Friday, December 31, 2021


 I'm still alive, still home, and while I've probably gained 10lbs the past week, today is New Year's eve (I don't care) and I've got just a few more days to enjoy my time at home. So that is my plan. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas!

 Just stopping by to wish all 3 of you that read this a very Merry Christmas. I am home and I am exhausted but happy. It's been a whirlwind the past few days. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is still working 100ish hours a week but training new help, and so we're getting 3 hours or so a day together before sleeping from about 1am- 6am before both doing what needs to get done, and dealing with household business as well. 

         We got my house dialed in, and it's Christmassy AF, too. Couple of trees, and it takes about 10 minutes to get all the lights on and such, inside and out.  Last night we did Christmas Brazilian style, eating coxinhas  and Pao do queijo  and appetizers with champagne before opening presents at midnight. 

 I got a nice woodturning lathe and a still for making my own booze. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife rather liked her presents too. Notably, as a man who appreciates a well-turned leg in very high heels, and my wife being rather more fond of heels than not (never leave home without 'em, she says), I got her a pair of Valentino stilettos in red that cost more than my first car. I'd make fun of her for it, but she'd just point at one of my guns and compare my favorite 1911 with a dogshit Hi-Point and she'd be right. 

 My kid got his driver's license the other day too, lol. I think I was more nervous that he was. As penance for the sin of costing me 3 hours of daylight I put him to work for the same amount of time doing things I didn't have time to do. 

 And so here I am at 11am on Christmas day. My kid is up but groggy, as we went to bed about 2am, and while my wife and I were up at 7 as she had to work, I found myself with free time for the first time since I got home.  Later today my son and I are heading over to my brother and sister's house for Christmas dinner Part I.  I have other family flying in tomorrow night, so Monday night will be Christmas dinner Part II: Cholesterol Boogaloo where we'll have a dozen people to feed, and by we, I mean me, as my wife will be working until 2 hours before dinner.  Should be a good time. I laid in plenty of booze and grub. 

 This being my first Christmas home in 3 years, and me being as mature as the average 12-year old, I'm a Christmas person, obviously. 

      I hope that wherever you are and whoever you're with, you have a very Merry Christmas too! 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

getting short now

 I've only got 3 watches to go here on HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ .  Unlike last year, when weather delayed me enough to miss Christmas, I should be home with a couple of days' grace to run the final stretch until Christmas. My son being 18, and me being home for the holidays only once every 3 years, this will likely be the last Christmas before we hit the Empty Nest phase, so Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I planned a good Christmas...

 But you know that thing about the Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men? 


     So, once our kid was 16, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife rejoined the workforce and got into the healthcare field, quickly rising to a home care manager for Alzheimer's care, as she has a particular warmth that lends itself to working with kids with autism or cerebral palsy, and elderly folks with Alzheimer's and dementia. I'm obviously very proud of her- the emotional cost of that sort of thing could very easily deaden the lightest of hearts, but she thrives in it.  

   Unfortunately, she lost some employees this month, and fired a management-level helper, so she's going to be putting in a 90 hour week this week.  For the first time in our relationship, I will be having to enjoy Christmas while working around HER schedule. This is obviously weird for us. I mean, I think that this is only our 5th or 6th Christmas together, because of my job, and I'll be home, while she'll be home only for 6-8 hour blocks here and there. 

         In the meanwhile, though, we have family flying in to visit, and my brother, sister and nephew are only a few minutes down the road, so we're going to have I think 9-12 people for Christmas dinner, which will be on the 27th.  We'll be doing our own nuclear family's Christmas Brazilian style this year to accommodate my wife's schedule... which means opening presents at Midnight on the 25th, having wine and  good but unhealthy appetizers all the while to keep us awake.  In the meanwhile, though, I'm just happy to have some time with family. As I age, I appear to be suffering from homesickness and sentimentality more and more. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Night watch, post-bunker blues

 It's a nice quiet night here aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Hot Dog Safari. 

       I did a quick bunker job on a pretty little bulk ship, the BALSA 94. As noted before, Blogger for some reason no longer allows me to post hi-res photos, so there aren't great pictures to share today... but if you know me in meatspace, I did post them on my Instagram, which is about the limit of what social media I consume these days. Instagram lets me look at boats and boobs, and that's about all I need out of social media these days anyhow. 

         The BALSA 94 job was a lot of fun. The weather was unusually fine for December, there being a light breeze and temps around 50. The crew was mostly out on deck catching the cell signals to call home, which the ship being almost 100% top-down Filipino crew, meant that as people finished their phone calls, socialization happened, and also there were extra hands helping the Black Gang on their side as we moved hoses, passed papers, etc. Several guys hung over the rail and shot the shit with me, which is something I haven't done in ages, just chatting sailor to sailor.  We quickly commiserated on long contracts, short pay and shore leave no longer being what it once was: fun.  naturally, we talked families and kids, as sailors often do. The only childless unmarried guy in the group, who was a first-voyager 18 year old, was hounded and made fun of for being unmotivated and possibly gay for his lack of progeny, but the kid took it in stride. With a well-paying job, I suspect that he won't remain childless for long. 

