Thursday, October 30, 2014

Oil Spills and Fire Watch

I will spare y'all the play by play of engine life, because it would be a long list of "and then I painted, and then I painted some more, and then I painted in a different color." Of note in the painting department, we have boxes standing around full of oil with pumps on the top. The boxes are white, the pumps are yellow. I am told that the last time an apprentice came through the engine room, four or five months ago, he painted the pumps. He did a piss poor job of it, getting yellow paint all over the damn place. There it has sat for five months with yellow splatters on the box and floor, waiting for another slightly more competant apprentice to paint over it and make it look nice again. I don't have a job description (actually I do, it is "assist as directed"), but if I did, it would be "low priority deferred maintanance". Being a white box, there whole setup isn't interesting enough for such a thing as a good job to apply, but I certainly think I did an adequate job, since the flat surface that is supposed to be white is now white.

An engineer spilled a small bucket of oil while cleaning a compressor. I got assigned to clean it up, not because they are just making the apprentice do all the work, but because they had to call the chief engineer down and all three, the engineer, chief, and QMED, had to fill out paperwork and do reporting. After all the paperwork (or at least, after the urgent round of paperwork), even the chief, not exactly a hands-on sort of fellow, got out oil towels and helped clean up. This was a spill of less than a gallon in perhaps the most interior part of the ship, with no where for it to spill out, but any oil spill at all is a big deal that must be logged thoroughly because of an industry wide terror of oil spills.

I was painting yesterday when the QMED comes up behind me and taps me on the shoulder. "mmm-mmph mmmhh" he says. "What?" I shout. You would think that a guy who has been working engine for almost twenty years and currently wearing two layers of hearing protection would know to speak up, but clearly not. "Stand Fire watch" he shouted, just barely audibly. And you do need at least a really good pair of earplugs in the engine room, because it really starts to hurt when you are down on the bottom level unprotected. In any case, doing "fire watch" sounded completely awesome, because fire, so I followed him up. He pointed to a spot on the floor and mumbled something. "What?" I shouted. "Stand there," he repeated, louder, "don't let any fire happen". At which point he pulls out the blowtorch, lights it up, and proceeds to burn the tops of five metal oil drums off. Being (formerly) oil drums, the lid lights up around where he is working and the paper labels on the side burn impressively as sparks stream out, flying ten feet in any direction and staying lit for a good five or ten seconds at times. My job as fire watchman was to watch. And stand. And watch. And I did watch. As I watched I wondered what, exactly, I was supposed to do if there actually was a fire. Maybe grab the extinguisher? But you are supposed to inform someone first. Maybe inform someone? But shouldn't I put the fire out while it is small? Maybe close the venting window and hit the CO2 system? That seems too drastic for me to have the authority to do that. Maybe turn off the torch first or perhaps assist the injured QMED? But that isn't either Informing or Restricting, which are the first things I am supposed to do according to the coast guard. In practice, the QMED would have probably grabbed the extinguisher and I would have gone to notify the watchman, but I realized that for all the firefighting class that I took I really am very poorly trained to deal with an actual fire emergency.

I figure most boats aren't on fire most of the time, and there are twenty other people on the ship, so I will probably be fine to be ignorant. Because that is how emergencies work, right? If you are usually fine most of the time, that is probably good enough.

I went outside to help lubricate the chain on the engineer hoist. If I say that neither I nor the QMED went out wearing hard hats I would be giving the game away, but after finishing the second hoist the hook was almost up to the top when the QMED tells me to go ahead and start wiping the small bit of grease that had smeared on the deck. I pull out a rag and start wiping when chain hits the deck not a hand's width away from my hand. The chain, of which each link is slightly longer than a thumb and two thumbs wide, is supposed to pull up to the hoist engine and then fall into a suspended box, but as it filled this time it spilled out, each link pulling the next link pulling the whole chain out of the box onto the deck I was wiping up. Pushing on my one hand and two knees I leap backwards, going from hands and knees to laying on my back two feet away like a particularly inept ninja. From my butt I watch the entire chain fall out on the deck.

Nothing was damaged, particularly not me, and we got it all fixed up soon enough.

I finally got to play with power tools. The fleet engineer came on to check for leaks or cracks in a few suspicious bilges, and I was responsible for getting the pneumatic drill and pulling off all the bilge covers down at the bottom of the ship.

In any case, I told my roommate that I was working with a really important guy, the fleet engineer, and by working with the important person that meant I, too, was important. He pointed out that the important guy wouldn't be important unless he was surrounded by unimportant people doing all the small jobs, and that the fact that I was working with an important person meant I couldn't possibly be important. By virtue, therefore, of not working with anyone important, it remains quite possible that my roommate it an important person. I told him he was full of shit and he turned up the volume on the TV.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Rhythm of the Engine

It occurs to me that I never explained the rhythm of work at sea on the deck or in the engine. Dayworkers live by the clock, starting at 8AM every day. That means you don't show up later than 8, and you don't start working before 8. The amount of time between showing up and starting to work is not an important consideration in the life of a sailor. From there, nothing important happens, just whatever work needs doing, until 9:30 and which point comes the most important time of the day, coffee break, where everyone goes back to their rooms or the galley to relax for half an hour. Then we get back to the job at hand for another hour and a half until lunch break, 11:30 to 12:00. Then another hour and a half of strenuous labor and another coffee break for half an hour. Finally, at 14:00 we hit the home stretch where we work for two and a half full hours without a break, at which point we are so exhausted that we have to go to bed. Or dinner, then bed. Or dinner, then we don't go to bed and just bitch about how tired we are the next day.

In any case, on my first day I walked down at 8AM and was told to sweep and mop the entire engine room, all three levels. That took up the first part of the day. Then I followed the QMED around as he made his rounds to mark down all the gauge levels for things around the engine room. His mouth was moving as if he was explaining things, but between the screaming of the engine and the earplugs that are required to prevent deafness as a result of the aforementioned engine scream, I couldn't even hear if sound was actually coming out of his mouth or not. After that I was sent to clean the walls in the cat room.

We call it the cat room because there are three yellow cats. Not the fun cats that are fuzzy and adorable, but huge caterpillar electrical generators. Anyway, I like cats enough that I wont discriminate against the kind that are actually machines instead of animals.

The next morning we were in port, so the main engines were off and they wanted me to chip the paint off the cracking heat exchanges. I hooked the needle gun up, a device full of quarter inch thick steel needles attached to a pneumatic handle which, when attached to pressurized air, smack on metal like a jackhammer, knocking off loose paint. I didn't quite finish by lunchtime when they turned the engines back on, so I went back to cleaning the walls.

The next morning I had finished cleaning the walls, so they had me paint the walls. I painted for eight hours and finished the vertical spaces of the cat room. At the end of the day I went into the control room and asked the QMED who is informally in charge of me if he wanted to inspect the room before I put the paint up. He said no, implying that, unlike on deck, people in the engine room are expected to be at least marginally competent without someone else peering over their shoulder.

