Five Day Turnaround

I got off the Ocean Evolution last week. I had to drive home (8+hr drive) so I spent a little time job hunting on the way. I stopped in the office when I picked up my truck, hoping to talk to someone there and got lucky. I was able to talk to the HR people and they helped me get my application filled in (I’ve been trying to do it on their website, but it wouldn’t let me past the 2nd page).

I don’t really have any idea if anything will come of it, they couldn’t give me a time frame for when or if I might be needed, but I still felt pretty good when I left. It might’ve helped that I worked there for 5 years directly a few years back. I probably should’ve just stayed there, but got one of those “too good to be true” offers and took it.

Next door was another boat company, so I stopped there too. I was able to speak to a man there who actually seemed interested. We talked for a while about the good old days in the Gulf. Back when things were booming and we could still go to work in shorts and flip-flops. God I miss those days!

It was already getting late, so I was only able to make one more stop that day. Was told there, they would probably be laying people off again next week (now). With the Coronavirus panic wreaking havoc all over the world, I expect that’s already happened. Looks like we’re in for at least another year of horrible job prospects in the maritime industry.

I made it home late Thursday and spent the weekend running errands and getting caught up with the foot-high pile of mail blocking my front door. I was also able to spend some time online, looking at things I wasn’t able to at work (not stupid stuff- but internet was super sluggish onboard and lots of sites were blocked).

I saw a post on Linkedin Sunday where they were looking for a DPO and I made a comment. I was super surprised that they actually called me back. That never happens! Turns out I was accepted for the position and had to get ready to travel again immediately.

This one, the Seven Pacific, will be my home for the next 2 weeks. 🙂

I left yesterday afternoon and am waiting to join the ship here in Mobile now. 🙂

Safety Sunday

I’m still here onboard the Ocean Evolution. It’s a slow Sunday at the dock. Usually Sundays are what we call “Safety Sunday”. We try to take it easy and do a lot of safety related stuff (more than usual).

We thought we were going offshore today to do some testing, so we did all our drills yesterday after the usual Saturday steak BBQ. Today I haven’t done much but a little bit of ballasting for some crane ops, a little bit of paperwork and standing gangway watch.

That whole gangway watch thing is new since 9-11. We’re supposed to be on the lookout for terrorists who instead of just shooting us with an RPG from the dock, want to try their luck to sneak aboard and somehow attack a ship full of some fairly tough men (these guys don’t sit behind a desk all day). We also have a lot of things that could be quite dangerous if we want them to be. A match for any bunch of losers with box cutters!

Personally, I think the whole ‘be afraid, be very very afraid” of the terrorist thing is WAY overblown. I have zero fear of any terrorist. What I do fear is the fact that our government has used that fear to destroy our way of life. They’ve done it a hell of a lot more effectively than any terrorist could imagine in their wildest dreams!

As an example, I was reading an article today on how many people in the US don’t yet have “REAL ID” (internal passports, just like the old USSR and NAZI Germany used to have- great examples we’ve decided to follow). I have no idea how the “added security” these new IDs will help us in the USA. After all, this country’s government has one purpose and one purpose ONLY.

That SOLE purpose is: to protect the rights and freedoms we already have as human beings!

Will someone, anyone, please tell me exactly how forcing us to “show your papers please” anytime we want to travel (which we’re constitutionally guaranteed to be able to do without any kind of government interference) is going to help anything?

The ONLY thing it will do, is to continue to turn us into a bunch of zombies, dependent on our government masters to protect us from everything in the world (including ourselves). We’ve already gone way too far down that road to serfdom.

I’ll post this quote from Ben Franklin again here. It’s just as true now as when he (supposedly) said it back when we were fighting for our freedom from the British.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin

We need to wake the hell up and start fighting for it again NOW, before it’s too late. We will never have a safe society and I- for one- don’t want one. I want a FREE society. I want to be able to live my live, make my own choices and have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. I am sick and tired of the nanny state being forced upon us all. We’re NOT all babies here. We’re entitled to live as fully functioning adults until and unless we prove we’re (individually) incapable of that.

I don’t know how many of you may support the nanny state we’re living in now, but if you do I’d like to hear your reasons. Why would anyone think we should choose to live in a “safe” society (which is unattainable) to living in a free society (which is also probably not 100% possible, but I’m sure it’s a lot easier to achieve and a lot better for a lot more people).

Let’s have a real discussion here. 🙂

PS- we used to be able to discuss interesting subjects like this in the local bars until the MAD mothers put a stop to that! Most of the bars have closed and no one talks anymore about anything but sports (men) and babies (women).

PSS- Just to be 100% clear- this blog is mine. Everything I post here is something I think is useful, relevant, interesting (to me and hopefully to others). It is never, in any way, related to any company or person I work for. My comments are based on my interpretations of my research and I don’t mean for them to reflect on anyone else. I don’t think what a person does on their own time should be anybody’s business at work, but apparently way too many businesses think they own you 24/7 and they do think it’s their business. I refuse to shut up, but again, just to make it clear. None of what I say here has anything to do with anybody but me. No company or boss has ever agreed with me on anything! 😉

FOTD: Orchid

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I’ve been at work the last couple of weeks (finally), so I haven’t been able to get online much. We just got back in to the dock and my phone started working again. Things have slowed down a bit now, so I’m taking the opportunity to check out the blogosphere and found Cee’s Flower of the Day challenge for today. So here’s my orchid shot…

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Six Long Months

It’s been almost 6 months since my last job. I’ve been getting desperate (never a good frame of mind- people can sense it). I thought I’d be able to pick up some work when I got back from my last trip. The Christmas holiday is usually the best time of the year to get temp jobs. People always want to spend time with their friends and families, so they’ll ask for time off.

