Time Flies

Whew! I’m back home again. I actually got home late last night. I left Corpus Christi at 1830 and drove home in the dark. It took about 3 hours. The drive to/fro almost seemed like the longest part of the hitch!

It was nice to be back aboard a ‘real ship’. I mean something that treats the crew like actual sailors. Not like the offshore sector where they treat us all like a bunch of retarded imbeciles. Restricted to the ship for the entire hitch (since we’re all a bunch of drunks and dopers). Of course, we’re too stupid to figure out how to dress ourselves and OMG, we can never be trusted with a knife!

The USNS Mendonca was a big ship! Almost 1000 ft long. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that much walking and climbing stairs. Even to tie up, we had to move between 2-3  decks to get to all the lines.

USNS Mendonca

I was only there for 6 days total. Just enough time to get the ship ready to sail, go out for a day of sea trials, and then secure the ship again. The time flew by. We spent the first day learning our way around the ship, training, etc. We did our fire and boat drills, launched the FRC (fast rescue craft), and took in some of the lines. They had the ship secured for hurricanes, so there were a lot of extra lines out.

We left the dock with a 4 tug escort, made it under the bridge with just a couple of feet to spare, and proceeded out through Corpus Christi Bay. We dodged a little rain shower. It gave us a nice rainbow over the bridge to watch on our way out. I couldn’t have asked for better weather: nice and cool- in the 70’s, low humidity, light breezes, calm seas. A really nice ride.

rainbow over the Corpus Christi bridge

We returned to port early the next day. I was on the wheel for arrival (4-8 watch) and got to steer through the jetties and up past Ingleside before I was relieved. We had 3 pilots on board. One was a deputy pilot, in training. The other was training her. I’m not really sure what the 3rd one was there for.

We passed the USS Lexington (the Blue Ghost) and the Texas State Aquarium before passing under the bridge on our way in. The Lexi was still all made up for Veterans Day, flags flying everywhere.

USS Lexington

We proceeded up the channel to a spot where we could turn around so we could tie up starboard side to the dock. Just like when we left. it took us a couple of hours to get everything secured and then we had the rest of the day to finish up testing things for the sea trials.

Saturday morning we cleaned our rooms, packed up and then tidied up the house. Swept, mopped, emptied the trash. All the usual sanitary stuff. We were done by lunch and then just on call in case they needed us. We hit up the captain after coffee to get signed off. Lots of paperwork to sign.

Again, nice to be on a ship where they take care of travel arrangements, give you a discharge, let you choose how you want your pay, and even set you up for your next ship (if you want to go).

It was my first ship with the SIU. All in all I was pleasantly surprised. I have a few things to do before I can leave again, but hopefully I’ll get another one just as good next time. 🙂

PS- the photos are all from my iPod in this post. I really need to break down and get a smart phone! Any suggestions on who’s got the best plan for someone who travels like me (and hopes to get back to work offshore soon)? Recommendations on phones (with good cameras)?

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Mendonca

Well, I was right. No internet or email on the ship. I’ve only been there since Monday morning and I’m already jonesing for a fix. I had to run over to the seaman’s center after work this evening to check my email and see if I got any important messages.

Things like notice about a ‘real’ job. Not that this isn’t a real job. I’m working on here as an AB. It’s my first ship with the union (SIU) and I think I was lucky to get it. It’s much better than sitting at home looking for work and earning nothing. They’ve kept me busy since I got here.

We’ve been busy doing drills, securing the deck, loading stores, familiarizing ourselves with the ship, etc.  It’s a big ship. I’m not used to doing so much walking and climbing stairs!

Nor am I used to getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning either. I’ve never been a morning person. It doesn’t matter if I’m home, working, or on vacation- I always prefer to sleep til at least 10.

So, I just wanted to get on here and let you all know I won’t be back online til I get off the ship. So don’t get upset if I don’t answer any comments for a while. I can’t even log on to my main blog (www.captainjillsjourneys.com- please follow me there).

I’m on the computer at the seaman’s center and it won’t accept my attempts to enter my password. I’m lucky it didn’t lock me out here after numerous tries to remember my password for this blog.

I should have some interesting stories when I get off. Hang around, maybe I can even get some pictures uploaded when I get home. 🙂

Sea Trials

Whoo-whoo! I’m heading out early tomorrow morning for a job. I’ll be joining the ship in Corpus Christi and heading offshore for sea trials. It’s only temporary, and it’s only as an AB, but it’s a job. At sea!

It should be interesting. I googled the ship I’m going to. It’s a ro-ro (roll on- roll off). I’ve never worked on one of them before. It’s a MSC (Military Sealift Command) ship. Here’s a picture I found on google.

USNS Mendonca

I’ve tried to avoid working for MSC since they seem to never let you off (at least as an officer). I don’t really want to do a 4 month long hitch and then stay for another couple months since they can’t find a relief. Then they want you back after only a month off!

Still, I’ve been considering even going to work for them. I’d rather be at sea as a galley hand than an executive on the beach. I know it’s hard to explain, but I just love being out there.

I am starting to feel like I’ve pretty much wasted the last 30+ years of my life (and tens of thousands of dollars). I’ve worked so hard to pull myself up the hawsepipe to earn my license. For what?

I’m going to work as a deckhand. Same as I was doing when I first started out over 40 years ago. It’s depressing. I’m getting really discouraged. I thought earning the license would help me get a decent job. A good career. Just to get thrown out like last weeks garbage. It’s sad.

But at least I can still get out there and earn some sea time. Every little bit helps. I just hope I can hang on until things pick up again offshore.

Paperwork

It’s been a slow day today. I’ve been catching up on all kinds of things I’ve been putting off. One big one was filling out the forms for a ‘qualified assessor’ for the US Coast Guard. My boss at San Jacinto Maritime sent the request out a couple of days ago. I was too tired after work at Maersk to get into it. So, completed and sent now. At least I hope it’s finished to their satisfaction.

