Saturday, December 14, 2013

Blunderbusses and Boobies.

So I figured it out… it was a red-footed booby, not a juvenile northern gannet that spent two days zigging and zagging in front of the foremast on her hunt for flying fish.  How did I finally make this conclusive determination, you ask?  The red feet.  Elementary, really.

My bird tally so far this run is an olivaceous cormorant, two red-footed boobies, some unknown little sparrow-like song bird, and today- contrary to all expectations- a stork.  Like every cartoon you’ve ever seen, a stork is an unmistakable bird: long legs that hang awkwardly down and aft, a long neck tucked into a tight s-shaped hunch held tight against the body, and a bill of pelicanescent proportions.  What the hell a goofy, gangling, shore-bird is doing struggling against the ocean winds out here is beyond me.

Great stars… our course taking us between a sky dominated by Canis Major, Orion, and Taurus to that of Ursa Major, Minor, and Cassiopeia…. with Perseus tucked between at the interstice of these two skies getting lots of face time.  It’s been clear enough that Andromeda’s galaxies stand out quite visibly, the salty air kicked up by 25 knot winds and cats paws notwithstanding.  During my stint on the APL President Polk, Jupiter was crossing the rat-like face of the bull… now, however, it has migrated all the way down to Gemini, south of Taurus in the sphere of the sky… if I project forward another year then Jupiter will be in Cancer this time next year- pointless trivia for most, but when I sit for my 3rd mates unlimited next year I will be using it to shoot a nightly asthmus, so it isn’t trivial to me...

My first glimpse of the sea at noon’s watch presented me with a flock of flying fish exploding off the port bow like bird-shot from a blunderbuss.  They flew a hundred meters or so, and cued by some unknown signal, all dove into a swell as one… but the cormorant and the booby were nowhere in sight.  I spent the rest of the watch making coffee for people visiting the bridge and blabbing about nothing so if there was anything else noteworthy to see, I didn't see it.

And there you have it.  My watch is done.  This is written.  I am showered and shaved.  Lights out for this intrepid sailor.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Millibars and Mid-flight Vomitus.

The wind picked up last night and with it has come 2 - 3 meter swells.  We're safely inside a high pressure system that is keeping the low pressure cold and snow over most of the N. American continent at bay, but the barometer continues to drop, so... the nasty might be on the way, even out here in the warm Atlantic current north of the Bahamas.  I don't care- the more it builds the better I sleep.

I've seen plenty of flying fish the past few days, too.  An olivaceous cormorant visited yesterday, and today we played host to what might have been either a juvenile northern gannet or a red footed booby, who flew back and forth off the bow at the height of the foremast on the hunt for flying fish, upon sight of which, the bird would swoop down and chase the fish across the wave tops at great speed.  Also, inexplicably, the bird puked in an exaggerated and comical fashion while in mid flight... a thing I don't think I've ever imagined but now know was clearly absent from my ocean-going experience.

OK.  The 12x4 watch has me exhausted and bedtime is overdue.  My book, "Seabirds of The World," by Peter Harrison, is a total win.

Indigo Seas


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sunset Over The Atlantic

As seen through my salt encrusted deadlight, tonight.
The ocean was a brilliant indigo, today, with light cumulous clouds that never seemed to get in between me and the sun.  No wildlife to speak of but for a lone black seabird with a long, loon-like neck (of course my seabird identification book is in my quarter and I am up on deck 03- so now my failure to identify before blogging is merely an indication of my shameful laziness).

It feels like a great change to be on sea watches, doing sailorly things, after so much time at the dock and in the boatyard.  A light swell on our port bow makes for a pleasant and smooth pitch that lulls me to a nodding sleepiness, a sirens call that is hard to ignore after yesterday's 18 hour day.

I Drive a Ship, Bitches.

And this is where I do it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Because photos are easier....

We're sitting at the dock in Cape Canaveral getting ready to go out for "box maneuvers," the only type of sailoring I'm gonna see on this boat.... as I've described before, box maneuvers consist of going out into the ocean and going round and round, back and forth, as directed, for little to no apparent reason.  So below are some pictures of life on a ship when said ship sits most of her time made fast to the land, because there just isn't a lot to say.

My chariot- after my 12 hours of work I often escape
the ship and pretend I'm a normal person. 

This is the unlicensed crew mess hall.

Cape Canaveral pelicans at night.

An endless stream of gigantic passenger vessels passes
within 1/4 mile of our bow as they arrive and depart the port.

A "polka-dotted wasp moth," or an "uncle sam bug," a
harmless moth that did not look harmless when it confronted
me on my chariot.

The ship's gym.

This is the inside of the gangway's guard shack, the place
I spend 8 hours a day, from midnight to 0800.

"Sea Smoke" on the warm water when the temperature
dropped all the way down to 47! one night this past week.

I had to.

A ghost crab of the Space Coast variety...

A sunrise off the port bow- not visible from my guard shack,
so I have stopped posting sunrise photos each morning
to facebook as I did when we were at the shipyard in
Charleston and my view of the rising sun was unimpeded. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cast off!

Sea trials in 40 knot winds and nasty seas... No word on the swells, but they've had all night to build up... The smoother this goes the happier it'll make me. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Mullet? Really!?

Being in the shipyard is dull.  Yeah, there is plenty of activity and there is an endless stream of stuff to do, but we're not underway so the time I would be doing my navigation watch is spent in a guard shack, instead (per earlier post).  One of the oddities you might encounter should you be able to board my ship at midnight is the Ordinary, the Chief Cook, and the GVA hanging out on the stern.

The Chief Cook is half Filipino and looks Hawaiian; he's as wide- muscle, not fat- as he is tall.  The GVA is Arabic and always wears a derby hat with suspenders and sings decidedly Arabic vocals in quarter steps.  The Ordinary is Filipino.  They gather around the Ordinary's 4 foot tall hookah and pass the pipe around while the Cook plays a tiny ukulele, and I imagine if he were to spontaneously burst into song he'd probably sound like Don Ho.

And just about every time I go to the port stern, directly over the furthest aft deckspace on her quarter, a two foot mullet-looking fish slowly swims out from under the dock, does a loop, and disappears back into the shadows and doesn't reappear again until the next day.  The first few times I was like, "huh, would you look at that."  The first dozen times it started to be remarkable.  Now, 6 weeks into our shipyard stint, it's just friggin' creepy.

If we have spirit animals I sure hope mine isn't a giant mullet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

For Whom The Bell Tolls...

20 years of tarnish and abuse, gone.  Grease from my elbow, liberally applied.

Seen in the shipyard...

68 knots... That's fast!

Saturday, October 5, 2013


The gangway log...

Sailoring as a "Job?"

So every ship is different, and some are more different than others… my current ship is at the shipyard and that means we sailors are on a totally different schedule than we would be on if we were under way, making way.  One big difference that took some getting used to was going on an eight hour watch… my new watch, while at the quay, is midnight to 0800 (really 2345 - 0745)- or, as it has been called for time immemorial, “the midnight watch.”

