Sunday, January 28, 2024


 This morning I was puttering around my garage and yard, doing little projects, when I got one of those weird mood swings we all get and started really seeing things through shit-colored glasses. 

    Today was bleach day, one of those twice yearly tasks I do to keep mildew and green slime from building up on vertical structures in FL, like fences and walls and such.  Basically I spent 30 minutes bombing sections of my fences that were getting green with algae, and killing the mildew that pops up anywhere moisture might linger on my house, using a 1gal spray pump.  It's oddly satisfying and makes everything look shiny and newish, and usually one of those low-effort/high reward tasks. 

    So it was a bit of a bummer that suddenly I'm feeling like someone shat in my cornflakes. Sun is shining, it's like 70 degrees, gorgeous day.  But a random thought popped in... in 2 days or so I have to be back in fuckin' New York for work... and that was enough to make me feel like really knocking the hats off of strangers, if you get the reference. 

       Also, Big Brother Bob (nobody calls him that) gifted me a bottle of Proper 12 whisky, which I am sucking down now like a 2 dollar ho on dollar day. That is some TASY sippin' whisky. 

   But yeah, this morning went from suck to blow after my mood turned.   2-3 years ago I built a surprisingly charming looking 6x8 foot L-shaped step to get in and out of my jacuzzi, which looked like a million bucks for something made out of scrap wood rejects from my Home Depot Pine Pile.  And naturally while finishing up my bleaching I discovered the thing is rotting out FAST.  Already in a shitty mood, this was a bummer, but with a couple of 2x4 cutoff pieces, a framing square and some 3" screws, I put in some supports that should buy me 6 months before the whole thing collapses on itself. 

     But yeah, the mood was cemented in, and suddenly I felt 50 lbs heavier and 10 years older. I still knocked out the tasks I set out to do, but I wasn't the middle-aged honey-do-punch-list machine I was at 0900. 

             I swear sometimes I'm fuckin' psychic.  That's why I have my other alter ego. In my wife's city in Brazil, I'm Don Paolo, aging fatass foreign playboy married to the city's famous beauty queen of 25 years ago. But at home I'm also Nostradumbass, the predictor of stupid things to come in the future.

            Nostradumbass, as always, was making himself known this morning. Bullshittery was afoot. 

             I'm not right at the moment. Something essential and satisfying is missing from my emotional armor after the last trip I took to work. 

         That's weird to say. I'm carrying some baggage, not because anyone died or we almost sunk, but because things were tense and we were having a series of bad days, and this concurrent with a series of hard jobs and unsatisfyingly concluded cargo ops... I'm having spiritual ennui, I swear, I hate myself for not laughing it off. That being said, I came home feeling off. Thank fuck, I didn't come home with itchy feet like in the old days, where I'd get the spiritual guidance from God or my guardian angel or my subconscious and blow up my life to get rid of the feeling. So no itchy feet, gracias a dios. Still, I am in an emotionally unarmored position as I heal up from whatever the fuck that was the last month. 

    And big E, my awesome partner at work, the 3rd point of the trilateral commission that makes up the best afloat management team I've ever worked with, has a family thing. 

  So, yeah, big E's Mrs. is having some day surgery, as things happen, and E asked me to work extra for a week, while I'm recovering from a 10-week marathon that for some reason fucked me up disproportionately. 

           The positive? I'm getting a week of overtime to work on my own HQ.   Score! I get OT money and don't have to parse out all the weird shit that comes from figuring out other people's ways of running a boat.   The negative:  Things are fucked. We're still getting sour oil that is playing merry hell with our systems and making us look like assholes, but the folks supplying the oil are paying just fine, so things continue. 

     But I do feel quite a bit better. And fatter too, but with 35 days coming up for work, I'll have time to put down the fork and do the necessary.  Still, I have 2 days to enjoy before that's an issue. 

Gott focus on the positive. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Small steps

 Damn, I think I'm OK now.  It took 4 days for me to get over whatever mental and physical baggage I brought with me after the last trip. 

 I've been sleeping 9 hours a night and sleeping really well. That's not like me at all. But I think it's helping. 

   I gained about 20lbs in the 10 weeks I was gone. I credit that from increased stress, decreased sleep, decreased free time, poor weather, and the chase for dopamine where I can find it, which until this past week was only to be found in food. I couldn't even sit down after my watch and read a book without getting a call from a cargo surveyor or the office, and with the quality of sleep being so poor and short at work, that doesn't change that I rarely sleep deeply at work. Part of my mind is always aware of the load on the generators (the noise changes and the ventilation changes pitch just slightly too), the throttle settings on the cargo pumps, and the load on the hydraulics.  I'm aware of those things for about 80% of my sleep cycle- not aware enough to be awake, but I can tell you how many times I hear the air compressor kicking on, which causes the turbo on the generator to become audible, and it's about 80% of the number of times it happens. So yeah, 6 hours of that isn't refreshing after a couple of weeks, but it's enough to keep you going. This is the real impact of the problems we've been having lately- hearing the cargo pumps wind up because they've lost suction, or can't get suction at all, and hearing the cargo pumps bog down at high throttle when E or B is trying to blow a snot rocket plug out of the underdeck pipelines or the cargo hoses at 120psi... It's not possible to sleep lightly through that, because it means we have problems that will be my problem when it's my turn to get up. 

