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. 




Friday, April 15, 2022

screw change & oil change (Part VII of IV)

 The other day we had the last crew change for this tour where I wasn't participating. 


 This is week 9 for me. It's been a good if long tour- medium paced, and I was in good spirits despite working overtime, something I have had ZERO interest in doing the past few years. 


 The value of the dollar dropped enough that working OT became necessary for my plans this summer. And I did well with it until this week. This week I'm feeling the effects of being away from home for far longer than normal. It's getting to be a bit of a slog and the quality of my sleep has gone in the toilet. 


    Time to go home and recharge. Less than 2 weeks to go. 

___________________________________________



     There has been a big surge of fuel contaminations in the global bunker fuel supply. Singapore, the largest bunkering port in the world, has had major issues as they distributed a lot of bad fuel to a lot of ships. 

    You know, driving your car on the highway, if the engine dies, you pull over and call AAA. Driving your ship, your engine dies, you call a bankruptcy lawyer and maybe a priest. 

          Houston, the US's largest port for oil, has also had, (and possibly has, as in present tense) issues with this. 


   It's an issue of shit ingredients, whether intentional or unintentional, and disruptive regulation forcing rapid change (in my opinion) without concurring planning and quality control measure implementation. 

      3 years ago, we supplied 2 types of bunker fuels- 2 1/2, if you count the stuff we thinned with diesel for old ships than could no longer burn the heavy stuff, and certain cruise ships that power their propulsion  with diesel generators turning electric motors. 


 These days we carry... lets's see... *counts on fingers, removes one boot, (muttering) 'carry the 5..., where's my abacus?*...  

We carry a lot of fuels. Some of which suppliers don't carry, but we get sent recipes to make by blending several grades of oil together in a custom mishmash, right in our tanks.  Now, I hate blending fuels on board, because it's a pain in the ass and the folks who make us do it the most rent their tank space from a tank farm that is run like a halfway house above a Turkish bazaar...  I actually like the process and the challenge, but it can be stressful if the shoreside guys are dicking off.  


 Still, point being that fuel issues are obvious coming from multiple sources. There's so much variability in the base components of something so generic as heavy fuel oil-  It's not like gasoline, where the ratio and blend of hydrocarbon molecules by type is tightly controlled. HFO is made up of residual hydrocarbons, long chains of carbon atoms strung together. anywhere, in any ratio- it's residual oil, the shit left over after you refine out the more in-demand hydrocarbons to make gas, diesel, kerosine, jet fuel, naptha, etc.   You might have a lot of 25 carbon atom molecules, or a lot of 50 carbon atom molecules, and a smaller amount of molecules from every possible number between 20-50. Or an even amount of everything, who knows. No one looks to check. They also don't look to check if other things are mixed in there too, say if a supplier dumps waste motor oil in that tank, or some dink got rid of a couple of ancient buckets of aircraft parts cleaner that were found but which are no longer legal to use. In they go. But hey, turns out that stuff sometimes causes engines to stall, or when the oil is heated a bit, it gases off and oh, yeah, it's carcinogenic in vapor form. 

    Heavy fuel oils smell different all the time because the base ingredients are different all the time- it's mostly a matter of cutting the fuel with other fuel oils to make it have the quality you want. 

   Some days my eyes burn so badly from the vapors that I have to put on a respirator and goggles. Some days it just smells like egg salad farts. 

      My employer has to keep us alive to keep working. They're pretty good at risk mitigation, but this is a new wrinkle. 

 The industry has noted finally that companies sometimes  slip in unwanted chemicals, some of which are dangerous, in heavy oil. Some bunker suppliers buy their feedstock from waste oil processors.  Some COC's, which are chlorine-containing hydrocarbons, are EXTREMELY toxic to humans... and hey, more importantly, turns out they can also cause fuel issues in ships. I mean, fuck the people who have to handle this stuff, right? They volunteered, but who gives a fuck about what it does to people, it's not good for ships! We better think about doing something to control that... someday soon. 

 And yet, COC's aren't normally tested for. Because normally they shouldn't be in the oil. But sometimes they are. Environmentalists don't care about people, we know that. They care about the environment to the extent that it causes subjective pleasure to their sense of personal well-being  and aesthetics. Sulfur... is the devil when it comes to oil. Nox, Sox, carbon diox, Greenhouse Gases are  Literally Hitler. 

Shit that isn't a greenhouse gas, in your gas, OTOH, getting anyone to care is an economic battle. 


   When I am the benevolent dictator that the world so desperately needs, maybe I'll look into doing something beyond trying to not die of cancer personally. 

  


   Think of modern car engines. They can run on straight 87, midgrade, high grade, even avgas... or they can run on 10% ethanol blended in the gas Or 85% ethanol. Or 100.  We also know that the mileage and weird shit that can happen vary based on the ethanol content. Imagine if you didn't know if you were getting good ethanol in your gas or some watery shit that some rain got into, and then that got thrown in your gas. I mean, you can add a bottle or two of acetone in there, make the water gas off somewhat, but what's that going to do over time?  Turns out, it ain't good. Brazil uses a lot of ethanol in their fuel. Starters don't last as long  in Brazilian cars compared to American, because they are used more. It's normal for engines to stall at every traffic light, even in newer cars in Brazil. 

 Ships, well, it's not that easy. A stalled engine is more than a matter of pressing the pedal and turning a key, but the analogy holds. 




Monday, April 11, 2022

 On finishing the last cargo discharge for the weekend, we headed for the pier at the company HQ, which allowed me to go get groceries. I went to my usual go-to, which is relatively accessible for a guy who relies on a car service to get around NY. 


 3 packs of romaine lettuce, 2 gals of vinegar, a bulk pack of boneless chicken breasts, a 4lb sirloin cap (picanha), diet soda, a case of water, vegetables, eggs, bacon, some spices, dish soap and  some 1lb blocks of cheese. 

$224. New York prices +inflation= ouch. 


