Monday, July 21, 2014

China-wards Ho! And Fishtanks

Guam is an ugly little town smeared across a chunk of paradise.  It is mostly the suburbia to military slums- a mixture of plasticized, back-lit, and homogenous strip-malls and moldy block commercial and residential boxes bejeweled with tattered and dirty awnings.  A high-end destination resort area of hotel high-rises and Johnny-come-lately name brand stores that command insane prices by their mere newness is at the center of it all, in seeming denial that the island exists as it does merely at the whim of the military industrial complex.  

But I like it anyway.

The same smiling bellhops working for tips on the secure and inaccessible sides of the hotels are lounging next to the over-flowing dumpsters and chain-link corridors behind them, smoking and casting surly looks at non-residents.  Insular groups of fair skinned and porcelain-white Japanese women with parasols and unlimited credit stroll down the sidewalks next to the storefronts, looking bored.  Everywhere I visited the disdain for tourism seems as pervasive as the tourism itself.

And yet fifty feet away from these same hotel high-rises and moldy cement boxes is water so clear, so clean, so perfect of temperament, and so full of vibrant and animated marine life that the juxtaposition seems incongruous to the point of schizophrenia.  Coral of infinite variation.  Sea slugs and anemones.  Schools of neon fish, striped fish, and fish that swim on their sides.  Valleys running between ridges of coral, limestone boulders sitting on a bone-white gravel of marine skeletons down below.  Body temperature water the salinity and ph of kitten’s tears.

I rented a car from a company that delivers cars directly to the port and then drove to the one big box store on the island for supplies - a laundry basket, felt stickies to silence my rattling room, K-cups for the bridge coffee maker, adhesive-backed hooks upon which to hang gear in my quarters, a snorkel and flippers, etc.  It didn't take me long to find a locals’ beach away from the glitz and the military slums.  

I sat at the beach and talked to Laura on my cellphone while I got the lay of the land.  Big family of locals at the intersection of beach, cliff, and water to my right, empty stage and hotel down the beach to my left.  Boat of tourists floating a mile out, dead ahead.  I walked out through the water on a bed of carpeted reef about a quarter mile, then swam along its perimeter up toward the cliffs where the family of locals had set up camp.  A thunderstorm passed over while I was in but I couldn't be bothered to get out.  Neither did the locals, I noticed. I was in a fishtank, and it was friggin' awesome.

And then my two hours of dream-like exploration and meditation-aquatic were followed by rush hour traffic, bland and tasteless chicken, then a return to the ship and my source of income.  I have a few souvenir coral pieces for Laura and coconut water for myself.  I am glad I got back to the ship when I did, though- the sailing board had been moved up to 2300.

And then postponed to 0200.  Then to 0300.  Being my second cast-off on this boat, I tried to stay abreast of the changes and set my alarm each time- all to my detriment.  The callout (“0230 for 0300, all hands”) was all I needed- I could have taken an uninterrupted sleep, instead.  After removing and stowing the gangway net, raising the gangway, pulling in the fire-wire, taking on the tug line, stowing the rat guards, and throwing off the stern lines, I went to the bridge and drove us out.

This ship handles nicely, however, she has a spring-loaded wheel… something that will take some getting use to.  It sounds like the transit into Shanghai takes 4 hours- plenty of time for me to do exactly that.  

Currently underway, making way.  Retard Clocks 1 hour tonight and tomorrow…  in two days we’ll be 9 hours different than Seattle, 12 from Savannah.  Fire and Boat drill tomorrow.  Slop Chest open tomorrow.  Draw for China tomorrow.  Doing laundry now (I set an alarm so I can snooze while I do it… which is exactly my next move).

All for now.  Out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Snorkel Fever

I think I am addicted to snorkelling... And beaches.... And stuff... Sailing at 2300...  Goodbye Guam.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Catpaws and Groundhog Day

So we have a cat aboard.  “Scratchy” wandered out of the trash container when he was only 3 weeks old and the “Catain” was adopted and raised by the Old Man.  He’s now 3, he likes to play, he drinks out of the faucet, and he likes hanging out on the bridge.  Best watch partner of all time.  Period.
Catain Scratchy likes his grog on tap.