   Well, enough whining, I'm not at work. It was chilly here for South FL today. 60 degrees, lol.  And the house in Brazil has the first signs of renovations starting to show up- the well was dug to 200 feet and capped with the pump and plumbing set, the window frames are square, the stone wall around the perimeter is starting to go  up (at 10 feet it should allow me to sun my giant white ass at leisure should I want to. I mean my mother-in-law will be there but she's blind, so Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife can go full National G if she wants to), and the architect has the plumbing and electrical mapped out for the builder. 

    Have you ever seen those 3rd world header tanks on the roof  that people use to store and up the water pressure in their house?  

    These things are everywhere in Brazil- in some areas running water is switched on and off across neighborhoods,  or flow only at a few gallons per hour, and people are expected to use their header tank contents to keep the taps running in their house. The neighborhood where we're building is in the "Old City" of the city where we are, and got 24/7 running water a few years ago. Even so, between the well and the city water, we're in good shape for the arid area where we are- think Oklahoma with big rolling hills and ridges.  

    Personally I hate the look of these ghetto tanks and they're resorts for vermin, so I had the builder pour a 5,000 gal concrete header tank in the roof of the house. Don Paolo wants to be the posessor of a freshly washed ass on the reg, after all. 

 We had 2 of these that looked like dogshit, real jury-rigged looking, 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

a little less so now...

 I'm a couple of days into my time off now, and like pee left too long in the toilet bowl, I'm starting to mellow, if you define mellow as the unpleasant nature of something becoming less so by exposure over time. 

        I'm feeling better, and if not particularly motivated yet to hit the honey-do list, I'm catching up on errands, doing taxes and keeping a low profile. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife has been an angel, very supportive and sympathetic but always relentlessly positive. 

    It's an unusual feeling for me, to feel this blah for so long. Normally, coming home I have to restrain myself I'm so damn excited. 

        On top of work having been about as pleasant as a sack of smashed assholes, the house in Brazil has been a pain in the balls of late. We started the purchase several months ago, but the final sale has been held up by the difficulty made by the US .gov to allow private citizens to move their money overseas. It's 1000X easier to do so illegally or quasi-legally than to do so in 100% compliance with the law. 

    I'm one of those people who can't even speed 15 over the limit without getting a ticket- I am lucky in many, many ways, but I can't break a law or even think about breaking a law. I'll be caught at it. Always. If I look at an irrigation sprinkler that looks like it's coming loose, Code Enforcement pulls up the moment I think about picking up a shovel. 

    So, yeah, it's been a ballbuster to get money wired. On the Brazilian side, buying a house that was part of an estate creates a layer of legal folderol that means judges, lawyers and probate courts are involved. None of which is a real problem, just annoying AF. On the upside, since the sale is final, I don't have to report being a foreign property owner to the IRS for last year's taxes. 

 I'm thinking things have turned a corner and are starting to lighten up and my present shitty mood is a hangover effect. 

    On the upside, I'm learning a lot. And eventually I'll get myself a big white pimp hat and a guayabera and a cigar and make everyone call me 'Don Paolo'  when I'm in residence at the casa.  

Thursday, January 18, 2024

That's enough now.

 I was home less than 12 hours before I got a text asking me to come back. 

 I said no. 

 I did 10 weeks. It's funny, 10 weeks is a short tour on a ship. But ships by their nature travel long distances, whereas a bunker barge does not. If I were working the ports of Philly and Baltimore, jobs are anywhere from 3 to 9 hours away from the loading dock. In New York? 30-40 mins. The loading terminals are almost all in Bayonne NJ, which is a 30 minute sail from NY harbor, and a 30 min sail the other way to Elizabeth NJ, where the majority of the container terminals are for NY/NJ. 

        10 days ago we got the first real winter storm.  In the past 10 days, we had ONE nice day, which I define as light winds and a sight of the sun at home point. Other than that, it's been blowing gales every other day and just plain windy in the days in between, along with rain, frozen rain, sleet, snow and Monday night, an ice storm. 

     Monday night I wiped out on deck, and almost fell and caught myself another dozen times or so. Tuesday, more of the same but much much worse. The ice was heavy enough and mirror smooth to boot, thick enough to gloss over the nonskid on our decks. The present HQ has a LOT of obstructions on deck (large pipelines that are thigh high to be stepped over, small pipelines and conduit, 8 inches high, that must be walked on to be passed over, and valves, ports, hatches, etc.   Plus the 4 100' cargo hoses on each side of the manifold, the pipeline junction where the hoses connect to the barge's piping. And our two 60' cargo cranes sadly have trip hazards in the control area as you rotate the crane. 