    The store I go to has me conflicted. Now, fat as I am, I don't eat processed food, rice or pasta. I'm into cooking my own real food. And I'm pretty good in the kitchen.  Problem being, protein is expensive, and also, greenstuff is too now. Worse, in NY, by the time you get fresh vegetables into your hands, they're 3 days from going bad. It's not unusual for me to buy lettuce and find that it's gone bad the next day, being a slimy brown mess.  I have a couple of 2gal square plastic containers, and so I can get 2 Romaine heads in each, and soak them in cold water in the fridge for a few hours, and they'll rehydrate and stay fresh for 7-9 days. I tend to pickle onions so they'll last for weeks rather than days... and that's fine. 

 $224 bucks, though, is easily double what it was last year. Sadly, my company-provided food allowance hasn't kept up. The guys who buy absolute trash and live on hot dogs and Hot Pockets are doing ok financially with the spike in prices, though. 


Friday, April 1, 2022

 I know that as time goes on, I use this blog more and more as a place for my id to go potty, and there's less maritimey things in here. It's my pressure relief valve. 


 I'd like to think I'm not a prima donna, but I'm less flexible than I used to be, and a bit more grumpy. This is in odd contrast to the fact that I feel that I am a more fulfilled person than I used to be. Perhaps that is an effect of me drawing more of my self-identity from my home life and less from my job as I age. 

 Maybe it's just age. 


 So, last night was pretty damn welcome. I had the watch off. 


     I had a very tolerable 2 weeks of working OT on the former HQ. One big positive is that I am familiar with the layout and the idiosyncrasies of running it. Knowing that #4 port fills up faster than #4 starboard tank, but #2's load evenly, little things that aren't really thought about, but which are impactful in terms of managing the deck while loading and being proactive about the whole 'work the boat, don't let the boat work you' thing.  I also knew about the former HQ's small quarters, which would have been fine except that there were too many bodies in there, which is something I wrote about before, my  inability to come to terms with trainees as someone who isn't willing to quit (yet) over being forced occasionally to train people. 

   Anyhow, that's something I wrote about before. Sufficient unto the day to say that I found the living conditions stressful, but tolerated it well until the last 3 days aboard, where I started getting claustrophobic to the point that it distracted me from doing my job optimally. 

    So, much like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, it felt so blissful to stop. 

     Last night we were moored at a lay berth, it was pouring rain, and I got to mostly sit inside in the dimmed lights, and relax. Now, I had had a few hours to do just this the night before, prior to starting cargo ops, so I was already in my right mind, but lordy, short of a stout glass of whisky and having my wife to hand, that was a great way to unwind. 


    I'm continuing to read Nick Cole and Jason Anspaugh's works.    They are a hell of a literary team. I got a couple hours' reading in before I felt assed enough to do a bit of PM's.  Turns out I had to add 40 gallons of hydraulic fluid to the reservoir, and show a little love to the air compressor, and I laid out my  marlinespike seamanship kit, as I have some hawsers to splice this weekend. I certainly wasn't going to ruin a nice night by working outside if I didn't need to. 


 

Tasty Tasty Seed Corn

 Well this is just stupid. 


     The .gov is releasing 1 million bbls of oil a day from the strategic oil reserve, to help contain gas prices. 

    Meanwhile the .gov canceled the majority of planned oil lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and on federal land this week too.  Drive down the cost of gas for 2 weeks, then drive it up for 3 years. 



 Assholes. 


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

  I got back on board at about the usual time to start my next tour. 


     We were picked up by a launch fairly early, which was nice, as the 1-hour ride back to the Brooklyn office sucked up some time, and from there I had a quick meeting to go over my summary and comments about my trainee these past 2 weeks, whereupon I got to take a brisk 20 minute walk to the grocery store and load up for 10 days or so's worth of greenstuff and staples. 

              So far so good. Now, at this point I've been up for about 20 hours and I sucked down an energy drink, but rather than making me feel a little better, it made me nauseous. First time that happened. Even so, I loaded up a taxi with my groceries and headed back to the office, where there was one of our big tugboats waiting to pick up widows and orphans- which is to say tankermen, who generally travel solo or in pairs, vs. our tugboat crews, who travel en masse. I was fortunate to be the last man on, and  traveling only to the nearest anchorage, which meant that I was first one off after a short 20 minute ride out on one of our pokey tugs.  It was nice to catch up with friends and shipmates, and catch up on the news, which as is normal, mostly consisted of 'Hey, you know who's a real asshole?' and then everyone agreeing or not. 

   Suitably informed for the next few weeks, I got my grub and my trash (food and seabag) aboard and stowed, and by noon I was in my room and asleep. 


 Now it's late evening and I'm on watch, waiting for a tug to come by and herd us into a loading berth. 


 It's been absolutely blissful to sit here on the HQ, so clean, organized and quiet, relative to the former HQ, which... is no longer that way.  

   Anyhow, I've got a few moments to sit and just be, so Ima go do that now. 

 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The reward for hard work

 ... is more. 


    Tomorrow I go back to the HQ. I ended up staying on the former HQ for 2 weeks, and it was pretty successful, but the close quarters and utter lack of privacy or quiet time finally got to me 2 days ago. Claustrophobia, sadly timed with a cold snap here in the northeast that made going outside in the ever-to-be-damned constant frigging high winds even less pleasant than normal. 


   Well, tomorrow I go back to the HQ. And while we have a load fixed for tomorrow night, I hope to get a few hours to catch a nap before taking over the watch. Because it is crew change, my company chose to leave us as far away as possible rather than put us at our usual anchorage a bare few miles from Brooklyn. Even if it is a major inconvenience to them, they always do so on crew change days. No fucking way it's accidental. 


   But oh well, I'm on my last watch, and we finished the work part of the watch, wrapping up a discharge and making all fast in lovely Newark NJ with no shore access.  I should have a quiet few hours when the others go to bed and get the F out of the galley so I can relax... well, it's their galley, too, not just mine, but I'm really looking forward to the quiet. 

 So, yeah, I'm riding the struggle bus a bit these last few days, and trying not to be overly grumpy, but I'm actually REALLY trying to be nice. 