I am currently almost through season 3 of “Californication,” a remarkably explicit sitcom given to me by the first Bos'n on the Polk (and now mi amigo), and I have started rereading the "Game of Thrones."  The proclivity of modern sailors for amassing large hard drives full of music and video is one I am glad I have tried to develop… I literally do nothing for the first 6 hours of my watch.  Pull ups, push ups, jumping rope, reading, and watching movies… more movies than pull ups, I’m afraid...

After I’m relieved I have about 15 minutes to change and get out on deck, b/c at 0800 is the daily safety meeting, which kicks off my 4 hours of overtime.  When do I eat, you ask?  I take about 15 minutes after the meeting to throw down whatever I can fit into my piehole.  The deck work goes so quickly after the full midnight watch… I grab a needle gun and go to it with a gusto.  If I had to compare the two parts of my day in terms of apparent time, my watch feels 12 hours long and my OT only 2.

I bought my brother’s motorcycle.  I think I have already not spent several hundred dollars on taxi’s, but I can’t say I have saved any money… what I can say is it’s nice to explore and just get lost in Charleston and the outlying areas.  While getting sea time.

And friends Beth and Dan (former owners of Seattle’s Aster Coffee Lounge) now live here with their bouncing baby boy so I have been fortunate enough to spend a little bit of time with them.  And agree to help them move stuff.  And borrow their garage.  And eat Mexican food.  And go to the beach.  You know… friend stuff.  Beth is now running her dad’s business (marine related, of course) and tomorrow I go out on their schooner for brunch.  It’s a hard life, I know… but if anybody could do it, anybody would, right?

And Laura has a ticket to come visit, as well.  Yay!  So I’ll do my night shift while she’s here (I really can’t get out of it) and then spend the two days she’s here zombified-but-happy.... Barring any unforeseen complications it will be the first and only successful visit we will have pulled off- and then only because this ship has more hoses, pipes, cables, wire looms, lines and walkways holder her fast to the dock than she can shake off between now and then.

Actually, being in the shipyard is more like having a job than being a sailor…

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Hitchhiker

So last night, as we steamed north from Cape Canaveral to Charleston, an osprey landed on the foremast.  The moon was behind a thin, stratus mist that acted like a diffuser and lit the night as effectively as the full moon might have, and when the raptor came in from above the wheelhouse and banked hard, landing on the range light in profile to where I stood with binoculars, I thought it was a trick of the light that made this seabird look like a raptor.

I tried to convince myself that I was mistaken, too... when you're 100 miles offshore you don't expect to see an osprey.  The last raptor I saw at sea was off the north coast of Africa - some type of kestrel or falcon, I think - but I could see the hills of Algeria looming in the humid air off to the south, then.  I was not 100 miles offshore.  It was not night time.

Osprey are surprisingly large, with bold black and white plumage- you don't mistake them for anything else.... so my inner conversation was "Is that...?  No.  But wait!" and I stared for 15 minutes, afraid to look away, in case it took flight and I could see that familiar shape and be certain that the dark wasn't playing with my eyes.

The bird preened for hours, I got a good, conclusive look- it was, indeed, an osprey... but she never flew off during my entire watch.  She eventually put her head down and, as far as I can tell, slept.  When I handed off the watch I handed her off to my relief and like to think she was satisfied that our ship would take her where she wanted to go, red-eye express, and arrived in South Carolina well rested.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Seaturtle eating algae off Yokohama Fender and cable


My quarters are only a few meters above the water- a big change from my last ship.  And when we’re underway I hear the water beneath my deck, also a big difference from the Polk… instead of being in a twelve story building surrounded by cargo, this vessel and its “talking cargo” is less than half the length of my last ship and about 50,000 tons of displacement lighter, which is orders of magnitude smaller.

Where 2.5 meter swells are almost unnoticeable in a 275 meter ship, this smaller ship bucks around and rides more like a boat.  She steers like a power-boat, too, with twin screws and rudders, but I am spending lots of time at the helm so I had the hang of the differences inside of a day and grew bored at the helm soon thereafter.  

Next stop- The Low Country, my ancestral homelands, but the furthest northern extremes of the Coastal Empire…. Charleston, SC.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Here We Go Again....

I am out at sea again after only 3 months ashore- 5 long months stretching out ahead of me.  I arrived at port 2100 hours on Wednesday night and stood my first watch at midnight of that same night… welcome aboard, AB Jackson- now get to work!  While in port I stand a security watch- which is to say, I sit in an air-conditioned box and sign people on and off the ship.  Reading is allowed while on the midnight watch (there’s no need to hide the kindle) so it is a good thing I have well over 50,000 pages of book-stuffs with me.  Not really much else to tell about that part of my job.

Anyone who has read any of my previous posts can imagine how happy I was to look off the stern during the midnight watch and see great schools of mullet illuminated in the floodlights, multiple swarms of fish segregated by size, moving in an unchoreographed yet synchronous manner.  And sea turtles, lazily swimming through the schools of fish looking for (and finding) their dietary staple- jellyfish.  

The mullet keep several feet of distance from the turtles and it forms a circle- a fishless circle- that follows the turtles wherever they swim, casting an in-the-spotlight illusion.  It wasn’t until I watched a seaturtle eat a jellyfish that I realized I’d never actually seen a seaturtle eat a jellyfish before.  Every sting I’ve ever suffered from a jellyfish, especially the one that went up my shorts in 1997, made me very content to stand and watch every single jelly-fish destroying bite.

Out on the perimeter of the floodlights I watched a ten foot shark very slowly pass back and forth, never getting any closer to the action below, but never going away, either.  And a big ray or skate of some sort, diamond shaped and flying through the still waters like a prehistoric bird.  And two big gar-pike or barracuda, swimming as a pair.  All the predators hung around at the edge of the light on separate occasions, until they grew bored, or restless, or whatever, and melted into the murk below.

After my frustration aboard the President Polk with recognizing the ocean’s animals and birds I brought two physical books with me this time- a guide to the whales and dolphins of the world, and a guide to the seabirds of the world- but I neglected to bring a single book on sea turtles and sharks.  I will have to remedy this.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Well... it's official...

I have thrown down my card for a job on a Military Sealift Command vessel... more to follow.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


A picture says it all.  216 sea days, now 6 months on the beach...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Labrador Current brought us cold air and water the color of olives that
churns a deep spinach green and black- a frigid but nutrient rich soup
feeding the critters that feed the critters that feed the 6 whales and 3
herds of dolphin I saw today on my last day on watch for this voyage.

Right now we're approaching the final waypoint where we begin our slowdown-
it's an hour before taking on the pilot and I'm too stoked to sleep.

My phone rumbled about an hour ago alerting me to a text from Timberly
Cricket and heralding in the news that I am once again inside the world of
the internets... I'll enjoy browsing while at the airport later today, but
before that can happen I have to help dock a ship.

I'm going to try sleeping again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A White Whale!!!!

250 nautical miles from the nearest Azores and 800 nautical miles from
Newfoundland's closest shore the calm water became a deep jade green that
churned a lighter green of the same hue. Green water denotes a high algae
and chlorophyll-based plant content and the food chain was evident as we
moved into the warm Atlantic Current and bands of yellow water - a plankton,
phytoplankton, and krill soup - filled the sea from horizon to horizon, the
micro-animals grazing on the micro-plants.

