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.