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.