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. 😉

R is for Re-Do- #AtoZChallenge

R” is for Re-Do. I don’t know how many of you all work at a job in which you’re constantly having to re-do everything you do.

In my profession, (merchant marine) it started fairly recently (1970’s). It started with only a bare minimum of requirements (RADAR and physical every 5 years).

I have heard that the medical profession requires some sort of recency requirements (tho I really have no idea what sorts of things doctors or nurses have to do to keep their licenses current)(any ideas)?

I’ve also heard the airline pilots have an even more stringent set of requirements they must satisfy to keep working.

But in the maritime profession, I am constantly amazed at how much they keep coming up with for us, how little of it is really useful or necessary, and how few people seem to have a problem with it.

Of course, all of those people who have an issue with it are people like me. People who actually have to DO the job. People who have been doing the job perfectly fine for decades WITHOUT any of the things that are required now. All of which are pretty much second nature after you’ve worked at sea for any amount of time. Our job is not exactly rocket science. 😉

For example, now we not only have to do (before we can start work) a few classes- about dozen for a mate working at sea), we have to re-do: RADAR/ARPA, physical yearly (if you have any one of dozens of common conditions), basic safety training, advanced fire fighting, CPR. Those are just the ones required by the US Coast Guard to keep your license.

AND, if you have not managed to work in one sector of the industry for the last 5 years, you will also have to re-do ‘training’ so that you can do that very same job again. For instance, if you have not worked on tankers in the last 5 years, you will have to re-do the class or find a ship so you can do a couple of transfers. Same goes for towing vessels. If you don’t have the sea time on them, you lose your ability to work on them until you re-do the ‘training’.

Same now goes for dynamic positioning (DP)! Either you manage to keep working through this horrible downturn, OR, you must somehow cough up $5000 grand so you can re-do that training!

You will ALSO need: HUET, safe-gulf, rig pass, SEMS, marine debris, blood born pathogens, and many other COMPANY required re-training every couple of years if you want to work in the Gulf of Mexico (or for any oil company).

It’s not like anything has changed really. I’ve been taking fire fighting since 1978. The ONLY thing new in that class is that they’re now calling a grease fire a ‘class k’ fire. It’s still the exact same fire, you fight it the exact same way. Everything is exactly the same except the name. Things don’t change much (or at all) in most of the classes we’re now forced to take.

Today, I’ve been waiting to get a chance to re-do my tankerman person-in-charge (PIC). I worked on tankers for almost 13 years. Since I have been doing other things for the last 5, I am required to re-do the training before I can get my license back (thank goodness I put it into continuity status or there would be many more hoops to jump through)!

I could either spend about $5000 to re-do the week long course, or get on board a vessel to do 2 transfers. So, tomorrow I am getting some help to do that. I will join a vessel in Houston to participate in the cargo operations. Catch up on anything new since I’ve last done this job. Hopefully I will get a letter for the Coast Guard that will allow me to get back my PIC so I can find some work! 🙂

I’m thankful that some people are willing to help, especially since I can’t afford to re-do the class!

K is for Kestrel- #AtoZChallenge

b18f2-k

“K” is for Kestrel. No, not the bird, but the dive boat I used to work on for CalDive.

My captain took that picture (for some reason, I can’t figure out how to get all my photos onto this computer). Check out his website, he has more cool ship pictures. 🙂

I only worked on the Kestrel for a short time. I was hired on for a job as Chief Mate, but when I actually got there, the company informed me that I would instead be sailing as Second Mate. Who knew for how long?

Of course I was not happy with that situation and made plans to take another job. I only needed 6 more weeks of sea time as Chief Mate before I could apply for my Master Mariners license.

Luckily, I was able to get those 6 weeks on board the Kestrel after all. 🙂

It was an ‘interesting’ job. And old ship, but a good crew kept her going. Too bad the last I heard she was sold for scrap. 😦

E is for ENSCO- #AtoZChallenge

E” is for ENSCO. I used to work there off and on. I worked for the marine crewing agency C-Mar (among others). Back when there was still work to be had in the offshore sector.

ENSCO is a drilling company. They bought out Pride and built up a pretty good fleet of offshore drilling assets. I worked on many of their vessels over the last few years: the Deep Ocean Mendocino (renamed DS-5), the DS-3, and most of their semi-submersibles.

I spent time on the ENSCO 8500, 8501, 8503 and 8506. The 8506 was one of my favorites. Maybe just because I spent the most time on her. Maybe because I was officially the “Hurricane Master” on board.

