Thursday, December 27, 2012

Photo Bomb!

Here you can see the lashing bridges and deck hatch covers... 

I mentioned the phenomenon of "cushion," where close banks push the boat around... here you can see the cushion effect in the wake of the ship.

Crepuscular Rays!

The sky is always layered.

My "station" at night.  You can see the traffic was heavy, here.

The Rock of Gibraltar- I had the "Get A Piece of the Rock" commercial and Bob Sieger's "Like A Rock" stuck in my head for days.

An inside joke for my coffee shop peeps.

Did I post this?  Columbo, Sri Lanka.  

Best photo my cellphone can do of the sunrise.  It won't do stars, afraid to say.

Suez Canal.

Suez Canal convoy traffic.

Add your own caption.

My traveling companions... 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

The waxing gibbous moon lit 4-6 meter confused seas like a silver road
during my midnight to 0400 watch on Christmas Eve, as bands of rain washed
over us, pushed right into our teeth by a 40 knot westerly. Orion, Canlis
Major, and Taurus peaked out from between the waves of silver-lined clouds
and showers.

Having just learned the term "crepuscular rays," (the shafts of light that
come down through clouds from a sun nearing the horizon, sometimes called
"Backstays to the Sun") I am now confounded by what to call their lunar
equivalent, because I saw several instances where shafts of moonlight came
down through the clouds last night, and "lunar crepuscular rays" is too
cumbersome. Bowditch had nothing for me, but I did learn about lunar and
solar pillars (rays that go both up and down from the moon or sun)... I'm on
the lookout now to see them. I will create a term as soon as I have Google
again and can explore the components and origins of the word "crepuscular,"
because "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," and all
that... I'd like the term to be a nicely balanced counterpoint to its solar
equivalent that is based on the same roots.

I spent Christmas Eve day (my overtime shift) swinging and prying on the
lashing rod turnbuckles and stopper nuts with the stick of rebar that
Egyptians, Sri Lankans, and Singaporeans call a "spanner," but what I have
recently named a "wonder-bar," pronounced "voonderbar," which means
"wonderful" in German. It's the least I can do to gussy-up the caveman-like
task of climbing up and down grease-covered lashing bridges and beating on
crap for a dollar. In the rain, of course... North Atlantic in the winter
and all that... let's not make it more glamorous than it needs to be.

And for my evening overtime shift of Christmas Eve and morning overtime
shift Christmas Day we replaced the cables that raise and lower the
gangways. Picture this- 3 people wrestling several hundred feet of steel
cable in a somewhat confined area, with buckets of grease, grabbing handfuls
of it and slathering every inch of the cable as it's slowly spooled up... in
the rain of course. I kept picturing a county fair somewhere in the
heartland of America and a lone, freaked-out piglet in a corral being chased
by 8 year-olds in bib-overalls.

For my Christmas Day watch the seas ranged from gunmetal to US Navy
Destroyer grey, the water was the color of the igneous rock, chert (a cheap
cousin to flint), which churned a dirty moss green that was identical in hue
to the unchurned water. A blanket of cumulous clouds at 500 feet kept the
cold in, and about half-way through watch the gentle following wind began to
build and swing around to our starboard side (out of the north) into what
will be a high wind problem for me as I steer the ship into NYC early
tomorrow morning. All I need is a serious current and a lot of traffic to
make my job a little bit challenging. If the pilot has an Egyptian accent I
will be in pure nirvana.

And I have been pondering a mathematical puzzle: I have noted on many
occasions that when my boat has all the water in the world around it and
just one other boat shows up, it is usually on a course that brings it close
enough to be a problem for me. If I apply that principle to 18 nm (approx.
visibility to the horizon on this ship), we're talking about an area of 1020
nm. Obviously the odds are less than 1 in 1020 for a CPA (closest point of
approach) of 1 mile... what is the factor that applies to the 1/1020 odds
that makes it mathematically correct? I have hypothesized the number of
directions of common courses divided by 360 possible degrees, which is a
factor of .005 for a main course that runs in 2 directions, that gives me a
1 in 5 chance of collision. That jibes with reality as I know it, but a
mathematician is needed to tell me how absurd my 14th 15-hour-day-in a-row
logic is, or is not.

OK. Merry Christmas. I'm going to get as much sleep as possible- it's
going to be a looooong morning of driving and docking and craning and all
the things ships do in port.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Crepuscular Rays and Tehuantepecers

The Old Man steered me to "The American Practical Navigator," mostly
referred to after the author's name, "Bowditch." If it's in Bowditch, most
ocean sailors consider it worth knowing.

Some of the following stuff we discussed, others I spent the rest of the
watch reading up on:

A "foehn wind" is a very strong seasonal wind that blows down a mountain and
over the sea and is typically warm and dry. There is much more to it, but
them's the basics. A "fall wind" is very similar, but it blows down a
mountain and out over the sea colder than a foehn wind, and can be extremely

Foehn winds in the Aleutians and around the Strait of Magellan are known as
"Williwaws." In the Straits of Georgia, in British Columbia, they're known
as "a Qualicom." The foehn wind of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico, is
known as a "Tehuantepecer," pronounced "teh-want-teh-pecker." Notable fall
winds are the "Mistral" of the western Mediterranean and the "Bora" of the
eastern Mediterranean.

Second Mate told me about his ship being stuck in anchorage for two days by
hurricane force winds that blew down a nearby mountain randomly and without
warning on a clear, warm, beautiful day- he said he could see the edge of
the wind to the east and the other edge to the west, beyond which was calm,
but where they were... a nasty fall wind.

When rays of the sun stream down from clouds in the sky (like a motivational
poster in a middle school classroom), those are known as "crepuscular rays,"
which literally means "twilight rays." If you see them shining upward, as I
sometimes see just before sunset above the Olympic Mountains at the height
of summer, those are known as "anticrepuscular rays."

A few weeks ago I erroneously referred to the constellation of Corvus as the
Southern Cross- it is actually known as "The Crow." The Southern Cross is
the constellation Crux, a full 40 degrees further to the south within the
sphere of the sky. I saw it from the equator, but not in the Arabian Sea...
my bad.

Cirrostratus clouds (or rather, one of the many cirrostratus clouds) are
known as "mare's tails." When the frozen moisture that makes up the
cirrostratus melt, they drop in altitude and become altostratus and portend
rain. When you have a bunch of different types of altocumulus in the same
sky it is known as a "chaotic sky." And that ever present, 800 foot lid of
sky fog in Seattle? That is a layer of straight-up, undiluted stratus
clouds and I dislike them very much.

We are currently west of the Grand Banks, a shelf that sticks far out into
the north Atlantic and is only about 100 meters deep. We crossed most of
"The Tail of The Bank" while on my watch- it was eerily calm and devoid of
waves and swells alike- then I hit the sack. About an hour into my sleep I
could tell when we passed back into the deep water as the swells hit again,
and they've been with us ever since.

During the watch I just finished the wind moved around into our teeth and
kicked up to 35 knots true while bands of rain and clouds washed over us.
The 3.5 meter swells were, and still are, on our port beam, but not long
after 2-4 meter wind waves built and the confused seas we're in now are
something to see: the ocean is black, the water is ink of the same hue that
churns a cloudy-summer-day blue, and the whitehorses are throwing stark
white spray straight up into the wind.

And amidst it all? 400 miles from the nearest land? Sea birds. I don't
know what brand of feather they wear, but they're out here, oblivious to the
foul weather, and it does my head in. You'll read about not seeing birds
until you're close to land and I can assure you that that is total bullshit-
they own this place and they go where they want, distance and hardship be
damned. There isn't a place I haven't seen them, skimming the massive
swells, as if their job is to provide perspective to the Extraordinary
Ordinary so that I know exactly how big these swells actually are. If they
are flying to a nest at the closest land 400 miles away, that means their
territorial range is at minimum 800 nautical miles across and 502,000 square
nautical miles in area... they are the true mariners- we aboard this ship
are mere interlopers.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Extra! Extra!

