Saturday, September 22, 2018

Steaming Ever Westward

We anchored in Subic Bay of the Philippine Islands and took on water, fuel, and some fresh produce; we offloaded the oily waste byproduct known as "slops."

Sadly, I only had a brief stint on the beach, and it was spent primarily at a shopping mall, the single greatest contribution of American culture on a global scale since WWII.  There was Starbucks and Columbia and Apple and... and... all that shit.  BUT, right next to the ship was a beach where the fishing boats, all outrigger canoes- from the tiny one man boats to massive 70 footers- beach themselves each night, like seals on the shore of the Pacific Northwest... and if ever I come back to Subic Bay, THAT is where I'm going. 

We departed and rolled into Singapore 5 days later, dropping anchor in the inner harbor and then proceeding to tie up no less than 5 different fuel barges, a bevy of launch services bringing stores, taking off garbage, more oily waste barges, and yet more fresh water barges.  We had ship to shore launch services on the hour, and about 25 different contractors at any given time doing much needed repairs. It was, in a word, hectic.

The foreman from the gangway replacement when I was bosun on the APL Coral in 2016 was one of the subcontractors, a quiet Indian man named Mutytiara. I remembered him instantly- he was the man who got soaked with the full force of our fire main when the weight-test water-bag burst and he got sprayed, literally, with a fire-hose.

We laughed about it, me more so than he.

I recognized the day foreman, too- Veejay.  He was a lower-cast Indian who nonetheless was "the boss" and we got along well this time we met, too- cursing the bean-counters of this company with vehemence. 

And in the past I've also worked with the small, elderly Chinese bargeman with the huge smile and infectious laugh; whose chi is so healthy and his kung fu so strong he looks 25 from the gap-toothed old man's neck downward.  He ran all over his barge like a cat and there are few his equal, even though I'm sure he's in his 70's.  Just seeing how much he loved his work made me smile, even though I was in a protracted and misery-inducing war of attrition with the out-going chief mate that had me more frustrated than at any point of my maritime career to date.

Thank you, kung fu bargeman.

When I finally got ashore, Singapore was her old self.  Queries of "ma-sah-he" from pretty women in dark doorways.  The smell of durian in the markets.  1,000 different dumplings in the hawker stalls.  Chinatown was a little on the quiet side due to rain, but Clarke Quay was a hive of activity.  I discovered Marina Bay Park by accident walking back to the ship at night, and I walked alone for miles in the dark, next to large ponds, accompanied by the sounds of crickets, frogs, bats, and wind through the tropical canopy, above.

I got ashore twice, and each time came with a heavy price-tag: My Sleep.  My shortest work day in Singapore was 16 hours.  The day we hoisted anchor and steamed west into the Straits of Malacca was a whopping 21 hour day.

Next stop isn't much of a stop, really... we slow down, let off the Greek engineers the crew inexplicably call "the snipes" who've been riding with us since Subic Bay and take on the security detail with their armaments; mercenaries who will stand security watch against pirates of the Indian Ocean as we transit to Africa.

Onward.  Ever onward we go.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Gas Station On The Side Of The Road

For days we have been accompanied by a flock of swallows, a traditional good omen for seafarers.  There have been finches and sparrows, too, but the swallows seem to get everyone worked up, myself included.

When a red-footed boobie that was perched on the foremast crapped on me, the crew insisted that, too, was a good omen.  Clearly they were wrong, as the boobies proceeded to shat on me two more times... sounds like dubious luck, at best.

We finally ran out of fuel, prompting the company to accept the old man's proposal that we go get some.  The 1200 position report shows our new destination to be Subic Bay, Philippine Islands.  Interestingly enough, a company engineer will be joining us there.  I suspect he's more like an auditor... boy, won't HQ be surprised to find out we're not watching movies, drinking beer, and padding the clock with imaginarily-worked hours and that yes, this ship we're on needs the ceaseless ministrations of this miracle crew to keep her moving.

And more of the company's money.

Also planned to pick up at this service station are a wide variety of vegetables and fruits... I have had cauliflower (cooked as a side, and raw on my iceberg lettuce salad) at every single meal for two weeks.  I have officially become sick of cauliflower.

Let's not forget water.  We're taking on fresh, potable water.  Crazy, no?

I really like being underway, but I have to admit, three weeks (21d, 10h 23m as of this moment) and 5,972.6 nautical miles have finally gotten tedious... I have seen one fin whale, countless adult and juvenile red-footed boobies, a couple random brown boobies, some type of egret that came on with the swallows and other land birds (from where is anyone's guess- there is no land out here), a badjillion flying fish, a fat and scurrying rat, a silverfish (the insect), and one sundog birthed by the play of the sun on the thunderheads that roam about on the ocean at these latitudes like hulking, sky-high jellyfish.

I got another pair of dragon wings when we crossed the dateline... I have lost track of how many times I've crossed, but if I were to get all the traditional sailor tattoos I'd be covered.  Each swallow is only good for 5k miles... so there's a flock of ink, right there (15 from my first ship, alone).  "Hold Fast" on my knuckles; two anchors (one for sailing bosun, one for sailing on a military ship); a pig on one foot, a rooster on the other; a compass rose; hell, I forget all of them and their meanings... but should I ever get inked, I know how long I'll be in that chair.

Once we leave Subic Bay we head to the shipyard in Singapore.  Hell, with my phenomenal track record of walking down the gangway of ships that sailed only one more voyage before being scrapped, it's conceivable this engineer rider could be the death knell of this here inglorious integrated tug and barge.  Time will tell.  Stranger things have happened, that's for sure.