This qualified assessor thing is just one more example of how the USCG is making it harder every day for people to work in the maritime industry. I swear, if I had any idea that this industry would wind up so strangled with rules and regulations I would’ve listened to my grandmother and been a doctor!

When I first started working on the water, it was so nice. It was perfect for me. I could go to work, anywhere in the world, with decent pay and benefits (including health care as long as I was working at sea). I could dress comfortably, not have to dress in any kind of uniform. I could look like anything I wanted (dress in shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirts). I could talk like I wanted (no such thing as PC back then). I could just do my job and everyone was OK with that.

No more. Those days are long gone.

When I started, you went to the Coast Guard and got a Z-Card. It was good for life. As an ordinary seaman (deck, engine or steward), you didn’t have to do anything to get one. Just fill out the application, pay a few bucks and that was it.

Oh god, I long for those good old days! Now, you can’t even consider going to work on a boat unless you’re willing and able to spend a shitload of money and weeks/months of time! Just take a look at those checklists on the National Maritime Centers website! Not that there’s any real reason for any of this so- called ‘training’. It’s only all about the money!

Yes, that’s it! The USCG, the schools (of course) and the politicians will all insist it’s about ‘safety’, but I’ve yet to see some real proof that any of these extra expenses (all on the backs of the seafarers) has done anything to improve safety. Instead, I believe it has actually caused a decrease in safety, due to driving out more experienced sailors from the industry.

Another reason: since everyone now has to attend “basic safety training’, the employers feel like their new hires have been ‘trained’ in basic safety. They send them out to the ships imagining that they’re prepared to do their jobs with no incidents. They imagine those new hires have learned enough in a week long class to keep them from ever having any accidents at sea. Yeah, riiiiight.

They’ve cut crew sizes down to ridiculously low levels so the old timers don’t have the time to teach the newbies what they really need to know. The basic safety class is a joke! We were all much safer before that class was forced upon us and people became so complacent because of it!

Who in their right minds wants to spend thousands of dollars and weeks of their vacation time taking classes that don’t even teach you anything new? I can’t imagine anyone who would. Yet, that is what we are all saddled with in this industry these days.

Yeah, the schools love it. it’s wonderful for them. They have plenty of money to lobby the politicians to force us all to attend ever increasing training requirements. Meanwhile, us poor sailors have no representation. And how can we argue against ‘safety’?

Do you think I’m the only mariner who feels this way? I can guarantee you that there are a hell of a lot of us out there who are thinking the same way. Just not a lot who are willing to say it online where the companies will see your ‘bad attitude’.

Too bad. I’m going to keep on saying what I think, here on my blog. Online, and whenever the subject comes up. I am not politically correct, I think the whole PC thing is a big reason the country is going to hell and I’m not going to shut up. I’d love to see a real, honest discussion on some of this stuff.

Who in the maritime industry is going to come out and admit that this whole STCW required ‘training’ scheme is nothing but a devious plan to force ‘highly paid’ American sailors out of the work force?

I’ve said so from the very first time I heard of it decades ago. Intended or not, that is the result. McCain and his flunkies calling for the end of the Jones Act will simply put the last nail in the coffin. I’d like to see Trump say to hell with the IMO and the STCW along with all the other things he says he’s getting rid of.

A Speck in the Sea

I’ve been reading some good books lately. A Speck in the Sea by lobstermen John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski is one of them.

Subtitled “A story of survival and rescue”, it tells the story of how John fell overboard late one night and the subsequent search and rescue efforts.

I’ve always loved reading stories of disasters and survival. I like to see how people react to unusual circumstances and imagine what I might do if something happened to me. I read about nuclear wars and EMP attacks, alien invasions, the zombie apocalypse, global pandemics, environmental destruction and the more likely (for me personally) disaster at sea stories.

A Speck in the Sea is one of those.

As the Anna Mary motored out from Montauk late one night, John stood watch while his parters slept below. Instead of waking them up as planned, he decided to let them sleep a little longer and started to prepare for the fishing grounds instead.

One small ‘oops’ and he was over the side. In the middle of the night. In the North Atlantic. With nothing but the clothes on his back. With no one aware of his situation.

The book does a great job of telling the story from both sides: John tells what he’s thinking and doing while he’s bobbing around in the cold dark ocean. Anthony and the Coast Guard tell us what’s going on as they discover John’s missing and their reaction. The entire community gets involved. Yes, they would. The seafaring communities are still like that.

As a fisherman myself, with a brother who’s still trying to make a living out there, I could immediately relate. I admire John’s resourcefulness and will to survive. I’m not so sure I would react like he did. I have a much more pessimistic outlook on life. Still, it’s nice to know that it IS possible to survive.

If you’re into sea stories, or in how to survive the unexpected, you might like this book. I recommend it. 🙂

Frustrated

I am just steaming right now!

I FINALLY got a call for a real job! First one in ages, and after talking to them for a few minutes, they eliminate me because I don’t have one, (just one), of the multitude of newly required certificates of “training’.

You want to know which one? It’s a fairly new one, called “T-HUET”. T-HUET is supposed to be a less involved iteration of the HUET. HUET is a less involved iteration of the BOSIET.

I have the HUET, in fact I just renewed it. I also have BST (which has also been repeatedly renewed). They have not taught anything new in either course in the last 20 years.

ALL of these courses cover almost exactly the same stuff! But the companies now are insisting that you need to spend the thousands of dollars and weeks of time to take ALL 3 of them! Of course, THEY will no longer help pay for any of this. YOU need to spend all YOUR time and money on this stuff!

