Sunday, May 28, 2023

Bring your kid to work day

 So this was pretty cool. 

       We had a longer than expected cargo discharge last night out in Stapleton anchorage in NY harbor last night.  It started off rough, smoothed out, but dragged on. So it goes. 

         It was a little bitty bunkering job. About 200 tons of diesel and like 700 tons of heavy fuel to be transferred to a ship. Oil tankers are, perversely enough, good on gas. They're efficient. A 13,000hp plant is enough to push a 40,000 ton ship at an economic 14-15kts, and only burns about 30 tons of fuel a day I believe.  I dunno. I'm old enough that all my tanker time was done on the last of the steam ships, which burnt 60 tons a day and couldn't compete because of fuel costs. 

     So anyway, the ship was a bog-standard handymax sized product carrier. Filipino unlicensed crew, which meant that there were a half dozen of them waiting on deck when we came alongside. Our assist tugboat's mate, however, had a bad time getting alongside. It took him about an hour to get us all fast, whereas normally it's a 10 minute gig from passing the first heaving line to calling All Fast.  Combination of tide and tug- our assist tug was one of our heavy, unwieldy high-hp tugs, not one of the smaller more agile harbor tugs. The heavy tugs can easily break all of my mooring hawsers by leaving both engines in gear at idle, so the operator has to handle the tug with kid gloves. Plus, they're made for ocean work and heavy towing. It's like driving a tractor-trailer at a NASCAR race compared to our harbor tugs. 

 So, yeah, we lost time getting all fast. And then, sadly, a bunch of Indian engineers show up. 

     Look, it's not nice, but when the Indian engineers show up, you know several things are going to happen, and we're not supposed to have opinions about anything these days but 9 times out of 10, this means the schedule is absolutely gone. Out the window.  These guys are NOT efficient. They are VERY safe, however, which is cool, but nobody's empowered to make any decisions, which is not. To call it micromanagement is understated. The 3-4 subordinate engineers and their unlicensed helpers won't take a shit without written permission, a signed Job Hazard Analysis worksheet, a spotter and a safety meeting. Possibly also a safety harness and condoms too. Plus adalit or however you call the untouchable caste, to push the lever. 

    This isn't universal. It's only mostly universal. I work with some fantastic East Indian regular crews, a few whom I've gotten to know well. Masterful, efficient, and with a particular grasp of the regulations involved. But mostly they're slow and pedantic. 

 I exaggerate but also not really. The chief, the busiest man on the ship, makes all decisions. This is NO BULLSHIT. I can't even get the crew to lower a bucket down to my deck so I can give them papers, a vhf radio or anything, without the chief engineer's approval.  Many times, ships have lowered a bucket to me, and I put an armful of papers in the bucket, then turn around to pick up a walkie-talkie to put in the bucket, and I see the bucket heaved up before I can put the radio in.  I yell up that I have more stuff to give them when the bucket is just out of arm's reach, but they're not allowed to change the direction of travel of the bucket without the chief's express permission. Which can take 5-20 minutes while the chief is located. 

     So the job should have been done at 0200. Instead, at 0530, I am finished pumping and have one of the two cargo hoses back on deck when Big E comes out to relieve me on deck. My watch is done.  It was a nice night, actually, just frustratingly slow. 

 I shower and go to bed, expecting when I wake up we'll be at anchor or working, as we have a cargo lined up but no times on the load yet. Instead, joy. I wake up at 1400 and we're at a lay berth in Brooklyn, on a SUNDAY, and I can go for a walk and have a quiet day. Finally. I didn't get one last month. I've been here for 5 days I think, and I've got a watch off. 

    I got a 5 mile walk ashore, time to myself, and then when I got back aboard the hq, I see my son's tugboat next to us, and he's out on the back deck needle gunning rust.  

 I'm friendly with the captain of the tug where my kid's training, so he got permission for a 30 minute break to come over to the HQ to say hi.  Our schedules are so out of sync during his training that I won't see him at home until August, so these short breaks are all the time I get. 