It didn't take long to see a flock of gannet circling over water churning
with either tuna or mackerel, surrounded by hunting dolphin who leapt in and
out of the roiling mess, taking their meal with them one mouthful at a time
as they went. And I saw dozens of pilot whales, their smoke-on-the-water
spouts standing out against the yellow and green streaked ocean. It was
like watching that series "Earth," the Oceans episode... minus the fantastic
up-close and personal videography, of course- the story, however, is

That was yesterday. Last night a breeze whipped the water into motion and
the microscopic plant and animal life was smashed into their smaller
chemical components, known as smithereens, which then drifted down to the
ocean floor to become the limestone of tomorrow. Indigo blue water and
whitecaps, 40 knot winds from the SE, and a cloudless sky greeted me at
watch this morning... and being 450 miles closer to Newfoundland, of course.

The most plentiful whales in the ocean are ghost whales- which are the
hundreds of whales you think you just saw after actually seeing a real one.
Every whitecap becomes a plume, every shadow a dorsal, pectoral, or tail
fin... and when the water is choppy, like it is today, I don't even bother
to look for them. So imagine my surprise when I train my binoculars on what
I assume is a raft of grass coming down the starboard side and instead focus
in on a white pilot whale with black spots on its tail, lazily swimming just
below the surface, noncommittally breeching for air and for all intents and
porpoises more manatee than anything else.

So add a white whale to my list of things Forrest-saw-at-sea.
Two more days and a wakeup. My bags are packed, my room is mostly ready for
the next sailor, and I am so antsy it does no one any good to even try
talking to me. I am also dead-set on finishing off the last of the 7 lbs.
of coffee I bought when on the east coast last, back in February, and my
highly-caffeinated, no overtime working, restless self is going to unpack,
then repack, my stuff again today. Just because.

Two more days and a wakeup. I have designed a small boat to build, planned
how to sell my existing boat and what its replacement will be, designed
another container house (duh- the damned things are staring me in my face
all day), planned getting my truck batteries charged, boat batteries
charged, grass cut, driver's license updated, union dues paid, new drug test
card, my USCG licensing updates updated... all in my head. Every day.
While staring at the Atlantic.

Two more days and a wakeup. NYC, ETA 0400 zone time, May 20.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Six and a Wakeup.

Last night I watched the earth's shadow eclipse the waxing crescent moon -
one minute the bright scythe hung low in the sky and then the blade of the
moon began to grow thinner and thinner. By the time it had dropped to the
horizon the eclipse was full and that Cheshire grin had turned completely
dark. The moonset was accompanied by the setting of Jupiter- who did not
quit the job when it was almost complete like his lunar counterpart- and
once Jupiter had set fully the guiding constellations left filling the sky
were Gemini, Canis Minor, and Auriga- as has been the case since leaving the
Suez. By the end of watch they'd fallen below the horizon, too, and I
handed over my watch with Leo on the bow.

I posted about how Crux (no longer visible) is so easy to confuse with the
union of Vela and Carina- I just realized that this union of constellations
I call "the pseudo-crux," like the actual Southern Cross, is not visible
above 25 degrees north latitude, either, to which I must say "Oops. My
Bad." I hope nobody actually went out on a starry night to check... but if
you did, you're most welcome.

I watched the Rock of Gibraltar and the looming hills of Africa slide past
in the fog this morning as the shipping traffic miraculously flowed around
us on all sides like bubbles of mercury- always moving yet never touching.
I consider the Light on the Isla de Tarifa to be the actual gate post to the
Atlantic on the European shore- it is the point furthest to sea on the
Strait, and around that point the land climbs immediately north and away
from the shipping lanes. I watched a small sailboat with a reefed main and
no jib run around that point, rolling in the following seas and flying
before 30 knot winds, before tacking and setting off on a beam reach up the
coast with no small amount of jealousy- and like most sailors, I was highly
critical of his unbalanced rig (reef it again and fly your storm jib, you
dolt) but envied his predicament, nonetheless.

The flint water that churned green glass-in-the-sun on the Med side of the
tide rips in the mouth of the Strait became flint water that churned a
robin's egg blue on the Atlantic side, and the following winds whipped up
swells where only ships and whitehorses tirelessly roam... no fishing boats
to bedevil us, three sailboats in total (one large cat with no canvas up)
out to play in the wind, and we behemoths. Oh, and one Tug- Bella- rolling
like a drunken whore, refusing to answer our hails, and abusing her unequal
power of being the overtaken vessel by placing herself fully in our way no
matter what our heading... her captain amused me to no end, particularly
because my watch partner- the Worst Mate Ever- became so frustrated by her.
It truly is the little things in life...

Six days and a wake up! Tomorrow I will start the actual packing process.
The Atlantic swells are mild so I won't be tightening lashing rods anytime
soon with my Wonderbar (tm) and singing in my finest German accent (to the
tune of "Oh Christmas Tree," as I am known to do) "Oh Wonderbar, Oh
Wonderbar, Oh how you make me wonder...." So pack I shall.

And oh yeah... you're welcome for that.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Whistling up... OT?

At the end of my 2000 to midnight watch there will be 8 days and a wakeup
remaining before I am back on the beach. I will have been at sea for 216
straight days, working a 56 hour work-week (before overtime), 7 days a week,
and I will have averaged 5.14 hours of overtime a day- which means I will
have worked (on average) 13.14 hours every single day since October 14th,
2012. That is 2832 hours. Which is equivalent to seventy-one 40 hour
work-weeks... but who's counting, right?

It is amazing the difference a day can make. Transiting the Suez I was in
shorts and a teeshirt, as I have been since March 17th when we last came
through, carrying my ever present water bottle and hiding in the shade. A
single day out of Damietta and I had dug out my wool base layer. Today I'm
wearing my hat and fleece and I'm still shivering... I had just gotten my
body regulated to working in 100 degrees, 99% humidity, in the shade
temperatures and the sunny 60 degrees now feels positively arctic. I
suspect no one in Seattle will feel my pain, but my peoples down in the Low
Country will know exactly what I'm talking about.

So I'm starting to throw away work clothes and the detritus of life that
gathers in drawers, cabinets, corners, under and over furniture nooks,
window sills, refrigerators, et cetera, in preparation for the end of my
incarceration. I am gifting any and every thing (memory foam mattress pad,
cotton sheets, carhart foulies, boiler suits, playboy calendar- gifted from
the last bosun, of course- water filter, quart of honey... you get the
picture) firstly to the Fisherman, aka my brother-from-another-mother,
secondly to Gipetto's apprentice, the most courteous but physically
diminutive Philippino AB who is, through no fault of his own, everyone's
favorite mascot, and finally to the trash- b/c everyone else on this ship
can kiss my ass.

