Saturday, March 30, 2024

Some maritime memes about the Baltimore incident

  It's been painful as hell to watch the internet reaction to the Francis Scott Key bridge collapse. 

 I'm not sure which is more awful; the pleasureboaters' hot takes based on their vast experiences with 21 foot plastic toy boats used about 50 hours a year,  or the conspiracy theorists' insistence that it was all a big, carefully orchestrated plan. 

 In between are the poor SOB's who just don't know what is reasonable and what isn't, given the absolute awful state of the world at the present moment and the retard circus that is the internet. 

    So a little gallows humor is due.  I stole all these memes from smarter and funnier people. None are mine. I ain't that clever. 

Friday, March 29, 2024


 Man, I went and loaded that delayed job a week ago, and that was the last time I had a moment to myself, with the exception of 45 minutes yesterday, when I called a quick time out at the company pier and ran to the store to get food, as we were between jobs but had a cargo hose that was reaching its replacement date and the bunker gods (Long may they sow confusion; long may they shit light on the heads of the tankermen) with much wailing and gnashing of teeth overestimated the time it would take to swap out a measly 60-foot steel-belted 6-inch diesel hose by a fat guy who was running out of food and was within just a mile of a grocery store. 

    So, yeah, we swapped hoses, I jumped ashore still in my foul weather gear (it  being day 2 of a gentle soaking rain), leaving the hydraulics on and the deck crane sticking up vertically, and got my grub, before putting the deck away, admitting that I was finished, and getting bumped by a tug to go to the next job, with just 10 minutes in between. 

    This morning we had a nice small job to do, pumping off the oil that we loaded yesterday, on a Hapag-Lloyd chartered ship. Hapag-Lloyd uses the same cargo surveyor for almost every job, and he and I work really well together. A mutual appreciation club I guess. 

         I was done by noon and at anchor here at the foot of the Statue of Liberty about 2 hours later. And now... we rest. 

  Lordy, busy time. I haven't had a meal sitting down in 4 days I think. The sun came out and although there was a biting wind, the air temp was moderate. Not a bad day. 

         I'll pick up where I left off the other day, shortly. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

New Blood, and New Bloodletting (Part 1)

 Good morning, 

          Well, when I went to bed, I had planned on us being nudged and nosed over to a tank farm in Bayonne NJ to load up 4 grades of fuel (two of which would be partially combined together and also partially segregated from each other) in some proportion, for 3 ships over the next few days. 

    When I woke up at 0430, having slept 9 solid hours (I was pretty damn tired), we had been ordered to remain at anchor for the night. So here we are, swinging our dicks in the breeze at 0630, and my ass has already weighed in (I'm trying to lose weight again, and succeeding, 25lbs gone since New Years) and breakfasted (today being 2 slices of bacon and 2 eggs, which makes today a VERY good day so far).   

    We had a gale comes through the last day and a half, which brought some mild cold with it, somewhere 30's and low 40's, but with the breeze I couldn't get warm yesterday despite it being a mostly indoor day for me. I mean 40's used to be long-sleeved t shirt and a flannel shirt weather for me, all day outside. What the hell happened? Florida and anno domini, I guess. Sucks though. I'm a fatass, I shouldn't be getting cold. Not too many years ago, it took single digits and a gale before the cold bothered me. Getting soft and silly in my old age. 

      Some stuff is going on in the background. I have picked up some side work as a scientist, doing, may the good Lord help us, some analysis of testing methods and project planning for a for-once well budgeted study... I'm unfortunately being tapped for the planning stages, not the execution stages which would be fun AF, but what the hell, my services as a quarter-assed (not even halfassed) biologist haven't been in demand for some time, so I'm happy to have a couple of bucks thrown my way in exchange for a little algebra and some redneck CAD. plus the money is more than welcome.