   Huh. I thought only my wife would have to deal with empty nest syndrome. I'm awful glad our paths are crossing this tour. 

 So, yeah, all is well, and I got to hear about his training, and took a picture together to send to his mom. Pretty damn good day. 


    I rip on Indian engineers here, but I can point fingers at every nations' mariners for particularly annoying consistent habits- the often drunken Russians, the ready-to-fight eastern Europeans, the lazy Americans, the oblivious Chinese, etc. The only guys I can't rip on are the Japanese, the car carrier crews. Those guys are fast, efficient, friendly, helpful and damn good mariners. They're little tiny Boy Scout-Astronauts. 

 And yeah, I'm indulging in cheap stereotypes. Nobody pulls a hammie reaching for the low-hanging fruit. 


Thursday, May 25, 2023

back on board

 On my first week back after going home, it's my turn to take the back watch- 1800-0600.  So here I am, killing it. 

     Last night was my first watch on, and it was busy. I guess they sat around and didn't have any cargo for like the first 10 days I was home- E and B had a grand time just lifting weights and making sure the anchor wasn't floating. 

      My luck hasn't run that way. We were nonstop my last trip, and the unbelievably bad weather didn't help with morale. I really am ashamed at my lack of self-control at the end there. 2 solid weeks of being rained on and with diaper rash that had my nuts so burnt up that they were achieving fusion?  I feel like I had a reason to be fussy. 

 So it was with great happiness that I got aboard, made up my rack, unpacked all my trash and caught a nap after seeing no rain forecast for the next week... and when I woke up at 1645, it was raining. 

     Ever see a grown man cry? 

   Luckily, with the exception of a 30-minute shower around 2300, it wasn't all that bad, though a strong easterly wind kicked up while I was out on deck, making things a mite chilly.  It was good to have my relief show up at 0530.  

 Today's watch, while very busy early on, didn't have any rain. Glory be. I finally have been able to sit in dry underwear on watch. It's been a minute since that was so. 

          Tuesday I met up with my son in the crew change hotel in Brooklyn- he took a different flight than I had, as I buy my tickets months in advance, and as a trainee, his schedule is more erratic. I took him out to a local BBQ place that's surprisingly decent. 

      I do not love working the spot market for bunkers in New York harbor, but I will say that it's possible to get good food from anywhere in the world here, and while age and health have my generally eating healthy these days, sometimes you just want chicken and ribs so sauced up and greasy that the shit's getting in your ears when you eat. 

 Anyways, my boy is somewhere 100 miles or so out to my east tonight in Long Island sound, learning how to be a tugboat deckhand, while I'm in Red Hook tonight, blessedly between cargoes- we broke some things, and are waiting for the port engineer to come in in the morning and unfuck our hydraulic fendering. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Expensive days

 Damn, this week was spendy.  

        I'm healing up nicely. Bandages are off, and the dissolving stitches in my mug are falling out. 5 more days and I can get the rest of them in my back pulled off too. 

    So, with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's mother in declining health, I booked us all tickets to go see her, likely for the last time this side of eternity,  in her remote city in northeastern Brazil.  I got a good deal on travel, costing just north of 3 grand for airfare. Hotel, etc is still in the air. Paying for chemo to buy her a little time isn't as steep as it is here in the US, but it still ain't fun. 

  The same afternoon? After a thunderstorm, I see water running out of the fascia boards in the corner of my roof where it overhangs by some front windows.  So, thankfully, while I have a roof leak I have no damage to my home's interior. I have a concrete tile roof, this being Florida, and the $2500 repair bill was unpleasant after dropping 3k the day before.  And while the roofers are swapping out tiles (a couple of them were cracked, being older), the sink in the kitchen clogs.  Argh. OK, being the proud owner of a penis, I obviously have a pipe snake, and after pulling the water trap from the sink, I fail to find a block so much as I'm pushing through some resistance the whole damn way as I work my way out to the street with the snake... and pulling the snake back, I'm getting some sulfur-laden grease... about 15 damn feet of it. 