Like a boss.

Speaking of watch partners, the second mate isn't all that bad, either… although rarely do they start that way. Time will tell... time will tell all. So far so good.

The bright, electric, cool-aid acid indigo sea that assaulted my face with its brilliance my first day out churned a familiar-looking color I aught to name- it’s that color blue that falls between Tiffany’s blue and English Wedgwood china, and I think it should be called “Blue Wedgeny” from this day forward. The sea has been flawlessly gorgeous: 2 meter swells on our quarter, catpaws and cumulous clouds which cast sharply defined shadows on the water beneath, the true wind less than 20 knots.

I saw more flying fish in 5 minutes on my first day out than I did in the entirety of the five months I spent on the last ship in the Bermuda Triangle and I am feeling pretty confident that this was a good move for me (besides this being a Class 1 ship).  I saw my first red-tailed tropicbird while on watch, too- I thought it was a black skimmer at first contact until I saw the long, thin, dark tail feather trailing behind it.  Of course I forgot my bird and whale identification guides, but they have them on this ship.  In fact, it is the same whale book I have, but my Seabirds of the World is the superior bird identification book.  

I also see the lonesome frigate birds tacking back and forth over the waves in the distance, hunting the red-footed and brown boobies that hunt the flying fish (they "wing them," causing them to puke up dinner, which- in turn- becomes their dinner).  I thought frigate birds were big, and I estimated their wingspan to be about 4 feet, but I was wrong.  7 feet.  They are sizable, but I suppose they have to have sails with so much canvas to cross the same oceans that we do.  There is truly no part of the ocean remote enough to exclude them and every tale you’ve heard that there are no birds in the middle of the oceans is flat out bullshit.  My.  Own.  Eyeballs. Fact.

The Bosun has more than 20 years at sea.  Both daymen do, too- one of whom has almost 30.  If I’m not mistaken, only the watchstanders are B-class sailors, your’s truly being the least experienced here on ships… exactly what I wanted.  It’s pretty clear none of the “Books” will want to be delegate next trip, so I’m pretty sure that will fall to me.  
Traditional bellropes- what my lanyards will
one day turn into- when I find proper twine...

The next chief mate makes these.  This one
is to ward off fishing boats.

What ship is complete without a hula-girl or two?

My stomach is still angry in protest, but getting better.  One of the watchstanders has been, if tales be true, getting subcutaneous hydration via saline drip to keep him from being dehydrated by the same stomach bug that got me.  I kicked it, but not before it caused me fever dreams and cathartic visions!

After Guam we head to China and hit Xiamen, Ningbo, and Shanghai- all back to back.  I don’t have a visa, yet, so it doesn’t matter to me that I have to stand a gangway watch- I should have the paperwork filled out and ready for the next port, Long Beach, California, so I can go ashore next time we hit China.

These runs are only 35 days long and I’m signed up for 3 of them- the maximum for a B-class sailor.  The A-class sailors get contracts to do 6, and they can take a trip off at any point during the 6, which opens up “relief trips” in the hall- being merely a single trip.

This guy reminds me of "ONO," god of mishap
that overlooks the yard at WBG Marine.
...the other side of ONO is "OYEAH," also
overlooking WBG Marine.
We’ve been retarding our clocks an hour a night each day since getting underway, but this captain (bless him) advances during the day on the way back- meaning we get ample sleep at night and full overtime for working a short day while enroute from China to Long Beach.  Suh-weet.  Most excellent.

We crossed the Prime Meridian on July 10th.  July 11th never came… we skipped straight to July 12th.  On the return trip we will cross back over on the 28th.  The next day will be July 28th, as well… called a “Meridian Day,” but jokingly called “Groundhog Day,” too.