North Atlantic gray. Gray sky, gray water, gray outlooks. The 10 meter
swells on our nose have become 4.5 meter swells from north-by-northwest with
5 meter cross sea swells from the south, a confused mess that is creating a
serious yaw (twisting motion along the x-axis) and a pitching that has no
rhythm, whatsoever. We keep getting an error message of "maximum gyro turn
rate," an error message I've only seen one other time- while steering us out
of Singapore we took evasive maneuvers to avoid a tug and barge and the 30
degree turn rate set off the same alarm and message. The 50 knot winds have
moved around and are coming from south-by-southwest.

We did three drills today- fire in the starboard generator room, oil spill
while bunkering (fueling up) on the main deck, and donning our immersion
suits (also known as "gumby suits" because they make you look like Gumby- of
course). You're supposed to be able to put one on in 2 minutes or less... I
can do mine in about 50 seconds (Yay me! I live!).
We're all anxious to see how the upcoming longshoreman strike plays out...
Solidarity! But please no inconvenience... I really want to see Laura.
Weather, scheduling, and now labor are conspiring to deny us.

For the last two months the chief mate has gone fore and aft, from one "rose
box" (bilge) to the next, filling them up to get prime, then pumping them
out again and losing that painfully-acquired prime. Which is to say that he
almost gets the pump-system working. Almost. Over and over again. Like an
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His diagnosis is that there is an
introduction of air into the system at the pickups (pipe inlets), but after
two months of the mates getting low or high bilge alarm calls at all hours
of the day and night (and grumbling about it), the deck dragging fire hoses
in and out of the holds from the tunnels (and bitching about it), and
endless hours of confused radio chatter about which pump, fire hose or
bilge, needs to be turned on or off and who can or can't hear what- the
Extraordinary Ordinary is crying "bullshit" and declaring the pump is- in
the technical nomenclature of the deck department, "fucked up."

You heard it here first.

N. Atlantic

6-12 meter seas (has died down a hair today) and 50 knot winds... oh my!
Wave disabled the forward radar last night during my watch. Aaaaand... you
can watch the ship twist and wrack if you look forward in the tunnels.

It's supposed to be worse tomorrow, and the day after that we should hit the
Laborador Current and the real cold will begin.

Yesterday I painted dogs on watertight doors to the forecastle and paint
locker- a bucket of paint in one hand, a paintbrush in the other, and damn
near weightlessness as the bow fell 60 feet at a time, crashed into a swell
with a start, then gravity kicked back in as I swung skyward... the Bosun
stood by joking around as I staggered and made an unholy mess. Highly
amusing moment.

I called Laura on the sat phone for her birthday- NOT ideal, for sure... if
all works well I will get to visit her at one port or another on the east
coast. Apparently there is a longshoreman strike getting started so all is
up in the air.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time Pieces Are Oppressive.


Today's seas south of Turkey saw every color gradient laid out in spokes,
radiating out from the ship to the horizon like a cut pie made up of
different flavored pieces- slate, cobalt, navy, sky blue, silver- with a
dark bold stroke where the lighter colored seas met the horizon, and a
bright stroke where the dark seas did. The water itself was squid ink that
churned Tiffany's blue. The sky was layered with cirrus, cirrostratus, and
cumulous- only thin patches of blue peaked out from behind.

When I first went up to relieve the watch I thought there was a serious
problem with the electronics. It claimed we were churning 89 RPM for 22
knots! But with the following seas and the smooth water it appeared we were
moving less than a quarter of that- a bizarre effect that felt like slow

Soon, however, hi temp alarms ("high-liners") started going off. That giant
12 cylinder engine has temperature sensors on the port and starboard sides
of each cylinder wall. A computer screen on the bridge displays each
temperature on a digital log. When the temperature of just one of those 24
sensors reaches 200 degrees, the alarms from hell go off. The Old Man comes
up, the Chief Engineer comes up and berates him, all while these insistent
alarm claxons are foretelling total melt-down.

I would assume the correct response would be to increase the rate of flow of
oil to that spot, thereby cooling it down. Or perhaps do that while
reducing RPM and when things stabilize, bump it back up. Nope. That isn't
what's done. You fill up either the starboard or port ballast tanks and
heel the ship away from the hot spots. No shit. If it's hot on #12 port,
initiate a starboard list. #5 starboard, initiate a port list.

The piston crowns are 36 inches across. The crank arms are 8 feet. They
travel about 12 feet with each stroke. Each piston crown has 3 rings which
seal it to the cylinder wall, but these rings rotate around the crowns at
will. When they all three line up just right, the spaces where they break
align and hot spots form... Each trip to NYC and Singapore a crown gets
replaced, so the new piston crowns run at about 175 - 180 degrees. The old
ones, however, hang out above 193. It doesn't take long for one to heat up
and set off the alarm. They will hang out at one temperature all day, then,
suddenly and inextricably, spike up to over 200.

Should that temp remain above 200 for 10 minutes- a mandatory and automatic
slow down occurs. 35 RPM and 7 knots. And somewhere, in Singapore and on
this ship, heads roll.


Today was a gray day, shades of gray as far as the eye could see. Gray
water, gray sky, gray mood. I whipped out my Seattle sun-glasses... they
have yellow lenses which "brighten" everything and increase the contrast,
very useful in the PNW's autumns, winters, springs, and summers. They did
little for the mood.

We retard clocks again today- third day in a row. We're now on Greenwich
Time (or as it's now known, UTD, Universal Time and Date- I think). I gain
40 minutes of sleep, but my watch is 20 minutes longer... and how does this
ship keep up with time when it keeps on changing, day after day, retard
after retard or advance after advance? Or rather, how does the crew keep
up? The watchkeepers are their reliefs' alarm clocks.

To Illustrate: at 0715 my phone rings. When I answer it, someone say's
"0715 for 0745," and then unceremoniously hangs up. The same thing happens
at 2315. You really don't need an alarm clock on a ship- in theory. I set
about 10 alarms- several for wake-ups (just in case), and several for
call-outs (when I call other people to wake them up). In port I get calls
to do crane lifts at all hours. I get calls to do gang watch, security
watch, anchor watch, rig the pilot ladder, or steer the ship. But I also
have to make the calls to my watch's reliefs. So I call my relief and say
"1515 for 1545" and then unceremoniously hang up. I'll do the same for the
mate (who wants a call-out at a different time). You do NOT want to screw
this up... there is, as I have learned, either a "time penalty," or "an
embarrassment penalty" coming to you (I opted for the time penalty, but got
both instead- yay!).

When I'm sleep deprived, this entire process gets a little more complicated,
because since I have been on this ship I have been dreaming that I am
working, or I have made a callout, or my phone is ringing... it's like when
my friend Paul taught me AutoCAD- I was dreaming keystrokes and geometry for
months. I am dreaming the mundane crap you just have no way of knowing, and
therefore preparing for, about life on a ship. So I set alarm clocks. So I
can verify. Like in that movie, "Memento."

Every day the Great Dane practices his stoically delivered Danish witticisms
when I make my callouts. If you can't tell the difference between Danish
and Scandinavian wit, consider yourself lucky. I find the guy hysterical,
personally, and not just because he almost passed out laughing at my
favorite not-funny-joke (Q: Why do seagulls live by the sea? A: Because if
they lived by the bay they'd be bay gulls) but because each day he practices
his one-liners. My favorites so far: Why do you keep bothering me? Good
morning, déjà vu! You can't make me...

Speaking of the Great Dane- he was on watch when our vessel met another that
had "Target" written on the side of the hull. Due to the traffic situation
we went to starboard and into the path of a ship named "Haarm..." He's been
laughing about putting us into harm's way ever since.

