Thursday, June 29, 2023

Tuning the world out

One of the big appeals of working on an oil tanker that I wrote about years ago is that by necessity we needed to tune the world out and focus on getting through the voyage. The world for those of us not in management-level positions shrinks to become just a matter of what can be seen horizon to horizon, or, at most, what we see with our eyes plus a little beyond the horizon which were just dots on the radar screen. 
   This is a joy. Life simplified. The most important things become doing the task you're assigned, and wondering about what is for dinner later. Having a talented steward on board makes such days close to joyful. A day of working hard outside on deck, doing tasks that leave tangible results, with the prospect of an excellent meal when the work day is done. Plus, if the next port was a good place, we could all take time to go ashore even if it was for just 7-8 hours, eat, drink, be social, meet a girl etc etc. 
   Those were fine days. 
 The world has intruded. Emails require constant contact with the world. Mandates, updates, connectivity have made it easier to stay in touch, which I don't view as a good thing. The wholesome positives are there, whereby it's possible to stay in touch with loved ones, but 1), the companies discourage this because they don't want to have to pay an extra couple hundred dollars a month to allow crew to talk to loved ones, and 2), the company employs people who interfere and stay in constant touch with the ship. In that vein, senior management on the ship bear the brunt. 
 Staying in constant contact is usually reserved for the office to control what the slobs on board are doing, not for the unshaved proles to talk to their families. 

    There are negatives, too. When you're on a long passage, finding out right away that nana kicked the bucket isn't going to make things any better for you as you live with the knowledge of death of a loved one, while surrounded not by your family but at best a friend or two and no family whatsoever.  
         The quality of life of seafarers is decreasing with time as externalities intrude, pay stagnates and intangible benefits like shore leave are eliminated. 

      It's often said that as you progress in a career, you will have less and less opportunity to do the things that attracted you to that career until it becomes merely a job. 

 I thought of seafaring as an exception. It once was. I transitioned from blue water sailing to brown water sailing because perversely, a ship that travels long distance now allows almost no agency when it comes to decision-making by its crew, including the captain. 20 years ago I witnessed some office nudnik who had never been on ship before, who was not an executive, and who wasn't even a full-time company employee, harangue the captain at length for the crime of  printing documents on both sides of copy paper, thereby halving the amount of paper used. The guy went on and on. My captain, an elderly, grumpy soul who looked exactly like Santa Claus down to the twinkle in the eye behind his gold-rimmed glasses, was both an amazingly experienced and GOOD captain, and turned a particular shade of purple at the disrespectful nature of someone less than half his age scolding him like a bad dog. 
 Sadly the guy escaped the beating he so richly deserved, but this is how things were 20 years ago and I think it's gotten worse since. 
       As I progressed into my stolidly middling maritime career, I reached a point of homeostasis when it comes to being left the hell alone as a bunker tankerman, where I have a certain limited amount of agency on board, a fair bit of responsibility, and a shoreside office staff who know full well that the only reason I stay in my position is because I absolutely love to be left the hell alone to do my job, and when that can be arranged, I'm pretty good at it.  Obviously I have a very good relationship with the powers that be in my company. And I guess I'm ok at the job, too, because they put up with my antisocial ass. 
        Tuning the world out is STILL one of the intangible benefits of my job as a sailor. It's being chipped away at, of course, as the interconnectedness of all things increases and contributes mightily to the decline in civilization, but I still have my moments where my horizon shrinks. As my horizon sadly has to include the shoreline now, given the brown-water nature of my work, I prefer to allow it to shrink down to just my deck area, where the space inside the hull becomes my center of attention, and the world can wait until I'm done with what I'm doing before I'll turn my mind towards things past the handrails. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Titanic: Still killing rich people a century later

Of all the ways to get killed at sea, being in an implosion at 13,000 feet underwater is probably not a bad way to go. Chances are it was faster than the speed of nerve conduction. 

 The internet is a place for idiots to force people to listen to their stupid opinions. I am absolutely not convinced it is a net good for humanity. 

 So obviously I'm going to talk about the submarine accident at the Titanic wreck site. 

 I am not an expert. My dad was. His first job out of the navy was as as a ship's electrician for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, aboard their oceanographic ships. Along the way, WHOI built their research submarine ALVIN and as my father was the electrician on the mother ship they also built for Alvin, he became an engineering tech on the ALVIN as well. He was there for the first dives, the recovery of the h-bombs lost in a B52 wreck, and for the Alvin's sinking, loss (for a year and a half), and recovery when it slipped out of the recovery cradle. 

   Even so, he wouldn't call himself an expert at anything but the things he worked on. And they worked on a lot of things. 

    ALVIN used life-cycle maintenance techniques where every bolt, nut and washer has a measured life span and is not used one day longer than that span.  I remember my father saying that they needed at least 100 man hours of maintenance and testing for every hour of use of the sub. 

   The story of the habitation sphere, where the people are, involves tens of thousands of hours alone just to pass inspection for acceptance for use, including mandatory destructive testing of copies of the sphere. 