    I was coming apart on my last watch. It was one of those nights where nothing worked right. Even though we heat the coffin-sized fluid sump for our hydraulics, hundreds of feet of hydraulic piping full of cold hydraulic fluid on deck make the hydraulic-powered equipment SLOW and unbelievably loud to operate until the warm fluid reaches the equipment. So if you're using the anchor capstan on the bow, the sound level in the bunkroom is about what you'd hear from a chainsaw 50 feet away... for the first 45 seconds or so. It's NOT a pleasant way to wake up. 

    So the cargo cranes were barely moving, the capstans for mooring lines were barely moving, and I was constantly slipping and catching myself, which feels just AWESOME after a couple of hours, let me tell you. 

      Oh, and the oil supplier we have been using, in a fit of unbelievable genius, thought it a real bargain to buy bunker oil that was formulated for a tropical zone. The pour point (the temperature at which the oil will turn solid was SEVENTY frigging degrees, whereas it should be 20 degrees or less. So we've been having oil turn solid in our pipelines and hoses, needing to be blown out under high pressure using our cargo pumps... and by high pressure I mean higher than the maximum safe working pressure for the cargo system. 

 Imagine blowing out a snot rocket in your sinuses using an air compressor vs your own lungs.  Same same.  And even then, we've on several occasions been unable to get this oil to pump at all. As of yesterday when I left, this was still to be addressed. 

     I came home sore, and deeply deeply dispirited.   It's brutal on my psyche, having to fight to do my job at every point, where nothing goes smoothly, the equipment is strained, everyone's stressed, the receiver of the oil is deeply unhappy because it's trash and we're risking blowing out their piping too, and they're perfectly happy to let me know that they're blaming me. And my company, while sympathetic, feels no particular urge to do anything, as this is just business, just some crappy oil that will eventually run out, and when we do fail to carry out a transfer, they just send us back to the same terminal to load MORE of the oil and hope that next time the pumps catch prime. Oh, and if we do cross the magic number of PSI in the process of trial-and-error to get a stuck pipeline stuck, if I rev the pump up and it jumps, say 5 PSI higher than I thought it would (there being no fine control, I'm revving a diesel engine using a not-very-sensitive twist throttle) and I do cause any sort of unanticipated consequences, whether it's on my deck or someone else's, the blame falls on ME. Oh, my company too, would get some flack, since they're the ones who keep deciding to accept this trash oil, knowing what could happen, but I'm the stupid bastard who puts his signature on the Declaration before starting a transfer. The company has already told me not to exceed a certain PSI. Think of trying to get to 4,000rpm on your car, knowing that at 3,900 it won't move, but at 4010 it will blow the engine.  Step one, post-incident is to find a convenient bus to throw me under. 

    Thing is, we're burning out.  I'm burning out. I'm coming home after 10 weeks with my mood at a very low low, and still ebbing. Anyone can have a bad day. Having a bad 2 weeks, with bad weather, and a lot of aches and pains related to that AND no prospect of things improving. 

    My mom was right. I should have just been a fuckin pimp. 

    Anyhow, I'm home, everything hurts, everything sucks except for everything related to me being in my house with my family, which is awesome. I hope to enjoy it more by not being such a wet ass blanket today. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Still here!

 Week 10 began with a roar. We're having nasty gales here, and it's been flat-out busy AF here on the HQ. Nonstop for about 2 weeks. Not much fun at all. Nothing has been going according to plan, because the plans keep changing... but we're chugging through it.  

 Honestly, it's been a tough couple of months. Getting older means daily pain. Getting wiser, I hope, along with older means sometimes having to do less when I want to do more. I can still bull through the work just fine, in terms of safely being able to climb into bed at the end of the watch... but sustainable working, long term means that where I might have used brute strength to complete difficult tasks 5 years ago, today I need to NOT bull through onerous tasks and use technique a little more than brute force. 

     Really, this has been the first time I have voluntarily limited myself at work in this way, doing so because it's smart, not because it's necessary.  I'm still thinking about what that means. 

       Yesterday was the capper to this marathon.  Finally something blessedly broke enough to require repair by an engineer, and we got a free day today. Two weeks of nonstop work meant we were going to bed sore every night and there wasn't much time for anything but the grind. The last job was exactly what was expected-  nothing went right, and we were in an area with miles and miles of fetch when the wind started blowing... which it did. From 5-10 knots to 40+ by the time we were done with the job, which was by far the most conflict-ridden bunker job I've done in 5 years. I no longer scream and fuss as I once did when being lied to or mistreated by the other ship's crew, but I sure wanted to. And the delays caused by the other ship being staffed by a passel of human trashbags, we got caught out in the weather and got our asses handed to us when we should have been moored in a safe place. 

 Funny thing, though, when the job was done and we sailed, and it's blowing like a mad bastard, shit flying on deck, the light rain hitting us in the face so bad it hurt, and us corkscrewing more than we have in a long while beating into the weather... I felt GOOD. I felt like a sailor again. It's been a long frigging while since I felt the living sea lift us up like a dog with a bone. And I fuckin' liked it.