Late tomorrow or early the next day (I haven't bothered to look, actually)
we pass the Rock, so in two days time we'll be maneuvering the last of the
European fishing fleets and crossing the Africa-Europe ship traffic in the
Atlantic. Tonight will be all about weather predictions, I do predict...
usually it's a conversation had sooner before hitting the Atlantic but this
mate I'm watch partners with is a bit... um... well. If you can't say
something nice, right? I'll ask the Chief Mate when we relieve him and get
the skinny, but a good storm would require a massive lashing gear tightening
spree and I might be able to get more OT- which I want, of course. So I've
started whistling. A lot.

Bring on the OT!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Transit Number 6

Hmmm.... Where could this be?  Hint: that might be the Suez light.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dolphin and Gannets

Yesterday the indigo water was mostly calm (force 3-4) and the weather
extremely clear. Herds of dolphin, each about 50 strong, leapt, flipped,
and played in the waves and I realized it is almost impossible to watch them
without smiling. I also saw pilot whales and another unidentified whale,
but none were close enough to discern any other details.

Last night I watched Sirius set ahead of us as Antares followed Scorpio
skyward back astern, chasing close behind Libra (as always) up the dome of
the sky. The Southern Cross is still above the horizon and probably will be
for another few days, but Miaplacidus has fallen below the edge of the world
for good, now, as we move up in latitudes. Later, during security watch, I
witnessed great, fat-tailed meteors light up the northern celestial
hemisphere and shoot across the sky in front of the Little Bear, each
lasting between 1 to 7 seconds and crossing from horizon to horizon, east to
west, on the same transit as the ship, albeit through much different
atmospheres. You know it's a good night of watching "falling stars" when
you resort to just repeating the same wish over and over again,
automatically, each time a streak lights up the sky.

Today the sea was choppier than yesterday, following at force 6, and a dark,
dirty, and moody green the same hue as our faded bedroom paint at home (only
Laura will know the color, but it's kind of a NW moss). Off the shore of
Jabal Zuquar and Hanish al Kubra Islands were gannets riding the thermals
and diving at tremendous speed deep into the water after flying fish.
They're a big white bird with a wingspan of almost four feet accented with
black wingtips and edges, a black face with a long, bright yellow beak, and
a short, wide, flat body with stubby, black tail feathers. They're fast and
fun to watch- I was quite happy they were taking advantage of the thermals
around this floating tower and passing within ten feet of the bridge wings.
They would glance curiously at me as they stole silently and effortlessly by
and then I was disregarded as "not food" before they carried on with their
work day.

We should be picking up our first load of Egyptian flies for the slaughter
tomorrow night!

Monday, April 29, 2013


The Gender Equalizing Canoe

The Chief Cook (who looks remarkably like the Southpark character, Chef, and
is one of my peeps) and I saw what looked like 3 dolphins off the port
bridge wing, yesterday... except the largest of which was almost fifty feet
long! I don't know what kind of whale it is, but the general consensus is
they were some subspecies of pilot whale. Pilot whales are also known as
"blackfish-" because they're black, duh- but these super-dolphin were
typical dolphin gray, had the same bottle shaped nose, the exact same tail
and fins... they differed in only three visible ways- their incredible size,
longitudinal markings on their bellies similar to humpbacks, and their body
shape was almost barracuda-like... they lacked the beam at midships a
typical dolphin has.

I visibly crossed an ocean stream known as the "Equatorial Jet" which is
known for feeding warm water toward Sumatera. It looked similar to a Strait
of Georgia tide rip- it was a line of chop extending as far as the eye can
see amid a dead flat Sea of Bengal, but as we crossed it, our set (lateral
force on the bow by wind and water forces as determined by Doppler) shifted
from 1.8 degrees port to 1.9 degrees starboard. It was probably running at
about 4 - 6 knots.

We are back in blue waters, the water ranging in hue and color from electric
coolaid acid blue to scared-inkless squid-black, churning a pale powder
blue. A large number of flying fish have been skating off our bow and
leaving fine, perfectly straight lines in their wakes across the flat water,
the longest of which I witnessed fly a good quarter mile before kerplinking
out of sight.

But that was yesterday. Now the wind has built and a chop has fetched up as
we make ready the ship for me, the master helmsman, the extraordinary
ordinary, to steer us into Columbo City (cue the clap track). Actually,
this can be a tricky port with a foul current and it is difficult to pull
off nonchalance when you're working your ass off, but that's just a
disclaimer should I blow it... I'm actually going to kick its ass. Again.

Hundreds of out-rigger canoe fishing boats are out on the water, not as
colorful as the "Aladin's Slipper" fishing boats of Sumatera, but not dull,
either. I see outrigger canoes from Egypt to Singapore, and on from there
the famous proa's and canoes of the South Pacific continue to cover an area
from Sumatera all the way to the Marquesas, as far north as Hawaii... and
even if you want to be a quibbler and call the Aleutian Islanders open sea
outrigger canoes "kayaks" because they have a protective deck, the world is
covered with out-rigged canoes. They are the world's most common boat.

Just so you know- canoes are considered male boats by South Pacific
seafarers and boatwrights. This ship I'm on is definitely a "she," but when
I look at all these ocean going canoes they are clearly "he's." Don't ask
me why and what makes the distinction, but it is definitely so.

And that's what I got for now... time for me to go steer a ship into port.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

ZD cixelsyd a si DZ

Each time I steer and stand watch leaving and entering Singapore I am
astounded by the number of ships. In the Sinki, itself, there are hundreds-
at night, when the city is lit up and the downtown is beckoning like a
siren, another skyline faces it from across the water- a skyline of ships'
houses, lit up every bit as brightly as the shore and as equally dense.
Launches, pilot boats, divers' skiffs and numerous other workboats zip
through "Sinki City" like rush hour traffic. 24/7, 365.

When you leave the harbor you steam out of the channel heading almost dead
south, then round a prominent point into the Straits proper, then proceed up
the "Traffic Separation Scheme," or TSS, past numerous anchorages every bit
as large and congested as the Sinki. After a few hours of this I am left
dumbfounded at the amount of shipping traffic, but it stands to reason- the
Straits of Malacca are the route that connects all of SE Asia (1/3rd of the
world's population) to the nations surrounding the Indian Ocean (the next
1/3rd of the world's population). At the narrowest point the Straits are
only about 20 nautical miles wide. At the apex connecting the two
manufacturing and service colossals, China and India, sits tiny Singapore,
6th largest economy in the world (I'd verify that, personally, but I'm
denied the Library of Alexandria aka "Google"). Talk about location,
location, location.

We are currently underway, making way, on a heading meandering out of the
mouth of the Straits of Malacca. The jade hues of the Straits are giving
way to water the color of ink, the chaotic skies have morphed into gray
stratus and cumulonimbus clouds that spit heat lightning and spray the ship
down with just enough precipitation to increase the humidity drastically but
not to cool the temperature one iota. And the mood on the ship, in light of
the draconian refusal of any and all overtime, has torpedoed anyone's desire
to get along with one another.

Let the bitching commence!