 The Alvin's first sphere when built was pressure tested to over 9000 feet in a testing tank, which was the most powerful pressure chamber of sufficient size at the time. The destructive testing was a failure at first, when the pressure chamber door blew off, causing the multi-ton door to go airborne. The sphere passed. It was stronger than the test tank. A new test tank had to be built, and I'm not sure if they were ever able to test to failure for that first class of spheres. 

       Point being, deep submersible design is intense and the testing and maintenance is continuous and extensive and expensive. 

      I have no idea what the lost sub underwent for testing. It was revolutionary in many ways, and until this week, pretty damn successful. Obviously the company expected it to work. 

 I don't expect that there will be much in the way of human remains. The flash fire from the air compression, then the shock wave from the collapse... not nice. In theory it should have been fast enough to exceed nerve impulse transmission rate, so hopefully the poor pricks had no idea what happened. 

    Now, the only real thing I gotta say is that I'm pretty soggy and hard to light when it comes to seeing a few people's reaction over this. There seems to be a camp, mostly among the cultural marxists (read: unemployable class-conscious losers) of course, where the sentiment is that they're happy  a bunch of ultra rich strangers are dead. 

    If that's how you think, you're a giant sloppy gaping asshole. Just because someone has more money than you doesn't make them less human and worthy of pity- it makes you a jealous loser who sucks at being human and also at making money apparently. Sure you can smugly say that they had no business being there. And it's a weird adventure trip, granted, at a quarter-million a seat, but how much of an amoral cocksucker do you have to be to take pleasure in someone's death simply because they or their parents were good at a job? 

 Anyhow, I've barely got enough brain cells to get through the day after 25 years of smelling bulk oil vapors for 8 months a year. I don't really have much opinion beyond the above, except that I'll be interested in what this means for materials science in the medium term. The busted sub was an experiment. Perhaps the next one will be better, whoever builds it. The early history of the airplane was a lot messier than this. 

Oh, also I'm at home. Not at work. And it's whisky o'clock. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Radio etiquette

 I believe it is very important to conduct oneself properly when using the VHF radio in NY harbor. Proper protocol, channel selection for the task, and radio discipline are vital practices. Minimal communication, sparing use of words, keep that channel clear in case someone needs to use it more than you do. That's the spirit of  properVHF radio use. 

    But then summer comes and I'm yelling at some guy on the radio "Hey, sh*thead! We're trying to work here on this channel, you f*cking shoemaker! Shut the f*ck up and stick your boyfriend's d*ck back in your mouth!" 

 I'm not a fan of pleasureboaters. Truly.   Like the fuedal era Japanese, disturbing my wa is deserving of death, or at the very least being held down and given a papercut. Vertically, the entire length of the 'taint.  Grab a piece of copy paper, hold his feet at 10 and 2, and swipe that sheet like a credit card.

Bad enough they're running around like children, and cut across our bows, utterly ignorant of how close they come to Meeting Jesus when they do so, scaring our tugboaters half to death. Some of them get VHF radios, and they got to talk about every single thought that enters their scrambled brains. 

"Hey, did you watch that  (soy-based TV drama) last night?" 

 "No, was it good?"

(Proceeds to spend 30 minutes describing a 21 minute tv show's plot). 

   Then there's some sailboater doing half a knot backwards in the current, screaming "I'm a sailboater! I've got right of way!"   Rule 9, you wind-assisted asshole. No you don't, and even if you did, congratulations on dying for your beliefs. If only you could do so silently. 

Do you know that good mariners  don't even use the VHF radio for personal messages if we're within sight of each other?   a Tugboat Hello will work just fine instead. 

 If you're not familiar, a Tugboat Hello is giving someone the finger with both hands. 

      I like winter, when it's quiet on the radio. 

 "Hey, you there?"


"Good. Stay there." 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The air is ass here and looking ahead

 So the big news here is that Canada's not very good at fighting forest fires.  New York got slowed down considerable-like yesterday when the smoke from said Canay-jian forest fires made the dirty air here in NY even worse than normal. 

 Seriously, when the wind stops blowing, finally, in May/June in the NY waterfront, the air quality goes in the toilet because NY is a gross, nasty place. June-November, we'll be coughing and hawking up big green and brown lung clams every few hours. But yesterday was pretty exceptional. Visibility was down under a mile. The sky was yellow. Never saw the like before. The container terminals were all closed because of the smoke. And it definitely smelled like a wood fire outside. Eyes were burning, coughing a bit, etc etc. 

   I have worked in dirty air before. No big deal. Just annoying as hell.  I remember too well the nasty air while painting the boilers in my first ship on my first trip to sea, being unable to breathe deeper than halfway because of the coughing fits.  Funny how we laughed it off, being young and 8 foot 12 and bulletproof at the time, inside our minds at least. 