Well, not this year. Not for the last 4 years before that. I thought before I left for that trip that things were finally improving, but everyone is still too afraid for their jobs to take any chances. Maybe their job won’t be there when they come back, so they stay onboard and temp employees like me are out of luck.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time online looking for work (again). I’ve already applied everywhere I can think of (except MSC– my absolute last resort). I’ve done this at least a half dozen times, just going down the list of any companies with ships. I’ve called each of them a few times, eventually giving up when I can’t get past their computerized answering machine/secretary to talk to someone who knows something. I’ve even gone in person a few times.

I’ve filled out the same applications over and over (wondering exactly why do they need to know when/where I went to high school and what my grades were from 40 years ago?).

Every time I actually manage to talk to someone, all I get is- “we’re not actually hiring, we’re just collecting resumes”. I don’t know why they post ads. Some even put up billboards that say they’re “hiring all positions”. I wonder why they’re bothering to collect more resumes, they must have thousands on file from the last 5 years of this latest downturn in the oilfield. Why collect them if they’re not going to ever look at them?

It’s been so bad. I’ve been so frustrated that I’ve been seriously thinking about quitting. Just throwing away 40+ years of professional maritime experience (not even counting another few years working on the water before I got my first z-card). Just to sit and twiddle my thumbs at home. I’ve been trying to make a few bucks doing things I enjoy- like selling my photography, paintings, writing- but no one seems interested in buying. I haven’t been able to figure out how to get noticed online. I’m competing with millions of others so no one even sees my stuff.

I absolutely refuse to waste my skills and experience. The idea of spending the rest of my life working at someplace like Walmart or McDonalds gives me the willies, but it seems those are the only kinds of jobs I’m “qualified for” on land. I mean, who needs a ship captain on the beach?

So, in order to save money I put an ad in the paper for a room mate. I need someone in my house to help pay the bills so I can afford to do something with myself (other than sit at home vegetating). I’d like to go ahead and make the move to Mexico I’ve been trying to do for years. At least there I can afford to live a decent life. I won’t wind up a grumpy old lady dining on cat food with my measly social security check (since I’ll have spent my retirement funds in the 12 more years to go before I’m eligible).

I only had one call for a potential room mate so far, so nothing to hang around for. I saw a post online for a job fair in Lafayette, LA. They had one company (Pacific Drilling), with one job that I wanted. I had already applied for that job 4 times before, but figured it would be better to talk to someone. I really don’t think anyone ever looks at those online application they all sluff you off with. So I decided to give it one more try and drove up to Lafayette.

I planned to make the rounds of the bayou boat companies again afterwards, so I brought my sea bag with me- just in case.

I got lucky! I was planning to leave after my painting class, early Tuesday afternoon. I got a call from one of my agencies about a possible job. Of course I told them I would take it, but was going to continue with my plans to go to the job fair anyway, in case their job offer fell through.

Turned out, the job did come through. Yeah! I confirmed it when I was at the job fair. I was amazed at the crowds of people that showed up. There must’ve been at least 1000 people in the room, just in the hour I was there. Just shows how bad we’re still hurting in the oilfield.

The line for Pacific Drilling was tripled up across the room and then continued snaking out the door and all the way down the hall. By the time I got to the table to sign in, the stack of resumes was already at least 2 feet high. It was still 3 hours before they shut down the place!

The recruiter I spoke to sounded positive. I was hopeful I would hear back from her, but I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to keep on talking to people until you actually get on the boat. I continued on with the job hunt all that afternoon in the Lafayette area and then headed towards Morgan City.

I found out that afternoon, I would have to take another drug test (I just had one in October) before I would be allowed to join the vessel, so decided the best thing to do would be to spend the night in Morgan City, take the drug test 1st thing in the morning, then continue with the job hunt until I had to be at the dock at 1800 for a ride to the ship.

I joined the vessel about 2000 Thursday. The Ocean Evolution, (I was on it last year). So far, we’ve been sitting at the dock. I was hoping to go straight to work since I really need DP time! The officials have changed that system too, to where your certs expire if you’re not working so many days per year. I’m just thrilled to be getting a paycheck at this point, and at least I’m getting sea time. Every day is precious at this point. I can’t afford to lose my license, or I really will have to retire and no choice about it.

Thanks to this job, I’ll be OK for at least another 2 months without having to take anymore out of my retirement savings. Only 5 more months and I’ll be 69. It sucks when you start praying to be old, just so you can think you’re one more year closer to (hopefully) not outliving your savings.

Bluff Cove Lagoon

The muted wintry landscape sped by, shaded a weird blue hue by the vans tinted windows carrying us across the island to Bluff Cove. The browns of the tall withered grasses and deep greens of the heather lying close to the ground were broken up by weird rivers of broken rocks. This “stone run” landscape is unique to the Falkland Islands, caused by the erosion, thawing and freezing of the last ice age.

the landscape was so blue looking through the windows
this is more like it really looked

Bluff Cove Lagoon lies on the opposite side of the island from Stanley, about a half hour drive. Final approach to the farm passes over low rolling hills on a rutted dirt track to a wide spot where we traded in our vans for a fleet of 4 x 4’s (jeeps).

Speeding along in our jeeps, bouncing across sheep-shorn green grass and grinding through deep muddy ruts, we’re dropped off with a short speech at the rookeries near the beach. A flock of about 1000 gentoo penguins along with another 20 pairs of the kings we’d come to see were nesting there. Squeaking and preening, poaching rocks and tending eggs, they paid us no mind as we stood at the marked boundary and hustled for photos.

Along the edge of the lagoon, another 10-15 kings and their chicks- looking like fluffy brown puff balls- huddled in the steady cold wind. They paid no attention to us, but threatened the occasional goose that wandered to close to their chicks with their long sharp beaks.