The Catain, in the Cat's Lounge.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Parrotting, Jackhammering, and The Whole Friggin' World Explained!!!!

I got off the phone with Laura yesterday afternoon (HI) evening (WA).  We both kind of called it- having said everything we could possibly think of to say to the point of rapid-fire and reciprocated yawning- and I turned the lights out.  Sometimes we take saying “until we next have cellphone reception” a little too far, beyond the silence and yawning, to the point where I suspect we both feel silly for still being there (like we’re school kids and it's late at night), but we were rational adults this time.  

I awoke later in a violent fever.  I was shaking so hard I would have been unable to hold the cell phone, much less call for help on it.  There was “a forceful physical expulsion,” as if I had eaten rotten food, but that’s not why- as soon as the fever broke- that I started writing this.

I started writing this because of the fever-dreams.  

In the dreams I called out for an "old man," who turned out to be a South Pacific Islander of unrecognizable delineation.  He came and coached me through getting rid of, as he called it, “a bad spirit.”  Insert a bunch of bullshit imagery taken right out of Hollywood’s downloadable and pixilated screen, that poison-of-the-mind that we cannot unsee.  Forever and ever, Amen.

Anyway, the imagery was all hokus pokus until, after multiple trips to the head and bundling up in every item of clothing I brought with me and jackhammering the bedframe with my violent fits, the fever broke.  Instantly.  I stopped shaking, my face, hair, and pillow were soaked with sweat, snot, and tears.  The old man assured me I now knew what to do if the bad spirit came back, but he was no longer my responsibility.

At this point, contrary to what I thought I knew of fevers, the imagery turned…. um…. lucid?  And the entire time the images kaleidoscoped in my spent brain-jello, the old man told me his people’s history.

As he spoke I was catching a forming wave in clear, shallow water.  I was overcome with that thrilling rush only those who have caught a wave, no matter how fleetingly, know and recognize deep in the primitive marrow of their bones.  It curled over me, higher and higher, blotting out the sun with a diffraction of color, fish and birds swimming in the tunnel of water overhead until the wave became the sky itself, filled with towering thunderheads, light fluffly cumulous clouds, fish-scale cirrus and great sweeping mare’s tails- mere colors on the wave, rolling and growing ever-mightier along.

And I understood that I wasn’t surfing into land, but that I’d caught one of the great ocean swells, from her infancy, and it was alive.  I wasn’t washing into shore, I was navigating by the feel of the wave itself to another place, far away over the edge of the horizon.

It was then that I saw the bow of the canoe slicing the water (one of the canoes I photoed yesterday for design study, incidentally), and the old man explained canoes are male, and the sea and the sky are female.  That the canoe carries the sea and the sky, and without the canoe the majesty of the sea and the sky would cease to exist, and without the sea and the sky the canoe would be no more. I might have been in the canoe, I might have been it... whatever- that's not important.

He then concluded by informing me that the spirit that we banished was the “old me” I no longer needed to carry.  He was not welcome on the islands.  That we let him go and the “rage of war” in me should remain silent.  I laughed out loud when he said “welcome to the islands,” but truth be told, I think I was babbling in a horrible and meaningless parrot of the Hawai’ian language the whole time I was on fire.  Not even slightly embarrassing.  I hope I didn’t do that.  Really, really hope I just hallucinated that, too...

I wound down into common dreams of building a canoe using a method to fair the hull I had never thought of (which I am now anxious to try) with a friend who moved to the Philippines several years ago and two sailors (the giant ukulele-playing cook and the ordinary he smoked the hookah with on the stern of my last ship).

And now I am completely spent... there isn't much left to this tale, except I should have brought more of my Hawaiian shirts... I stand out without one on, here.

Sleep.  Take two.

This was the bow from my dream.... only it was yellow, and had a different name I tried, but failed, to remember.

Another modern design of the traditional canoe- I just liked it.  It wasn't in the dreams.