This is the email I just now sent off to the recruiter:

Just for your information:
T-HUET 
Course Outline
Procedures at Heliport
Helicopter Safety Equipment
Types of Helicopters used in the Offshore Industry
Dangers associated with Helicopters
Helicopter Safety Procedures
Preparation prior to Emergency landing
Emergency landing on Land
Surface Evacuation into an Aviation Liferaft
Escape from a Partially and Capsized Helicopter
In – water Survival Procedures
Helicopter Winching
HUET
Course Outline
Procedures at Heliport
Helicopter Safety Equipment
Types of Helicopters used in the Offshore Industry
Dangers associated with Helicopters
Helicopter Safety Procedures
Preparation prior to Emergency landing
Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET)
Emergency Breathing System Exercises
In -water Survival Procedures
Helicopter Winching

I don’t know why they don’t add the following to their description of their HUET course since they DID cover that same material. The only thing they did NOT cover that they say they do in the T-HUET is:

  • Surface Evacuation into an Aviation Liferaft- (we DID do this in the HUET course)
  • Escape from a Partially and Capsized Helicopter- (this is the exact same thing as what the HUET course describes as Helicopter Underwater Escape Training)
  • Emergency landing on Land

Do these companies SERIOUSLY want to eliminate pretty much ALL experienced mariners from consideration because they don’t have 10 minutes of ‘training’ differing in a course (that is only for the insurance company that has no clue about what ANY of these courses cover anyway)?

Do they really expect someone who has been out of work for months or years to pay hundreds of dollars for another course when the ONLY difference is at most a half hour talk about emergency landing ON LAND??? We get that same lecture every single time we fly, wether to go to work in the helicopter or flying to vacation. I would think it is 100% memorized by everyone in the country by now!

So now it is not years of experience and who can do the job, but who has the largest stack of certificates (most of them completely irrelevant to the job at hand). That is really sad.

I am perfectly willing to wait and ride the crew boat in if they are not willing to put aside that 10 minutes! I think it’s NUTS to throw someone out of a month of work because of some ridiculous ‘rule’ like this!

And you can feel free to pass this email on to Oceaneering (and any other company with the same stupid rule!). Just in case they REALLY believe there is some inherent advantage to their insistence on T-HUET, please do send them the facts, the ONLY difference is 10 minutes about emergency landings ON LAND!

Hope I’m not burning my bridges here too, but some things just have to be said!

Jill Friedman

MASTER MARINER (35+ YEARS OFFSHORE EXPERIENCE).

Do you think that was a little excessive? I don’t, I really don’t. I am getting SO fed up with the amount of complete and total pure BULLSHIT these companies are putting us through. Just in order to go to work for them.

Does anyone really think that after almost 50 YEARS spent working at sea, that 10 minutes, or even if I really push it, 2-3 hours of instruction, will make ANY difference to ANYTHING out there? If anyone does, there is no other word for those people than “INSANE” or “STUPID”. And yes, I am specifically talking to everyone involved in insisting on requiring these so called “training’ certificates!

They’re expensive and they’re USELESS! I know it and you damn sure OUGHT to know it!

How many mariners have you heard gushing about how much they learned in one of those courses? How many have you heard thanking the heavens that they’ve been forced to waste their vacation time in one of those classes instead of spending their time enjoying it the way they EARNED the RIGHT TO?

I can count the number of mariners who’ve felt that way on one hand, and after working out there for so many years, I know a LOT of mariners!

This whole certification rigamarole is just one more unnecessary burden. It’s not as if it’s all that great offshore anymore. They’ve cut and they’ve cut and they’ve cut some more. Yeah, things were finally getting pretty nice out there. Back a couple of years ago when the price of oil was sky high and they needed us badly and so were finally willing to offer us decent pay and conditions. Up until the price of oil dropped like a rock.

Now, we’ve dropped right back to where we were decades ago. Lost pay, lost benefits, lost time at home. Increased workload, increased forced ‘training’ and costs associated with all that, loss of freedom, loss of opportunity.

I used to think this was the best job in the world. It really was, way back when I started. Now, nah, not so much. Yeah, I still do personally consider it the best for me. I really can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be than out on the ocean somewhere. Sailing to some obscure foreign port with adventures awaiting.

Sadly, there’s not too much of that on offer anymore. It looks to me more and more that my days of sailing the seven seas are about over with. After so many years of fighting to get my license, it’s become all but worthless these days.

Who in their right mind would want to sail as master these days? When every meaningful decision is made by some bean counter on the beach? Yet YOU and ONLY YOU are the one held responsible for the results of those decisions. When you have NOTHING to say about them?

That license you worked so hard to get will be taken from you. Without it, you can’t work ANYWHERE! On top of that, they will probably fine you a lot of money (millions), and then throw you in prison just to make sure that bus runs you over reeeaally good.

The companies need you for your license (by law) but refuse to pay you for them now (see my last job). They treat you like shit and expect you to lap it up like you were slurping down an ice cream Sunday (with a cherry on top)!

The longer it takes me to find a job, the more frustrated, cynical, depressed and angry I get. I think it’s just sick that a company in need of good workers would turn someone with my qualifications and years of experience away simply because they lack one simple certification. Especially when that particular piece of paper is so completely worthless! I worked for that company for 5 years, they KNOW I am perfectly capable and will do them a good job!

I’ve probably just burned my bridges with them and a bunch of other companies office people with this rant. Well, so be it. They need to hear it. For damn sure I’m not the only mariner who feels this way. I guarantee I’m saying what most would say about the situation. These companies need to wake up and get their heads out of their asses and THINK for themselves for a change! STOP sucking up to the god damned insurance companies and their suck-ass lawyers and do the RIGHT thing for once! Stand up for their companies and their people instead of cowering behind the threats of the paper pushers.

God DAMN I wish people in the USA would grow some balls and start acting like the free people we brag to the world about!

I really wish I could afford to start my own boat company. It would be so nice to work for a company that was run by people who really understood the business and was willing to stand up for their employees. I don’t see any like that around anymore. It’s a real shame.

TAMUG Job Fair

So, I went to the job fair at Texas A&M Galveston (TAMUG) last Friday. I was hoping to meet recruiters from a few maritime companies. I wanted to get my foot in the door with companies that were actually hiring for shipboard crew.

