Friday, September 23, 2022

It's NY harbor. If you don't like the weather, go F*&k yourself.

 So there's like 2 dozen expressions we use about working around NY harbor that all end in "go f*&k yourself" 

   "Hey, do you know what time it is, or should I just go ahead and F&#k myself? 

 "You know what they say, if you don't like the weather, go ahead and F@ck yourself!" 

"There's a dead body passing down the port side in case you don't want to just go F*$k yourself like usual tonight." 


        NY is famous for being crude and rude. And tugboaters call that just another Tuesday, so we don't notice until someone from away makes us notice. 

      So yesterday evening I was in shorts and a t-shirt out on deck after watch, it was sunny and calm, and today, when I took the watch over at 0530, I'm in a sweatshirt and watch cap because it's 50 degrees out and blowing 40. Our tugboat has a deckhand trainee from Maine who's so new he smells like pine trees still. And the crew of the tanker we were departing from alongside was a little negligent when they cast off our lines- at the first chock, they drop my stern line directly in the water, and a spring line  he heaves out the eye directly over my head. I'm standing well out of the path of the line, so it took work to get me in the danger zone. I quickly step out of way and give that 'Hey, hey, hey!' yell that means I am looking for attention- I tell the deckies up above me to be careful dropping lines so nobody gets hurt, and to please drop the lines on my deck, not in the water.  I get a wave back, and everything's cool, I think, until at the next  chock forward... the guy again fires the eye of the mooring line at my head, sidearming it at my melon. 

    I immediately cuss him out, hard, calling him all manner of things foul, scattering f-bombs and questioning his competence, before going nuclear and dropping the "Yo momma's a 'ho" in tagalog, which got him pie-eyed. I don't know what the problem was, but  he dropped the last two lines like a Christian after that, so good enough. 


     In talking with the new tug guy, I cautioned him against doing what I did. The guy on a ship up above has all the means and ways in the world to hurt the guy closer to the water, higher ground and all, and the best defense against getting an object thrown at you is to be nice. I normally really, really try to be nice to foreign ships- for one, they're our customers, two, full of guys trying to make a living and getting paid shit for it under hard conditions and 3, to avoid getting hurt.  Of those things, #3 is the one that is most self-serving. I have taken part in games more than once where  a supervisor on my then-ship promised $25 to anyone who could knock the hard hat off a rude linehander's head below us, with a thrown monkey's fist. Honestly, I never won, but it wasn't for lack of trying. 

 So, in talking with the kid, out there in a t-shirt and too proud to admit he's freezing his nuts off, I stressed that cussing out someone as I did was a last resort, and not a first resort, which is more normal, sadly, here in NY. I also told him that he might be from the land of ice and snow, but somebody already killed Jesus, so no reason to die for other people's sins, and to put on a damn sweatshirt.

 I really do wonder what the hell was going on in that tanker deckie's mind. Maybe trying to brighten up a shitty day by ruining someone else's? Who knows. 


 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Deep in a mild grind

 So, one week in today, and I'm well into the routine- today we run dog watches (because they're cur-tailed, har har!), as I shift from working the night watch to the days. Today is warm and sunny, very pleasant outside, and we're at anchor, so I spent the morning spot painting outside, just enjoying the breeze. There aren't too many painting days left, and we have already done what we set out to do this year, painting-wise. 

 Really, I'm just in the grind now. We've got work coming up, and the schedule has been pretty humane this week, so I got all my indoor and outdoor honey-do's done.

   I've been following the news in seeing that the world is getting more insane, not less, and I am grateful to have my job, not just because it's a job, but because it's a job that keeps me out of pop culture's reach. I do wish it didn't keep me so close to New York, just because there's plenty of angry people elsewhere who feel like NY needs an atomic enema, and here I am sailing around the 'taint. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Brooklyn's Industry City, or The Most New York Walk Ever

 So we're sitting at a lay berth in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, not one of our normal haunts. This particular berth is usually reserved for the clean oil royalty Retirees, a half dozen clean oil barges whose crews have been doing one cargo a month for the past 15 years and sitting and chewing their cud the rest of the time getting paid. 

That's a whole 'nother story. Anyways, the HQ doesn't normally hang out here but the retirees are out of town, either at anchor, working, or at a different lay berth and so here we are. 

        Where are we? We're at an abandoned waterfront parking lot with collapsing warehouses, rusty chain link fences, weeds, metal scrap and mooring bitts  at the water's edge. And oddly enough, there is shore access here. You have to walk through the abandoned area, past a couple of abandoned guard shacks at abandoned fence gates that are open, all looking post-apocalyptic AF, and THEN, you come to the gate. The gate has a guard protecting the steel scrap, rats, trash, and abandoned warehouses from the neighbors. And the gate has a guard. A shirtless monoglot Central American watching TV on a 30 year old portable TV, who doesn't look up if you go through the gate. 

     I guess the parking area was where FEMA stuck all the reefer trucks that Covid failed to fill up with the predicted bodies at one time, as the falling-over fences had relatively new barbed wire, now mostly trip hazards.  The whole place looks like a set from The Walking Dead. I mean it's gross... but you know what's worse? The neighborhood outside the gate. First off, there are a half dozen sketchy people, some wearing a nondescript unarmed guard uniform, some not, all gathered around the partially stripped remnants of a rusty Honda Civic.  The abandoned massive building across the street has trash blowing out of it, and glass from the hundreds of broken windows is all over the street and sidewalks. There aren't any burning barrels, but then again, I haven't been out at night. 

         Anyways, armed with my trusty roll of quarters that I keep in my pocket because I can't have guns in NY and even carrying a sap is illegal, I pass by the bad 80's movie set that is this slice of Mogadishu in Brooklyn, before crossing the gentrification line and hitting Industry City. 

      It's hard to describe Industry City. It's a half dozen or so identical WWII era massive industrial buildings, possibly ex-military, that has been turned into hundreds of small shops, factories, restaurants, distilleries and furniture showrooms. It's a very cool concept. I bought a cut of good meat from a butcher, the spices and ingredients to make tzatziki from a middle eastern grocer, and checked out the blacksmith's shop that was forging parts for the maker's workshop the next floor up. The assorted distilleries and brewhouse restaurants had an appeal too, but being as shipowners are puritanical beasts, I did not partake. 

https://industrycity.com/


     The biggest two negatives to me was that all the public spaces were infected with hipsters smoking weed, including the restaurant seating and playground. Aside from working a job that requires me to be drug-free, I absolutely abhor the smell of weed, and there were at least two dozen people smoking weed in my 30-minute walk in the common spaces between buildings. God I hate that smell. And I hate hipsters. Now I have a reason to hate them even more. The dingy-looking probably-wealthy assholes who were smoking joints upwind from where a half-dozen kids were messing around in the pretty decent playground deserved a punch in the throat or at a minimum to have ground glass shoved in their eyes and then to be thrown on the ground and kicked about the face, neck, head, chest and genitals until they changed shape. 

 But I digress. At any rate, I had a nice walk, minus all the damn people.  The walk back to the dock was pretty much as it was on the way out- I crossed the gentrification line, shifty people started going by, trash blowing about underfoot, and the 'security' guards, who very obviously are criminals with cover stories, were side-eying me again when a Canadian goose stepped in my path from between two broken down cars, got startled and flew off, honking, but unable to get much altitude in the short distance, it barreled down towards the ringleader, who let out a pretty fair high-pitched shriek and ran with his hands in the air. I then passed by the shirtless gate attendant shortly thereafter, who was still watching Univision on the 1985-era Radio-Shack portable TV and scratching his armpit fairly energetically, too much so to notice me. It is about a 10-12 minute walk to the pier from that gate, and not a soul to be seen in 50 or so acres of cracked and weedy asphalt,  which is an odd feeling in the heart of NYC.  

 I dunno. The whole thing is weird. 


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Two A Days

 So, I know the expression "Two a days" is a sportsball reference, but it's appropos here. I'm not into televised sports. Or organized sports, really.  At all. I reluctantly played football briefly in high school before quitting in relief to go work and make money instead of playing children's games for free. So I participated in two a days for a time over the course of two years. They were awful. The whole thing was awful as I recall. Even as an adult I can't even stand to be around people watching sports. The whole thing is just very very gay. Unnervingly so. 


   But I recall two a days having a particular effect on me as a teenager, and I experienced that same feeling last week. Sick, dehydrated, dizzy, unhappy, uncomfortable, unmotivated. Oh the memories. 


 The US Coast Guard requires that whether or not you participate in fire and boat drills in the course of your maritime career (both being required on every inspected vessel and most uninspected ones too), in order to maintain STCW credentialing enabling you to work on oceans, you have to have refresher training in water survival and firefighting every 5 years. 

 Last week was that day for me. And to save on time and be efficient, participation in water survival and firefighting is done in the same day. The same very long day.  This is good in that it is efficient, and not so good in that it can kick your ass if you were to do these things in, say, South Florida in the summer. 

      So, last week one day I spent the morning in a pool, in a gumby suit, doing things like donning the suit very quickly, racing up a 10' ladder and jumping off a diving board. Which is actually good fun except that doing this in a survival suit meant to keep you warm in arctic  ocean conditions in winter isn't all that much fun on a 95 degree sunny day. While overheating badly, ironically while swimming, albeit in a thick neoprene suit that fit badly, the liferaft exercises kicked my ass.   Flipping over an overturned liferaft, then getting in the stupid thing unassisted, then getting out, repeat, rinse. Kicked my ass, made me nauseous from the heat. Good training. 