 Stop laughing, I'm not lying. I'm trying. And not always succeeding.  Even so, the guys themselves are pleasant company, I'm the one who probably isn't.  And the idea of doing this again makes me want to fellate a handgun to completion. I've apologized a half dozen times for being distracted and quiet. 

   I'm approaching middle age.  This shit is just cruel. 


     Anyhow, I'm ok. I'll be better when I am on the HQ and facing down the prospect of 4 more weeks before heading home. 



Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Let's move on...

 I'm still working on my off time, and tomorrow I will do a bag drag and transfer onto another bunker barge for another week. So it goes. It was really nice to spend the week on a place that I used to call home and where I have good familiarity with the basics. 


      Tomorrow I'm going to more... spartan... accommodations. I'm trying to be positive. I mean, I'm positive it compares favorably to a Pakistani hospice. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts...  No trainees to shepherd so that's a plus.   I'm trying to just go day-by-day, because as a reward for all this, next week I will start my regular rotation on the HQ. 


     My rant last week  

 https://bigironbegfish.blogspot.com/2022/03/and-back-again.html 

where I wrote about comparing the experience at my local maritime school  with the union school I used to attend for Continuing Ed classes got reposted to a large maritime forum page, which is fun. My sense of humor actually was shared and enjoyed by at least one person. Now, after making fun of myself, I knew I was exposing my flank by also poking  fun at the silly snobbery I experienced at MITAGS a few times. I also knew that someone would get to clutching his pearls and running for his fainting couch, overcome,  and I was not disappointed.  I was accused of having an inferiority complex and being insecure because I experienced some pretty obvious classism, neglect and snobbery and was shocked by it. I'm not sure if it's a matter of being blinded by penis envy, or lead pipes at Kings Point, that led the Mean Gurls of the forum to prove my point for me, though I am grateful for them proving my point. 

     Fellas, I didn't go to a trade college. The reason you have to read the Greeks while taking STEM classes at traditional places of learning is to instill a more supple form of thinking. The bridging of synapses. S' good for the mind, helps one to appreciate the value of being around people with greater knowledge than yourself, without making you feel diminished by their presence. An inoculation against self-doubt. 

    While I was living in Boston I got less condescension at the Harvard Club on Fridays sitting with the world's true elites than I experienced at MITAGS by a bunch of self-assured WASPS, some of whom I respected as experienced professionals but found to be shitty human beings once they got a couple of glasses of Loudmouth Soup into their bellies.

  They're jokes not dicks. No need to take them so hard. 

       Funny thing, I once heard E.O. Wilson, THE greatest mind in evolutionary science of all time, call Stephen Hawking (who wasn't there) a snob and a prick. He was distracted at the time, chasing a kernel of corn around his salad plate with his fork, or I don't believe he would have used such coarse language. But both men are dead and gone, now, more's the pity, but it surely shows that snobbery is a character flaw that is unwelcome even among men so elevated as to have no peers. 

 Dr. Wilson refused to believe that I could lyse the dendrites of chemoreceptor neurons using the osmotic pressure gradient caused by exposing them to ultrafiltered water. I couldn't convince him, even after showing the evidence, and even after it became a widely (for values of wide, lol) accepted practice. It was something he just tore me up and down on in public on several occasions. I was just an undergrad stammering his way though a presentation where I was the only non Ph.D presenting a publication on the conference circuit that year. After the 3rd time,  I stopped being timid and speaking as though I was unsure of myself. I never minded public speaking after that, and to date I still enjoy it. 

And so, being called insecure is... a little silly . I suppose if my sense of self  was bound by my job I'd be more prone ad hominem digs. I am surrounded by guys who are REALLY GOOD at their job. I've spent a fair amount of time to ensure that I'm also around a fair proportion who are also good people, too. 

         Speaking of good people, there's a better-than-even chance that I'll be partnered with a friend tomorrow when I transfer for the week, so misery loving company, I'll be able to sleep well knowing that I know the guy whose got the watch knows a thing or two about a thing or two. So I'm saying a little prayer that there won't be a bait-n-switch that sees someone else come aboard like they did to me last week.  I'm fortunate that I got to spend this past week with someone I know and respect, and that my poor trainee, whose time I hope I didn't waste, was improved by the experience. 



                

Friday, March 18, 2022

I am not an authority

 God help the poor soul, I have a trainee this week. 



    I am working over, working in my off time, and holy-o-dogshit, did I take it in the seat a bit this week. I accepted an easy gig, overseeing floating storage for fuel at a powerplant... but that got taken away and I ended up bunkering, which was disappointing but OK. 

 I'm an old cus for a guy who isn't quite middle-aged, I get that. Among other reasons, one of the things that keeps me in my position at work is that I have a LOT of time to myself, something I value immensely. 

 I really, truly enjoy being alone at work. It was the same when I was lobstering. Fishing singlehanded is a lot of work, and I could be twice as productive and not get my ass kicked by having a sternman, a deckhand, and I did, but in fair weather, I also didn't bitch too loud when the guys failed to show up on account of being drunk or generally unreliable. A 12 hour day of working hard and not having anyone bother me was a good day, even when it was a bad day, if you get my meaning. 

 So it made me pretty soggy and hard to light when I showed up to a bunker barge on Wednesday and there was a trainee on board. 

    Alone time is of at least equal value to my salary. That is, if my salary was doubled, I could accept having a trainee. I mean, I accept it, I wasn't ready to quit over it this week, but for me to willingly accept a trainee without being a dick about it, It'd  cost my company a daily rate increase at least equal to my current pay.  Anything less and I would just as soon forego the raise in pay in exchange for not having a trainee. 

The last time my supervisor offered to bribe me to take a trainee, I offered to bribe him for me not to take a trainee.

 I say this not to bitch, but to lament that I was foolish enough not to ask if there was a trainee aboard, because I would have just asked for another job. Picking peanuts out of elephant poop, maybe, provided I could do so solo. 

 So, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, but I won't make that mistake again. 