Sad to say, there were very few companies there that fit the bill. There was a total of 39 tables representing different companies. Included in that total were 2 of the maritime unions (MEBA and the AMO), who I had already been in contact with. There were inland (towing) companies like Kirby, ADM-ARTCO, and G&H Towing. I don’t have a towing endorsement, so can’t work for them. 😦

There was a large contingent of schools offering graduate studies. Not only TAMUG, but SUNY, Houston Baptist University and UT. The other big group was shoreside: port operations/logistics and engineering. Companies like Ports America, Diversified Port Holdings, GAC, Fracht, Lone Star Maritime, Savage, Orion Group, Sabine Surveyors, Norton Lilly, Oxbow Carbon, Kiewit, Shell, Kinder Morgan, Jaeckel Mund + Brun, Watco, and Biehl. The only one of this group that had any possibility of work for me was the Army Corps of Engineers, but they had much more for engineers than for deckies like me. 😦

There were a few outliers. Companies that I was a little surprised to see there, wondering what they had to do with maritime. Then I remembered that TAMUG does have more programs than just license track. The Houston Police Department had a table, so did Sherwin Williams (paint), Moody Gardens and the Peace Corps (those last 2 I would be very interested in IF I didn’t have bills to pay).

So. Out of a total of 41 different companies, I talked to 12, after immediately eliminating the others as completely irrelevant to the kind of work I’m looking for. I want to continue working at sea. I want to get back out there- spending my time watching the ocean instead of a river of traffic. I don’t like working in an office, I never did. I hate wasting hours every day driving back and forth. I really still love working offshore and don’t want to give it up.

I was hoping to talk to Subsea 7. They have some really nice vessels and I really enjoy the kind of work they do. I finally got to talk to their representatives (after waiting in line for the crowds to thin out). They told me they would probably be able to offer me a position in Houston, but they had nothing to do with hiring for offshore. That was all done overseas and mostly for foreign crew. 😦

Stolt Tankers pretty much the same thing to say. Nothing to offer for onboard work. 😦

I spoke to the reps for both NOAA Officer Corps and NOAA Marine Operations. Sadly, NOAA Officer Corps requires you to pass a military physical. I tried that when I was only 17 and wanted to join the navy. I have’nt been able to lose any weight since then, so surely I won’t pass the physical at 30+ years older.

So, that’s that! The NOAA Marine Operations was really only interested in hiring engineers (tho they held out hope that they may hire a few ABs).

Trident Seafoods had a table. I talked to them since they were hiring for all crew. I have worked on fishing vessels before. I grew up fishing for grouper/snapper in Florida. I was mate on the catcher/processor Ocean Peace in Alaska a few years ago. I was captain on a tuna purse seiner in the South Pacific. But- they were hiring people who were comfortable working out on deck. At this stage in my life, I’m not really up for that any more.

So, my only real possibilities were the 3 shipping companies that were still willing to hire Americans to sail on their ships. Crowley, Keystone Shipping and Ocean Shipholdings. All of them told me the same thing: go online and fill out the application. UGH!

I am so tired of filling out those online applications. No one ever does anything with them. They all ask the same questions. Most of them completely irrelevant to the job you’re applying to. Things like your high school courses and grades. Who cares what you did in high school 30+ years ago? Who cares about your employment history 30+ years ago?

But those online forms won’t let you skip a question. Or answer it with something it doesn’t expect or ‘approve of’. It gets frustrating after filling out dozens of their stupid questions, you’re almost finished and then the whole thing crashes and you have to start all over again. DAMN!

The thing is, all 3 of those companies actually hire through the unions!

I have been an applicant since November 2016 with the AMO. I chose to join that union (over the others) because they have an online job board. You don’t have to sit in the union hall day after day waiting for a job. You can actually do something with yourself while you wait for work. All the other unions still insist that you go and sit in the hall so you can’t do anything useful while you wait.

The AMO has called me twice. Both times with jobs I am not really qualified for. The first time, the job was already gone by the time I saw the notice and called to inquire about it. The second call was on the day I was leaving to go to work.

What I’m finding out about the AMO is that you basically have to find your first job yourself. After that you finally get to use the online job board (and start paying dues). So they’re really not much help until after you’ve already found a job. After that, I guess they’re helpful when you’re looking for work in the future.

So, I am now planning to go to see what I have to do to join either of the other 2 officers unions (MMP, MEBA). I already signed up to the unlicensed union (SIU– they promise they have work). I am would prefer to work as 2nd mate, but don’t know if they really have any work or not.

I am supposed to have 2 days work/week in Houston for the next 3 weeks. It’s not much, but it helps pay the bills. Better than sitting in the union hall and earning $0/day. I guess I’ll wind up sitting there pretty soon if something doesn’t happen with oil.

I keep hoping the price of oil will go up and the offshore oilfield will go back to work. The news looks good one day and then bad again the next.

I really would just like a real job again. At least long enough so I can pay off my bills and then retire the next time this happens! 🙂

Going to Galveston

Tomorrow Texas A & M is having another job fair. I don’t know how much good it will do to go, it seems like I’ve already done this more than once. But I’m going to go again anyway. I’ve printed up a bunch of fresh resumes and hoping there will be someone there who is actually hiring.

I have had a little bit of good news lately. Maersk has courses scheduled for every week this month. That’s more than they’ve had in over a year. I’m scheduled to work for all of them, so I should be able to get at least 7-8 days of work this month. (whoo-hoo!).

I did get a call from a recruiter today. I had already sent my information to the company he is working for tho, so I don’t have much confidence that anything will come of it. My only hope is that they haven’t sorted through their heaps of resumes to reach mine yet (tho it’s already been almost 2 weeks since I sent it in. 😦

Maybe I’ll get lucky at the job fair tomorrow. Hoping the fact that it’s Friday the 13th doesn’t jinx me.

