Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back to work

Well I made it back to Saipan. 20 hours of flying and about 7 hours of layovers made for a long trip, but at least it was quiet and safe, so no real complaints.

My 2nd mate, Pat, flew out with me as well, so we will join the ship in an hour or so and see what new faces and fun new projects await our return. It is sure to be exciting.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Financial Meltdown

All I can say, is when there is blood in the street, it's time to buy some stocks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PETA is on Crack

Another reason PETA needs an anal-cranial inversion:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Lawsuit in the Making:

The definition of “natural born citizen” might weigh heavy on the minds of the Supreme Court Justices later this year. If John McCain wins the election this November, this very phrase, may be the basis of a lawsuit by the Democratic Party.

Article II of Constitution mandates that the President be a natural born citizen, but fails to define this phrase. The origin of this phrase is said to be from a letter by John Jay to insure loyalty of both the generals and then later the president. Traditionally this meant that the citizen must be born a citizen, and this traditionally meant born in one of the States, and not another country.

The issue we now face is that John McCain was born in the Canal Zone in Panama. While the territory was owned by the United States by treaty, it was not even a territory or Commonwealth with a civilian government. It was under military rule, not a civilian government. Additionally, the law that granted citizenship to persons born in the Canal Zone to American citizen parents retroactively did not enter into effect until well after John McCain was born. This situation varies significantly from Al Gore or Barry Goldwater, who were born in Washington DC and the Arizona Territory respectively.

John McCain was not granted citizenship via statute until well after he was born, although it applied retroactively. The question for the high court will be whether the fact that John McCain was born of US citizens on a military installation is consistent with the idea of natural-born citizen, or whether they will take a more literal view of having to be born in the United States proper.

I would think that the court will find that John McCain fits the spirit of the law and that most Americans will accept such a ruling. He was a citizen by all meaningful definitions and was not a citizen of another country, and therefore should be eligible for the Presidency.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Navigator

I got a new toy for my birthday, a GPS navigator for my car. While I’ve had a GPS system in my car since 1998, I finally came into the 21st century by getting one with a street map on it. My old unit was a hand held Garmin that was good for boats and hiking, but its mapping was just a primitive screen with a track history overlay.

The new unit is an AVMap Geosat 5. It does everything a GPS mapper needs to do. Additionally, it came with software and a cable to interface with my amateur radio so that I can beaconing out into the world so that people can track me if they so desire (you can too at this website: The GPS will even display other hamsters in the area who are beconing, and even worse, you can set it to follow a certain station. This would be a good thing in emergency communications.

The first big test as a navigator is when I drive from Wilkes-Barre to CT to see my parents. I know the route already, but we will see if the GPS and I agree.

Lastly, since it does talk to you with a female voice, I think we need to name it. I am open to any suggestions for a name.

Opening Day for Oysters

It was just before dawn on the first of September. September is the first month with an “r” in it since April, and so the oyster flats were officially open to shell fishing, and we didn’t intend to miss the first low tide of the opening day of the season.

While my mother sat in the middle thwart of our 13 foot rowboat, I let go the bowline and my father started the small outboard motor and let go of the stern line. We slowly made our way to the channel and up East Creek in Cutchogue, NY towards Cutchogue Harbor where the nearest oyster beds awaited us.

The creeks have a speed limit of 5 mph to limit the eroding effects of boat wake on the salt marshes, so I made use of our slow transit by trolling a fishing line for snappers, the juvenile bluefish that put up a deceptive fight considering their small size, but got only a passing strike.

The water was calm, with a mist of fog rising from the placid waters. The snapping turtles popping their heads up out of the water were the only things disturbing the water’s surface that morning as we made our way down the creek.

We pulled into a cove on the bay, since all of the shell fishing beds in the creeks are closed, and my parents got out of the boat. I couldn’t go shell fishing because I didn’t have a permit, but after I got the boat anchored to the shore, I took a walk around the beach.

My father, ever the intrepid explorer, went deep into the mud flats at the head of the cove, where the water flowed from the marsh into the sea, and started to collect the largest oysters he could pick up. He said it was like shooting fish in a barrel, and soon had eight and a half dozen oysters.

Oyster fishing, along with collecting mussels, is a much simpler process then clamming. The oysters and mussels are attached to the marsh grass, along the roots, and are usually exposed during low tide. They are sometimes buried in the mud away from the shore, but usually along the mud flats still exposed by the fallen tide. Clams on the other hand, are usually found in the mud well in the water, and require a rake and some skill to harvest them.

What shocked me was that we were the only ones gathering oysters. I have discussed this with my parents and I believe that it is a sign of the population of Cutchogue now. Gone are the old locals, replaced by summering people from the city, who have no knowledge or desire to go shell fishing. I think it is easier for them to go to the local fish market and pick up a dozen oysters then trudge around in the smelly mud at low tide. Perhaps Labor Day wasn’t the best example of this theory, but I still find it fascinating that we were the only ones out there.

Since the tide was now dead-low, and we had all the oysters we needed, we decided to head up the coast of Little Hog Neck (also erroneously called Nassau point) , and see if we could catch some snappers. I took the helm at this time, and slowly motored out of the cove. We caught a couple very small ones that we threw back, and commented that they were in general, small for September. I did hook a surprise however; a sea robin. I didn’t quite get it into the boat, but got it far enough out of the water to know what it was. I had never seen one except in pictures, and had only heard of my grandfather catching one once. They are an ugly, orange fish, with large fins and are generally useless.

After puttering around for about twenty-minutes, we headed back to the creek where we managed to hook four decent sized snappers so my mother would have a nice seafood lunch.

We got back to the dock and I went off to pack, while my father spent the rest of the morning shucking his oysters for his oyster stew. It was a good morning getting back to the roots of North Fork living.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Storm Fools

I love it when the CNN reporter is telling people to get off the beach at St. Augustine in the midst of tropical storm Fay, and giving the excuse that he "has to be" out there.

Since when was it an absolute necessity for the viewing public to see some guy getting pelted by rain and blown by wind to tell us that it's stormy outside? I am quite certain I'd get the picture with a bit of footage shot through a window.

The nerve and hypocrisy of it all just irks me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Got my Copyright

It only took about a month, but this week sometime, the US copyright office finally issued my copyright for my Literary Work. Unfortunately, it is none too literary, but at least it's on record. The work was registered for the bargin basement price of $35. Frankly, with what I pay for my other government documents, it really is a bargin, but they still take a month to do anything.

Anyhow, the book is called _Voyage of the TEXAS CLIPPER II: A Celestial Navigation Experience_. The book is my navigation notebook from when I was a junior deck cadet on board that ship sailing with the Texas A&M cadet corps. For non-navigators, it is incomprehensible as it is mostly mathmatical reductions of lines of positions from celestial bodies along with the plotting of those lines finding the ship's position and daily travels.

I have even found an "e-publisher" for the work. If anyone would like to see my terrible handwriting, and plotting work, feel free to download the .pdf file from this page:

Be forewared, it is just under 6MB in size, so might take awhile on dialup.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Colombia Bar

I watched a show on TruTV last night. It was called “One Wrong Step” and the series premier was about the Colombia River Bar Pilots. To those who might not know, a pilot is a navigational officer with extensive knowledge in both shiphandling and of the local waterways; who comes aboard the ship to assist the crew in getting the vessel into, and out of, port. The pilot will board out to sea and then conn (give the helm and engine orders; akin to “driving” the ship) the ship into the port and finally will dock the ship (usually). The pilot will also help the ship leave port.

The Colombia bar is one of the more difficult pilotages in the world because of the sand bar that develops where the Colombia River, flowing to the West, hits the prevailing swell of the Pacific which comes from the West. This makes for very rough conditions on the bar on a regular basis.

The show was good in that it showed some large ships dealing with everything from a sports fisherman who was getting in the way of a 900 foot long bulk carrier, to the difficulties in getting on an off the ship by either helicopter or boat, and the way the ships move when they encounter those seas. The visuals were very good and some of the ships rolled like mine does, a good 20-30 degrees.

The show, being a reality show, tends to exaggerate and create dramatic suspense even when there really was none. They seemed to always portray the pilot getting on and off the ladder was about impending doom, yet each transfer went off with no trouble. No pilots nearly fell, and there was no issue. I have seen better action trying to get my crew onto my ship on these same ladders.