That was one of the best jobs I ever had. If it had been located anywhere other than the Gulf of Mexico, I would have said one of the top 2. 🙂

My job basically was to watch the weather, stay on alert for any hurricanes approaching the Gulf and to get the rig ready to move if we had to run from one. I joined the 8506 in the shipyard in Corpus Christi and brought her out to a test location and then on to her first well. I had a great crew to work with and the rig was pretty much brand new.

Eventually, Ensco hired their own crews and stopped using temps like me. 😦

Sadly, even the vessel itself has been out of work for a while.

Able Bodied Seaman

I only just found out about the #AtoZChallenge yesterday, so I’m going to try to catch up. Today is already the day for “F”!

I’ll make mine today for “A” and “B” with Able Bodied Seaman.

I’m a sailor, a professional mariner. I’ve pretty much spent my entire life at sea, since I was a little kid growing up on my dad’s 1910 staysail schooner. I decided after high school (on a sailing ship) that I no longer wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a ship captain!

The first step on that long, hard road was to become an Able Bodied Seaman (AB).

Back when I started, you could just find your way down to the docks and schmooze your way into a job. People were willing and able to give you a chance, let you learn the ropes on the job. Of course, being a female back then (and even now) made things much more difficult. “You’re a girl, girls can’t work on boats!”, “Girls can’t be captains!”. For me, it was easier to go to school and get my AB ‘ticket’ (merchant mariners document) that way.

Now, the Coast Guard has changed the rules (in order to comply with the IMO’s STCW regulations), it is no longer possible to just work your way up. You MUST go to school! You MUST spend at least one week and a few hundred dollars to get ‘trained’. And there are usually more requirements, that is just the bare minimum.

To become an AB, you’ll need to accrue a certain amount of ‘sea time’, time working aboard a vessel. You’ll need to get certified as a Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch (RFPNW). You’ll need to be ‘assessed’ by an ‘approved assessor’. Then you’ll be allowed to sit for a test (after paying a couple hundred bucks in fees for background checks, TWIC, etc).

You’re tested on all sorts of things: rules of the road (not at all the same as the ones you learn to drive a car!), seamanship, knots and splices, how to launch and recover a lifeboat, safety, fire fighting, cargo operations, steering a ship, helm commands, etc. All this applies to the “able” part of being a seaman. Before you are an “able” seaman, you are just an ‘ordinary’ seaman (OS).

You’ll also need to pass a USCG specific physical by an approved doctor and also a drug test. This is where the “body” part comes in. There are a few specific things they will fail you for- color blindness being a big one. There are quite a few more they will make you jump through hoops over.

The main issue I’ve had with them over the years is my weight. The physical specifies that if you are over a BMI of 40, then the doctor can ask you to show that you are ‘fit for duty’. They will make you climb the stairs, or lift weights or do certain things that are listed on the physical form they are filling out.

I have been fat since I was 13 years old. I’ve always been able to do anything I need to do physically (tho I admit, I have not needed to run any marathons!). I’ve tried pretty much everything to lose it, even having my jaws wired shut. Nothing has ever worked. I’ve pretty much accepted that I will be fat for the rest of my life. BUT, I have not and never will accept that my weight precludes me doing my job as AB (or mate, DPO or captain)!

I once saved my mates a** by spotting a discrepancy while loading tanks. Saved us from having a major oil spill. He later thanked me by telling me I “would make a great AB someday”. I asked him what he meant since I was actually sailing as AB for him at that time. He said that “AB means ‘able body’ and you are way too fat to be considered able bodied”.

WOW!

Locked Out

“Your account is temporarily locked, please try again in a few minutes”. I hate when it does that!

I always check my email first thing in the morning. Just to see if I have anything important in there. Usually not lately. I keep hoping for somebody to contact me about work. I’ve been looking for work since September of 2015 and not finding anything.

Usually, I’ll have at least 4-5 emails for work every week. It’s horrible how this downturn has been. None of the others have even come close. At least for the marine side of things. The onshore drillers have already been going back to work for a few months now. Ever since oil hit $40/bbl.

I don’t think offshore will see a break until oil hits at least $60/bbl and it looks like we’re still a long way from there. 😦

In the meantime, I check my email ever day, sometimes 4-5 times a day. Hoping to see something. I have seen a few jobs. Unfortunately they’re not anything useful for me. Either they’re so far away (and not rotational) and I would have to move. Or the pay is so low that it doesn’t make sense for me to consider (no way I could come close to paying my bills). Or they really have nothing to do with maritime (‘job captain’, ‘team mate’, etc).