I have been instructed (by a dubious source) that I should investigate the
architecture of Sumatera - apparently, the roofs are inspired by an old
custom of using decommissioned fishing boats to protect houses from the
rain. I'll investigate and with luck I'll be pleasantly surprised. I have
to say, and this I've seen with my own eyes each time I come through here so
can attest to its validity, the Sumatera fishing boats are gorgeous!
Sweeping bows, dramatic sheer, houses and hulls painted bright colors, net
outriggers made of simple bamboo- lovely to see!

I have been engaged in a silent and protracted battle of Wills with the
Great Dane. The battlefield is the board where our course, heading, and
magnetic compass info is written (amongst other bits of information) on the
bridge. Our drafts fore and aft, our air draft (highest elevation), ETA,
and clock, sun, and drills information all gets updated on this white board-
as described in another post back during my first trip.

The Great Dane is using the old convention of referencing GMT (Greenwich
Mean Time) and keeps putting the ETA (estimated time of arrival) in terms of
LT (local time)... which is incorrect- LT is our current time in the current
time zone, not the destination's time zone. I keep changing it to the
recognized conventions of UTC (the coordinated universal time), not GMT.
And instead of LT, I change the time to DZ (designated zone), which is the
time in the time zone of our arrival, as modified by ZD (zone description, a
numerical reference to UTC).

It might seem confusing, but it really isn't. UT is short for "universal
time," merely a phrase. UT0 is astronomically derived time. UT1 is time
adjusted for the relative movement of the geographical pole. UT2 is UT1
adjusted further for seasonal variations, and UTC (coordinated universal
time) is really the internationally agreed upon measure of UT2, at the Prime
Meridian (zero degrees longitude).

LT (local time) means "the time relative to right here in this time zone I'm
standing in."

DZ (designated zone) means "the time relative to that specific time zone."
Ie. Our arrival to Sri Lanka will be 2330 DZ (relative to Sri Lanka's time
zone), which will be 0100 LT (relative to where we are now).

ZD (zone description) is a numerical expression relative to UTC.
Singapore's ZD is expressed as "(-)8 ZD," or "eight hours before the UTC at
the Prime Meridian (zero degrees longitude)."

So when you see the phrase "ETA to ZD (-) 5.5 is 2330 DZ, or 0100 LT" there
is absolutely NO ambiguity or interpretation necessary. That tells you the
time UTC by a simple subtraction of 5.5, the time in the referenced time
zone, and the local time.

There are, however, two more time related terms that get used on the bridge.
"New Time," and "Old Time." When retarding or advancing clocks the time
change happens all at one moment- one O'clock magically becomes twelve
O'clock right at one O'clock. Being a ship on the watch system, with all
her hyper sensitive sailors ready to howl at the slightest provocation of
their collective hair-trigger sensitivities, however, it becomes necessary
to divide the time of clock changes into thirds so the change doesn't affect
just one watch, so even though the navigational calculations change all at
one moment, the ship's clock changes each 4 hours (in the case of a one hour
change) by only 20 minutes. I call my relief at 2300 each night, but is
that new time or old time? That happens at new time, even though when we're
heading east it is 2340 old time and 2220 heading west.

How is it that I come to know this? Nobody told me... I saw various bits of
it reference here and there. I asked about it and got incomplete and
incorrect answers, as is usual in life. I looked it up as soon as an
opportunity presented itself. The overall picture came not all at once, but
spread out over 4 hour periods, twice a day, day after day, week after week,
month after month...

In other words, I've had lots of time to ponder Time. And research it. And
lots of time to wage my silent, protracted war with the Great Dane. And one
day we might even mention it to one another- but I won't be the one to start
down that dead end road... because I knew I won this war even as it started,
way back when.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Bridge Over Monkey Waters

Barracuda gather in slow turbulent schools in the wash of the deck lights
each night, some of them almost 4 feet long. I caught the Old Man out there
with a fishing pole at midnight, and I've heard others planning different
ways of catching them. The Wrestler asked me if I could make a cast net...
which, of course I can, but the amount of time it would take makes the
entire proposition absurd. A ring net, similar to a crab net, would be the
easiest and best way to catch them- in my humble opinion, and it is backed
up by the Fisherman. Well... actually, it was the Fisherman's idea- but it
is the best idea of the lot, and since no one is actually going to do
anything with these ideas I might as well own the good ones. Well... the
captain actually threw a hook in the water, so he's actually doing
something... but whatever. Interestingly, we've had divers cleaning the
bottom of the ship all day and not one of them have been devoured within
seconds by the bloodthirsty fish like they would have been in a bad movie.

There was a ship anchored near us, one of the Wisdom Lines, named "Genius
Star." Really?! Then I noticed the large container ship swinging in the
breeze right next to us is named "Humen Bridge," which should bring an image
to mind of people working together to help one another by... like... forming
a human bridge over troubled waters (or something), but instead conjures up
a barrel of hooting monkeys flinging... stuff - which actually says more
about this crew I'm at sea with than I care to dwell on.

We're supposed to finally go in and load cargo at 0900... by tomorrow
night/early morning we should be underway again. With 26 days to go. Back
up the strait and across the sea to Sri Lanka, then through the pirate
waters and up into Egypt again. After loading our cargo of flies in
Damietta we'll kill them all the way across the Med, hit the stormy Atlantic
(where I'll get rocked to sleep each night) and then booyah! G the F out of
D. In NYC. Fly this farmer's tan that has a human attached to it back to
sunny Seattle.

At the latest safety meeting the Wrestler publicly threw the Boatswain under
the bus, which prompted our entire department to spontaneously start singing
"The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round..." in the stairwell afterward.

Right now I am on anchor watch. Each hour I check the anchor chain and
report to the bridge its direction and the amount of its pressure. The
direction is done, not by points, but by simple clock positions. The
pressure is a little more subjective, but I consider everything from 1 to
22.5 degrees to be "light strain," and everything from 22.5 to 45 degrees to
be "moderate strain." More than that is "heavy strain." So on the hour I
might say "Bridge... Bow... Anchor chain is up-and-down," meaning no strain
at all. Or I might say "Bridge... Bow... Anchor chain is at 10 O'clock,
moderate strain." Additionally, I feel the chain between the hawsepipe and
the pawl and if there is vibration then we're either slipping (underway) or
the chain is laying out from where it piles up when dropped.

Also, I am on Gangway Watch, which is to say that I raise and lower the
gangway for launches. We have a gangway that telescopes in and out while it
rises and lowers- which makes some sense, but it is so unbearably slow that
no matter what the benefits the shorter length might give, they become
completely lost to the tedium that is holding the up or down button and
watching it creep up or down. It is so slow that the launch pilots get
pissed and their "down" hand signals become increasingly frantic as it moves
downward at a comparable speed to that of lichens accumulating on a rotten
stump. More often than not they hit their horns continually and shout what
must be Singaporean obscenities.

And that's all I got. A day in the life of. Gotta go make my rounds.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Retired In Her 30's

The word is final- my first ship is to be sold for scrap in July. Built in
1984 in a German shipyard and known as a C-10 (I think perhaps 8-10 in total
were built), she was the world's first "post PanAmex" ship- a ship too
large to go through the Panama Canal. And now her days are non-colloquially
numbered- a shame, too: the hull plating alone is twice the thickness of
that on similarly classed modern ships. She's stout and strong, but the
subsidies which allow her to run as a US flagged vessel mandate an age
restriction and she's simply too long in the tooth for Uncle Sam, and
therefore, too expensive to run for the parent company.