The biggest irritation to me as a professional mariner (and you’ll have to forgive my pickiness here), is that they made it out to seem that the pilot took over command of the ship as soon as he came aboard. They said that the pilot took control of the ship from the regular captain to get the vessel into port. They even went so far as to say “Fully qualified Captain” which is something that they just made up. They also said that the pilot’s crew was checking the cargo, and other such nonsense. Let me be clear, the ship’s master, the real “Captain,” is ALWAYS in charge of these ships with only two exceptions, and clearing the Colombia Bar is not one of them. The captain has the final say, as the pilot is literally just a local consultant who recommends a course of action. There have been times that the captain has over-ridden the orders of the pilots when I was aboard a ship. The ship is the Captain’s responsibility, not the pilot’s.

Another thing that irked me was that they always called the pilot “captain.” While this may happen, it can cause confusion on the bridge. In the US flag fleet, we tend to address him as “Mr. Pilot” so as not to confuse him with the Master. In the US merchant marine, the only ones who are called captain are those individuals who have commanded a ship. There are many pilots out there who have never done so, and some who do not even hold a Master’s license. If the pilot is a known former Master of a ship, we might call him “captain” when offering him coffee or other civilities, but we always call him “Mr. Pilot” in official situations.

Other then overstating the pilot’s position, the show was good and it was a nice picture of what goes on out there when the weather gets nasty and you have to get the ship in and out of port.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Newly Discovered Ancestors

I was in the library in Cutchogue the other night and noticed that the computers were displaying an announcement that the library was a subscriber to I had some time to kill, so decided to give it a spin by looking up my mother’s paternal family.

My grandfather was mum on much of the family history of his father’s side of the family. Apparently they were merchants in Queens, NYC and lost their means during the Depression and his side of the family was left out in the cold for the most part.

The wonders of the internet and the US Census of 1900, 1880 and 1870 gave me the family from my great-grandfather to his great-grandfather, who was born in 1823 in a place listed as “Baden.” The trouble is that I don’t know which Baden they are referring to. I find a Baden, Austria and a German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. In either case, it definitively proves that the name is Germanic instead of Portuguese which is the typical roots for that particular surname.

I also found another name line that I will have to explore. The name of one of the wives was Maggie Tiemann, which is another German name, but I don’t know anything about it. Ah, the research can be endless.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Joined Facebook This Weekend

I joined Facebook this weekend. Amazing how many people I know are on it. I know, it should be obvious, but still it's exciting. Most of the people are from East Catholic, but there are a few Maritimers on there as well. It will be fun catching up with everyone.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Jersey Shore

Brooke and I went to the Jersey shore last weekend. To be specific, we stayed at a B&B called The Cameo Rose in North Wildwood, but also spent Sunday touring Cape May.

We had a good time on the Boardwalk Friday evening. I got to test out my new Nikon D700 camera and see if the reviews of its high ISO performance were accurate. I have to say that it blew me away with the color and noise qualities at ISO 3200 and 6400. Using no flash an my f2.8 mid-range zoom, I was capturing images I hadn't thought possible. A selection of the shots are on my Flickr page.

We had a good time on the beach Saturday where Brooke and I each made sand castles, although hers is vastly superior to my effort. We tried the water, but as I suspected, it was far too cold for me, and even Brooke wasn't in the mood to try and brave the water.

The biggest issue of the weekend was on Saturday night when we tried to see a movie at the Sunset Cinema Movie on the Beach. Here is the review I posted on a travel advisor site. It is probably the most scathing review I've ever written, and I am going to write the BBB and perhaps the state. I am irate over the treatment I received, and since I have lots of time, I will make it my near-term mission.

Here's the review:
To be fair they do warn you that if the weather turns bad, you won't get a cash refund, but what they don't tell you is that this included technical difficulties.

We arrived at 5 PM and there was a 30% chance of showers, so I bought my tickets. We walked the boardwalk then returned at 5 after 8 PM only to find that the show had been cancelled. Puzzled as there were clear skies and still only a 30% chance of showers I went back to the box office to find out what was going on.

The self-declared manager first claimed that the technican had looked on the internet and found a 90% chance of rain. When I showed her my phone with the latest NWS forecast and confronted her with the fact that people were saying the sound system was not working; she said that she didn't make the call to cancel, but the tech did. I find it strange that the manager abdicates such calls to technicians, but that's another point.

I then spoke with the tech and he said that the owner made the call to cancel and that he had spent the whole day trying to fix the sound to no avail, and seemed only vaguely aware of weather in the area.

They were smart enough not to say to me that they cancelled because of the sound system, but all the evidence points to technical problems, and not weather as the reason the show was cancelled.

So even though the weather was fine for the rest of the weekend, I was out $15 for parking (no refund at all there), and $18 for 2 tickets (they offer rain checks which is only good if you are going to return that season) because they didn't have the ethics to not sell tickets or at least offer refunds knowing that their equipment was questionable for the showing.

I'd love to actually review the movie, but since I didn't actually get to see it, I can't say much to that effect.

I need to formulate my letters with a bit more detail and opinion. I tried to stick to the facts for the most part above.

Photo Co-opted

I had a photo from my Flickr page Co-oped by a reporter from Canada. Here is a link to the story.

It is the fish picture labeled "jcaoy"

Here is the Flickr link to the photo:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gas Stations

I have seen a disturbing return of a trend at gas stations that I don't like. After many years of having the price being the same cash or credit, the stations have now resorted to posting prices that are cash only, and until you are at the pump, you don't see that it is a cash price, with credit being 3-5 cents higher per gallon.

I understand that the credit cards take their cut, but at least make it obvious on the street sign what the prices are.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A McCain Town Hall Meeting

Today Senator McCain visited the Kirby center in downtown Wilkes-Barre, PA. I found out about it when Brooke mentioned it to me. It was raining, but I braved the elements to see what was going on. It turned out to be a “Town Hall” meeting where the candidate would speak briefly and then answer questions from the assembled citizens. I checked with the Secret Service and found out that I was able to bring my camera inside, so I decided to attend.

The Kirby center is a fairly small theatre and it was about 90 percent full when the show began when was a decent turnout for the middle of the morning on a work day. I was plensently surprised that all horror stories of the past about attending political rallies were not true in this case. I was not forced to display McCain stickers and there was no real pressure from the volunteers to voice support for their candidate.

The staged people were placed on the main stage behind the speakers and was a rather racially homogenous mixture of white men and women of various ages. I saw no obvious Asians or Hispanics and only one young African-American. While it can be said that NEPA is mostly white, they should have been able to muster up a bit more racial diversity.

The Senator’s speech was fairly brief and centered mostly on the economy, especially dealing with the current oil market, and he also touched on the Iraq war.

After the speech came the questions. They appeared to come from random audience members. I had always heard that people were pre selected, and this didn’t appear to be the case. There were questions about education, the war, veterin’s medical care, campaign finance reform, and even the draft. I was impressed with the Senator’s ability to maneuver these topics, even if they were difficult.

The biggest issue that I disagreed with was when the Senator promised to use his veto pen to reduce earmark and “pork” spending bills. This of course is impossible in the current system and while he expressed a desire to get some sort of constitutional line-item veto, he did not expand on any concrete ideas how to do this.

While I can’t say that McCain’s campaign stop made up my mind to vote for him, it certainly was more informative then trying to get a feel for him from the media. I just hope that I will have the opportunity to evaluate Senator Obama in the same way.

I have posted some pictures on Flickr.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fishing photos added

I just added some fishing trip photos to my Flickr page. The big wahu that the Capt is holding up is the one poor Jose lost overboard enroute to the resturant.