I suppose I should be using this time to ‘pound the pavement’ trying to sell my ‘art. My writing, photography, painting, etc. But I’m not a salesman and never have been. You would think the internet would make it easier. I suppose it has given me the ability to show my work to people all over the world.

The only problem with that is that it has given that same opportunity to millions of other people who are also trying to sell their work (and a lot of them have some really, really great stuff)! I am now competing with millions of others instead of just the few here locally. It’s very discouraging.

I’ll keep plugging along. Maybe I’ll get a break somehow. Hopefully before my savings runs out completely.

Maritime Monday for March 27th 2017

Another week’s flown by! Here’s to more interesting maritime news from Monkey Fist. I really liked reading about the Irish this week…

ORP Piorun (G65) was an N-class destroyer used by the Polish Navy during the …

Source: Maritime Monday for March 27th, 2017 – gCaptain

TAMUG

I went to a job fair this morning up at TAMUG (Texas A&M University at Galveston). They’ve been making a lot of changes since I was there last time. First thing I noticed is that they’ve started charging for parking. It cost me $6 for a couple of hours. 😦

Next was the construction. They’re building a huge new “Academic Complex” right in front as you drive onto campus. There was already a big 3-4 story building that looked pretty complete, but they were still drilling holes behind it. The machine they used looked like a giant vertical corkscrew running up and down through the mud.

The job fair was held in the gym, so I had to walk across most of the campus. I never do see many students. TAMUG always seems deserted to me, especially compared to UT Austin or UST where I went to school. They were always bustling with crowds of students filling the walkways going to classes.

The gym was fairly busy. It was filled with tables of the various employers. There must have been about 25-30 different ‘companies’ represented. Sad to say, not many of them were offering anything for someone like me (older, with a license, who still wants to work at sea).

The Ports were well represented: Ports America, Diversified Port Holdings, Metro Ports all had tables. The shore side support companies were there too: Lone Star Maritime, Dan-Bunkering and Watco Companies are a couple of examples, as well as Kiewit (shipyard, construction, etc). I’ve considered taking a shore side job, but I would have to move and I just can’t justify moving (unless it’s overseas to somewhere cheaper).

The Houston Police Department, the Marines, the Customs & Border Patrol, the Army Corps of Engineers all had tables. I didn’t even bother talking to any of them, I already know I would not be a good fit. 😉

NOAA and MSC both had booths, but neither was actually hiring. For the first time in ages MSC is actually trying to get rid of people (tho they still have 4 month long minimum tours).

Artist Boat, Schlitterbahn, and Moody Gardens looked more interesting. But they were all in Galveston (hour and half drive each way) and really more for summer fill in type jobs. The Peace Corps may actually have something interesting to do, but it’s normally a 2 year commitment and I don’t think I’m up to that at this point. They did mention they have some shorter term programs, I’ll have to look into those. Maybe there’s something there I can do?

A few towing companies were represented (but I don’t have a towing endorsement). I would have to start over as a deckhand. I really don’t want to do that at this point in my life and career. Especially on an inland tow boat! That is some hard, back-breaking work! I am actually getting close to the age at which I’d like to be able to retire and I don’t want to take the chance of a serious injury (old bones don’t heal so fast). 😦

Shell was actually hiring, but they only wanted cadets (so not really hiring). Trident Seafoods was looking for people. But again, they only wanted deckhands. I talked to them for a while and figured it just wasn’t worth even bothering to apply there. I have fishing experience, and on the same type of vessels. But where I worked, we had fish masters. I was never responsible for finding and catching the fish. Trident doesn’t work that way. They want deckhands that they can train (taking years to do so). I don’t figure I have 5-10 years to spend back on deck at this point in my life. 😦

A couple of the maritime officers unions had tables, but none of them were actually hiring either. I talked to the MMP, AMO and MEBA representatives. They were happy to talk about the benefits of their unions, but admitted that things were tight and they really didn’t know how long it might take for an ‘applicant’ to find a job. All except the AMO still only hire out of the union hall too, so you can’t even work part time while you’re waiting to ship out.