Jones Act vs Puerto Rico

I usually try to avoid the news. It only upsets me and there’s not really anything I can do about any of it. It frustrates me and makes me angry.  I’ve been getting my news from the internet, mostly emails and posts from friends.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot about how the Jones Act is supposedly “strangling” Puerto Rico. This is just another instance of ‘yellow journalism’, or as it’s more likely to be called these days “fake news’.

At least the NY Times got it straight about what the Jones Act covers: shipping from one US port to another must be on ships built in America, owned by Americans, and crewed by Americans. Yes, it is a cabotage law, and protectionist. But they’re far off target on the rest of what they had to say about it.

Yes, our ships do cost more. There are reasons for that. Mostly because our costs are generally higher in the USA than in many of the countries around the world which we compete with for shipping.

WHY are those costs so much higher? Regulations for one. Why do so many owners register with “flags of convenience” like Liberia, Panama, Marshall Islands, etc? I’ll tell you why- because they can get away with running their ships a hell of a lot cheaper!

If that means treating their crew like dogs, so be it. If that means running an old rust bucket until it breaks apart, so be it. If that means ‘cheating’ on the pollution regulations in order to evade paying for proper disposal, so be it.

Do you think the price of anything is the same in China as it is here? How about India?

Fact is, crew costs (which shippers insist is their highest expense) is negligible if you can use crew from any of a number of ‘third world’ countries. I see advertisements every day offering jobs for $200/day for unlimited ships officers. Less than peanuts to any American officer, but I notice dozens of foreigners begging for every one of those jobs. 😦

Who could afford to work at a job like that here, when it costs us hundreds of dollars a year just to keep our documents current? Not to mention what it costs to get a mariners credential in the first place (tens of thousands if you’re wondering). And remember, most other countries subsidize their seafarers, the US does nothing to help us at all. Reagan even took away our promised health benefits.

Our wages are higher across the board, because our cost of living in America necessitates that. The people who work in our shipyards have to be able to survive here. Do you think our naval architects, welders, painters, engineers, machinists, electricians, etc should all work for $20/day like they do in many of the countries our ships compete with?

Mr. Chen, a qualified shipbuilding engineer, said he earned 8,000 yuan a month—around $1,165 today, and three times as much as China’s migrant workers earn on average—during the golden years.

That quote was from an “Investors Alert” article about how the Chinese shipyards are hurting due to the global slump in shipping. I’m sure Mr Chen is making even less money now (the $1,165 per month comes out to a little more than $7/hour on a 40 hour week). How many of our professional engineers would work for $7/hour? Or should even be asked to??? 

I hope you’ll realize that we would have a total of 0 people to work in our shipyards to build our ships OR on our vessels to deliver the goods to Puerto Rico or anywhere else covered by the Jones Act (coastal US shipping- one US port to another). We would have about 0 American ships left after a few years, once all of our old ones gave out.

They would all be replaced by cheaper foreign ships, with cheaper foreign crews.

Yep, we could all save a few more pennies at Walmart, but is it really worth it?

The Jones Act was intended to ensure that we would always have a fleet. A certain amount of American ships. Ships we could depend on in any circumstance.

It was intended to ensure that we would always have the capacity to build the specialized military ships so that we could defend ourselves without having to depend on somebody else’s fleet. It was intended to ensure that we would always have trained shipyard workers to build those ships and crews to sail them.

Do you realize that during the Gulf War we could barely supply the troops? Plenty of our ‘allies’ refused to allow us to use their ships. We were also very, very short on people to crew up the vessels we did have. They were calling out old men from retirement (and waiving their need for current documents).

The NY Times article makes light of the fact that there are no more U-boats cruising our shorelines, like that’s the only threat we have to worry about. They pretend the Jones Act is obsolete because we aren’t at war.

Anybody remember the “War on Terror” we have supposedly been fighting since at least 9-11??? The reason we’ve had to give up our rights to freedom and privacy because there might be terrorists lurking around every corner?

Every American mariner is required to take security training, we are required to pass a background test (we must get a TWIC), we must swear an oath…

I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully and honestly, according to my best skill and judgment, and without concealment and reservation, perform all the duties required of me by the laws of the United States. I will faithfully and honestly carry out the lawful orders of my superior officers aboard a vessel.

Do you really want to eliminate the Jones Act and all the good it does? To save a few cents (maybe)?

Puerto Rico is suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria, but it has nothing to do with the Jones Act! There are hundreds of thousands of supplies stacked up in the ports. Items delivered by both US and foreign ships. None of them had any trouble delivering their cargo because of the Jones Act.

The problem on Puerto Rico has to do with the infrastructure on the island, NOT getting supplies to the island. Don’t throw out the Jones Act and all the behind the scenes good it does for everyone in this country, just because a few people (and the NY Times) don’t understand it.

Change of Plans

Things are always up in the air with me lately. I was supposed to come out here for 6 weeks as DPO. I came out as DPO and after a few days, I was informed that I was really supposed to be MSL (marine section leader). Basically MSL is the same thing as a chief mate.

Whoo-hooo! I got promoted. But I didn’t want to be. I probably would have refused to take the job in the first place if they had told me the truth about what they wanted.

The company who hired me and the client who hired them both refuse to pay me as MSL tho I have been doing the job now for a couple of weeks (since last crew change). So. I am leaving.

How many people do you think are happy to do the work of one job and get paid a much lower rate for another job? I think only very young people trying to break in, to prove themselves. Or really super desperate people who have given up their pride and principles and have nothing at all to live on. We all do a lot of things we may not like to when it comes down to survival. Thank goodness I have not got to that point yet this time around.

I’ve worked too damn hard, for too damned long in order to earn my license. I don’t like the fact that they seem to think it’s worthless here.

I will go home after only 4 weeks of work. Very disappointed with the whole operation.

