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.

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