I am home now, so I hope to add a few more posts as well as some photos in the near future.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Gone Fishin'

We went fishing last week. But this isn’t an ordinary deep sea fishing trip. We are required to go out every few weeks to test the ship’s systems. We are allowed to go anywhere in an area defined by a radius from a point near the island of Rota. We have Captain Smith on board now, so when we have to go out we always go looking for fishing holes (actually seamounts at least close to the surface) within our operating area.
As you can imagine, it takes a bit of work to turn a 650 foot-long ship into a fishing trawler. The captain sets up a hand line and two rods with deep-sea reels on the stern and we steam around the seamount, ready at a moment’s notice to stop the engines if we get a fish.
One of the biggest problems is that the transom (back) of the ship is about 40 feet above the water, so the captain uses a pulley system with quick releases to drop the fishing line down closer to the water’s surface. If a fish strikes, the quick release opens and he then runs over and starts reeling the line in. Speaking of line, the fishing lures are attached to about 150 feet of monel wire (to help the lure keep some depth) then to some sort of spectra fishing line that is nearly unbreakable. He puts out about 300 yards of line as we cruise around at between 9.5 and 10.5 knots. One reel has a built in electric motor and the other has a fitting to which we attach an electric drill. The hand line is the shortest, but takes a good 10 minutes to pull in. We are looking for the big, fast fish.
Of course a ship with 3 trolling lines running aft can’t turn too well. We were swinging slow circles well over a mile in diameter and taking about 20-30 minutes to turn around 180 degrees.
Well we were able to land three fish. The first was at an old fish ground near the island of Tinian called Esmeralda Bank. We caught our biggest fish there the first day. It was a 25 lb wahoo. We had a few other strikes, but didn’t manage to land any other fish. The second day saw us catch a 15 lb yellow-fin tuna, and late in the day another, but smaller, wahoo.
We got in Friday the 13th and the bad luck of the day manifested itself when the crew tried to get the fish from the now anchored ship to the Captain’s favorite restaurant. I lowered the three fish safely to the launch by the basket on the crane and it was in good condition when I last saw it on the deck of the launch heading to the port. Alas, the big wahoo never saw land, for as one of the crew lifted the fish in its bag, the bag opened and the fish slid into the water.
I heard the sad tale the next morning and had to take action. I posted this on the chalk board:


Missing one fish. About 3 feet long, 25 lbs. With white stripes. Last seen near Saipan pier.

If found, contact Jose “Butterfingers” Bonita at phone # 48.

The captain got a nice laugh out of it at least.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Farewell SS WILSON

I just heard that my old ship, the SS WILSON is now at the ship wrecker. They steamed her wide open towards, and then up onto, the beach.

I was third and then second engineer on her. We tramped to Africa, Yemen, Europe, and Southeast Asia on my two trips on her. She was built in the 1960's and was a "classic" C-5 steam freighters with yard and stay booms. The engine room was fitted in brass and was just a joy to work. The old steam ships seem to have more soul then the modern diesel plants. I prefer working on the old steam ships, but they are becoming more and more rare these days.

It is strange; getting that email from the ship as she was 2 miles from the beach hits me harder then it should. It feels as if I just heard about an old friend's passing. I guess in a way it is similar. I will surely miss the old girl.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Comments now open

I adjusted the settings so that anyone can comment on this blog. I figured that most of my tiny readership are not members and couldn't comment before. Next thing you know I will take the time to figure out how to add some photos in here. Maybe when I get home I'll tackle that one.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rough Day at work

Have you ever had a project that should take an hour but ends up taking all day? I had one of those today. Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong with moving 140 feet of fabric attached with bolt ropes did go wrong. Snags, rips, too much friction, broken pieces, unplanned interruptions...

We had to move an 11 ton aluminum structure twice while we were rolling in order to get enough slack to get the fool thing down. grrr.

A mere 7 hours later, (no to mention an unplanned break to bring steel angle-iron on board) we finally had the infill on deck and ready for the sewing machine and heat gun. Fortunately it is my last one (barring any emergency) so I can take my time fixing it.


I joined my first Google group yesterday. I found an archive of a Celestial Navigation group and eventually found it to be on Google. It took me awhile to get signed up after finding it with work, but I now have a place to "talk shop" about navigation. Good times in Nerdvana...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Star Fix

A few nights ago we were sailing among the Northern Marianas Islands in the North Pacific. The ship was doing a routine independent steaming exercise and it was another boring night as we passed close to the island of Rota, the southernmost CNMI island, which is a bit north of Guam.

As is usual when i am bored on the bridge, staring at a radar screen devoid of ships, and only showing the occasional rain squall and Rota in the distance, I pull out the sextant and try my luck.

That night was a particularly good night. I knew even before the sun set that there would be a good horizon and few clouds to obscure the stars. I would need both if I hoped to fix my position with any accuracy.

My AB Justin feels a compassion for my obsession with Celestial Navigation as he is equally obsessed with rigging. This was the man who spent most of his lunch and both breaks the other day splicing and eye in wire with what is known as a Liverpool Splice. To make matters more challenging he used the method that his rigging book labeled "the hard way."

As Justin kept a sharp look out for any small craft ahead of us, I pulled out the only Celnav book I use anymore: Pub HO 249 which give a convenient list of 6 stars that are both bright and optimally placed for a good fix for anywhere in the world.
I was not going to go overboard, so I picked 4 stars and grabbed the ship's sextant and headed out to the gyro repeaters on the bridge.

To make things a bit clearer, to reduce your position from the stars, you start with a big assumption, and then use a sextant, a chronometer, and a method of turning the angle from the sextant in to lines on the chart that are crossed to give your position. The assumption is where you are in the world. In the days before GPS this could be a sketchy proposition. Fortunately today you are just basically checking to make sure that the GPS is working properly, so I use the GPS fix (accurate to mere feet) as my “assumed position.” From there I figure out where the stars should be from the aforementioned HO 249. Once I know the direction and height of each star, I pre-set the sextant to the correct angle and use the compass on the bridge wing to point it in the correct direction. Nine times out of ten if there are no clouds the star and horizon appear in the sextant as I point it in the right direction. I then fine tune the sextant so that the star is superimposed on the horizon and then mark the time. While this sounds simple, this is the “art” of Celnav. Getting the sextant properly held and taking an accurate reading is tougher than it sounds, especially with the ship rolling. Accuracy here is measured in teths of seconds of arc. A second of arc is 1/60th of a degree, so we are talking very fine measurements.

This night I was able to gather my four stars in short order, and for the heck of it, I shot the moon, which was about 20 degrees above the Western horizon. I was feeling good and went inside and took a GPS fix at exactly 7PM, less than 10 minutes after I started shooting the stars.

The math involved in reducing stars is a matter of spherical trigonometry, which is quite beyond my willingness to explain here. When I was in school, and in my Coast Guard tests, I had to use tables and books to reduce all of these numbers and triangles. Scientific calculators make things simplier, but for my money, I like using computers. There is a great program that allows me to plug in my sextant numbers, the time of the sight, and the approximate position, and it automatically calculates for me my “most probable position.” Basically instead of doing lots of math and then plotting the lines on the chart, it spits out a latitude and longitude. This night was my golden hour. I entered my 5 sights into the computer and it spit out the exact latitude from the GPS (especially impressive since we were heading due South so that the Latitude changes rapidly) and 0.1 minutes of Longitude out. This is accurate to 0.1 nautical miles, or about 670 feet, about the length of my ship. In ten years of shooting stars, this was the most accurate I had even gotten. Needless to say my ego was huge that night. I was a happy camper, although no one else on the ship was sharing my joy. I guess it’s a Celnav geek thing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Day 60: Hump Day

Well I have made it half-way through this tour. It is going well so far. We are back in Saipan. The Korean stay was not too bad this time, but I am always glad to get back to the safer waters of Saipan.

I have been sewing on my cocoon during the last week. We have nearly 60,000 sq ft of "canvas" (actually a modern plastic fabric) and some of it took a beating on the way up to Korea. As a result, we had to pull a strip about 140' long down and I was sewing patches on. Sewing is difficult enough, but on a piece of fabric so large and heavy, you can't move it; you need to be innovative. Fortunately we have a trolley for the sewing machine which makes life a bit easier.

Last night my 3rd mate went out on the town for the first time. He was doing well until the boat ride home. Apparently the USN LT from the flag ship decided that he was spending the night with her so I didn't see him until noon today. I don't see it, but these are sailors after all. I just imagine if the rolls had been reversed.

