Monday, January 30, 2023

It was a good day

 Yesterday was a good day. 

Things have been stressful on the HQ for the past few months, not gonna lie. We've got a deep talent pool aboard, and my company is  short of what they need in terms of good tankermen, so unfortunately, we've been Shanghaied a lot lately, and it's got all of us stressed. Getting ganked and put on an unfamiliar barge where we know the job but don't have the vessel or the souls aboard truly integrated in our minds elevates the risk profile to one degree or another in every job we do, of course. Given the nature of the job, that risk can be minimal. Or not. I realize that right around at my age, mental flexibility becomes less easy to achieve. The concepts we drill green tankermen on,  situational awareness, positive control, stop work authority, and the negatives too- analysis paralysis, tunnel vision, stress-induced insomnia, all those things... it becomes more difficult. As does the job itself. We have some of the largest bunker barges in the US.  Shit starts to hurt at a certain point as you fossilize, and after a number of years on the water, nobody escapes anno domoni without some permanent aches and pains.  The important thing becomes maintaining the 'it's a marathon, not a sprint' mentality, which is critical when you were sprinting for 10-15 years.  

          Years ago, I brought one of my very good friends out lobstering with me. We were going to do the usual workload for 2 men despite having 3 aboard- haul 400 pots over about 10-11 hours. The weather was fine, and we had good bait that day for the bait bags- salmon heads and herring, very fast to stuff in between 25 pot strings. 

   So, we fished shorter 3-foot pots, not the 4-foot 'coffins' that ruin the back but fish a little better. BUT, the Notorious BOB and I built the 3-footers heavy, with extra heavy gauge wire, extra reinforcement, and an extra 5lb brick, 4 bricks per pot, so each of the 400 pots weighed somewhere around 50-60 lbs. We'd sling the pots FAST aboard- with 15 fathoms (90 feet) between pots, we usually pulled each 25 pot string in 15 minutes before setting it back out. Setting out the half mile string took 5+ minutes, when we'd be rebaiting bait bags and sorting and banding lobsters. And then the steam to the next buoy, anywhere from 1-15 minutes, but usually somewhere around 5.   Every other string we'd take a minute to take a drink and get situated. It's VERY fast paced most of the time. 

     My friend was in great shape- lean, athletic, and a daily exerciser. Me, I was fishing. I'm overweight, don't jog or do cardio.  I've got the ruck hump back shape from working bent over 5-6 days a week as a teen and adult, and I knew how to balance the pots on their center of gravity to more easily pivot and sling them using momentum and my legs rather than my back, but I also had the hard pad on my upper quads from the motion of sliding the pot on edge down the gunwale of the boat, then lifting the pot and quickly pivoting, taking enough steps to get to where I could toss the pot in the stack properly, and then shifting the pot's weight onto one thigh and bounce the pot using my thigh like a springboard. 400 times a day every 45 seconds or so at a jogging pace. 

   My healthy in-shape friend was dead on his feet 200 pots in, when we have a snack and are in the zone.  Before the end of the day I had him sit on a water barrel and resting. He was done. He did well. Very well, for someone new.  

    Thing is, my friend knew about my job, in good detail. We talked about it, and had years and stories so he knows quite a bit about a job he didn't regularly practice. But the doing of the job, no. He learned, though. He respected me a fair bit more after.  The things he didn't get, the fatigue, the repetitive motion, the discomfort, the mental game that gets you through discomfort and mind-numbing repetition... he didn't get that, until he did. And even then, of course he'd never understand the mental game from a day with me, not for a job I'd been doing more or less since I was 8. But what was so positive for me is that he now knew he didn't know, and couldn't. It made me feel that he appreciated the challenges of my unimpressive little job at that point in my life. 

 I miss that feeling. 

 BUT, yesterday. It was a good day. I had a good day. Mental Health Day. I cooked, I did things I enjoyed, and I didn't do too much that I didn't enjoy.  Provided I don't get pulled off of the HQ to go elsewhere, I feel like we got our batteries recharged. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sunday at sea

 We're at anchor today here at HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/Center for Culinary Experimentation.

      Today is Sunday. Next cargo is fixed for lunchtime tomorrow. In theory, there's free time today. 

    Yesterday was a productive day for me. We anchored the night before, and yesterday I spent about 3 hours at my desk hammering out paperwork and getting caught up on the logbooks and recordkeeping, ran through some scheduled maintenance checklists and the safety inspection and walkaround for the tour, pulled out the tools to cut and resplice a worn out eye on one of the mooring lines, and pulled up a bunch of consumables from the storage area to replenish assorted filters, bottles, notions and potions. I also mixed together a quart bag full of rub for making pulled pork. By then it was afternoon, and I got a ride ashore and bought grub- meat, chicken, a big ass pork shoulder and a shit ton of greenstuff.  By the time I got back aboard and got the pork shoulder rubbed down and set in the fridge to dry brine overnight. it was dark and I was ready for a shower and bed. 