She was designed for the comfort of the crew, as well- not only are all
quarters large and private, with a built in desk, dresser, and wardrobe, a
personal head (w/sink and shower, of course), a couch, table, and end table,
but all rooms have plenty of natural light, a refrigerator, black-out
drapes, task lighting, and (what was novel back in the day) an antennae
hookup for your am/fm radio! All C-10's were built with a gym, pool, and
sauna... but apparently a few of them had the pools "closed-in," or, in
other words: Removed. Our ship still has her pool- and the engineers tend
to keep the heat up to "hot tub" when it's cold out, or unheated while in
the tropics. It is very much like a 12 story hotel.

She's stable in rough weather (my first trip saw some 16 meter swells,
recall, and she took them without too much complaint) and, when at the helm
in hand steering, she's remarkably responsive to even the subtlest of rudder
changes. I have been able to maintain a heading while steering to within
less than half a degree of sloppiness for a solid hour. When all 55,000+
horses are pushing her they cleave the seas and oceans she plies and move
her at a respectable clip... we spend more time negotiating overtaking
situations than being overtaken- by a healthy margin of about 25 to 1.

And now she'd done. It has taken the wind out of the sails of the deck
department. No more chipping and painting. No more vessel improvements.
Those wish-list projects (i.e.: adding internet, repainting the stern and
pool decks, adding a Bose noise-cancelling stereo to the wheelhouse)?
They've died on the vine. Now we're only worried about being compliant in
our ports-of-call for several more months. No clean-outs added to the
embarkation deck drains. No pad-eye repairs on the lashing bridges. No
safety paint on the ladders. No nuthin'.

I'm not given to nostalgia, but this ship has carried me more than half way
around the world five times, and will have done so 6 times when I disembark
in May, and it makes me a little bit sad. For many years she has been a
workhorse of the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the
Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Bab el Mandeb, the Arabian Sea, the
Straits of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Sea of Bengal,
the Malacca Straits... whether on a great circle or a rhumb line, she never
stops, 24/7, 365- the cargo must be delivered on time. Until it doesn't.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Inside of a cargo hold... Note: that thing on the right is not a ladder.  The upper deck pictured is 18 feet above the lower one.

What to do when Not Underway

Anchorage. Not underway, not making way. On the hook. Swinging in the
wind. It sounds like a great time to do nothing, but when you're working on
a ship you're working on a ship. We just rebuilt our anchor windlasses (I
posted a video a couple of months ago of "let-go" if you want some
perspective of what I'm talking about). Why did we rebuild it? Because
last time we used it the brake failed and all 13 shots of chain ran out, out
of control, and slammed up against the sacrificial link with enough force to
scare the hell out of everyone aboard, particularly those on the bow
dropping it into the water.

Aside from the ungodly din and racket of the thing, the asbestos dust from
the brakes mixes with the rust and mud and you can't see your hand in front
of your face. If you're counting shots while paying the rode out - a shot
is 15 fathoms, or 90 feet, marked on the chain itself with paint or seizing
- it makes things challenging to see. If you're holding the servo switch
to let go the anchor you're standing right next to the windlass as the chain
gains speed and the failed brake spits out dust and fire, the proscribed
reaction to which is "run like hell." Not pleasant.

When the wind swings the ship around the hook and points us eastward I have
great cell service on my phone, but when we swing around to the west my
phone goes into roaming on a Malaysian service and my data disappears. Bye
bye internets. Add the wind and tide cycles (very consistent here) to the
time difference from home (-7 Z.D., or 14 hours in Seattle's future) and you
have a communications nightmare.

We're cleaning cargo holds- they're half a football field wide, 120 feet
long, and as tall as a 5 story building. "Cavernous" is a good description.
I like it when I find big chunks of metal (usually broken cones, which links
containers together at the corners) - I toss them to the foot of the ladder-
the sound is huge! But it is hot work, and it is so hot here that I had a
heat stroke on the stern, yesterday... the first and only heat stroke I've
ever had. Apparently, you don't get any minerals whatsoever from water made
with a water-maker, so 6 months of pure, uncontaminated h2o turns out to be
problematic when you're 1 degree north of the equator. I've been eating
salt tablets and drinking a special Chinese herbal tea ever since, and if I
could I'd load up on coconut water. My shirts are soaking wet within 5
minutes of being out of the AC, and I am reminded (by someone very special)
that it is still winter in Seattle and I can't bitch and expect any
sympathy. She didn't use those exact words, but I know what she meant... I
will, however, cry myself a river.

And the deck games continue. My latest game is to harass the bosun. I do
two things: First, a game I call "squelch." I stand near him with my radio
turned all the way up so that when he attempts to call anyone with his
radio, the feedback is so bad nothing comes through but a horrible squeal.
After two days of this my favorite deck-mate, the "Fisherman," figured out
what I'm doing and he started doing it, too... so now every time I hear the
radio squeal I cannot help but laugh. And it does, indeed, make the days go
by faster. The second thing I do is question everything he wants us to do,
and justify my line of reasoning with "...because that's the way it's done."
As it turns out, there is almost no verbal defense against the claim of
"because that's the way it's done," and he flounders around for a few
minutes until he gives in.

And another game is called "Throw _________ under the bus," where
___________ is the person who has most recently earned my ire. As it turns
out, this person is almost always the Wrestler- a man I genuinely like but
about whom I have no misconceptions. He is a shameless back-biter, renown
for his simultaneous laziness and skill at stirring up shit wherever he
goes. He creates a maelstrom of discontent in his wake as he plays people
against each other, and he proudly claims the ship could not function
without his hard work, even though he spends his days wandering around the
ship expending incredible amounts of energy avoiding work altogether. And
stirring up shit, of course. After being thrown under the bus a number of
times, I figured out the rules to his game and now I offer him the face of
reasonableness, jocularity, and conspiratorial brotherhood while I slander
him to anyone who will listen behind his back. Today, after slandering him
heinously, I then put on my headphones and pretended not to hear anything he
said. It was very satisfying.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Little India... The new Chinatown of my affections...

As I sit in "Little India" eating a surprisingly good dinner, "#134 Northern India" and drinking a coconut (which reminds me of being in Brazil with Laura, visiting Helen and Anthony), I realize how poorly a phone serves as a computer when you're trying to write a blog post. 

I am, for all intents and purposes, purposefully lost in India itself... This part of Singapore is nothing like the Singapore I am familiar with!  But I came here for toe socks (Mustafe's is dumbfoundingly gargantuan and organized by metrics and measures beyond comprehension)... Toe socks for myself (with which to freak out Tim, who has a strong aversion to my toe sock fetish), and for two other shipmates who saw mine and lost their friggin' minds with envy.  Really... Can you blame them?

I am nursing my resentment towards "the company," too, while I miss Laura- there is little that complements pity like rage, it turns out.  Like sweet and sour sauce.  Or something.  Best done with food... Food, it turns out, I could be sharing with Laura if it weren't for unfettered greed in the face of contractual agreements.  Did I mention rage already?