           I did this class with the same South FL maritime school I've been using for the past few years. As mentioned in other posts, this is mostly a school for yacht crew, and this was no exception. My classmates were young, fit, inexperienced and attractive people with great hair.  But there were 3 of us who were commercial guys, all far older than the beautiful people. One bosun from an oceanographic ship, one federal mariner from the Military Sealift Command, and me. Arthritis, joint aches, beer bellies, experience. So we got set up by the instructors as 'liferaft commanders' and each of us had to run the group liferaft exercises for our little 6-men teams. It was fine, all of us had been there, and unlike the yacht kids, actually have to drill, rather than have logbooks pencil whipped for fear of chafing the upholstery.  I found my kids pleasant to work with; they took very well to being nicknamed in order to assign tasks (I named them Stick-Bird, Jeorgeous George, Shemp's Nephew, Probably Jailbait and Hot Topic), and when the time came, they were very solicitous of helping my flailing ass get positioned in the door of the raft after I had a hard time getting onto a 4 point stance at the very end of the exercise, where I was starting to see double from the heat.  Anyhow it all went well, other than my being in hell at the time. 

   The afternoon was firefighting, and it was here that the gray-hairs had the advantage- the firefighters all were afraid we'd die on them, and so we got to do all the exercises first. Getting suited up and on air in 95 degree weather wasn't so nice, especially after courting heat stroke that morning. And so, on the last exercise, which was a body recovery exercise done in the dark while on air in a smoke-filled compartment, and sensing that I had only a very few minutes of work left in me before either barfing in my air mask or just dropping, rather than doing a 2-man drag of the weighted mannequin out into the sun from the closed compartment, I tapped my young teammate, said 'help keep me balanced' and threw the mannequin on my shoulder and bulled my way out of the compartment, My teammate was good as gold and steadied me until I could get my balance while duck-walking with the the mannequin like a laptop bag.  I threw that dummy a good 5 feet when we got out into the air, and the firemen, who knew what time it was, obviously, hustled to get me around the corner, got me off air and dumped a bottle of water on my head.  I noticed that they did the same with the other commercial guys. I also noticed that my back said that there was to be no more mannequin tossing. 

      I find that these periodic refresher classes are very useful. Like it or not, I always forget things that aren't always covered in on-board drills. And I enjoy playing fireman.  To that end, I regret than environmental conditions definitely detracted from the class for me... BUT, they actually represent good training. Conditions are not likely to be ideal in an emergency.   To that end, I realized that, unhappily, I have to do some additional strength and conditioning training if I don't want to feel like I did during that class. Granted, I'm not going to run around like Tarzan for an hour before putting a cold-water gumby suit on and jumping in 90-degree water, but still, being distracted, sick, uncomfortable is probably going to be the best I can hope for in an emergency.   I noticed that when I had kids to order around I was less focused on being miserable and more focused on making sure they were OK and learning. I guess experience counts for something. 


Monday, September 12, 2022

I'm not dead yet... again

 I had a wonderful time at home. Mostly wonderful. I got my ass kicked in a training class. I'll write about that when I'm installed in the Weed Palace, the by-the-hour hotel (pillow and pimp not included) that my company stows us at for crew change to make sure we don't stay a moment longer than necessary.  That'll be tomorrow if the good Lord wills it. 


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Short Sleep

 With just a few days remaining before I go home, today was the first opportunity we've had in a bit to get a boat to bring us ashore and, for me at least, to stock up on bulky items like chicken, meat, bottled water and soda, shit tickets and paper towels, that sort of thing. Coming back to work is always a drag anyhow (the process sometimes referred to as the 'bag drag'), and doing so with 150lbs of food and drink that has to be humped from the cab to the office, then the office to the pier, then the pier to a tug or launch that may or may not be rafted up alongside another so you end up doing a hug n' lug across a couple of boats, then onto my ride, sail out to wherever the HQ might be at that moment (80% of the time it's at least an hour's steam away), then pass the bags up to the deck of the HQ on a heaving line, then up the ladder I go, get the bags into the house, then put my grub away, make up my bunk, change out of the clothes, etc etc before I can catch a nap and start working a few hours later. 

         This is pretty much tankerman routine. My partners and I all have been burned in the past with other shipmates who skimped on food, or bought too little and ate too much, etc, so we buy our own and my company pays us a grub stipend (That covers about 60-70% of food costs for one in New York, but with purchase power in numbers, tugboats can do pretty well by combining grub allowances for 5, usually sufficient, barely, to cover costs. And that's fine). 

 This is not me complaining (except about the actual amount of the stipend, which some use as  justification for living on hot dogs and cereal), it's just to illustrate that carrying our ass to work, along with luggage and a half dozen 60lb bags of grub is annoying, and thus, the stocking up we did today is an opportunity for which I am grateful. When I come back in a few weeks, I will be carrying a gym bag, a computer bag, and probably 2 grocery bags of green stuff. 

 The cost of doing this is lost sleep. I got off watch at 0530 this morning, having been up since 1400 the day before, and the tug came for us at 0830 this morning, so I got about 2 1/2 hours sleep.  Fortunately we were able to shop at man speed, so I was back aboard and in bed by noon and slept another 4 1/2 hours solidly.  

     Given the insanity of our broken-hearted world these days, I very much still am mindful of what a gift it is to be able to have my world at the moment be a matter of basic needs an no extraneous noise. It being Sunday, there wasn't even traffic to speak of in our quiet little part of Red Hook in Brooklyn, so going to the grocery store wasn't the usual feeling of an army convoy leaving the green zone. It was mild. 

 In some ways this is part of the compensation package for my job, for me at least. I do get some days where I don't have to give a fuck about the zeitgeist. Granted, my partner of 12+ years out here, B, knows enough to know that I was pretty low-energy with a bit of sleep debt, so we didn't talk much except when we did, if you get me. After I woke up tonight for watch we had plenty of time to complain to each other about the dumpster fire that is the outside world. 


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Finally

 Finally, we're out bobbing around at our mooring, and I have a watch off. We ran dog watches after midnight to flip watches, and I will be on the back watch (1800-0600 for my last week here on the HQ. 

        And what a time it's been. We've been running around like a $2 whore on Dollar Day. I think the most time off I've had since last I wrote was a 3-hour block a few days ago... which I spent doing oil changes on our generators. There's been shit getting me up out of bed a few nights, and the days... the cooler spell of seasonable summer weather (seasonable to me being under 85 degrees here in the Dog Days of August) last week ended over the weekend, and we're back to baking our balls off, although for the last few days it was more about steaming our balls off, as we got dumped on with torrential rain Monday, then one of those fogs that amplifies the sun and manages to burn your skin so much the light's actually painful. Anyone else have that? Or is it just my Irish ass? I mean, I have a tan of sorts. I'm brick red and it doesn't hurt, and that with sunblock so high that it's probably giving me skin cancer anyhow.  

 Point being, it's been busy AF, and I'm feeling it, which makes me very grateful for a night at anchor. 


Saturday, August 13, 2022

being grateful

 We're scrambling here on the HQ like a cat trying to bury a turd under a marble floor.  It has been NON STOP since I came aboard, minus a few small unintentional breaks caused by missing a tide or waiting for a tugboat- none over 2 hours. Today, with 3 hours to go until the tide, will be the longest break I've had since I came aboard 10 days ago.  The heat wave hitting the northeast has made this very unpleasant, but it broke yesterday and this morning before the sun came up I had to put a long-sleeved t-shirt on with the breeze blowing. It was glorious. 


   Yesterday I was a bit of a soup sandwich from the get go. The day before was very busy especially in the late afternoon, in the peak heat of the day, and I overheated, despite my best efforts. Got dizzy and nauseous. At some point in my job, there is just no avoiding that, and the safety nazis can go suck a diseased elephant cock if they preach otherwise.  Burning my balls off in the sun, wearing the approved PPE, neck in agony from staring straight up (and into the sun more or less)  for 20 minutes running a crane with a ton or so of hose hanging 60 feet in the air to help 2 overworked tiny Filipino gentlemen on the lifeboat deck of a monster container ship to wrestle the hose flange into position to bolt it to their fuel manifold.  Sweat is pooling in my eye sockets, so on top of being half blind my eyeballs burn like a mad mother too. The staring straight up is agonizing after just a few minutes and so I need to roll my head around every minute or so, but even so, how many years has it been now since I had full range of motion in my neck? Gee, I wonder why. Container ships are getting taller, crews are getting smaller, and the time it takes to connect a hose is increasing.  So, the other day, the candle on this cake was that with all this happening, it had also rained that morning and so I had damp drawers and a nice case of diaper rash as a result, in with high 90's temps with high humidity in the afternoon, I wanted to empty my stomach of the shitty wilted salad I had for lunch, because we've been so busy that we're out of good healthy greenstuff, and the last of the salad represented the last uncanned green thing on board, so I didn't want to throw it up. You just can't eat anything but light foods in this heat. Anyway I held it in until I could go back in the house and put my head in the sink to run tepid (no such thing as cool water on a steel boat in summer) water over the back of my neck and have some ice water, which we do have, thankfully.  Anyways, it's a picture that every military person and every construction worker outside of Alaska has had to deal with, so it's nothing special, just miserable, and I wanted to paint a picture for a reason. 