  So, Sundays at Sea are a sailor's delight when all works out well.  It's a day where, needs permitting, free time is allowed to the crew.  20 years ago, for me as an able seaman on a tanker, it meant getting up for breakfast, having the morning meeting with the bosun and the mate, and then loading up buckets of soapy water and the brooms, and sweeping and mopping all the passageways and common areas of the house, except for the bridge (which was swept and mopped by the 4-to-8 watch every single day except when we were in port, since oil tankers don't keep a bridge watch when pumping cargo). Point being, if nothing pressing was happening, Sundays at sea meant we were finished with daywork by 10am, and could read, loaf, critique the steward, watch movies, exercise, whatever. Have fun, basically. 

 I'm on days for a few weeks, so I rolled out of the bunk at 0445, relieved a sleepy but grateful B, and once he was out of the scene, I got the pork in the slow cooker, swept and mopped the HQ, which is a one man job, the HQ being very modest in scale, and sat down, done in an hour.  My plan today? Cook my pork, play a video game, finish my current book, go walk in circles for an hour around the perimeter of the deck, and at some point get out of the sweatpants I'm wearing and put actual pants on. Eventually. 

 Some days are good days. I'm optimistic for today. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

"Spik Ingleesh, yis yis"

I liked these little foreign fuckers. 

     We bunkered a bulk carrier this morning, and initially I was feeling a bit soggy and hard to light about the whole op. 

        Our tugboat had a damaged pulley on the push cables, so they towed us on the hip, basically lashed to one side. That's fine, except that bulk carriers have their bunker port (the fuel connection) usually on the side of the wheelhouse, which on bulk ships is located far astern compared to tankers or container ships, and the side where the tugboat was forced us to tie up heads-to-tails with the ship- facing opposite directions, which means half my hull was out in the stream. Only way I could make it work, so I lashed down the hell out of where I could and cranked down so hard on our winches that the hawsers were wrung like sponges. 

        After we were all fast, I quickly realized that nobody I could talk to had any sort of comprehension of English. I asked for an English speaker, and they got me some little fella out of the galley, I think, and he had a bit of English. Now, I have the right to refuse to work if we can't find a common tongue, and as I'm pretty much stuck with English, bad Portagee, sort of,  some song lyrics and curses regarding the British in gaelic,  and just curse words in a dozen other languages, that's not good. But these guys were earnest AF. They were trying. 

      I'm really trying not to fly off the handle and cuss out people. Ever since last week when I cursed a man so loudly that I lost my voice, I've been thinking about how there's no way anyone can respect a man who is absolutely out of his frigging mind with anger. Sure, you can get a fear reaction, or possibly break through a hard head with volume, but it's self-defeating, I have come to see. So, having already had that conversation with myself in the recent past, I was unable to be upset about the language barrier that was an issue today, although to be fair, the ship is informed ahead of time that an English speaker is required on their end for safety reasons. But these little fellas just didn't have anyone. 

     So, the thing that impressed me so favorably was just how efficient these guys were. I mean, they connected our cargo hose FAST, and as a team, passing down their hose blank for me to size up and send up an adaptor flange, using actual REAL crane hand signals (95% of the dildos out there do it wrong. There's an international agreement, dicks!), and getting the hose connected in just a few minutes, compared to the 1-hour plus it takes a pair of white suited engineers all standing around with their thumbs up their asses screaming at 2 overworked Filipinos with one wrong-sized wrench between them, and giving them contrary information, which is usually how hose connections are made.  But yeah, these bros did it in about 5 minutes, like a top-notch tanker crew might. They then hammered through my paperwork, without complaint, sent down theirs with instructions and everything I really needed marked with a highlighter (!), and then hung out at the rail, looking down at me, and everything came to a screeching halt because of the language barrier. 

      There just wasn't a reason to yell. They couldn't understand me at my best, most simple communicatin' English. They didn't understand me when I said that I had to have one guy up there with a radio in case of trouble. Eventually, they did break out the little cooks' helper, with his 'spik Inglish, yis yis!"  but he couldn't progress beyond Yes/No Start Stop, Faster Slower.  Eventually, I just pointed at the rail and said "You! Please! Stay! There! For Help Me!"  and he did. 

