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...


My ass in the Med.
Egypt- Suez Canal
Egypt- Suez Canal "Suez Canal Light"
Sunrise over the Gulf of Aden

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Overtime and The Clash

Mark Twain warned: Never argue with an idiot- they'll just drag you down to
their level then beat you with experience. So, with very few exceptions
(like a particular person on Facebook too dim to realize I have pummeled him
that some of you have painfully witnessed time and time again), I don't
argue with idiots. I suffer them in mind-numbing silence. Alone. Up on my

As a very minor example of the Academy Boy's character deficiencies, I
present you last night's installment of "Somebody, Please Shoot Me Already:"
His musical tastes range from nu-metal to nu-metal-influenced teen pop, or,
inextricably and to my absolute horror, a periodic but thorough cavort, from
start to finish, not missing a single, solitary note... through ALL of
Meatloaf's "Love By The Dash Board Lights," which honest-to-god raises the
bile to my throat each time. I could stab my ears. I SHOULD stab my ears.

Anyway... Last night he came in with something completely different (keep in
mind I crossed the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and now part of
the Indian Ocean with this guy, listening to his music for 8 hours a day)
that he'd recently copied from somebody's music collection. When I casually
asked what he was listening to, he replied "Clash." Well, he grunted it,
really. And indeed, there was a Clash song playing at that moment, but
later, after hearing Ziggy Stardust and the Sex Pistols, when The Dead
Kennedys were playing, I said "that sounds like Jello Biafra," to which he
replied "it's the Clash."

OK. This moment, by itself, is so easily shrugged off as to not being worth
mentioning... he's wrong and proud of it, so what? But he's like this about
everything. Including his limited in scope but thorough in depth (ahem...
myopic) understanding of being a sailor. In inland waters he'd be the cause
of collisions, and he'd be unable to navigate b/c he has no concept of wind,
current, or tide; the proper way of simply meeting, crossing, or overtaking
a single vessel when operating in confined and heavily trafficked areas; or
what constitutes a Watch or the meaning of "with time to spare" when you
have a conflagration of meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations with
sails, vessels of varied uses, and traffic separations schemes all mixed up
and at once... But he doesn't know it, he knows only the blue water
conventions of keeping a nautical mile distance between power driven vessels
of similar use and tonnage and which lane in a traffic separation scheme is
his. But he'll say things that are so wrong... so often... it hurts my
friggin' head.

Moving on. Approaching the Straits of Hormuz and I've heard Arabic,
Tagalong, Russian, and some unrecognizable SE Asian languages on the radio
since last night, when we put Polaris on our bow and our course as
"zero-zero-zero," or True North. Sadly, Polaris was a bit wimpy last night.
And I have to make a correction- it's the Seven Sisters (I have been calling
them the Three Sisters and that is a failure to count to seven on my part).
But I remembered which is Taurus last night... no thanks to my lack of star

The Indian Ocean here, south of Iran and east of Oman, is a light "Atlantic
Ocean blue" to the horizon, but the green only hinted at yesterday now is
showing up more and turning the water (when looking into its depths) as a
deep teal. When churned it is a dirty, pale, aquamarine- like poorly mixed
blue Easter egg dye and squid ink. Strange stuff in a strange place.

And finally, my 12 x 4 shift (the crappy shift) has become the only one able
to still get 5 hours of overtime a day due to an interpretation of STCW's
Rest Requirements by someone whose job is to find that particular
interpretation the only one worth having (I cannot name names). Yay me, boo
for my department. The Deck has fallen back and is regrouping... I somehow
think the Boatswain (Bozie) has handled this before- he made it seem like an
annoying bureaucratic thing he'd have dealt with soon... he and the delegate
have both been at this for 25 years so I'm sitting back, watching and
learning from the pros. That isn't to say that the interpreters which
killed the overtime don't know what they're doing- oh, far from it... it's
just that I can ask Bozie.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Phone Calls and Compasses

Three whales, three five gallon buckets, and two distant ships seen on my
watch this afternoon. The Indian Ocean is flat, has the slightest, tiniest,
itsy-bit 'o green to it, but so far it's still a blue water we travel upon
with a pale turquoise when churned. That glows with bio-luminescence when
dark. Which looks like sparks through the binoculars (Hey! It's 45 feet
up- everything at sea looks like it glows at night). But the last moon I
saw was that thin crescent moon over Egypt, low on the horizon, buried in
the orange sunset- I'm watching and waiting for its return to my side of the
sky, though the stars will suffer for it.