Tomorrow i head into a void space under our car deck to locate the source of an oil leak. Nothing like crawling into a tight, dark box of steel coated in hydraulic oil to start the day. At least I get an inspection out of the way.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Shifting with a Fouled Anchor

The last few days in Pusan was like going on a field trip to the mental hospital. The captain was so spun up and uptight about our impending shift 30 miles to the port of Chinhae, South Korea, that he had me running around in circles. The trouble with Chinhae is that it is actual dock, and the captain hasn’t brought the ship to the dock since it got out shipyard in 2004. Add to this that its an entirely new port, and quite a bit up a crag of land, meaning it would be a lot of close quarters maneuvering en-route to the actual dock.
When the ship goes to dock we have to use thick ropes called mooring hawsers. We have two sizes aboard the Fisher, 8 inches in circumference, and a couple of 10 inch lines. I was told that the 8” lines were for docking and the 10” lines are used in case the tugboats that are to assist us, need to use the ship’s lines instead of providing their own. Well I readied all of the mooring hawsers a few days in advance, but Lou was asking me every morning when I was planning on getting them from their stowage area to the actual deck. The entire evolution takes two hours, but Lou was asking me four days before we even left when it was getting done. Once we pulled all of the 8” lines to the deck, he got nervous and had me pull two of the 10” lines out as well because he wasn’t sure if the tugs had their lines or not. I asked Arnold Bada “Bing” one of my deck gang what they used last time, as he was here for the first Chinhae trip. Bada Bing told me that it was tug lines and they were fiber rope instead of wire. I told the captain, but he still wasn’t sure. I guess that calling the shipping agent and asking that simple question was too much effort or something.
The morning of the shift I was up at my usual time, but he was pacing the bridge at 6:30, even when we weren’t set to even start to leave at 9 am. He then woke up the 3rd mate four hours early because he wanted both mates on the bridge along with two helmsmen. It was plain ridiculous how many people he had up for the four hour trip up there. I took a couple hours of the poor third mates afternoon watch because otherwise he would have been on deck for 16 straight hours, and that’s just not good.
We started heaving up the anchor at 9 AM sharp. I had pre-rigged my cutting tools and two fire hoses for the anticipated mud and debris that we nearly always pick up in Pusan anchorage. We had 900 feet of chain out and the mud started when we still had 540 feet of chain out. The bosun had cleaned the nozzles we have in the hawsepipe to give a preliminary wash, then the two fire hoses were manned by my deck gang to wash off most of the residual mud. This plan was working great as we were hauling in the chain at a good clip and the guys were washing off nearly all of the mud that was coming up.
The real fun began with about 270 feet of chain out. Coming up the chain was a fishing net full of just garbage of all sorts. Fortunately for us the ball of fun got about halfway between the water and the hawsepipe then slid back down the chain and back into the water. This was good as we could weigh the anchor and get underway without side swiping the liquefied natural gas tanker all of 1,000 yards away from us (think of that explosion if the two ships went up!)
The ball of junk slide all the way down the chain until it hit the top of the anchor, where it stuck. To make matters even more interesting, there was more trash on the actual anchor itself. I was able to pull the anchor up most of the way up the hawsepipe so that we could start cutting. The morass of junk was a mixture of fishing net, car belts, wire rope over 2’ thick, chain, copper, flat rubber scrap, nylon line, fishing pots, miscellaneous fabric, and other unidentifiable debris. It’s the kind of trash that makes a Greenpeace activist either weep or go ram a fishing boat.
I reported our progress after a bit to the captain, and he told me we had three hours to try and clear it. We dipped the anchor a few times and got most of the crap off of the actual anchor, but the ball that started up on the chain proved to be beyond our efforts to remove before Chinhae. We ended up having to get the anchor most of the way up and trying to use a 15 foot pole with an electric grinder duct taped to the end of it to try and cut away enough of the knot so that it would fall off of the anchor. Unfortunately trying to grind something with a 15 foot pole is difficult enough, but add about 30 knots of wind to the equation, and you end up getting exhausted and not being able to cut in the right places to do anything useful. All we managed to do is cut a few pieces loose so that there was a ball of junk on the anchor, and wire cables fouled with nets and fabric reaching well into the water, so about thirty to forty feet down.
Finally the captain told me to forget it and man the mooring stations. I was stationed at the stern and the tug came along just as I suspected, and handed us a 12” fiber hawser. We had a bit of trouble getting it onto the ship, but once that was done, we stayed far away from it and let the tug push and pull us around.
This was the first time I had ever docked the FISHER, it was the first time the 2nd mate had ever docked the ship, and it was the first time in years that the captain had docked the ship. Things on the stern were a bit more complicated because the way the ropes have to lead to the winches, it looks like a cats-cradle back there. We managed to get the line out in short order with only a slight slow down when the line handlers dropped one line into the water. We had to wind it all the way back in and then pass it out again.
The bow had a bit of a bigger problem. Despite my diligence in testing all of the winches and mooring gear in the preceding week, the handle for the center winch, which handles four of the lines up there, broke off while they were passing a line. It had broken before and when they had done a weld repair, it had weakened some metal down from the weld. In the heat of the moment when they were feed a line out to the shore, whomever was on the winch cranked on the handle a bit too much and it snapped off in their hand. There was a bit of delay as the bosun scurried back to the stern to get himself a 24” pipe wrench to act as a temporary handle.
With the ship safely docked with twelve lines (probably overkill for a protected dock such as this one), we then went on to rig the gangway. That went out without a hitch, except that the deck gang had a bit of trouble with the net that is rigged under the gangway incase someone falls. After a bit they had it all set up correctly.
During the rigging of the gangway net I went out and walked the side of the ship. I had never been able to get that close to the hull down on the waterline before and it was interesting to see what dings and such we had down the port side of the ship. We did have a relatively new ding (it hadn’t rusted yet) that was pretty deep, but didn’t seem to penetrate the hull at least.
At the bow I saw what looked to be some terrible, nautically-themed wig draped over the anchor. It looked much worse from the shore then it had from the deck looking down. The whole thing wound through the anchor and then down all the way well into the water. The trail of debris was at least thirty-feet, and I had to get it. The real issue now is that since we were at a dock, and not at sea, we couldn’t just cut it off of the anchor and be done with it. We had to somehow get it either ashore or up on deck.
My bright idea for this was to pass a 1” rope down from the ship and get it tied around the debris. The rope would then be passed to a fitting on the dock so that when we were ready, we could pull it towards the dock. Next we sent my watch partner Justin down the hawsepipe so that he could perch up on a chair suspended by a rope. We tried throwing a rope from shore to Justin on the anchor but we couldn’t get quite enough distance on the rope. We ended up swinging a rope from the deck down, which worked on the second try.
Once Justin had the rope he passed it around the bundle several times and tied a good knot. Once this was done, he took out his knife and cut all of three pieces of rope and flipped a fishing buoy over one part of the anchor and the whole mess dropped into the water.
Stage one was now complete, our anchor was now clear except for Justin who was still sitting up there. Another AB, Don, and I watched from the dock as I had the second mate haul on the rope that was tied to the debris. The trouble was that that there was a lot of weight and friction with all the bends in the rope, and I was afraid that the rope was going to break on the way up. We would be in serious trouble if that happened. We ended up popping the rope off of the dock fitting and just lifted the whole thing vertically. The trouble was that the whole bundle was now suspended like a fishing trophy about 10’ horizontally from the edge of the dock. Fortunately we had a 15’ pole with a hook at the end of it so we had the deck hoist the whole mess nearly up to the rail and then grabbed the trailing end of the bundle and hauled it to shore. It was so heavy, it took all three of us to get it to the dock, and then two of us managed to hold it while Don quickly tied the end off. We then went to work with our implements of destruction and hacked through four wires, each about two inches thick. We repeated this process a few times and got all but the biggest bundle cut off.
At this point the Captain decided to stick his nose into it. I don’t know if he is just bored or he really thinks I can’t handle this job. I am hoping it’s the former, because nothing out here is more annoying then when the captain comes on deck and tries to take over. I had the situation well in hand and we were about the get the rest of the bundle ashore, when he had some “brilliant” ideas of how to haul it in. The only useful suggestion that he had was to call the agent and arrange for a trash pick up so that we wouldn’t be saddled with a good half a ton of plastic and metal waste to haul aboard the ship and later dispose of.
As a final note for the day, the Captain decided at dinner to use the 10” hawser on the stern as an “emergency” line and then proceeded to tell me to pass it out one of the stern fittings to the dock fitting that happens to be located directly under the gangway. So now, we had to move the gangway a good three feet sideways, then pass a huge line out and down to the dock. Sadly the angle and distance of the line will do next to nothing if the other lines break. I couldn’t tell him this, but I think he got the impression that I was a bit irritated at this request and thought it was pointless.
I had Bada Bing and Justin on deck and we hauled the line across the stern of the ship and then threw out a small line to haul the hawser down to the dock. The 3rd mate meanwhile ran down to turn on the hydraulics. Well of course the Captain had to butt in yet again and was on the dock yanking down this huge hawser as I was on the gangway, leaving only Justin on the deck. The captain yells out to make sure that someone had their foot on the line. Now I have to tell you that this hawser weighs about five pounds a foot and the line is 200’ long. If it had run on the captain, no foot was going to stop it. Fortunately I had foreseen this and had Justin loop the line several times on the winch to prevent it from running any great distance. I was more then annoyed that the captain was tugging on this line before we even had moved the gangway. He should have left me to do it in the first place, let alone do it incorrectly. Well we got the line on deck and then lifted the gangway to side it sideways and then hooked the hawser on the dock and I had the 3rd mate pull it up so that it was sort of tight and then we secured it on the deck. After a bit of ranting to the 3rd mate about the captain, I went inside and kicked off my shoes, trying to fight the urge to hurl them against the bulkhead.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Far East Fueling