Today I came in and they told me to start cleaning the ceiling of the cat room. So I spent eight hours doing that. It actually only took seven, but it was strongly suggested around hour six that I make sure it took all eight, because apprentices, unlike everyone else in the engine department, don't get to sit around in the control room and shoot shit when they don't have enough to do.

In any case, I heard my first departmental joke: If you lock a deckhand in a closet with two bowling balls, when you come back later he will have managed to lose one of them and break the other. I can certainly relate to that observation, but in the interest of fairness, here is one about engineers: How many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb? One, because they usually know what they are doing and in any case have training in electrical systems.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Big Black Money

In about a month, that pile in front of the Cleveland ArcelorMittal steel plant has gone from nearly empty to what you see here. And, I am told, the want even more. The total order was for four million tons of iron, to be delivered to a factory that eats 15 - 20 thousand tons a day. Our gross tonnage, for comparison, is under twelve thousand.

See comments for much more reasonable sounding figures here.

Again, working from hearsay, but the thousand foot ships (no clue what the tonnage is on those) make one million dollars for each run from Silver Bay to the lakeside Cleveland dock, and river size ships like us make another 350,000 to run from lakeside dock to the plant up the river.
I make $3.25 an hour, and $8.00 an hour overtime.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things I Learned in a Real Galley

Moving down to the engine room tomorrow (yesterday, now. yay for bad internet!), so today I reflect on a month working in a real galley.

First thing is that this place is nothing like working the Piney Point galley. First off, the hours are sane (9 to 11 hours for the SA, 12-13 for the steward) and more importantly the off time really is off time, not bullshit march around and continue doing bullshit work time. The job itself is pretty similar, with most of my time spent standing over a sink, but even then just the fact that those dishes didn't get stacked up by assholes who use their spare time to make my life more difficult is a massive plus.

In fact, the biggest thing I didn't expect about working here was the general absence of assholes. Actually, that isn't right, since there are some people I can clearly tell are terrible people, but they keep their colons in check and behave with a professionalism noticeably absent from any part of Piney Point. I had been told repeatedly at school that they threw a lot of bullshit at us to make sure that we could handle the bullshit on a ship, which seemed like a plausible reason, except that there hasn't hardly been any bullshit at all on the Sam Laud. Every rule here has a definite and articulable purpose, all the paperwork is as short as it can be, every job, fun or not, actually needs to be done, and the people around me treat me like they would like to be treated, with professionalism and respect.

I also learned that nothing gets me to eat vegetables quite like Chinese food.

In fact, I learned quite a bit about cooking just from asking questions and watching and had to keep myself from turning this into a food blog. I have never liked cooking much, but I may have been looking at it wrong this whole time. I tell myself now that I will try some serious cooking when I get home, though of course I am really lazy and may not actually get around to it.

I doubt I will be going down this path, but after spending a month in a quality kitchen for the first time in my life, I really feel like I could be a good cook if I put the time in. But time, of course, is expensive, and I will probably end up spending it on video games instead.

Also, I learned the best way to peel an orange. Start by knocking off the little button at the top where the stem gets cut off, then press down on that and pull to break through the skin. This not only opens the orange without damaging the slices, it gets right to the bottom of the skin, preventing too much of the white pith from sticking to the good part.

I had come in thinking that one of the things I wanted to get away from is getting too much routine, in fear that I would get stuck back in the rut I was in, but now I realize that might have been silly. After all, the on/off work schedule alone is enough to shake things up, as well as is the constant flow of people on and off the ship. The adventures of going places, even if those places suck, and the beauty of the sea, even if it is just a big lake, makes every day substantially better than the place I was living. Perhaps, with all this, a job with fixed routines could be a good thing?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

Afterword to Silver Bay

While touring Silver Bay I went to a little grocery store, Zupps. They had signs all over saying "try our famous sausage". 'Famous Sausage?' I thought, 'I never heard of it, so it cant be that famous.

When I got back to the ship I asked the steward, "You know that little store in town, Zupps?"

He said "Yea"

"They got these signs up 'Try our famous sausage'. You ever heard of Zupps famous sausage?"

He said "Nope"

"Can't be too famous then, can it."

I didnt buy any, but I did think about buying some.

Further Adventures in Silver Bay

We are stuck in port at Silver Bay waiting out some bad weather. I have been here half a dozen times already, but this is the first time I have had a chance to get off. The town itself isn't too impressive, but it does have a nice scenic outlook.

It also had a little grocery store, that claims to be famous for its sausage. I have never heard of them, so they can't be that famous.

Having come back now with snacks from the store, I realize just how good it feels to have snacks by my computer again. Sure, there are snacks in the galley, and many of them are good, but nothing is quite the same as having my own little drawer of snacks just for me.

It is by appreciating the little things in life that we learn to appreciate the larger things.

Click on the pictures to make them bigger.

Also, I got pictures of the little informational signs just in case any of my readers are the sort of old men who stop to read historical markers.

Birds and Such

Thanks to the combination of people leaving doors open while painting and the sudden onset of cold weather as we sailed up to Superior, a number of birds have been flying into the house. I had one fly straight into the open porthole of my room. It landed on the arm of the chair by my bed and just sort of looked at me for a moment. It was brown and as round as it was long, but when I got up, both the notion of closing the window to trap it and of grabbing my phone to get a photo running through my mind, it flew right back out. They are more of a problem in the galley, since we have to chase them out.

Curiously enough, it is the sicker ones that are harder to get out, since you can get all the way up to them and sometimes even poke them without them flying off. One tired bird landed on a peice of spare equipment right by the captain's dinner chair (not actually any different from a normal chair, but reserved for a particular ass) and was sleeping on its side, legs pointing out, and breathing heavily. The captain didn't seem to notice his dining companion, but I did and spent the whole of dinner wondering if I should do something about the bird. I ended up leaving it alone until after dinner, when I picked it up and placed it outside. I don't expect that bird to be long for this world.

Pirate captains have parrots, but merchant captains have little round birds that are probably pretty close to death.
The steward told me a story in light of this of his time on a grain ship on Lake Ontario. He said that after loading, one or two hundred of those tiny round birds would come down onto deck to eat the little scraps of grain. They would come down all happy and eat their fill, then they would go for a drink of water in the lake. That water would cause the grain in thier bellies to expand and rupture their stomaches, and twenty four hours later there would be one or two hundred tiny adorable dead birds on the deck. The steward says that he was the only one who seemed bother by this, and that the deck hands would just casually rinse them off the deck like any other debris.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Halfway (or a bit more) Through

My halfway point passed a few days ago (more now, since it took so long to actually post), so I reckon some reflections are in order. I actually didn't notice the 45th day, only realizing that it was past the halfway point when my junior apprentice was moaning about how hard it is to work on deck, hoping I would sympathize. Nope, you lazy bastard, deck work wasn't bad at all, so quit bitching about it or get off the boat.