The Three Sisters isn't as interesting through the binoculars as I thought
it might be, but the sword hilt on Orion's sword sure as hell is- what looks
like three stars is actually all kinds of stuff, including an entire
friggin' galaxy instead of that simple, center star, as it appears to my
naked eyeball. I am still pissed that google skymap is NOT on my phone
(I've installed it 3 times), and there isn't a star chart on this ship to be
found. I'm left making stuff up and that just isn't as useful when trying
to impress Laura with my encyclopedic knowledge of marginally useful stuff.
Seriously- the sword hilt is pretty damned cool. I had no idea. Go look at
it. Right now.

Still trying to get another phone card from the Captain so I can stay up
late and call Laura one night soon. We are exactly 12 hours apart right
now, which means I am literally on the other side of the world from her...
well, if I was at 47 degrees (and some change) south of the equator, but why
get absurdly technical when everything else on this ship is: 3 magnetic
compasses, 4 gyroscopic compass displays for 2 gyros, gps data on the 3
radars and the Ectus (I'm not sure how it's spelled) Chartplotter (which
reads the radars, AIS, and other vital speed, set, and drift information and
displays it as part of the chart data). A simple thing such as our heading
is broken down like this: "We are traveling at zero-five zero (gyro
heading) for zero-five-one (Course to True North) checking zero-four-nine
(magnetic compass minus variation and deviation information to make True)."

These numbers are updated on a whiteboard by yours truly as they change, and
I wondered why, until one of the AB's shared his story of being on the
bridge of the Kuai when it was hit by a massive Pacific Ocean wave just one
day off the Washington coast. The Kuai had a house on the forward part of
the ship, right up at the front. Until a "hundred and fifty foot" wave
smashed her face in, pushing the house 12 inches backward, and twisting it.
The inch-and-a-half glass of the 150 foot high wheelhouse was shattered, the
bridge was flooded, and all the electronics were fried- including the
steering and gyro compasses. The magnetic's overhead binnacle was wiped off
the wheelhouse entirely.

The ship turned sideways to the waves (bad) and started to snap-roll (very
bad). The AB telling the story was sloshing from side to side across the
entire bridge deck in a soup of salt water and debris, until a mate came up
the stairs and opened the door to the wheelhouse and was washed down 5
flights of stairs, to his detriment. The wheelhouse was drained of standing
water, however, to the benefit of everyone else. The only steering left was
the NFU (non-follow-up), a paddle that doesn't automatically return the helm
to mid-ships. The only compass was a small, hand-held magnetic compass the
captain had in his quarters. The only clue they had about where they were
and where they needed to go? That damned whiteboard I am constantly

And I just want to call Laura... why in the hell should that be so

Well, they got the ship in by manually driving her back into the Strait of
Juan de Fuca using the NFU gear, that hand-held magnetic compass, the
variation off the chart and the deviation from the tables, and the ship was
scrapped once it was all said and done. That is almost the end of the

They had no radio. A ship with no communications, totally unlit, not
answering USCG (Coast Guard) hailings... well, the military took over,
viewing it as a potential hostile force, and was deemed a target and given a
count-down all her own. A deckhand below, by some cosmic twist of fortune,
found one of the handheld vhf's in his room and reached someone on shore in
Port Angeles who acted as an intermediary to the Coast Guard and the rest is
history. Two deckhands on this ship were on that one, BTW. True story.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The continuing saga of what the watchkeeper sees...

Polaris. Dim, oft-mistaken Polaris was finally visible during my midnight
bridge watch- I don't think I knew how colorful a star it actually is.
Mostly green with flashes of red and orange- very cool. I have yet to get
the opportunity to check out the Three Sisters with the bridge binoculars,
but it's tonight's mission. And I've decided the name the "Milky Way"
offends me for its trite undertone connotating "no big deal," as casual as a
trip to Dairy Queen for a high fructose corn syrup sundae. It's so bright
over the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Oman, that I honestly couldn't find
Orion last night for several minutes. Nor Sirius. And if Venus hadn't been
orange when she rose I'd have never seen her, either. The Milky Way should
have a better name, that's all I'm sayin'... something fit for consumption
for people greater than six years old.

