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! 😉

Offshore Again

I’m out on the Ocean Evolution again. I haven’t had a chance to post much since I got here. Internet is not co-operating tonight either. I’ll try again when I get a chance.

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.

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.

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?

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. 😉

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

 

 

Orne Harbor

From Half Moon Island, we sailed on to Orne Harbor for promised spectacular views from atop the ridge. 

The expedition crew set out on arrival and surveyed a safe pathway that zig-zagged its way up the steep slope for us to follow. The kayaks were brought out for those who had opted for that activity.

The weather was very changeable. In the morning, it was overcast and gloomy, with a thick layer of fog. By the time my group- the giant petrels- got to go ashore after lunch the sun was shining and the winds were calm.

I made it only to the first stage. Sadly, I did not get all the way up to the top of the mountain. I was really struggling, slipping and sliding around in the snow. Due to my ongoing work situation (not having any), I have to be super-careful not to do anything where I might hurt myself. I could just see myself tumbling down the mountain, rolling like a tumbleweed all the way down to the sea and then having a heart attack in the freezing cold water. 😦

After making that decision, I made my way back to the landing site and watched the zodiacs come and go. The scenery was so beautiful. I didn’t need to go anywhere else to see even more of it.

I sat in the snow and watched the penguins and the people come and go. Absorbing the sunlight and the immensity of the atmosphere, I was so grateful of the fact that I was able to even just sit there- in Antarctica!

penguins
more penguins

I even managed to get a decent shot of a couple of penguins in the water. They’re so fast when they’re swimming!

Gentoo penguins in the water

I’m glad I made it as far as I did. Turns out, this would be our only landing on Antarctica. All the rest of our stops were on nearby islands. I was a little disappointed to learn that, but I have to admit the places we did go were pretty much just as wonderful. What difference does a name make? I’m not sure, but I am still glad I get to say I got to go to Antarctica and not just close to it.

Spigot Peak as viewed from MS Roald Amundsen

Drake Shake or Drake Lake for the MS Roald Amundsen?

Anticipation was high, people were concerned. We were crossing the Drake Passage- the area where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet- between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands. It’s notorious for bad weather. 

Winds and currents circle the entire globe, swells have thousands of miles of open ocean to build so they can grow to enormous heights. The Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties refer to these latitudes. Dozens of ships have been lost in the area. How would we fare onboard the MS Roald Amundsen?

Turns out we had nothing to worry about. We enjoyed crossing the Drake Lake. The winds were only about 20-25 knots and the seas 2-3 meters. It was lovely for this area and the season. I was actually hoping to see something of the famous nasty weather, but a few people were complaining of mal de mer so I guess we were lucky. I wouldn’t want to spend a couple of days with a shipload of seasick passengers.

view from my cabin

The ship’s crew had plenty of things prepared to keep us occupied for the time we would be at sea with no landings to look forward to. They always had interesting lectures and workshops for us to choose from. There was a nice stock of games and puzzles to play with. Or you could always choose to visit the sauna, the spa, the pool and jacuzzi, or chill out in a comfortable chair with a drink while watching the scenery pass by.

Some of the members of the expedition team were also scientists and encouraged us to participate in their studies. There was one that collected information about the clouds and weather, to compare with what was picked up by the satellites (observer.globe.gov). Another was gathering data on the birds we saw (www.ebird.org). 

They had presentations in the ships science center where we could look through the microscopes (one was projected onto a large screen) to see the details of different kinds of ice, plants, krill, feathers, etc.

Krill

I enjoyed a couple of arts & crafts workshops. Watercolor painting one day and clay modeling another time.

My emperor penguin model

I joined a rotating group of ladies working on jigsaw puzzles in the Explorer lounge on the 10th deck where we always had a wonderful view out the starboard side. We had snacks and piano music there in the afternoons.

Our crossing was altogether uneventful. We had a couple of relaxing days to look forward to arriving in Antarctica and our first landing at Half Moon Island. 

Cabo’s Marina

I’m sorry about neglecting this blog lately. It’s a combination of being busy doing the tourist thing- checking out all the new things to do/see/eat/drink- and just plain laziness. I’ve been meaning to get back on here for at least a week now. So many cool things to talk about…

First, I should explain what I meant in my last post re: wandering around the marina in Cabo San Lucas. 

really wanted to catch a marlin, especially since Cabo San Lucas is known for catching marlin. Those big game, fantastic fighting fish. In all my years of fishing, I’ve never caught one. Never even come close to catching one. I would’ve also liked to go out whale watching or swimming with the whale sharks, but it definitely was not the right season for that, so I ‘settled’ for going out for the marlins. 