Working in galley is still good. It is, in fact, so good that it is starting a minor crisis in my mind. I went to Piney Point and came on this ship completely certain that I was going to be an engineer once I got out of the program. Of course, I went through most of high school and all of college (and quite a bit of time after that) completely certain that I would be an economist the rest of my life, so perhaps I should have been a bit more humble. Deck wasn't bad for a month, but the most educational thing I learned there was that I absolutely did not want to be a deck hand the rest of my life, officer jobs are way too much work, and I am bad enough at driving cars that no one in their right mind would put me behind the wheel of a $XXX million dollar vessel. Galley life, however, is a different story.

The work is all routine, but then again, most of the work in the engine is likely to be routine with only occasional excitement. The question that is troubling me, then, is how much less exciting is this work than engine work, and exactly how much more is the steward being paid (Supposedly he makes more than some officers, but I haven't figured out how to ask him directly)? Could I make the same amount of money with a month less working? And it is certainly a factor that a steward reaches the top of his career faster than a QMED. I have a certain attachment to the idea of myself as an engineer, but that is exactly the sort of attachment that Buddha would have be discard as a source of suffering.

Oh well, I don't have to decide today. I can safely defer this until January if not later..

Work aside, I am 100% certain that this is a fantastic lifestyle. These last few weeks have been just like a good day at home, except better. No commute, no living expenses, great scenery, lots of food, and even reaching new ports is fun even if they are all a bunch of rust belt shitholes. The few things that are worse than home, roommates, no cats, limited internet, are all things that can be either mitigated through preparation or endured. Since I am certain that I want to be here, the question of what I want to be doing here gains all the more salience.

In other news, the captain, who had been waiting a whole month for a relief, finally got a replacement. The new captain is very tall, easily 6'6 or more, covered in tattoos and looks like nothing quite so much as a drummer in a metal band, though with my general policy of staying well away from important people I don't know much more than that. The current steward has started talking about when he is leaving, though fortunately it will be after I rotate out of galley. In another bit of luck, the one guy I didn't like on the ship, one of the engineers who went out of his way to be hostile at me, is leaving before I get down into the engine room. People tell me not to be so critical of him because he is going through a nasty divorce, but I am pretty sure that the woman known only as "That Bitch" didn't take his charming personality in the settlement.

Not too much to write about, because not too much is going on. Every day in galley is pretty much the same. I thought about going on an adventure in Silver Bay, but we loaded too quickly for me to get off. Maybe there will be adventures in Cleveland.

The Pretty part of Cleveland.

One thing Cleveland has going for it is that it is decaying quite nicely. Botg the graffiti and weeds are nice this time of year.

Traffic jam on the river.

It only takes three ships moving vp and down the river in Cleveland to cause large delays.

There were literally only inches betwedn us when passing this ship, and this is a wider part of the river.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ship in the Sunset

Not sure why, probably because of the storm to the north, but I saw an unusual number of ships pass by yesterday; maybe seven or eight.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The essence of Toledo

This building, the tallest in Toledo, really encapsulates the town in my mind. It isnt the third bank, it doesnt just own being the eighth bank, and it certainly wasnt the first or second bank. No, they insist on being the fifth third bank, and install it on the wall like it is some sort of accomplishment. Toledo is a shithole, but not even remarkable in the realm of shitholes.

Guys working on the stern thruster

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Doing Layups in Toledo

The stern thruster is all busted, so we have been at the Toledo drydock getting it all fixed up. Rumor is that we may leave as soon as tomorrow, but that has been floating around since the first day, so who knows? Answer: The captain and chief engineer, and probably a number of people, but not me.

On the first day, I get up at 6:20 and start my galley work, only to be pulled off right as I go into my break time as the chief tells me that I am an engine dayworker for today only. I go down into the engine room, which is unsettlingly cool and quiet, and spend the day pulling the acculumlated muck out of the now cooled engine. An up close and personal education into exactly how the engine works. There was so much carbon that it, in solid form, soaked through the overalls I was wearing onto the jeans I wore under them and through them onto my knees, which are still black a few days later.

After that, I decided to go exploring. Since we are docked for a few days at least, the captain put out the word that anyone can leave whenever, as long as they show up for work the next day. Off in the distance, I can see downtown Toledo, so I make that my target for the evening. Walking down the gangway, I walk past the 2AE and Chief, who ask me casually where I am going. "I want to see Toledo". "There isn't much to see" they respond, and boy were they right. I made it downtown and across a little bridge, but aside from some remarkably varied and now underutilized archetecture, this place is pretty much a shithole. Walking back, I realize that we are situated right next to a Nabisco factory, so I walk up to the gate guard and ask if I could go in to buy like oreos or something. He gives me a nasty look and tells me, straight out of a pulpy novel, to "beat it, kid". I giggle and leave with a little bounce.

Coming back into the shipyard, I see the roommate out on the bow making a phone call and wave. I enter the ship and walk towards the room, but I see that a door which never opens is open today. I takes me into the conveyor, a place which is usually mostly off limits for people that don't have business in there, so I go into to explore. Pretty soon I realize that I am down in the tunnel that runs under the cargo holds and walk the full length under the ship until I get to some stairs that look all rusted to hell heading up into a passage shrouded in darkness, so of course I go up them. The dark shroud is just a shadow obscuring a corner, and doesn't extend very far, but the stairway dumps me out into the forecastle and I think that this is a fantastic idea to jump out at roommate before he realized I am here. I creep around the stairs out onto the bow and leap over the last three steps with a great "Boo". No one is startled. The bow has emptied during my exploration. I go back to my room a little bit defeated and watch TV for the duration of the night.

The next morning I consider sleeping "in" until 7:30, figuring that they would pull me down into the engine, but I tell myself no, that the day I do that will be the day that they don't want me down there and get mad at me for not working in galley. So I get up early and set up breakfast only to discover, right as I am about to go on break, that it is time for me to go back down to the engine to clean and paint in places that are no fun at all when the engine is hot and screaming. After that is dinner, where I sit down only to have bosun burst in to tell me that I have an overtime project to do, some heavy lifting out on deck, at which point the cook comes in and tells me that he needs me in the galley for some overtime work. There is no epic staredown, because if there was cook would have won, but instead I lift a bunch of equipment for a while and get all buff and swole.

Afterwards, I spend about an hour debating whether or not to go out. Eventually I decide to go out and get some food, because today was fish for lunch and fish for dinner, and I don't like fish. I remember seeing a McDonald's on the prior day's walk, so I head out for that. The scenery is as miserable as the day before, but the fries taste just like every other McDonald's on the planet and are quite satisfying. I walk outside to discover that it has rained earlier than the internet had promised, and shows no signs of stopping either in the sky or on the internet. Two and a half miles in the rain isn't actually that bad, partly because it wasn't all that cold, but it was enough to convince me not to go out again the next day.