And more phosphorescence in the bow wave and wake this morning on the
stern... I've seen some spectacular phosphorescence in the Puget Sound, but
the sheer scope of this (gigantic, of course) is amazing... 2 meter wake
obliquely hammering 2 meter waves at 21 knots makes a hell of a splash! We
could have been in the Atlantic after the sun rose and lit the gulf but for
the pale aquamarine of the churned waters- a surprisingly cold color (which
brings to mind peppermint toothpaste) in a remarkably warm climate. Today
was nice, flat, motorboat waters good for fishermen and pirates alike- I
have seen many military vessels of all nationalities out here, however, and
the recent activities are minimal to non-existent, at least in these waters.
That isn't to say that we aren't very serious about it- quite the contrary,
just that the volume of European, Asian, and US warships protecting commerce
is justifiably high. I, for one, think it's a great use for military

I forgot to mention the small fishing skiffs I've spotted which have a sail
that is a spitting image of the Polynesian "crab claw" shunting rigs used on
the South Pacific proas (outrigged canoes). Hopefully I will remember to do
an internet search for "Somalian fishing sailing skiff," or variations
thereof, and discover what it was I was looking at in greater detail. All
these boats were a good 2 nm distance, minimum, so it could turn out that
they don't resemble a crab claw sail at all on closer inspection... but I
saw four or five of them and they were consistent in their shape and their
aspect (to my eye). I have the sneaking suspicion that search will be one
of those fruitless needle-in-a-haystack series of windows and clicks that
ends on a page featuring videos of cats. If I remember to search at all...
often I find myself on the videos of cats and wonder how I got there. Not
having internets out here is a real deprivation.

This morning I also saw dozens of giant mackerel leaping a good 6 feet out
of the water when I was on the stern... it reminded me to mention the school
of unidentified fish I saw in the Atlantic that I mistook for an incredibly
dense flock of birds skimming low over the water at high speed until I
looked at them with the binoculars and realized it was a fast moving school
of large, leaping fish being pursued by the ever-present Atlantic dolphin.
Academy Boy wasn't impressed and talked-over the Chief Mate and I (about
banal shit, at that) when we were wide-eyed with amazement and would have
liked a moment to merely share a momentary "holy crap!"

In these waters every movement from the house onto the deck is coordinated
and tracked by the bridge, so my department has taken to calling-in their
every movement, no matter how mundane. Very hard to keep from laughing out
loud when I hear "Bridge, this is AB so-and-so moving from the starboard
deck to the port deck" (not a required communication) over the radio and
Academy Boy forced to scurry across the bridge to reply into the handset, in
his bored, condescending tone, "Roger that," and then ten seconds later
hearing "Bridge, this is AB so-and-so going into the house," with the
resulting "Roger that" and tallying required by the third mate. They time
their activity to top-of-the-hour and shift changes when he's busiest, and
space the calls to greatest affect. I have heard the Reefer, the
Electrician, and five sailors going in and out for a solid half hour and
been unable to contain my glee and been forced to retreat to the head to
laugh out loud and have warm feelings toward the unlicensed crew aboard. I
privately (well... here in blogger land) refer to him as Academy Boy, but
they refer to him as "that little fucker."

Some days I actually sympathize with him (we can talk video games and
Southpark and we're 5 by 5), but then he'll do or say something where
calling him "Academy Boy" just won't cut it, and then he's "that little
fucker" to me, too. Today he was OK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Forbidden Waters


Hopefully, knocking on wood, the hives are past. I don't think I realized
exactly how badly they were dragging me down until I got more than 2 hours
of sleep and didn't have to fight the additional drowsiness of Benadryl when
I was awake. The same old culprit as it was 15 years ago- Tide laundry
detergent. Only this was the residual crap in the machines that made my
"free and clear" pretty much worthless. So I have to wash the machine, run
an empty cycle on hot, throw in my cloths with my soap for a second cycle,
do a third cycle with no soap to rinse, wash out the dryer with good soap
and water, then- at long last- dry my cloths. And that seems to work. I