I saw many of these "shark fin" sterns (on left) and quite like them.  Incidentally, the canoe on the left is the color yellow of the ulua's bow from my dreams.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Info and Trouble- but not MY trouble

So I am on here for 3 voyages, each voyage lasting about 32 days, stopping in Hono, Guam, 3 ports in China- including Shanghai- and then back to the mainland to I believe Oakland and LA- but I might be wrong about Oakland.  Not much more info, but a little more.

We were supposed to be underway by 0400, but while I was being introduced to the bridge by one of the daymen (he's a "Book," or an A class sailor) the Old Man announced over the PA that the Mate wouldn't be setting the sailing board in the morning (a rules thing)- and it looks like we'll be underway by 1630 tomorrow, instead.

My new quarters- for reference, look back a few days for comparison...

The other side of my quarters- note the x-box above the closet.

My private head.

Different than my other two ships, this room faces fore and aft- Behold
my view!  Keep in mind- once those containers are piled up- what it will
look like come morning....
So far this seems like an incredibly chill bunch... according to all, the Bosun is chill, the Mate is chill, and the Old Man actually has his cat with him- a bright-eyed thing named Scratchy.  Laura wasn't impressed- she forbid me to bring Nightmare, no matter.  Two of the Hawaiians who were in the hall when I threw down for the job were here doing standby work, so we hung out a bit at coffee and lunch.  One of the guys was trying to convince the other to throw down for a stint- once he gets his "situation handled-" what sounded like a little tiny bit of assault.  As "Pony" explained, "He's a good man, him, but trouble found him one time..."

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Kickin' it on the beach...

So, I am just wandering around Honolulu waiting for Monday to get here- there really isn't anything else to do but try and find ways of not spending money.  Or at least get my money's worth...

Just monkeying around...

Manoa Falls

Plant life from an alien planet....

Just a random pond in a random place full of random Koi that my phone
randomly decided to "enhance," "filter," and "frame...."

The masts referenced a couple days ago- this is the "Falls of Clyde," a beautiful
old girl that is being hauled, soon.  It is next to the Honolulu Maritime museum,
which is (sadly) closed, waiting for benefactors to step forward with money.



Jungle Fowl.

View from the site of a great battle between rival islanders in the years of yore...
My Hawaiian is pathetic- I can't enunciate or remember a single word beyond
"Aloha" and "Mahalo."  Needless to say, the place has a name and I don't know it.

I was so tempted to do the cliff dives, here...

I did, however, go for a swim here and these big ol' girls were everywhere in the water- Turtle Beach, Oahu.

Note the radio transponder on the shell of the turtle to the right.

4th of July fireworks as seen from Fisherman's Wharf.  Great show!  Front row!

This was taken while on the phone with my sister- right over the rail where
the "Falls of Clyde" is docked.  I so want to go in....

Totally different biome than the jungles visible
across the valley- grows in the desert of
Diamond Head's crater.

View from Diamond Head.

Panorama of the inside of the Diamond Head crater.

Banyan tree- originally given as a gift to the king and queen of Hawaii, the tree
has become invasive (or, as the new breed of archaeologists and historians
prefer to see it, as "indicative of the homogenization caused by the Columbian
Exchange").  I think someone just needs to figure out an industrial use for it....
That usually guarantees its species-wide demise.

So... must find a place to store my goods while I go swimming.  Then find some sushi.  


Thursday, July 3, 2014


So I threw down my card this morning and got a watchstander job aboard the "Matson Manukai," a 217 meter, 32.5 thousand gross rated tonnes, 3000 TEU container ship built in 2003.  Voyage duration unknown.  Destinations: West Coast USA to East Coast China, and all ports in between.

Only one other B-card sailor competed against me, but his registration was June, mine was April 27th... he left the hall with a disgusted look on his face... clearly he was expecting to get that job- expecting it with a new card, at that, indicating there is little competition here... this IS the place to be right now!  Me?  I'm gonna drive that ship, yo.  Like a boss.  With a chocolate-eating grin (oh yes I did!).

