open, and 100lbs of coffee beans was rolling loose across the deck, and so boxes of stuff were rolling across the beans. Since we were rolling through about 120 degrees of arc and probably pitching through 50-60 during the good moments, I have good memories of me cussing out and refusing the chief mate (one of my closest friends) when he ordered me in the room to lash down the boxes. We went in together, and got rolled, flipped, crushed, hit by sliding and flying objects, he kneed me square in the ear, I booted him in the back of the head, all while flailing around and cursing, sliding over the damn coffee beans... in retrospect, it was hilarious, and in later years, we laughed about it a lot. Hell, I talked to him about 2 weeks ago, and I haven't seen him in years now. We still talk a few times a year. 

 Nowadays, while that particular company no longer exists, there would have been hell to pay over the coffee beans. A Near Miss Report, possibly a Nonconformity Report, and the Safety Managment System would have been chapter and verse all up in our business. And maybe in most cases that is a good thing. We are undoubtedly more safe at sea than ever before... and the truth is that I was a LOT happier when we were left to our own devices when it comes to safety at the micromanagement level. I recognize that a safer workplace increases the odds of everyone coming home. I don't recognize that filling out a Job Hazard Analysis for climbing a fucking stepstool has value to me as a mariner, though. Like anything taken to hyperbole. 

       No risk, no reward.  That is the reality on a longer timeline when it comes to job satisfaction. I speak only for myself, not for my peers or my employer, certainly.  I lacked the temperament to work in an office, no matter how hard I tried, as a younger man. I needed to get some bruises and scrapes to toughen up and live life more deliberately, especially as someone who tried and failed to last at nicer, less physical jobs indoors. I still don't know if having spent years and a small fortune to be a biologist was a mistake or not. I have the occasional regret. 

    Where I don't have regret is the 'holy shit we're all OK!' moments, like when a rogue wave buried the bow of my ship, and 6 of us were working... on the bow. Going underwater deep enough to make my ears hurt, hugging the mainmast up forward and getting knocked down to the deck by the breaking wave as it fell down on us. Guys got washed 150 feet back on that one, one ending up in his underwear after the nonskid deck tore his coveralls right off.  I walked off the deck feeling so alive after that, laughing, all of us laughing, at having had a close brush with disaster. 

 I don't regret that. Look, I had a little sea story to tell from it too. Today, the mate on watch would have been called on the carpet, placed in full proskynesis, and heaven forfend that the vetter or ABS hear about it! Dear Lord! 

    I feel a little bad for the kid I was talking with today. It's so hard to have a good sea story now. We don't drink whether in port or at sea today, and that alone is responsible for much of the improvements in safety on board... but he'll never get sent on a scavenger hunt in a strange city with a grocery list of porn DVD's that the captain wanted and $600 either. And the clerk at one of the porno stores wouldn't be a hot goth girl his age, and he wouldn't have to turn around, down 4 shots of Jamison next door, and come back, put the list on the counter and say "hello, miss, do you have..." and read some of the most degenerate phrases out there, with a pen to check off the titles she did, in fact, have. And then go to another adult video market, facing dirty looks from the taxi driver, to repeat. Four times. 

On the other hand, that was how I got a permanent position as crew on that ship. No more sitting in union halls. And my wife nearly died of laughter when I told her that story. I was smiling too. It was, in hindsight, hilarious. That was my favorite captain to work with. Shit, he was the first person I talked to after I proposed to my wife. 

          We'll find a way to have our own sea stories, I suppose. Perhaps they won't be the high highs or the low lows of our sailor forebears, and maybe I squeaked in under the wire at the time when even being a merchant seaman got boring, but the phrase 'months of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror' still applies to the job. I just hope today's young sailors find enough to keep them satisfied, because right now there aren't a lot of young sailors who stick with sailing as a career, and I believe I know why. It's not an easy job, so it has to be a satisfying one. We NEED sea stories of our own. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Ass Kick 2: Eclectic Booger Stew

 We're back to the grind here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center of Excellence in Talking Wicked Good. 