Bunkering is always an adventure. No that doesn't mean going down into
some subterranean building and wondering if Hitler felt the same way in
the final days of the Third Reich. Bunkering on a ship means taking on
fuel. How much fuel? Well, its enough oil to coat San Francisco Bay
pretty well as the ship in the news recently did.
Today we were set to take 830 metric tons of intermediate fuel oil (IFO)..
That is enough fuel to carry us a most of the way around the world. We
fuel every time we are up here in Korea which adds special difficulties
since there are vast chasms of language and cultural divides.
The day began for me as it always does at 5 AM when I wake up and stare
at the ceiling for awhile. After prying myself from my comfortable bed,
I flip on my computer then go and brush my teeth. My computer has the
morning's email and then it's off to the deck for my daily round at 6 AM.
This morning the deck gang was out and about plugging the scuppers (deck
drains) so that if we have a leak onto the deck, we have some leeway to
get it mopped up before it flows to the ocean. During my round I found
one of the containments under the fuel manifold full of water, so I
drained it by opening the drain valve. Unfortunately paint chips and
rust had plugged the drain pipe so I had to run down to the engine room
and get a snake to get the gunk out. With that done, I headed to my
usual morning meeting with the captain on the bridge and have myself a
cup of tea.
This morning was unusual since a merchant ship opened fire on a boat in
the Suez Canal over in Egypt. This ship was actually a sister ship of my
former ship, the MV MERLIN. In the canal there are usually a bunch of
small boats trying to sell things to the merchant ships. Well this
particular ship is a lot like ours and when we carry military cargo, we
can't allow small boats too close, especially after what happened to the
USS COLE in 2000. In any case, a group of boats approached the ship.
The embarked military detachment had a native Arabic speaker tell them to
shove off. After they didn't heed that warning, they shot 2 flares at
the boats. At this point 3 of the 4 boats peeled off. Unfortunately the
fourth didn't, and there was a series of warning shots fired at the boat.
Now if I was a merchant heading to a ship and 2 flares followed by a
line of tracers from a 50 caliber machine gun went flying over my bow,
I'd be heading the other direction as fast as I could go. Well this guy
wasn't me and kept heading to the boat, at which point there is a bit of
discrepancy between the naval report which merely states that shots were
fired, and the Egyptian take where one person was killed and three
wounded. I just wonder if the "warning shots" were a bit too close to
the bow and accidentally hit the boat. It doesn't make much of a
difference to me, as they should have turned away with their friends. As
a side note, Capt Lou is good friends with the captain of that ship. I
am sure he will hear the real details sometime later. I am glad I'm not
in that part of the world at the moment. There are too many pirates and
terrorists out there.
After this tale was related to me, I went to breakfast. I ate quickly
because while Korean stores boats tend to show up randomly, the bunker
barges arrive like clockwork in the middle of breakfast at 7:45.
Sure enough the barge (a ship really, but American's usually call them
barges in any case as that is what is usually used in the US) was
alongside at 7:45 and we got its lines aboard and had the ship tied up
before 8 AM. After that we stopped. Since the military is involved,
there are a number of rules with tight tolerances when we fuel. We hire
an independent surveyor to measure the amount of fuel on the fuel barge
and on the ship before and after to make sure we get the full amount of
fuel we ordered. This process involves the chief engineer, 2nd engineer,
barge tankerman and the surveyor.
For my part, I just hang out on deck and keep a good look out for all the
things that can go wrong. I also supervise the attaching of the hose
which they lift up with their crane, then we further support with our
crane. The hose is 8 inches in diameter and beneath it is a small
fitting that bleeds a small amount of fuel into this gallon-sized plastic
bag to give a representative sampling of the fuel for later analysis if
one is needed later.
At 9:20 they started pumping and at 9:25 I had my FIRST emergency
shutdown of the day. I knew it wasn't going to be a good day, as bad
things come in threes, and this day was to be no exception. The sample
bag had been placed on its fitting, the only trouble was that the valve
on the fitting was leaking and within 5 minutes the bag was about ready
to burst. I decided to head of disaster off at the pass and avoid an oil
filled "water balloon" blowing up in my face and ordered an emergency
stop. As I was doing this I radioed the engine control room and told
them what I had done. The chief engineer and first came up and after a
quick change out of fittings, we were back in business. We resumed
pumping a few minutes later. This time the fitting didn't leak and we
were able to bleed the proper amount of oil into the bag without any
further problems.
One of my AB's is an old tankerman and he commented to me that there
seemed an awful lot of pressure in that hose. I could see the barges
gauges but could not read them from the deck. The needles were at the 12
o'clock position. After a bit of pumping, the chief calculated that they
were pumping at a rate of 400 tons/hour which was too much since they
were supposed to be only pumping at 300 tons/hour. About the same time
the chief made this determination, I hear a cry from the top of #10
hatch. I pop my head up like a meerkat and see my Filipino ordinary
Arnold, who is in his 50's, running, waving his arms, and yelling "leak,
leak!" I leap up the deck, and to be honest I don't remember using the
ladder, but I must have, and started running over the hatch, all the time
yelling into my radio, and at the hose station to shut down. I race up
the port side of the deck after Arnold. I was looking around but didn't
see any oil, which could be good or bad. I race past the hatches one by
one, and then by the vents for the tanks being fuels, all devoid of oil.
Finally, after sprinting 600 feet up the deck, I get to the forward
fueling stations, pipes that had been out of commission and unused for
years. There, I found the leak.
Cleaning up oil is a lot like making cookies…