Anyway- in today's trifecta of imperfection, I am opting to have a shower
and sleep, therefore I am skipping dinner (clean, fed, or rested- pick two).
Which is to say that this blog post is now finished for today...

Tomorrow- Straits of Gibraltar, again... hopefully I get to see them this

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Last one on stars. Promise.

I have seen 41 years of fantastic night skies- crystal clear winter nights
on the southeastern coast and clear summer nights out on the Puget Sound-
but nothing I have seen compares to the night skies above the Red Sea. We
steamed northwest during the night bearing straight at Cassiopeia and I
spent a couple hours admiring the galaxy in Andromeda, which is the only
galaxy visible to the naked eye (as I understand it). Then I went aft to do
my watch on the stern and there is really little else to do BUT gaze at the
stars during those hours. So yeah... I really don't have much else to talk

Through the binoculars there is a depth to the sky that gives a three
dimensional, vertigo-inducing effect. Of course the meteors were stunning,
too, and I saw two at once that crossed each others' paths perfectly
perpendicularly... I haven't ever seen that before! The clarity is just
stupefying- the unobstructed view of stars spinning around, night after
night, clearly illustrates the mechanics of a spinning earth hanging
suspended in our particular corner of the galaxy like no planetarium could
ever dream of reproducing. Don't let the song "Wheel In The Sky" get stuck
in your head... that sucks.

So it's no wonder the Arab World developed celestial navigation thousands of
years ago... with a sky like this it makes perfect sense. I also wonder if
perhaps the Jews wandering in the wilderness couldn't be a perfect metaphore
of the transition from pre-to-post celestial mathematical society: Clearly
it is far too sophisticated to be just the work of bored shepherds
scratching equations in the sand- perhaps it did take 40 years of investment
by wandering, nomadic tribes who needed the ability to navigate the deserts
for trade to observe, accumulate data, develop the formulas, and test the
results. This is certainly the sky for it.

Right at this moment (0800) we are slowly making way through the Suez Canal,
again. We have taken on the "linemen," electrician, and pilot. I made the
mistake of drinking coffee before learning that we're doing 3-man rotations,
the long and short of which is that I need to sleep for the next 4 hours
(after working 14 hours yesterday and 6 already today), but that isn't going
to happen. Dammit.

In 4 hours I will be steering this boat through the canal, and one item of
interest about steering a ship through a ditch: Cushion- the effect of water
bouncing off the bank and pushing the boat one way or the other. It feels
like a cross current to the helmsman (me). In calm waters I "set up the
swing" of the bow, and once she goes, she keeps swinging until I stop her
with a reverse rudder. With cushion effect, even though the boat is pointed
exactly where you want her to be pointed, the whole ship moves sideways
toward one bank or the other regardless of swing... a little bit of a
problem, no? The only way to compensate is to go just fast enough to steer,
but not fast enough to create a lot of cushion. That is 12 knots for us.
There is also "squat," in shallow water, but this here ditch is deep enough
to not have to deal with that, too (If you thought of "squat" as the boat
squatting in the water and hitting the bottom then give yourself a gold

And I suspect "channel" and "canal" are derivatives of a common ancestor.
Damned without google. Simply damned.

Righteo. Must try to sleep, at least.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter Is Coming.

As we get closer to the Suez Canal the air has gotten... lighter. Not a
lot, but I can tell the damp, heavy low pressure along the equator is
meeting less damp, slightly less low pressure air and the sweat-fest will
soon be over. Apparently, as soon as we leave the Suez Canal. Once we're
in the Med the long pants come out. Once we pass Gibraltar the jackets come
out. Once we get on the other side of the Gulf Stream, the
mind-blowing-cold arctic air that pummels northeastern Canada and the United
States will hit us "like a wall," according to everyone aboard who has made
this run in the past. I will have transported the chemically reactive
hand-warmers that Clay bought me last time I was in Savannah (an entire
case!) halfway around the world and back before they get used... but boy
howdy! Am I glad knowing I have these things! I owe him more than the
money they cost, that's for sure!

As we travel northwest up the Red Sea I am slowly but surely losing my view
of Corvus, which, unless I am mistaken (a likely event), is the
constellation known as the "Southern Cross." I have been looking at it for
over a month now, saying to myself "hmmm.... I don't know you....." but even
the stars I know I doubt. I think it's because of a Mark Twain quote which,
according to my leaking brain and lack of Google, I am forced to paraphrase
as "It isn't the things I don't know that cause me problems, but rather the
things I know for certain."

Having said that, last night the second mate pulled out the 2012 Nautical
Almanac which has tables for celestial navigation and there were, much to my
delight, two pages showing the northern, southern, and equatorial stars.
There are no named clusters (ie. The Big Dipper is really part of Ursa Major
and isn't a constellation, and therefore, isn't named), but when you wish on
a falling star and it gets answered you'll take what you can get... so
remember- make those wishes count, kids! Anyway, I photocopied it and took
it to my watch and, with the exception of Gemini and Canis Major, 14 years
in the Pacific Northwest hasn't totally eroded my knowledge of the night sky
- but damn! It has taken a little while to recall it!

I am embarrassed to admit- but I do so willingly for your entertainment-
that it has taken me two weeks to realize what I have off-handedly been
calling Aldebaran (brightest star in Taurus) is actually Jupiter transiting
through the middle of the constellation above the actual star of Aldebaran.
Oops! At least I remembered the frikkin' star... I will be putting fish
heads into the hub caps of anyone who recommends crossword puzzles as a way
of "exercising the memory," too, so be forewarned.

Today we did more drills- lifeboat, galley fire, and missing person. I
called Laura with the sat phone and we finally got to connect- only 12 hours
difference, but we retard clocks again tonight so it will soon be 11 (and

The ocean is a rose covered slate right now as the sun falls behind the
Sudanese side of the Red Sea, but all day it has been tarnished silver over
deep navy out to the horizon. The water itself has been squid ink that
churns baby blue. Visibility at the least was 4.4 miles, but it had
increased to 18 miles by the time my watch was done and I was happy to see
the horizon for the first time in over a week- it becomes a bit cloying and
claustrophobic when it's less than 10 miles, believe it or not... when it's
like that I spend a lot of time dialing in the radar I use (there are 3
total) and consulting the AIS data (anti collision reporting system,
basically) on the ECDIS (really fancy chartplotter with AIS and radar

All in all, not a bad day in the life of the Extraordinary Ordinary. Yes,
you can call me that- for a couple more months, anyway.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Where there's smoke...

During my watch yesterday afternoon up on the bridge, a funky, burning smell
assaulted me and the mates as we yapped about some mundane, unimportant
triviality. We radioed the cargo office and the chief mate confirmed they,
too, could smell smoke there, too- 7 floors down. Then the bridge started
to get a bit... hazy. Soon we had to open the doors for ventilation as the
smell of burning metal/rubber grew quite strong.

Within two minutes all work on the ship had ceased. Parties formed and were
dispatched to search the source of the smoke. There was no radio chatter,
there were no jokes. Contingencies and training were in my mind, for
sure... I'm pretty sure that was the case with everyone- None of the
normally incessant bitching was heard. Within 5 minutes
the source of the smoke was located- a bearing in one of the air handling
units had caught fire but fortunately didn't spread.

We are approaching the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aden right now, which is
probably the most patroled bit of water in the world. The radar continually
gets pinged by weird, crop-circle-like video from what I assume are the dark
and silent military vessels that frequently hail with "securite" messages
from such-and-such warship requesting all vessel traffic to report
suspicious or illegal activity.

Nevertheless, even out here in the empty, isolated Wild Wild Far-East, you
get your navigational jackasses who display reckless ignorance that could
get themselves killed (and get us a lot of paperwork). Last night we went
to hand steering as the second mate directed a series of manouvers to avoid
one idiot who crossed the traffic scheme. He was doing 6 knots... we were
doing more than 20. When you turn a ship going more than 20 knots you
definitely know it! She heels waaaaay over, really fast.