         Last week was a light week. Weather was nice, minus that one day gale we rode out at anchor. This week we're running around like a bunch of idjits again, busy AF. My company was smart though: they eased us into it. We had our break, then, as often happens now, a job pops up for the same day, about 4 hours ahead. Well, that sucks, but so it goes. It's not the work, it's the last minute nature of it, but still, we're rested, we're ready, and there's nothing scheduled for after, so we load and discharge, and wow, dispatch even arranged for us to tie up at a pier with shore access after the job, so we can get ashore and get groceries!

 Oh, wait, no, 5 minutes after we sail, 3 jobs pop up, back to back, starting in 2 hours, so the next 4 days are going to be busy. Oh, and it's going to rain THE WHOLE TIME. 

        Nothing to do but embrace the suck. We're getting paid at least, unlike the poor bastards with those pretty big red tugboats.  

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Big Blow

 Well, yesterday was pretty nautical here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Wind Farm. 

        I was looking forward to spring up here in the northeast. After the last few winters, which were pretty mild in terms of snowfall, Spring lasted about 4 days and then we got heat waves early. 

 This winter, the snowfall was still very mild, but the wind, damn, the wind was insane. We had gales coming in every 2-3 days all winter long. And so, with the days getting warmer, and spring weather here (t-shirts from 11am-3pm, light sweatshirts otherwise), I thought we were done with the gales. But sadly, nope. It blew its balls off yesterday, and we got the weirdest hull resonance going from the waves, so these waves of motion were causing the hull of the HQ to flex a few inches at bow and stern, about twice a second, and about 3-6 inches, all damn day. 

    3-6 inches is a hell of a lot of flex, and while the current HQ is still relatively new to me, the hull is not. The original HQ is a sister to this one... and it's a flexible thing, very forgiving to hull stress... it's just the weird ass motion yesteday made our feet itch and did funny stuff to the middle ear. It felt almost exactly like driving over well-laid cobble roads, if you've ever done that. Sleep was possible, although the vibration was funky, it wasn't unpleasant, a lot like being underway in a strong chop. And sleep we did. Noisy, though. Everything was squeaking with the resonance. The cabinets in the galley, the plates in the cabinets, the silverware in the drawer, even the toilet seat was chattering a bit. 

 And you know, still it was 10x better than dealing with a shitty swell at sea. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Blogger can eat a dick

 I'm having a hell of a time with Blogger. It's buggy as shit suddenly, I can't post high-res pictures, and the alignment and editing in my posts changes radically from when I'm writing and when I hit the Post button. 

 This shit is part of why this ain't fun. 

Try paying more

 I'm not o

ne to throw bombs when it comes to labor issues, normally. Sometimes, though, it just gets stupid and you have to throw your two cents in.

OK, so CNN of course runs with a clickbait header that gas stations are going to run out of fuel this

The fuel industry is more calm, of course, because they actually work for a living.

‘Summer scramble’ for
gasoline on tap amid
tank-truck driver

Retail stations aren’t likely to suffer from a widespread shortage of gasoline,

analysts said, despite all the talk lately about a lack of tanker drivers to deliver

the fuel as demand ramps up for the summer driving season.

“I wouldn’t forecast a shortage; I’m calling it a summer scramble,” Tom Kloza,

global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service, told


The title of an article on CNN that ran Tuesday suggested that gas stations could

run out of gas this summer.

The report, citing National Tank Truck Carriers, said that roughly 20% to 25% of

tank trucks are “parked” heading into this summer due to a shortage of qualified

drivers. MarketWatch contacted the industry trade group, but it hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Kloza said there’s likely to be “plenty of refinery production of gasoline, lots of

imports, and no problems at bulk facilities,” which refer to those big tanks near

refineries and pipelines.

The problem is drivers, he said, and it’s in the “last one-to-150 miles in the

distribution chain where tank truck driver counts are down.”

Kloza said a typical tanker truck carries 8,000 gallons. So on a day with 9.5

million barrels of demand, or just under 400 million gallons, the industry would

need 50,000 tanker trucks just to handle station needs, he explained.

But the lack of truck drivers is not a new issue. COVID-19 accelerated it, as some

drivers retired last year when demand was slow, says Jeff Lenard, vice president

of strategic industry initiatives at NACS, which represents convenience and fuel

retailers. There were also “challenges in getting new drivers certified” in schools

during the worst of the pandemic, he said.