IFO is what they consider heavy fuel. It is black as midnight and has the
consistency of molasses. Ordinary to pump it you need to heat it up to
about 120 degrees. Fortunately for us the temperature in Korea today was
only about 50 degrees, so it became viscous very quickly on the deck and
didn't flow very far. This is a good thing because unlike an lighter oil
like diesel oil, it wasn't going very far in these temperatures.
The pool of oil was about five to six feet in diameter and was contained
fairly well by the ship's structure. It had just begun to flow outside
the girder rising from the deck and my heart stopped racing as fast when
I realized that while it was a mess, it was a small mess, and still 100%
on the ship. A few quick radio calls and my gang was humping oil
absorbent pads and a form of sawdust used in spills. Also en-route were
shovels and brooms and a big trashcan on wheels for debris.
As soon as I got some supplies, Arnold and I started the cleanup. WE
placed a few pads, which are more expensive then the sawdust, then I
ripped open the first bag and dumped it over a majority of the puddle.
If you have ever tried mixing molasses in a mixing bowl, you will see
that due to its incredible surface tension, the liquid doesn't mix well
with the solids. Not to be deterred, I took the shovel and started
mixing the oil and sawdust until it resembled either cookie dough, or as
one of my AB's said "wow, this looks a lot like cow patties." Having
grown up in a cow town, it didn't quite look like a cow patty, but
certainly looked a lot like horse manure.
Once the oil was well mixed with the sawdust by shovels and brooms, we
scooped it up with shovels and dustpans and dumped it into our handy
garbage pail. Also into the pail went the pads we used.
Once our cleanup was well underway the engineers showed up and tended to
the pipe that had ruptured. To my surprise, I learned that all four
fueling stations are common, meaning that there are no valves between
them. This is not a good thing. When the barge had boosted the pressure
and flow rate to above the requested amount, the pressure rose in the
pipe up forward and it had basically rusted away between the deck and
nearest flange on the upper piping. Two holes about half the width of a
pencil had appeared and sprayed the oil. If Arnold hadn't been walking
by going to coffee, we might have had a much larger mess to clean. Also,
if that girder hadn't been there to deflect the oil, I think we would
have squirted a bit over the side which would have been really bad. As
it was, the holes were small and the spill was contained and relatively
easy to clean up.
There was little that could be done immediately for the pipe, so a few
bits of rubber were clamped to the pipe with a hose clamp. Unfortunately
the chief jumped the gun a bit and started pumping fuel before the clamp
was fully secured, so as the air was rushing out of the holes, I ordered
my third emergency stop of the day. Once the clamp was properly adjusted
and secured, I stationed a cleaning crew to wipe up the rest of the oil
from the deck and bulkheads as well as watch for further leakage.
The chief slowed the loading rate down to 200 tons/hour. I made a point
of walking around the deck to check the other two fueling stations as
well as all the vents for the tanks being filled. Fortunately none of
them were giving us any problems. As I got to the fueling station in
use, I noticed the chief was raising a ruckus. Apparently as soon as he
left, the barge guys were boosting the fueling rate again. By this time
I had figured out the piping and valve arrangement and started pointing
out to the engine guy at the manifold where the gauges were and how the
guy was using a particular valve to boost the pressure. The guy on the
barge saw me pointing and got upset because he knew the gig was up and
that while I was on the deck right there, he wouldn't be able to mess
with the load rate again.
Fueling stopped when the barge ran out of IFO to give us. Since we had
filled more tanks on the port side then the starboard, we had developed a
one-half degree port list. I ducked inside and moved a bunch of water
ballast to compensate and insure that the engineers could get a proper
measurement of the amount of fuel onboard. Right about then the 2nd
engineer was asking me for a trim calculation, without any real concept
of how I derived the number. Trim is a measure of the difference between
the forward draft and after draft. Draft the distance between the bottom
of the hull and the waterline. In general ships like to have drag, or
have a deeper draft at the stern. What the second didn't realize that I
need to know how much fuel was pumped into which tanks in order to
calculate the drafts and then get the trim. I told him to get me at
least a fairly accurate idea of how much fuel was in which tank, and then
I'd get him the numbers. A bit later he did just that, and I entered the
numbers into the computer and was able to get him his information.
Unfortunately even after all of my efforts and triple checking all the
tanks on both the barge and the ship, we ended up being 15 tons short.
Letter of protest were written, tempers flared, and the deck gang sat
around the sideport for about five hours doing absolutely nothing.
During this time when things were getting hammered out in the engine
room, I was sitting by the crane on the deck talking with the Bosun. I
heard this distinctive noise, like an electrical arc makes as it passes
through the air. I peek between the crane and see the captain of the
fuel ship starting to weld on his bridge. I had visions of vapor filled
tankers next to my ship exploding, taking me and my vessel with it. I
didn't think it was going to be a fun experience, and since I don't even
know one word in Korean, and the captain probably didn't know many words
in English, I had to let my tone do the talking "HEY!" I yelled, with my
most authoritative voice, "no welding! No." I feel that if there is a
large language barrier, its best to keep even broken English simple. The
guy looked at me like I had two heads and put the welding rod down. When
I had disappeared for a minute or two, he thought I was gone and resumed
his task. Fortunately I had left the bosun there, and he started yelling
at him as well. I also called the engine department to have the fuel guy
call the ship's captain and tell him to stop welding. Unfortunately the
fuel guy didn't help, but by annoying the heck out of the captain, we
were able to convince him to stop lighting a 3000 degree electric arc on
a ship full of fuel vapors which were still wafting over the deck. I
seriously wonder how these people don't end up on the Darwin Awards list.
After another hour or two delays, we finally shoved the fuel ship off at
5:30 and I was finally able to enjoy dinner. It was a long day, full of
the wrong kind of excitement and near misses, but one for the record book
for sure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Off we go!

While I am working on the story from our inspection earlier this week, I am not quite finished, so that will have to wait.

In the mean time, we are off this morning to the northern ports. We are scheduled to visit a new port for me. The kicker is that this one will actually be at a dock! I've never tied up the ship, or even seen it done, so it will be a new experience.

I will have to try the "email to blog" feature. Hopefully I can it to work otherwise it will be better then a month until my next post.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

You want me to weld where!?

During my turnover from Shawn eight days ago, he mentioned that there was a slight problem with the port lifeboat. He said that they had replaced the wires that lowered them the seventy feet or so from the deck to the water. Apparently when they rove the wire through all of the pulleys, they had gone on the outside of a ring on one side instead of inside the ring. Shawn told me that no one had noticed it until a day or two before I got that, and that it in no way affected the lowering of the boat. Both of these statements were blatant lies as my bosun and third mate Kenny told me that they had know about both wire damage and the misplaced wire by February 10th at the very latest, and I am sure at least a month before.

Well I did an inspection and then tried to test the boat by lowering a bit. I quickly learned that the loop the wire went through helped the pulley block get off of hooks that normally support the boat as it swings outward. With one wire inside the loop, and the other outside, the bar attached to the loop twisted instead of popping the block off of the hook. As soon as I saw the twisting I stopped my test and re-stowed the boat. After a much closer inspection of the wire, I saw that as a three-foot section of wire passed through the pulley on the top of the arm as it tried to lift off of the hook, the wire was crushed, the inner fiber core was protruding out of the wire and some of the small wires were even broken. I remind you that this wire was replaced only in November and it looked like a T. Rex had been gnawing on it.

I told the captain about the loop and the wire damage and of course took pictures. Well Shawn had told the captain the same story I had heard about the loop and how it didn’t affect operations. Needless to say, Capt Lou got a bit bent out of shape and a big long email was sent to Walter, the port engineer.

Capt. Lou, in his typical waffling way about things, finally decided to go ahead with my plan for emergency repair. While I certainly couldn’t repair the wire (no spares aboard), I had devised a way to get the wire back inside the loop at least. Today I affected that repair.

The first step was insuring that I wouldn’t die in some freak lifeboat accident. The loop in question was at the very top of the lifeboat launcher, called a davit. This in turn was perilously close to the edge of the ship. I was a step away from a fall of seventy feet, and was suspended on a boat that had slack wires.

The first thing to do was to chain the davit arms in the upright position so that they wouldn’t swing out as I was working and catapult me into the sea below. We used some chains that we use to tie down the trucks, which worked out quite well. Next we attached nylon straps over the davit arms to the boat. Each strap was able to handle in excess of 13,000 pounds, so we could hold up the boat even if the wires were no longer attached. The last hurdle was actually getting to the ring as it was about eight feet above the rail of the boat. To overcome this problem, my ace rigger, Jovino (the Bosun), rigged a stage with one end suspended by the lower block and the other tied down to the top of the lifeboat.

With the boat fully secured, we crossed our collective fingers and slacked the fall wires. The boat worked as it should, soon after I had donned my safety harnass and made my way out onto the stage, which is a 2x8 piece of wood, Sawzall in hand. The electric saw made quick work of the steel rod that was the ring, and I soon had a notch just a touch smaller then the diameter of the wire in the outboard part of the ring. I then used a wrench to jack the wire to the notch, and with a few taps, I had the wire back inside the ring where it belonged. The trouble is now the wire could conceivably pop out of the notch. I had a plan for that however.

After a brief trip to collect some welding gear from the engine room. I was soon climbing back up the stage and now had to try and weld a small chunk of steel just above my head while not falling off of the plank. If you didn’t know, you have to wear a rather dark face shield while welding in order to avoid injuring you eyes from the UV radiation.

So picture this: The bosun is on top of the davit holding the piece of steel in the notch with some vice-grips while I am just below him, balancing on a 8” wide plank 70 feet above the water, blind, while trying to stick a 15” long pencil, attached to a heavy copper cable that trailed down to the deck, to said piece of steel which was above my head. Did I mention that the ship was rolling five degrees during all of this?