   So that was the other day. Yesterday I woke up ready to be displeased by the world. Feeling cunty, as we say. But... the heat had broken in the night. There was a strong wind, 20 knots, not quite enough for whitecaps but refreshing and it lasted until about 9am before gradually tapering to a breeze, and the heat came back, but not as bad. Still, it wasn't enough to turn my frown upside down. My neck ached abysmally, breakfast came from a can, and we were running late on a job, and if I did hurry, I had a safety inspection waiting for me when we got to the next tank farm to load, so I could do double duty. 

       Yesterday's ship was a pretty but elderly small breakbulk ship, loaded deep, but not to her marks, because they were light on fuel and so stopped by in New York harbor to bunker on their way from the Caribbean to Canada. The crew were the usual gaggle of Filipino unlicensed and Eastern European officers that you find on bulk ships- which tend to pay lower than tankers or container ships, but go to better places for longer port stays. The Filipino guys were the type that I like to work with- friendly, hard working, and good team players- they had my cargo hoses connected and slung properly in short order and my deck height and theirs were level so we could talk. No staring into the sun for me, which is a blessing and a treat. 

          The chief engineer and I had our pre-transfer conference right there on our decks, about 5 feet apart, passing papers and talking through the process in a very satisfactory and professional way. After, waiting for the crew to swing valves, we got to talking, and I knew I could hear a Ukrainian accent and that's a whole can of worms right there, but I asked about where he was from, and he was from Odessa, and out came the story. 

    A month ago the chief left his home in Odessa, hitched rides and snuck across the border to Moldova along with some refugees, which involved a lot of running from various people in various uniforms, and no food for a few days, in order to get to an airport and to meet an agent from the shipowner to smooth over the irregular entry into Moldova with customs (presumably with cash gifts), and to get on a plane to meet his ship. This guy is supposed to have a 6 month contract but will likely not be going home any time soon and will have to see what he can do to help his family beyond sending them money. 

     This guy looked tough, resolute, but... obviously deeply troubled. A tortured soul, I would guess, with a good game face. He had an Immaculate Heart of Mary pendant, so I pointed and said "Eastern Orthodox, not Russian Orthodox, right?"  He laughed and said "Yis, exactly! I pray whole time I travel to Moldova. She very good for me." He pulled a gold and jeweled rosary out of his pocket. "This too. You know what is?"   "I do. I'm Catholic, but mine is at home, and not that nice."  "This was my mother's. You should travel with. You no want die without. Is good to have when you go." The Filipinos are all smiling. Of course they're all Catholic too. Generally ships seem to be either Catholic or moros, who tend towards Islam, when it comes to their Filipinos on board. How such things are organized I don't know. 

   Anyways, this all hit me like a bomb. I'm a sentimental person, although I take pains to not appear so. In talking with these guys, part of me is deeply ashamed at how self-centered and pitying my thinking has been the past few days. It was a good wake up call. I shouldn't be crying because it's not perfect weather. Here's some guys who are really dealing with some shit, and I'm all 'waah, my ass hurts and I'm hot, waah." 

 So at the end, when all was done and we called 'released' which means we're all free to part ways with all the work done, the chief waves to me and says "God bless you, now, keep you safe,'  and no bullshit, I choked right up, hard. I had been dwelling on his lot while we were working.  Near to shamed myself when he said that, I came that close to tearing up.   After about 5 seconds that felt like an hour I got out a real froggy "God and Mary and Patrick be with you," which is a nice and very old Irish parting blessing I'm very partial to but have few opportunities to use. 

    The rest of the day and this morning have been a little better, and I'm feeling more grateful for what I have. I think I got my clock reset. 


Monday, August 8, 2022

Redemption!

 I had to delete my last post. Shoulder Man Is Going To Be An Engineer Some Day  was on board yesterday again, and he did a fine job in a professional manner, and worked up a sweat from his labors. 

 As my post was about my oddball encounter with this boy, and he is now batting .500 in my book after working with him twice, kid deserves not to be immortalized by being made fun of. He stands a chance. He done good, and it makes me wonder what the hell was wrong the other night that he left such a terrible first impression, but whatever, the kid was in boy scout/astronaut mode, and  we've all fucked up before. 


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

I was actually ready to go back to work. (recipes included)

 It's always a bummer to see the end of my time off come. 


   I spent last night at the Weed Palace, the 0-star Brooklyn hotel where my company stuffs us to rub elbows with the finest discount prostitutes and low-rent shabby pimps, and angry loud people who insist on only using speakerphone on their Obamaphones.  The teeny tiny pillows offered to us who don't rent rooms in 4-hour blocks have the exact consistancy of partially cooked cauliflower. That's new. I know I have a big head, but a pillow should be larger than a decorative mini couch pillow, even for people with normal sized melons. 

  No blood or semen stains on the coverlet this time, so that was a bonus. 


       I allowed myself 7 hours of rest time, which gave me about 2 hours of sleep. At the Weed Palace, you choose from the side of the building that faces a VERY busy fire station with hourly call-outs, or a busy aboveground length of subway junction, where you get both the squealing of trains making a tight curve AND the clunks of train wheels changing tracks on a tight curve. I opted for the train, as I have a white noise generator on my phone and headphones that are so loud they leave my ears ringing. 

 So that was a fun night.  I will say that Brooklyn has the enormously positive feature that you can get food from anywhere in the world locally.  I had an early flight yesterday so I had arab food for lunch and takeout Korean barbecue for dinner.  Great stuff. I'm not kidding when I say it packed a punch, but I will say that the pigeons outside the windows backed off a solid 1/4 mile when I kicked on the bathroom fan. 


     This morning was the usual crew change rigmarole. Because New York is retarded, I have to pack bulky reusable grocery bags in my luggage from FL, as it's a felony to offer grocery store customers plastic bags. Or smiles, probably.  I also bought heavy, as I'm once again making a concerted effort to lose weight and last night's feasting was the last hurrah. I have about 12lbs of chicken and a 4lb picanha (a sirloin cap) in the deep freeze on board, so I loaded up on fresh vegetables, cases of water, 0salad, eggs and also a large quantity of diet soda, normally about a week's worth, but which will have to last me 4 weeks, as I am also in need of drinking more water and less caffeinated artificially sweetened beverages.  Normally I avoid too much water. Fish shit in it, you know. 

 I'm still having 2 slices of bacon with breakfast, healthy eating or not. I'd rather just die than give up bacon, especially at work. It's not always fun to be a sailor. At least I have bacon. 

         My time home? Amazing. The first week, I was pretty good. Mostly sober. Got some exercise, sun, but limited in what I could do with my shoulder being sore. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife took a fair bit of time off from work so we had a lot more days and nights together.  Second week was much better in terms of comfort, and so I swam a lot, went out a lot, and ate and drank to repletion (and beyond) a little too often.  We also threw a little barbecue over the weekend, and that, while small, was amazing fun. My brother and I were the only gringos there, and one of my wife's friends is a private bartender for events in Miami, so we had some amazing Brazilian-inspired drinks, I grilled picanha, chicken, Brazilian linguica, and the ladies, led by my wife, worked to cook rice, Farofa (If you don't know what farofa is, you are seriously missing out) as well as roasted yuca, and a Brazilian Vinaigrette salsa 

      Most of my guests being Brazilian, after dinner the drinking, swimming, and dancing went up a notch. It was very pleasant to watch, Brazilian women being what they are, but I held off from dancing until after my brother had gone home to wait for the meat sweats, and our bartender/dance instructor handed me a glass of whisky to wash down all the food and fruity drinks and I got out there and lumbered my way through what little samba I can manage. 

    I haven't woken up hung over in a while. It's been even longer since I woke up hung over and with sore legs. The ache in my knees wasn't there 20 years ago last time I did that, though. Thanks, aging. At any rate, I also had a raspy voice from laughing and talking so much. Not everyone made it home, as I didn't want to see anyone driving drunk, and so my somewhat decrepit ass put together a hangover cure breakfast to restore body and soul. Scrambled smoked eggs, bacon (of course!), expresso-ground coffee made as strong as possible, mimosas, fresh biscuits and roasted leftover yuca fried in butter. 

       One VERY cool thing about Brazilians is just how social they are. Cleaning a kitchen after a major event is also a social event. Everyone participates, and it makes things go faster. My wife being the Dona Do Casa (The lady of the house), she ran the show like a conductor and it went quickly. I went out to fish champagne corks and wire stops, a flipflop, and some lime slices out of the pool and reunite bikinis left to dry on the table with their owners. By noon we had the house to ourselves and had tidied up the remnants of the night before and retired to the couch to take root. 


     I included links to recipes and descriptions to those foods above, but I'll warn you that the farofa article is insane. I have never had fruit in farofa, and instead of corn, the Brazilians I know use green pigeon peas. For meat, it's usually finely chopped bacon, linguica, smoked shredded rib meat or the like. 


 So, yeah, I maybe waddled onto the plane when I flew up here for a couple of weeks of Freehab here at Hawsepiper's Afloat Global HQ/ Fat camp. Next time I'm home I'll have to take it easy if I want to be able to see my toes again. 


Thursday, July 28, 2022

CPR day

 I've been home for a week already, hard as that is to accept. Time is fleeting. I, in a fit of smartness, pulled a shoulder muscle almost as soon as I got home, so that changed all my plans. I'm still damn happy to be home, although I've probably been a pantload as far as my attitude goes. I am not good at sitting around. Anyhow, for my last week at home I'm good again, no more chicken wing. 