So for today, day three, I got confirmation that, yes, I would be working in the engine room and was not needed in galley. So I sleep in a bit, only to be awoken at 7AM by cook, who tells me that the SA never showed up for work today and he needed someone to back him up. So I do the SA's job for breakfast and lunch until he shows up at 2PM. I don't ask what the story was, but cook was pissed all morning and no less pissed after he showed up. Fortunately, he is not the sort of person to take that irritation out on anyone. Honestly, it wasn't a bad morning, if busier than normal. The previous SA was right that this job is absolutely easy money, to the extent that it has me questioning whether my goal here is to make easy money and have time the rest of the year to do my own things, or if it is to make the money while working an interesting job. Well, I don't have to think about it today, so I won't.

No adventure today, because there was no food shortage. Hamburgers for lunch, steak for dinner, baclava for dessert, and a bunch of rice krispy treats on the pastry shelf are more than enough to make me forgive cook for a day full of gross fish.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

An $80 Education

Checked my email this morning and found a dividend notice from etrade. The SA didnt know what dividends were, so I explained it and he seemed pretty excited. He seemed to think that the omly way to save money was in CDs or under the mattress, so I hope I have encoraged him to spend a bit less on strippers and booze and a bit more on saving.

In any case, the dividend was $80- not bad, but not a great yeild either. Still, it is going to be hard to get that 80 out of my head when I do overtime, because that was 10 hours I got right there for doing nothing.

Unrelated note: check out this photo. There is a cluster of pipelines in cleveland that run along the river, but one line has these little bows in it every 200 yards or so I guessed they were for isolation in an emergency, but no one knew for sure. Anyone out there know?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bonus photos

I was going through photos, and I don't remember if I have posted these or not, but they look pretty cool. Click to embiggen.

These were taken at the same time, but the lower one is a panoramic running from stern to forward on the port side.

Galley Erratum

The SA is leaving. His time is up. He is very excited about leaving. He has been dancing around, singing the "I am going away" rap, and talking about everything he was going to do once he gets home, mostly involving sex and alcohol. He was describing to me as I stood washing dishes (and he stood not working) all the sex he was going to have with his wife when he got home. Now the cook is pretty tolerant of a lot of things, but I guess this was just too rich for him. The cook turns away from the grill and looks at the SA and says this:
"Fifteen years from now you will be home with your wife on a slow day. You will turn to her and say, 'let's have sex', and she will say ok. You will climb up the stairs, go into the bedroom, crawl into bed, and get under the covers. Then you will both look at the ceiling. After about five minutes of this she will turn and say to you, 'I can't think of anyone', and you will say, 'me neither', and you will give up and take a nap instead."

I had just gotten used to the Chief Engineer, making sure to pay attention to how he operates on a personal level for when I get into the engine room. And now we have a new Chief. The old chief got knocked down to 1AE, the old 1AE, who was really cool, is now 2AE, and the old 2AE left (I think-- I didn't really know the 2 and 3AEs). Apparently, he isn't high ranking enough to run the football pool anymore, because instead of the old chief continuing to run it, or the new chief taking over, it has passed on to the second mate.

This is the second mate who called every single game last week, while the rest of the board was covered in Xs. I have one more ten dollar bill before I admit that gambling was a bad idea. Or until I go to an ATM when we hit Toledo

Speaking of leaving, a whole lot of people had thier time come up at the end of the month, or perhaps at the first of the next month. SA, 2AE, Watchman, QMED, and a Conveyorman are all getting off within a week of each other, and thanks to circumstance, most will be getting off when we hit Toledo tomorrow. Some departures are invisible, but when the wave is this big (and the SA is so loud about it) it does change the mood a bit. On the other hand, our poor captain has been waiting to get off for going on two weeks now, but first there were the mechanical issues, and now it sounds like they just can't find anyone willing to take over from him because they don't want all the river duty we are scheduled for. As the cook says, these captains all want the big bucks ($1000 per day and up! I made a $1001.47 last month), but they don't want to work for it. I told him that I, too, wanted big bucks without working for them, and he scowled at me.

The current plan is to hit drydock in Toledo as soon as we finish this run in Cleveland, so we should be in by tomorrow. They think it will take four days at a minimum even if the problem is trivial just to open everything and then close it all back up, and if the problem is bad we may be in for a week or a bit more. There was talk about sending the deck crew home, but I think they found some nasty sounding job for them to do. It is still up in the air as to whether I will be on the nasty job crew or stay in galley, but the nasty job sounds really interesting (cleaning out the guts of the engine while it is cool) and the galley job is nice and peaceful. Either way, they have been very emphatic that there will either be a whole lot of overtime for everyone, or else there will be strictly no overtime at all, and anyone who says different is just wrong. I make little enough that I can laugh about it.

I keep saying that I am not making shit, but I made a bit under half of what I was making monthly in my last job, and this is the very bottom of the payscale, so I feel pretty good about that. The fourth phasers each made about $5,000 with an average of two hours of overtime a day. The QMED who is on his first ship as a full union man from Piney Point made over $7,000. Apparently the Chief cook and Chief engineer made somewhere around $20,000-25,000, so that sounds like about the top of the payscale, except of course for captain who pulls in $1000 a day base rate. Obviously, everyone's but my own pay is hearsay, though it sounds like what I have been hearing elsewhere. It also sounds really good.

It is going on a year now since I had to cut my hair for the first time in years, and I still don't like it short. When I am having a nice shower, I will sometimes get way more shampoo than I need anymore. When I put on a shirt, I will sometimes forget and brush my phantom hair out of the way. Of course, now I am going bald for real, so I don't even know if I will ever be able to get it back to what it was.

Though isn't that the tale of aging? Not knowing if you can ever get back what you once were?

"Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocks beneath the waves
I am older than I once was
Younger than I'll be
That's not unusual
Nor is it strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same"
-Paul Simon

Monday, September 29, 2014

Now with videos!

A photo didn't really capture the serenity of the sunset over the flat lake last night, so maybe a video will do the trick? I had to push the resolution way down to post, but I think it still looks alright.

Galley Life

There may not be as many posts this month because galley is all about routine. Same hours every day, same jobs at each hour. Overall, my job here is peaceful, quiet and calm and is really quite relaxing. Overall it feels not so much like I am working but more that I am helping out in the kitchen in my spare time. The one thing it definitely is not is the Piney Point galley; fewer assholes, easier hours, easier work, and no flat out bullshit. Everything I do has a purpose, and once that purpose is accomplished I don't have to do it any more.

It helps that the chief steward, Steve, is a fantastic person. I can attest that his cooking is fantastic and the more experienced sailors have more than once called him the best cook on the lakes. Aside from that, he is very personable, the sort of person who thrives around other people, and sitting in the galley between the officer and crew messes he enjoys talking to most everyone on the ship. He is very serious about sanitation, which is a good thing, but knows very clearly when something does and does not need to be cleaned. From my perspective as the apprentice, I particularly appreciate that he makes a point of telling me things and pointing out little details that he has picked up on over his almost three decades sailing both in the galley and in the industry as a whole.

Before I arrived, the SA (Steward's Assistant) performed all the sanitation while the steward performed all the cooking. Now that I am here he does about half the sanitation and I do the other half. The SA is a fourth phaser out of Piney Point hoping to make chief cook as quick as he can because he sees it as easy money. I certainly won't dispute that since the pay is as good as any other position on the ship, and if you like to cook and don't mind cleaning then it isn't a bad life at all. Not the life for me, but definitely respectable for a person whose interests move them in that direction.