So the Red Sea between Saudi Arabia and Eritrea looks different than the Red
Sea I saw yesterday. The water is slate gray overall, and when churned it
looks like the mangled corpses of Seattle's grey Springtime clouds, floating
lifeless and face down. With some mockery of blue thrown in by the clouds'
killer to make it convincingly water-like. Which it isn't. No wonder there
are friggin' pirates here... today the water was flat and the horizon was
lost to mist, visibility down to about 9 nautical miles- or as the Second
Mate put it, "perfect pirate weather." I turned out to work my overtime,
too, and it was 30 Celsius (I have no idea what that is in Fahrenheit, but
"hydrate" is the word for the day). I was acid washing the house to remove
rust, so I had on rubber boots, rain gear, goggles, rubber gloves... you
know, a private sauna. Some people actually pay to sweat like this. It's
supposed to be about 113 F in a couple of days, which has everyone hoping we
arrive in Dubai at night (which is Sunday? Who fucking knows... I sure as
hell don't).

One of the most important things when working at night is having your night
vision dialed in. It takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to get there, but
then you can see pretty damned good. Well, we have two different types of
night binoculars that turn the world into a flat, green, and visible
monochrome for use in these waters, and both of them fry the rods in my eyes
and ruin my night vision. I don't like them.
So, there you have it. I got nothin' more. 5 hours of sleep until my
midnight shift, then when that's over I'm on watch on the stern with
anti-vermin measures and a radio, then I get to sleep between 8 and noon,
then I have my next 4 hour shift.


The grey, lifeless waters changed for the better when we approached a strait
known as "Babel Mandeb," between Yemen and Jabouti. The wind picked up to
about 25 knots (45 apparent) and the dead calm was replaced with nice 2
meter wind waves and no swell. While on my watch on the stern the
whitehorses in the dark were lit by phosphorescence and the stars were as
bright as moonlight (no moon), and the stern is only about 30 feet above the
water (as opposed to the 150 ft at the bridge) so it was animated and
lively. I was listening to the Posies and the Raconteurs to drown out the
clanging of container boxes and all in all it was a decent way to spend a
watch in much appreciated solitude.

The sun rose to reveal a teal water that churns to a pale aquamarine, and by
the time we were in the Gulf of Aden the ghastly pall of the southern Red
Sea was thankfully passed. I saw the first whale since the eastern seaboard
of the US, today. It blew a children's storybook-perfect spout of water and
slid by about 20 meters off the starboard side as we steamed by at 21 knots.
Also, a mega-yacht in the middle of these god-forsaken waters... two
different crew members claim it is a "tour" for the heavily armed
ultra-wealthy who troll for hijackers as a sporting way to spend incredible
amounts of money.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Commenting Woes

Laura let me know that commenting on this blog was a pain in the ass... I
have known it for weeks, now, but until I am near an internet I can do
nothing about it. I am posting by sending txt emails via the ship's iridium
phone- no proof-reading (my editor partner and editor friends must be beside
themselves), no formatting, no photos, no nuthin'...

I may have the opportunity as soon as Dubai to upload photos and fix the
commenting, but I can make no promises.

The Red Sea looks remarkably like the western part of the Med... a field of
deepest blue with white horses racing us to the southeast. I think I need
to create a chart of the colors of the seas... each one has had it's own hue
that none others can claim. While the Red Sea looks like the eastern Med,
the hue of the churned waters is yet another blue that defies naming.

We're in infested waters and my watches have become centered on spotting the
infestations before they become a ship-board problem. A ship like this has
50 foot freeboard and is cruising at about 20 knots, so we're not much of a
target... but this captain treats the threat against the ship very

I now understand how and why celestial navigation originated in this part of
the world. I have never seen a sky so filled with stars in my life... it is
positively stunning. And so many of them are like Sirius (a strobe of
ever-shifting colors)- unfortunately, I cannot use google sky map out here
or I'd have names for you, but as soon as I can I'll get a chart and tell
you the names of my favorites.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


In case anyone ever asks you "What has two thumbs and has steered a 902 foot
ship through the Suez Canal?" you can let them know the correct answer is
"This Guy." Watching Egypt go by looks as great as it sounds- I definitely
wanted to jump off and go exploring, though the anti-Americanism is rampant
here at this time. Well, and either side of the canal is lined with guard
shacks and armed soldiers. The Egyptian flies, however, are like the
Egyptian vendors- persistent and annoying.

