Wednesday, March 31, 2021

halfway day

I'm at halfway day today, and the first two weeks aboard certainly were busy! We're continuing to get beat like a rented mule here at the HQ, in terms of workload, and no end in sight. The weather is awful, mostly. Storms every 2 days, wind about 2 days out of 3, and no end in sight there. 

 But we're halfway there, and I'll keep telling myself that. Been lots of humdrum days, where I put in the hours, and go to bed, rinse, repeat. A bit soul-deadening, to be honest, but I'm showing up on time for watch, and it's work. 

I can't post pictures on Blogger, suddenly, and can't seem to figure out why, either. Hmmm. 

    Uninspiring, I know. I'm curious if we're going to get a glut or a break in ship traffic here in New York harbor from the Sues canal debacle over the weekend. It'll be a while until we find out. Several of our regular visiting ships are on liner service from the far east to the middle east to the Med to the EU to the US. So I honestly don't know what this will do to us in terms of the availability of cheap shit. Our fuel is still mostly coming from in-house, but that'll change as small American oil companies lose confidence in our present .gov and larger oil companies adjust. I'll be curious as to what the speculative market will do with the state of affairs in the global oil trade. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Tug Life with Tim B At Sea

 So one of my friends has a youtube channel that I find super entertaining and informative. If you're into boats, or have ever been interested in tugboats . Tim's a good speaker, gives clear and entertaining descriptions of what he's doing and has invested in good video equipment so that you get a feel for what a tugboat captain does in harbor work. Along the way, you can also find descriptions and tours of his boat, working in tides and currents, and shiphandling too. He's developed a following of people that seem to be divided into 3 groups- workboat enthusiasts, fanbois, and the merely curious. You should absolutely check him out. 

His channel can be found here.

   Enjoy- although I've known Tim for a few years now, and the videos encompass something I know a little about (and I do mean a little. I've never run a tugboat other than at the forbearance of a few generous friends who either indulged me or had a sudden need to use the toilet), and I find the videos soothing, as well as informative. The sounds of the engines put me right mellow awful fast.  Anyhow, go give Tim's page a look and consider subscribing if you like Youtube videos. It'll help him out by offsetting the dough he's put into making the videos.  

Work- Now with increased BMI!

 I dragged myself back to work the other day, and after a mostly sleepless night at the hotel that my company makes available for crew change (0- stars, frequented by prostitutes, rooms can be rented 3-hours at a time, and the entire place absolutely reeks of weed at all times, but hey, this time I didn't have to ask for a pillow that didn't have bloodstains on it, so things are looking up), I headed back to work and B was able to go home himself.  

      It was with great hesitation that I stepped on the scale, and discovered to my horror that I've gained 15lbs in 2 months. Well, I knew I had gained. You don't eat like a famine victim and drink like a fish for 2 weeks without paying a price, and the truth is that last month I was eating the correct things but in hugely villainous proportions.  So I'm back to eating and exercising, the 4 days I've been aboard, anyhow, and today I am suffering from the carb flu, where my body has burnt off all the excess glycogen in storage, and now I'm in ketosis... side effects of which include grumpiness (well, who can tell. I'm never a ray of sunshine on week 1 so no changes there), fatigue (I'm on night watch for the first week, so again, can't feel anything different) and low energy, which I absolutely feel every bit of... I'm dragging ass so hard I'm leaving furrows on deck. This should last 2 days, and my energy level will pick up after. 

       I may even have a fair-sized chunk of tonight's watch off!  It's still really busy here in the ports of NY/NJ. While I was home my shipmates had 5 days in a row with shore access and no cargoes to move, so they did a bunch of maintenance and went out for food and explored Brooklyn in their off time, too. I'm jealous there, but OTOH, I don't want the calories, and it's too cold to enjoy my 5-7 mi walks that I do when I have a free day. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Productivity to 11

 I'm still at home enjoying the sun and warmth (but not too much warmth. It's been sunny and 75 most days). 