     I did manage to renew my CPR  card while I was home. This was the first time I took this particular class at Maritime Professional Training and Boy Howdy were they...thorough. There was no pencil whipped 3 1/2 hours and out you go class, we were there for the full 8 hours.  Normally I'd be pissed off, as I hate make-work classes, but this was worth it. 

         MPT is an interesting boat school. I've mentioned them before, because they're heavily geared towards international yacht work, and also because the yachties tend to be very fit, attractive people in optimal health, and the merchant mariners are... not any of those things. 

       So as I'm renewing and also upgrading my license this year, I had to get a fresh CPR certification. I'm glad I did, too, as I was very rusty when it comes to pretty much everything except for the physical part, the chest compressions, so I'm glad the class was thorough. 

      The instructors were two retired fire fighters, and in the class there was myself and a dozen yacht crew, 10 of whom were in the process of looking for their first job. These are not even day 1 kids. They are Brand.New. The experienced yachties were a kid with a little 100-ton license and a stewardess, neither of whom were mariners to speak of. All of them were fresh-faced, chirpy young kids that smelled of money, and excited.  And then there was me. I was on good behavior, but being the oldest guy in the class by about 30 years (and I'm 48), I actually identified and got along with the instructors great, but was largely ignored by the kids.  It all started with the 30-second intro's where we talk about us, our experiences, and why we're there. I'm no master mariner, but I have a nice broad set of experiences, and talking about being  an AB and commercial fishermen before these kids were born probably torpedoed any shot at being one of the gang, lol. 

       What was cool was listening to these kids stories, and the personality mix. There was the obligatory 19 year old expert, the kid with the little license, speaking from his vast experience, and it was humorous and humanizing. Was I that kid, or would I have been that kid under similar circumstances? Ugh, probably.  Some sorority girls in spandex looking for a fun job for a few years before setting into adulthood. A girl who graduated high school last month, who spent all her time on the phone and therefore bombed the little test... a little tableau.  I stayed quiet, which is not normally me, but the instructors didn't need me to participate, and the kids needed to interact, to engage. 


     The only time I spoke, and this raised some eyebrows, had been arranged before when I was at lunch with the instructors. This was when the instructor talked about Medical First Aid Provider (the next class in progression if one wants to learn more), and Medical Person-In-Charge, the more serious intro to medicine for officers.  "For example, when you are offshore and you lost a shipmate, CPR didn't work, and shoreside tells you to cease; after the official part is over and shoreside notified, what do you have to do? " He gestures to me. "Cap?"

 Me, sort of deadpan: "Well, you'll probably be told to strip the clothes off and  to wash the body, but you really have to stuff all the openings with cotton and rags, bag them and put them in the fridge, but not near any fish. You don't want the body smelling like tomorrow's lunch when the loved ones come for it and you don't want them to get freezer burn if there's any hope of an open-casket service."  The poor kids were so wide-eyed that they looked like Japanese caricatures of Americans. The teacher riffed off of that and the day went on. At the end I was ready to go home for sure, as it had been a long day, but it really humanized the firemen for me, too, seeing them as people who had jobs to do that involved lifesaving, but that the weight of years, of rescues and failed rescues too, all costing them something, but not so much that it took away their desire to continue to serve by teaching. 

 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Last Watch

 Wow, we've been hopping. 


   I head home tomorrow, but we've been doing a lot of small cargo parcels here on the HQ, at least 1-2 moves a day. I've been running around like a cat trying to bury a turd under a marble floor. 

        Tonight's watch will get busy with a load that should be starting in about 30 mins when our assist tug shows up. I had free time to do my organizing for heading out tomorrow. Really, nothing spectacular, just more work. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Just call me 'Lucky'


 Yesterday was one of those days that made me grateful for the date to click over at midnight to a new one. 

    Now, I woke up at 1am for watch, as today is our day to switch watches and my partner B takes over wearing the big boy pants during the daytime, which has been my role these past few weeks. So today we run dog watches, (called because they're cur-tailed, as Patrick O'Brien once wrote) to ease the pain, essentially working shorter  watches until our watch schedule is 12 hours offset from what it had been before. So even though I had trouble falling asleep and only got a 4 hour nap before my next watch, I am grateful for it, because that means that yesterday is over. 


      So we knew going in that one of the 3 grades of oil we had loaded the night before was off spec- that is, it wasn't chemically exactly as the customer wanted it to be. This happens now and again for various reasons, and can be fixed by either diluting the oil with fresh stuff that is on spec, adding an ultra-clean but pricey oil like diesel (we deal in residual oils, which are less expensive than 'clean oils', so think of it as adding 93 octane gasoline to a tank full of 87 octane because on testing the tank had been showing 86.9 octane.  Sometimes we just send it back ashore and load oil from another shore tank so the shoreside folks can address the issue, too.  As it happens, we chose the former path, and so we would cut the oil in question with some diesel oil to make it come up to snuff,  but first we had to make room in the one tank where it was sitting. This was done by opening up an empty tank and the pipelines between the full tank and the empty one, and letting gravity drain off a particular volume, which when time allowed, the newly empty space would be replaced by diesel, and the newly filled tank can be pumped ashore on a later date.  Easy, standard. But we had to wait for the paperwork, the OK's, and all that hoopla. 

 In the meanwhile, the diesel-engine driven cargo pump I rely on to pump our most in-demand grade of oil (which has it's own designated tanks, pumps and pipelines aboard) decided to get in a fight with the coolant pump, and so on a nice hot July day the water pump on the cargo engine shit the bed. My company moved us to a pier with shore access for a mechanic to come and take care of that while I was pecking away at my calculator and the HQ's computer to run intial numbers, email with the parties involved in the oil issue, and eventually go outside to gravitate the oil to the new compartment... while I was waiting for the mechanic, and before the office staff was in the office, I swapped generators, bringing a new one online so I could change the oil on the old one. I did the oil change but managed to knock over the waste oil container as it was draining out of the engine pan, and so I had to clean up a big splash of  still-hot used engine oil off the gen house floor, which is always a good time. I got the gen house all tidied up just as the mechanic dug into my unhappy cargo pump's engine. He started by dumping the radiator's coolant directly on deck rather than in buckets, so now I have 10 gallons or so of used coolant running down deck and for the scuppers, which I had to stop and clean up. I was a bit pissed, but what price a properly cooled cargo pump?  I spent a nice 20-30 min stretch on my hands and knees, which is awesome when you're fat and also have a very heavily nonskid coat on your deck.  In the meanwhile, I'm still going back and forth on the off-spec oil, making plans and running numbers and messing with questions of trim and list on my barge, and how these things change as oil moves about, all pretty light math but requiring a calculator and the laptop to shift numbers around. 

 At this time the generator which has only been running for a few hours is on the verge of overheating. I had smelled hot diesel engine (if you know you know), and so there was a bit of coolant there that had boiled over but merely increasing ventilation by opening a hatch took care of that, but while I was cleaning up the pint or so of coolant that ended up on deck I dislodged the collection bucket for the crankcase vent, and so I dumped a pint or so of waste crankcase oil directly into the top of my boot and filled up my shoe while my foot was still in it. So I again had to clean the deck, this time with one boot on and one boot off before cleaning my oily boot and switching to my winter boots, my spares, a set of insulated Red Wing logger boots that each weigh about 7 lbs. Good fun on a 90 degree day. 

 By the time this is all done and the messes are cleaned up and the permissions to do what we need to do to get the wayward oil back on spec are all achieved and everyone's on the same page, it's time to sit in the AC with the laptop and run the numbers and do the blending calculations and trim predictions and such... this is good because my socks are already 100% saturated with sweat, as is my shirt. This is when the blue screen of death visits the office computer.  Seriously. At this place, at this time, the computer. Just. Died. Now. 

           I'm old enough to be able to do the calculations I need to do with a pen and paper and a calculator, the old ways. At least I think I can. It's been 10 years since I had to do that. But I can't email and I have no paper record at the moment of the oil we loaded, and no legal paperwork printed out yet... I need a computer and mine is now an expensive paperweight, beyond repair. I pull a spare out of storage and spend the next hour with an IT guru on the phone getting it updated and getting permissions and such to allow it to connect to our network, which wasn't assured as the spare is rather aged. But the guy makes it work, eventually, and while he's at the tail end of this, and I'm stressing out, hungry by this time as breakfast and lunch time have long since passed, I feel the bump of our tugboat arriving to move us to the tank farm to get our replacement oil and the mechanic heads ashore, finished. The usual rigamarole of unmooring and departure happens... but I haven't worn my clunky winter boots in 4 months, and distracted, I trip and fall, thankfully merely landing on my face and knees with slight involvement of my hands, tearing my jeans at the knee and also the knee beneath. Long time since I skinned a knee. I'm thankful I didn't hurt my hands, which are a lot more valuable to me than my face is. Shamefaced, and slightly road-rashed, I am up and moving quickly. 