I wake up in the morning about ten minutes before I have to start, and my commute is less than a minute, so remember that next time you are stuck in traffic on the way to work. Once there, I look through the snacks, condiments, milk, juices, and other nick-nacks to make sure that nothing has run out or expired. Then I wipe down all the surfaces with disposable wipes, because the steward believes strongly that using the same cloth to clean multiple surfaces just spreads contamination, but using a new disposable wipe for each surface keeps everything clean. Then sweep and mop the floors and start moving through the dishes that have piled up from overnight meals and the morning cooking. I usually finish up the dishes about fifteen minutes into breakfast, then get to eat. After that, more dishes have piled up, then I sweep, mop, and clean off the tables and counters. I usually have about thirty to fourty five minutes until the shift ends at this point, so I make a little progress on whatever ongoing project the steward has me doing (right now it is emptying out every cabinet and wiping it down then putting everything back in), and then he lets me go early.

That first break is an hour and a half, and this is when I get my studying in and take a nap. Even though I have been getting to bed on time, for some reason the galley work just seems way more tiring than working excessive hours on deck, probably because I am actually working for all eight hours instead of standing around, so nap time has become a staple of the day. After the morning nap, I am up for lunch.

Each meal is the same routine as breakfast: stocks, surfaces, floors, dishes, eat, dishes, surfaces, floors, projects. The steward will sometimes blast classic rock and roll (Aerosmith, Steve Miller Band, Clapton, and Boston are particular favorites), and other times I will put my headphones in to make the dishes go faster. But people are always in and out chatting about the progress of the ship, or the football pool, or other people who have been or might come to the ship, or about life on shore around the lakes.

After lunch is a two and a half hour break. The breaks are pretty long, but that is because we have to stretch out eight hours of working into twelve hours of being needed. I am told that it is different on deep sea, where you have three man galleys instead of two (I don't count, apparently), but on the lakes the steward cooks every meal and the SA cleans everything that needs cleaning. In any case, this is my TV break, where I make progress on the collection of shows and movies I brought with me.

Funny thing is, I expected to start gaining weight, because there is food all around me. But the truth is that I am moving for all eight hours of the day, and usually go to bed more tired than when I was just standing around as a deckhand for twelve hours at a time.

There is a lot of money to be made in the steward department and a lot of freedom and power to run your own little department. On the other hand, I really don't like cooking, and I am not a fan of being an SA for life, so the galley life is definitely not for me. A month of this won't be bad, but six months at a time? A whole career of food and cleanup? Not happening.

More Sunset

No matter how bad this job gets, not that it has gotten bad yet, nothing beats the scenery out here.


Flat lake

The lake is flatter today than the small creeks back home.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Return again to Silver Bay

I think this is my fourth or fifth trip to silver bay, and it looks beautiful every time. A lot of bats livein that factory, and we usually pick up one or two with the cargo.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Photo Dump

Images seem to be working again, so here are some photos that should have gone in the last few posts.

When we unload, there is always a designated dock agent there to meet us and to supervise unloading. They are always in an American made truck and when they just sit there in the middle of a rocky road surrounded by industrial mountains it looks like a living truck advertisement.

I already posted refueling from a station, so here is refueling from a truck. Two trucks is considered just topping up the tanks.

When we load, the boom has to be moved out of the way so the loaders can reach the aft cargo holds. Today the water was so still that it reflected perfectly on the water.

Deck crew doing what they do best.

A view of the ship as I go off on my first shore leave. It was a relief to see it still there when I got back. The trucks and trailers are the dive team that inspected the stern thruster.

A coal loader. Probably the coolest and most advanced loader I have seen.

Green Bay. It really is green.
The entrance to the river. If you keep going you can see Lambeau field. I didn't get to keep going.

One thing we have a surplus of is beautiful days.

Adventure in Green Bay

So here I was hoping for a view of Lambeau field, but we stopped at the wrong dock for that. Worked until 6PM, as usual for galley (actually cut out a little before 6, as usual for galley). During my Toledo shore leave, I had gone to walmart with the particular intention of getting another tube of toothpaste before I ran out. I bought a number of things, from snacks to halloween candy, but neglected to purchase the one thing I had gone there to get. Since we were in port and I had wanted to see Green Bay, I set out with the SA in search of toothpaste.

Like I said, there is apparently a dock right under Lambeau field, but we didn't go to that one, we went to one in the middle of an industrial district. I walked by various heavy industry terminals holding such fundamentals as stone, oil, coal, salt, and specialty cheeses. A set of railway tracks transitioned the area abruptly into a neighborhood, one that was clearly a nice little part of town at one point, and had not been a nice part of town for at least a decade or two. Stepping gingerly past the white trash I found myself in the historic downtown. I found historic to be a particularly apt description, since there was certainly no present here, only history. Half the buildings were completely empty and occupying the prestigious corner spot at Broadway and Main was a cremation supply company, because apparently this town is so dead that the only flourishing enterprise is burial.

In any case, there was a save-a-lot not too far away. I don't think I saved all that much getting toothpaste and some snacks, but it wasn't a bad deal all the same. On the way back the SA stopped at a bar for a drink (I don't drink, and getting on board ship drunk is strictly prohibited, but the SA was responsible). I watched the not terribly interesting Braves vs Pirates game and realized that it has been so long since I watched baseball that I didn't recognize a single player on the Braves lineup, not the face or the name. That made me sort of sad so I looked to the other TV where they were getting ready for monday night football and I got all excited to get back to the ship and watch the game.

We walked back to the ship, goodies in hand. The guy at the fence checked our IDs and was kind enough to drive us up to the ship through the mountains of stone, coal, and salt. The SA climbed up first, then I followed. At the top of the ladder I considered whether I should go aft to the galley to eat (there was some fantastic chicken in the refrigerator) or forward to put my stuff in my room. I made the wrong choice and went forward. This violated the first rule of deck department, "Don't be seen". First mate saw me coming down the stairs and called me over. He asked if I had been drinking and I said no, and I would have denied it for the SA if he had asked about that as well. But all he wanted to know was if I could get to work, and being sober I could. So I put my things away and went back out on deck for four more hours to help unloading. We didn't need six people out on deck, and hell we didn't really need the five they had before I came out. All I was really doing was allowing deckhands to stand around while I did thier share of the lifting. By the end of it I was exhausted and really, really wanted that chicken, but we had run out by then and I had to get up at 6AM the next day any way.

I don't mind working in any of the particular departments, but I do sort of mind working in two at once. I don't get paid enough to be working twelve hours (with generous breaks) and then get called out for deck work. Though apparently I do get paid enough for that, because bosun told me to be ready for it if they needed help again. Oh well, so it goes.

Photo Testing

I may have to separate text and image posts. Here is 9AM on lake Superior.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Shore Leave

Hmm... I will do a photo dump soon, once I figure out what the problem is.

