Monday, August 25, 2014

I think I like this ship

These posts are all going to be coming a little delayed, since it seems like I can only get full internet in big cities like Detroit and Cleveland, and then only when I am off duty. I am writing them as they happen, but can only post when I get to post.

On my end, yesterday's fiasco ended far better than it should have. I spent twenty four hours panicking about missing my ship, then in Muskegon I sat for five hours at a dock that wasn't so much a dock as a small warehouse next to the lake that happened to have some bollards hiding in the weeds. Fortunately for me (unfortunately for the ship, because it sounds like their shipping schedule is screwed up now), the ship had problems with incliment weather on the way over and was also late as all hell. The two cancelled out and no one seems to know that I had a short brush with being less than punctual.

In any event, during the wait I had a good lesson in just how fantastically ignorant I am of the industry that has taken me in. At Piney Point we learn about mooring a ship to a dock or pier. They teach us what they call "standard" eight line mooring, as well as the six line variant, and those two show up on the test. We also get exposed to the a few Navy mooring practices, as well as some more exotic things like mediterranian mooring, but these are presented to us as outliers that we should be aware of, not know about.

Next to the industrial "dock" that I sat on was a much more professional dock which berthed a Milwuakee to Muskegon ferry. When the ferry pulled up I got sort of excited and, because I had nothing else to do, went over to watch it tie up. As the ferry got closer and closer I reviewed in my mind the "single standard best practices" for line handling during mooring and tried to observe the ferry crew carrying them out, but they didn't seem to be doing what the book said they should. Eventually I realized that nothing I learned about mooring applied to that vessel, because there was a special locking ramp mechanism that the ferry hooked onto to hold it in place.

Probably not the last word in modern docking facilities. I feel like I have seen pictures of better harbors in Nigeria.


195 Meters of Adventure! The MV Sam Laud!
Eventually, the Sam Laud pulls up. I excitedly lug my one duffel bag and one tattered backpack over to where, according to the standard mooring diagrams, the gangplank should come down. The one man who works the dock (and only part time, showing up only once the ship is visible in the small Muskegon bay) pulls up in his truck and asks me what I am doing. I say I am waiting to get on the ship, show him my documents, and he says I am all clear, but the ship wasn't going to pull into the berth. He drove me over to the water's edge, where the ship stopped and launched a small rowboat with two crewmen who carried over three mooring cables. These they placed without apparent reguard for the proper 90 degree angle of a breast line or thought to whether the spring lines should be attached first. They just put them on back to front.
This is how we get on and off the ship in backwards ports like Muskegon

It was during this mooring procedure that I got my very first order, one which has turned out to be my primary function aboard the ship. "Stay out of the way and watch while we take care of this". I was worried, thinking 'oh no! all those people on the ship can see me not working', but I didn't need to worry becuase these guys are of the opinion that guys coming out of first phase at Piney Point don't know shit. I got on the ship after they tied up by way of the tiny rowboat, and my belongings were hoisted up as I went up the accomidation ladder. They gave me my stuff, walked me into my room and said, "Stay out of the way. Don't go on deck. You can sign articles if we have time tomorrow." They unloaded half their cargo of crushed limestone in a big pile, then sailed up to another port an hour away and unloaded the rest of it. I participated in none of that, had time to sign a very few forms, and then went to sleep while they were still unloading.
Watching the unloading from my window.

The next day (this morning, but it really seems like it has already been longer than that), I realized that no one had told me when to report, or to whom I should report. I did remember that breakfast was at 7AM, so I went and ate, and then asked the chief steward what he thought I should do. He sent me up to the pilot house, where I filled out more forms and watched safety videos until 8:30. A moment on safety-- These guys really mean it. Everybody on this ship (that I have seen) talks the safety talk and walks the safety walk. Protective equipment is handed out like candy, and crewmen will stop operations to explain why I am about to lose a leg standing there. I have probably been reminded about being safe thirty times today, and the company safety policy of stop, talk, and proceed, is practiced on every job I have seen.

In any case, I eventually got directed to the bosun, who asked me if I wanted to start on the deck or in the galley. I thought about just how cold it is going to get in a few months, and decided I should try and get my outdoor shift done while the weather is still nice, so I am spending the next thirty days apprenticed to the deck department. My very first task was to hammer the mooring wire back in place as they heaved slowly onto the winch, a task which demonstrated what I had already started to notice by looking at my crewmates, that I am probably the physically weakest person on this ship right now. But I didn't complain and apparently hammered to the bosun's satisfaction, so we moved on to cutting off the frayed ends of the eye of another mooring wire with a blowtorch. He got to play with the blowtorch while I spun the wire around, just down wind of the sparks. I had my helmet and jacket, but iron sparks are still no fun at all. Then I got placed on a task that Piney Point really did train me for, organizing a storage locker, cleaning a head, then sweeping and mopping the poop deck (where the galley is).

I see now the great benefit of shipping on the lakes. As old as this ship is, there is very little rusting and no regular painting jobs. On an ocean vessel, I would be spending a part of every day painting, but here when they aren't in port and there are no emergencies, there really isn't too terribly much that has to get done. My roommate, and more on him later, has no regular hours, he just gets summoned whenever there is work to be done. Yesterday he worked from 6PM to 10PM, though he says he has had 20 hour days on occasion.

About the ship, we have five cargo holds that we fill up with rock-like objects; crushed limestone lately, but also coal and iron. We don't seem to have a set route, but instead take whatever is in demand, hitting port usually every day or every other day. The ship itself was built in 1975, but has been retrofitted with those two most important amenities, satelite TV and limited internet. The age shows, though, and I feel like everyone should be sporting thick 80's mustaches. Still, it is comfortable and the lake has been so calm that there isn't hardly any roll to the ship at all.

Everyone works, and everyone strives to always have a perfect product, but no one seems to work hard or very quickly. It isn't that they don't care, they just don't see a reason to kill themselves, since the normal course of a day will see all their work done in any case. It is a work ethic different from my own, which has always been to go as fast as I can and kill myself working and then get done super early, but I don't think it will be terribly difficult to conform to this gentler pace. And I get the distinct impression that they can do quite a lot very quickly should the need arise.

Anyway, I am still getting familiar with the ship and the crew, and apparently I can get enough internet to post updates whenever I have downtime (Update: I can only get internet when near the largest of US cities, like Detroit). But for now, I think it is time to sleep.
Sailing Away From The Sunset

1 comment:

  1. Never rush! That's your overtime you're burnin' up! :P

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