Despite these difficulties, I managed to put a mangled bead of steel into the gaps on both sides of the steel and seal up the outside of the ring. A close inspection of the weld will show how terrible it is, but it will hold until we can get to Korea and get the work crew back on the ship to replace the wire and give the ring a proper repair.

As we were cleaning up, the Captain decided to check out the operation and even climbed out on the stage to inspect my err... handiwork. He was happy enough, so I slapped some paint onto the repair and greased the wire a bit near where I was working. I doubt that we will test the boat with the damaged wire, but I am confident that we could get the boat away to the water safely. A good afternoon well spent on board the ship.

(Pictures of some of this event are available at my flickr page as found on the front page link. Thanks to 3/M Patrick for some of the action photos.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

First Days

The flight out of Detroit was nice. I had an empty seat next to me for the flight to Japan which is a big bonus on that long flight. The movie selection was terrible. I only watched one with Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman about a magical toy store. It was decent, but unfortunately the third movie, so I wasn’t to coherent for some of it. I managed to sleep a bit, but not too much. I ended up being very dehydrated for most of that flight which allowed me to not have to pee but once, but also was somewhat uncomfortable with the situation.

The flight from Japan was uneventful. I sat next to a couple of Japanese girls. At least they were small, so I wasn’t too cramped. The movie was Ratatoui (sp?) which of course reminded me of you. I slept through a bit of it, as that flight is the only one I can really sleep on.

They put me in the same hotel room as I left. The drain trap seemed dry, so it smelled a bit in the bathroom. I did manage to take a bath and then fall asleep for a few hours. I arrived around 2 AM, got to bed around 2:40 and got picked up at 6:30. I didn’t sleep much as you can imagine. I tried getting online, but my account was still suspended and the hotel’s network didn’t seem to work, so I was stuck.

I got to the ship on the 8 AM boat and had a nice ride in with Bill, the new Chief, and Carlton, the new 1st. Both guys have gotten promoted since I was last here. We spent the entire ride catching up on news of both the ship itself and the people on it, or those who just left for vacation. There were few changes to the ship, but the personal lives of many of the crew have been affected by the women of Saipan.

I have a new second mate, a guy named Mark Bell. He has made a good first impression and I think that he will work out well. He has most of the training he needs, and seems to want to learn and work. I am getting a new third mate the beginning of next week. I know he’s about 28 so if he can stay away from the temptations of the island, things just might work out and I can get some projects done. The rest of the deck gang looks pretty good. I have one ordinary seaman who might be trouble. The other chief mate, Shawn, had less then a stellar report about him, and he seems to have gone native. He was on the 8 AM boat when I arrived, and again today, which was an hour before we heaved the anchor. I am also told that he doesn’t work OT much, which says something about his motivation. I will have to watch him carefully to see how he works out. It is a bit over half of his tour, and so I don’t know how much he will try to extend. I will have to play it by ear.

Anchor operations went fairly well today. I was disappointed that Shawn, who was at the dock for a few weeks last trip up, did not repaint/mark the anchor chain when he was in shallow, still water and had the opportunity to do so. We are underway now, and I am taking a break (I headed up to the bridge at 3:40 AM) before throwing the garbage out at 1 PM and then standing my bridge watch this evening.

I can feel how out of shape I am, just walking around on deck has tightened my legs up. I bet I walked more yesterday then I had in the week prior. It will be good getting a bit back in shape.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Into the West

A red gibbous moon set to the West over Orient, New York as we cruised through the darkened streets. Ron, my driver, eyed the road, ever mindful of the deer that congregated on and along side the road. There were seven of us in the car, all bound for overseas adventures. My compatriots were a family including a father, mother, their son, as well as the mother's sister and her son. They were bound for a family gathering in Bonaire via San Juan, Puerto Rico.

We kept mostly to ourselves, sharing a few snippets of conversation. Our thoughts were mostly on the long flights each of us had before us. We were bound for Kennedy Airport, and fortunately, the traffic was light due to the winter vacation.

I was able to quickly check in at and make it through security. The TSA agent at Kennedy was already short with the international travelers. She bemoaned the lack of "public courtesy." I think she forgets too quickly that most of these people do not speak English well, if at all, and are not used to checking through American security. I kept a smile on my face however, and moved on with little trouble.

My first of three flights over the next twenty hours or so, was a flight from New York to Detroit. I had been worried about the weather, but we were not delayed at all and the weather in Detroit was favorable as well. Since I take at least four of these 10,000 mile trips each year, I am able to maintain a "Silver Elite" status with Northwest Airlines quite easily. The main perks of this membership is automatic upgrades to first class on domestic flights and the privilege of checking in at my convenience.

The first class cabin was sparsely populated on my flight, with only three of us in the five rows of seats. I had plenty of room to stretch out which is nice. My only regret is that this is the shortest of my three flights, and I would much prefer to have the first class seat on the flight from Detroit to Japan.

While we were taking off, I heard the sound of a notebook hitting the deck, and due to the steep incline of our take off, it began sliding right down the center of the isle. A quick slide of my boot, and I had arrested the notebook mid-slide and with a little footwork, I was able to corral the notebook into my seat for safekeeping. There was a Northwest logo on it, and it turned out to be the head flight attendant's book. He had not seen me get the notebook, so he was frantically calling the rear flight attendant to be on the look out for the wayward notebook. He was most appreciative of my recovery efforts.

Once we arrived in Detroit, I made my way to my gate, and found that I had about a four-hour layover, so I made my way to a "Chili's" restaurant and had some lunch. While I was enjoying my chicken sandwich, I observed a man drop a "Airbourne" pill into a full glass of beer. I can only imagine that the lemon-lime tablet gave the beer a "Corona with lime" taste to it. The waitress had offered him a glass of water, but the guy insisted on taking it with his beer. I hope he enjoyed his immune system boosting brew.

My last minutes here in the US for several months draw near, so I will sign off and continue when I reach Saipan.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Presidental Race

Today Mitt Romney dropped out of the Republican race today, leaving McCain as the apparent nominee for that party. The Democratic race is still up for grabs with a long fight lying ahead.

I will go out on a limb and predict that McCain's only chance is that if Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee. I think this because Clinton is the only force that will motivate the conservatives in the Republican Party to vote in November. The conservatives are not overly thrilled with McCain, and will not be motivated to vote if Obama is the contender. Considering the razor thin margins of the recent presidential races, whichever party can maximize voter turnout, will take the presidency.

I still think that the democratic machine will back Clinton and that she will pull out the nomination. I believe that the long fought battle against Obama will drain her war chest substantially as well as enabling McCain start campaigning on a national level while the democrats are still fighting for the nomination. This will give McCain another advantage. I think that at the end of the day, that enough moderates will swing to McCain and join forces with the anti-Clinton motivated base will swing the election to McCain in November.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

New Pictures

I posted some new pictures on Flickr. You can follow the link in the upper right to take a look.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Friday night Hockey

Brooke's company has season tickets for the local hockey farm team. The seats are about seven rows from the ice, off to the side of one of the goals. The seats give a good view of one of the goals and offered a good angle to shoot some hockey action.

Since there were no takers for the tickets for this game, Brooke brought her twin friends Denise and Krista along with us to the game. The weather last night was fairly poor, with a cold rain falling most of the day, so the area was fairly empty, which was good, since the parking lot is mostly mud and the light traffic meant that we did not need to get too dirty on the way to the doors.

The game itself was entertaining, with the home team pulling out a 5 to 3 win. Unfortunately, six of the eight goals were scored at the other net, but we did see a pair of home team goals and a good fist fight on our side of the rink.

As usual, I like to take pictures at these sort of events for my own enjoyment. Like most areas, they prohibit "professional" cameras. This rather nebulous term is usually interperted as any camera with interchangable lenses. Bringing my larger SLR wasn't an option, so I opted for a rangefinder with a 90mm lens. I was shooting ISO 1000 film and was able to shoot at 1/250th at f4 with this combination with good effect. I still have to drop the film at the lab, but hope that my captures of the two goals and the fight.

It was a fun evening and is a good leadup to Superbowl Sunday.

