Saturday, February 29, 2020

That's How We Rogue

We departed Kwajalein for Guam- I guess my reckoning in my last post about what to do with a ship full of empty containers was right on that one. While China was removed from the possible list of places we could find ourselves, so was Darwin and Naha. A win and a loss, equalling zero.

The trip from Kwajalein to Guam was notable for the amount of alcohol and mayhem taking place as our ship full of empty containers rolled uncomfortably in low seas and moderate swells, her righting moment so high that we snapped from side to side without a tender moment. The amount of work that got done coincided with the sobriety of the mate and bosun, so for every busy day there was a slow day.

The two Hawaiian sport fishermen - the bosun and the oiler - pulled up Mahi Mahi (dorado) from the stern on hand lines and make-shift out-riggers as we slow-belled between islands; they BBQ'd the catch (that, or meat raided from the freezer) daily. The picnic table on the poop deck became the official scuttlebutt where everyone came to find out or share the latest info on what our possible schedule would be, like we’re a tramp.
The jury-rigged out-rigger for a fishing line
Mahi Mahi, aka dorado
The Port of Guam was busier than I’ve ever seen it, and when we tied up at that familiar pier we were alongside the APL Guam, the only ship I’ve sailed on more uncomfortable than this one. The Guam was uncomfortable for her small size and her tendency to roll mercilessly; my current ship, the Kamokuiki, looks positively tiny when seen alongside her, however.

I got one grocery run done and a quick swim in my snorkel spot before departing. No one was happy about the short stay. It was enough to dampen the mood a little, but the weather was nice and the chief mate restocked the dwindled grog supplies, so the dampened mood dried out quickly and soon the BBQ’s were fully manned while I was on my 4x8 watch. I would yell down to them from the bridge wing, and one night the mate broke out a hose and gave them some rain.

And then the flat seas decided to do what flat seas do: unflatten.

I went to bed one night after a watch spent on an ocean made of glass. I woke a little after 0100 when the bow was slapped by a sizable swell, causing the ship to pitch and roll noticeably. We didn’t stop rolling after that hit, and by morning everyone had lost any sleep gains they might have enjoyed from the previous nights’ smooth sailing.

After a morning watch spent rolling 25 degrees, I went below to secure my quarters and my work assignment. The tile for my head repair job was out on an upper deck in a bucket (the main deck and poop deck were secured for weather), and as I poured off the soapy water the flooring had been soaking in, the ship rolled so severely I began sliding across the deck. The 30 or so cases of bottled water stored on that deck soon followed.
Snap-rolling along.  This is approx. 12-15 degrees of roll.
The rogue wave that hit us caused us to take two complete 40-45 degree rolls. As I slid across deck all I saw was the inhospitable Philippine Sea where I normally see sky. After the first roll stopped and wound back up for the second, larger roll, I managed to get into a safe spot with a solid grip on steel, and when the cases of water slid past on the second roll I could see how poorly I might have fared had I not ducked behind a bulkhead and braced.

The bottles broke apart on the rail and many of them went immediately overboard.

The fridge in my secured quarters spilled it’s fresh stocks of yogurt and milk onto the deck and an avocado burst. The Bosun met me in the passageway with a pile of trash bags and while he went down to the mess hall, I went to the bridge - both places looked destroyed.

We lost all our plates down below, of course (I only saw paper plates and bowls after that). All the condiments hit the deck and went everywhere. Chairs and microwaves flew; one microwave didn’t survive.

Up on the bridge where I helped clean up, our bucket of used coffee grounds mixed with broken mugs, manuals, charts, pens, a blender, and more- all of which hit the deck on the first roll and then slid, mixed, and piled up against the bulkhead on the second.

Oddly, all the mess on the bridge seemed to pile up on the port side bridge wing door while I’d almost gone over on the starboard side.

One sailor face-planted into a bulkhead and complained for a week about pain. The store room was knee deep in fire extinguishers, mattresses, line, valves, safety gear, and fasteners. The dry stores was a pile of cans, bags, and bottles.

The deck gang responded en masse and within a couple hours it was impossible to tell anything untoward had happened… but it was my second encounter with a rogue wave and I will not forget it anytime soon. A 30 degree roll is what it takes to throw me out of bed; a 40 is enough to remember.

We arrived at the anchorage in LaBuan, Malaysia, without any further incident.