Oh well, it’ll be nice to be home for a while. I just hope it’s not such a long while! I need to find another job asap!

I’m hoping hurricane Harvey didn’t do much damage to my property. It would be nice to be able to stash some of this paycheck (just in case).

SoCS: Vol

Linda’s challenge today for Stream of Conciousness Saturday is…

Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “vol.” Find a word with “vol” in it, and use it in your post. Have fun!

My first thought was ‘volvo’, I don’t know anything about them. I’m not really into cars, especially not newer models. Then I thought of ‘volunteer’. I volunteer sometimes at our local Seamans Center (in Freeport, TX). I haven’t been able to lately. I’ve just been too busy. I don’t really understand that, since I have hardly been working.

Usually I work offshore. I’m gone for weeks at a time and then home for a while. When I’m home, I have to catch up with all the things I didn’t get to do while I was gone.

Since I haven’t been working, I figured I’d be able to get a lot done. It hasn’t worked out that way at all. I spend so much time looking for work! I also found a couple of part time jobs so that takes up even more of my time.

Oh well. I will continue to volunteer when I can. As a seafarer for most of my life, I appreciate how much any Seamans Center is worth to a sailor. Maybe not quite so much as in the old days, when we had to wait to go ashore and then go find a telephone office. We’d have to wait in line for hours to call home.

Now we have phones on board and some people even have cel phones so they can call home once the ship gets near enough to land. The Seamans centers still offer phones to call home. Now they also have internet access (a BIG plus).

It’s a friendly place in a strange port where you can go hang out and be comfortable.

Anyway, volunteer was only my first good thought. My next thought, and the one I really wanted to write about was voluntarism.

That is at least as important to me as volunteering. In a way they’re connected. I strongly believe that we should all follow the principle of voluntarism. I think it’s the best way to live together as a society. Everyone free to live the way they want, with no one else forcing them into a mold they don’t fit into. All doing the things they really want to do. The way I understand voluntarism is- living life through voluntary actions.

That means I am against the use of force. I agree with the Libertarian NAP (non-agression principle- which does allow for defense of self and others). I do not think any (responsible) human being has the right to control another as long as a person is not harming anyone. There are all kinds of arguments that can be thrown out there, like ‘what does it mean to be responsible?’, ‘what does it mean to harm someone?’. etc, etc, etc.

Serious libertarians spend hours debating such questions. I am just a libertarian ‘lite’. I want to live a peaceful, prosperous life. I want to live as a free human being. I want everyone else in the world to have the same ability.

So many people think it would never work. But it has worked in the past. If you look at the most prosperous, the most advanced societies on the planet you’ll find out that they also had the most liberty. Just compare North and South Korea for a good idea of what I’m talking about. People who are free to live as they chose can get very creative and they do mostly find ways to get along.

I was reading something just the other day about an ancient city. I think it was in Turkey somewhere. The article mentioned that it was, in fact, an anarchy. If this wasn’t a SoCS post, I would go and look it up (I will do that later and post on it). 😉

In the meantime, check out my sticky post at the top of my blog. Take the quiz and see where you stand on the idea.

Thorny

Here’s my response to the Daily Posts’ prompt: thorny..

😉

Actually, I have been dealing with a thorny situation, as in these 2 meanings of the word…

4. painful; vexatious:a thorny predicament.

5. full of difficulties, complexities, or controversial points:

a thorny question.
As all my long term peeps know by now, I’ve been stuggling to find work since I was laid off by Ocean Rig in September 2015. Due to the low price of oil, their contracts had been cancelled and so they just laid off their crews en mass. I’m not even elgible for unemployment since they are not a US company. Jeez, after more than 30 years of paying into it, I can’t get any help when I need it!
Since Ocean Rig laid me off, I’ve spent enourmous amounts of time and energy looking for work. Preferrably on a boat of some sort. Any kind of boat. Any kind of work. I’ve worked my way up from deckhand to unlimited master and was applying for anything from galley hand (dishwasher and potato peeler) to captain.
Since September of 2015, I have had a total of 1 month as DPO in November 2015. One month as AB in August 2016. One month as DPO in May this year, another month as mate, and then this hitch that I’m on right now.
So yeah, I’ve been pretty desperate to find work. I was happy to get this job for 6 weeks. Yesterday was hump day- halfway. I signed on as DPO (dynamic positioning operator) 3 weeks ago. The vessel is a drilling rig. We have been anchored just South of the MIssissippi Delta (along with a fleet of other laid up rigs), since I got here.
There was some talk of a contract when I came out, but that hope seems to have faded (tho you never know- we could get called to go to work tomorrow).
The problem is this: I was hired to be a DPO. I am being paid as a DPO. Onboard the ship, I have been performing the duties of a chief mate (MSL- marine section leader). There is a big step up in duties and responsibilities (tho the DPOs have plenty as it is).
The company will not pay me as a MSL, they say they only want a DPO. That is not really the way it works on board any vessel. You have a Captain(Master), and then you have a chief mate who is second in command. There are legal ramifications. You really can’t just say you won’t do the job. I guess the people in the office don’t understand how things work in the maritime world (tho they damn sure should!).
I am a licensed mariner. I worked hard as hell for a lot of years to earn that license. I don’t think it’s right for a company to take advantage of someones desire for a job to use them for one thing (their license) and pay them for something less. Even worse is to hire them as one thing with no mention of the other until it’s too late. You can’t just walk out the door! We’re 20+ miles offshore, it’s a long way to swim. 😦
So, the thorny problem: I really need the work. I’m almost 2 years behind on my bills/plans for my life. I also don’t want to allow someone to use the license I worked so hard for. The deal is, they want a licensed officer on their vessel, they have to pay for one. That’s just the way it works. Or, it should be.
There are way too many companies out there today taking advantage of financially desperate mariners. It’s sad.
I want to work. I need to work. But, I also need to be able to hold my head up high and stick to my principles.
What would you do?
PS- Any clues on how to fix the formatting, so I can make real paragraphs again?