 Anyways, I'm not so much of a dong that I won't do my best to teach the trainee what I can in the time I have. It's not punishment that got me a trainee, and I can't take out my misanthropy on the poor guy, But my company didn't do him any favors for sure by saddling him with me. How can I give my best if I hate being there? I can't. I can only give my best despite being there. Hopefully that will be sufficient to help. The last time I got a trainee foisted on me, he ended up doing well, and as far as I know he's still a tankerman for my company, positioned a couple hundred miles to my south. 

      I'm frequently guilty of false bravado, of engaging mouth before brain is fully in gear, but I worry about second- and third-order effects of having a trainee- to wit, it might happen more in the future if I do a good job. My precious alone time is an incentive, not a shackle... but it might be, at that.   



Monday, March 14, 2022

The price I paid

 Turns out, I had to pay market price for having missed a couple of days of work on short notice to take a class last week. 


 I'm down to 2 more watches here on the HQ and then it is time to go home... but I'm not going home. For the first time in more than two years, I am working over on my off time, leaving the HQ to go fill in somewhere else... two somewhere elses, in fact. 


 I used to work a LOT of overtime. For a few years I was only taking 6-8 weeks home each year, working 10 weeks, going home for 1-2 weeks, repeat.  The money was great, but no matter how much I made, I wanted more and while my family life stood up to the challenge without undue strain, I found that the value of my time had increased while I wasn't looking, and all the OT in the world wasn't worth what I was being paid for it. So I stopped, took the loss of income in stride, and made do with just my salary. And it's been sufficient. Granted, my lifestyle is getting less fun these days, inflation and all, but I'm also getting older anyhow and we had the foresight to buy a home that we wanted to enjoy while I was running around working like a cat trying to bury a turd under a marble floor.  Seriously, I don't enjoy leaving my home. I have my pool, my shop, my jacuzzi and my family there. No real need to go out. 

          But this time I AM working OT.  I missed those days last week and inflation sucks and my wife and kid are busy with work and such... plus, spring is coming. The snows and ice are mostly over and it's not time yet for the sun to bake our balls off at work, so now's the time, and no need to do it again for a while.  It makes the value of my trip home, and the airfare, tuition and such a lot easier to stomach. I had that one great night with the fam, so I'll muscle through the next tour... and with my kid graduation high school in May, I'll be taking an extra week off at home to soothe the burn of having worked OT, too. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

...and back again

 It's been a pretty hectic few days. I flew home on Sunday, got in just before 1am on Monday, was up and on the road by 6:30, and in class for 2 days, I got to sleep in my own bed for 2 nights, anyhow... well 1 1/2  but hey. Monday evening was the crown on the trip, though. I was able to spend the night with my family, which was a treat. Tuesday, well, another marathon. I finished my class, drove the rental car to the airport and turned it in, and made it to my gate with 90 minutes to spare, which was probably the most down time I actually had this whole time.  

       I went to Maritime Professional Training  in Fort Lauderdale, FL, about an hour from my home. As always, it was fun to be there,  in a learning environment within my own field, and able to talk to others who do other jobs on the water. MPT does a lot for yacht and charter boat crew, who make up a big chunk of their clientele. Think young, attractive, healthy people of both sexes. And then, there's the smaller cohort of commercial guys like me. Trucker caps, older, beer bellies, fucked up hair, gimps and scars, F-bombs everywhere. 

      It's kind of nice to get grouped in a place where your in-group has legendary status. Without saying that the yachties had a little bit of hero-worship towards the commercial guys... there is a bit of hero worship going.  The yacht folks talk about great ports of call where they got drunk and something funny happened... You know "Oh, Saint Maartin! Man I got hammered there with a Dutch crew on a 154' whoozits yacht, and we all slept on the beach and someone stole my shoes."

 For the commercial guys it was more "Hey, what's the name of that bar up over the berm in Norco up past Belle Chasse anchorage, the one right next to the refinery?" "Oh, I love that place, but I forget the name. I got stabbed there once."" That was you? I heard about that!"  (everybody laughs, yachties quietly go pale)

 So it was fun to mingle during break time, although I found myself (and this is strange for me) more inclined to silence than otherwise. Maybe I'm getting old, although it's probably more to do with me feeling like I had cut school and tomorrow I was going to catch hell at the principal's office.  I really, really don't like not being at work when it's my tour to work. 

 At any rate, I did well in the class, learned a bunch and had a good review of the things I already knew. MPT is a great school, and they foster a good learning environment where everyone is supposed to come away with what they need. This stands very much opposite to my experience at MITAGS. 

 I have always viewed MITAGS as the gold standard in maritime continuing education, but, while I have attended the lions' share of all my continuing ed classes at MITAGS over the years, MITAGS is very much a union school for Unlimited officers. This, despite having many programs not geared towards unlimited masters, I found that unlicensed and junior officers were very much second-class status there. Perhaps it is better now. There were some exceptionally good instructors who were enormously helpful... and also some epically terrible retired ships' masters who were clutching their pearls that a whole room full of uppity Able Seamen were at their precious clubhouse trying to (gasp) learn despite none, not a single one able to boast of having had family on the Mayflower! 

    Thurston Howell III, please pick up your abacus and a fresh cravat, it's your turn to teach the Poors about Cargo Handling and Stowage. 


 Well, none of that at MPT.  While I'm being very slightly sarcastic (minus the Mayflower comment. I really did have to listen to a blowhard instructor from the Prick Factory (The US Merchant Marine Academy) wax orgasmic about his family pedigree), I have found that I am able to learn more when I'm not feeling class-conscious or being condescended to. 

    Only once did I give a little back, and of course, I had been drinking. This was long ago. 2005-2006 maybe?  At the bar at MITAGS' conference center, in a discussion where I was more or less being head-patted and patronized, being the only one in the room who wasn't a merchant marine academy alumnus, and I had been limited to asking questions and listening when conversation wandered into a narrow window where I had subject matter knowledge and  suddenly I was able to speak with unassailable confidence about the issue. In noticing that I got the side-eye from one or two people,  I finished with a "they don't teach you this shit at a trade school I guess" and stifled a burp. It was one of those moments like when a savant builds a steam engine out of a teakettle.  Anyways, short story, it was fun to insult a bunch of stuffed shirts who were getting high off the smell of their own farts, and I am happy I tried out a new school for my educational needs. 