I signed up as an applicant at AMO a couple of months ago. So far I’ve had 1 email re: possible job. By the time I responded a couple of hours later, the job was gone. 😦

All in all, the only companies that were actually looking for marine crew to ship out was SeaRiver (who I had worked for in the past and already applied for), HOS (who had a table with some swag, but didn’t even send a rep to talk to), Intermarine (who only hires through Crowley- which only does online applications), and HMS Global Maritime.

So, out of 25-30 companies represented at this particular career fair, there were really only 4 who had anything even remotely resembling the kind of work I’m looking for. Out of those 4, only 2 had representatives at the fair who could talk about the employment prospects at their company. Only 1 had much to say other than “go online and fill out an application”. 😦

That shows how really sad a state our maritime sector is right now. No longer much opportunity at all. I can only hope it comes back to ‘normal’ soon.

Maritime Monday for March 6th 2017: Oil of Gladness

Another weeks worth of nautical knowledge courtesy of Monkey Fist and gCaptain. There’s an interesting article about Sadie Horton, one of the women mariners of WWII (who have never really been recognized). Beautiful photos of some ugly stuff. Sounds of the seascape to relax to. And pretty little jellyfish to watch…

10 Hours of Ambient Arctic Sounds Will Help You Relax, Meditate, Study & Sleep &nbsp …

Source: Maritime Monday for March 6th, 2017: Oil of Gladness – gCaptain

Watch: 10 Reasons Why Maritime SUCKS

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdMYEKwxTyo Here’s a new upload from maritime Youtuber …

He really makes a lot of good points. I have to agree with him on pretty much everything he says. Yes, things are much, much better for sailors than in the days of Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast“, but they’ve sure as hell been going downhill since the 1960’s!

Yes, the ships are built with all the latest technology, but the crews have been cut in half and more! Our workload has been constantly increasing, with less and less personnel to do it all!

Yes, our pay has gone up- but not nearly as much as it would take to keep up with inflation. Considering all the expenses we now have added on in order to be allowed to work offshore, we’re actually earning much less than we were in the past.

Yes, communications have improved- for the ship. Not necessarily for the crew. There are still so many ship owners/operators who think of their crews as nothing more than another tool to use and abuse, not human beings like themselves. People who also have a life off the ship (if they have people who choose to stick around and wait for the sailor who may not be able to contact them for months at a time- which is not very likely now a days when everyone expects instant gratification).

I said I would never again work for someone who treated me like that, but I never in my life thought things would get this bad out there! Even with the advent of the STCW, which I immediately saw for what it was (an easy way for shipowners to rid themselves of ‘expensive’ first world crews), I still never imagined how small the box I’ve been shoved into has become!

I always figured that when it got slow offshore, I could ship out on a tugboat, or a tanker, or some other kind of vessel. Well, due to the US Coast Guard constantly changing the rules (and not always putting out the notifications they are required to by law), it is no longer possible to switch sectors like we could before.

Now, if you work on a tanker, you must stay on a tanker or you will lose your ability to ever go back to that kind of work without paying enormous fees to be ‘trained’, (ex: $1,100 for course, $500+ for lodging, $300+ for transport, $300+ for food). To do the same thing you’ve been doing for 5, 10, 15 years in the past ! Same goes for almost every type of vessel now. Passenger vessels only want people with that specific type of experience and paperwork. Towing vessels can only take people with towing endorsements. DP vessels will only take people with DP certificates. Etc.

I’m lucky I’m not a sailor from the Philippines, or China, or any of the other ‘third world’ (meaning low wage) countries where the overwhelming majority of seafarers come from now a days. For an American, working for MSC (Military Sealift Command) is probably the longest hitch out there. It’s supposedly 4 months long. I hear from friends it’s more like 6. Those poor crews from the Philippines are working for 2 years at a time before they can go home!

Most American ships are in pretty decent shape. They’re in great condition compared to a lot of the crap I’ve seen sailing around the world from other countries. Ships with ‘flags of convenience‘. Owners flag their ships outside of their own countries for financial reasons. They can get cheaper crews, bother with less rules and regulations, pay less taxes and fees, etc. Some of them are decent, but many of them are not. Check out this report by the ITF, they do a pretty good job of keeping track of this stuff. Or this, which makes the ITF report look tame.

Watch the video for a pretty good run down of what to expect shipping out. He doesn’t really get into the good parts. But then again, there aren’t too many good parts left anymore. 😦

Any of you sailors out there, I’d be very interested to get your take on both the video and my comments on it.