The tugs here have a side business- selling line (often incorrectly called
"rope"). What they do is grab your line and run with it. At a certain
point you have to stop it running or they get the whole thing, but they'll
smoke what you do put out if you're not careful, then heave on it in full
reverse and part the line where it heated up. Parting a line can mean
dismemberment and decapitation to the crew forced to deal with this. You
see the tugs with pallets of line on their deck and you have to wonder how
many limbs did those bastards take with them to get that line? What I have
been taught by the experienced crew here is to give it 3 turns, 3 eights,
and "stovepipe" the rest (basically, tie the line off to the ship) and only
put out enough line to use. They will always request more line, no
exceptions, and what we do then is yell over the side to the tug crew about
what their mother does with goats.

Anyway, in the Suez- as I was hoisting a boat load of Egyptian "Linemen"
aboard (boat and all) with the gantry crane, while the ship was turning
about 12 knots, it suddenly dawned on me- there is a lot of responsibility
placed on everyone aboard a ship. One bad move on my part and there would
be 3 less Egyptians to yell "no!" at over and over again.

To transit the Suez Canal requires a pilot, an electrician, the 3 linemen
(who do absolutely nothing but try to sell you trinkets and beads of the
lowest quality), and 3 tugs to lead the convoy. The pilot and electrician,
instead of using the pilot ladder, instead require the gangway. I don't
know why. The pilot directs the steersman (or helmsman, or driver, in this case,
me), the electrician maintains the "suez light" (a giant flood light on the
bow), which is to say he's hired at great expense to throw a switch... And
then, of course, the linemen do nothing but annoy. The electrician has it
in his contract that he gets a private room with a bed while transiting.
The linemen of course, moved into that room and refused to leave until the
Chief Mate had lost his cool (Seattle-style, of course- which means "become
stern" and repeat himself a lot). And of course, everyone wants cigarettes-
a throwback to World Wars I and II and a custom forgotten in most other
parts of the world. I even had one guy ask to buy my shoes off my feet.

The linemen eventually set up their knick-knacks in the hallway in front of
the elevator, which prompted the crew to become venomous and needlessly
confrontational, at one point "The Great Dane" threatening to kick one of
them "like a dog." The entire show was great fun but I walked away with no

The Red Sea, at this moment, means nothing more to me than the place where I
finally went to sleep after the frenzy that is the canal. Time for my
diphenhydramine and sleep (yes, the hives are still with me).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Stupid Elevator Games

Ships have a main deck- and it is as you might assume, the main deck. It
has offices in the house, and the side decks that lead fore and aft to the
docking and anchoring equipment. There are stairs that run from the main
deck up to the wheelhouse (deckhouse deck 1-7), then another set that runs
from the main deck down to the tank top (deck 1-5, or the "tanktop," as the
lowest floor is known).

The elevator runs clear from the tanktop all the way up to the wheelhouse.
In case of emergency there is a hatch in the lid and a ladder that goes all
the way up to the wheelhouse, but otherwise it is exactly like any elevator
you've ever been on, ship's numbering aside.

Well, being a ship full of smart-asses, if the engineers are using the
elevator and keeping it on their floors to ferry stuff up and down between
decks 1 and 5, people get pissed and once they get their turn they send it
up to the wheelhouse to foil the engineers. I watched one deckhand go from
the main deck up to deckhouse deck 1 (one level) but hit every single button
for every single floor above the main deck just to piss off the engineers.

And if it was you, you'll swear, you'd be above it all (no pun intended) and
not play stupid elevator games... which is exactly the same thoughts I
originally had about it. But no. It becomes irresistable. And once you
give in it becomes easier.

My favorite variation is when someone is waiting to go up (or down) and I
take the stairs and hit the "up" button (or down) on the next level. It's
even better when you can do multiple floors. Or if everyone is on the main
floor waiting for it, hit the wheelhouse and the tanktop floors. When the
elevator stops at a floor for no reason, and there is no one there waiting
when the doors open... well, you know you got played.