 And now I'm back to work. 

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Suddenly, class

 So I have to fly home tomorrow for a few days and then come back to work mid-week. Without being overly mysterious, I have to take a class that I've been putting off, and it's work-related, so... off I go. 


 Gonna be a bit of a marathon. I have to stand 9.5 hrs of my watch tomorrow, get to shore, get to the airport, fly out, rent a car (I'm flying back to work from an airport after class, too far from home to drive), go home, sleep 4-5 hours, then drive to class. I get Monday night at home, though, and that's cool. Tuesday it's back to class, then after class I head to the local airport and fly back to work. 

        Not a lot of time for sleep, but not much I can do about that. 

While we were loading cargo the other day, we had a SIRE (Ship Inspection Report Esomethingsomething) inspection. It's a safety managmement thing where a 3rd party looks up our skirt and under the rug. Along with the inspector were 2 guys from our local shore managment team, and I'm happy to say that we did very well. It was a bit of a zoo for a while there, as I was actively working with the shoreside cargo surveyor as we were doing the SIRE inspection, and the surveyor was running very late and was cranking out his own paperwork stream at the same time.  Hectic day, but in the same way that it goes, like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, it just feels so good to stop. So when everyone was gone I had a nice 15 minutes of quiet before we actually started loading. Very zen. 

 The discharge, though... it was unpleasant. So it goes.  We are loading tonight for tomorrow's marathon day. I'll get us started before handing off the watch and getting as much sleep as possible. 

So it goes. 


Monday, February 28, 2022

Halfway day approaches

 The world is pretty nuts right now, huh?   I can't get a bead on what's going on. So much spin and bullshit. Photos from the past are presented as photos of things going on right now, etc, etc. I don't know who to believe. 

    You know what I do believe? I believe that shit's getting more and more expensive and other than that and the CONSTANT FRIGGING GALES not much else is changing for me day-to-day. 

 Seriously, gales twice a week. It's normal for February, but F me, it's getting old. I get up in the morning, and something on deck has relocated. I found the cap from one of my oil sample bottles wedged under a truck tire on the dock. I don't know what it was hiding under on board, but it sailed a good 200 feet or so from the deck to the parking area for the terminal where we're berthed. 


        I am somewhat used to powerlessly watching things happen ashore while I need to keep my eyes in the boat, not ashore. It helps. All's I can do is keep my family safe and warm, and be prepared for weirdness, be it fiscal, safety, or whatever kind. I'm doing and have done that, so from here I'm trying not to get emotionally invested in the fear porn and outrage porn that the media peddles. It feels subversive to tune the world out to the degree that I wish to. Ain't shit I can do about things on the world stage  beyond be prepared for unintended consequences. I mean, already there, dude, generally, so what else should I do? Be reactive? 

  You know it's a good time to have a job that includes sticking your head in the venting top of a large petroleum tank to have a look.  Aside from being able to see the smell of the number G afterwards, I have more important things to worry about that ARE in my direct control. Not fucking up in general being one of them. It's good to be able to focus on important things like not fucking up at work rather than staring impotently at a computer screen watching the news like a eunuch in a whorehouse while the world does its  thing. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

another regular day

 So I woke up to learn that Russia invaded Ukraine, as predicted. 

       While I keep up with world events, and have limited my consumption of social media to pictures of boats and boobs, and also mostly jokes, I saw that the many internet epidemiologists are also geopolitical experts, turns out. Amazing people. I feel so uneducated. 

    I am somewhat active on Instagram, which provides the best venue for jokes, boobs and boats while making avoiding politics and other issues of substance relatively easy.  There's a guy named  Amir Odom https://bio.site/amirxodom who I follow there, who dedicates a lot of time to helping people to discuss difficult topics rationally, and supports rational thinking and independent thought.  Despite an almost complete lack of boats, boobs and jokes, I enjoy reading his posts. The kid's a gay black conservative with a libertarian streak.  Not my usual source of material, but I find his presentation of opinions refreshing and his rational manner of communication innovative, nonconfrontational and logical. 


 So the point to all this was a post today. 


Some of y'all are concerned with international affairs more than the internal affairs in your own life and it shows. 


"Pray for Ukraine" how about pray for yourself? It baffles me how many people pick a side on foreign affairs as if they really understand what's going on. 

Y'all were so invested in Israel/Palestine and guess what? We still here. Your bills still due. Your traumas still need to be addressed. You're still behind on your goals. Take care of your life before you invest all your time on issues thousands of miles away for a country you can't even point to on a damn map. 


       Little dude's right of course. A nice, sincere, simple post, and it made me laugh a bit. After finishing my morning chores and some paperwork, I looked around at the freakout online, and put my phone in my pocket.  Some important stuff DID happen this morning though. 

      We're berthed in Brooklyn, adjacent to Brooklyn Bridge Park, in fact. And today I watched a young couple a couple piers over get married. It was just them, a JP and a couple of witnesses. Gorgeous backdrop of Manhattan as seen from across the river.  That affected me a lot more than the events in Ukraine. I didn't tear up, but it made me feel all sentimental and shit.  I wish them well. 

 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The watchman

 I was definitely wearing The Golden Horseshoe this past week. 


        I got to be watchman at our lay berth.  The crew shortage my employer is dealing with after a mass exodus in the past two months has left our managers scrambling to put the meats in the seats on board, and as a result my employer laid up two vessels so that the crews could be spread out to fill the gaps. One of the vessels in question is the HQ. Luckily we're hot stacked, so we're ready to work, not fully laid up, which is a blessing, though who knows what the future holds. 

 Anyhow, I've been able to keep up on our PM's, and while the weather has been shitty overall, I've been able to mostly stay dry. I've been watching over things at the berth, being Johnny-on-the-spot and generally trying to use my time wisely. The HQ, if she stays in service, is in fine form. 





Monday, February 14, 2022

Forced Quiet time Part 2: now with text!

 So my post yesterday got mostly deleted somewhere and I couldn't get it back. I maybe fatfingered something on the keyboard, I dunno. 