We got off easy in Cleveland because we were having a problem with the stern thruster, so we had to hurry over to a shipyard in Toledo to get it fixed up. At first I was worried because something was broken, but then I was told that because we were docking for repairs, the deckhands would finally be able to get off the ship and get shore leave. Everyone else on the ship can get off and do minor shopping or go clubbing or whatever in any port they want after their working hours are up, but because unloading and loading is our specific job and we don't have watch rotations, we get stuck on the ship. Since I have only been on for just under a month, I am not bothered that much by shipboard life, but the other GUDEs were quite excited.

Obviously, it never goes that smoothly. Chief mate decided that this would be an excellent time to do a monotonous make work project that could just as easily have been done any other day and sent us an hour past our usual quitting time of 4PM. Then we had to go out and help the diving team by hoisting materials down to them. Then they wouldn't give us a sailing time (departure time) until the dive team diagnosed the problem. Finally, we had a chance to get off.

Four of us; me, a GUDE, the new apprentice who came on the day before, and the SA, split a cab out to the one place that everyone really wanted to go. Walmart. About five minutes after we left, the ship called the GUDE, who had left his number, and told us that the problem had been fixed and we were going to sail as soon as possible. Fortunately, as soon as possible still gave us an hour to get back, so we shopped quickly and returned.

We returned as the dive team was leaving and we could hear the engine room putting the thruster through the paces. I went for a snack expecting the call for departure at any time. As I waited I ate some, then waited some more, then ate a bit, then waited some more. At about 9PM, I learned that the thruster hadn't been fixed, that there had been some larger problem behind the one that had been corrected, so we were just sitting around figuring out what to do.

Eventually it was decided to take a load of coal from Toledo to Green Bay, where I am sailing right now, then stone from Port Inland to Superior, WI. At Superior, it sounds like we will be stopping into a more sophisticated shipyard for possibly five to seven days to get it fixed. Problem is, company policy says that that kind of lay-up for more than three days means they have to send all the deck crew and some of the engine room home, with no idea of what that will mean for my apprenticeship.

Fortunately, I am in galley now, and galley doesn't get sent home. Hopefully, my present galley status will exempt me from anything that might disrupt phase 2. But that is the future, and the future is nothing but imagination, so it may be different. Nothing bad ever happens.

Officer Humor

Working in galley has been my first chance to hear the officers off duty. Most of the time they discuss work, but they also have their little jokes as well. For instance:

Divorce is more expensive than marriage. You know why that is? Because divorce is worth it.

Why do married men live shorter lives than married women? Because they want to.

Here are some of the photos I failed to post last time:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Things I Learned On Deck

As an apprentice, it is my lot to be switched between each of the three departments every thirty days. Tomorrow being my thirtieth, I will be moving over to the galley, an experience which promises to be not nearly as wretched as the Piney Point galley.

It doesn't seem like too much time has passed, and it has mostly passed through good weather and easy working conditions, but I have certainly learned some things.

  • The only knots you really need are the bowline, the clove hitch, and the slip knot. The other knots are apparently relics from the age of sail and clever party tricks. For anything these knots can't get done, there are always metal fixtures of various sorts and splices.
  • Never run on deck. Not even a little bit. Nope, don't do it. That little hop and skip right there, that was like running, and is dangerous.
  • Why are you walking so slow?
  • Anything comfortable gets sweaty and gross. Curiously, uncomfortable things usually don't get sweaty and gross. I would think, naively, that this is a function of how long I interact with comfortable vs uncomfortable objects, but the uncomfortable parts of the hard hat retain noticeably less sweat over the course of the day than the comfortable foam parts.
  • Nothing on the deck is particularly difficult, though doing it over and over again does start to wear a person down. The really hard part is the waiting. Waiting for loading to start, waiting for someone to get back with the right tool, waiting for permission from bosun or officers to do something everyone knows needs doing and everyone knows how to do. You would think that standing around for five hours in a nine hour day would be the easy part, and for some people I expect it is, but I don't like it much.
  • The most unexpectedly heavy thing is chain. Sure, you look at a thick iron chain and think, 'wow! I bet that is heavy', but it is even heavier than that. Even putting chain on a cart and rolling the cart up the deck is difficult.
  • The quickest way to piss someone off is to communicate poorly. The second quickest way is to do something unsafe with a system they are working with.
  • The main purpose of hard hats isn't to keep things from falling on your head, though they would help out in that situation, but for keeping you going after you bump your head on a low hanging piece of solid iron. The latter situation happens frequently, and there were very few times that the former was even possible.
  • Different people have radically different notions of what is and isn't safe, and it isn't a uniform scale. The guy who is very particular about line handling may be terrifyingly nonchalant around an obviously malfunctioning blowtorch (I told him that it didn't look safe and got myself the hell out of there).
  • I am really bad and judging expressions and emotions of people from non-American backgrounds. Particularly telling the difference between joking and angry.
  • Some people don't listen to themselves when they talk, and when you do what they said instead of what they were thinking, they get very upset and wonder why you weren't listening better.
  • This ship frequently doesn't know where it will be four days from now. Not just me, but even the first mate will tell me sometimes that we are just waiting for an order to come in, otherwise we might have to anchor at sea and just wait for something.
  • There is no real shipboard culture, because there are too few people rotating in and out too often for anything like that to form. What culture does exist is mostly working culture, and that is driven by the the captain, the three department heads, and two or three other important people.
  • As an apprentice, I am completely superfluous. They don't need me here, and are doing me a favor by letting me on, though of course no one would be so crass as to say it like that.
  • On deck, at least, it doesn't seem like anyone wants to be here. They don't mind the work or the co-workers any more than anyone does, but they really don't seem to enjoy living on a ship. Many people get off at every chance they can get, just to be off the ship, and in the galley some people count days (and the ones who don't usually have so many days left that it depresses them). Maybe I will get there some day, but today I like living here more than I like the job, and the job isn't all that bad.
  • People get very worked up about overtime and sleep. People also care about break time and lunch time. No one gives a shit about the eight hours of regular work per day, except in that they need to pass it (sometimes in as few as six hours) in order to get to the sweet, sweet overtime.
  • I learned that the company I am sailing for, American Steamship, is part of the transport conglomerate CSX. I don't see any practical effect from that, but I thought it was interesting.
  • I learned that people are serious about break time. They tell you about union mandated thirty minute breaks in Piney Point, but I had just assumed it was either a joke or a way the officers weed out the lazy people. But no, both crew and officers will get mad at you if you cut a break five minutes short in order to get back to work, even if you haven't been doing anything terribly taxing. More important in my mind are the rules that no one can work more than 16 hours in a day or 36 hours in three days (except in an emergency) that are, on this ship at least, strictly respected to prevent fatigue from causing unsafe working conditions.

Speaking of fatigue, I have galley at 6AM, so good night.