It was wonderful to get so close to these wild birds. We were told not to approach closer than 5 m, but the birds apparently never got the memo. 🙂

It was a beautiful sunny day, but the wind was strong and it got so it was hard to hold my camera steady. With hundreds of penguin photos, I was ready for a hot drink. Picking my way through the fields littered with pellets of goose poop, I stopped at the top of the rise to take in the gorgeous seascape before me.

impossible to avoid the poop

The ocean was a dark teal color, with breakers shining electric blue as they rolled onto the blindingly white beach, the wind blowing streamers of spray and sand upon the few brave birds searching for food along the shore.

The Sea Cabbage Cafe beckoned with the smell of hot chocolate and baked goodies in the air. The small kitchen bustled with friendly chefs, all ready to suggest their favorites among the many options to choose from: lemon drizzle cake, Hattie’s famous carrot cake, scones with local diddle-dee jam and farm fresh cream, chocolate chip, peanut butter and coconut lace cookies, chocolate cake and even gluten free varieties. Yum!

Maybe I should’ve spent less time with my cameras and more with the cookies? I didn’t even have a chance to check out the gift shop before it was time to head back to the vans. Next time, for sure. 🙂

Stanley

The capital of the Falkland Islands, Stanley is a small town of only about 2500 pop (2016 census). I wondered how isolated and deprived the local people might feel, or if they missed much the ‘advantages’ of the big cities of the rest of the world. I wonder if they get sick of all the tourists tromping through their town when the cruise ships come in?

I think I wouldn’t mind living somewhere like Stanley. It has all I need- boats to work with, friendly people to talk to, museum, shops, restaurants, hospital, pubs, and beautiful scenery to walk around in.

they even have a distillery...
and a brewery

Sadly, I didn’t get much of a chance to hang out and BS with the locals or sample the local delicacies. We were only there for the day and there was so much I wanted to do.

After stopping in to check out the local Seaman’s Center, I followed the paved footpath along the harbor front from the ship into town. There were informational signs along the way to describe the sights and the different birds to see along the way.

I detoured across the road to take a look at the cemetery. A large monument- the Cross of Sacrifice- tops the central stairway flanked with poppy- painted stones in remembrance of those killed in war.

The gates were closed, so I just peeked over the fence and continued walking along the harbor front, appreciating the history lessons I was getting from the signs along the way.

I noticed a couple of sailboats at the boat yard as I approached downtown. I was expecting more traffic, this being pretty much the only port for thousands of miles. But I guess maybe that’s why there wasn’t more?

There used to be a lot more. I really wanted to see the old sailing ships. Stanley Harbor is littered with the wrecks of about 20 ships- 100 more scattered around the Falklands. I had already passed by the wreck of the Afterglow- a 1920’s patrol boat- next to an old chimney used to burn the bones in ‘Hutchies’ slaughterhouse. All that’s left of the Afterglow is the boiler.

wreck of the Afterglow
remains of Hutchies slaughterhouse

Downtown Stanley looked like a what I imagine a small British town from the 1950’s would look like. A two-lane main street with shops, cafes, and government offices clustered in the center. The famous whalebone arch and cathedral are right across the street from the Post Office with the red phone booths outside. The streets are lined with neat little houses and well tended gardens. A couple blocks from the Post Office brings you to the Falkland Islands Museum.

looking past the whalebone arch to the names of ships that have protected the islands
interior of the ‘Southernmost church in the world’

Continue past the museum to find ‘Victory Green’ with a few old cannons and the mizzen mast of the SS Great Britain. The famous six master of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. She was launched in Bristol (UK) in 1843. She was the longest (322′) and most advanced passenger ship in the world from 1845-1854. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic in 1845 (in 14 days). She had a troubled lifetime, including being sold for salvage once and being sunk for 33 years in Stanley. Eventually, she was raised, restored and is now a museum ship back in Bristol.

For such a small and out of the way town, they do have a lot of war memorials, and they’re all well tended to. The 1982 Liberation Memorial is just past the museum, and after another couple of war memorials (Royal Marines, Battle of the Falklands, and 1914 Sea Battle of the Falklands), you’ll finally find the wreck of the Jhelum.

1982 Liberation Memorial

She was an East Indiaman, built in 1849 in Liverpool. Abandoned in 1870 after suffering much damage in a storm and just barely able to limp into Stanley. I was a little disappointed. There really wasn’t much left of the Jhelum. The weather had turned nasty again, with high winds and cold, so I decided to head back to explore the museum.

wreck of the Jhelum

It was full of all sorts of interesting items explaining Stanley and the Falkland Islands. History, battles, biology, botany, Antarctica, and stories of day to day living were on display. I was especially fascinated by the artifacts of nautical history upstairs (of course). They had photos, paintings and pieces of the ships that called on their port during the heyday of the great sailing ships.

They had ships wheels, and ships bells, figureheads and furniture, chart tables, samples of salvaged cargos (ink), silverware, and so many more interesting items.

ink bottles salvaged from the John R Kelly

I would’ve loved to stay longer, but signed up for the tour over to see the king penguins on the other side of the island, so had to get going. Maybe one day I can return to spend more time.

LAPC: Leading Lines

I always enjoy these photography challenges whenever I see them. I love to see the beautiful photos everyone posts, and I like to share mine too. 🙂

Here’s the link to this week’s challenge- Leading Lines.

And here are a few of my photos.

#Vernadsky Station, Antarctica
interior of the Cathedral on Plaza de Armas, Santiago Chile
boardwalks leading to the ‘tents’-Mpingo Ridge Tanzania
this one’s leading right out of the photo 🙂 Cancun, Mexico
gazebo on Lake Ponchartrain, at Fountainbleau State Park LA

I hope you like my photos, if you click the links in the captions, you can find out more about them. 🙂

Tuesdays

Tuesdays are my busiest days of the week. I’ve started going back to painting class Tuesday mornings. I was taking a class in oil and pastels, but the lady who taught that class ‘retired’. So I had no class to go to for a while.