     The rest of my watch goes about the same.  On the way to the oil terminal I hunt and peck and input the data from the prior loading of oil we did based on a paper copy of the details, as my computer can't yet access the full network drive ashore that has my records and numbers from past work. I get that done just as we arrive to moor. We get all fast at the tank farm, and the cargo surveyor who comes aboard (the same 3rd party guy who signed off on our papers at the first loading) declares that we can't load until he has load orders from the charterer... but not the load orders the charterer gave me to give to him, the ones we spent hours on getting everyone into agreement. He wants different orders, something I haven't ever heard of. He then decides on different volumes to load than the ones I, my office and the charterer all agreed on. By this time I am out of patience, my knee hurts, my foot is sweaty and oily and I am hangry. After going over the numbers to justify our needs, again, I call my office and ask the dispatcher to please unfuck things because my ability to even is about out. I can't even, by this point... and right then, when I am ready to either fall on my sword or go all ham on the surveyor, in comes B, because it's watch change time, and I am saved. 

          A shower cures most of my ills, turns out. Cleaning my scrapes and scraping oil out from under my toenails is a pretty zen activity when you was 30 seconds from going nuclear just 15 minutes before. I have the leisure now to handle the 3 S's and make a BLT, the perfect food for a hot July day.  Just enough time after to read a book and start to unwind, but surprisingly sleep evaded me for a few hours. 


 Still, here I am hours later, and we are at a lay berth awaiting the discharge of our now better-than-ever quality oil... but the discharge isn't going to happen until the next watch. I have the watch free, which is a fine thing. So this is my entertainment portion of the night, where I can blog, kvetch and while I'm not feeling rested, I have another opportunity to sleep in a few hours. Some days are just like that, where nothing goes quite right except that you're still above ground at the end of it. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Helpin' a buddy attempt a green circumnavigation

  I like to think of myself as a pragmatic environmentalist. Yes I work for an oil company in the oil industry, and have for over 20 years. I also have roots as a biologist and have been active as a commercial fisherman, hunter, hiker and general nature enthusiast for most of my life. I was good enough to work as a teaching assistant in a field botany class as an undergrad, based on my knowledge of plants and trees of New England, because field guides made good presents to a nerdy teenager who liked walking in the woods more than going to a mall. 

 Thing is, I tended to butt heads with environmentalists a lot because so many idealistic kids have a religious rather than scientific understanding of ecology, human behavior and economics, all things critical to environmentalism.  Hell, I can have a far greater positive impact as an oil company employee than I  ever could as a shitty low-level student and scientist. I get to influence people's decisions and I get to see how people who depend on harvest of natural resources interact with the environment. I get a louder voice by being able to contribute at the tip of the spear when it comes to things like, say, keeping oil out of the water. The fundamentals. 


    Human ecology and human ethology is a critical component to understanding conservation science and environmentalism.  You can't expect people to be interested in qualitative concepts like carbon footprints when survival is their main focus. You reserve that for people who aren't 3 missed meals away from having a dead kid and you protect the vulnerable among US to effect change in qualitative concepts like environmentalism. This is simple game theory stuff- the rising tide that lifts all boats concept, that making improvements that foster sustainability can't come at a cost beyond what people are willing AND able to pay. As an example, new, green power-generating technology tends to be expensive and impractical as sole-sources of  energy. Solar panels aren't awesome at 2am. Wind generators kill birds and don't work well in low or high winds. Batteries are... sensitive, dirty AF to make, and shitty at storing power in some circumstances. Only through testing, thoughtful design and proof of concept does sustainable energy become more useful and practical, which is a perquisite for it becoming acceptable for wide use. Green energy must contribute to making people THRIVE more than survive, or, like those automatic seat belts on cars in the 90's, they  become things that that the rest of us laugh at WASP's for using. Practicality is key. 

     As of right this moment, nobody has yet to be able to circumnavigate the world using only green energy generating technology. Boats are a brutal testing platform for sustainable energy products, and that makes them arguably the best testing platform there is. Green energy generation is hard, expensive and impractical just at the moment. But it's improving, and it improves through testing, trial, and trial and error. The power requirements to propel a boat hull through the water using electricity generated and stored only by wind, sail and regenerative current (basically the propellers turning as they're dragged through the water while under sail), are beyond what that of a battery bank can easily store, let alone to have enough surplus to say, power a GPS, cook and leave the navigation lights on at night. 

     A professional sailboater named Jimmy Cornell tried to do this on a sailboat called the ELCANO, a boat designed to be self-sufficient enough and rugged enough to be used in a circumnavigation using green power generation. He failed after just a few weeks, finding his very carefully designed boat to be too flawed for what he wanted to do, namely to be a demonstration platform that could both  keep the lights on and faithfully follow in Joshua Slocum's footsteps. 

    Enter my friend Peter Lukursky. Peter is a former mechanical engineer (and reformed attorney) who has been living a minimalist lifestyle very well on a sailboat for the past 8 or so years. He's a Youtube star with over 100,000 subscribers. People tune in to his channel to see him living on pennies per day sailing around the uncharted and unpopulated coast of the hellish part of Australia as well as through the eastern Caribbean, having a great time and basically being the unofficial spokesman of simple and sustainable living on almost a zero budget. Guy's the real deal, someone who catches his own food and supplements it with dry goods purchased sparingly every few months. 

    I surprised myself by getting on board with his idea. First off, I like the guy. He's the right mix of crazy and crazy smart, and he's a human punching bag that doesn't give up. No BS, guy's been sunk, starved, spent 70-some days exiled and chased out of every country that he tried to seek refuge in during covid. (including Haiti and Cuba; things were that desperate). In the past year he's been hit by lightning at sea, which blew a hole in his boat and damaged everything, then got a raging case of month-long covid, then hit by lightning again (frying the little bit of electronic gear he had been able to purchase to replace the stuff bricked by the first strike), and then got covid again for a month. 


 I've mentioned him before here. I enjoy his channel. It's funny and fun, despite the serious challenges life has thrown at him, and he's about as close to living in harmony with nature. as it comes. Perhaps the best testament to his character is that he is very accepted by the very poor native Guna indio people, who allow him to fish and anchor and visit their islands because he will always stop what he is doing to help them as needed. When a family owns only a dugout canoe with a sail made of found rags and tarp pieces, the clothes on their back, one spearfishing gun and one dive mask, and nothing else in the world, having someone who will fix their dive mask or spearfishing gun using  spare parts ( that they can't acquire and he can barely afford to replace), that person becomes a lifeline. So that's Peter. 


  So, using his knowledge of engineering, sailing and sustainable living, Peter Lukursky is setting out to succeed where Jimmy Cornell failed. He will modify an existing boat design that is in the public domain, build it in aluminum, equip it with only the absolute minimum of utilities and furniture, and power the boat only with electricity derived from wind and sail using existing technology that has, thus far, never been implemented in such a way as to be sustainable over time. 

     There are sailboats with electric drive. Some have sailed modest distances too, between stops to charge the batteries with diesel generators or shore power at a marina. To date electricity has yet to be demonstrated as a viable method of powering long-distance cruising.  The aim of Peter taking up the Elcano challenge is for him to be the first, and to document every step of the way in his entertaining style, such that it can become repeatable. 


     I really wish I were a better non-technical writer. I'm likely far too retarded after 20 years of oil vapors to be able to write creatively enough to describe how interesting this all is.  Just go check out his channel, "Sailing Into Freedom"  

I promise you'll like it. 


  Now, my whole reason for writing is that Peter, at the urging of some friends, has started a Kickstarter to help underwrite the boat build. Normally I'm far, far too cheap a prick to give anyone a penny of my money, but I put a chunk of change in myself to help support the project. One, because I have about a 1000 hours of viewing enjoyment of his channel over the past few years because it's better than TV, and Two, because we actually NEED technology demonstrators that bridge the gap between tech and practical use while being easier on the environment too. Green energy is a great idea, if it can be made to actually be fuckin' useful for once.  It has to be just as worth it to field this technology as it is to deal with the positives and negatives of a diesel engine with an alternator slapped on it. I believe that it can be, eventually, but the only way to get there is through creative projects that have both practicality and demonstrated utility. This is a major step in that direction, to turn concepts into workable components. 


     You can contribute here if you like the idea and if you watch Peter's channel and think he's the guy to do it. 


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Better to be lucky than smart

 We've got the morning off here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Home for the mentally constipated. 


 When I'm on days, I usually roll out of bed at 0430 to start my day before I start my day. I'm one of those annoying people who wakes up happy and has to wait for my day to ruin that, but I also don't like to speak much when I'm just out of the rack. We're all like that on here, in fact, which makes it comfortable. Generally, beyond a 'good morning' you wait for the guy getting up to start conversation, not the other way around. And that's how we like it. 

    During the quiet time before taking on the business of the day I check my personal emails and whatnot.  And today I got an email from a childhood friend who told our group that he was getting divorced. 

 Damn, that bummed me out. Of course you want your friends to be happy. I'm extremely fortunate in that I'm still on speaking terms and keep in touch more or less with my childhood friends. I'm 48 and have been friends with these guys since Kindergarten or primary school. 


 I look at the lives of so many friends and acquaintances, and I sometimes feel very fortunate, very lucky. Sometimes I question if I really have it that easy, compared to them, and sometimes the answer is yes. By 'them' I don't mean anyone in particular, but I see the challenges that people in my life face, and I am grateful that I am not dealing with these things too. 