 While my munificent Tankerman pay is adequate, construction in Brazil of my new batcave there is, while on budget for overall target, the money up front parts are coming faster than expected. Materials costs are rising rapidly there, as spendthrift econimic illiterates  are in power there, just as they are here, with similar results, so I'm being pushed hard to cough up the reals to buy stone, mortar and tile, lock in concrete deliveries, and secure rebar and consumables.  Same as 3 months ago, the house looks like present-day Gaza, only moreso. Construction on the 3 meter tall wall surrounding the house and yard came to a halt with the change order from Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife, who wants piers sunk in the ground to support expanding the wall to 5 meters in the future and to add a 2nd floor to the annex to the big house, where we're going to reside. 

    What I love about Brazil is that if you want to build, and you own the land, you can build. Construction is  all stone and concrete, with no water table to deal with and stable ground down to 100-130 feet that will always pass a perc test in the arid region where we're building. So adding, say, a second floor is a matter of either prior planning to sink piers and columns now, or adding them later and being more disruptive, either way it's cool. 

    Still, it looks like hell right now, and my savings account is on a diet just like me, but showing much more rapid progress, if you get me. oof. 


 The breakneck pace that we've been setting the past few months here on the HQ hasn't been confined to just us. The other guys who are also working the Spot market (as in on-the-spot job charters, rather than long-term charters) in my company are also running around like a cat trying to bury a turd under a marble floor.  Perhaps as a result of the uptick in work locally without a commensurate increase in tonnage to perform the work, some of the major players in the oil trade have increased the number of vessels they are chartering on longer-term contracts. What this means is that, if, for example, an oil major picks up another tug and barge unit on charter, there is one less tug and one less barge available locally to work for companies other than that oil major. End result, each time this happens, the workload on moi and guys like moi, increases... and we're running low on tugboats. 

      Thing about a tugboat is that in the oil trade, they're an expense, not a generator of revenue. You spend money on a tug. You don't make money on a tug. And they're not cheap to fuel, man up or maintain... but a barge isn't getting from A to B without one.  Still, barges generate oil money in a more direct fashion, though both tugs and barges are needed as part of the process. The tug crew isn't going to carry oil in their pockets, and the bargemen aren't going to put a tow line between their teeth and start swimming, either. 

            What is happening is that companies often have more barges than tugs. A tug can drop a barge off at a terminal, and go move another barge or three before the barge at the terminal is loaded or discharged. It makes sense to have plenty of barges to work, and enough tugs to move them. But oil companies are fickle. They'll tell you they need oil moved on such a date and at such a time, but they're competing for berths with each other at tank farms and refineries, and the best laid plans etc etc... there are times when tugs and barges are all loafing, and times when everyone gets orders to move at the same time. Like a frigging anthill. 

       What ends up happening is that at times there might be 8-9 barges scattered across 15 miles of harbor and rivers, and at any one time between zero and all barges might get movement orders with no prior warning.   I'll give a more likely scenario, however. 

     Lets say one tugboat has orders to put a barge alongeside a ship at  0600, and also has orders to put another barge at a terminal at 0900, then return to the first barge at 1000, and move that barge to yet another ship.  The two barges are only 30 minutes apart from each other. At 0600, the tug has the barge alongside the ship, but the ship for some reason isn't sending men on deck to catch mooring lines, and so after blowing the whistle, cursing and hammering on the side of the ship with a 20lb sledgehammer, the barge is all fast and the tug breaks down... at 0700. It took an hour to get all fast, instead of the ideal, which is 10 minutes. So the Tug leaves the ship at 0700, steams the 30 minutes to the second barge, and arrives at 0730. Between making up (lashing the tug and barge together) and sailing, the tug leaves the berth at 0800, and arrives on time at the terminal, putting the second barge in on time, and on budget. 