Recently, they started a watercolor class that I’ve been going to for a couple of weeks. Here’s a couple I started last week. I think I need to add something- any ideas?

I’ve always loved art. Wether it’s making my own, or enjoying someone elses. Painting, photography, writing, music, sculpture, dance, etc. It’s all good. 🙂

Watercolor painting is very different than oil painting. It seems harder to me because you can’t easily correct a mistake (or maybe I just haven’t learned how yet). It seems easier to me in that it’s a lot ‘looser’. You can just paint a lot faster, or at least it seems that way to me.

my latest- it’s not finished yet either

After paint class, I like to go to the movies if there’s anything interesting showing. The theatre has specials on Tuesdays. It’s only $5 for the movie and they have a $5 popcorn + drink special. If I go any other day it’s about $20!

Last week I went to see Just Mercy. Wow! I thought this was a great movie. Not one with special effects or tricks, but high drama and a very compelling story. It’s about a black lawyer (Bryan Stevenson) who graduates from Harvard and goes down to Alabama to work with death row inmates.

The film concentrates on his work with Jimmy D (Walter McMillian)- a black man who was wrongly convicted of killing a white woman in 1986. You might think that people would be glad to have justice served. Nope. It really upset me to watch this film and see how wrong I was (am). People just don’t seem to give a damn as long as it doesn’t affect them personally. It amazes me how corrupt our system (still) is- and not just for black people, tho I am absolutely positive that poor blacks get treated a lot worse than rich whites (or rich anybody).

All of the actors did a great job. Jamie Foxx and Micheal B. Jordan played the 2 main characters, they did a fantastic portrayal. I was raging and crying right along with them. I highly recommend this movie. It’s based on a true story. I’m sure there are many similar stories going on today. We still have a long way to go to achieve our ideals of a free country with liberty and justice for all. A long way. This film is a wake-up call, if enough people will see it and take it seriously.

After the movie got me all riled up last week, I went to my Tuesday night meet up of the Campaign for Liberty. We meet every Tuesday at the Wayside Pub. I haven’t been going much lately. Mostly because it’s so depressing to me. We get together and talk about all the crazy shit that’s happening around the country. The concentration has been on what an individual can do to remove themselves from the mess. Some people are seriously committed to that.

I prefer to concentrate on fixing the actual problems. Sadly, I still don’t find any solutions at those meetings. I don’t see any way to fix anything all by myself. It takes numbers and the general populace just isn’t interested in anything but having “their guy” win- regardless of how that will harm the situation in the long run.

The weekly meeting is just a social event for me now. I don’t make it a priority anymore, but I do still like to go. At least there I can talk to other people who understand my concerns. I wish more people would, but I understand how it’s so much easier to ignore it all. I just wish I could do that myself. I’m sure I’d be a lot happier.

Stanley- Arrival

We had smooth sailing all the way up from Elephant Island to Stanley, where the weather abruptly turned overcast, cold and windy. If it had been like that on our crossing, I think we would’ve had a pretty nasty ride. Almost 1,100 miles of heavy weather might not have been too much fun. 😉

We took on a pilot on arrival. I was out watching, it looked like we drug up quite a bit of mud coming in. Of course I wasn’t really paying attention to any charts or navigation since I was on vacation, but I still take an interest in that sort of thing.

Stanley Pilot Boat

It was windy as hell. Probably blowing about 35 kts. The pilot boat did a great job coming alongside to give us the pilot. It looked like a straight shot to the dock, but like I said I wasn’t paying any attention to charts, tides, rocks, bottom conditions, etc. That’s what pilots get the big bucks for. They know all the details for their port by heart.

one of the many shipwrecks around Stanley Harbor

Personally, I never really wanted to be a pilot, tho so many captains do. It’s the top job for a ships master. I just figure I would be bored to death. Just in and out the same port every day. Like a bus driver, just with a different bus to drive every time. I guess if I was going to be a pilot, Stanley looks like a good place to be one (so does Freeport, where I live- easy).

It took a couple of hours to get alongside the dock, once we we were all fast we were free to go. It was nice to be able to walk off the ship for a change.

There was a nice little seamans center right at the end of the dock. I stopped in to say hello. I always appreciate the people who do so much to help the worlds seafarers fell welcome in their ports. It’s not very often we can get ashore any more, and very hard to get out of the port area, so I really do like to see places like this.

Drake Shake?

Nope. Drake Lake again. We had beautiful sunny skies and calm seas all the way from Elephant Island to the Falkland Islands. A journey of almost 1,100 miles. I love spending time at sea!

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We spent the day relaxing onboard, we had our choice of lectures, science lab, knot tying class, puzzles in the lounge, sauna, pool or hot tub on the back deck.

I went to the class on knot tying. I was surprised how many people were interested. There was quite a crowd. It was pretty basic (for me). We practiced tying square knots, granny knots, clove hitches, half hitches, running hitches, bowlines, and figure 8 knots. I wound up helping the 2 instructors. 🙂

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We had an interesting lecture on the geology of the Falkland Islands, to prepare us for arrival. It was pretty interesting and people had lots of questions.

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Of course, there’s always good food to look forward to. I had the veggie option for dinner, since I really didn’t like the other 2 choices (we could pick red deer loin, sea bass or veggie patties).

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Japanese beef tataki with spinach, sesame seeds and secret sauce
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Grilled veggie patties, sweet potato fries, spring onion and tzatziki

After dinner, I met up with friends in the lounge to continue working on the ships jigsaw puzzles. Lots of people were hanging out, reading, relaxing over drinks, watching the ocean pass by.