Friday, February 1, 2008

New Objects of Lens Lust

Well the PMA photography show in Las Vegas and the major photography companies have introduced a couple of lenses that I want. I have to admit that I love optics, and shooting with good optics is fun for me, even if the photographs that are derived from the experience.

The first lens was actually announced by Nikon a few days before the show. They call it a 24mm f3.5 PC-E Nikkor. The lens finally gives nikon shooters a wide-angle lens with perspective control. The only other choice prior to this was modifying a Canon lens which was rare and expensive. There were 28mm shift lenses in the Nikon and Schneider lines that could be used, but this is the first with tilt AND shift in a native Nikon optic. The lens incoroprated the best glass and coatings as well as an ingenious method of finally offering fill aperture control from the camera in a PC lens. This electromagnetic aperture control is only available in the D3 and D300 at this time and operates via the ribbon cable in the lens. There is some speculation as to whether the camera can be used with manual cameras or whether the iris will require electricity to stop down. I hope not because while I can certainly use my F6 or D2x to take architecture photos with standard stop-down operation, I would like to mount it on my PB-6 bellows for some PC control at high magnifications. Eventually I will upgrade my DSLR to take advantage of the full capabilities of the lens. I love 24mm on both my SLR's and DSLR's and this will help with the geometric issues when taking pictures of buildings.

The second lens was introduced officially yesterday by Sigma. Prototypes of the 200-500 f2.8 were on display in the Spring, but it seems like they have finally gotten it down to a production model. The lens is huge as the length and speed indicate. It weights over 35 lbs and will push the limits of my tripod system. I would use this beast mostly for taking pictures on the creeks, where i wouldn't have to truck it too far. It would also be nice at night sports from reasonable distances. Several things remain to be seen. First is what kind of AF motor and its speed did Sigma use. From the webpage, Sigma uses a rechargable battery in the lens to supply energy to the AF motor as well as a power zoom. The focus distance and zoom setting are not displayed on the rings as usually occurs, but on a LCD screen. The lens also takes a 72mm rear mounted filter. That's as big as I've ever heard of. No word as to whether a CL-P is included like it is in the 300-800mm. Also interesting about the lens is that they are including what Sigma calls the 1000mm f5.6 "attachment." This is effectively a 2x tele-converter that was specifically designed for the lens. AF is retained by the "attachment" but it will remain to be seen how well image quality is retained. I am also interested to see if the Sigma 1.4x TC is compatable, because a 700 f4 lens would be quite useful. There are only rumors as to price of this lens, but $10,000 is a reasonable estimate. That might take some saving up and delay upgrading my DSLR system which is needed for at least my travel body.

I don't really "need" these lenses, but i enjoy using them, and i don't have any other vice to spend money on, so i don't feel so bad.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Samp anyone?

I am on a quest of samp. "What is samp?" Well Samp is twice-cracked corn that is stewed various ways until it is a mush. It is an old New England/Long Island food that was passed to us by the natives of the US Northeast.

My father used to feed it to us in the depth of the New England winter, and I was never a fan as a child. He would stew it all day on the stove with a good half pound of some sort of hamhock and a bit of salt. I would pour even more salt and as much pepper as I could muster. As an adult, and in charge of my own kitchen, I have some ideas to use ham that should make it taste a bit better.

The real trouble with my mission is that you can't just go to your local, or even specialty, shop and pick up some samp. My father has quite a few stories about how he would find samp by calling around in the days before the Internet, only to find that they were asking him how many train-car loads he wanted. Fortunately for both of us, my father has found a local supplier here on Long Island, and on my way home, I stopped by the store and inquired if they had any samp.

The local store is in Jamesport, NY which is close to Riverhead. The store is aptly named "The Jamesport Country Store." Last week I stopped by and found that they didn't have any samp but were expecting it soon. The visit was not entirely futile, as i was able to find myself some beach plum jelly, and while it isn't as good as the jam my grandmother used to make, it certainly was good.

I returned to the store yesterday on the way home and got to meet the owner of the store, a gentleman named Herb. He hadn't gotten his 500 lbs of samp in yet, but took my name and phone number so that he could notify me when he received it. Of course samp wasn't his typical request so we got to talking about local family and history. Eventually the location of my house, and the old family farm came up and it turns out that he used to spend many a night at my house back with his friend used to rent it from the previous order. He even mentioned that they had made up T-shirts that said something to the effect "Windsong farm: halfway house for bachelors." It is too bad that he didn't have a T-shirt to trade for one of our family T-shirts featuring the cottage on the next plot.

I am hoping the samp comes in soon so that I can make a batch up and get my father's supply before my next trip to sea.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rocking Out

I went to a birthday party for a college student last night. The highlight of the evening was gathering around the Playstation 2 and TV for games. The TV we used was actually a video projector, giving a widescreen TV that was somewhere between a HDTV and the old-school projection TVs. The view angle was great, but didn't have the "pop" of a HDTV.

I've never been one to play video games, as I've never been adroit at them. The first game I was pressed into service as there was no pause option, and one of the players was needed elsewhere in the house. The game was a gameshow/trivia game and i had the misfortune of taking over the last place player. Through luck and a my vast knowledge of useless trivia, i was able to pull out a win in the last section, but didn't place in the final game. The second round, my girlfriend Brooke and I, were a team and won every round until the last round. We did take the overall win in that round.

After two long rounds of the trivia game. We started playing in Guitar Hero II. For those who many not know what that is exactly, it's a game where you plug in a wireless electric guitar. The guitar has five buttons and a "strumming" button, as well as a whammy bar. Basically the game entails picking a song at one of three levels of difficulty. The harder the difficulty, the more buttons you need to be able to handle. I am a neophyte so I chose the easy songs and the easy level (only 3 buttons). The game works by the song playing in the back ground and then different color circles come down the screen. You need to hit the correct button and strum just as the circle hits the target on the screen. Some of the notes you have to hold and there are certain notes that are stars which allow you to gain "star power" which helps you stay alive, even if you miss notes. I managed to do respectfully well considering my lack of coordination.

Brooke thoroughly stomped my play. She rocked harder songs and scored much better then I did. I was very proud of Brooke and she illicited cheers from the party for her performance.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

When it comes to the point in a conversation when people ask me what I do for a living, I usually get blank stares when I tell them I am in the Merchant Marine. "What is that?" I am asked. Well here's what it is.

The Merchant Marine is the fleet of cargo carrying ships under a nation's flag. Basically in the United States, it is a fleet of about 350 ocean-going ships and a myriad of smaller vessels. If you have ever traveled on a ferry, you have been on a US flagged ship. My fellow mariners and I are the crews of those ships.

As a brief aside, the cruise ships that you see on TV are merchant ships, but if you catch the fine print, they are not US flagged ships. This means among other things, that you are not subject to US laws or protections while on board, and nearly every crew member is from another country and getting paid far less they you can imagine. All I can say is tip well because they certainly don't make much in straight wages.

For my part, I am licensed by the US Coast Guard as a Chief Mate (aka 1st mate) as well as a 1st Assistant Engineer of Steam and Motor (diesel) ships. I am licensed for unlimited tonnage, on any ocean, and any horsepower. I am what they call a "dualie" in the industry, which is fairly rare. Most mariners go with one department or another.

Currently, I am the Chief Mate on the MV MAJ BERNARD F FISHER. This is a container ship under contract with the US Navy. My job is to be a department head in the deck department. I am responsible for the maintainence of the deck as well as the cargo, and stability of the ship. I have about six unlicensed people working for me as well as two junior mates. I report directly to the Master (captain).

Life at sea is different. I work for about four months straight. That is to say, I work 12 hours each day, for 120 days or so. There are no weekends or days off, and sick days are frowned upon. On the flip side, when I leave my ship, there are no phone calls or emails to worry about, and every day is a weekend.

During my copious spare time, I tend to enjoy photography and a bit of amateur radio, with the former taking most of my time. I will be sharing some of my photography and thoughts on this blog during the relatively dull periods of my shore time. When I am at sea, I will be posting stories from distant shores. While there is an old adage that says the only difference between a fairy tale and a sea story is that a fairy tale begins "Once upon a time..." and a sea story begins "This ain't no @#$@#$..." I will attempt to make my stories as accurate as possible.

I do hope that you enjoy my blog, and I will try to post to it as often as time, internet connection, and exciting stories allow.