    The expectation is that the first barge will be done at the ship in just 4 hours, so somewhere around 1100 with the delay, as it was a very small 350 ton splash of fuel oil the barge was transferring, which only should take 1 hour... but the ship is old, and the engineer on the ship is afraid that 60psi which is their normal loading max pressure, is too much for the piping, and wanted the barge to pump the fuel slowly. Instead of one hour, it takes 3. Plus the engineer is eastern European, and that means that no matter how much fuel the barge delivers, the engineer will accuse the barge of attempting to shortchange the ship by 40 tons of fuel (It's always 40 tons with the bohunk engineers. Don't know why). The engineer will spend an extra 30 minutes atttempting to browbeat the tankerman to give him 40 more tons of fuel, for free.  The engineer sent a crewman down earlier to measure the volume of fuel in the barge's tanks before they even got started, so he knows exactly what the barge has on board. But the tankerman actually gave him every drop of that grade of fuel on board that he asked for, and it was the correct amount of course, since the barge can not leave the tank farm unless the amount in the barge on loading agrees very closely with the amount that was pumped out of the shore tank.  So the tankerman tells the engineer too get his dishonest ass on the barge and stick his head in the barge's empty cargo tank. But the engineer never does. Instead, he says he will issue a Letter of Protest because the barge is a bunch of filthy liars and children of filthy liars who also practice usury and buggary at the selfsame time.   Now, a Letter of Protest is an official document, which can be used to start a legal process when disputes arise, so once a Letter is issued, it's a punctuation mark on the job. But the letter is never issued. Instead a Letter of Protest is issued, but not for the volume, but because of some minor inane thing (The barge refused to take the ship's mail or the like) and the volume is never mentioned. This document is delivered along with the actual bunker paperwork and the handheld VHF radio the barge lent the ship, and is delivered by one of the sailors, not an engineer, who coincidentally has no idea what is going on but who is vaguely hurt that the tankerman wasn't more polite and friendly. The barge is now about 3 hours behind his schedule as it stood at 0600.  And that means that the second ship of the day, who is waiting for his fuel at the anchorage, is also being  held up. 

 So the tugboat moves the barge, and the tugboat's schedule is fucked too, courtesy of the dirtbag engineer. The barge is 3 hours late, and the tugboat  was supposed to pick up the second barge after finishing the second ship with the first barge... so now the company has to find another tug to move either the first or second barge. Turns out, both are ready to sail at the same time. 

      And so, when my employer runs out of available tugboats, they hire a 3rd party tugboat, whether it's for a single job or for a period of time, 7 or 30 or 90 days.  and at any time, in the past few months we have had 3-5 3rd party tugs helping us out in NY harbor. 

      This means, for me, we have tugs that know the area, but don't know the idiosyncrasies of my barge, or other barges, and we don't know each other...strengths and weaknesses, people skills or lack thereof, communications style, needs, habits... which means there's a learning curve, which can be frustrating for all. But it also can mean new friendships or at least cordial affinities forming too. Positives and negatives. 

   And that is how my partner Big E and I got to know and like one very young, very nice but very volatile  deckhand.. 

(To be continued)

Friday, March 15, 2024

Good evening?

 Crew change went pretty easy this time. For the first time since we started loading the absolute cold dogshit oil that one customer started giving us this past fall, on our second cargo since I got back, we loaded a blistering hot, thin, high-quality fuel oil from another customer, one of the oil majors, and the stuff was so wholesome that it scoured a full inch of old, crusty resudue off of the 18 inches or so of unpumpable filth that is glued to the bottom of our tanks. 

 I wish we could load that stuff 17 more times.  Sadly, tomorrow morning we're back to load a big parcel of nastiness again. 

 But that's for tomorrow. Tonight we're free and at anchor, Glory Be and long may the bunker gods squat down and grunt to shit light on the heads of we the damned. 

       I slept this morning. Some delays last night caused by an awkwardly-placed support beam on the large container ship we were pumping off to caused the ship's crew to not be able to connect our main fueling hose before we reached 0530, my watch change where Big E takes over. As I am still much too calm and stable after having a week at home, the newly arrived has to work night watch. After a week of night watch I will be sufficiently unhappy to take over as the day man, the guy who is the face of the HQ when it comes to interacting with the office drones, engineers, bosses, etc.  Heaven forfend that I give the wrong idea and say hello with a smile when outsiders interact with us. They need to know exactly how much we hate life while dealing with this oil on board which acts like gelled lukewarm diarheaa. . 

            So yeah, back to normal. I'm still armored by the "If you don't give a fuck why should I' mentality as we complete cargoes poorly given the nature of the cargo.  I guess that's what makes today's discharge so special to us. I was still asleep when Big E finished the job, but where this was the first time where we actually pumped off all the oil we were given in... 4 months I think? Big E was in tearing high spirits. 