 As stated though, I had a (mostly) good time at home. I head back tomorrow to the Weed Palace, the hourly 1 star hotel in Brooklyn that my company stows traveling mariners in in preparation for crew change. 

      I guess I could stay at the Days Inn Fallujah, the zero-star hotel in a burned out neighborhood a few miles away, which is also an option. Again, it's a hotel that caters to whores and poors, and is a nicer facility in a much much worse place, so the Weed Palace it is. I actually like the neighborhood, being generally safe, as much as the clientele may leave something to be desired. 


 So the past two weeks went by so quickly. As always, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I were welded at the hip for most of it and she was able to cut way back on her hours so we had time together, including a nice child-free weekend getaway on my first weekend home. The return trip left something to be desired, I suppose. I managed to fall and hit my head, hard, in my own garage, and got a concussion out of the deal. My first one as an adult I think. Oh, I'm ok, I was seeing stars, barfed up everything I've eaten in the past 18 months and had to get looked at of course,  and I was dizzy for a day or two and out of sorts for another few days after, but I'm ok now, back to 100%.  I have a head like a block of wood.  It forced me to do less, which is a good thing in the long run. Anyways, I don't recommend it.  I worried about losing much-needed brain cells, but 20+ years of sniffing vapors, I long ago killed off the weak ones. My brain is a thunderdome. 


   It seems so odd to have been more or less living in shorts and light shirts and frequently barefoot for the past few weeks, knowing that winter has in no way finished fucking the northeast where I'll be tomorrow. This is such a lovely time of year to be in Florida, although the tourists, my God, they're like fruit flies. Just everywhere, and constantly in the way. 

 Funny thing, they're all running away from the bad weather, but also from the horrible living conditions that they're voted and supported into place.   I try to stay out of politics, now, but I am very concerned about my Florida being New Yorked if the wrong type of folks get the idea to take root here and bring the awful ideas and policies they're currently running away from.  

 Most of all, it's been so nice to be out and about every day, and not a mask or a vaccine card kabuki show in sight. No leftist virtue signal  mouth hijabs here. Just a bunch of lepers and suntanned deplorables... except that the tourists, strangely, don't wear masks either, and I'm pretty sure not all are MAGA men and libertarians, so.... hmmmm.  Strange. 

   Anyway, enough bullshit and back to boats and hose. Time to get my vapor fumes and frozen pipes on. 


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Forced quiet time

Down to the last few days at home before heading back to work. As always, had an amazing time home. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

last day

 I'll be calling for a taxi to bring me to the airport in about 2 hours. Time to go home. We got the running water back the other day, so I no longer smell like the floor of a hamster cage, but  the black water (toilet drain) piping is still frozen shut. I am grateful not to have to be in on the roto-rootering of the presumably frozen 30-foot long pipe run from the quarters to the underdeck holding tank.  

 Yeah, I don't give a shit (pun intended),  I'm not getting involved with drilling out The World's Most Awful Freezer Pop before spending the day trying to fly home. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Hurricane Holes and Poop Soup.

  We had the first real winter storm blow through today here aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ gross place to be. 


       We had great luck- a simple, small cargo after a hard week full of fail. We loaded before the weather hit, and then learned that our discharge time would be delayed until after the weather, as the ship we were supposed to fuel decided to heave to out at sea and let this big ass nor'easter  pass since they were going to get stuck awaiting a berth anyhow. So my company put me in one of our hurricane holes, 'in the corner' of a large protected pier we rent from the port authority where up to 5 barges can fit. We got the pole position- the most protected, innermost berth. Great spot to wait on weather. 


 So the storm has been a strong one. Hard gales and storm-force winds, lots of snow. So much wind, and so variable in direction that the HQ is an odd mix of clear decks and snowdrifts. So be it, we're staying inside, just venturing out to check on the large number of mooring lines out. 


     But it's cold, damn cold. Now, we did some work on our potable water system so it wouldn't freeze up when temperatures got under the teens, and that's going well. But less well is the black water drain system, the piping leading from the house to the MSD, the crap tank. 


 Yeah, there's an ice plug somewhere in the septic piping, but it's behind the macerator in the head, the garbage disposal-like chopper that grinds up the contents of the toilet before sending it to the treatment tank down below... so we discovered this when *someone* (not me, that's all that matters to me) tried to launch the Brown October and hit the frappe setting on the toilet, which did its' job... and then sent the contents back to the toilet somewhat energetically when the pump was turned off. 


 Somewhat. Energetically. 

      Ever leave the top off a blender? 



Monday, January 24, 2022

A long day

 Yesterday was one of those days where I was fast walking, fast typing, fast dialing and fast talking all damn day. 

    There were challenges in the cargo load yesterday. Not our fault, thankfully,  and then you know the children's game 'telephone?'  There was that for instructions on fixing the problems, so that the three parties involved (me being one of them) had three different impressions on on dealing with the issue.  It was an issue with the oil we were loading, and so one party made plans for a fix that didn't consider whether or not I could physically carry out the job on the HQ, my office trying to get in touch with me while I'm running in the house to do calculations or work on papers ( and then rushing outside to swing valves or run the cargo crane, etc etc,) and I'm trying to figure out if I can do what the customer OR my company asks, because I'm getting emails from the customer forwarded from our office, but the oil terminal is getting different emails and making plans too, that differ from mine. 

     What was stressful yesterday was trying to handle a multi-part plan involving multiple transfers of several kinds of oil and trying to ensure that the HQ is able to load and pump off these things without blending them, also without stressing the hull, and also being trimmed and having either no list or an acceptable temporary list or an advantageous list, but not a disadvantageous or an extreme list, and also the same for trim. 


   The HQ has pairs of tanks- port and starboard, no center tanks, and in all the tanks except my aftermost tanks, the suction point in the tank, where the pump sucks oil, is in the back of the tank, and close to the centerline of the barge.  Since the generator house and part of the accomodations block sits above part of the aftermost tanks, the suction point of those tanks is in the front of the tanks. 