Source: Watch: 10 Reasons Why Maritime SUCKS (Things To Consider Before Joining Merchant Marine) – JeffHK – gCaptain

Color Your World: 28 Almond

Today’s color for Jennifer’s Color Your World challenge is: almond. Here’s a reference…

A lot of these colors look alike to me- almond, apricot, peach, desert sand- mango tango and burnt orange- copper and antique brass. Can you tell them apart? I sure have a hard time! Why do they need crayon colors so close together nobody can tell them apart unless they’re studied under a microscope?

I always thought part of the fun of drawing/painting/being creative was learning to blend the colors you had to make the ones you wanted. I’ve been trying to learn to paint lately. I sure as hell don’t want to go buy every color I might need to make a painting come out. That would cost a fortune! I’m learning the color wheel and how the different colors relate to each other.

It’s a challenge to make just the right color to make your painting ‘pop’. It’s fun too. Here’s an example of what I mean. I painted this a few years ago, when I was working as an AB on the tankships running up the West Coast to Alaska. Of course, I didn’t bring any paint with me. I scrounged around in the paint locker til I found what I needed.

I made that whole colorful undersea scene with only a few colors of deck paint. I know I had black, white, signal red, yellow, international orange, green and blue. That was pretty much it.

I must sound like an old geezer, ‘well sonny, back in myyyyy day, we used to color with only 8 colors in the box!’ I actually got the 64 crayon box later when I was growing up, but did I ever use all of those colors- nope. Does anyone use all of the 120 colors this challenge is based on? I think I would have a hard time using up a whole box of crayons myself. 😉

Anyway, here’s my entry for the challenge color of ‘almond’…

I took this photo in November while I was traveling around Turkey. I had a great time wandering all over Istanbul and Cappadocia where I took this photo of one of the many ancient rock churches at Goreme. It was a lot of fun scrambling around amid all this history, seeing how the people lived and worshipped all those years ago. I only regret that they didn’t allow any photography inside (even without flash). I really would have liked to have got a few shots of the beautiful frescos inside. I’ll just have to be satisfied with the internet. 😦

Maritime Monday for January 23rd 2017

More fascinating maritime history from Monkey Fist by way of gCaptain. This week there’s some interesting stories about the Vikings, some Irish monks, and the true story of how Gambia (the country) came to be. There’s another story about an underwater ‘art museum’, a new one- not the one off Cancun.

There’s a story about yet another #$%^##$% ship owner/operator who treats their crews like shit and than abandons them without pay. These poor guys have spent 7 months onboard without pay. Would you work for that long without a paycheck? Me neither! But these guys (and so many others) really had no choice. They can’t just say to hell with this shit and leave. Where can they go? Jump overboard? And then forfeit all their hard earned wages for the months they’ve already worked? And then, how to get home? India is a long way from the North Sea!

This type of work is not easy. Besides the fact of being away from home for months on end, there is the weather to deal with (the North Sea in winter is no fun!), the job they’re hired to do is dangerous. They earned their pay and they deserve to be paid on time, not sluffed off with lame excuses! Not abandoned and left to fend for themselves with no food, water, money, fuel in some foreign country where they might not even know the language!

This is just one more example of the all too common situation in the shipping industry today. The race to the bottom. ‘Globalization’. Americans are used to being replaced by cheap labor by now. Looks like the Brits are getting used to it too. 😦 This ship is crewed by Indians! I guess it’s their turn now. They are now getting replaced by even cheaper labor!

How does this race to the bottom, becoming standard now- to treat your seamen like so many tools to be used up and then thrown away- how does this really help anyone? Americans losing out to Filipinos, who are losing out to Indians, who are losing out to Ukrainians, who are losing out to Indonesians, who are losing out to Malaysians. Where does it end? With ‘crew less’ ships (they are coming). Shipping rates are so low now it’s cheaper to send something across the ocean and back then to truck it across the state! The added cost to anything you’re going to buy is a very small part of its price.

This particular ship actually has it good. Apparently they still have food, water and power aboard. It’s stuck in Britain and the crew is allowed ashore. The people of the town are able to visit, they help as they can- they bring coffee and biscuits. It’s better than they would get in most places. Here- for instance- where they would most definitely NOT be allowed off the ship. Nor would anyone be allowed to visit (except maybe the port chaplain, ships agent, etc- all on ships business). Thanks TSA, PATRIOT ACT, etc. 😦

This sort of thing is all too common. The MLC (maritime labor convention) has some new rules that just came into force Jan 18. Hopefully it will put some teeth into the rules regarding treatment of seafarers. It’s long past due.