I’d been walking around the marina, checking out the boats, trying to see if any of the docks were open so I could talk to the crews (sadly, they were all locked up tight, with guards even). Walking around the marina you run a gauntlet of people trying to sell you everything you can imagine: fishing trips, tours, swim with the dolphins, jet skis, parachute behind the speedboats, souvenirs, restaurants, shops, weed, tequila and of course time shares.

Time shares. The dreaded 90 minutes of hard core pressure. If you want to go and waste that 90 minutes of your hard earned vacation in exchange for a ‘free’ breakfast, or a fishing trip for only $20, then you better have an iron clad wallet (and no credit cards). 

I already have a time share. I’m using my weeks for my accommodations for this trip. I have NO desire to go and waste 90 minutes of my vacation time to hear about any more of them. When anyone mentioned ‘timeshare’, I told them that.

But still, somehow I wound up going fishing through the efforts of ‘Oswaldo’- one of the guys who’d been trying to get me to go look at a timeshare (which he insisted was not one). I should have known better.

We made arrangements that I would meet him at the dock at 0800 Tuesday morning. I made it 100% clear that I was ONLY interested in fishing for marlin. He assured me that his little pangas (small fishing boats) would go out far enough to catch them.

Right. First off, he was 45 minutes late getting to the dock. There went 45 minutes of my fishing time. Then, he insisted that he needed $50 so he could get my fishing license and bait for the trip. I was more than a little upset by this point, but since Ireally wanted to catch a marlin, I gave in and let him “borrow” the money. He promised he’d return it by the time we got back to the dock (with the marlin).

He even gave me his ‘drivers license’ that he ‘needed to do anything’, just as collateral so I’d be sure he’d pay me back.

Of course, he was nowhere to be found when we returned to the dock.

Of course, we did not even attempt to go out far enough to look for a marlin.

I had the entire boat to myself. I would’ve preferred to go with a group, but when I asked around I was told that was very hard to arrange. For $150, I was supposed to go out from 0800-1300, to catch marlin, in a panga.

I have to say, the captain was OK, he was very helpful, even if he wasn’t really into the marlin fishing. We caught dolphins (mahi-mahi) instead. I let him keep them all since I don’t eat seafood anymore. Too many years of nothing else to eat has cured me of any desire to taste fish ever again (weird, but I will eat canned tuna fish if there’s enough other stuff mixed up with it so it doesn’t taste like fish). 😉

It’s always a blast when you’re catching fish. I had a good time on the boat. I always enjoy being out on the water. I know there’s never any guarantee to catch anything so it’s nice that I did catch something (and dolphins are much better eating than marlin anyway).

The big issue came after we got back to the dock. Oswaldo, the guy who set all this up, was nowhere to be found. OK, I was a little pissed, but I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and come back later. I did. I came back later that night and talked to him. He didn’t have my money but promised he’d have it by morning.

Turns out his ‘drivers license’ was nothing but a voter ID. I don’t know what they do with that in Mexico, but it sure as hell isn’t the same as a drivers license and so now I knew for sure he was lying to me.

I came back in the morning (Wednesday). He didn’t have my money, but promised he’d have it that afternoon. I came back that afternoon. After arguing with him over going to the police about my $50, one of his friends gave me $25. Oswaldo still didn’t have any of my money, but swore he’d have it that evening and would bring it to my hotel. He did not.

I returned to the marina the next day (Thursday). He promised he’d have the money by noon. He did not. He promised he’d have the money by 1600 (said he got paid at 1500). He did not have it at 1630. After more arguments, I told him I was going to the Tourist Police station (right next door to the little stand where he was working/hanging out).

Of course, he knew they would already be closed by that time. By now, I was really pissed off. I was making a scene, people were looking at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I was wasting my entire vacation going back and forth to the marina looking for this asshole! I’d already wasted half of Tuesday, all day Wednesday and all day Thursday and I was leaving Cabo Friday afternoon.

I stalked off to find a real policeman. I found a sympathetic guard and told him my story. He called for the police for me. They showed up in force. A half dozen of them interviewed me while another bunch went after Oswaldo. Apparently, they all already knew Oswaldo (and not in a good way).