 I poked a hole with the snake through a grease clog. So I start going all ham with the snake, trying to ream it out enough to get a large mass flow of water through. Boiling water and a strong alcohol or alkaline solution will eat away at a fatberg in the pipes after all.  But nope, I can't get the snake to ream out a big enough hole to let out more than a trickle of water.  Gotta swallow my ego and call a plumber. 

 And maybe I got taken for a ride, but maybe not, but the plumber agreed with me that I had a grease issue, and after trying and failing to clear it with a bigger, better snake, I agreed to pay $1500 to have the pipe jetted out all the way from the sewer connection to the sink. 

   So, yeah, the fam is having hot dogs and some of my older canned goods from my preps for a little while. Daddy's had a pricy week. 

 Still, shit, family is family, and my home is important too. I can be sad that it was an expensive week, but it's not like I had other options. Thing about money is that I can always make more.  I'm grateful I have my job to go back to in just a few days and despite being less pretty than I was 2 weeks ago, I have health enough to earn and a couple more days to relax before I head back to work. 

    This crew change is going to be different, too.  My kid and I are both flying out on the same day to meet our vessels for the first time. I'll be able to take him to one of my favorite eateries in Brooklyn the night before crew change. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

stitches give itches

 On the upside, I am skin cancer-free once  more. 

 On the downside, I itch and I am deeply bored. 

      So I had 2 different people cutting on my person last week. The dermatologist cut the shit out of my back with punches and a slash- just a pair of circular holes about 3/8" with a piece of skin cancer in the middle and a couple stitches to close it up and off to the trash can with it, plus another one  above my waist on the left side that for some reason she chose to remove with a 2-3" incision and a bunch of stitches. 

     The next day a Moh's surgeon cut on my face, leaving me with a 2" slice in the classic Hockey Fight look- between the temple and above the eyebrow. So now I sure do look like a pirate. 

     The combination of positions means that no matter what I do, I'm pulling at stitches somewhere. It's annoying, and more, the ITCHING is making me insane. Not my face. That's fine, so long as I don't squint I can forget it's there, but my back is really itchy everywhere. It's annoying as all hell. And I'm told I can't do much. So no outdoor maintenance on my house, which was pretty much how I planned on spending these weeks at home. So... shit. I am BORED. I don't have sedentary hobbies. And I can't swim, which is a daily activity for me at home. 

     Still, not crying. I'm happy to not be at work. But I'd give my left nut for a back scratcher. 


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Early crew change

 Interesting few weeks, for sure. 

 It has been by far the most miserable few weeks I've ever had while working for my present employer. A combination of things that were negative overall, plus getting rained on for all but 1 God-damned day in the last 2 weeks, to the point where I have mildew inside my boots, well, that didn't help. 

    I'm having violent tantrums. That is VERY unlike me. I'm no doubt an absolute treasure to live with recently. My partner B out here is dealing with insomnia, which means I'm dealing with no quiet hours in our small quarters aboard. And it's so fucking busy, and the schedule so erratic, that we can't get ashore or out of each other's hair for an hour, and to be fair, while I'm being cunty lately, I can't even take a shit in peace the past little while, 

      Well, the weather was supposed to break last Saturday, change to nicer weather. It in fact was as awful as always. Gray, rainy, windy, right up through Monday. And also busy AF. 

   BUT, on Monday, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife flew up to the Northeast, and I left work early. 

 My kid has been in the fleet the past 2 weeks. I haven't seen him, though he's enjoying himself. 

 Yeah, so I got married. In Brazil, anyhow.  Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I never registered our marriage in Brazil, just the US, way back in the day. We're planning on spending more time in her country of origin, and so it turns out that as the trophy Husband, I am unable to easily inherit whatever estates and homes and lands my wife may own as I am not a registered alien. 

  Oh how the tables have turned. I am marrying my wife for a green card. 


           Above all else, it was good to laugh, and to not feel as though I am 30 seconds away from losing my mind and starting the beatings. I'm much too old to start to punch my way through frustrating moments. I think leaving work 2 days early might have been the best thing for everyone involved.