I have photos, but the internet is pretty weak, so maybe later.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Safety and Flowers

I feel like we got boarded by pirates or something. Not only did a safety guy come on to talk to us about new and improved company procedures, but also the coast guard was prancing about while we were docked for fuel. Fortunately, the safety guy was pretty nice and I was kept well away from the coast guard.
The bosun chair. Just a board and a metal rod. You tie the line through the eye at the end of the metal, sit on the board, and hold on tight. Or you fall off and prompt a company wide safety revamp.
The safety guy didn't say what incident in particular prompted his visit, but I feel like he would not have come out and shown us all the new equipment and procedures if some dumbass hadn't gotten himself hurt. The issue today was the use of the bosun's chair, a piece of equipment we use to get deckhands onto the dock while the ship is still moving or not quite stopped and close enough to use the ladder. Basically, it is a plank of wood tied a swing to a line that we sit on. Someone holds the line and lets it out slow(-ish) until we hit the ground all safe and alive. It seems risky, but the fact is that it is incredibly simple, so there are very few failure points and those failure points are reinforced more heavily than even a very fat man would require. It sounds like some damn fool fell off or got dropped on his ass, so now we have to go from that very simple system to a more complicated one with more failure points. Fortunately, it isn't being deployed yet, and some of the crew who saw the demonstration mumbled opposition once the safety guy was out of hearing range, so I expect not to have to deal with it on this ship, and only ever in a much more streamlined fashion anywhere else.

The building on the right sounds like it is crying. The dock as a whole crushes the limestone into powder, and one of the primary uses of the white powder from this plant is to dye toilet paper white.
The dock we stopped at for unloading, in Superior, Wisconsin, the south side of Duluth, had a bunch of wildflowers growing where we tied up. I said "Ooh! Look at all the pretty flowers!" And bosun laughed. Then he looked down. Then he looked back at me. Then he said, "Once we tie up, go down there and pick me a bunch of flowers." At first I thought he was joking, but went along with it, and continued to go along with the joke all the way down to the dock, looking back up at him to laugh and call me off, continuing with the joke as I pulled out the flowers, taking care to keep as much of the root as possible, continuing with the joke as I climbed the ladder, one hand full of yellow and a few thin white flowers, and presented them to bosun.
The dock, complete with flowers.

"What is all this?" He said, pointing at a few dead leaves and fruiting buds. "This doesn't look like the flowers you get at the store."

"Well, I haven't cleaned them up yet." I said.

The rec room table in the middle of clean up.
"Ok, do that."

My flowers. They look better in person
I almost said that I needed to help the other two deckhands with the loading prep work, but then I didn't say it and went into the rec room and cleaned off the flowers. One had enough root left to replant in a coffee can and leave in the rec room, one bundle went to bosun, I kept one bundle, and I suspect the last bundle will go to the captain or someone else important. One of the ABs came in and asked if we were doing flower arranging now and I said yes, this is precious cargo.

From a bit further out. That couch really is quite comfy, but decoration is otherwise sparse.
On another note, if anyone in my sister's family is still reading this, could you send me Sam's NFL picks next week? I entered the NFL pool this morning and called all but four games, one behind the Chief Engineer, picking mostly at random. I am the most poorly paid person on the ship, but hopefully Sam can help me remedy that situation.
The finished product. Bosun used skype to 'deliver' the flowers to his wife back home. We really do live in the future, using hyper advanced technology for such mundane and human purposes.

Earning my $3.25 an Hour

We were working at the bow of the ship, docked here at Port Inland, Michigan, and we needed two brooms from the very back of the ship. The two of us walk all the way down there (the better part of 500 feet) and roommate grabs two brooms.

"Let me look busy, too." I say, grabbing at one of the broom handles. He lets me carry it and says, "This job, working on deck is not very hard. Sweeping and clamping and even the mooring lines, it is all very easy" he says in his slightly patronizing 'I am explaining things' mode. "The reason they pay us all this money," (he will make around $5,000 this month, some guys will make closer to $10,000, and a few will make even more than that) "is not because the job is difficult, but because we are on ship for three months away from home, and the money is for all the things we miss."

"Shit," I say, "I don't miss shit." I don't know that this job has done wonders for my vocabulary.

"I mean things like family and good food and fun times at home." He explains as though this were the most obvious thing in the world.

"Really? The food here is fantastic," I say, though in his case he eats very little of the best stuff because of his religious vegitarianism, "and other than the scenery being better, I live just like I did at home."

And it is true. There are a few differences, which I shall endeavor to list below, but really my downtime consists of books, games, and TV shows, all of which are loaded onto my laptop and telephone. The hours are not always nine to five, but they rarely go much past eight hours, and I have only had two days in the month that went over nine and a half hours, which is bad for my overtime pay, but pretty relaxing all in all.

To set at the differences, the biggest one is food. On the whole, it is much better than what I eat at home or anything I would ever have the patience to cook myself. I have no fear that I will be unable to return to simple rice, ramen, and chips, but it really is something to be excited for mealtime not because I will no longer be hungry, but because the food itself has become a joy. The only downside is that I don't get to do the shopping, so when they run out of oranges or the better sorts of chips I just have to do without for a few days until we get more.

The next biggest is the fact that I am living with a roommate. He isn't bad, either as a person or as a roommate, but he is another person who is different from me and things that would normally be effortless must now be negotiated. Fortunately, newer ships and higher ratings will spare me from this inconvenience in due time.

After that is internet access. I don't feel the lack, but I used to spend two to three hours every day sorting through news and various educational material, and that part of the day is simply gone. It is strange that I haven't even thought about what had been a major part of every day since high school until writing it down here. Of course, I also can't stream TV or movies, so I will have to make sure to collect everything that came out during these six months when I get home and store it on a hard drive for the next ship.

The work itself is different from what I was doing previously, but that is sort of the point, and in any case I didn't sign on to be a deckhand for the rest of my life, so I should hope the job changes again soon enough.

The scenery is fantastic, both the utilitarian beauty of most of the ports (except Waukegan. I didn't post photos because that place was really dull and ugly) and the natural beauty of the sea. It certainly beats staring at a half wall above which was the poorly kept common lawn of my old apartment complex.

Also, there are no cats, which makes me sad, but my cats have passed away in any case, and the lifestyle as a whole will prevent me from keeping more. Fortunately, I have found a bit of a substitute in the digital cats that run around in The Sims, the game I mentioned in an earlier post. Not quite the same, but it is what I have.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Junior Prognosticators

We came into Port Tawas, a few hours north of Saginaw, at around 5AM. This dock, like every other dock, is different from the ones I have seen before. All along the waterfront are homes that look like vacation homes, though they could well be permenent residences, and the dock itself is a tiny conveyor coming out from behind the trees onto a spiffy looking concrete island holding the loader mechanism. Walking back after mooring the ship, I noted that the loader looked pretty cool.

"This is my favorite type of loader" replied Dave.

"Why? Because it is so clean?" I asked, meaning that the load would go mostly into the hatch and not need much cleanup from us afterwards.

"Well, that too," he said, "but I mean because it moves itself." And we don't have to move the ship under the loader, like Dave spent ten hours doing last night at Bay City near Saginaw and has slept only three hours between now and then.