As the sun set, we all headed out to get some photos. This was really the first time for a nice sunset. Til tonight, it was either overcast or too late at night. I miss seeing the sky clear and bright to see the starts at night. I really miss that about sailing.

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Point Wild

This morning we arrived at Elephant Island and Point Wild.

This is where Ernest Shackleton left for his amazing 800 mile journey across the furious fifties in a small boat to reach South Georgia Island seeking help to rescue his crew. What a desolate place. Can you imagine being trapped here for months? Just you and your crew, nothing to eat but penguins and seals (if you could catch them).

approaching Port Wild, Elephant Island

We’d been learning more about Antarctica every day of the cruise so far. The ship was equipped with a science lab with microscopes where we could examine plants, minerals, plankton, etc. Our expedition team fed our interest in Shackleton and the other explorers (Roald Amundsen, Fritjof Nansen, Scott, etc) with films and lectures. There were plenty of books in the library as well.

We nosed our way into the small bay, up against the Endurance Glacier, with ice all around us. This was our last stop in Antarctica (technically only Orne Harbor was really part of the continent). We didn’t attempt to land.

Endurance Glacier

We could see a colony of chinstrap penguins and a monument to Piloto Pardo, the Chilean Navy Captain who managed to rescue the 22 men Shackleton had to leave behind there. His story and his tug Yelcho should be better known.

Chinstrap penguins

I find all that history fascinating and admire the abilities of those guys back in the days of exploration. The determination, stamina, courage, skills to do the things they did. Not just Shackleton, not just the Arctic or Antarctic explorers, but all of them: Columbus, Magellan, Cook, etc.

I think there’s something in human nature that needs that kind of wilderness- that frontier- that kind of challenge to look forward to. We need that kind of ‘escape valve’. It seems we’ve rid that from the world. I feel it myself. A loss of possibility. All we have left is space. I think it’ll be even more of a challenge, but will we find the capability to explore it like we did the earth?

Counting My Blessings

I guess you’ve all probably figured this out by now, but I’m generally not an optimistic type. It seems I just always automatically see the downside of everything. The “what if”. That serves me well in my job, but I think not the best for my sanity when I’m home.

Since I got back from my last trip to Chile/Antarctica, I’ve been in a pretty lousy mood. I had expected to be able to pick up some work over the holidays. That’s almost always the best time of year for me to pick up a temp job.

Usually, everyone wants to spend Christmas at home with their families. Since I don’t have any family left, I’ve always been happy to fill in. Problem is, for the last 5 years, no one has taken any time off. Everyone’s afraid their job won’t be there when they come back.

I spend time every day looking for work. I call all my agencies at least once a week. Not even a hint of any work on the horizon (when all the news is about how this is -finally- the year the industry will come back. I’ve been having a real hard time getting motivated to do anything else. I hate being broke and without options!

But yesterday, while I was taking my daily walk around the neighborhood, I ran into an old friend. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years and it was good to catch up. Sadly, her news was not good.

She was visiting a friend of hers who lives on my street, but was staying at the Salvation Army. Her boyfriend broke up with her and threw her out the day after Christmas. Her car broke down. She lost her job.

Like me and quite a few other friends, she’s been applying everywhere with no luck. It doesn’t help that we’re all over 55 now (and age discrimination is definitely a thing).

Without a car, she’s going to have a hell of a time finding a job. At least we have a bus now, so maybe that will help. It’s not at all convenient, but it goes to the main commercial/government areas. Before I got my truck (’97 F-150), I spent more money paying off the local cops for ‘hitchhiking’ arrests trying to get to work than I made working!

I’ve been thinking about how lucky I really am. I have a lot more options than my friend does (or those billions of people around the world living on $1/day). I have a house, a car, food in the fridge, can still pay the electric bill to keep me warm/cold, I’m still fairly healthy, and even manage to travel every so often. I should stop worrying about “what if” (I never get back to work, I can’t pay the bills, I get hurt, etc). I should be grateful more often than I am.

But I still hate being broke!

Neptune’s Bellows

We left Cuverville Island last night after everyone got a chance to go ashore and have a quick zodiac cruise among the icebergs. My group (the giant petrels) was one of the last, the sun was starting to go down so it was getting cold and the light really sucked for getting photos (besides zipping around on the zodiacs too fast to get a decent shot).

Southern Giant Petrel

We made an early arrival at Deception Island to pierce the narrow entrance through Neptune’s Bellows. I watched from my room since I wasn’t dressed to go out yet.

It looked like another dreary day. Overcast and cold, but at least not too windy. As we made our way into the volcanic caldera enroute to our landing site at Telefon Bay, we passed an old whaling station on our starboard side. I would’ve loved to go exploring there, but all these landings in Antarctica are very strictly controlled.

I really hate being restricted like that, even tho I can certainly understand it in a place like Antarctica. It’s still relatively free of the effects of mankind and I can see why so many people would like to keep it in the (almost) pristine state it’s in today. I agree, I do think the world needs to keep at least some true wilderness. I guess I’m a hypocrite since I really would love to see all of those places myself someday too.

On arrival at Telefon Bay, we waited our turn for the zodiacs to come for our group. Landing on the beach was very smooth this time. The bottom was mostly gravel rather than the usual rock and ice. Sit on the side of the zodiac and hop off. Easy. 🙂

Some people were really getting into the spirit of things, and jumped in for a Polar Plunge. I have to admit, I was too chicken to do it myself. I think I’ve watched those hypothermia videos too many times at work to take a chance of giving myself a heart attack like that. I put my hands in the water, just to see, it was freezing! (Not literally, but cooooold!).

