Made it Through!

Position: Lat. 23-06′N, Long. 087-42′W

I think the worst is behind us!

Although hurricane IKE is still brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, he has passed by north and west of our position and we’ve managed to keep enough distance to endure manageable seas, throughout these past couple of days. Roughly fifteen to eighteen foot swells combined with fifty knot winds from the South west with some gusts to sixty have sparked our interest and kept us on our toes. But, for the most part, we’re out of its southern boundary now.

The Yucatan Peninsula has been our shelter and now our focus is set for the southern tip of Florida as our heading is at zero-seven-nine, just ten degrees north of east.

The weather decks have been made secure due to the high winds and seas, and a courtesy call to the Bridge by anyone thinking of going outside has been the protocol. By morning time, this safety warning should subside.

The speed required has been kept with twelve knots made good throughout. I figured midnight of the fourteenth we should be making it into port.

Fire and Boat Drills are scheduled for later today. Friday means the weekend!

Have a good one!

It’s Training Time!

These past few days have been spent sitting in on Simulator Courses at the local Union Hall.
Both Bridge Resource Management and Watchstanding Classes are only a couple of the required courses which are prerequisites for taking the Chief Mate License exam. The three day BRM Class went well, last week as the seven students including myself were put through the rigors of various scenarios utilizing the humungous 360 degree simulator. It was a true test, as we, the students felt a bit under pressure yet the instructors seemed excited just the same and introduced some interesting situations which we would otherwise not feel comfortable, without a “real” Captain on the Bridge.

In my group of three mariners, we each took turns acting as Captains and took the conn all the while the other two assisted in monitoring the RADARS and Electronic Chart Displays (ECD) or steered using the Helm. Each subsequent scenario, we switched positions to get a flair for the other duties.

My wife was a bit hesitant with an invite to sit-in on a scenario but gave in and watched our progress as we made a nighttime Arrival into Long Beach Port,California.

I have completed that BRM Course, and now my first day of Watchstanding has come to an end as it discusses Collision Regulations pertaining to Rule of the Road for vessels. More simulator training along with short quizzes on already familiar “Rules” are expected.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida region has been blanketed with a cold weather front as temperatures have plummeted to freezing at night, and unseasonable daytime temps. have made most Floridians somewhat weary and speechless.

Have a good day, folks!

Happy New Year

I bid you all A Happy New Year with Happiness, Prosperity, Good Health and hope that you are able to stand up to any challenges that develop.

These past few weeks have been a progressive warming up as life back on land is a process which takes time to reacquaint. The holidays went well as my trip South to Florida for a restful period with the wife’s folks is continuing and in effect. My plans to head further South in the coming days for reasons to update my License and for continued education for future upgrade will take up a few days of my vacation, this month.

Renewing Radar and taking Bridge Team Management classes for Chief Mate upgrade are on the agenda. The union hall’s facility near Miami, Florida has everything I need as well as recreational offerings and mild temperatures which will contrast the dismal Winter now unfolding up in Michigan.

I’m posting new pictures to the website, soon. Also, I welcome new members who have just found out about this blog and encourage you to post comments to the blog or to the discussion forum.

It’s a swell day

High Alto Cirrus clouds looming above with a hint of a chill at night only sets this day apart from being a perfect day, at sea.

The ship is running well with a low head sea, as it approaches from off our Starboard bow. The moon had risen nearly dead-ahead in the midst of a very dark and clear night and in its waning phase, appearance seem to have been plucked from the water. You could make out a quick red flash at the end point as its ‘lower limb’ or lowest part was visually detached from the
ocean.

The daymen, aboard, are cleaning the ship using scrub brushes, or by a derogatory name known commonly in the maritime industry as ‘turks heads’ along with a degreasing soap and water mixture along with some elbow grease will remove a lot of settling dirt and grime collected over weeks . A power washer, much like the kind you see at the coin operated car wash is used to blast away the suds.

I’m making preparations to head back home, folks! Another fine mariner shall take my place soon and I will ensure my room is ready for that individual by cleaning the bathroom or ‘head’, stateroom and adjoining dayroom. My time ashore will provide me the necessary rest as this duration will recharge my body for yet, an encore performance in the near future, back aboard this very ship.

I’ve managed to see much during these four months and will have lots of stories to tell. I always say that we all have stories to tell, from everyday occurrences which may affect us or the lives around us. How much of it, will we share with others? Who will listen? That’s for you to decide or find out.

Best to you and have a great rest of the weekend!

Cargo in Paradise

The ship had a pleasant off load of its cargo while docked and within the Hawaiian Island chain. It seemed that what actions the Stevedores carried out, were enough to make for a quick turn around time. The weather among the islands made for steady work. A slight westerly breeze with occasional showers brought relief to all.