Third Week on the SLou

I’m still here. I haven’t been able to keep up with the blogging since last weeks crew change. Priorities have changed. I’ve been much more busy. Pretty much the entire crew changed out. The only ones left were me, the medic, the crane operator and most of the galley crew (3 guys). There are only 20 of us total on here now. Usually there are about 200.

We have a new captain. I was made MSL (marine section leader), which is basically the oilfield way of saying Chief Mate. The problem with that is that I was sent out here to be a DPO, with a contract and pay as a DPO. There is a whole ‘nother level of responsibilty that I have now, that I didn’t plan on and don’t really want. Especially if I’m not going to be paid for it.

It’s hard trying to keep any vessel in shape with a minimal crew. This is not just any vessel. I would say it is fairly unique. I have been here for about 3 weeks now and I’m still getting lost when I go below decks! It’s a lot more complicated than a ‘regular ship’.

They have 4 engine rooms (2 engines each), with switchboard rooms for each engine room. They have separate pump rooms for the drillers, ballast, drains, etc. We have 4 separate thruster rooms (2 thrusters each). They are all the way down, practically at the bottom of the ship. There is another level below with just ballast tanks and pumps.

I was down there this afternoon, wandering around, checking some items for the PM’s (preventive maintenance) that still needs to get done. The ship is round, so you go around in circles to check each thruster room. I did fine with that. The problem was when I wanted to go back up to the main deck. The thrusters are on the 3.5m level. The engine rooms are on the 28.5, 32.5 level (up from 0). The cargo elevator that usually runs to access those spaces is broken.

I found out that you can’t easily get out of the thruster rooms without climbing up a 20′ vertical ladder with a hatch to open on top. I thought about trying it, but my arms and upper body strength is not something I feel too confident about.

We did PM’s on the HiPAP (high precision acoustic positioning) transducer poles this morning. My bosun (on here as roustabout) had a heck of a hard time climbing out of that space. It is a loooooong way down! Vertical ladders are tough enough even you are in good physical shape.

My DPO and roustabout were both worn out after 3 times up and down those ladders. Both of them are young and look to be in pretty good shape. I figure the valves are on the 0 elevation level, so it’s about 75 ft straight up. My arms would be jelly!

I tried 2 different ways to get out of different thruster rooms before I finally wound up back where I came down. I wasn’t going to try opening a hatch while standing at the top of a vertical ladder and nobody around to help. I went back up that way. I was pretty pooped by that time.

I’ll update this later with pictures. I’ve been having a hard time with my computer getting anything done online, so it might take a little while. Hang in there. 😉

Small World

It always surprises me when I come out to work how really connected this community is. The seafaring community that is. The people who spend their lives working far from home, out on the waters of the world.

I almost always know at least one person on every ship I join. If I don’t know someone personally, I know people they know. 🙂

I am working on a rig right now on the semi submersible drilling rig “Sevan Louisiana”,  where the Captain/OIM is a good friend of a good friend of mine. He used to work on the same boat I used to work on at Oceaneering, just a little while before I started there. We know a lot of the same people there.

One of the other DPOs used to work on a rig I did some temp work on a few years ago. He remembers me from when I was there. The crane operator was also on that rig.

The galley crew used to work with me on the HP-1 a while back. I remember how they spoiled me with little towel animals on my bunk every day. They’re great bunch of guys (and good cooks). 🙂

I’ve been here almost 2 weeks and it looks like just about everybody but me is fixin’ to go home soon. The rig is almost deserted anyway, we’re staffed with the bare minimum manning (warm stacked). We won’t get more crew til we hear if we’re going to get some work.

Thursday is crew change day and I’ll have a whole new crew to work with. I hope they turn out to be as easy to work with as this one.  I’ve still got another 4 weeks to go!

PS- Sorry I haven’t been posting very often, this is the first time I’ve been able to stay online long enough. Internet is not allowing me to do nearly as much as I’d like.

SoCS: When I Get Off Of Here…

socsbadge2016-17

…I’m going to have a nice long rest. Not that things have been too awful here so far, but the hitch has just started and I know for sure that crew change is always exhausting. You’re up for work for 12+ hours and then you’re up to watch the pre-departure video about the helicopter (you’ve already seen thousands of times). Then you wait hours for the chopper (if you’re lucky). Or the boat if you’re not.

Then you transit from the rig to shore. Minimum of an hour on the chopper. Maybe 8-12 hours on the boat if you’re not. Then you transit to the airport. That takes another couple of hours. Then you wait some more for your flight. You finally get home after another couple of hours of nodding off.

I usually do absolutely nothing for 2-3 days after I get home but eat, sleep and take a look at the huge pile of mail I’ve collected after being gone for 2+ weeks.

I’m due to be here for 6 weeks this hitch. I know it will get to me before it’s all over.

When I get off of here… I will rest. 🙂

Hoping Not to Meet Harvey

I’m heading out to work early in the morning. I have a 2 AM wakeup call so I can meet the bus that will get us to the dock by 5 AM. That’s where we’ll hop on the crew boat to take us out to the rig I’ll be working on for the next 6 weeks.

I was so excited to finally be going back offshore for a halfway decent hitch. Six weeks sailing as DPO will do wonders for my mindset (and my bank account). All was going well (with just a few minor annoyances) until I happened to hear about Harvey.

At the moment, it’s just a tropical depression. Hanging out just to the North of the Yucatan Peninsula. Predictions are for it to strengthen over the next couple of days. Even becoming a hurricane by landfall (Friday).

Of course, no one can ever predict what a tropical storm or hurricane will do with 100% certainty, but it has me worried about my property. I’m even a little skittish about my own self going out to join this vessel that I really have no idea about.

I’ve never sailed on anything like it before. For one thing, it’s round. Here’s a picture I got off the internet.