       Look, when I met my wife, she barely spoke English and we learned each other's language, sort of, over the next 20 years, figuring it out as we do. The first 6 months we were dating, conversation was pretty basic. I kind of miss that, lol. It was quiet. Point is,  I can speak and understand Bad English at a professional level. 

     Honestly, if these guys had been dicks, the usual sort of inattentive sailors or less on the ball, I would have called my company and bailed. But they just wanted to do what they could do, and I became confident that if the fit hit the shan they could let me know, so I basically just would have to hang out on deck at the hose connection and watch them carefully. 

 They did well. Hand signals for my pump throttles, proper crane directions, teamwork,  safe, careful. Pantomimes and Pidgin. Honestly it was the fastest, least stressful and most pleasant transfer I've done in months. Those little boogers had their shit locked down. At the end, when we passed papers and they diconnected my cargo hoses, while I was swinging the hoses down on deck with the crane, the little cook waved down and said "bye bye, I cook now" and I realized that he was an unhealthy bluish color under the tanned nondescript asian coloring. Dude was freezing his little nuts off, but I hope he got recognized for being The Man today. 


Monday, January 23, 2023

The joy of being less sick.

 Man, I'm so happy I feel a little better compared to the other day. 

    I just have a cold and now a cough. The way I was whining you'd think I had a tumor. 

    Still, after 3 days of being unable to breathe well, unable to sleep well and having all the energy of a slug, just feeling less sick felt great.    Plus, the 2 days of heavy rains and working night watch, and being almost exclusively outside wasn't the tits either.  

 I'm feeling much better. The gallon or so of snot in my sinuses is still there like a glacier, but I think ice-out is coming. If lung clams were selling at the price of cherrystones I'd be raking in the cash. 

 Did you ever notice that when your sinuses finally clear out all at once after a cold, they always do so at a place and time where you have neither enough tissue nor privacy to quietly expel the pint of so of snot that comers out? Always, you end up with a postage-stamp piece of tissue, and you're in public, and out comes a bucket of boogers. Always. I mean, it never happens when you're in the head, or your bedroom... always it's in public, and that snot stampede isn't the sort that can be handled via ye olde snot rockets, either. No, it's always got to be a crisis. 

   Still, I'm at work. Maybe it will finally break my way this time. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023


 Well, now, some dickbag gave me a cold. 

      Every time I get a cold, I remember that I rarely get colds. I used to commute to college in my undergrad days- a 30 minute walk, then a 30 minute bus ride, then a 30 minute subway ride, each way.  This was in Boston, where the "T," the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, is the public transportation system. 

    The T is patronized by dirty, dirty people. I averaged 3-4 colds a year, one flu with fever, and one case of bronchitis (which I am prone to, for some reason. My lungs are scarred enough that it freaks out X-ray techs, who all scream tuberculosis, every time).  

 After college? I've had bronchitis once, and a cold maybe every 3-4 years, if that. 

 So, yeah, while I'm grateful I don't have the Chinese Disease, I feel like crap. Welcome back to work, asshole. 

   We started off the first watch with confusion and cargo, and while I definitely have that slow thinking slow reacting dullness that comes with being under the weather, we unfucked the job on hand, and, gratefully, after my first watch was so busy, my second, tonight, is quiet. I can sit in my chair and complain to myself to my heart's content. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The view from home.

I think every mariner, especially brown-water mariners like me who generally only work for a month at a time, spends half their time home doing chores. I guess it's inevitable. Work-life balance and all. 

Once the chores are under control, though, work-life balance shifts to the Life part, which is a good thing. 

Boss lady undressing me with her eyes. I should file a complaint. 


 Under normal circumstances, getting me to go to anywhere urban on a volunteer basis is unlikely to happen without resistance. The suburb I live in is as developed a place as I'm able to enjoy for the most part and I only live in a suburb because Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife is not a country girl and is much to social a being to enjoy isolation. And I actually like the little gated community I live in. Never thought I'd say that, but it's so. 

    In any event I'm home having a nice time with my wife, and she even got me to spend the night in Fort Lauderdale, which is a city, but a city with beaches and miles of canals. Naturally I ended up herding her down to the waterfront. We're in a cold snap here in South FL, which means it's 65 at night. 

Anyhowsomever, I still have a week home, so I'm going to enjoy it. Don't wait up. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

It's here!

 Last watch of the tour tonight. 

 Well, this was a Tony-award willing drama for sure.   Thrills, chills, you name it. Laughter, anger, etc. 

 Tomorrow is crew change day. If God is kind, I will be home tomorrow night. 

 This page will be unmanned for much of my time home. Should you find yourself in trouble, please follow the directions shown below.