Not far from our landing site, our guides had cordoned off a section of beach. There was a seal sleeping on the beach! I still can’t tell the difference between a crab eater seal, weddel seal and leopard seal. I think this one was a crab eater. This one was the only seal I saw ‘close up’ in the entire trip (still had to stay about 20′ away, but got a few decent photos at least). There were a couple of gentoo penguins further down the beach too, but all in all, this place was pretty desolate.

Deception Island is volcanic. Once you pass through the narrow channel of Neptune’s Bellows (only about 750′ wide), you’re floating around inside the caldera- on top of the volcano.

It is still active, you can see some of the steam coming out of the ground around the island . The last ‘major eruption’ was only in 1970. From the beach, it was a steep hike up to roam around the edge of the caldera. I was glad for the use of the hiking poles to help keep my balance.

Landing at Telefon Bay

The scenery was beautiful in a very stark way. All black volcanic gravelly rock and white snow, with a few small ponds full of colorful algae or bacteria. I tried to walk over to one interesting depression, where the snow was melted, but our guides called me back to their marked pathway (too bad).

Supposedly there are lots of seals, penguins and other wildlife around this island but I didn’t see any. Just the one seal, all alone on the beach and the 2 penguins nearby.

As we were leaving, we passed the Argentine base and then outbound through Neptune’s Bellows again. The weather brightened up late afternoon and really made the scenery sparkle.

On departure, we were met by a whale mother and calf (I’m not sure what kind). And flocks of penguins porposing through the water nearby. This was the first time I got to see whales fairly close to the ship (tho they were still at least 100 yards off). I got a couple of photos and some video, but wasn’t able to get anything decent. They were all too far off and moving too fast for a good shot. Can anybody tell what kind they are from my photos?

According to our onboard expert, you can send in photos and then identify the whale from an online database.

All in all, another fantastic day on the MS Roald Amundsen. I was a little sad that today was our last landing in Antarctica, but had to get over it and go enjoy another delicious dinner. At least I had another few days of great food to look forward to- and we still had to see the Falklands. 🙂

Yum! I sure do miss their food. 😉

Cuverville Island

After a great time with the scientists at Vernadsky Station, we cruised on to Cuverville Island. Here was finally the Antarctica I’ve been expecting.

On arrival, the weather was awful. The wind was howling, the snow was blowing, it was overcast and cold!

But, we finally saw the penguin colonies like I was expecting to see all along.

Lucky for us, the changeable Antarctic weather improved. The sun came out, the wind and snow died down and it turned into a beautiful day to enjoy the antics of the penguins.

I wonder why they work so hard to get so high up. They seem to like sliding back down. 🙂

I’m not sure why, but I always thought of Antarctica as full of wildlife. Empty landscape, with no signs of humanity, but full of birds, seals, whales and dolphins. We’ve seen plenty of penguins so far (almost all gentoos- chinstraps only at our first Antarctic stop on Half Moon Island). Even there, I was expecting to see many more birds than we saw.

I spotted a couple of seals from my window as we were passing through the Lemaire Channel. I saw them resting on an iceberg, they paid us no attention. We weren’t very close to them, so why waste energy to get away from us?

Same story with the whales. I thought there would be tons of whales around (pun intended). 😉

The krill seemed to be there in abundance. Our plankton sample was almost green with the amount of plankton in the water. Humpbacks, blue whales and others eat krill. I would’ve thought there would be more than a couple around. I never saw any whales near our ship, only their spouts far off in the distance.

Whales spouting next to an iceberg

Maybe it wasn’t the season for them yet.

B & W Challenge: Cold

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Here’s my entry for Cee’s B&W Photo Challenge: Hot or Cold Things. I was very lucky this year to have gone on a trip to Antarctica. I’ve been dreaming of a trip like this for decades. Had a fantastic cruise on the MS Roald Amundsen with Hurtigruten cruises. Here are a few photos. It was definitely COLD! 😉

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Glacier at Orne Harbor
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Penguin colony- Cuverville Island, Antarctica
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We were very lucky with the weather so far. It was very changeable, but most of the time so far was pretty nice. Sunny without much wind. This was our first real meeting with “authentic Antarctic weather” according to our captain.

The weather eventually got better and it was more enjoyable to hang around and watch these funny little guys. More on that later…

 

Happy New Year 2020

fireworks

Happy New Year everybody! I hope you all had a good time last night celebrating New Years Eve. I just stayed in with a couple of cups of hot chocolate and listened to the neighborhood firecrackers. I tried going outside to watch for a while, but it was overcast and all I could see was a couple of reflections.

What did you do?

So, I did stay up past midnight and I did sleep late this morning, but I woke up without a hangover. 😉

As usual this time of year, I’ve been thinking about the last year and my hopes for the next. This year even more since it’s also the end/start of another decade. I’ve been starting to notice the time creeping up on me more and more and trying to figure out “now what“?

All I can say is I really, really hope this year turns out better than last year (and the previous 3 before that)! I’m still basically unemployed. I’m still trying to find work, but I’ve decided I’m just not willing to work just to “survive”. I have skills. Skills that’ve taken me a lifetime to earn. Valuableskills for the right employer. I’m not going to throw all that away to work bagging groceries.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve decided that after spending 50 years working on the water and spending a fortune in time and money to earn my license it just does not make sense to throw all that away to do something totally unrelated.

People tell me online (Facebook) that “everyone’s hiring” or “there’s plenty of work”. Yes, I agree, they’re right. I see ads all the time for unlimited captain/DPO jobs paying somewhere around $120/day. Wonderful for some of the Ukrainians or Filipinos, but no US captain would take that job. Or yeah, plenty of jobs for deckhands. I can’t afford to work like that!

