Thursday, July 28, 2022

CPR day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Last Watch

 Wow, we've been hopping. 

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

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Just call me 'Lucky'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Helpin' a buddy attempt a green circumnavigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I promise you'll like it. 

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

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