It was awkward to walk on soil, and on which the locals actually spoke good English! You could also sense that there was a holiday presence as Christmas music was being played on various radio stations echoing from inside the taxi.

Speaking of which, I misplaced my cell phone in a taxi. The whole ordeal ended up as usual, leaving with a missing personal item as I departed without any call to Michelle back home to say I loved her. That’s the worst.

I’m not sure what is wrong with people today. You leave a belonging accidentally in someone else’s possession and it takes an act of god to get the damned thing back. I cancelled the phone service, made the call to the taxi dispatch and also efforts to make arrangements to locate the driver of that taxi-all with no luck.

But yours truly, can sure lose some valuables in the darndest places and make for some odd situations.

For Example, back when I was a Cadet at California Maritime during the Summer of 1999 as I was on the training ship and on the island of Roratonga, within the Cook Island chain north of New Zealand, I had misplaced my wallet all while looking for my moped key.

You see, as I ventured off on a rental moped, in search of a pristine beach, I only had on a pair of shorts and t-shirt each with no pockets. And as I found the perfect beach by which to sit and lounge, I flopped the key with its plastic keyfob over the elastic band of the swim trunks I was wearing as I waded in the clear yet coral filled beach. And in the forty minutes or so I was focused on the water and surrounding sights, my key had apparently fallen and dropped into the water.

As I went back to retrieve my backpack (duh!) that I placed on the sand, I was all in a panic as I found no key on my waistband as I was digging through the bag thinking I had left the key in there. Realizing what had just happened, and in a continued panic, I turned around and prayed that I could find the key while looking from above the water. The only challenge was where amongst the coral would it be?

So for the next thirty to forty minutes or so, I desperatley searched a hundred feet of water and miraculously something said to look “down and to the left” and there it was, a bright shine eminating from the plastic key fob as it reflected back some four feet beneath the water and on a piece of coral. I would have told you I would have had better odds winning a million bucks while plaing the Lottery than to find this moped key.

Frantically, I had no time to waste as the “turn in” time had passed and by retrieving my backpack, I was oblivious to the fact that I was leaving behind my wallet on that beach.

My trek back to the moped rental facility was fast, yet, with the lack knowledge of my loss, I would soon find out that my wallet was indeed, “Missing in Action!” I flagged down a local citizen to drive me back to the location I had just frequented; the peaceful beach I had originally intended to relax and enjoy. But the next problem was remembering where that beach was!! For I had only stopped along the road at some random point and the local vegetation all looked the same for miles and miles, my memory escaped me and for the next two hours, I had resorted to finding this wallet with my life in it.

I never did end up finding that wallet. It held “two thousand” Chilean currency, probably amounting to a hundred US Dollars equivalent and about seventy-five Australian dollars.

In that wallet, as well, I had a photo copy of the three of the golden retriever pups I helped raise for purposes of puppy raising or training for assistance dogs along with their canine mother all posing in a group as I remember that time when Sears Portraits had a ‘group portrait’ special and I took advantage of it!

Have a great day folks! Enjoy this last month of 2009!

Next… .Port Call!

The ship is almost to its destination! The crew is anxious to get ashore and set their eyes on food, drink, entertainment, and whatever else pleases them. This next port will be primarily, however, for unloading purposes.

The Northerly Seas and swell has made for a challenging ride much like a wild boxing match. The ship has returned with a counter active punch, however, in which she stabilizes herself as she lunges or sways back the other way; each push from the sea seemingly attempts to knock her off kilter and most aboard are the spectators feeling the punches. This ship has tonnage which is on her side- all twenty thousand tons to back her. In fact, her little secret is that she is an ‘ice class’ ship whose internal framing is much more closely spaced than an average ship withstanding the impact from exterior forces; an Armor plating, if you will. Not to say we’re getting seasick, not hardly, but by working or doing preventative maintenance is difficult when the setting is ever swaying and moving about.

Try and conduct business, yourself, during a ten hour earthquake or while being in a drunken stoop.

The end of month is near, and end-of-month inspections are wrapping up. The permanent Captain will return in this port as Captain Bartlett’s time is up. As well, a new First Assistant Engineer will replace ‘Keith’ who has managed to make two months.

The ship will be done with time changes for at least five days more days. It’s a nice reprieve from having to advance the clock every other day. And for this, the hour is evenly divided into twenty-minutes as each of the three Watches in the evening taking their part; making for a longer or shorter Watch. ‘Advancing Clocks’ affords a shorter Watch, but you end up losing the hour when you move the time ahead an hour at the end of the night. “Retarding Clocks’ gains an hour with turning back the clock, but your Watch time ends up extending by twenty minutes. The Able Seaman changes all the clocks down by the Galley and Mess Rooms by twenty minutes per Watch, accordingly.