But since that was the extent of the excitement for that watch- I'll take
it. It did allow me to remove the toothpicks I'd inserted between my
eyelids to keep them open, at least... and judging by the complete lack of
conversation we had going on, that was true for the second mate, too.

Oh. Did I forget to mention that I am back on watches with the second mate
(who I like) and no longer on watches with the third mate I've been so
cavalier at disparaging? Having no internets means I can't simply scroll
down to see... The irony of this fortunate turn of events is that I'd
finally reached some sort of understanding with the third and we were moving
beyond the impasse that had accompanied us across the Atlantic, the Med, the
Red Sea, and 1.5 times across the Indian Ocean.....

It's 0830 and I've worked 8 hours already today... I'm going to bed.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Adaption and Stuff

We're almost across the Arabian Sea and into the Gulf of Aden. We go on 24
hour stern watches again tonight, and retard the clocks 1 hour- which
translates as an extra 40 minutes of sleep, 20 minutes more on my 12x4
watch, and then at 0400 I'll go to the stern until 0800. Sleep will fall
between 0800 and 1120, then again at 1600 until 1700 (as if), and finally
(after dinner) at 1745 until 2245. 2245 until 2315 in the pool and take a
shower. Then do it all over again.

Since my last post we have had hazy, overcast skies and monsoon rains-
visibility is right around 5 nautical miles with the binoculars. The ocean
has been "cloud-cover gray" to the horizon, with an "epic-dude cobalt-blue"
water that churns a powder blue.

Also, I picked up a an intestinal distress in Sri Lanka. S.O.S., dot dot
dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot! One of these days I'm going to post a
"TMI Guy" tell-all about all the awkward *ahem* crap you never wanted to
know about being at sea.

I saw my first ever, actual, honest-to-god, flying fish today. After using
the chisel and needle gun in a confined space first thing in the morning (at
8, after working 6 hours already, of course), my job shifted to being a
remote switch for the pressure washer... which is to say, I had to stand-by
to throw a switch twice until knocking off for lunch. A job waaaaay too
good for an Ordinary, even when we're talking about The Extraordinary
Ordinary (yes, slowly my self-anointed nickname is sticking). Anyway, my
eyeballs were free to stare into the water sliding by at 20.5 knots and I
saw what I thought was a bird skimming the water down below me, until it
disappeared into the water and my slow-ass brain got around to processing
what it had just witnessed.

It was in the air for a remarkable amount of time! They do literally fly,
and for a great distance, too (hence the "flying" bit in their name). Their
short, stubby little bodies have sizable, translucent "wings" that look to
be clumsily adapted, as if they were in a hurry to evolve and decided to
skip all the design-review crap and do it in the least amount of time, for
the least amount of money, with no thought to enhancing the overall cohesive
image of the fish at all. And in every drawing of flying fish I saw as a
child they were pictured with big grins... I didn't actually see a grin (I
was looking down at him and couldn't see his face, after all), but I now
know why they're drawn that way- they just saved a bundle on evolution!

Anyway, I thought I would mention the "tools" of the trade for an
ocean-going commercial sailor. Just like carpenters carry hammers, tape
measures, and pencils in the aprons or belts they wear, sailors have a list
of tools they must carry at all times. When on the bridge for watchkeeping
all sailors carry a small flashlight (the dimmer the better), a knife,
sunglasses, and their keys (I add to that an alarm clock); and when on the
deck for day-work, all sailors carry a knife, small channel lock pliers, a
flashlight (bright), their keys, earplugs, air nozzle, safety glasses, water
bottle, and gloves. I have four pair of gloves, two knives, two
multi-tools, 3 types of eye protection for daywork, 3 pair of sunglasses for
watchkeeping... it's a sizable pile of crap.

I mention it because Laura has witnessed my daily beach-side ritual of
wandering around the house, patting various pockets on various parts of my
body, incanting my house-leaving spell: "Keys, Cell-phone, Wallet... Keys,
Cell-phone, Wallet..." That is some complicated math before coffee! But,
it is so much worse, now, with my absurd laundry list of crap, because if I
forget my bright flashlight I'll be down in the dark cargo holds. If I
forget my earplugs I'll be running a chipping hammer. If I forget my
channel locks I'll be dicking-around with fittings all morning. You should
see how bright the sun can shine down here near the equator when you forget
your sunglasses in your quarters and you're surrounded by mirror-like seas!

OK. I have crap to do, and so do you...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Columbo City, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has been in a civil war for the last 30 years and Columbo City still has heavily armed military personnel and the pall of destruction everywhere you look.  In spite of it, I really enjoyed the city- the poverty wasn't overwhelming, the people were helpful (if not happy), and there is construction all around.  The only western business I saw was a Western Union, and prices for everything were rock bottom.  For 3 of us at the finest restaurant in the city the finest meal cost us $40- which the AB's refused to let the Ordinary pay for.  Or the taxi, for that matter.  Peaches Warrior Princess and the Wrestler gave me the lay of the land so next time I can explore more than the 1 hour that I did manage to check out (while they got massages).  I had the driver take me to the Buddhist Monastery and it was pretty damned amazing:

Very big Buddha... probably 20' high, which gives you an idea of the size of those elephant tusks.

Close up detail to the right of the Buddha (above).

Arch detail in the room with Buddha.
Buddhas from around the world gifted to this monastery. 

Details like this are everywhere you look.  This one has boobies!

The Buddha fasted beneath the boa tree for six months before he became the Buddha.

Chinese Buddhas gifted to the monastery.

Nope.  Too stupid to get video so you could hear it.  My bad.
And of course, an outrigged canoe at the British Hotel where the food was quite tasty.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Video of Launch Ride Through Anchorage

This is the launch cruising through the anchorage going into Singapore... very crowded- several hundred ships, at least.  Video eats my internets at a fast rate, so I won't be uploading too many of these...

The sea coming back through the Straits of Malacca was like a sheet of slate out to the horizon, with an earthy, khaki-colored highlight to it in contrast to the overcast gray of the sky.  In its depths, the water was like obsidian (even in the glass-like cut of the waves), turning to an aquamarine cloud when churned. 
The sky had several layers of clouds- very high cirrus, alto-cumulous, and straight-up cumulous- with the occasional strato-nimbus towering up in the distance, its anvil lit by the sun we were denied far down below.  There was a dark stroke to the horizon, visibility was just-to-this-side of the curve of the earth, and the heat and humidity were bearable.

A vast fleet of aluminum hulled fishing boats was out and about making us work for clear maneuverability (we have to maintain a CPA, closest point of approach, of 1 nautical mile)… interestingly enough, if you stripped off everything above the deck on these exotic looking SE-Asian vessels you end up with the exact hull-form of the shrimp boats in the SE and fishing boats in the PNW.


Uneventful.  The moon lit the light, high cloud cover and made the world glow a dull, fluorescent and unflattering ashen white.  Traffic was minimal, sleep was a blessed relief from the 4 hours of trying to stay awake.  Ugh. 


The southern Bay of Bengal saw seas a color I can only call “silver sky,” with the light of the blinding sun on the water like mithril chainmail (ahem… yes, that would be a random Tolkien reference… Dig it, yo).  I have decided that my favorite color of water so far is the “honeybucket blue” I’ve described in an earlier post, south of Thailand, which was what greeted me when looking down off the bridge wings during my watch today.  When churned, however, there appeared to be different colors on either side of the ship- a wedgewood blue to port, and a powder blue to starboard.  Take your pick.

There was a 1.5 – 2 meter swell at a period of 13 seconds from the south with no waves when watch started, but by the end of my 4 hours, small, 1 meter waves started out of the north, giving an optical illusion that we were traveling backwards.  I’m sure the sperm whale (I think that’s what it was- head and tail looked it) would disagree- at about an eighth of a mile it dove and avoided us, smartly, and I never got the chance to ask.