The Lyford House being saved from demolition, 1957 Built in 1876, the house is listed …

Source: Maritime Monday for January 23rd, 2017 – gCaptain

Song of the Sea: Dream of the Drowned Submariner

I found this video when I  was looking around last time. It’s another one by Mark Knopfler. I’m definitely going to have to buy some of his albums. 🙂 I really like this song. The music is quiet and peaceful, the lyrics are slow and wistful. I never really think of submariners too much. I guess it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I’ve always worked on top of the water, and it’s our main objective to stay up there. 😉

I have to give them their due. Their time at sea and under the water must be even harder than for those of us who sail above the water. The darkness, the pressure, the cramped quarters must really be rough.

I’m reading a book right now. “Dead Wake” about the last voyage of the Lusitania. Basically, a submarine sunk the ship and brought the USA into World War I. I’m not even halfway through it yet, but so far it’s pretty good. It’s given me a whole new appreciation for the submariners.

I hope you like the video as much as I do.

“Dream Of The Drowned Submariner”

We run along easy at periscope depth
Sun dappling through clear water
So went the dream of the drowned submariner
Far away from the slaughterYour hair is a strawflower that sings in the sun
My darling, my beautiful daughter
So went the dream of the drowned submariner
Cast away on the water

From down in the vault, down in the grave
Reaching up to the light on the waves

So she did run to him over the grass
She fell in his arms and he caught her
So went the dream of the drowned submariner
Far away on the water
Far away on the water

Decisions

I might not be on here for a few days. I’ve got a hard decision to make. I got laid off of work last September (2014). I’m not eligible for any help (unemployment) since my last job was overseas. The offshore oilfield still shows no signs of improvement and probably won’t til the price of oil stabilizes above $60/barrel.

Everything I’ve tried to do to earn money since I’ve been laid off has not worked. No one has been interested enough in buying my beach house to even take a look at it. I haven’t sold one piece of art except a small 4×6 photo for $10. My writing mostly hasn’t been interesting enough to an editor to be worth a reply. None of the jobs I’ve applied to have been interested enough to call me back, except Dominos Pizza for $6 and change/hour.

Beach House- For Sale- Fishermans Delight!

I still work doing the emergency management training if they have a class and if they put me on the schedule. That hasn’t happened since the end of October. Nothing coming up til the last week of January.

I’m really starting to worry about my situation. I’ve managed to save some money, normally enough to last being laid off, but I never thought it would ever take this long to find a job!  My friends tell me to ‘sell some of my stuff’. They don’t realize I’ve been trying to. No one wants to give me a fair price and I’m not willing to just give it away.

The decision I’ve been wrestling with is to take a job as a ‘safety attendant’, working in the plants around here. It’s ‘local’- I’d only have to drive 2-3 hours back and forth every day. My truck is getting to the point where I don’t want to put it through that (1997 F-150). It’s a 12 hour/day job, every day. Until the job ends. Then you’re supposed to be able to collect unemployment til they call you back again at some point. It pays $14/hour.

That would (barely) cover my bills (if I don’t have any time off- no down time for weather, etc). It would mean I’d have zero time for anything at all but eat, sleep, shower, work. For weeks, maybe months on end.

I have to spend all day Wednesday-Thursday in ‘training’ in order to get certified to do this job. Same thing I’ve done for the last 30+ years, but never needed a certificate to do it offshore (yes, it’s amazing that they don’t require it too, but actually let us do a simple job without spending hours in a ‘training facility’ on the beach!). They give us the same training, they just call it something else at every company. This place doesn’t even pay for the training.

I’m thinking I should at least go to the training. Maybe I can find out more about the actual conditions of this particular job from others there?

The other choice is: to just give up. To quit ‘working’ altogether. Forget about trying to keep my documents current. Forget about looking for work. Stop spending hours filling out online applications for jobs that don’t exist and just chill. Relax and work on my art. 🙂

an example of my art- star fish in pastels

Spend that time figuring out how to get the hell out of this ratrace and find somewhere that I can afford to live with no job. From previous travel and research, I know already that almost everywhere is cheaper than the US. My only real concern is how long can I make it without any income from work at all? I’m (only) 55. A very, very long way from being able to collect on social security (if it’s even still there).

If things were like they were when I started this career, it wouldn’t be an issue. I could take off for a couple of years and when I was ready, just  jump right back in to work. That’s not possible any more.