  Last week we were coming into a berth in Bayonne NJ while I was off watch and out on deck, and I threw a line to the dock that was an absolute Hail Mary  .  Line throwing on a boat is a learned skill and I am only average at it, but I am more accurate when I am at the upper limit of distance for me. Basically you throw a heavy mooring line such that the eye opens and drops onto a bitt on the dock some distance away. The heavier the line the shorter the max distance you can throw.  And this was a 100% throw, the kind that I'm not supposed to do at age 48 but the mood was right and I didn't blow out my rotator cuff, so all's well, and I hit that bitt. 


I'm not on a tugboat but you get the idea.



 I lassoo'd that mooring bitt as we started drifting off away from the dock, and it was the best throw I've made in a few years.  As I handed off the line to the young deckhand, I said "See, it's better to be lucky than smaht anyday."  I said smaht because though I am a southerner, I still have the accent that makes me Boston Paul at work. Seriously, nobody knows my last name here, and of the few who do, it's not like they'll pronounce it right anyhow. 

   And maybe there's some truth to the value of luck here. Despite my best efforts, I guess I'd still be classed as 'smaht' given my past and what happens between my ears at times. But being smart hasn't brought me near as much as being relatively lucky and generally a fairly nice person. 


 I don't normally think of myself as being lucky. I never win shit on lotteries or scratch tickets, and I can't speed in a car without getting pulled over, and luck of the draw almost never favors me.  But in life? Yeah, I can't explain many of the good things I have as being things I've merely earned. My marriage? Lots of work put in to make it so successful, sure, but it was just dumb luck and probably my wife's poor eyesight that got the foundation put down there.  And given my nature I'm VERY fortunate. I mean, I'm more Lenny than George most days, and I can't see further through a brick wall than the next guy. The early years where communication had to be simple and direct because of the language barrier got us both attuned to the importance of communication, I guess, and as our vocabulary in each other's language expanded, we were both very lucky to find that we liked each other even more as our thought processes became known to each other. 

 Again, luck. OK, luck coupled with focus and hard work, but without that luck?   I'd still be kicking rocks. 

   My job? I'm only here because of a lucky interaction with a classmate in a Terrestrial and Coastal Navigation class I was taking. I was on my off time from the oil tanker I had a permanent slot on, and one of my classmates is part of the family that owns this company and they needed tankerman badly enough that my friend put a good word in for me. All this happened just as my former employer went tits up in a big way. Again, luck. Well, luck and good networking.

   That seems to be the pattern with me. Dumb luck and... some minor contribution on my part.  Hell, even before all this, when I was a 100% thoroughly unhappy and miserable grad student who hated his school, hated his professors and hated his career prospects, it was just dumb luck and a visit to my old high school teacher/captain at his lobsterboat in my hometown that made me realize how much I preferred being on a boat to being a goddam government administrator, which was my most likely career path at the time.  

    And the day it all came to a head for me, much later,  the last day of the last class in grad school, when I couldn't take the prospect of living my life as it was for just one more second, it was dumb luck that in moving back to my home town in Massachusetts,  I stopped at the town pier because I bought a sandwich and wanted to eat in peace and look at the boats before going to see my parents, and 10 minutes later I had a full time job on a boat. Again, just luck. I'm grateful that I have been blessed in so many ways, and that my challenges in life aren't more than I'm capable of handling. 



 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Tomorrow Too Soon

 Really, I only get 5 days off when I come home for just a week. I roll in after dark on (s)crew change day, and leave in the AM the day before crew change in order to get to the Weed Palace (The drug- and whore-friendly hotel where my employer puts us up to 'rest' the night before crew change, and by rest I mean listen to people scream over rap beats, police knocking on doors and hookers performing their trade all night). 

 So perhaps unsurprisingly I leave for work not with the excited anticipation of yesteryear, but a sense of duty and a pocketful of melatonin pills and earplugs. 


   This trip home, 5 whole days, was incredibly healing. Seriously, I did very little but enjoy time with my family and make a trip to my doctor, who said I was doing well but in his professional opinion, he diagnosed me as being fat. Like I didn't know. Anyhow, after the usual indignities, I was able to get a guffaw out of him when after pulling up my drawers I said "Geez, you know Father Porter used to at least give me a candy bar after."   I have a fun doctor. 

 Beyond the fact of my doctor getting to 3rd base without buying me dinner first, I have little to complain about my 5 days here. I spent part of every day in the pool with my wife, whether daytime or no, and while I did get a mild sunburn it was nothing to complain about, and I actually look healthy, rather than my usual mix of dead corpse white and brick red,  and Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife baked her brown buns to a lovely golden hue. She took a few days off from work and so we slept late, ate too much and killed off half a case of champagne and a half bottle of good scotch. 





 You know if I worked at Burger King I could sleep in my own bed more. The choices we make... 


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Let's go be tugboaters!

 Well shit fire and save on matches, I am beat up. 


      I got off the HQ last week, 7 days ago to be precise, and instead of going home, I was offered a cushy job as watchman on a hot-stacked tugboat. That is to say that it was an uncrewed tugboat that still had the generator on, and was ready to work once enough bodies showed up. And I got a dream gig to get a week's OT just to babysit.  That was nice, as I had planned to go home but OT is sometimes welcome, and OT for watching TV and reading books is doubly so. 


       My trip to tugboat Shangri-La lasted 4 hours. Port captain called and said that one of the tugs had a deckhand couldn't keep awake on watch who was sent ashore in infamy and shame, and given that we're always short on bodies in my place of employ, I got called up to be deckhand. 


     I am much too old and sedentary to be a tugboat deckhand by choice. First off, while I was once a damn good AB  (Able-Bodied seaman) that was 15 years ago last time I had any practice, and that practice had never taken place on a tugboat. I was a ship AB, a different animal. 


 Oh, there's no real difficulty there, an AB is supposed to be an AB, much of a muchness. But the past is a whole different country, and we tend to view it with a rosy tint. I knew enough to leave my ego at home, but it takes a bit of a bite down to have to admit that you need direction when it comes to doing some truly basic shit.  Coiling lines, splicing, anyone can do that. Throwing lines, making up, making off, tugboat linehandling, something I watched our tugboat crews do without truly seeing what they did or the effort involved... whole other thing. 


   So, turns out that the bulwarks on a tugboat up forward, at least the one I am on while waiting for my relief today, come up to about halfway up my ribcage. Linehandling, almost all of it, has to take place above that height. 

    Turns out, prior to this past week, the heavy part of linehandling has been something I've done from a height below the waist. This is pertinent in that it means I use my core muscles to help drag and handle heavy stuff... and really, the labor part of my job on the HQ involves hauling VERY heavy weights, like say the last 12 feet of a  6" black oil hose end, which is around 300-400lbs,  very short distances, mostly by dragging them.  And on tugs I am handling hawsers, which are lighter but actually fairly heavy, passing them and wrapping them around bitts and such that are at eye height.   This shifts strain from my core to my shoulders, something I am not used to.  I was damn sore the first 3 days aboard, and there's a twinge at the base of my neck that still ain't gone away yet. 

          Aside from seamanship tasks, I had housekeeping chores that took up an hour a day. Emptying the dishwasher, cleaning up after dinner, taking out trash, disinfecting and dusting surfaces and tidying up the wheelhouse, shining stuff. Domestic, not a problem. 


      I had much more fun than expected with the crew. The captain is someone I knew a bit, and proved to have a good sense of humor, thank God, choosing to laugh at me rather than fuss when I turned up a bit of linehandling into a cat's cradle situation, and the other deckhand is a workhorse with a great sense of humor, who had no problem whatsoever with helping me and also doing some remedial teaching. Also, a great cook. We all ate well. 

    The accommodations are tugboat standard, which is to say I shared a room with the other deckhand since one of us must be awake and on watch at all times, so I had the room to myself. I had the top bunk, and it was a bit tight, my nose being about 16 inches from the overhead when I was lying in bed. Still, not terrible. 

     A tugboat being engines with a small steel shell built around them, it's noisy. I was amazed, truly, that I could sleep after a couple of days. I guess you can really get used to anything, and turns out when the engines are running, you can't hear the other people or the annoyingly ever-on galley TV, so I actually slept better after day 4 with the engines running. 


 And now here I am, waiting for my relief to show up so I can go back to the office, take a shower and go to the airport and go home... for 6 days. Back to the HQ then. 

 The past week has given me new appreciation for the tugboaters I work with for sure. It was nice to be part of a crew in many ways, rather than being the guy who signs the papers and swings valves.  It was a mental break in that my tasks were elemental and there was less higher brain function. Not that there's tons of mental heavy lifting in my regular job, but there are more opportunities and responsibilities than what I had this past week. So that was nice. 

   It was hard on the ego, though. I don't like that I wasn't a really good deckhand and needed extra supervision. Still, I improved as the week went on. I hope that the impression I left isn't "Oh Jesus, thank you that that guy's gone." 

 It'll be nice to return to my more familiar job next week. But I have no regrets about this past week, beyond that I didn't get to sit on my ass and get paid and had to work up some sweat. 


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Painting is a nice hobby

 My kid approached me months ago and asked if he could repaint his room. His room was painted a bland tan color that we never redid when we bought the house, so I was OK. I have a big collection of paint in my garage, as I do woodworking and we had repainted the exterior of the house last year, and he likes to paint artistically so he can blend colors far better than I did. 

 I didn't put 2 and 2 together until he had me come look the next day and he had painted a mural across 2 walls. He finds painting to be relaxing and peaceful. 