 Confusing, yes? Essentially it means that in order to drain my aftermost tanks, I have to have the bow lower in the water than the stern, and the deck sloping forward, but in all the other tanks, I have to have the stern lower than the bow, with the bow in the air. So with problems, and loading two grades of oil and also having oil on board for two ships (one ship gets some of both grades of oil, the other only wanted some of one grade). The problem was that I couldn't use our computer to calculate the list and trim during some of these moves during the load, as the loading program would instantly 'forget' the last movement when I tried to predict the effects of  future movements to decide on the best way to set up the next movement.  Simply put, the computer couldn't do what I needed it to do, and I had to rely on my understanding of how the HQ trims and lists based on the amount of oil and also where it sits. As an example,  I know that 1000 tons of oil in my #1 tanks will shove the bow down this far and shove the stern up this far... but it's harder to predict how far the same mass in the #2 tank will push the bow down and the stern up because the hull is a lever- pushing at the end has a greater effect than pushing part way towards the center.   Now, I know roughly how this will work, I've been on the current HQ for over a year.  But I had to load just ONE tank for a time,  to get a parcel of oil out of the way that was in the pipeline that we needed to use at the terminal. We didn't want this parcel so once we were loaded, I could pump this one ashore before we sailed... but I needed to use all my other tanks to do this job, so having the unwanted parcel would list us over one way, and then filling the other tanks would list us over the other way.  So I had to load a large batch of oil in just one tank, and I had to decide which tank, and it would give the whole barge a list to one side, and depending on where I put it, I had to be sure I could completely drain the tanks- if we list to one side, we can't suck tanks on the 'downhill' side of the hull dry- the oil runs away from the pipeline. Plus, my aftermost tanks have to have a forward trim but all my forward tanks require we have an aft trim in order to suck dry.

 now, another headache- one of my after sets of tanks is smaller than the others. Not the aftermost tanks, mind, but the ones just forward of them. I have two sets of tanks dedicated to carrying one product, an ultraclean fuel that can't be put in a tank with other grades of fuels. So the volumes involved, I have to completely load the small tanks aft and the other set of tanks up forward will be partially loaded. These tanks are not balanced against each other, either, the small tanks are towards the center of the aft end, and the forward ones are my #1 tanks, up in the bow. 

 Essentially it came down to writing everything down, step by step, then taking pieces of paper and writing the weight of oil in each tank, and seeing if I could do the next step, then the one after... for 10 steps... and THEN, to see if the results would allow me to get both grades of fuel off for the correct ships at the right time... so sometimes I had to pump the same product from one tank or another to get the bow up, and then to get the bow down, and then to get the bow up again... all without stressing the hull.  And the stupid list from the product we were loading temporarily complicated that for sure. 


 In the end, it was a gut call, as the paper predictions and the computer couldn't model what I needed to do- too many variables. I knew that at two key points I would be VERY close to being out of trim, like a 1-in-5 chance,  which is to say that I thought we might be OK, but we'd maybe, for example, be slightly down by the bow when I needed us to be bow up or flat, leaving oil in our tanks. This is not one of my regular customers' oil, so if we had a remainder on board, *someone* was going to have to pay for it to be returned to the owners' tanks. So an ROB was not acceptable, but I had to rely on my gut feeling a little bit, which is not cool at all. 

 In the end? I had two key points where I felt we'd be close on being in the proper trim.. One of them, where I needed us to be flat or bow up, I had almost 3'  of trim with the bow up, and all that worrying I had tons of room for error. The other?  I needed us to be flat or bow down- and we were flat, or maybe bow down by 1-2 inches... skin of my teeth stuff. 


 The math part and the load planning was actually a great exercise for my mind, as it's something I enjoy doing, and I'm ok at it anyhow. The playing telephone thing where I'm getting a message on a plan, and working one out, only to get another message from another party negating my plan, and then informing one party that the other wanted something different, when all the time everyone but me was talking to each other but not passing the same information somehow... it was stressful. I mean I'm no dummy, when things go sideways I request written orders, and really, if I had fucked up and sucked air because of a trim issue and couldn't empty my tanks, my company would have had my back given the chaotic nature of the order request and my need to use intuition rather than math at a few points. 


 And really, it worked out well- the discharges went smooth as silk. Unusually so, in fact, which was nice.  It all left me a little fatigued, but I don't get paid to go to bed feeling rested, I suppose.  I had the feeling this afternoon that I had been worrying too much, and if I'd just gone with my guy we'd have been fine. Perhaps there's a lesson there. 


Saturday, January 22, 2022

You know it's cold outside when you go outside and it's cold.

 We're having a cold snap. 10ish degrees out in the morning, with daily winds to boot. 


 I grew up in the cold. The cold was never more than a hassle to me until I moved to FL going on 8 years ago. These days, I'm feeling it. 


      There's always a day in July when I'm boiling my balls off outside in my yard doing something necessary, dizzy and nauseous from the heat, when I chide myself for bitching about the cold come January. 


 Here it is in January, and the cold is hell. 


     New York cold is not Boston cold. The 10 or so degree difference is a big deal. Ask anyone in 0 degree weather if they'd like it more if it were 10 degrees. The difference is palpable. 

 It's in the 70's at my house, meanwhile. Probably going to be a nice sunny day. Maybe long sleeve shirt weather until 9am or so.  If you know me on Instagram, I put a picture up from yesterday where I'm wearing a nomex hood, with a float coat and heavy hoodie under that, and I had a long-sleeve t-shirt with a t-shirt under that. 


If you don't know what a float coat is, it's a heavy nomex winter coat with insulation that is also a type-certified life jacket. 


 Despite the cold, our potable water system here on the HQ is still working. We have a portable heater blowing on the pump and interior plumbing, and heat-trace tape and insulation on the piping under the house where there's no heat. It froze up last week, but improvements were made and is holding, so we've been able to live like human beings again. 

I passed the halfway day of this tour a few days back. I'm looking forward to not being here very much. 



Thursday, January 20, 2022

Running water everywhere but here

 So last week I had running water where I didn't want it- coming from the ceiling of my kitchen. 