We retarded clocks again, this time an hour and a half, to match the time zone of Columbo, Sri Lanka- our next port of call.  The 4x8 shift retards a half hour, the 8x12 retards and hour, and then we, the 12x4 shift, retard the last half hour and update the ship’s clocks- which translates as an extra hour of sleep, but an extra half hour on watch.  When there is no traffic, uninteresting skies, and an extra half hour of psychological torture, the name of the game is “Stay Awake.”  I do pushups (about 160 a night), I patrol the bridge-wings every 15 minutes, wash the coffee pot, pace, stare off into the darkness as if something is going to magically appear in my binoculars… but once you start yawning the clock stops.  Once the clock stops it takes a good scare (or St. Elmo’s Fire) to get it going again, and last night, neither was forthcoming.  It was straight-up, unadulterated, and concentrated torture.  When the pain was finally over I called Laura and merely the sound of her voice helped stop my twitching eye.  Sanity restores sanity, apparently- you heard it here, first.


ETA to Columbo is 2230.  The silver sea was comprised of water which appeared made of concodially fractured obsidian, that when churned became merely a charcoal drawing of water… it was all shades of grey with only a hint of blue and teal, but not unpleasant.  The three whales I saw certainly were enjoying it- until we came along and scared them under and away.  The horizon was non-existent, with visibility ranging between 5 and 8 miles, and the sky was clouded with a veil of tissue-thin mist at altitudes more similar to space than atmosphere.

My two most-recent days of overtime were spent with a chipping hammer underneath one of our aft mooring winches and have left me a bit sore- thankfully I have a bucket of alleve (a drug that literally killed Bozie’s father- I had no idea such an innocuous thing was lethal to some people).  When you are physically threaded into and intertwined with the toothy, many-ton gears of a giant hydraulically-driven machine it is not recommended to think of how simple it would be for someone to “turn it on.”  It gets back to the colloquial idioms that fly around here that I’ve mentioned (ie. “Drop a crane load on him”)… before long I found myself double-checking the pumps and securing the watertight door down into the steering gear room where the pumps that drive the port side aft winches are located. 

To fully appreciate the chipping of steel (and further add discomfort to the image of paranoia already portrayed), you have to examine the clothing and safety gear requirements the chipper must wear.  First, the ear plugs.  Next, a painter’s hood, which leaves only the face exposed and tucks in around the collar of my coveralls.  Over this goes a dust mask and safety goggles.  Finally, over the earplugs, the over-the-ear hearing protection is added.  This is in addition to the ever-present bandana over the skull, gloves, coveralls, boots… the standards of the deck.

Once chipping commences, you do not stop.  It is hotter than crap and paint/iron oxide find a way into every seam, crack, crevice, orifice, node, follicle, duct, gland, cavity, and hole, where it becomes cemented by the tropically mass-produced sweat and genetically spliced into your being at the chromosomal level- to stop and remove/alter even one item of protection is to have the protective layer turn into a much more complex mess to clean up than if you just leave it the hell alone and suffer without protest.  Even with all this protection, and bearing this cross without complaint, after 4 hours belly crawling and contorting like a circus freak through the very refuse you’re creating, with violence, inches away from your face, at decibel levels that drown out the roar of the 2 dozen or so servos under the aft deck (think: jet engine), you peel off your sacrificial clothing and safety gear looking like a West Virginia coal miner on the cover of National Geographic, anyway.
Nothing could be more different than standing on the bridge with a pair of binoculars trying to stay awake between midnight and 0400.  Should you be weak and complain (no, I have not been that stupid) the retribution is merciless.  When the assignment is as foul as working under the winches I have taken to saying "this job is too good for the Ordinary," or other, more colorful things which would get me yelled at by Laura if I were to print them.

More Singapore Photos (uploaded from Sri Lanka)

Random street photo

This makes me think of my friend Helen... best bacon in the world!

You know where you are: You're in Chinatown.

Yep, I steered us into (and out of) the busiest harbor in the friggin' world.  Yo.

Whose bridge?  My bridge.  The mate might disagree...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Underway Making Way

Underway and making way- I steered us out, again... best city, anywhere!  Sri Lanka, next...
Bye bye!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Ship, as seen from the bus stop.
The BBQ Bacon and pastries (from my last post)
A rare look down into the cargo hold from the gantry crane walk.

St. Elmo's Fire. For Real.

More fishing boats caught my eye, this time between Malaysia and Indonesia.
These are larger than the Somalian and Iranian fishing boats that captured
my fancy in earlier posts- probably in the realm of 17 - 20 meters in
length, with a dramatic shear at the bow, the stem of which has substantial
rake and the stem board stands proud of the gunnels about a foot. The houses
are all two story at the stern. The transoms are low and wide, which makes
the high-swept and pointed bow look even more dramatic.

The seas approaching the Straits of Malacca were the color of slate, the
water that of used motor oil, and- when churned- looked a dirty moss green.
Not nearly what one would expect from a place as exotic-sounding as
"Malacca." The heat was such that the dust from the chipping I did during
the morning shift (my 5 hours of daily overtime) left me absolutely pitch
black with the iron oxide and paint dust fused to my skin, bonded with
sweat, and even as utterly fouled as I was, the seas didn't look like an
inviting alternative to my filthy state.

During my next watch (midnight - 0400) the morning started out with
lightning on the horizon at all quarters, ranging in color from orange, to
yellow, amber to white, with a frequency of about every 10 seconds. The
full moon was visible directly overhead. Not much longer afterward the
chain lightning started- each display began with a single, slow-moving
tendril that doubled and branched every quarter second until it looked like
a deciduous tree in the winter, made of light, barren of leaves. Within an
hour we were in the midst of one of those lightning storms you never forget-
it strobed like a rhythmically-challenged disco, blinding and deafening and
awing and scaring the shit out of highly-static-electrically-attractive
people like me...

The traffic during all this, of course, had funneled down into the Straits
of Malacca itself and can only be accurately termed "busy."
I have heard of Saint Elmo's Fire before, but only in the same tones as
other, unfamiliar phenomenon (like water spiraling down the toilet in the
opposite direction south of the equator). I can now confirm that the fire
is definitely a real event. We noticed it on the antenna whips, first: from
the tip of the port side whip was a forked, blue flame that looked like a
propane fire with blue, lamp-lit streamers that flowed from the back of the
aerial, running up and down its length randomly; and on the starboard side
whip was a solid, torch-like blue flame from the tip of the aerial, more
pronounced than the fork on the port side, but with no streamers.

Standing out on the bridge-wings, lightning exploding every 2 seconds all
around, with so much electricity in the air that my hair was standing
straight up was a surreal experience that made me think of one of my heroes-
Nicola Tesla. Maybe I was high on ozone, but after being so exhausted that
I struggled to stay awake only a short time earlier (the only true constant
at sea), I found myself completely jacked-up and (ahem) wired for sound. At
one point the second mate joined us on the bridge and I pointed to the blue
fire at the top of the whip and the fire erupted from my finger tip.

It started flaming up from the steel of the bridge wing, and when I stuck my
hand into the flame fire would erupt from the tips of my fingers. As I
rolled my hand around the fire would move- from my fingertips to my thumb to
my knuckles, emitting a flutter that even sounds like a propane flame. The
third mate suffered a slight burn on one of his fingers but I proved to be
made of stronger stuff than that. Not smarter stuff, just stronger- we were
playing with lightning and tall electrically active masts, after all... it
might be said that we were "asking for it," but it was so amazing we pranced
around like chimpanzees, hooting and sticking our body parts into St. Elmo's
fire, staring at untold thousands of volts pouring from the tips of all the
fingers of one hand, mesmerized... it was pretty friggin' rad.