More Sleep Deprivation

In and out of Egypt, viewed from a vantage point at the top of the gangway
where I stood security watch. Swarms of vendors who cannot take "no" for an
answer hocking "internet connection" and fake iphones and tablets, asking
for cigarettes, and generally being pains in the ass.

Right now "on the hook" waiting to go through the canal... my watch while at
anchor is "anchor watch," (chain at 10 o'clock, moderate to heavy strain) on
the hour, "security watch" on the half hour (all clear).

Sleep deprived from docking and casting off in such a short period of time-
the refer has the house so cold I'm wearing a jacket and hat in my quarters.
Feels great out on the deck, though. I've been sleeping in my clothes on
the couch in my room because of the toxic nature of the laundry and my
resulting hives, and the cold air blowing in my room. No, I can't shut it
off- you think I didn't check?

Some days I just have to ask myself "WTF am I doing?" Whelp... time to go
do my security check. Think I'll find some coffee to take with me- it
counteracts the benadryl (exactly not at all). "Bridge... security watch...
1430. All Clear."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Discomforts and Current Sea States.

There are certain discomforts a man should not have to live with. Some
consider being at sea a discomfort in and of itself- I am not one of these.
Being at sea while covered in hives, however, is something I feel I should
not have to live with. It's bullpoop.

The unlicensed crew laundry has four machines: two washing machines (one a
front loader) and two dryers (one of which is not working). There is also a
giant box of detergent, which is labeled "floor cleaner," but goes on to say
"can be used for laundry" further down the label. I took one look at and
then said to myself "Since I am allergic to detergent, and that looks just
like the detergent I am allergic to, I am bringing my own hypoallergenic

Unfortunately, that detergent powder doesn't dissolve, gets into every nook
and cranny of the machines, and causes anaphylactic shock in even the
hardiest of souls. My hypoallergenic detergent? When mixed with the
undissolved powder? Pointless. The Boatswain, "Bozey," being one of these
hardy souls whose skin revolts at said chemicals provided me with a tube of
cortisone cream to bolster the diphenhydromine the chief mate/chief medical
officer gave me. Ready for TMI? Hives occur the most severely where the
skin is most tender and sensitive... arm pit, leg pit... no difference. I
dismantled the top loader, scrubbed it of the offending detergent, rinsed
and ran and empty load, then did all my towels, sheets, and clothes. It's
been two days of hell. Hopefully the hives don't strike again and I have
solved my issues.

Sirius was so bright tonight it was playing hell with the rods in my eyes
and ruining my night vision. For those who don't know, a ship's bridge is
pitch black at night. All the computer displays are in red, blue, or green
(no white) light and incredibly dim- in fact, the easiest knob to find is
always the dimmer. It takes a good 5 minutes to get used to the levels, and
about 15 before you can see what you're doing. It's why you never shine
your flood light at the bridge of a boat at night (which is called
"embarrassing" for some damned reason). The stars over the Mediterranean
off the Egyptian coast are so painfully brilliant that even
impossible-to-miss Orion disappears in a sea of back-lighting. Through the
binoculars are 15 stars for every single one visible to the naked eye- it's
truly captivating. Poor Polaris, though, is washed out... Kochab, too.
Seems down here at 32 degrees latitude the northern stars struggle to be
brilliant in light of their oblique angle to the atmosphere.

So we're getting ready to go into port, taking on a pilot at 0900. The
whole song and dance of rigging the ladder, posting a watch on the bow,
taking on the pilot, hand steering the ship in, accommodating the tug,
throwing and retrieving of lines, rigging the gang plank, and everything
else it takes to dock a ship will be underway in short order. Nobody is
expected to go into town, though. As I overheard one of the crew say this
morning, "the Egyptians were more advanced a thousand years ago." The
danger level to the crew who leave the port is considered very high, and
everything will be in lock-down here on the ship as the longshoremen do
cargo. Apparently if it isn't locked down the Egyptians will steal it. If
we see one in the house we're to apprehend them and radio for assistance in
escorting them out.