When I was taking my walk tonight, I figured the absolute minimum I would need to just keep my license current would be $10,000 and 5 weeks of time! We have to re-take a hell of a lot of ‘training’ now and it seems they require more of it every year. That’s really a very, very low estimate.

So, if I do decide to quit. I won’t be able to come back. Ever.

hate the thought of that. I LOVE what I do! I’ve spent almost my entire life at sea and I don’t want to leave it. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars to get my license. I hate the thought of just throwing all that away.

It gives me chills even to think of giving it up forever. I really don’t know what to do. I’ve been in this limbo for months now. I can’t concentrate on trying to make a living with my art (writing/photography/painting) since I’m distracted all the time trying to look for ‘a real job’. I think I might quit for a while, but then I remember theres no coming back if I do.

This really sucks!

I keep hoping that someone will come through with a real job for me! A job where I can do what I’ve been trained to do already! A job that I’m good at. A job that I actually LIKE!

I’ll call them all again tomorrow, see if there’s any hope at all. Keeping my fingers crossed.

one of my favorite paintings- I did this on the ship using deck paint!

Color Your World: Vivid Tangerine

I found another blog challenge from Jennifer Nicole Wells, she runs the Color Your World Challenge on her blog. I did a few posts last year. It goes on for 4 months, so I didn’t manage to finish the whole thing, or even to post every day.

Jennifer is running the Color Your World challenge again for 2017. I’ll post when I can. Todays color is ‘vivid tangerine‘. Here’s my take.

I took this photo of the traditional ‘shop houses’ in Singapore a few years ago. Back when I was still working and able to travel. We used to spend a lot of time there. I miss the days we’d spend at the Jurong shipyards. The Seaman’s Center took good care of us. Their people haven’t forgotten the importance of the merchant marine. 🙂

Singapore is a fantastic place to hang out. I loved to take the metro downtown and see Chinatown, Clark Quay, and the Durians. The beer was always cold, the food was hot, cheap and plentiful. The people were friendly. I’d go back anytime. 🙂

Songs of the Sea: So Far From the Clyde

I have to say thanks to the Old Salt Blog for sending me news of this song in my email this morning. 🙂

I’ve never heard of it before. I’m not really familiar with Mark Knopfler, even tho I know a few songs by Dire Straits. After listening to this song, I’ll be sure to track down more of his stuff.

As a seafarer, I know exactly what he’s singing about. It’s a sad song about riding his ship to the breakers. So many great ships were built in Scotland, on the Clyde. I’ve even been on one- the famous tea clipper, Cutty Sark. She’s kept near London now, as a museum.

Most ships are brought round to the breakers in the Indian Ocean. They’re driven ashore in Pakistan or India. It’s just so much easier and cheaper to get rid of them there. That’s a story in itself. National Geographic even did a photo essay on it recently.

I’ve never done it yet myself. I would like to once, before I have to give up sailing. Closest I came was to deliver the tanker “Coastal New York” to a shipyard in China for scrapping.

Listen to the lyrics…

“So Far From The Clyde”

They had a last supper the day of the beaching
She’s a dead ship sailing skeleton crew
The galley is empty, the stove pots are cooling
What’s left of the stew
The time is approaching, the captain moves over
The hangman steps in to do what he’s paid for
With the wind down the tide she goes proud ahead steaming
And he drives her hard into the shore

So far from the Clyde
Together we ride, we did ride

A drift to a wave from her bows to her rudder
Bravely she rises to meet with the land
Under their feet you can feel the Kings shudder
The shallow sea washes their hands
Later the captain shakes hands with the hangman
Climbs slowly down to the oily wet ground
Goes back to the car that has come here to take him
Through the graveyard back to the town

So far from the Clyde
Together we ride, we did ride

They pull out her cables and hack off her hatches
Too poor to be wasteful with pity or time
They swarm on her carcass with torches and axes
Like a whale on a bloody shoreline
Stripped of her pillars her stays and her stanchions
When it’s only her bones on the wet poison land
Steel robbers will drag her with winches and engines
Till it’s only a stain on the sea

So far from the Clyde
Together we ride, we did ride
So far from the Clyde
Together we ride, we did ride

Good News

I finally got some good news today. The mail came with my new, corrected, USCG license! I sent it in to the Coast Guard on September 29. So, it only (major sarcasm) took them a little less than 3 months to process a simple renewal.

My license expired December 16, so I figured I had plenty of time. Even with the end of the year rush due to new STCW ‘gap-closing’ requirements.