 Without social media to clog up my day, I'm finding that I have much more time on my hands, and my productivity has gone way up. I spend less time in the bathroom scrolling and instead move on to the essential paperwork directly. I have my breakfast and read the news using a headline aggregator that keeps that process down to about 5-10 minutes. I've lost touch with some good folks, and that I lament, but in the meanwhile, I have had a couple of great phone calls with friends up north whom I hadn't spoken to in depth for over a year. 

 Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife has unfortunately been hard at work the past few months which has left me with more alone time than I'm used to. As a result, we, in our time together, took one of our spare bedrooms and converted it to a home office... but I built a murphy bed that looks like a slightly chunky bureau rather than a bookcase there, even so, for guests, since it's the only first floor 'bedroom' in my house, and not everyone who might visit is cool with a flight of stairs. Building a murphy bed is not something I recommend. There's a reason why good ones are so expensive when you buy them already made. 

 Along with the bedroom, my garage, my place of power, has been undergoing a more significant series of changes and improvements in organization. It's 8am and I haven't even been out there yet, so I have to wrap this up today. This morning I'm making a rolling Toolbox Of Misery (a toolbox full of sandpaper, steel wool, spare sawblades and sharpening stones, the tools everyone really, really hates using and that I spend a lot of time hatefully using) and after that, finally, I can start to work on some more fun things, like reducing the pile of scrap wood that I don't have the spine to just throw out. 

 Time to make all the things. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Did something happen?

 The culture war rages, apparently, from what I can see. 

           I feel disconnected at this point. Ironically, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife had to work an overnight herself last night so I was on my own.  After a week of working nights and sleeping only from 6am-noon, last night (Thursday night) I pulled the pin and took a massive belt of bourbon, probably a quadruple or pentuple shot) with ice, and sat in my jacuzzi for about 45 mins, soaking away various age-related aches and pains, and when properly marinated, went to bed and slept for 9 hours, which just doesn't happen for me. I'm not a good sleeper and 7 to 7 1/2 hours is my usual ideal.  Still, obviously I needed it, and now my circadian rhythm is back to what it should be, although the bourbon, drunk on an empty stomach, has left me feeling like I'm 30 seconds behind reality today. 

     At any rate, reading the news online this morning has left me aware that now that I'm mostly off social media, I'm not aware and up to date with what's going on...

You know, when I gave up my career as a biologist and took up fishing commercially and sailing on ships in the off season, almost 25 years ago at this point, one of the most attractive parts of the lifestyle is that I had a great reason to not be engaged with pop culture and could do my own thing. Connectivity has made my life better in many ways- I was single when I started working on the water full-time as a career, and being married now, I talk to my wife every single day... but I used to get on the dock once a month or so with a pocket full of quarters or a credit card or a phone card and call my parents 25 years ago, and that once-a-month call was so welcome and appreciated by them and me too, and then I'd go and work for another month without talking to people I knew... and that was good too for me. The price of connectivity has been in my mind of late, and for some reason it took until now for me to strike a balance that means I can still call my wife every day, and read the news once or twice a week while I'm at work, and the world somehow still goes on, and my life too. 

  I had a reset I guess. 

        Well, time to get on the honey-do list anyhow. Lots to do. It's sunny and pushing 80 outside. 48 hours ago I was freezing my nuts off. This is better. 


Thursday, March 4, 2021


 I got home last night after one of the most pleasant and unexceptional travel days ever. It was EXACTLY what I needed. 

      I was pretty refreshed after a few light days in week 3, and week 4 hit us like a hammer, with weather, wind and a lot of strange cargo movements. One of the more trying events that we deal with is when we load cargo for multiple discharges at anywhere from 2 to 5 ships with multiple products... and trying to do so in such a way that we can pump everything off in order. 

