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...