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).

Sunday, March 3, 2013


The Transit

I had dinner in NYC with my cousin, Heather, who I roped into being my chauffeur, date, and buyer.  I have already forgotten the name of the Mexican place we went, but it was absolutely heavenly to shovel in shrimp, oysters, and guacamole dripping with habenero, chipotle, and mole sauces as fast as my face-hole could dispose of them.  That, and Heather is as base, ribald, and uncivilized as me so no topic was taboo or sacred, no joke too raunchy, or turn of phrase too foul, so we laughed a lot and I had a great time eating like only a glutton can.  On the drive back to the ship I skyped Laura on my phone; then, back at the container port, I hauled my booty back to the ship in time to sleep for an hour.  Then we threw off the lines.

I am no longer on the 4x8 watch- I have moved again, this time to the 8x12.  Where I worked over 400 hours of overtime in 2 months on the 4x8, I will probably only work 275 – 300 on the 4x8… a move calculated to preserve my sanity and give me experience on all three watches.

The transit from NYC to Charleston started out flat and glassy but by the time I started my evening watch it was blowing like stink, stink being 40 – 60 knots with the highest recorded gust at 91 knots.  I watched thick bands of showers roll through on the radar, and as they hit the wind would rock the ship and the rain would come down so thick that we’d lose all visibility. 

And lightning was popping thick enough to produce Saint Elmo’s Fire on the bridge wings and antenna whips, again, but this time I refrained from going out and playing with it.  Well…. Actually, I did go out to play with it, but 40 – 60 knot rain hurts like hell so I turned around and came back in before my hair got a chance to stand up in the high voltage field.  And some nearby lighting strikes persuaded me (read: “scared the shit out of me”) that perhaps this time I’d look with my eyes and not with my lightning-rod-like hands.

We got hit by a few rogue waves during the night- they smacked the bow pretty hard and threw walls of spray up into the air, where the wind quickly carried it across the deck and cargo forward the house and into the howling night.  The combination of following swells and big wind-waves on the bow made for a wild and unpredictable ride, but one that acts like mechanically-induced narcolepsy when I climb into my bunk.  The wild ride, a stout and well-built ship, and deep exhaustion = coma-like sleep.  Laura and I have wondered how long it’s going to take me to get used to sleeping “on the beach” again when I am done with this tour and whether or not I’m going to need to go down to our boat in order to get a full night’s sleep… I guess we’ll find out soon enough.