Yesterday the sky was filled with small, puffy cumulous clouds which cast
black shadows on 2 meter following seas that were a deep royal blue and
covered with many highly contrasting white horses. The seas moved at a
different rate than the clouds' shadows and it looked like the most perfect
sailing weather imaginable. Today's seas range from olive to hazel, and
though they are lumpy, the color flattens it all out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Firehoses and Floodlights

Today's watch I was off the coast of Tunesia's Isle de la Galite. The watch
was interrupted by drills- SCBA's, which are air tanks you wear while
fighting fires, Nozzleman and Hoseman practice with the streams shooting off
the stern- using the ubiquitous navy nozzle and the vary nozzle- and
lifeboat drills.

Tonight I could see the coast of Sicily to our north. There were a couple
of fishing vessels, unlit, that created an enormous amount of watchkeeping
work on the bridge... they were "embarrassing" us- which means shining a
floodlight right into our eyes- in order to compensate for the fact that
they did not have any proscribed lighting (an all around red over white,
plus their typical making way lights). And doing stupid shit like cutting
across our bow when only about 2 nautical miles away- it takes 3.5 nm for us
to stop. When our relief came up I handed off my watch with one vessel
safely astern, and the other moving away broad off our starboard bow.

Not for the first time since we first outran the hurricane I have been
dumbfounded by the stars. The lack of city lights, or shore lights of any
kind, brings a whole new sky into perspective. One of my favorite
constellations is Orion. Orion is the most easily recognized and it has
heralded my path out of harm's way on more than one occasion. Sirius is
nearby in the sky and looks as if it were shot out of Orion's bow. Sirius
strobes white, blue, and red and is so bright it has a halo of light, like
that cast by a floodlight. I can't help but think of Jacob's coat of many
colors, or Saruman's robe before Gandalf cast him down. Oh, I forgot, look
at it through a pair of high quality binoculars... just amazing.

And the heated, salt water pool at 0400 is just about the finest thing
imaginable. It is next to the stack behind the wheelhouse, with a tower of
containers on the third side. Very interesting location, for sure- but I
was looking at the coast of Africa underneath the stars while swimming this
morning and that ain't too shabby a way to end the first part of my work

And I just became aware that I am not to transmit any data about our
whereabouts- for security reasons- so I am going to become more and more
vague... sorry. We do "Gulf of Aden" drills for a reason, and loose lips
sink ships, so to speak...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Med

We passed the Prime Meridian @ approx. 1330. As of 0030 we were steaming
along the northern coast of Algeria (37d22.504'N 003d59.126'E). At 0330 a
pretty spectacular thunderstorm rolled in to hand off to the next watch...
it was pretty cool to realize I was watching lightning over Algeria. Yeah.
That Algeria- the one in Africa. When we land in Egypt I will have visited
my 4th continent (yay me). Asia is coming up soon (double yay me again).

So I would describe the water of the Med so far as "powder blue when
churned, deep blue to hazel in various light." Much different than the
"turquoise when filtering sunlight and when churned into spray, deep blue to
look at, black and navy to grey in the gloom" of the North Atlantic.

Emails from Laura are not coming across the wire and it is becoming a pain
in my ass. And when I called her tonight the electrician came into the
office and sat his happy ass down at the other desk so I had no privacy (he
actually is quite happy- and keeps up an endless stream of comedic wit which
is why I'm willing to forgive him). This entire communication thing must be

For the second time since we left NYC I am going to take a day off (which on
a ship means work just 8 instead of 13 hours). I have a stack of movies
from the "Hobby Shop," which in days of yore would have contained all sorts
of crap, from playing cards to model planes, but on a modern ship contains
thousands of DVDs. And my secret chocolate stash. And some cashews out of
the Slop Chest (a ship's store full of stuff you might need, sugar/fat/fake
stuff that resembles food- often called "candy," and a full line of ship's
merchandise- hats, teeshirts, jackets, mugs, etc. all sold on the honor

We had a ship-wide BBQ at 1700 today and the pool temperature is up to 42
degrees. To my horrified Seattle friends who are thinking "holy crap!
That's 6 degrees colder than the Salish Sea!" I clarify with one word:
Centigrade. Oh yeah. Sure, I had to work until 0400 (that is 4am,
landlubbers)- but my new routine until we get into pirate waters is to hit
the pool after the midnight watch. Should be mine, all mine!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grease and Toilet Paper

So today I got to "grease and exercise" the round, bulbous cargo vents all
over the ship. You attach the grease gun, give it a squeeze- three-quarters
of which goes all over holy hell, of course- then turn the wheel all the way
to the left. Repeat, the only variation being you turn the wheel to the
right the second time. And by "you" I mean me.