This is yet another face of sailoring... Milking every second of every minute ashore.  With food and toe socks, to boot. 


Just like in the movies...

Monday, April 8, 2013

No Scuttling Allowed.

Most people think about foreign ports, exotic lands, and ocean wildlife when they think about sailors and sailoring... and sometimes, that is what being a sailor actually is- a grand adventure.  But only sometimes.  Mostly it is hurry-up-and-wait, workplace politics, industrial practices, commercial liability aversions (fall arrest harnesses over life jackets?  WTF?), and downright bullshit.  Like this two-and-a-half week stay in Singapore just became- complete bullshit.

For months we have been promised shore leave and plenty of overtime during our layup in Singapore, and we have all made plans accordingly.  Laura bought a ticket to come out, and after 6 months apart, we were both excited to become reacquainted while I showed her one of the coolest cities in the world.  While offloading all cargo from the ship I was alerted to the fact that "the company" had decided to anchor out in international waters and there would be no launch service.  Meaning we cannot enter Sing under our foreign articles.  Meaning, we would not be able to go ashore for the entire duration of our stay in Sing.  Meaning that really, really expensive airline ticket Laura bought was for nothing (we're still waiting to hear if we can get any of the money back).

There really aren't words for how pissed off I am... pissed off and disappointed (and wishing I could allay Laura's disappointment, somehow).  The general mood on the ship isn't good... and my only recourse is to be a royal pain in the ass and fire off lots of letters to people who don't share the degree of my righteous indignation in protest, with no likely action to ever result.  There is a provision in the contract that allows for the Ordinary, extra or not, to be laid off to pursue additional training- and if I simply couldn't muster up the intestinal fortitude to take the abuse I would think seriously about using it- however, I am out here for sea time and assessments, not the money.  My primary goals dictate I grin and bear it.  So as Laura eloquently put it, I need to "put on my big-boy panties and suck it up."

Which, when shared with the guys on the fan-tail (stern) while docking, immediately became part of the unlicensed deck's lexicon.  Now everyone on the ship needs to put on their big-boy panties and STFU.  When and if Laura ever meets some of these guys she'll have some serious cred.

So right now I am in an internet cafe deep under Chinatown in Singapore surrounded by adolescent Asian's playing the latest video games... in the air conditioning.  I just finished a weird concoction of white plums, dried, with salt and licorice (I assume it is for video-gaming stamina, gangnam style) and getting ready to venture back out to find some gifts that weigh nothing, mean everything, and cost something reasonable for friends and family.  And people watch.  And not be on the ship, angry, distracted, and dangerous.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Great Southern Fake-out

For the first time since leaving the Mediterranean- bound for NYC, all the
way back in February- I have a night sky worth gazing at... storms, tropical
haze, and moonshine have all but eradicated any observable celestial
anything. There is little traffic to maneuver around once you're off the
coasts of the Arabian Sea so I've gawked at the sky at my leisure for the
past two nights. And I'm going to tell you about it whether you want me to
or not, so grab a drink and have a seat. Take a load off. Keep quiet.

Once the view was finally clear and dark, I was very happy to look out the
wheelhouse and see Corvus (the Crow) on the left, and what I thought was
Crux (the Southern Cross) on the right. It turns out not to have been Crux
at all, though. It took me a while of scratching my head and spinning the
chart around before I figured out why, as I've mentioned in previous posts,
I have found pinpointing such a recognizable constellation to be confounding
at this latitude: Where the two nearby constellations of Vela and Carina
meet is an identical looking grouping of stars.

It is at the exact same angle to the equator of the celestial sphere as
Crux. It is exactly asymmetrical, and to the same degree, as Crux. And it
is right next to the Greater and Lesser Megallanic Clouds (two
visible-to-the-naked-eye galaxies, like Andromeda), also exactly like Crux.
The only way that the union of Vela and Carina (I call it the "Pseudocrux")
differs in any way from the Southern Cross is that it is slightly larger and
the angle of the arm is opposite. So now I know- the Pseudocrux, Corvus,
and Crux all form a large, inverted isosceles triangle. The horizontal arm
of Pseudocrux points at the star Acrux, brightest star of the Southern
Cross, which is the base of the cross (incidentally, the topmost star is
"Gacrux," the happiest star in the southern sky).

Canopus is the brightest star in Carina and it has been to our right as my
watch starts. Carina extends even closer to the celestial pole than Crux,
so I am on watch for its southernmost star, Miaplacidus, to rise above the
horizon once we get far enough south. On our left is an equally cool star,
Arcturus, which is the brightest star in Bootes. Both Canopus and Arcturus
rival Sirius for brilliance and awesome colors when they're low in the sky.

So there you have it- the mystery of Crux and Pseudocrux... solved! And
now, like always, I am about to take what little time I have and use it to

6 days until Singapura! Hoping to hear all about Laura's flight information
soon... I've been saving up my "timeback" so I can spend as much time ashore
with her as possible. I am very excited!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Off Again

Next port of call... Singapore!  Finally get to hang with Laura after 6 long months! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In the stairwell...

This is part of a large illustration in the stairwell....

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Simple Google Search for "Pectoral Fin Humpback"

We go through the Straits of Hormuz again tonight during my watch. I can
see the lights on the Oman shore in my mind, exactly as I saw them on my
first voyage through here in November, and it will be interesting to see how
accurately I recall that first nighttime transit through. Last time through
was in the early morning hours, dozens of smugglers' speed boats racing back
and forth between Oman and Iran, illegally trading in panty hose and opium
across the lightly misted and glassy water.

The seas since leaving the internationally recognized hazardous waters have
been powder gray, made up of obsidian water that is churning a dark smoke
and jade. There is a tropical haze which blurs the horizon and washes the
blue of the sky out with a white, high altostratus lid. Visibility is about
7 miles. Temperature about 75. Seas flat. A slight 20 knot following

I have seen large, long distance flying birds with great, v-shaped
black-tipped wings and short, neck-less bodies for the last three days.
Dolphin have been numerous, as have flying fish, but no whales, yet- I
expect we'll see the herds of humpback again south of India. Watching them
launch out of the waves and throw their huge pectoral (?) fin skyward is
pretty friggin' awesome. Somebody, please correct me in the comments if
that isn't their pectoral fin (Laura? Sara? Mom? Any Google-enhanced warm
blooded creature)....

And I watched an Asian bootlegged copy of "Life of Pi" and can recommend it
as both a fantastic movie and a weird parallel of my time at sea so far (he
was at sea for 227 days, I'll have been out here for 210 when I get off).
But I don't have a tiger to contend with- just insane sailors.

My position as delegate has been both frustrating and time consuming. I
have reached a point where I now just don't give a shit about what people
aboard say or think- which backs up the union rep's assertion that "the
delegate is the loneliest sailor on a ship" completely- because everyone has
an agenda and wants you to do something in order to stick it to someone
else- so, as delegate, you stop listening and avoid your shipmates as much
as possible. I probably haven't made very many friends in my role (I don't
play soft ball) and all conversations now are flavored with hints at
who-wants-what and you-should-think-this-because, so I have taken to reading
or watching movies in my room, alone, or hitting the gym.