They asked me if I wanted to ‘press charges’ (that was all in Spanish, so I’m not exactlysure what they said). They had him in their police car and I was told he was going to jail. He was threatening me with all kinds of shit from the cage. So what! When I get pissed, I won’t back off. 

Of course I wouldn’t get any money back from him, but at least he’d be off the streets for a couple of days and not able to screw over any more gullible tourists.

There was a big misunderstanding with the police who thought at first that some men who ran a business where I had met Oswaldo had cheated me out of the fishing trip I’d paid for. I finally got it straightened out, explaining that no- I got the fishing trip and those guys actually had nothing to do with anything. They didn’t do anything wrong and actually tried to help me.

One kind man even paid me back $20 out of his own pocket. So after all the aggravation of the whole thing, I was only out about $5. Lesson learned?

Should I just be a cold hearted bitch and not talk to anybody? Or try to be nice, treat everybody with respect and understand that every once in a while I’ll get taken for a ride, but most people are decent and worth getting to know?

I do have to give a big thumbs up to the Tourist Police. They take their jobs seriously and really want to help keep their city safe for their visitors. Thanks to them, I got all but $5 back and some peace of mind for the rest of my time in Cabo San Lucas. 

View From the Harbor

I’ve been here in Las Palmas (Canary Islands) since July 10. I’ve been working nights, from 7 pm to 7 am every day. I’ll be doing that until I go home. I’m scheduled to leave August 8th (early). 

It’s interesting watching what’s going on around the harbor. Yes, it’s really sad to see so many drill ships stacked up over here, but at least I can see they’re working on 3 of them. That’s a good sign. They must have work coming up or they wouldn’t be spending any money. It would be great to see them all leave soon.

My old ship the Discoverer India was docked right in front of us for a couple of weeks. I watched their dive boat working on their stern and the bunker operations over the last couple of days. They just left last night. 

Discoverer India

I never realized how busy this port was. Other than all the drill ships, I see quite a few LNG ships coming and going. There are a few ferries every day- they go to Tenerife and around the islands. You can even take a ferry all the way to Spain (in about 40 hours).

There’s a container terminal right across from me. I see the container ships working there almost every night. There’s a yacht harbor a little further across. There are hundreds of boats over there. The sailboats are fun to watch, especially when they want to get so close to the big ships passing by.

LNG ship in the harbor, Las Palmas, Canary Islands

Yes, sailboats do have the right of way over power driven vessels- but- common sense should prevail, best get out of the way of someone 100 times bigger than you are that takes a half mile to stop.

The weather has been overcast since I’ve been here. I’ve been told this is normal for this time of year. Not to expect much sunshine. It doesn’t rain. We’ve only had one night with just a drizzle, not even enough to really wet the decks, but it looks like it’s going to rain every day.

I can see the lights of the city climbing up the hills across the water. It makes me want to take a ride over and explore. I did get to go over one day last week. My cab driver told me that one guy actually did try to swim over once…

A “Scottish guy, off one of the drill ships” took a swim for the city, they had police boats and helicopters tracking him down. The company sent him home, no doubt the Spanish officials were in complete agreement on that. I bet whichever company that was does not allow shore leave any more. Sadly, most don’t no matter what. 😦

Harbor scene at night

Songs of the Sea: On board a Man o War

Here’s something a little different. It’s a song about the British Navy’s battle of Trafalgar with France and Spain off the coast of Spain. I’ve been reading some of my Sea History magazines and they sometimes write about stuff like this.

I wonder how many Brits will know this song? Spaniards? Any readers out there heard this one before? I’m not that much into military history, but even I remember hearing about that battle, cool that they wrote a song about it. 😉

Farewell Shanty
On the twenty-first of October, before the rising sun
We formed a line for action, boys, at twelve o’clock begun.
Brave Nelson to his men did say “The Lord will prosper us this day.
Give them the broadside; fire away, on board a man-of-war.”

Chorus:
Let him die in Peace, God bless you all, On board a man-of-war.
Let him die in Peace, God bless you all, On board a man-of-war.