We went on the hook in Sinki at 0800 and then Bozie and I caught a launch
into Singapore. Like Tortuga 260 years ago, Singapore is a place of
legendary quality amongst modern sailors and caters to the most libertarian
of moral compasses, albeit with a draconian intolerance for filth of any
sort. It is, without question, the cleanest city I've been to (sorry,
Vancouver, BC), where gum is illegal and littering will get you publically
caned, but if you're a dirty Caucasian sailor you are swarmed by Vietnamese,
Thai, and Phillipino prostitutes to the point of exhaustion- which delighted
Bozie, who could not say "no" to the frequent requests of "buy a girl a
drink, sailor?" Yes, they actually do say that.

As entertaining a situation as it initially proved to be as a spectator, at
once removed and yet in the midst of, it did grow tiresome. The constant
personal awkwardness did have its rewards, though- he was the proverbial
drunken sailor, spending at a rate that left me stunned, but amidst our
conversations about ship-board personalities and events I came to realize I
have an ally on the ship, which brings with it no small manner of comfort
here in this hard-eyed, hard-talking, dangerous and intense place with
shifting political under-currents that seem could erupt into open hostility
at any second (and will, soon enough, based on the experiences of those
around me); it is a place that seizes up with a jerk each time I think
things are finally relaxing a bit.

And of course, Chinatown (as the Great Dane put it), " Chinatown, no
matter what." Whether it's New York, San Francisco, or Singapore- you know
where you are: You're in Chinatown. I sat in one place eating BBQ'ed bacon
and a strange, white, meat-filled, semi-sweet pastry while drinking iced
coffee and coconut water (from the coconut, of course) and enjoyed: Not
chipping rust scale, not painting chipped steel, and not craning loads of
awkward crap; not strategizing how to accomplish the daily trifecta (without
having to exclude one of them) of food, shower, and sleep; of not spending
30 minutes with gojo, pumice, sinus washes, ear irrigations, and eye-grit
removal that makes up my often twice-daily showers; and not trying to insert
myself into the machinery of personalities that don't necessarily fit but
must necessarily do so in order to move this boat from point A to point B.

I dragged a besotted boatswain back to Leo Launch, Marina Drive, in time for
an absolute deluge and lightning spectacular, which featured 9 sailors on an
empty pier standing in the gale-blown liquid sky like so many lightning rods
waiting for the lone launch to arrive at 0030, and not a nanosecond sooner.
Once aboard the ship and changed into dry clothes, we hoisted anchor and
yours truly drove this big-ass ship to dock at the busiest port in the
world. The tugs, damn them all to hell, decided to just drag along where
they'd made up to the starboard side, so I kept losing steerage at about 7.5
knots and I was left wondering what in the hell was wrong- I'd be hard over
(30 degrees rudder) to port and swinging 5 degrees per minute to starboard.

The Old Man and the Pilot figured it out before I did (probably did the
entire time), I just struggled and tried not to look overly incompetent as
they were doubling up the commands "Steady!" and louder, "Steady on
one-two-one!" I was forced to reply, "Pilot, the helm is hard to port and
we're still swinging 5 degrees to starboard..."

When we were at last up against the dock the Old Man said to the Pilot, with
a dry smirk, "Finally.... no thanks to our new helmsman," which made me
chuckle but caused the Pilot to protest and come to my defense, until he
caught on that it was the only "atta-boy" I was going to get for my
struggles. I'll take it.

I went to the bow, we tied up, and since then (20 hours ago) I have had two
hours of sleep, untied one bunker barge, tied up another, did sanitary on
the bridge, performed 6 crane lifts- including hoisting out one of the
ship's pistons and hoisting on a new one- missed two meals, and cranked out
a whopping 18 hours on the clock so far today (all but 4 of it overtime).
I'm looking at the Singapore skyline through the container cranes as I type,
knowing that there are 4 teeshirts, 6 postcards, some thin socks, and
assorted other necessary goods upon which I will fail to spend any of the
sing for which I exchanged my precious dollars (at a rate of 1.217). Oh,
and the internet SIM for which I paid 90 sing and can't get working- yeah...
therein lies the rub for the lack of photos I so carefully took for this
post. As general blog eye-candy, but more specifically for the selfish task
of luring Laura to put Singapore on our top 5 list of must-do's... Prague,
New York, and Rio have just suffered an equatorial smack-down.

Whelp- the bunker barge we tied up at 1900 just blew her whistle. Time for
me to go back to it. See if I can't get another two hours of overtime
before the 24 hours in a day times me out. So much work, so little day...

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Color Blue

Portable toilets are horrid things, and I don't think too many people will
argue the point. The funniest company name I've seen is still "Honey
Bucket," a name ubiquitous in the NW to portable toilets, but one which
positively dumbfounds the viewer when seen for the first time by
"out-of-towners." Well, I was dumbfounded the first time I saw it. I only
bring this up because the seas south of Thailand are the most brilliant
shade of blue imaginable when you look into their depths, but if I were
forced to pick the closest blue I've seen to describe it, it would be the
chemical solution used in portable toilets. Yes, the seas south of Thailand
are actually "Honeybucket Blue." I'm sorry Thailand, you deserve a better
mind than mine to sell your charms. Viewed to the horizon these waters
actually have a lavender tint, the horizon itself has a purple stroke to it,
and when churned, beneath the foam, the sea turns an oxidized aquamarine. I
know, my description is lacking (or perhaps it should lack more), but from
the deadlight of my quarters it is quite striking beneath cumulous-blanketed
skies with scattered columns of tropical rain on all quarters.

While I spent the last two days with needle guns and chipping hammers, this
morning The Wrestler and I carried 14 rod ends (part of the turn-buckles
used to fasten the containers to the lashing bridges) from the forecastle
all the way aft to the lashing bridge on the stern. They're about 72 inches
long and weigh roughly 50 lbs. so we tied them to a cart, threw a leash on
them, and as he pulled I pushed and steered and we rolled them back to the
stern, carried them down the stairs to the fantail, and then he passed them
up through the ladder hole to me. We were soaked to the bone within seconds
of starting this process in the monsoon rains, however, and the decks were
awash with running water as our slow, 20 second, 10 degree roll amplified
the flash flooding. We were forced to time our way along the hatches- if we
had timed it wrong we would have a small creek hit us in the face. It was
totally absurd.

Then we made our way down through the 110 Fahrenheit port side tunnel
(literally a tunnel under the main deck) to cargo hold 6. To access the
hold you climb into a hatch and descend multiple ladders, stairs, and more
ladders until you are standing on "the tanktop," which is, interestingly
enough, the top of the bilge tanks. There is a "duct tunnel" which runs the
length of the ship along her spine, but the tanks are used for ballast and
are to port and starboard of the duct tunnel. We were dealing with "rose
boxes," which are large collector boxes for runoff inside the cargo holds.
I'll leave it to your imagination as to how they came by the name of "rose
boxes." The pump that takes all the runoff from the cargo holds' rose
boxes, for some reason, is not a self-priming pump- which means that when
the pump loses its prime (it gets air in the line and won't draw), the deck
department gets to thread fire-hoses down through the hatch, along the
multiple ladders, stairs, and more ladders, and fill them back up with water
while the engineers and the captain tries to figure out where the air is
getting in.

So you have the engine department, the deck department, and the licensed
officers- all of us on radios- working together to fill the rose boxes, run
the pump, and try to figure out where the problem is. To complicate the
process, the repeater system for the radios doesn't work, so if you're down
in the hold with a firehose (like I was before my watch) you can't hear
anything from the bridge, and if you're in the tunnel at the valve (like I
was after coffee) you have to repeat everything being said on the radio in
the hold for the crew on the bridge (and vice versa).

