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.

1 comment:

  1. Different ships will have different routines but the standard SIU Deep Sea contract has the coffee times listed as 1000-1015 and 1500-1515. How much leeway they want to give from that point is up to the folks that run the show aboard but that IS the contract.

    Just my 2 cents.