I’m sure our land legs will take a bit of getting used to. Don’t be surprised if I talk towards the ground for a while. “Oh- There you are!”

Hope your holiday week is going well. Have a good day!

Being Thankful

As I stand the Watch amidst seas which do not cease- but continue to roll along, (albeit in a synchronous roll which would make the average human being succumb to sickness), it reminds me of how our lives should ‘flow’.

I am probably reliving the past as Frontiersmen or Adventurers such as Captain James Cook, and Christopher Columbus might have viewed the ‘New Land’ as a challenge at all cost, and possibly whose sole purpose was to seek trade in another foreseeable kingdom. Who did they have to thank? Was their plight on condition of finance, social drive, or religious freedoms?
And who was responsible for imbedding the notion into their conscience that traveling the seas would offer the seed of opportunity? Who did they thank AFTERWARDS?

Ironically, my family and friends are to thank for thrusting me into this career of ship travel. If their actions weren’t my primary influence, then it must have been their ability to deal with the uncertainties of when I would someday ‘appear’ and patiently await word of occurrences from my last trip away.

I could have stayed true to a course of becoming a ‘lifer’ of parking cars or waiting tables for a nominal wage as I did back in my early adult years. But, instead, I listened to those of you who preached your views on what an ideal future may lie in wait for me and fortunately, I took the bait and took risk at the chance of the impossible dream. For those of you- I am forever obliged.( So I give myself half credit, okay?)

I learned, do not take for granted that only good things come to those who wait. If you wait, what happens in the interim may go to waste. Be thankful that you’ve made it ‘this far’, as we might not realize the true impact that friends and family’s interactions, or lack thereof, have played in our lives as we see it, today.

What we do today, is a stepping stone to something higher (and possibly better) on the ladder for superior living. Family, friends, or both should have something to do with it.

Keep a positive outlook and give thanks to those around you or who influence your life.

Happy Thanksgiving and have a great day!

Meteor Showers and Rainbows

I was mesmerized by the Leonid Meteor shower the other night, on Thursday. Although, I missed its peak as I was informed of the display, a day late, I was pleasantly surprised at the frequency of such a show in the almost pitch black of a moonless sky.

Just at nearly my Zenith or directly above, the short streaks or bursts of light from these projectiles made for excellent viewing. The Milky Way could also be distinguished by its fuzzy appearance from North to South.

The crescent moon is just now showing itself after dark towards the western sky as it ‘waxes’ and becomes fuller; being what was a seemingly dormant “New Moon” as it now brightens into its First Quarter phase.

Showers of a different nature were witnessed with rain activity coming from within Cumulonimbus clouds. These clouds ever sprouting like wild Sunflowers among flowers painted on blue canvas, and a rare encounter of a Rainbow was spotted just before sunset off the starboard bow and through the grayish squall. Quick thinking and a dash for my camera as the moment would now be
forever burned on film.

I’ve managed to accomplish nearly seventy-five percent of my monthly Inspections, currently and this coming week will be an opportunity for fixing up some of the discrepancies noted on those Inspections. Today, I conducted the weekly starting up of the two lifeboat engines as it’s
customary to test the small diesel engines within these enclosed boats and ensure they are ready in the case of an emergency. In addition, I noticed some water in the bilges and will have to pump out this ’slop’ and dispose of, in a container suitable for this dingy or ‘grey-water’-water not suitable for dumping. I’m not entirely looking forward to this mess of a job.

I am looking ahead as holidays approach. Less than a month to go before this old salt gets to fly home! A month seems a long time, but the days are turning to night, quickly. I’ve added up the miles. To date, the ship has managed to rack up almost twenty-eight thousand miles since the start of August. Since then, days turn to weeks, weeks -to-months and the seasons come and go. Fall is now enforce.

Enjoy your weekend!

What a trip so far!

They never said this job at sea was any easy. This trip is going on three and a half months and the number of days with which the crew has been ashore- you can count on one hand, with fingers left over.

Besides cargo operations, the remaining time between Watch allows you to do one of two things- sleep or lose sleep by venturing ashore. If you elect to sleep, you gain the energy required only to find yourself waking up for the next Watch. Your ability to set foot on the country your ship has just berthed alongside, is reduced to only to the peripherals of the pier lying next to the ship or as one may have the fortunate chance of walking the pier in order to assist with loading “stores” or ordered items the Chandler or Agent has requested on the ship’s behalf, or to view draft marks. A journey ashore will only tap into your energy reserves, yet the value or benefit of what lurks beyond the pier might offer ’something’ to the seaman, or not. This is the gamble.