After my shower and lunch, while on my second watch for the day, I listened
to the radio chatter as the work continued. The guy who didn't "burn out"
(who hasn't earned a nickname, yet), Bozie Bosun, and Peaches Warrior
Princess were all down in the holds with hoses, The Wrestler was turning
valves and repeating everything on the radio, the Old Man and Chief Engineer
and Chief Mate were at the switches and computers at various locations in
the ship... All hands, all day, for a hole or failed gasket (as of now still
yet to be located). All my coveralls are soaked (one with water, the other
with sweat), my waterproof boots are wet inside from when they filled with
water (and sweat) running down the inside of my clothes...

And the sea, in her depths, is a brilliant shade of blue. What a friggin'

We arrive in Singapore Wednesday morning at 0200 hours and we'll swing on
the hook while a small passenger boat shuttles us to and from shore.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Advancing Clocks and Lost Sleep

The moon was out when I started my watch last night (midnight). First time
I've seen it in the evening sky since the Med, but dropped like a stone
within an hour and the stars began to blaze. Rigel, Algernon, Betelgeuse...
but not too blazing- the Milky Way didn't backlight Gemini into oblivion. I
did, however, decide that Taurus isn't really a bull. No matter how hard I
try to not see it, when I look at Taurus, I see a rat. I keep remembering
more and more of the stars that I've forgotten in the last 14 years that
I've been in Seattle (yes, stars really are that rare in the Emerald
City)... I can't wait to find a star chart.

With the deeper darkness the bioluminescence really stood out. I got to
thinking- if there was one single-celled glow bug per inch, how many of
these things have we pushed in just one day? This ship displaces
approximately 5 million cubic feet of water, which is 8.6 billion cubic
inches. Traveling at 18 knots, we cover 423 nautical miles per day. Even
more interestingly, I lose all motivation to run the math when I realize I
need to hunt the entirety of the ship, from top to bottom, for the number of
inches in a nautical mile (I know exactly where that is in my office, but
alas...). I think Google is the new Library of Alexandria- and sorely
missed out here. Facebook and 24/7 news aren't missed one little bit, but
Google is priceless.

We're now at GMT +5, which means I am 13 hours ahead of Seattle... so 8 at
night there is 9 in the morning, here.

I got to thinking about containers in relationship to this boat. It holds
roughly 2,600 TEU (containers in the lingo, yo). When I am doing my stern
watch, there are 16 containers wide, by 6 containers high, over the fantail
where I pace back and forth counting shooting stars (21 tonight, one slow
with an amazing flaming tail that was stunning) trying to stay awake.
Forward, they stack 14 wide by 8 high below the hatch covers, and 16 wide by
6 high above the hatch covers. From the bridge, all I see are containers
laid wide and far ahead and astern of my vantage point. They come in two
basic colors, blue and red, but you see all the various shades of these
colors as the paint ages and oxidizes to a lighter tone than where it
started its colored life.

And there is one white one. It is two rows forward, two over from the
centerline. It collects and then reflects any and all light at night, aimed
directly at my eyes. I resent that box.

Finally, today the Indian Ocean was a color I refer to as "generic Atlantic
sunny-day blue," but the water (when looked into) was a dark teal, again.
When churned, however, it was no longer the wedgewood blue of yesterday, but
more of a tiffany's blue.

Now in the Northern Lakshadweep Sea, at 10 degrees North and we advanced
clocks again last night (I lost another hour of my already limited sleep,
again). The Ocean was silver to what little horizon we have, the water was
obsidian in its depths, and back to the color of wedgewood china when
churned. Even with the smudged, low-pressure haze the visibility was up to
about 10 nm (It's been 6-7 nm for days now).

Talk about dreary work. No stars, 6 miles of visibility, heat lightning all
around, and fishing vessels everywhere. Somewhere off our starboard quarter
the moon was hidden behind the cumulous cover which made the entirety of the
sea and sky the same dull grey and washed out the dim lights of the fishing
vessels... I could only pick them out at about 5 nm.

TODAY 1200 - 1600
In the Maldives, approaching Sri Lanka at about 6 degrees north and another
time zone further east. Advancing the clocks keeps robbing me and I look
forward to the retarding clocks and extra sleep once we leave Singapore.

The ocean today was grey to the smudged horizon, a deep onyx in its depths,
and churned to a color somewhere between the blues of wedgewood and
tiffany's I've been recording, but today it somehow reminds me more of an
Art Deco glass color on Miami's South Beach than anything else.
Up ahead of us today is a ship I've been seeing repeatedly on the AIS since
we were south of Greece named the Agamemnon. Fitting, no?

And dolphin. People pay cash to see them jump at Sea World, but I have
never seen them jump like that in either the waters that run from the
Chesapeake Bay to Florida, or the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. They
just don't do it. Well, today I saw thousands of dolphin- from horizon to
horizon- playing in the wake of the ship here in the Maldives, doing front
flips, doing back flips, entire herds jumping in unison to and from the
waves of our wake... I was transfixed (while Academy Boy droned on to the
2nd Mate about partying with his King's Point Academy bro's- what a puke he
is- have I mentioned how much I dislike him?). Videographers work
tirelessly to make a launched, air-born and flipping dolphin look graceful-
which few things can appear as graceful as dolphin leaping from wave to
wave, as anyone can attest- but flipping dolphin do NOT look graceful. They
look like stiff wooden toys thrown by a child. They look positively
comical. I could watch them all day and not tire, but just because they can
swim 18 knots doesn't mean they do, and soon we left them behind, still
playing in our wake that runs for as far as the eye can see.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Old Man and the Beer Can

The Old Man recommended three books to me today: "Hawley's Storm," "Adrift,"
by Steven Callahan, and "Ship of Gold," after telling me about a storm he
was in running from Alaska to Hawaii in a large tanker- waves were breaking
over her stern and over the entire wheelhouse. Waves ripped lifeboats,
rails, cranes, valve wheels, and anything not part of the hull itself right
off the ship, and stove in the big thick lights (windows) on the after part
of the wheelhouse.

Captain said his most memorable moment of that trip was when investigating
one of the numerous and ongoing disasters taking place all over the ship, he
radioed the bridge and said "Bridge, the emergency generator room is
flooded, and I think it's on fire. I'll get back to you." The tanker's
house wasn't as tall as ours (which is 158 feet), but it was more than 100
feet. Now think about those waves. He said he had never seen anything like
it and he hasn't seen anything like it since. After the worst of it the
seas subsided to 60 - 70 feet.

I need to remember to do a google search for the fishing vessels operating
off the coast of Oman and Iran- they have a curvaceous sheer, with a high
bow sweeping back dramatically to a moderate freeboard then back up in a
hurry to a generous transom. Their stem's have a gentle rake- they were too
far away to see things like tumblehome, though.

The Indian Ocean south of Pakistan today was the color of the sky, and there
was no discernible horizon, just a smudged haze where the two blended. It
reminded me of C.S. Lewis' description of the end of the world in "Voyage of
the Dawn Treader," right before Reepicheep vaingloriously went to his own
demise (disguised as "the next adventure" so as not to piss off the kiddies-
I still can't believe he killed Reep!). That sea, however, was ankle deep
and covered in pale flowers floating on the top of the water- this was the
full-on ocean, flat as glass and the palest of sky blue (from the palest of
blue skies). Until you looked into the water itself, which was a dark teal
until churned, which I can only describe as the color of wedgewood china
(the blue, not the green), complete with the brilliant white glazing (in
this case, sea foam).

There were birds I wish I could identify (um... more call for the google-
one of the things we take for granted when we're ashore but miss like hell
when it's not available). They're white with a black following edge on
their wings, their bodies are short and stocky, with boomerang shaped wings
that remind me of loons for some reason. These were fast flyers, diving for
food from about 10 meters, tucking and diving much in the same manner as the
pelicans in the SE US, only much quicker about the entire affair.

I saw 1 floating beer can.