 This week running water at work has been at a premium. We iced up hard in the last cold spell and lost the fresh water pump on board the HQ here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Home for unpleasant smells.  So basically we had no running water for 4 days.  The water tank is located above deck, in the base of the house here on the HQ, rather than under deck like God and a good marine architect would expect. 


 So, yeah, no running water on a workboat. That was fun. 


 Using the toilet was not a problem. I mean, it's the ocean. You pee over the side. But for serious business, a 5-gallon bucket with a rope tied to it, like an old fashioned water well, gets you a couple of gallons of seawater to pour into the head. Problem solved. 

    The sanitary problems not so much. Without going into great detail, baby wipes were on hand, which helped, but we still need to cook and eat and grown men doing physically demanding work, after 4 days, when I got up yesterday and opened my cabin door, it smelled like a hamster cage in the house. 

   yesterday was nice, weatherwise-though. We got the water running, and then we were out of water. 

 No shit. We ran dry. Apparently a drain was opened while we were working on de-icing the other day, and the thaw actually happened earlier than we'd thought, emptying the tank.  By dinnertime the company ran a tugboat to us to transfer water to us, and I was the first one to shower last night. It was glorious. 

        Today dawned with freezing rain that turned into stinging ice and then show. Doesn't matter, everyone's still giddy from not having swamp ass. 


 Another deep freeze is coming tonight. I'ma go shower now. 


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Surprise water feature

 Yesterday was one of those days. 

      We've had a thing going aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Institute for Murphy's Law. Since I got back aboard about 10 days ago, nothing has gone quite right. 


 It's small stuff. Every day something goes sideways. Ships shut down early, or the crew disappears for hours and we end up waiting for them, or our potable water system ices up and we have no running water until it thaws, or a refinery ignores our cries to stop pumping oil and overloads us... things like that. Every. Job. 

          Yesterday afternoon was poised to break this very annoying cycle. We're loading two small parcels of fuel. First one, a splash of marine diesel oil, gets loaded without a hitch. Second parcel gets loaded too, also correctly. All goes well. 

    While we're completing the paperwork at the end, our tugboat for the night calls us. They want to leave right now, as the tide is almost at slack.  I'm trying to hurry us. The surveyor, a guy I don't know, is arguing with his office about the next job he has to do. Not our job mind. He's supposed to be working on our cargo papers. He's yelling with his office, but he's also Facetiming with his wife on his personal cell phone, too. This guy has NO inside voice. He yells. He's yelling with a coworker, and answering his wife's questions ON SPEAKERPHONE at a yelling volume.  All the while he is definitely NOT working on our cargo paperwork. I inquire. He says just a moment.  Well, he yells just a moment. Politely. My ears are ringing. He goes back to yelling on speakerphone to his office and yelling at his wife, also on speakerphone.  

    I hear the VHF radio crackle, and the tug is calling our name. I answer. Loudly. And I mean really loudly. Even louder than the surveyor.  "Yeah, (tug name), I can't get the surveyor to do his fucking job, but he heard you say we need to leave now. We should be done, but he's got two phones on speakerphone and he's yelling into both, neither of which involves this job.  Don't fuckin' swear, though, he's talking to his family, too, and that shit ain't genteel." I'm looking at the guy dead in the eyes the whole while. 


 My partner E is in another chair, he's not on watch yet. He's watching this like a tennis match and starts laughing. 

        The guy hangs up one of the phones, his office phone I guess, and returns to pecking at his laptop. There's glory for you. He's returned to work. 

...and my cell phone rings. Caller ID says it's my kid. 

       This is odd. Getting my kid to call me is like pulling teeth. He'll text all day, but will go out of his way to not, you know, actually make phone calls.  So I answer it. "Hey, (his name), everything ok? 

"Hi dad, no. I just got home to change for work, and there's water coming out of the lights in the ceiling in the kitchen." 

   So, the first part of the cargo went in good, if annoying, but I've got a water leak in my house, and I'm 1200 miles away.  Guess it's not going to be the first good day of the tour after all. 


 My kid is only on like his 3rd day at this job and he can't be late. I have him shut off the water main, throw down a bunch of towels and take off while I call a plumber. 


 Turns out, the bidet ( I have a bidet. Don't judge. It came with the house and is excellent for washing boots, feet and I suppose genitals too)  in the master bathroom sprung a leak in the water feed line. The plumber ripped a hole in my kitchen ceiling  and found the leak, fixed it. $250 and a hole in the ceiling, not bad for an after 5pm call on a Friday, really.  I'll have to hang a half-sheet of drywall and patch the thing when I get home next time. So it goes. Oh, and go over the bidet too, I guess. 

      My watch ended at 1730, but I was a bit keyed up and stayed up late, laughing with my wife and texting with my kid at his job a bit too. 

    Today? Today is a new day. The discharge was uneventful, thank God. I slept through it, and woke up at our lay berth. I slept through sailing and docking. Not bad. 


Sunday, January 9, 2022

Long, cold days

 I've been back to work for a few days, but I've been keeping my head down. We're busy, first time in a while, too. Of course, after 2 weeks of minimal sleep and such at home, I came back to work tired, and as I sat in the weed palace, the gross hotel my employer stows us in for crew change, I got that 'I'm getting sick' feeling. You know the one, the itch at the back of your sinus passages, just above your throat in the airway? Yeah, that. 


 So, along with being  very busy and then getting hammered by a bug of sorts (pretty sure it's the flu, at any rate, call it a cold with strong aches too) I did have a covid test in my ditty bag, so I took that, and it was negative, so there's that I guess. Covid would have been easier. I mean, it's mostly over in a few days. 


 So, then the first snow storm of the year hits, and we get high winds and a deep freeze that froze up the potable water system here on the HQ, so no showers or water for the dunny, either. 


 You know I spent a number of years working on boats owned by folks who felt that a 5 gallon bucket was just as good as a modern toilet. That being said, I never bought into that. It's not. Luckily, I was able to hold out for the 18 or so hours that the water system was off before the ice left. 


 Today it's freezing rain. Tomorrow will bring a far stronger cold snap, and presumably more ice and freezing. 


          And it's busy. And I'm still not feeling awesome. 


 So, you'll excuse me if I am not writing I'm sure.