I went out in simple coveralls and got good and wedged up in the catwalk
between container mountains, down under the all the walk-ways, conduits,
turn-buckles, etc. and began "greasing and exercising" one particular vent
when a good squall hit. All the water that hit the top of the containers
rained down. All the rain in the catwalks rained down. Ankle deep water
ran like a flash flood as we heeled, then pooled as we came level, then ran
like a scalded cat in the other direction. I was soaked in seconds.
Needless to say, after coffee I was in my Polyvinyl Chloride superhero armor
with only my eyes exposed, and while my gear does repel the crap out of
water, it seems to magically attract grease...

We passed through the Strait of Gibraltar tonight before my watch (while I
slept). Currently I am between Morocco and Portugal, about 85 nautical
miles east of Gibraltar. Tomorrow will be day 1 of the visible
Mediterranean (I am excited to see the colors of the waters). And my union
delegate is now pissed at Academy Boy based on my conversations about how my
watches have been going... it will be interesting to observe how this
interaction plays out... the Delegate has twenty-something years of living
these politics, so I suspect it will not go well for Academy Boy.
Interestingly enough, the company who owns this boat is trying an experiment
by having two 3rd mates on this trip and the other 3rd mate is a bit of a
douche nozzle, too. How is it the Chief Mate and the 2nd mate are so
congenial, approachable, and genuinely likable, and then their underlings
are such asshats? WTF?
OK. Time for my second sleep... we advance the clocks almost every night
due to crossing time zones, and I lose an hour of sleep each time we do...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Good Light Show

Currently at 37d20.244'N 012d32.833'W turning 18 knots. Got on the bridge
tonight to 0 visibility and multiple vessels crossing and meeting in various
ways. My watch partner, the Academy Boy, proceded to instruct me NOT to use
the RADAR (which is required by the rules to be used) and to foul up a very
straight forward meeting situation. I turned over my watch to my relief
with a spectacular lightning display going on.

I got six hours of sleep earlier! Regardless, I am still nodding off right
now... I have discovered if I skip dinner I can get an extra 45 minutes of
sleep. My only other option is to not take all the overtime opportunities,
which I am loath to do. Basically, the choices are sleep, food, or money-
pick two.

Crazy dreams of late- last night was of taking a ship upriver and the pilot
running it aground. Interestingly, during the entire dream I was driving a
car on a street adjacent to the river trying to get a good look at the ship
and the river.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Eastward Ho.

Currently at 39d00.046'N 020d32.046'W, estimated to arrive at the Straits of
Gibraltar at approximately 1800 tomorrow... when I did my calculations we
were 753 nm away, turning 17.7 knots... 42.5 hours. The midnight watch is a
great time to practice stuff like finding compass variation when you know
true north and the ship's deviation for the current heading. There are two
different aids to memory for remembering that particular math formula: "T.V.
Makes Dull Children" and "True Virgins Make Dull Company." Pick one the one
you like and stick to it.

Chief Mate gave me some of his secret Seattle coffee stash today- we were
talking about how much we like the Ballard farmer's market and to what
extent we miss the superior food of the Pacific Northwest to that of our
current dining experiences here upon the island of misfit toys. That guy is
definitely invited out to go sailing. Real, high-grade, caffeine rich, full
bodied, balanced tannins... it was the first time the fog has cleared since
I left Seattle. I couldn't feel my lips. And to think I'd been
contemplating quitting...

Needle-gun work all day on the giant dockline winches. I'm getting the
technique down so that I don't have to spend 2 hours washing up after
working with the pneumatic rust-removal "hammers" (which includes flushing
the sinuses and ears).

And my watch partner, the Academy Kid (featured at length in my last rant),
has been fine to work with the last two watches. Go figure. Pack a bridge
with dynamite and then the guy won't cross it... we were actually civil. I
think I've turned a corner. Yes, I am being facetious- tomorrow someone
will receive hatred and another someone else will receive admiration-
probably equally undeserved...