They can’t understand how I can sit at home, not earning anything, rather than out making $120/day out on a boat working 12+ hours/day (andputting my life and license at risk to boot). Then spending at least a day or two on both ends of the hitch catching up on business at home. Well, here’s the explanation. While I’m home, I can be online looking for a job that actually pays the bills and uses the license I’ve earned. I can be working on my writing or my art that hopefully I can sell somewhere to earn a few bucks.

The only issue is, after 6 months of not having even a whisper of a decent job, I start to get anxious, depressed and completely unmotivated to do anything. So, not getting anything done at home either. I don’t want to go out trying to get a local job. It’s really not my lifelong ambition to work at Walmart. It’s hard trying to put on the act that I really want the job and will stick around (knowing that I’m going to quit as soon as anything offshore comes up).

The few companies hiring offshore already know simply by looking at my resume that I’m not going to stick around. They know anyone with the license I have would jump at the first opportunity to use it. So they don’t bother replying to me either.

I’ve decided to keep on looking for work in my field, but try harder not to stress about it (that is not going to be easy). I still have other things I plan to do this year. I have an art show coming up in our local gallery in July and I haveto be there for the reception July 10. I’ve also signed up for another cruise (foodies tour of France), it’s supposed to be in May but I need to move it back to November. And… I’m still trying to make the move to Mexico, so I need to get back down there!

Now, if I can just get a couple of hitches in before July, I’ll be OK. I actually got 3 last year and all 3 were as mate/DPO, so better than the year before when 1 of the 2 was as AB. They keep saying ‘it’ll be better next year’. I really, really hope they’re right this time!

I actually think I’m being forced into retirement (since I want to continue in my field). I had plannedto work until now and if I had been able to, I would’ve been able to retire the way I wanted to by now. All my bills would’ve been paid off and I could live nicely off my rentals.

But… now that I haven’t been working, my savings are greatly depleted, and if I don’t keep getting at least that little bit of work every year I won’t be ABLE to keep working after 2021 since I can’t afford to keep paying for the required “training” and my licenses won’t be renewable (lack of sea time), so no matter what, I won’t be working after that unless things improve.

SO, I’m trying to figure out: how in the hell can I make the rest of my savings last me for another 20+ years (hopefully)?

1- move out of the USA! I’m trying hard to get to Mexico.

2- start house sitting. That will allow me to keep traveling (which is just about my favorite thing to do). I’ve been trying to do that already, but seems about impossible when I don’t have any sort of schedule. That is such an issue on so many things. I suppose if/when I just give up on ever trying to get work that problem will go away. 😉

3-? any suggestions?

What are you all doing? Still working? Retired? What are your goals for 2020?

Vernadsky Station

After our amazing ice walk experience, we continued on to the Ukranian Vernadsky Research Station located at Marina Point on Galindez Island of Argentine Islands. Until as recently as 1996, it belonged to the UK and was called Faraday Station.

The weather was still gorgeous, with the sun shining bright over the sparkling ice. Huge icebergs lined the mountainous shoreline, slowly floating towards the open sea.The penguins met our zodiacs as we passed through the narrow channel that led through to the bay. We watched with joy as they leaped out of the water next to the foot long icicles along the shoreline and struggled with their funny waddling gait further onto the land.

our zodiacs brought us through this narrow channel to the base
check out those icicles, the penguins have to deal with them every time they want to eat!

It was nice of the scientists to invite us to visit them, we were their first ship of the season. They must’ve been looking forward to the distraction since I didn’t see any science going on. 😉

They sent their biologist out to meet us and give us a tour. She was happy to explain their lifestyle and answer our questions (even tho I was at the back end of our group so couldn’t hear much of what she said).

our guide Oksana

As we made our way up to the station, the snow reached over our heads along the wooden pathways. The buildings stood out in colorful contrast against the stark white of the snow surrounding them.

There were plenty of birds around: penguins, petrels and gulls. Like the Galapagos, they weren’t at all bothered by us. We were told before we had to stay at least a few feet away from them, but the birds didn’t follow the rules and sometimes came quite close. I noticed some of them were already banded (like this sheathbill in the photo).

As we removed our muck boots inside the crowded entry, we got a look at some of the photos of previous visitors: scientists and explorers from all over the world (and lots of photos of their ‘Antarctic league’ soccer teams). This photographic exhibit continued along the passageways. We saw various offices, labs, and storage for their skis, snowshoes and other equipment for the cold.

Old photo lining the passageway showing the Belgian expedition of 1897-99

Eventually we arrived at the galley and recreation room. They were set up for us to buy stamps, envelopes and post cards. Lots of business going on there. I bought a couple of cards to send home (I still haven’t received that one yet, tho I did get back the one from Stanley last week).

Further on, they had a bar where you could have a drink, play pool or darts and relax. They even had a souvenir shop where they sold t-shirts, patches, shot glasses, tiny little penguins and assorted other tchotchkes. 🙂

They also sold their own home made vodka which was actually pretty good. I bet even better after a long winters ‘day’ (when the sun never comes up).

After sending off my post cards and a warming shot of vodka, it was time to start heading back to the ship. I wondered how hard it would be to get a job like that. You might think it would be easy, I mean how many people really want to spend months or years away from friends and family to work in all that ice cold and darkness. But apparently, it’s pretty hard to get. Our guide told us she was one of the first women allowed, they only started allowing women a couple of years ago.

Seems to me, it would be similar to shipboard life. The isolation, the weather, the long periods away from home. I have actually tried to get a job on some of the supply ships that go to Antarctica. To this day, I’ve never heard back. Now, there are new requirements for “polar experience” so looks like another catch-22 as far as getting work goes. Can’t be considered because you don’t have the experience, but can’t get the experience without being hired first. 😦

First Time Ever

When I woke up, the sun was shining. Everything looked fresh and new, the stark contrast of white against blue was strikingly beautiful. The world was a blank slate, empty of all but water, ice and snow.