"If all of them were clean and loaded themselves, what would they need us for?" I asked the slightly more experienced crewmate.

"Well, shit, they wouldn't. With the way the industry is going, they would just fire us if the ports ever modernized."

"But then who would paint and scrape off grease?"

"They would get some AB to do it during his off hours."

Then we reached the hatch crane, so the conversation ended and we got back to work.

Shipboard Humor

On deck the preferred humor is the running joke. There is a certain state of mind to which this sort of work attracts itself in which one is timelessly vigilant over a few specified tasks and hazards and the mind is largely blank otherwise. A thought which while daydreaming can be conceived, digested, and tired of in ten minutes can on deck last a whole shift, without substantially more cognitive power applied to the idea over the differing durations. A casual comment here may be built on there, where there is three hours later, and the riposte may come five hours hence, and yet the compression of time caused by the job leaves it as fresh and timely as the rousing routine of a stand up comic. Overall, the type of humor is quite a lot like my own personal style of humor
the not very funny style.

Here is an unnecessary picture of the sea at night.
After much confusion (amongst the whole ship, not just me this time), we ended up stopping at the port of Calcite, named for its ample limestone deposits, to take on some giant rocks. And by giant, I mean the average stone is somewhere between fist size and head size and the hard hats we wear on deck are mere affectations in light of the hazards presented.

The port of Calcite. To the left is a big pile of limestone. To the right is another big pile of a different sort of limestone. Not pictured; other big piles of limestone.
As we are on approach, we are having our usual tiny meeting about which side we would be docking on and what kind of loaders were in use, but I was up on the forecastle, with my head right above where the wind hits the bow, so I heard a whole lot of whoosh whoosh whoosh and not a lot of what was actually being said. Bosun said "This will be a whoosh whoosh port", and I shout "What?" and my roommate clarifies, "A shovelling port. That means they have no cranes and we have to fill the cargo holds by hand." I didn't expect that this was true, but whether is was or not there was only one correct response; "Ok, I will go get the shovels". A shovelling port, for those keeping score at home, is just a port with leaky loaders and we have to shovel the excess dust off the deck and into the hold.
I don't know what that building is, but it looked cool.

No one tells me anything (so it is just like being at home with family), so I was unaware that the town is very close by and a general favorite for the crew to get off and shop for necessities and maybe go clubbing or whatever for the six hours it takes to load up. I did not go on shore this time, but I was right by the accomidation ladder watching the two GUDEs get off to do mooring work when right behind them was our chief cook, whose talent I have praised multiple times both here and in his galley. I asked if he was leaving and he said in his sort of hurried fashion that he was. I took this to mean that he was leaving for good, that today was his last day and we were getting a new cook, so I wass bemoaning and eulogizing while everyone just sort of built it up on me, while assigning me to go quite quickly up to the bow where I wouldn't see that about a quarter of the crew was getting off here. Suffice to say I caught the Steward Assistant getting off as well, a man who is very vocal about the twenty three and counting days he has left on ship, so I figured it out eventually.

Speaking of guys who count their time, I was waiting while a hatch was being filled talking to Dave. I try not to identify people by name on this blog, partly as a stylistic choice and partly to add one thin layer of anonymity to the whole affair. Sure, if the bosun reads this blog he is going to know exactly who I am talking about every time, but for some random stranger, hopefully addressing people by title keeps a little bit of creepy away. And on a ship there is a real extent to which you are your job title. Still, calling him the American GUDE, or the GUDE who is not my roommate, is a bit lengthy, so I will stick with Dave in his case. I don't have anything bad to say about him, but now I can't have anything bad to say about him even if I wanted to. I refuse to count my days, preferring to lose track of time completely until it comes time to fill out overtime slips, and Dave agrees that this is a more healthy attitude while still being unable to lose track of time as I can. So he was saying that when he got off the ship, sixty nine days from now, he was going to spend a whole morning not doing anything, then he would get a whole bunch of buffalo wings and watch a movie. And I say to him, didn't you do exactly that today? And he says, slightly startled, "Damn, I guess I did." I probably ate thirty wings between dinner, second dinner, evening snack, and post-bed meal, watched Chronicle on TV (a very good movie from a year or two back) and wasn't called in to work until noon, knocked off at two, then did dock work at seven PM.

I watched the tie up from up on deck next to one of the arabic ABs. Dave and my roommate were down on dock and the AB called out instructions to the two of them. To my roommate he called out "Tie up the midship line a bit forward" and he went off to go do that. To Dave he shouted in Arabic and gesticulated meaninglessly. Without missing a beat, Dave said, "Right, tie off there and a round turn on this one".
Bottom left: Dave. Top right: The AB. They aren't actually talking to each other in this picture, just waiting around, but it sure looks like they are.

Calcite is a multi part dock, and we were taking on different loads of stone, meaning that we tied up to one dock then cast off and moved over to another dock in the same port. The two men on dock, the GUDEs, were told to cast off and then swim over to the other side. "You mean walk around to the other side?" "Did I say that? What did I say?" Asked the bosun in his well practiced manner that suggests he is a little bit disappointed in your work. "But I am a weak swimmer" "That is why you have the floaty thingies, the lifevests" "But," Dave protested weakly, holding up part of his life vest, "It is a bit faded" I suggested. "So?" asked bosun. "Well, he can't be swimming at night if the highly visible jacket isn't highly visible." "Oh, ok. You can walk around then."
Panorama of the dock. That is bosun waving for the camera to the far right.

As Dave unties the last line and we start to pull away, I shout to the AB, loud enough for Dave to hear, that we should just leave them and sail away. Dave shouts back that the chief cook can't make no more buffalo wings for me if he is stuck in Calcite making buffalo wings for him. I conceded the point. Once untied, the AB motioned for me to come a bit closer so that he could tell me what to do. I came up about three inches from his face (the distance necessary to hear over the noises) and he babbles in Arabic at me. I look down and start dragging the freed mooring lines over to port side, looking to him for any indication that I am doing the wrong thing. I say to him that I probably wouldn't have understood what he was saying over all the noise even if he had said something that I could understand, and the AB replied that what he had said didn't make sense in Arabic either, he had just been babbling nonsense.

Jerry Seinfeld does not sail upon the MV Sam Laud.

On another note, bats love ships. All the lights at night attract bugs, and they do us the courtesy of eating as many of the fuckers as they can. Unfortunately, bats do not wear hard hats, and I found my third bat casualty, another torn wing, suffering on the deck. I tried to get it on a shovel to throw it back on land (which is, apparently, the correct solution), but it was just squirmy enough to not stay on the shovel long enough to get it across the ship. I pushed it under a pipe where it wouldn't get stepped on, but when I checked back later it was gone. I like to think that it got suddenly all better, yay!, and flew away to eat more bugs and have a happy bat family, but probably it just fell in the water and drowned slowly. They sure are cute, though.
Here is our friend, the bat. He doesn't look like he is having much fun.
And here is a small bird on the deck. It wasn't crippled, and flew away to its happy bird family.