    To explain, I have two large diesel engines on deck that drive a Crisafulli-style screw drive impeller pump on a right-angle gearbox- so the suction point for the pumps is about at the same depth as the bottom of my tanks. However, such a unit is not self-priming at low volumes... in other words, a tank has to be partially filled a fair bit in order for me to be able to pump it out. In my case, there needs to be about 3 feet of product in a given tank in order to fill up the pump to prime it. This is related to the height of my piping in the tanks- the oil has to be able to flow through the pipes to fill up the barrel (sump) of the pumps. One weakness there is that in draining the tank dry, sucking in air will cause the pump to lose suction, so when the tank is almost empty, we need to slow the pump down and slow the feed rate by partially closing the valves to that tank... if we suck air, the pump stops working, and if we suck air, it can be a bitch to reprime the pump unless we have more cargo in another tank to reprime the pump. 'Losing suction' before pumping off all cargo is a no-no, and causes shame and gnashing of teeth and wailing and lamenting from the office, as you become the proud owner of oil that can't be given to that customer now. 

 Now, the tanks themselves have a suction point (a sump and a pipe to suck out of it) with a valve to open and close it, at the aft end of each tank as close to the centerline of the barge as possible.  The tanks are laid out in pairs, so as we work after from the bow we have #1port and #1 Starboard tank, and aft of that are the #2 tanks, etc etc. This is done to that we can pump off cargo from the bow and as it lifts up out of the water as it empties, oil will naturally flow down to the suction point in the tank, and really allow it to be emptied completely... we actually roll the barge slightly to one side or the other  to help drain the tanks as empty as possible.   except in the after tanks, where the suction point is at the front of the tank. The house on board actually sits partway on top of my aftermost cargo tanks, so there would be no way to put in valves and a suction point in those tanks the same way and have access to it... and so in order to pump off the after tanks, we have to have full tanks up forward somewhere to drive the bow down and the stern up as the stern tanks are pumped off... but after the after tanks are empty, we need to get the bow back up again in order to pump off all the other tanks properly... anyhow, it's not always easy, given that we also have designated tanks for designated products based on the sulfur content of the oil we carry. Some tanks are for Ultra-low sulfur fuel oil (ULSFO), some for Very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) and some for Low or Ultra-Low sulfur marine gasoil (LS-MGO, a type of high-quality diesel fuel). 

 Now, with all that confusing folderol, we loaded, for example, last Friday, with three grades of fuel in 10 tanks for 3 ships. The first ship was getting some VLSFO and all the LS-MGO, the second ship was getting some ULSFO and the rest of the VLSFO, and the 3rd ship was getting the remainder of the ULSFO. We loaded up, and the peculiarities of where we had to put the fuel made it so that we actually left with a nice 2' of drag- which is to say that the stern was 2 feet lower in the water than the bow, which eases how we handle while underway and doesn't stress the hull with bending forces either. .. but when I woke up 8 hours later, the order in which we had to pump off the cargo had changed... now we had to pump off the product for the second ship first, the 3rd ship second, and then we had to go back to a loading terminal and load more VLSFO, then go to another loading terminal to load more ULSFO, before returning to pump off fuel for what used to be the first ship, and also two more ships after that with the crap we loaded between the second and 3rd ships. 

 Confused yet? 

 Oh, and the VLSFO and the MGO were owned by one charterer, and the ULSFO was owned by another, that was also fun to deal with. Two different chain-of-custody procedures and paperwork policies... and if there is any remaining fuel in a given tank that we can't pump off, we can't use that tank again until either the original owner gets their fuel back or we load more on top and give it to someone else. 

  Now, on changing of our orders, my first concern is 'Can we pump this stuff off?' Which tanks we use is based on being able to trim and roll the barge to be able to empty the tanks completely. Changing the order in which we pump off tanks will change the trim of the barge, which may make it impossible to completely empty a tank. As it happened, with the changes, I could manage to get everything off in theory, although we had a strong list to one side and were way down by the bow between the 3rd ship and the 4th, so there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by our tugboaters, who had to drag us around and did not enjoy doing so with a barge that doesn't want to move well at all... oh, and at this point we had a storm come in again, with gale-force winds, so that was fun for all. And by fun, I mean awful. 

       So, yesterday, while we were loading the final products, it was time for crew change, and I got relieved by Big E, and had my unusually pleasant flight home, followed by a great evening with my family... and here I am, typing away just before sunup, waiting for the Mrs. to wake up and start the day... not bad at all. It's cool for Florida (65 degrees) but promised to be in the low 80's and sunny today. Can't wait.