        I find painting relaxing too, though. Which is good I suppose since I work on a big piece of floating steel that is, if not long in the tooth, approaching late middle age. And so with this weekend being gloriously between jobs, I've been unleashing my inner artist and painting too. 


 Little different though. I'm cracking open a 5 gallon bucket and rolling paint en masse. Still, I find painting, especially painting the deck, to be a very zen activity. I tend to tune out the problems and worries of the day and just be one with the roller, taking the pink and rust-streaked old paint and covering it with a dark red that has just enough gloss to get through the summer before UV kills it and starts the 2 year process of bleaching it out again. 

    Anyways, we're using a new type of paint, called polysiloxane, that is an epoxy (a polymer) paint, but chemically different enough that I no longer am able to see into the future and navigate starships when I am mixing the stuff. It's far less toxic apparently and easier on VOC's. 

 I dunno, I'm kind of disappointed. It's still relaxing, though. 




Saturday, May 28, 2022

Hey Handsome

 We had some sun a few days ago. I buzzed my hair off before coming to work, and got myself a sunburn on my dome after a very long day spent mostly on deck.  As I am the color of a fish's belly, my head of course turned a bright cherry red.

 Oh, I was smart. I put sunblock on my face, neck and ears. Didn't think of my goddam head, though. Wicked smaht, as I often say. 


 And now, it being a few days later, I'm happy that the discomfort has gone. My head no longer feels like I could fry an egg on it... and of course, my UV damaged scalp has started peeling. So I got that going for me. 


 Seriously, it looks like Christmas every time I move my head. The flakes fly.  My head looks like a diseased dog's ass. 


  Now that the horses are out, I closed the barn door. I've got a hat on when I go outside, so that the seagulls won't pick the scabs off my head. 


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

We make like a butterfly

 The HQ is moving product hard this week. 


   We're the harbor whore for sure this week. We went from dead and collecting dust last week to non-stop this week. We're moving oil every watch, doing *something* as demand for small to medium parcels of low sulfur oils this week in NY has us digging like a cat trying to bury a turd under a marble floor. 


 Good to see. We finished fueling up a car carrier this morning, and have a nice 6 hour wait for a  small container ship to come in and tie up, so we can come alongside and give them the fuel they ordered, and then we've got to catch a midnight tide to fill up so we can pump off to another ship at dinnertime tomorrow. 



Thursday, May 19, 2022

to work!

The last few days are not a blur, they are full of rich memories. My kid graduated high school, and we threw a small party for him over the weekend.  The party was before the graduation, during the weekend. For some reason the graduation itself was on a Tuesday evening. It being Florida, maybe that was to avoid the heat, I dunno. 

       Everything but time to sleep worked out well. I've been only sleeping 5-6 hours a night for the past little while0, courtesy of Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's new habit of complaining in her language in her sleep. It's too hot, too cold, honey stop breathing too loud, etc, and then at first light, a goddamn woodpecker has decided that it's fun to drum on my bathroom window, about 15ft from my bed, every 10 minutes or so. He's wary enough that he disappears when I pop my head outside with a .22, and ignores the usual scaring devices, a plastic owl, etc. I need to set up a blind next year and wait him out one morning, get me a nice new organic chew toy for the neighbor's dog.    

 So, not much sleep the past 10 days or so. Originally, I had a flight out and back to work after the graduation ceremonies, but that got cancelled so I had a 5am flight yesterday morning. 

 So, graduation wrapped up at about 8, then it was decided we'd go to dinner to celebrate more, as I was unexpectedly home, and my kid wanted Thai food, which is normally OK, but after getting into bed at about 11pm, I was up by 1:30 with cramps, and got back into bed about 0230. So waking up at 3 to get to the airport on time was lots of fun. Sleep debt caught up to me. 

     The flight and ride to Brooklyn was uneventful and I got onto the HQ about noon. I was on watch until 1730, whereupon I was able to unpack my stuff and wind down, finally getting to sleep about an hour later, and waking up 11 hours later with a backache because I'm 90% sure I didn't move an inch all night, just dead to the world.  I was lucky we didn't have a job on my first watch back. I was a zombie. 


 So, back to normal now and back to work. 


 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Brazilian Pyramid Scheme.

OK, this will be a boring post, but the good news is that I had 2 big ass glasses of whisky on an empty stomach before starting it, as tonight... didn't turn out as expected.  


During drills 15 years, a thousand miles and a a job ago, there was a mantra uttered during the weekly fire and boat drill, when the ship would go to all hands for the weekly safety drills and everyone had to get up and participate. 

     During the day, at sea, unlicensed goons like me were generally not in the wheelhouse.  But having been aboard the same ship for about a decade, and being on a friendly first-name basis with the licensed officers (except the captains, who were 'captain' whether on watch or off), at times, whether it was for weather or not, I'd be in the wheelhouse for the drills, which usually happened at 1500, during break time for the dayworkers.  The captain would enter the wheelhouse, say "Mr. mate (or use the mate's name, depending) please ring the general alarm and report to your station for the muster." 


 It's funny I was reminded of this tonight, where we're working hard at home getting ready for my kid's graduation party. Lord help me, he's finishing high school and I am old. 


 To explain, I have to explain about the Brazilian Pyramid scheme- housecleaning. 


 When I met Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, she was an illegal alien. No BS, she earned her green card the hard way, by marrying my retarded ass long ago. 

Like so many, she was working about 75-80 hours a week in two different jobs. She was a housecleaner in the mornings and early afternoon, and then worked as a seamstress and dry cleaner afternoons and evenings. 

 Also, holy shit, dry cleaners should be fitted for a fucking full-face respirator. It's goddamn criminal not to at this point. The chemical trade is pretty intense. My ssense of smell has been desensitized by sulfur compounds in bunker fuels. My wife's, by aromatic hydrocarbons. Serious, she's been exposed to more benzene than I have and I've worked on a fucking benzene barge. 


So like any Brazilian who has entered the middle class, we have a housecleaner. My  wife no longer works as a housecleaner herself, but after 8 years in the trade, she's pretty damn good at it. 

    The way it works, Brazilian illegals work their asses off, save $3000-4000 (in 2003 dollars) and 'buy' a bunch of housecleaning customers from another Brazilian. They then hire 1-2 more girls and get to cleaning houses, and also buying and selling housing customers like horse trading.  There's an unspoken agreement that if you get a green card, you'll pay it forward and have a housecleaner yourself. 

So now we have a housecleaner.

 On the upside, our housecleaner is adorable. Nara is a  young single mom, a petite fireball who calls me "Meester Pol" and when I see her I always cook something good and thus she equates me with being a master chef rather than just a fat guy.  She worked her first job all day, and as we had a cleaning emergency, after working 8 hours, she showed up at my house at like 4pm, looking gray and hollow. 

   Oh, also, if you do have a house cleaner, feed her.  Last month she married a feet-dry Cuban (a refugee who made it onto a beach and thus will get US Citizenship) whose English was finally good enough to pass the FL medical board few weeks ago, so she's about to go from struggling to make ends meet to being a doctor's wife with a green card. 

 And with my kid's graduation party just 2 days away, the house has been turned inside out, and tonight, after I spent the day on my hands and knees fucking with the irrigation system in my yard and getting pipe dope in my eyebrows, I sat down in my office, away from the ladies, for a quiet little while to write and also pay bills and read the news online... wind down, in other words That is, until my wife ran in and more or less yanked on the general alarm- 

 "Hohnee I need chu to you sew dis." A little pillow, one of a dozen that lives on my bed when we're not in it (seriously, I can't sit on the nice couches, or lay in my bed without dealing with so, so many pillows. So many. This year, we have outdoor furniture pillows too. The goddam wicker bullshit outdoor furniture has a dozen fucking pillows too now). 

 The pillow gets dumped on my keyboard. It's 1/4 size, one of the last ones that goes on the bed, the crown of Mt. Pillow, and it's got a tear about 3 inches on a seam, buit crosses a cross-stiched section that doesn't have a weave I can tie into, being tatted rather than woven.. OK, no big deal, someone with real eyes or good glasses can thread the eyes in the cloth. 

 Funny thing. I can sew. I learned reading the WWII merchant seaman's manual. Seriously, get one. They're amazing. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife can tat lace, crochet or use a sewing machine, but she can't hand straight line sew for shit. I can. That's all I can do. I can sew a seam.   

   Now, no one is going in my goddamn room during this party, so why the F am I getting my wa disturbed after 8 hours and a couple of blown capillaries in my cheeks from hanging upside down under my lawn all day? 

 Seriously, I have a thing about no one going in my bedroom. Shit's sacred. My kid knew not to go in unless he had had a nightmare and needed us, or something was on fire.  And yet here I am with a pillow at 8pm on a Thursday. 

   Well, nothing for it but to sew it up. I'm out of practice anyhow... and then I realize I can't see to thread the needle. 

     Holy shit. I wear reading glasses for a reason. I have for the past 6 months. Not only can I not see shit, my hands are all over the place, like a spastic kid trying to light a candle. 

 It took me 15 minutes to thread the needle and my sewing job was... substandard. It was disappointing. 

 I used to be able to darn socks, and could thread a needle in my sleep. Shit, my mom didn't thread a single needle her last 20 years of life. It was rare for me to need 2 tries to thread a needle and then roll through a double surgeon's knot to lock it. With 20/10 vision, I could see what direction the stitches of a baseball are turning, and in the past 6 months, my eyes are suddenly worth their weight in human shit. 