So, as I often do, I wish CNN to be fornicated by a truck bumper, at highway

speed, directly in the ear.

This is not a crisis, but a labor market readjustment.

The plain truth is that a truck driver can carry bulk cargo for the same money

as he can get for carrying fuel, and without the additional certifications and liability

that moving oil comes with. You don't go to jail or get cuffed for EPA violations for

spilling a load of soybeans.

The simple solution is that if more drivers are needed, companies will pay more.

But that doesn't generate clicks for our News Lords, so nobody is going to mention


I'd be happy to see more pipelines and less over-the-road transport of fuels, but

permitting of pipelines takes years, and the NIMBY crowd prefers their oil spills and

explosions to take place in railyards and over the roads, rather than to disturb the wa

by having safer, more efficient but unbuildable right-of-ways near where they shit.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Live from the Whorehouse Hotel/Weed Emporium

Welp, crew change tomorrow. I'm all arrived back in NYC, flew in this morning on a 100% full flight, so that was fun. I flew United for I think the 2nd/3rd time ever, and arrived at my destination with so much knee pain that I was hobbling the whole walk out of the airport. I've never been so cramped. I'm not a tall guy. Well, I am, I guess, a bit, at 6 foot, but I have little teeny stubby legs (more on that later) that certainly should be OK with the normal seating on a discount airline. But no, I was in hell. 

      Well, the walk out to my taxi fixed me up, thankfully, and I had an actually pleasant ride to Brooklyn from Newark, which sure was a surprise. 

    So, the 40-room 5-story crew change hotel we use also rents rooms for 4 hours at a time to the local whores. So that's a thing, and so long as the manager keeps the working girls on a separate floor or at the least on the other side of the building, they're not too disruptive, although I do know one engineer who had to get his room changed just last month as Mrs. Comfort next door was an enterprising lass and also in high demand. The whole hotel absolutely reeks unbelievably of weed. It's inescapable- every room, every hallway has the acrid stink of stale smoke from the Devil's Lettuce. I fear for our pristine urine should we get randomed close to crew change. But what can we do? It's not like there's better places for under a couple hundred dollars a night. It's Brooklyn, where a ratty fleabag like this place is still in high demand, and this is our 3rd hotel over the years. The other two weren't really much better, if we're being honest, and this place has the virtue of being closer to the office and in a neighborhood that is relatively safe. 

Now, not to be Debbie Downer, as is my wont after leaving a perfectly good wife 1500 miles away in favor of getting my ass paid. My poor liver is about ready for some rest here at work. I've had some amazing bourbons come across my bar at home the past two weeks, and the persistent aches that I was getting at work in my legs responded well to ethanol-mediated thinning of the blood and what I think were 5 evenings in the jacuzzi with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife. Beyond a vague leftover annoying twinge from having my knees forced up around my ears in the horrible plane seats this morning, I'm arriving in fair condition. 

 So, I was in beast mode while I was home in terms of productivity. I got my garage wired up properly for the use of my heavier tools, did a ton of work on my assorted plants at home, repotting and cutting out stumps and the like, and did a bunch of work with my scrapwood, getting the pile down to a very respectable small size for almost no money, and I even got to Make Some Stuff, which is what I really like to do.  I got the Honey-Do list all knocked out, and even got 25' up on a ladder and patched holes that the local red-headed woodpecker put in my house's trim. Said patches were made with concrete and painted over, and I heard the little bastard trying to remake his holes without success, which was a giggle for me. I hope he got a headache, the fucker. 

As I mentioned above, I have little stubby legs. At 6 feet tall, I have 29-inch legs, which is the same length, amusingly, as those of Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, who, at 5' 3", is far more pleasingly proportioned than I. And the weather at night being just right for a soak in the jacuzzi, we both end up struggling a bit to get in and out of the thing, so I ripped down some 1x8's, used up some 2x4's and paint and deck screws, and made a 2-sided step so we could get in and out of the tub easier. Add in some champagne, a charcuterie plate and a selection of boozes, and we have had some great nights at low cost at home. 

I'm happy to report that tan line season is here, as well.