The weather had changed completely from yesterday. We had passed through Lemaire Channel and found ourselves surrounded by the ice. Our captain decided to drive the ship up into the ice to give us a truly unique experience.

We crowded the decks to watch as the ship slowly ground its way through the flat sheets of ice. When we slowed to a stop, we waited anxiously to see if our expedition crew would find the ice thick enough for it to be safe for us to hop off and explore.

they look so tiny!

expedition crew testing the thickness of the ice

Yes! It was. We watched each group head down the gangway to stumble around on the fresh packed snow, staying within the area marked off with the usual orange cones. My group- the Giant Petrels- was not one of the first. The snow was already pretty torn up by the time I was able to exit the ship.

It was so empty, so quiet. Nothing to see, for miles around, but us and the ice and snow- with far off mountains hemming us in. I did see the tracks of a couple of penguins, but there were only 2. I kept wondering where was all the wildlife I’ve been expecting to see. So far, I’ve only seen a couple of seals (far away), and some gentoo penguins.

It was hard to walk around, with the snow melting into slush and so the ‘ground’ was very uneven. Everyone was wandering around, taking selfies in the snow with the Roald Amundsen in the background.

Today we made history! This was the first time in the history of Hurtigruten that a ship drove into the ice and we got to take a walk on the sea ice! So exciting. 🙂

Orne Harbor to Lemaire Channel

After a beautiful day at Orne Harbor, we woke up to a more ‘typical’ day for Antarctica. So far, we’d been lucky finding nice weather most of the time. It changed quickly tho. We picked up our hearty campers who’d spent the night ashore, then headed on to our next planned stop at Neko Harbor (Andvord Bay).

Campers got to spend the night at Orne Harbor
we can just barely see the campers from the ship (far right in the photo)
The end of the red line is Orne Harbor. Around the corner to the South is Neko Harbor at the bottom of Andvord Bay. At the bottom left corner is Port Lockroy.

On arrival, we were met with high winds, rough seas, snow and freezing cold. There was a lot of ice in the water and it kept moving around. The zodiacs would have a hard time shuttling us back and forth to shore. After checking it out, the captain decided that the weather was not going to allow us to go ashore as planned.

too much ice for the zodiacs!

Expedition cruising, even more than normal cruising, is dependent on weather and other local conditions. You need to be flexible. It’s best to have the attitude of looking forward to whatever the day may bring and forget about being upset about what you might’ve missed.

We sailed on towards Damoy Point and Port Lockroy where we were scheduled to go ashore to the historic site run by the British. It has a museum and the only post office on the continent of Antarctica.

you can just barely see Port Lockroy middle left of the photo, we could just barely see their people waving with the binoculars
seals on the ice, taken from my cabin- I’m not sure if they’re weddel or crabeater seals

Sadly, the weather was still too bad for us to go ashore. I would’ve liked to send some postcards home with an Antarctica stamp. We did drive by and we all waved at each other. Brave people, to stand around outside in that kind of weather to wave at our ship.

On we went, to cruise through the Lemaire Channel. The weather was still pretty nasty for a little while. Howling winds, snow and cold! It felt like about 20 below, but I don’t think it was actually below 0 F. It was the wind that really made it feel cold.

The scenery was spectacular. We made our way through the channel filled with pancake ice, the sharp tips of the mountains peaking out of their coats of snow, glaciers calving off large chunks of ice into the passage alongside our ship.

The passage narrowed as the day went on. The wind died down, the snow stopped and the sun came out. I sat in the lounge with it’s wrap around floor to ceiling windows and just watched the world go by. Towards sunset (around 9 pm- it didn’t get dark until about 11), we passed through the narrows- only 1600 meters wide. The sound of the ice scraping along the hull of the ship was loud enough to be heard everywhere onboard.

In my room, I fell asleep to the low pitched background sound of the sea slushing along the side of the ship and occasional bang of a berg as we came out the South end of the Lemaire Channel to find our next adventure in the morning.

the mark on the Google map shows Lemaire Channel

 

 

Now What?

Well, I’m back home again. I’m so grateful that I got to go on that fantastic trip. Cruising to Antarctica has been a dream of mine for decades, and I’ve wanted to see Chile for a while too. 

I had hopes that I’d be able to get some work when I got back, but I’ve already been home a week and there is still NOTHING at all going on out there. This time of year is usually the best time for getting work. People want to be home for the holidays. But for 5 years now, everyone has been scared to death to take a vacation. It’s still THAT BAD out there. 😦

My friends ask me if I’m retired yet? Well, I probably would be if I hadn’t been laid off 4 years ago and not able to find any real work since. Yes, I’ve managed to get 1-2 real jobs every year and lucky to get that. No more than that- when I used to work 8 hitches or more. I’ve beat the bushes and scrambled to make a few bucks doing other things like teaching, selling some art, garage sales, etc.

So far, I’ve been able to survive. I’ve even been able to do a bit of traveling over the last couple of years. Not nearly as much as if I’d have been working, but enough to keep my sanity. 

Now I’m home and after spending all week looking for work again I’m at the point of being extremely frustrated- also bored and depressed. I have a million things I couldbe doing: cleaning the house, pulling weeds, cutting down the damn mimosa trees that never stop coming back. 

I could be figuring out how to publish the book I’ve been working on. I could be finishing the pastel drawing I started. I could be uploading more of my photos to the stock agencies. I could be pitching stories.

I could be doing all those useful and productive things, but I don’t feel like it. Instead, I spend my time on the computer (not doing anything useful). Why?

I should change my attitude- my outlook on life- but HOW? I’ve never been able to figure that out. How do you change your most basic thought processes?