          One thing about E and I, we've discovered that we tend to absorb the other's emotional state. E had cautioned me several times back in January that after talking to me he wanted to put his head in the oven, back when we were finishing each job with the HQ sitting an inch deeper than it was the job before. I apologized profusely for it and last month made a point to not look at the HQ through shit-colored glasses, which actually put both of us in a better place, as he did the same.  So today I let myself bask in his inner glow and we celebrated after I drank a quart of energy drink by pulling a couple of our mooring lines out of service and dragging some replacement lines in.  300 feet of hawser is heavy and our to-go-ashore storage for old running rigging is a long walk from some of the lines. The weather being downright pretty helped- long-t-shirt weather and sunny, which is ideal. Just cool enough to prevent a sweat at the workload involved. 

    Really, the old mooring lines are just a couple of hundred pounds each, so we grab and end and pull it until it's a strain, then go grab another part of the same line 100 feet further down and pull that until the whole line is close enough that it can be faked down (stowed neatly where it will feed out neatly when moved) out of the way in its' temporary home. So we put 3 lines out of service, and put 3 new lines in. The new lines are heavier than the old, as the old lines generally wear out at the eyes, the terminal ends, and when they break, which happens as they age, we resplice new eyes, which costs 15-20 feet of line, shortening it... so if we resplice a line twice at each end... 60-80 feet is lost. 

 Anyhow, tonight is quite lovely. The sunset was really nice. I missed my wife something fierce. She's one of the only non-sailors I know who is a true sunrise/sunset aficionado.  I may demand cash on the barrel in exchange for my work, but part of my pay is all the sunrises and sunsets I can stand. 'S always been that way, too. I LOVED watching the sunrise when I was 8-9 and loading 5 gallon buckets of bait on the lobsterboat- the old timer who taught me to fish poured out the barrels into buckets so we could tote them in manageable lots. Child labor is the best labor.  Later I learned in high school to roll Irish barrels (42 gallon barrels by partially tipping them about 20 degrees an-end and steering while I rolled. At age 18, I would just hug and lug the barrels.  As an actual adult after my first pulled back muscles that caused me to miss fishing for 4 days, I went back to rolling them. 

   I've still got the core strength from all that. It's just that my joints don't like it no more. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is flabby and aches. 

 Anyhow, tonight I crack open the books and fire up my desk to get paperwork up to date and then I should have time to made a decent stir-fry for night lunch.  I'll be working all night tomorrow, but there's a possibility that the evening of the 17th, the highest of high holy days of those born in Boston, Irish Christmas itself, the feast of St. Patrick, we might have a break between jobs.  As I'm on nights, I will be able to catch the Irish music on the Boston radio stations online I hope. The corned beef will be defrosting starting tomorrow. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

Much much too fast

 I'm sitting at my kitchen table, putting together travel arrangements to go back to NY tomorrow for work. It was a fine, FAST 6 days at home, but all in all it was a good run ashore. It's sunny and warm, around 80 with light breezes outside, my wife has some kind of focaccia bread and cheese and tomato thing in the oven cooking and the whole house smells like garlic and olive oil.  Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife has been cooking up a storm, and being half Italian, the girl can COOK.   

   I made a few mistakes, attributable to enthusiasm. I drank too much on my first night home, and got up early the next morning and did a bunch of heavy labor, and by 8 am I had sweated through a couple of shirts and was dehydrated. And hung over. Because I am an idiot, that's why.  At any rate, I spent the rest of the day more or less on the couch nauseous, but by that evening I was good to go again and my wife had taken a couple of days off so we got to spend about 4 days joined at the hip, which was exactly what I needed given that I've been home for a total of 3 weeks I think since October and only had 6 days at home this time... I won't be doing any overtime this trip and will have a more normal run ashore in April, and time enough to be social.  

        This time other than one night out with my wife and another with my wife and son (who is home from sea too), we spent most of the time cooped up in the house, which I think we all needed. 