The job itself went off well and efficient, and when it was done, we sailed to the company mooring buoy and went alongside another bunker barge, where we currently now sit. 

      I threw some chicken on top of a salad and called it dinner, and had to make some pickled onions, as they're easy to make and I was out. The galley still smells like onions and vinegar. Makes me hungry, to be honest. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

it's quiet...

 ...too quiet. 

 Shit's making me nervous.  My partner-in-crime of 11 years, B, was ganked off of here last week for a few days. I got to sit at a lay berth for 2 days all alone. It was awesome. I walked 6-7 miles every day around Brooklyn. He returned, and we haven't had orders since. We've taken the time to work on all the cold-weather maintenance we could get to, changed out some cargo hoses, took on stores, did cargo pump oil changes, etc etc...all time-consuming projects that took advantage of having shore access where a truck could pull up alongside us and our deck crane could swing heavy shit back and forth. 

Today was my last day watch. As I go home in a week, I will go to bed and get up at 1am to take the second half of the night watch, and while I can sleep tomorrow after breakfasttime, I will be working in the dark and going to bed with the sun thereafter. 

 Working nights sucks, honestly, but the positive aspect of it is that there are no office phone calls barring any surprises. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

"The Wheel of Time' tv show is awful

 Once again, Hollywood has taken a big steamy creamy dump on my childhood. 

 It was bad enough when Star Wars ruined the Hero's Journey by making all the heroes failures, quitters and weak assholes at the end of their lives. 

 The Wheel of Time TV show has done Star Wars one better. They took a complete book series, gutted and skinned it, and are wearing the skin as camouflage to ruin the story from start to finish. The series is so poorly miscast to meet diversity quotas that the tv  characters would be considered caricatures of the book's characters had the tv characters not been rewritten to be almost universally awful people. Seriously, 5 episodes in, EVERY character has been rewritten to be unlikeable, even the characters like Mat, who is supposed to be a fun-loving troublemaker,  and universally likeable, is a broody thief, and generally as likeable as a burlap bag of smashed assholes on the show. Perrin, the hulking blacksmith is a retarded Geico caveman, a mouth breather who accidentally killed his wife, a tormented character,  where in the book he was a very soft-spoken and humble but intelligent teenage apprentice blacksmith. In fact, the 3 main characters of the story are all relatively happy teenage boys in the books, and in the TV show each gets saddled with more weepy terrible backstory than story. 

 If you read the books, the Wheel of Time has it's flaws, in that it makes and relies on some tropes (men and women can't communicate with each other is a popular theme, and carried to the point of sillyness), and goes too deeply into irrelevant sideplots. But for all that, it's an amazingly complex, BIG story. Epic. And innovative in that it's essentially the Hero's Journey again, but with fresh takes and a massive cast of characters. 

 Put another way, I always thought of "Game of Thrones" to be a terribly-written hot take derivative of The Wheel Of Time books. Piss-poor competition, in my eyes... but that's just it- in my eyes. I get that YMMV.  But fuck me, why take a good story and make it bad?  That takes actual work, to fuck up a pretty great story. And somebody got paid to do that. Why? 

    I suspect that the concept of a Heroic Journey offends the sensibilities of Hollywood these days. Imagine a man bettering himself and overcoming a terrible challenge. That sounds classist and maybe racist, almost certainly capitalistic. Let's make everyone hate everything instead. 

 Anyways, the show has managed to ruin another great story. 


Where the Power Be At

  I learned a good lesson about the oil shipping industry a few months ago. 

 For all the talk by mariners, columnists, managers and politicians, when it comes to charting the course of the future of the oil trade, only bankers and shipowners truly matter. Money matters. 

 for the most part, a single investment bank has a much more important role in shipping than every single mariner in the trade combined.  For all that we are needed, sailors are at the very bottom of the totem pole, which makes most of our bloviating just so much noise. At best, we can be useful resources for information. At worst, we are like taxes, merely the cost of someone doing business. 

 I say all that because I got another good lesson this week, in a related vein. 

 I'm pretty good at my job. I mean, you can shave a monkey and make a tankerman out of him; I'm not bragging, certainly. A shaved monkey will get a good seal on his respirator, and that, coupled with the presence of a beating heart, is enough to sign a Declaration of Inspection, the founding document at the terminal end of an oil transfer. Those of us who aren't shaved apes often get picked on by being given more challenging work for the same pay as the shaved apes. So it goes. There are benefits, too, though. We can submit useful feedback to the office, and sometimes they even listen to us.  