From broadside to broadside our cannonballs did fly.
Like hailstones, the small shot, around the deck did lie.
Our masts and rigging were shot away, besides some thousands on that day
Were killed and wounded in the fray, on board a man-of-war.
Chorus

May heaven reward Lord Nelson, likewise protect his men.
Nineteen sails of the combined fleet were sunk and taken in.
The Achille blew up amongst them all, which made the French for mercy call.
Nelson was slain by a musket ball, on board a man-of-war.
Chorus

There’s many a brave commander, with grief he shook his head
But yet their grief had no relief, for Nelson he lay dead.
It was a fatal musket ball that caused our hero for to fall.
He cried `Fight on. God bless you all’, on board a man of war.
Chorus

Let’s hope this glorious battle will surely bring a peace,
And that our trade in England may flourish and increase.
Our ships from port to port go free and turn the hearts of our enemy.
To Nelson’s death and victory, on board a man-of-war.
Chorus
Let him die in Peace.

Moving the Graveyard?

My ship is the one on the right

Since I made it to the ship last week, I’ve been watching the ship in front of us. They’ve had divers in the water and lots of activity going on. It happens to be the Discoverer India- the same ship I was on last Spring

She was getting ready for a job in Africa- Ivory Coast. I got to ride as far as Trinidad. It was a good hitch. She did that job and now is getting some upgrades before heading out to another job.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of the rigs I see here. I can see at least 8 at the dock here. I know of at least 5 more that will be arriving here soon. That’s not counting another couple (at least) over at Tenerife.

While I was on the Ocean Evolution last hitch, steaming through the ‘graveyard’ just offshore Port Fourchon, I could only see 3 ships left. The year before there were at least 10, I think probably closer to 15. All of them fairly new, just sitting there, waiting and hoping for work. It was really sad to see. 

We’ve all been hoping that this would be the year when we could finally go back to work. From what I see here, that doesn’t look very likely. The price of oil is still not even up to $60/bbl. Today it was only $57 and change. There won’t be much work until it gets up over $60 and stays there for a while. 

I guess everyone but those of us working in the maritime industry are happy about those low prices, but I’m getting more and more stressed out. I don’t have many more years left to build up my retirement funds and my savings has already been demolished over the last 4+ years of not nearly enough work.

How much longer can this go on? 

Home and Gone

Sorry I haven’t been able to post for a while. I was actually at work (SO thankful to have gotten that last minute gig). The boat was pretty sweet. It was “brand new”. Christening was only a couple of weeks before I joined. This was her first job. 

A friend took this photo with his drone. This is Oceaneering’s new MSV Ocean Evolution

So we had a few things to learn (one of which was extremely limited internet access while offshore, out of telephone range).

We were offshore for about 2 weeks. Did a quick job for one of the oil majors. The actual thing we were there to do (pumping some chemicals down the well) only took a few hours. The preparations took a few days. We had to put all kinds of equipment onboard, secure it properly (welded down), test it, etc. The voyage to the work site took 48 hours (with a test for the ROVs on the way) and 36 hours to get back to Port Fourchon.

We were supposed to crew change July 3, I was looking forward to seeing the fireworks and party with friends on the 4th. But we didn’t get in til early morning on the 5th. I got home late that afternoon and so tired I was falling asleep at the wheel on the way home from the airport.

I woke up Saturday, had my morning cup of tea, sorted through the huge pile of mail and took a look for anything important in my email, turned on my phone (it doesn’t work offshore, so I just turn it off). I got some bad, sad news from a friend.

My best and oldest friend had passed away while I was gone. She had basically adopted me when I first moved to Texas, barely 17 and all alone. We had a hell of a lot of good times over all those years. I spent the day Sunday with her/my family. I’m glad I was able to be home for that.

Now I’m on the way back to work. I left yesterday. I’m glad it’ll keep me from dwelling on all that. I’ll be busy and distracted for at least a month. 

Celebrate


I’m so happy! I finally got a call to go to work! Yeah!

I was thinking a lot about my situation. I hate being broke. I really don’t like being constantly on call either. I feel like I can’t really do anything. I certainly can’t plan anything more than a day or two in advance.

I have only had 5 weeks of work since the end of October. I had planned to go to the Rigzone job fair in Houston today and meet a friend for lunch afterwards. I had to blow off that and everything else and just get ready to go to work. Pack, clean out the fridge, get rid of garbage, drop off library books, get all the bills in the mail, make important phone calls, etc. This job is only for 2 weeks, but thank goodness, it should pay my bills next month.

I heard from a friend late last week that they needed a relief on his boat, so I called about it yesterday. They called me this afternoon and asked if I was available. Hell yes! I’ve been available for months!

I can’t get this song out of my head now. 🙂