And I'm doing laundry- which as I've mentioned in previous posts, is a bit
of a chore.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lifeboats and Thunderstorms

Lifeboat drills. Very straightforward things, really- safely deploy the
lifeboat, with crew, down to the water and retrieve it. If there is a
single-most dangerous item to be found (aside from improperly trained crew
and total dumbasses) it is the "releasing lever." The releasing lever is in
the lifeboat and it is what disconnects the boat, itself, from the cable
falls of the gravity davits (the part on the ship from which the lifeboat
hangs). Put into its simplest terms- pull it at the wrong time and a
boatload of people die.

The lifeboats on this ship are much simpler than the ones I trained with to
get my PSC/Lifeboatman endorsement. No frapping lines. No tricing
pennants. No McCluny hooks. No man-ropes. A single lever to release the
gripes. And I really wish I were making these terms up, but I'm not... on
many lifeboats there is a much longer sequential list of tasks involved in
launching the boat than the ones on this ship. On this ship you can throw
the harbor pins, pull one rope to release the gripes, board the vessel, and
from inside the lifeboat, release the cable brakes and safely lower the boat
to the water. I am the after gripe on boat no. 1, which really only comes
into play on putting the boat back into its proper stowage. Once the
lifeboat is in the water, and only then, do you pull the releasing lever and
you're then free to motor off to safety.

So when the Chief Mate and Captain decided to put the 3rd mate, referred to
by the deck as "the goofy bastard" and mentioned by officers with a slight
roll of the eyes, there was almost an open revolt from the deck department
(who had 2 crew going down with him). The AB who has been an invaluable
tutor for teaching me the "SUP bluewater sailor way-" a broad 6'-2" fellow
named like a wrestler, who is willing to fight anyone and anything,
anywhere, at any time- was one of the crew to go down with him. Also along
for the ride, The Great Dane- measuring in at only 6'-3" but a dangerous
looking disposition and a penchant for really bad, sophomoric and obvious
jokes. And as a matter of fact, at only 5'-9 1/2", I do feel like the
ships midget.

The Goofy Bastard (who I happen to like, but he really is kinda goofy)
cannot reliably tell you if he knows something, or not. He might know it,
but if he doesn't, he relays the information in the identical way that he
would relay it if he did. So when it was announced that he was going to
lead the drill (um... drop the boat, hopefully not literally) everyone, and
I mean everyone, started thinking "Holy shit! The releasing lever! Holy
shit! Holy shit! The Goofy Bastard is gonna kill somebody!" Previous
drills have been smooth, like a well oiled machine. This one was even
smoother- people were focused like diamond-cutting lasers. The anxiety
level was up pretty damned high, though, and as The Wrestler later told me,
"I was watching him like a hawk. If he'd as so much as looked at the
releasing lever I was gonna cold-cock him... beat him down like an etc. etc.
so forth and so on."

Today, as we steamed (turning for 18.5 knots) I watched the lightning from a
massive thunderstorm popping like paparazzi flash-bulbs over the hills of
Iran on the northeastern shore of the Gulf of Oman. The same storm overtook
us, dropped visibility to a literal Zero, and we recorded gusts of up to 90
knot winds- identical, in fact, to the leading edge of Hurricane Sandy...
Sandra... whatever her name was (the storm that hated NYC), which leads me
to question the accuracy of the anemometer, quite frankly (that wind is the
kind that sucks the breath out of you and it takes a few seconds and a
little bit of work to actually breath when up on the bridge wing and in its
full force).

One particular blast, memorable for its insane howling and actually
buffeting a 66 thousand ton ship, registered in at only 2 knots and from
every direction at once- I suspect it was a very dangerous type of thermal
down-draft I have been fortunate enough to have encountered only one other
time in my life- in a sailboat on the Wilmington River in GA. It pinned the
sail- mast, boat, and all- flat to the water for a full 25 seconds... while
I held on for dear life and peed myself a little bit. So the Indian Ocean
has proved to be calm. Mostly.

And today it was the color of used and burnt motor oil, until churned, when
it became the most brilliant shade of a creamed-jade... and the greenest
water this trip, so far. The Wrestler and I laughed about staring at the
colors, too... apparently I'm not the only one. A random point on every 3rd
wave of every 3rd set sent the most untamed and lonely white horses I've
ever seen- bold, frothing, spraying clumps of fast moving brilliant white in
an otherwise lumpy, dark but white-horse-free water, whose fine, misting
spray refracted sunlight into a sheet of gasoline on water, rainbowed colors
that played with my depth perception and caused vertigo. Like when you
cross your eyes on an escalator.

Gyros for lunch, fish for dinner.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Anyone should be able to comment now...

Technical Difficulties and Mirrors


Came into Jebel Ali yesterday- very excited to buy an internet connection (yes, it is done a little bit differently here) so after working my 8 straight and my 6 overtime, I climbed into a taxi and went to the "Hyper Mart" to buy my internets and a hard drive capable of holding all the music and movies I'm copying from everyone aboard.

Let me explain how this is supposed to work:  First, you pick out your internet dongle.  Then, you go pay for it and for a SIM card and a "top-up card."  Next, you take the receipts back into the tech part of the store and they register the data plan from the top-up card to the SIM.  And finally, you stick the SIM into the dongle, plug it into your computer, and you have internets.

Well, I paid for everything, walked back into the tech part of the store, and a different guy handed me my bag of stuff.  I stopped in at the International Seaman's Club and used their internet for awhile, then headed back to the ship.  What I found was a bag with no SIM card in it.

Talk about being bummed out/ alternately enraged.

I went back today- after standing watch (early, early this morning) down in the cargo hold where they're hauling out bunker fuel from a tank along side the "duct keel-" deep in the bottom of the ship, between the 9-high containers below the ones you always see visible on the deck of these ships. Sounds more interesting than you might think.  Anyway, they were waiting for me at the store, friendly but with barely contained smirks at the dumb American sailor's ignorance.

And here I sit, frantically trying to update stuff while still in port and still have time to take a nap before casting off and my midnight shift.

I am sending a few (note, I mean "almost none") post-cards from Dubai... I don't know if the last ones I sent out (very few, meaning "almost none") from Norfolk ever made their destination, but these are equally as unlikely to reach their destinations.

The top of the Lashing Bridge-
I spend a little bit of time here making
"grease traps" for longshoremen
that won't backfire and get us, instead.
A note about Jebel Ali- talk about an amazing container port!  Holy crap!  The cranes go on for mile after mile, all identical in shape and color, all equal distance apart.  We drove past miles of ships in an out, comparing freeboard on one, gangway on another, the dents and scratches, bow bulbs, visible anti-piracy measures, etc.

The port itself is gargantuan... it houses "company housing" for the indentured Philippinos, Indians, Yemenis, Pakistanis, etc., duty free stores, the "Hyper Mart" where I got the internets dongle, highways, 4 lane roundabouts, construction everywhere, and a skyline of rows of cranes beyond rows of cranes, with Dubai itself off in the hazy distance- reminding me, ironically enough, of the artwork on the cover of "The Windup Girl," which for those familiar, adds more depth to the irony in that this is all oil wealth.

I call the architectural style "International Terminal," a post-industrial look that melds the beach-like natural desert sand-scaping (a playful hint of volley ball and picnics) with the pre-decay of security gates that boldly say "hegemonic corporate stronghold" and that the Proles will never realize the raw power at which Orwell hinted.

OK.  We cast off at 2300 and I had 3 hours of sleep last night before my watch (the one with the bunker fuel at 0600).  I'm going into a mighty sleep, now.

The skyline of Dubai itself (not all of it) as we waited
for the pilot to board... which, as we drifted backward,
prompted the Old Man to say with a bit of a laugh,
"I've never boarded a pilot going backward, before..."
Anyone in town who can buy Laura dinner should do so, since I can't.  If dinner is too hectic a time, coffee on Saturday morning will work, too...