Since Spain, back in late August, and mid November, I have counted a total of three days between going ashore and ordering ‘anything’ at any store, restaurant, or bar. The load-out of cargo in the Persian Gulf prohibited the crew from ever leaving the wharf for security reasons. Interactions between the locals were limited to quick conversation aimed at lashing gangs or dock supervisors and solely for work purposes.Underway time between ports averaged about twelve to fifteen days.

The crew can get ornery from a lack of personal space and the thought of any entertainment opportunities disappear in thin air as our minds quickly make the realization that the next port will only be for refueling or maintenance, with no chance of any ‘port time’ or mainly, ‘ashore time’.

Please understand, too, that it is our human nature to be social creatures. Even if we may hold back any feelings towards other individuals, the normal behavior for most ashore, may be the need to make a leap or dash for freedom by fleeing to ‘get away’. On ships, we do not have this simple choice. And conflict may happen as a result of this undesirable closeness. However, physical confrontation is taboo and this will result in surely getting some time ashore or as the circumstances warrant, an individual might be locked up in a stateroom and be kept on continuous watch if deemed dangerous to the crew.

Let the truth be told, there is a sense of quietness now. Many aboard who feel anxious or peeved by the sort of behaviors what other shipmates are exhibiting are oblivious to the underlying premise; this is the way we as merchant mariners may cope in a cooped-up environment. But it is the reason many at sea act in a childish nature, perceived by those on the beach, because our outlet starts the moment we sign off and head for home as we’ve been given the go ahead to be someone we’ve only imagined in our dreams.

Hopefully, the child within-landlubbers can deal with.
Have a great weekend!

The 24 Hour Journey

A ship travels to its destination as planned via a set of track lines meticulously connected by penciling in lines on charts and any subsequent notations recorded on an accompanying voyage plan. No matter day or night, the ship continues its lumbering or seemingly drunken-like waltz as it pushes water and closes the gap between ports, hour-by-hour along these ever flowing highways we call the Ocean or Sea.

I grew up, during my teen years, traveling between waypoints, if you will, from Northern California bound for Southern California or back as I would visit one parent then turn back and return the other direction from which I just came from, traveling the desolate highways of Interstates 5 or 99 and for hours on end; each parent living in separate reaches of the Golden State but linked by these earthly meridianal passages. And as the forms of travels between these two California regions changed from Airplane to Bus to Automobile as I matured, I was also daring enough to attempt the transit at the more “daunting” (my folks would call it), hours at night. During these hours, traffic dwindled to a more manageable level, and the car enjoyed the luxury of cooler temperatures and steady speeds. Which is somewhat more fact than fiction, actually. But with this harmless bit of trivia which I advocated towards my folks, I was given the nod, eventually!

I had owned an early model Datsun two seater sports car when I turned sixteen and this was my freedom into the world of the unknown. As long as I had money for gas, my mindset was to venture to wherever and whenever (when monetarily feasible and when school was not in session, of course) to places within a day’s drive of where I was living. I learned how to read a map, and notated the cities along my intended route, and used quick math to determine if I had enough hours in the day, to return before my mom or dad suspected anything wrong due to the hours spent. I made sure to leave a message in the form of a note saying when I would be back home- but not necessarily where my travels would send me. Of course, we’re not talking secret illegal activity, but destinations or locations which would expand my quest for reaching unknown territories; for me any place I would consider a Shangri La.. I was more interested in driving and discovering a small town hidden among a grove of Walnut trees or a farming community with a historic Diner alongside a Main Street with nearly defunct five-and-dime store or other paltry businesses barely making it than to try stupid illicit drugs many youngsters my age would have rather done back at home. Boring!

As well, my likeness towards driving during the night time hours increased over the years, and consequently I now command big ships throughout portions of the night as we operate completely in the dark and within the safe confines of a large room full of dimly lighted panels and backlit buttons, which we call the Wheelhouse or Bridge. Just as we drive in a car at night, with just the glow of the speedometer and ventilation controls and the rumble or hum of an engine, the ship’s Bridge consists of the ominous glow from its Radar sets, VHF radios, and Steering controls in various colors and intensities all while the feel is ever present and in some cases more pronounced than an automobile as the bridge pivots and contorts as it imitates what the rest of the ship is doing.

And peering out into the vastness, only the stars respond as small pin points of lights or a distant ship with its dual white lighted Range Lights and Blue and Green Running lights, indicating its aspect giving any sign that something lurks out there! But the “point” of it all, I enjoy the tranquility that the night brings. It’s just me and the water with a horizon as a sharp line separating the sea and sky. The mind clears itself, as I prepare for the new day to come. The day reflected as I have time to think and ponder what I could do different to make it better.

A twenty-four hour day passes and a new day arrives! Carpe Diem!

Have a great day, folks!