       This week we had to do a debunkering. De-bunkering is when a ship has to transfer its' fuel to a fuel barge for some reason.  This is done for contaminated, off-specification, or fuel that does not meet the minimum sulfur content required by environmental regulations in some nations. Essentially the fuel needs to be returned to a terminal to be reblended, reformulated, re-refined or stored and given to someone else who CAN use it. 

 Thing is, when you get heavy fuel oil, the residue sticks to the tank walls and bottom of the tank. This eventually drips down and hardens on the bottom of the tank. We call these 'bottoms' and they are carefully accounted for in our assorted calculations. 

 Well, we don't want the wrong type of bottoms in our tanks. So, before debunkering I had to come up with a plan for flushing our tanks out, as the supplier did not want to pay for us to spend a week getting our tanks cleaned professionally at the local tank cleaning facility. As such, I came up with a plan that required us to flush the tanks twice with good clean oil (unlike product carriers designed to switch between highly varied oils, we can't self-wash our tanks), but which would result in almost zero bottoms, something we normally can't have this time of year- colder oil congeals on cold steel tank surfaces, and it's chilly these days. 

 Doing this stuff is a matter of trimming and listing the hull over, to allow semi-congealed oil to slump downhill. Since not all of my tanks have the pump suction sump in the back inboard corner of the tank, sometimes we have to do things like trim us way down by the head, but also to be able to recover from that position and then reverse it, by going down by the stern, or listing over from port to starboard by varying which tanks we pump out of. 

Essentially my plan was to shift bottoms around using trim and list that we normally couldn't do, and shift as much bottom oil into a particular tank that I can pump out better than others. This required I reload twice, which was doubly adventitious, as I got to flush my tanks clean twice too. There was no way to do what I wanted to do by flushing just once. 

    Not rocket science, just good basic tank vessel ops.  And my gosh, you'd think I asked for gold leaf paint, caviar, a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle and a footrub. 

Our office gets to be Lucky Pierre, stuck in the middle in talking with the oil company. I don't speak to the oil company directly. I am a mushroom. So our shore ops guy gets to get yelled at on both ends. 

 Can you do x instead?  No, we can't. We'd gain on bottoms. 

 OK, the customer says let's do Y.  No, we can't. We'd gain on bottoms and it wouldn't flush the last tank. 

 Ah, OK. We'll do X, then. Very good. 

 No, no, we don't want bottoms containing that oil. The next time we use that tank, we don't want to blend it into the new fuel. 

OK, We'll do y, but this time we'll just use less oil on the flush. 

*Facepalm* That's even worse!  Look, if they can suggest a better way than what I came up with, lets' hear it. Otherwise, after 20+ years of these sorts of thing, maybe just listen to what I had planned to do? 

 OK, very good. Let's do your plan. 2 cargo flushes for each tank.

...and, at the end of the first flush "OK, great, all done. See you next time."   "Wait, what about the second flush?" "What second flush?" 

 Phone calls, and now it's 3am, and the night ops guy has no idea what is going on, and we have to take a few hours explaining things, so he can explain it to the night guy at the customer's company, who also has no idea what is going on. Because of course the oil company didn't want to do the second flush.  

 End result, we got our second flush and it did exactly as planned, reducing bottoms by 75%.  

 Thing is, I knew what to do, and I get that the shaved apes don't. I get that the presence of shaved apes makes an oil company turn a gimlet eye at suggested plans that cost money. They don't know me, or trust me to optimize a plan. They want to save time and money. Now, my company's ops guy knows me, and also knows that the oil company just wants this problem to go away without costing them time or money, and therefore will not be willing to part with either.  I just want to save time and be efficient so I don't go home at the end of the month in a frustrated rage.

 Like with shipping in general, money determines who has the power. The resistance to my plan the other day wasn't because it was expensive or slow. It was because it was MY plan, not theirs, and a certain contrary nature on their part. They don't want other people telling them what the best plan is when they are being forced into doing anything at all. They want their plan it seems. And that's fine, if it's a good plan, or even workable. It's a good reminder that the guy in the field has little power or agency no matter what benefit experience may provide.   It's not unlike listening to the maritime crew unions talk about the future of shipping.  The future is what the people with the checkbook says it is.  And while that sounds pretty pessimistic, it makes sense. The guy who cleans the toilets doesn't usually have a board seat at the office. I get that my purview ends at the handrails around the perimeter of my deck. It doesn't bother me that I have little say about what happens ashore. It was a bit silly that I had to negotiate so much to get clean tanks, when the negotiations took longer than the fix.