Well, the pillow's fixed, anyhow. It looks... adequate. I've done better. I need glasses so I can do better. I'm disappointed in myself. My wife thinks the shitty seam she saw is my best, and thus is being nice, but I'm a little embarrassed at my work. I've done better. I can do better. But fuck me, I can't see


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Happy Mother's Day!

 Happy Mother's day to every mom out there. 


      I started the day off with mimosas and a giant breakfast for Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife. Our son is now over 18, which means that I have a lot more help in the kitchen, and thankfully he's becoming a fair cook in his own right, so we were able to throw together all her favorites right out of the pantry. 

     I've been home for a week and a half already. Time's flying by.  The pool temp is already in the mid-80's out back, which means swimming season is definitely here. 




Monday, May 2, 2022

Home again

 I made it home last week. It's been great. I haven't done all that much, beyond rest and recover and enjoy time with family. Today, I think I've been home 5 days now? Today is my first day to suit up and get actual maintenance done- yardwork and the like.  I'm looking forward to a quiet day. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Shipboard Hazing and Is It All In Good Fun?

 I edited this quite a bit today after posting an earlier version.  


 The US Coast Guard recently released their findings after an administrative law judge suspended a container ship captain's license after a complaint was issued on his ship regarding hazing and assault of deck cadets. 


    You can read a good synopsis here:

https://forum.gcaptain.com/t/uscg-issues-maersk-captain-4-month-suspension/62916


    read the synopsis. I am writing on the issue, but don't take my word for it- my point is ancillary to the events that happened, and I wasn't there. 

As my partner B noted:  This shit is just unprofessional, period. It gets worse. 

 Now, I read about the work environment on that trip before, months ago.  The officer sailing as 2nd mate also complained to everyone he could think of that he was being harassed by the chief mate. At the time, on first reading, to be honest I saw his point but I also tended to be sympathetic to the chief mate.

      As information got released, it became obvious that the 2m had been a source of discord on several ships, which, again, I wasn't there, but also suggests a pattern. The manner in which the 2nd mate conducted himself afterwards alienated pretty much everyone, to the point that any sense of legitimacy to his complaints were dismissed from what I could see. Guy was his own worst enemy, and after, he doubled down, behaved erratically and in my opinion, being an asshole to everyone around him  (he was later accused of harassment against women he was claiming to be white knighting for), and finally shooting himself so thoroughly in the foot that it looks as though nobody in industry or in the Coast Guard wants to deal with the man. True to form, he inserted himself into a discussion on the events (under a pseudonym) on an industry website's forum listed above.  Aside from being a major distraction from the central issue, which is a legal matter of seeing cadets (not licensed officers) get safely trained aboard ship, the man in question just keeps trying to make the damn thing about himself and not the cadets. 

      This is an interesting challenge when dealing with advocacy. What happens when a self-appointed advocate is not welcome and whose presence becomes a harm to those they claim to wish to help? 

We know exactly what happens


 I'm not going to link to the guys' website now that he of course has a non-profit. Is it fair to compare the 2nd mate to notorious race hustler Al Sharpton?    Well, I also could have chosen Joss Whedon or Harvey Weinstein, so I was being kind. Well, kind for me, anyhow.  

    I'm treading on unfamiliar ground here, but there was an anecdote that someone was chewing on pens in the ship's chart room, and after the chief mate complained of having wet hands covered in saliva a few times and asked the junior mates to stop, the chief mate walked around the bridge with one pen clenched between his butt cheeks, then put it back in the pen cup and left a note about what he had done, in a variation of Russian Roulette to encourage the offending mate to stop sticking communal items in his mouth.  



  It's not my place to render judgement, but I found that hilarious, and in keeping with the sort of light hazing that I have encountered in male-dominated workplaces over the years. Is it profession, though? No, of course not. But still, the response to something so juvenile and gross in a remote working environment is not to go catatonic and reach for the phone to call famed Spanish workplace psychiatrist Dr. Takea De Summeroff for PTSD. 

It's hard to tell the difference between
burning bridge and burnt credibility



 The second mate appears to suffer from aggrievement on a perpetual basis, and decided to monetize his feels as a source of income (again calling to mind Al Sharpton) by forming a non-profit (to keep pens out of butts, I guess) and, given what fell out over the years, I discount much of his input, except for noting that the cadets accounts of things that happened partially corroborate the 2m's account. I don't think the issue people had was ever about the events, but his conduct after the fact. 

   Oh, dammit, here I go again. I'm going to stop now, this isn't about the 2nd mate, which I'm sure disappoints him. Much as in the real world, I'm getting distracted by the damn drama llama 2m and away from what is important... the cadets. 

          Unfortunately, the deck cadets on that ship didn't find other events nearly as funny, if you read the summary and initial comments, and it was the deck cadets' experience that was the problem that got a court involved.

Look, adult me is not a deeply sensitive person in the workplace. I have been hazed at work, and I found it to be a pathway to acceptance, taking mild abuse with good humor and returning it proportionally. Men have done such a fair bit, but my experience was subjective and it's risky AF to act out when there's a YMMV variable in the reception of hazing. 

  Younger college-aged me was considerably less worldly and far more quiet and sensitive, and hazing in almost any form would have been hurtful at that point and time. I was fortunate not to experience it until I was mentally and emotionally prepared for it. 

 So that's my perspective. I am sympathetic to both sides, to one degree or another.  One one hand, I would probably get along great with the chief mate in question, but I'm a giant child in a man's somewhat lumpy body, and spending time as a commercial fisherman in my college years and beyond made me insensitive to, shall we say asymmetric power and labor management styles. 

      Then again, I wasn't hazed while I was in the process of coming out of my shell. The cadets in question didn't have that luxury, and weren't just deckhands, they were deck cadets- their career to a fair degree will be defined by their experiences and interactions with management-level officers during their cadet shipping times. Having said that, the testimony regarding movie night on the ship made me want to vomit. Any goodwill I might have towards considering some of the actions here, like drawing a dick on the cadet's hard hat, or making the cadets use the mate's callsign 'daddy' over the radio,  however humorous, casts everything in a far more dark and sinister light. 


    Proportionality and no skills in Reading The Room were two concepts that I thought of here initially. Taking things too far. But such a subjective value assignment is far too slippery a slope.  While I'd laugh my ass off on hearing that a cadet was walking around with a cartoon dong on his hard hat for weeks, and would have taken such a thing in stride, even as a point of pride in not letting others see me ashamed, I never got hazed in that critical period where I was finding my feet.  Were I as unsure as, say, 19 year old me, trying not to whine at being worked too hard while hauling lobster pots, I might have been poisoned against working on boats forever. Who knows?  By the time I was the butt of practical jokes, I was already accepted and liked by the people involved. Imagine the impact that getting harassed by someone could have if you are unhappy, uncomfortable, inexperienced and unsure. 

 Anyone who says 'toughen up' is something of an asshole, IMO, when there is an issue of proportionality involved. A heretofore protected kid who hasn't built up emotional callus isn't being served by being harassed when he's incapable of responding without risking punitive and career-limiting results...  I'm as inclined as anyone else to game out an 'if I were there' scenario in my head, but that's again a subjective thing. Am I fostering a positive work environment? That's an extremely easy metric to stand on.  Hazing should never have evolved past the point of mild teasing to test the cadets reception of edged humor... there is plenty of room for officers who are sensitive and slow to engage in conflict just as much as anything else, provided they can lead by example. 


    I have witnessed proper good-natured hazing aboard, it's true. Cadets were built up with experience and support, confidence instilled in the learning environment on deck. Good natured sarcasm, establishing friendly boundaries without being egalitarian, allowing the cadet time to establish friendly relations with unlicensed and licensed crew alike, and then gradually increasing expectations while taking the kid gloves off, allowing the cadet to find his/her feet.  I think it says a lot about the chief mates and captains I worked with that so many of our cadets worked to get themselves their first job as on officer with us, specifically, on our ship. That by all appearances did not happen here. It's also a real hot potato of a subject. How can I accept the concept of hazing just because I personally enjoyed it? I can't advocate for hazing because the potential for harm is too damn high. 

   I find myself truly in a strange country here. I, a man who takes opportunities to appear unprofessional superficially as a means to disarm and entertain (when not actually working), believe that the only way to fairly and optimally deal with shipboard behavioral problems is to maintain a professional environment. Deviating from that as a teaching tool requires trust, tact and enormous risk, but can be done... but can you codify that without risking exactly what happened? 

 Example: 

Every mariner can see where the Shellback line-crossing ceremony can be a meaningful and fun bonding experience, or can be taken too far. As such, it is not something that shows up in a company ops manual. For good reason.  That doesn't mean that it should be a taboo subject, though I am unequal to a reasoned discussion, partly because I don't care too much (being honest here) courtesy of it not being something in my purview, but also partly because I'm writing extemporaneously here, and that should be obvious in how disorganized my writing normally is. Maybe there's a pearl or two in all the pigshit I shovel but I'm not going to swear on it. 


   From what I can see, the punishment handed down by all appearances seems equitable.  Armchair quarterback opinions seem to range from  'cadets need to toughen up' all the way to banning the then-mate for life from the maritime trade.  Obviously the judge advocate, a position not known  for being kind or lenient in judgement, felt that the issue could be used as a teaching tool without torpedoing a senior officer's career.