The last week was spent securing the ship for layup. We made canvas covers for vents; disposed of expiring food, stores, and medicine; cleaned and waxed decks; crane lifted generators and fuel aboard; and we accommodated the Malaysian crew now living aboard the ship in a house they constructed of mahogany studs and luan marine ply on the deck where our scuttlebutt BBQ had been.
Boats of LaBuan harbor
M/V Kamokuiki at anchor, as seen from the launch
What a sailor does with spare airplane parts, LaBuan harbor
Lamp post in an estuary of Malaysia
I'm pretty sure this boat is from Sumatera - Boats of LaBuan Harbor
Boats of Labuan Harbor
Supply vessels at anchor in the petroleum services harbor, LaBuan 
Those inclined toward drink, drank. A lot. The rest of us hid in our rooms or stuffed our faces with the last of our food, not wanting any of it to go to waste.

The flight back to Seattle involved a prop plane, three jets, 40 hours of airport travel, and having my papers inspected two dozen times by the immigration officials of every country I skipped and hopped through to get back to the USA.

I arrived home yesterday morning, but now trying to recount it all, it seems like a dream… a coma dream… something that all happened to someone else or not at all. It’s as if I went to sleep last night and had a vivid dream, then woke up this morning tired, sore, and distracted.

With a foul mouth.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A Return To Normalcy

Things change. Rapidly.

The last captain and chief mate went down the gangway without saying goodbye or exchanging contact info with anyone. They left the ship a mess and morale in the gutter.  

Good riddance.

We sailors were refusing any and all non-mandatory overtime in retaliation for the refusal to pay for work performed. Trash cans were overflowing, an infestation of midges had taken hold, and--as if in solidarity with our collective actions against management--the two dozen boobies that spent the entire transit from Kwajalein to Hawaii repainting the deck forward with guano came aft and did something I’ve never seen before: they repainted the bridge and bridge windows a dull, guano-gray.

The ship’s refrigeration also failed 8 hours out of Hono.  By the time we made it to Kwajalein, everything had thawed.  By the time we left Kwajalein, there was no fresh produce, no dairy, and the cook was serving rancid meat.

The new captain and mate came on and looked like a couple of deer in headlights, visibly stunned by the mess that outgoing management left them.  

Unlike the last captain and mate, however, these new guys are competent. It didn’t take three days to have the ship’s house clean--wheelhouse windows included. It took another week to put some semblance of order to the ship’s stores and inventory - like throwing out the spoiled food and increasing the amount of fresh food brought aboard. And they finally finished uncovering the bulk of the paperwork nightmare.  

All of this just in time to lay the ship up. The shipping line’s Marshall Island run will be done at the end of this half of the voyage.

And that’s where things get more interesting.

We don’t know where we’re going. We’ve been told to be ready for China, the Philippines, Australia, Longbeach, Oakland, Japan, Guam, and even Honduras (I’m not buying that particular one at all).

And just as we got ready for Xiamen and Ningbo, a ship that went through there became infected with the latest disease dujour - SARS part 2, the Wuhan Coronavirus--and everyone is waving us off and captains are refusing to go there.  

My watch partner, the chief mate, has had me run the watch like I am the mate in charge. I don’t think I could have a better, more opportune go at this kind of on-the-job training; I have also now reached the sea time required to sit for my 3rd/2nd Mate Any Gross Ton Any Waters licensing.

I am plotting the DR (dead reckoning) points and positions on the paper charts, keeping up with the log book, logging our position/speed/rpm/weather, manoeuvering… all while he gleefully looks forward to making me sweat when I encounter traffic in any of the possible destinations floating around on the wind.

I am hoping for Guam, Darwin, Naha, then to Borneo to lay the ship up, personally.

Two things happened so far this voyage that haven’t ever happened on any ship I’ve been on: I steered out of Majuro’s atoll with a chilled coconut in one hand (thank you very much, CM) and the whole ship gathered for a BBQ and superbowl party on the main deck when we should have been working (thank you captain). Mind you, the CM was doing cargo, but the rest of the crew was free to have a real party (with beer provided by the ship’s fund).

And now we’re in Ebey. We shifted from Kwajalein this morning, and we’ll shift back in two days- collecting all the empty containers on the islands. If I were in the head office and looking for the cheapest way to get these boxes filled with valuable manifest cargo, I’d take them straight to Guam, where ALL my other ships on the China run already go.

But if they decide to lay us up in Oakland instead of Borneo….

What if… what if… what if.

I will know as soon as we depart Kwajalein Atoll… I suspect the HQ isn’t gonna tell us anything until we’re beyond the point of no return, but once we hit the high seas I’ll know exactly what the end of my voyage looks like. 

Fingers crossed it isn’t going to be China.