I, too, have sat in the hall, waiting day after day, and watched as a perfect job posted and then suddenly someone I've never seen before swoops in out of nowhere to snatches the job right out of my fingers.  I've been planning and preparing for this ship since after the shipyard, last year.  That other B-card sailor's ruffled feathers will not rob me of any sleep, whatsoever.

Smaller than the APL Polk by about 58 meters, the Manukai is still a real,
ocean-crossing ship.  The contract is similar, so I won't have as much to learn
straight out of the gate, either.

Immediately I was sent to the physician to get a "fit for duty," which was swiftly established.  And now?  The long wait until Monday.  In the meantime I've booked a funky tour with an outfit called Hiking Hawaii for tomorrow... snorkelling, swimming with sea turtles, hiking to waterfalls- sounds perfectly distracting!

My boat with boxes.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Welcome to The Doghouse!

When you register in my union, the oldest union in these United States, the registration is good for three months.  They issue a registration card, with the date on it, which we use to compete for jobs when they get "posted on the board-" meaning, quite literally, that the job available is posted on a big bulletin board in the union hall.  Hence, posted on the board.  Creative, no?  Promptly at 1030 the rep "calls the job," and everyone interested "throws down their card."  The rep sorts them by seniority (A, B, C, and D)- the A's taking it over the B's, the B's over the C's, and so on.  If the job has only B cards (for example, what my seniority is now), the oldest registration of all the B cards has the most seniority and takes it.

At the end of April I registered in Hawaii, as I mentioned a few posts ago- with the intention of flying over here July 1.  There were a lot of unknowns, like how long would I sit in the hall?  Should I put everything on credit cards and be stingy with my cash?  Would I get a job before my registration expires?  Should I buy a cheap bike or will the public transit here be adequate?  Where can I get effective coffee?  What will I eat?  Et cetera, et cetera, so on and so forth, ad infinitum.  

So I boarded a jet from Seattle to Honolulu, yesterday, none of these questions answered.  I had instructions to go to the doghouse, a place for we sailors to stay in Hawaii while waiting for a ship. It costs $25 a day and is above the union hall, situated right in the heart of the financial district of downtown Hono, across a busy little city highway from some body of navigable water, as evidenced by four masts on a steel hull I keep eyeballing (exploring that soon, you can put money on it).

But I knew none of this.  Two hours before leaving the house to fly over I booked a hotel because the "building manager" had not returned my calls.  I used my google device, my handheld Library of Alexandria, to show the driver my hotel location once I arrived.  In the morning I used this same tri-corder type of window into all things important to navigate here to the union hall.

Within half an hour I was checked in, I prepaid for 5 days, and then started in on the paperwork for the office.  All my papers were in order, but my drug card is expiring soon, so in the infernal name of Diligence! (TM) I set off to the credible clinic with union papers in one hand, and a giant coffee in the other- ready, willing, and able to piss into a cup.  I figured, "ah, what the hell, I should just walk" and briskly set off in the morning's 70 degree gloriousness with determination.

Fast forward four hours and I returned sore of foot, drenched in sweat, and ready for a nap- but my task was accomplished!  So in 4 or 5 days they will mail my new card here to the hall.  

Except it is looking like 3 watchstander jobs are posting tomorrow.  And my card is nice and old.  So I might be shipping out as soon as tomorrow... my walk?  My Diligence?  My precious, golden bodily fluids?  All Wasted.  

Now I am drinking copious amounts of mineral-laced water and hiding in the air conditioning before I venture forth again... for those curious about my impression of what little I've seen of Hono, thus far:  Tybee Island in the 70's with a mostly Asian population, a Chinatown, and volcanoes.  Meal 1- great sushi!  There is, without any exaggeration whatsoever, a Starbucks on every corner in Honolulu.  Verifiable fact.

Above- My quarters at the Doghouse

It would be fascinating to add a picture of a jail cell, here...  For fun, try to find
the number of differences between the two pictures.  Can you spot all 12 of them?

Below- USNS Waters quarters