Saturday, April 7, 2018

Almost A Free Man

So I’ve managed to let about six voyages go by without posting an account of my days, photos notwithstanding. I should feel guilty, or slovenly, but I don’t… when you’re trapped in a time warp, moving at relativistic speeds, six days feels pretty much the same as six voyages- the rest of the world moves on through accelerated time while seemingly mere days have passed within a ship-board warp bubble.

So oceans are not enough- I travel through time and space, too.

Last time through Yoko there was an elephant on the dock, the main diesel generator went out, and a human body drifted in and settled off the aft mooring deck. The elephant turned out to be stuffed and quite dead, the generator blew up and was quite dead, and the human remains were… well… a bit gruesome. The Japanese professionals recovered the body in an almost SWAT-style operation involving six rescue trucks, multiple aid cars, and an army of divers, police, photographers, coroners, etc...

One day south of that strange Port of Yokohama stay, I saw a pod of orcas. Their massive dorsals are unique in the blackfish family, and they can’t be mistaken for their larger cousins - the pilot whale - no matter how creative the imagination. Clearly they don’t know about the Japanese.

We all stared in amazement, but of course, there was the one naysayer who swore up and down they were pilot whales. He is Polish, and the Filipinos and Hawaiians refer to him merely as “the Polack.” Or “that goddamned Polack,” as the situation may warrant.  

A young Hawaiian asked me, “Is ‘polack’ a derogatory term?”

I had to break it to him that in this case, sadly, it is.

The orcas were harbingers of hardship, unfortunately: after seeing them, we began to roll like mad, at one point hitting 30-35 degrees, flinging detritus throughout the ship. Securing lines were parted, buckets and bottles and brooms and whatnot went everywhere, and everything I own worked its way to the deck, where it circulated as if in a gyre. Nobody slept. Many were sick.

The seas were only 10-12 meters, but in this little ship when she has a high “metacentric height,” or righting moment due to a light load, and we get in the trough or the swell is on our quarter, we snap roll like whiplash.

It didn’t let up until we were behind the breakwater in Guam.  

The c/m, same guy I spent three months with last year as bosun, decided we should lower the lifeboat there behind the breakwater instead of Yokohama, opting to sit in the sun in 95 degree heat and liquid humidity instead of the reasonable 65 degree Japanese springtime. Sure enough, the davit hydraulics failed and I was forced to sit in the full sun, out in the fast rescue boat, roasting in my own juices for 4.5 hours as the rest of the gang pulled the partially deployed lifeboat back aboard with chain hoists.

Why was I surprised? Because the voyage before, on the previous rotation through Guam, he had us do the exact same thing- so he knew the hydraulics were screwed. He knew, and he did it again anyway, as if they’d have fixed themselves in the two weeks since the last time we hauled the boat back up with chain hoists.

We left Saipan running before a typhoon. We headed due west though the Philippine Sea for three days before turning north toward the Sea of Japan. The typhoon was stalled, fortunately, and we were able to get around it, but I agreed with the captains on several other ships in the fleet that stayed put an extra day and didn’t take the chance on which direction the storm was going to break.

And now I am on my last run. I am short timing it- angry, tired, as unapproachable as a wet cat, and only here due to the fact that there are physical limitations to the power of wanting to be somewhere else.

Japanese Seagulls

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Snorkel Hole, Saipan

Defying Gravity

This was the lead up to 10 meter swells... Once they hit the snap rolls threw everything I own on the deck, mixed it all together, and then the toilet water, water bottles, and kettle soaked it all for good measure. So much for "secure for sea." Got thrown out of my bunk a few times and spent two days sleep deprived and sore from over-using stabilizer muscles. A big FU to the Philippean Sea.

Live Long And Prosper

Alone At The Dock

Departure, Guam


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Of Works And Days

I have begun the countdown of my seatime until I can sit for my first useful license.

It’s the same game I play in my head when I’m counting down the days until I get off a voyage, but this one can be played in different ways: I can persevere doing exactly as I am doing (my only choice when counting down to the end of a voyage); I can get off this ship and do the last of the required time some other way in the maritime industry (my last attempt at that wasn’t what I’d hoped); or, I can stop playing this stupid counting game.

Yeah… Not gonna stop counting, sad to say.  I keep a spreadsheet of my seatime- If I sail 1 day longer than I need to I will consider that a failure on my part… I need 1,080 days of seatime, not 1,081, after all.  I will count.

As if to balance the short amount of time left to go, I am on a ship that repeats each run every 2 weeks.  I am already into my 3rd voyage but I wouldn’t know it if I didn’t put a mark on the bulkhead of my quarters and count them frequently.  Such lonesome looking crosshatches, needing so many more…

I snorkeled in both Guam and Saipan, this last voyage.  The spot in Guam was at a place I have snorkeled in the past, at a place known as the Family Beach.  It is at the end of the spit that separates the port from the sea and is almost always completely abandoned.  On the road out there are a few dive clubs and jet ski rental places, but the beach itself is a sad affair.

But the swimming is great.  I didn’t see as many fish as I recalled from my last swim there, 3 years ago; the color of the coral wasn’t as bright, either, and I don’t know if there is a “winter” for coral reefs in a place that is 90 degrees in January, or if the health of the reef is suffering somehow.

By contrast, I took a boat out to an outlying island in Saipan and the fish were profuse and abundant… although the reef colors were similarly muted.  All those fish you see in cartoons make their home there, and they do have the brightest colors in the natural world, without needing the exaggeration of HDTV saturation to make it so.  I swam with a black-finned shark… which I will now add to the leopard shark as “sharks I have knowingly swum with.”

Shipboard life remains dull and routine.  The steward is about 5 feet tall and looks like a skinny Popeye… and he can talk like nobody else, often cornering the unsuspecting sailor and launching into a story with no point, nor an end.  Unless, sadly, you compare him to the galley assistant, who wanders around lost, speaking entirely in non sequiturs, and rivaling the steward for tales that have no basis in the social norms of being topical or relevant.

Some days I can pull-free from one, only to become inescapably entangled with the other.  I am so happy the cook’s English is almost non-existent, and I know no Tagalog… a galley trifecta would be unbearable.

The galley assistant wears white rubber gloves and does everything in them: cleans dishes, takes out the trash, mops the floor, cuts food, cleans the head, wipes tables… he is never without a mop, nor a bucket of foul smelling gray water, which he dutifully hauls all over the ship, in all weather, sloshing just enough on the deck to pull all the grease off the boots of the crew walking through and transfering it it to the deck, but never its opposite- by removing the samesaid grease from the dirty linoleum.

Yesterday he was assailing everyone in a high falsetto voice with “You can’t go ashore unless you bring me your dishes.  Not you… nor you… none of you...”

I stood a bow watch going into Busan in high winds, 20 degree cold, with snow flurries and sea smoke rising off the water- the cold was fairly spectacular.  When we let go the salt water from our mooring lines flash-froze on the deck.

Two days later, I ate sushi in Yokohama’s Chinatown, again… but also some of the Chinese street food, as good as anything I get in the Singaporean Chinatown.  Luckily, it was up in the 40’s.

And now we head south towards Guam, and summer to me, even though it’s really winter.  And onward I go, each day adding a crosshatch to the tally of sea days, counting them up.