But I am learning, and learning a lot, which makes it almost worth it. The
challenges of physically adjusting to standing watch from the first voyage
have been replaced with the psychological challenges of enforcing arcane
contractual agreements that date back to 1885 with disparate parties while
knowing that the neighborhood will look different when I return home because
I have been gone so long, but as Mark Twain said (and I can only paraphrase
here b/c I have no Mark Twain with me)- there are some things that a man can
learn in no other way but by carrying a cat by the tail.

And so here I am.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Looking out my deadlight as Egypt slides silently by... I should be sleeping!


This the gyro repeater I take bearings with.... Learning to calculate gyro compass error by comparing against celestial bodies.


Lumpy seas in the Med

Suez Anchorage


I forgot to mention:

In the North Atlantic, 1000 nautical miles due south of Iceland and 500 nautical miles due west of Glasgow, are seamounts with the following names:  Fangorn Bank (719m), Rohan Mt. (1698m), Gondor Mt. (2229m), Eriador Mt. (1768m), and Lorien Knoll (997m).  Seems someone was a Tolkien fan?

300 nautical miles north of Madeira and 700 miles east-by-southeast of the Azores are seamounts with the names Lion Bank, Dragon Bank, and Unicorn Bank.

On one ECDIS display (that is the electronic chart with AIS) I saw all of the following ship names and thought I would borrow them for some of the vessels in my personal armada:  Federal Hunter, Warrior, Quest, and Sealand Comet.

Reposting a photo of my ship purely for graphical purposes.

The Med Feeling Cranky

Rollin' rollin' rollin'...
It is surprisingly tricky to sleep when she rolls...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock

A quintillion gulls are flying and raising hell  in the wash of the high intensity Suez light on the bow as we leave Port Said behind.  I steered us in tonight and now I'm on watch on the bow... With internets on my phone!  I steer again in a couple of hours...

Photo from last transit... I still get stoked at the wheel!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Raptor's Beak? What?

So I took the 8x12 watch so I'd have more time- and I do. Which means I'm
blogging less why? The 8x12 is much less interesting than the other two
watches but it is a much kinder schedule... instead of writing, tho, I'm
hitting the gym and pool, or watching movies, or sleeping the untarnished
sleep of the civilized. Sigh.

I slept as we passed the Rock of Gibraltar and left the Atlantic Ocean
behind so entering the Mediterranean Sea this time felt like being rocked to
sleep and waking up to perfect calm. The gray and navy seas morphed into
silver, the indigo water turned to many shades of jade. True to the nature
of green sea water, at night we churned up the green glow as we turn 18
knots on a bioluminescent highway.

The first couple of days in the Med were warm and overcast with a ceiling of
stratus and cumulous below. The following winds whipped up cat's paws
during the day, and when the engineers burned the soot out of the stack at
night ("blowing tubes") the sparks were carried on the wind from astern and
the fireworks looked spectacular intermingled with the stars as they drifted
forward into the night and disappeared.

As we rounded the point of Tunesia a gale blew in from astern and we
encountered the first swells I've seen in the Med in my 5 crossings. 6
meter swells caught us under the port quarter and the ship rolled 10 degrees
on way, then 10 degrees the other, over and over, and the green
Mediterranean water turned a deep cobalt blue with white streaks running
down the wave faces as whitehorses were knocked flat by the wind. Or in
other words, the Med looked more like the Atlantic, but less gray.

I saw a bird of prey (a falcon, I think) off Tunisia that circled the ship
and explored some of the containers looking for scrap (mice, lizards, etc.).
Its belly was white with dark brown spots and its back was a taffy, or
caramel color with a satin luster. It had a long tail but an abrupt, flat
face with a small... um... do raptors have "beaks?" Why in the hell can't I
recall what a raptor's beak is called? Anyway, it had a small, yellow
hooked raptor beak (shush!), dark wingtips, and at one point it came right
at the wheelhouse and I got a good look at it as it momentarily hung in
front of the window, all two-and-a-half feet of its wings spread out before
the updraft carried it aloft. When I stepped out onto the bridge wing I
caught it surveying the ship from a rail next to the light mast. He took
one disdainful look at me with his dark, intelligent, and predatory eyes and
took off like a bolt and was lost to sight behind cargo within seconds.

And now we're drifting outside of the channel in Egypt, waiting for a pilot.
My spidey-senses are telling me that the fiasco of today (my birthday, by
the way), wherein the bosun decided he wouldn't trust the delegate (me) to
steer him true so he made every simple task impossibly difficult and robbed
me of future sleep, will continue unabated. The Old Man got us here a day
early, so between being early and not being able to give us definitive
information... oh, nevermind. It is both nobody's fault and enough to get
me cursing at the stupidity of it all, so I'm willing to hang the new Bosun
in my mind even as I patiently try to bring him around to the way we do
things in my union while on deck.
How did I end up Delegate, again?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hoping for Uneventful

Well we're off again, turning for 18.5 knots on a 91 degree rhumb line
toward the Mediterranean Sea with a 2 meter swell under our port quarter
causing us to roll 14 degrees, lulling me into a state of constant
drowsiness. The cumulous and nimbus clouds are casting shadows which vary
the color of the sea from a bright indigo to a black slate, the boundaries
between the two clearly defined. The water itself is a navy blue that is
churning teal and powder blue, depending on where you look at it- powder
blue off the beam, teal off the stern. Above the startlingly white cumulous
clouds the nimbus heads are sloppily spilling out into the stratosphere and
cirrus hooks poke out from above them like dogwood limbs in winter; below
them, the cat paws on the water are equally as bright as the clouds in the
chaotic skies. We are underway, making way, each mile a mile closer to the
beach and a mile closer to home.

I got to hang out with Clay and mom in Savannah before leaving and it was
great to visit and laugh like idiots, though I can't say I was good company-
the coastal run leaves no time for sleep and I'm afraid I was pretty much
spent... A stop to catch up with friends at QiSoft and the Hogan
line-handler's new offices and it felt like I'd actually been in Savannah
for a visit, albeit a microscopic one. And I actually connected with Laura
briefly while she was out gallivanting through the deserts outside of Sonoma
with mystics, UFOologists, and their loved ones- hopefully she told them
about the object I saw over the Indian Ocean (actually, I hope she had a
great time- it sounded like she did).

My new watch, the 8x12, is much more civilized than the other two, but lacks
the sunrises and sunsets of the 4x8 and the quietude of the 12x4's morning
shift. But it allows for me to get 4 hours of overtime and still have two
hours for doing non-work stuff! One of my new shipmates and I are going to
be gym rats this trip and we're scheduled to go up and hit it soon...
luckily, today we cleaned the pool in preparation for water... so we'll have
the pool, the sauna, and gym all ready to go ASAP.

And that about wraps it up... uneventful and quiet, not overtaxed or overly
stressed at this point- I suspect this trip will be mellower than the last
(but I'm knocking on wood when I say it).