Today, more of the same, looks like. BUT, we are between cargoes and at anchor. The air is currently a foggy white although there is no fog, viz is about 1.5 miles.  And my ass is staying indoors as much as is practical. 

        With 2 weeks to go on this trip and a pretty expensive trip to Brazil coming up (there is now a birthday party for my wife with 200 people invited on the itinerary), I was leaning towards staying a week longer and working some OT, but Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife stamped her high heels and demanded I come home and spend my off time with her. I'd be a dumbass to refuse that. And I mean, I AM a dumbass, but not that dumb. 

She ages like fine wine. I age like dollar store milk.

I also realized at this point that my son will be coming back to work the day I come home, which means that we'll have the house to ourselves for 2 weeks and it's pool season, which means tan lines for her and SPF 2 million for me. 

 Screw the OT. I'm going home. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

it's raining lunch, sea stories and a nice view while waiting for the A.M. B.M.

Screw change is tomorrow, which means it's halfway day for yours truly.  2 weeks to go. E is headed home, B is coming on to relieve him. 

    This morning I did something I haven't done in a long, long time. I just sat outside and looked at the ocean while I caffeinated and got myself psyched up for the day. Pretty much the best part of my jobs on boats have always been the view. Strange that it's been so long that I remembered to appreciate it. It was nice to spend the time between wake up cup and the start of the morning seat that sets the tone of the day. 

 Anyways, crew change is tomorrow, and while I am not going anywhere just yet, E is going home and B is relieving him in the morning, and we've got a load of fuel oil to deliver to a cruise ship tomorrow. Should be an interesting day. It's been a dog's age since I bunkered a cruise ship. It's not a Carnival cruise lines ship, thank God, because they're floating trailer parks. Fuckers like to throw food and trash at us while we're on deck.  I'd been temped to bring the rocket line launcher with me more than once. 

     The line launcher is a rocket charge packed in a can. You screw on a nerf mini-football on the end, and fire the gun, and it'll send 1/2 mile of flag line out into the air. It packs a fairly decent kick. 

 The mini football is a humane addition. The navy just used a 45/70 cartridge with a steel slug and a d-ring. If someone happened to be in the line of fire, they'd be skewered. Every accident report I've seen has always been headshots with those things. Looked like someone grenade-tossed a jar of Ragu on the bulkhead. 

 Anyways, cruise ship tomorrow, low probability of it raining sammich fixins. Namaste. 

         In talking sea stories the other day with some friends, I again pulled out the gem of my father's, the time he was involved in accidentally kidnapping the wealthiest man in the world while blackout drunk.

 I have some fun sea stories, but nothing like what my father had. 

Sunday, June 4, 2023

The week that were

  I'm not exactly sure why I'm writing. I'm pretty much doing the Monty Python "I'm not dead yet!"  thing.   All is well, as well as it can be at work, anyhow. I've had some down time, we pumped plenty of cargo too, I got to go ashore and get fresh grub, etc etc rinse repeat. 

     As my shipmates and I are all on the same page, beyond a 'Good morning' to the guy who just woke up, we wait for the oncoming guy to talk to us first, because sometimes you just need some time to yourself before you kick the brain in gear in the morning. Even when you're not alone, if you can sit in comfortable silence until the newly awakened guy is ready to talk, that helps to make the start of the day a better day, so we wait for the other guy to get caffeinated, eat an egg, check emails etc before starting to talk. 

    This morning I was a solid 20 minutes before I asked about the night watch. I wasn't feeling off, just needed the silence while my high blood pressure meds kicked in. I'm smart enough not to read the news until the pill kicks in, too. Only B, my partner of lo these past 13 years, somehow insists on finding news to watch as soon as I get in the galley. B doesn't watch TV. Just the news and just when I'm waking up.  But then again, he was a navy corpsman so he's got a sadistic streak obviously. But B's at home right now, and E and I are not into watching TV, which is awesome, as I don't have to listen to a bunch of assholes making sounds out of their food holes of a morning. 

     E, on the other hand, woke up this afternoon, looked at our orders for the next few days, saw that there's nothing going on tonight, and I could watch the tension disappear from his posture.  A night off at anchor is a blessing, and he's on the back watch this week while I'm on days. I'll take my turn on nights in a few weeks. 

    So, stuff... I'm going to Brazil in August, so that's pretty cool.  Got to go check in with Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife's family. I've made some thoroughly decent strides in my efforts to learn her language a bit better, so I can carry out a conversation sorta, now.  Only took 20 years.   Going to be interesting, though.   

    You know that expectant silence and stare that Indians (feathers not dots; American indians) can do, that is so unnerving?  Brazilian Indians can do that too, turns out.  Guess what ethnic subgroup 80% of my wife's family are?  So I get to babble at them in my awful portagee pidgen, and they get to stare at me owlishly for about 2 weeks. 

 Ah well. I'll be fine. I already looked up how many bottles of Jamison I can carry legally in my suitcase. I'll still have room for some socks and 2-3 pairs of fresh drawers left over I'm sure.