 I'm not going back to work relaxed, I didn't have enough time for that... but I am going back to work feeling better than I did, and that's all to the good. February was a good month aboard HAWSEPIPER's Afloat Global HQ/ Center for involuntary celibacy, but I was still reeling from January, which sucked massive camel wang. I was telling my wife over the weekend about how badly January at work fucked me all up emotionally by making me doubt my career choices, this being my 42nd year of working on the water coming up (I started at age 8 for the princely sum of $10 a day baiting lobster pots), but thankfully February had enough days where things went OK enough for me to get back on an even keel, and hopefully March will continue that trend. 

Anyhow, lunch is ready, gotta go. One last day before crew change. 

Sunday, March 3, 2024

3 watches and a wake-up to go.

 Wow, OK, thank you very much to the good people who left a comment on my last post. Tonight's another quiet night aboard (thank you God), and I was able to go for a walk ashore this afternoon, too. Good day. I go home in a few days, though just for a week. 

     All of New York decided to go for a walk around Brooklyn Bridge Park, which shares an entrance with the container terminal/lay berth piers where the HQ is docked while we wait for a berth to open up at the tank farm where our next job will start. This meant that on my walk, the sidewalks were so congested that it wasn't possible to stay in step for more than 15 seconds at a time (not exaggerating) and I spent much of my walk winding my way around people. The smell of weed and foreigners (B.O.) lay thick enough that it wasn't possible to forget about it... and the side streets were little better, so my walk wasn't all that enjoyable, but all the same, it's still better than walking in circles around deck ad nauseum, so there's that. 

   The past 5 weeks have been pretty good overall. We're still dealing with  solidified oil in our tanks that will not pump off, and more building with every job, and it now takes compressed air being blasted into the pipelines to clear a path for oil to flow within our pipelines... the problems of ow temperatures and oil that is stupid to use in cold locales, oil with very high pour points (the temperature below which the oil stops flowing) haven't been addressed, but I have finally stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, as my spirit animal Dr. Strangelove recommended. The office folks don't care. Should I? 

 It's been hard, detaching my ego, sense of pride, the desire to do things well and correctly and my work ethic, too, from how I do my job. If nobody gives a fuck that the oil we're carrying is a nightmare, that the receivers hate it and hate us because of it, and every job leaves less and less room in our tanks as residues build,  why should I? So long as I can keep it out of the water and go home with 10 fingers and 10 toes, I'm still doing the job to the best of my ability. Agonizing over the fact that no matter what I do I can't do my job correctly  enough to have the satisfaction of a cargo completed is exhausting, so I try not to dwell on it, and I have stopped apologizing to the victims receivers. Ships that are regular visitors to NY are already avoiding the supplier of the problem oil, so I figure that this problem solves itself. 

   And it has been slower. Thank God for that. With time in between jobs, since everything takes longer than it should, and since part of the time we have to return oil to the supplier because we literally can't get our pumps to pump it  (which means returning the oil by loading MORE of it, heated higher, then pumping it off and reloading it, which leaves an inch or three of new cold oil bottoms on top of the oil that was already there), and try to get it to the next ship before it turns solid again. 

    So, yeah, the pace is more reasonable than it has been. it's like things were up until COVID. We have free time every week, sometimes just a half-day, sometimes more, but I have been at this company for 15 years, and for the first 12 years THIS was the pace. Optimum for sustainability in terms of our equipment, mental health and well-being too. Going non-stop is hard on the metal and hard on the meat. Actually its made me realize how much I hate my job now compared to just 3 years ago, because this past month I actually enjoyed the work a couple of times. Splicing a damaged mooring line the other night, it was cold and quiet and the ocean was calm enough to reflect the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Really pretty moment. Shit like that is worth it's weight in gold. 

   I'm still trying to figure out what happened, in that I've been working on the water for, wow, 42 years. I started at age 8, and I've always loved it, and then I didn't, and then I was trying to avoid thinking about it because I hated it so much that I stopped looking out at the ocean, stopped taking enjoyment of the little things that made shoreside work so unpalatable in comparison... I'm hopeful that I have again found a place to hang my hat in terms of justifying being a mariner. Time will tell I guess. This past month has shown me that there's still a lot of good things attached to my work for me. I hope it keeps going.