But it is a semisubmersible dynamically positioned drilling rig and I’ve worked on plenty of those. I hope the ballast system isn’t as convoluted as the last one I worked on. 😦

I assume it’s much bigger than it looks in that photo. According to the specs, she’s 100 m  diameter. Built in 2013, so shouldn’t be in too bad of shape (unless she’s been stacked for a while). I haven’t found anything yet about her contract status. Hopefully they found a decent contract and she’ll be working for a while.

It’s been way too long of a dry spell for so many of us out here. Let’s hope things are finally starting to turn around. 🙂

If you don’t hear from me in a while, it’s just because I might not have much internet access or time at work to get online. I’ll be back when I can. Hope you’ll stick around. 🙂

Crew Change

I wasn’t expecting to get off so early, but it looks like I will be home by midnight tonight. We left the field yesterday around 4 PM, just got to the dock here in Fourchon around 6 AM this morning.

I was expecting to get off at crew change since the other mate that’s on here now had been wanting to work over and it was time for the other mate to come back for his hitch. Since I am just a ‘rental’, I figured they would send me home. I’m used to working this way, basically never knowing when I’ll go to work or when I’ll get off. I’ve been temping off and on since 2007.

It’s great when work is plentiful, but it pretty much sucks when it’s slow like it has been for the last couple of years.

I got packed last night after watch and got up for my watch this morning just in time to watch them tie up the boat. Now pretty much all I have to do is wait for the crew change vans to show up.

I have a flight set up for 6 PM from New Orleans to Houston. I have a rental car reserved to  drive home to Lake Jackson. I will have to keep it til Monday since our local Enterprise agencies are closed on Sundays. I hope I can get home early enough on Monday to return it without having to pay for another extra day.

I am set up to teach at San Jacinto again all next week. I will be teaching Tankerman PIC again, in case anyone is interested. 😉

Working

I did get a job last week! I’m so glad it worked out! Even a few days offshore makes up for a lot. I’m hoping this job will last a while, but I really have no idea. They just said ‘2 weeks, maybe’.  I left early Friday afternoon. I flew to New Orleans, got picked up by the crew van and was delivered straight to the ship at around midnight thirty.

I didn’t even really meet the other 10 guys in the van with me, since everyone was exhausted and trying to catch a few winks on the ride to Fourchon (tho it was too bumpy for me).

On arrival, I got a quick familiarization with the captain, then assigned my bunk and tried to catch a few hours of sleep. I’ve been on the 0600-1800 watch since then.

That’s a good watch for me. I haven’t ever really worked an anchor boat, so it’s not something I can do by myself. I try to watch the captain as much as possible. He’s been doing it for ages and he’s really good.

The divers all seem to be pretty decent. I don’t really see much of them since I spend most of my time on the bridge and they’re always out on deck. We have about 45 people on here, total. It gets pretty cramped when more than a couple of people are in the same area at the same time. Like the galley at meal times, for instance.

The cooks on here have been doing a great job so far. There are 3 of them (plus an OS who’s helping out as a galley hand). They’re working around the clock to keep us all fat and happy.

We’re working on a project out here with a couple of other boats. One is a tug boat we use to help us pick up and place our anchors. We’re a ‘4-point anchor boat’. I’ve done a lot of diving work, but always either ‘live boat’ or DP (dynamic positioning). This is totally different.

I’m learning a lot here. That’s always a good thing. 🙂

Work?

I went to Houston yesterday. I had a work day scheduled up there. Yep. One whole day of work scheduled for all of July. Wow.

It went well.

I caught up with my friends there. We’re all in the same position. Everyone is doing whatever they can to get by. Spending all our time looking for work and scrambling for whatever part time gigs we can scrounge up.

This morning I got a call. Actually two calls. For real work! Yes, work in my field. On a boat. The pay is less than a third of what I was earning at my last job. It’s only for 2 weeks but could possibly turn into something longer term. I don’t know for sure yet if I’ll get it. But I told them I was definitely interested.

The second call was about a container ship. I’m interested, but a little concerned about that one since I’ve never worked on a container ship before. It shouldn’t be that different, but as captain, I will be held responsible for every single thing that happens on board, and there is a hell of a lot that could happen. I just don’t want to get thrown under the bus.

I’m waiting to hear back from both of them, but making plans to leave early Friday morning just in case. If I do get the job (either of them), I probably won’t have internet access to keep up with the blog so expect that I probably won’t be able to post every day.

Not that I have been posting every day anyway, but at least while I’m home I do try to. 😉

I’m Back

It feels like much longer than it was, the 27 days I was out there without internet. I was so grateful to have even a few days of real work again! I was hoping for more, but things are still very, very slow offshore. Every one of us on board was so thankful to have a job after a long dry spell.

Too bad, but the company finished up all the work they had lined up and so laid me off on Saturday. There was some talk about more projects coming up in the near future, but nothing definite.

I can survive another couple of months off of that job. I have a class lined up to teach the week of June 25th. Maybe by the end of the month something else will come up?

The price of oil is still under $50/bbl. Until that changes, I don’t see much hope of a decent job. But even a few days every now and then will be enough to get by on. I know most people are thrilled at the low price of gas at the pump (tho it should be about $1 less going by price/bbl- all that extra is taxes!).

I would probably be thrilled too if it didn’t wipe out my entire profession. Every sector of the maritime world is tied to the offshore sector and the price of oil. When it’s low and the offshore sector shuts down, people migrate to deep sea, towing, fishing, etc. Shutting off any options to do anything else on the water.

Shoreside jobs are a total waste of any mariners skills and training and don’t come anywhere near offering even the worst pay/benefits we earn on the water (and it’s not all about the money either).

I’ll spend the next couple of weeks catching up on things I’ve been putting off: exterminator, dentist, house cleaning, oil change, car wash, doctor, painting projects, taxes, etc. All kinds of fun stuff like that. 😉

Hopefully, I can keep things interesting with some stories from the recent past. 😉