Every time I checked, for over 2 months, my license status was listed as PQEB. Waiting for an evaluator. Strange, cause they sent my medical certificate back within a week. I had no idea why it was taking so long until I got some help from the Coast Guard’s National Mariner Center booth at the Workboat Show in early December. They got things moving immediately and helped a lot.

I did actually apply for one extra endorsement. Maybe that was the reason for the holdup? I asked for the OIM (offshore installation manager). Reading the rules, I figured I was eligible. I had already taken stability for my Chief Mates license. I already had a few rig moves, under supervision and while in charge.

Since I am already a Master Mariner, that should have covered me for the OIM endorsement. The rules are different if you’re not already holding that license.

But, the USCG has decided that the much more intense stability course I took is not applicable for this endorsement. I need to take a much simpler course which is only specific to certain vessels (mostly MODU’s– mobile offshore drilling units). I learned all this after finally being assigned to an evaluator after the Workboat Show.

The rules also say that at least one of the rig moves must be within the last year.

So, since I was laid off by Ocean Rig in September of 2015, I have not worked since then, I’m shit out of luck until I can go back to work again. I can’t afford to take the necessary course until I find work again anyway, so the whole thing is moot.

The whole point of asking for the endorsement was in hopes it would help me find a job so I could go back to work again.

After a couple of emails back and forth about all this (the GC rep was very helpful and fast to respond), I decided to just drop the request for the endorsement and just renew everything I already had.

I got an email the next day that my MMD (merchant mariner document) was in the mail! The process moved along pretty quick once assigned an evaluator.  I was feeling pretty good until I got my document a few days later and looked it over.

For some reason they restricted me to only vessels without ECDIS. I had taken that course as well for my Chief Mate license. I couldn’t have qualified to sit for the test without it. The CG rep told me that the class I took couldn’t have been approved back then.

Well, why would I have taken it then? The USCG gives us a listing of all the approved courses and all the approved schools where we can take them. Of course I checked the list and would never have gone anywhere to take any class that wasn’t on the list. It would have been a total waste of time and money since the certificate earned would not be valid!

After a few days of arguing and sending documents to the USCG, all the while freaking out about having to re-take another expensive week long course and not being allowed to work after December 31, 2016, the CG allowed that the course I took was actually OK.

Whew!

So, today I finally got my MMD, one that has everything I need to show in order to go back to work. Now I just need a job!

Another Roadblock

I haven’t been posting much about work on here lately. Mostly because I haven’t had any for the last year now. 😦

It’s been so frustrating and depressing. I’ve never been out of work for anywhere near this long in my entire life! I’ve always been able to find something to do. Not this time. This time there’s nothing. Nothing at all. 😦

It doesn’t help that the people in charge of jobs in this industry- the US Coast Guard- keep changing the rules to make it harder and harder to get and/or keep a job! It used to be that you could take a job in a different sector of the maritime industry when things got slow. For example, when things got bad in the 80’s, I went to work on tankers. I could even take a job ashore. I worked as bartender lots of times between offshore jobs back then.

Now, due to new USCG rules, if you change sectors you’re very likely to be pigeonholed into just being able to work in that sector. You’ll have no other options! Not without making major efforts to make the move. For example- my license used to say “freight & towing’. Now it says ‘steam & motor”. That means I can’t work on any tugboats any more unless and until I get a ‘towing endorsement’ on my license. That is not at all easy to do!

Same goes for tankers. I worked on tankers for over 13 years, but since I haven’t worked on a tanker in the last 5 years, I can’t work on tankers ever again until I go spend a bunch of time and money to get back that endorsement.

There goes 2 large sectors of maritime employment totally out of my reach now!

And if I have to take a job on land? Forget it! If I don’t keep up my sea time (and training), I will have to start all over from the bottom if I ever want to go back to sea! We need to have at least 360 days sea time in the last 5 years, plus a bunch of newly required ‘training’ (plus the training that was already required) in order to renew our documents. Documents we absolutely can not work without. No, not anywhere in the world!

So. In order to have 360 days sea time in the last 5 years, that basically means you need to have at least 2 years of STEADY employment offshore. If you take a land job, you need to quit as soon as you find something you think (hope) will last a while at sea. Then, you need to hope like hell your company will help pay for all the necessary training. Cause sure as hell, no land job will give you either the pay rate or the time off in order for you to keep up with it!

Seafaring used to be a really good way to earn a living. After all this, I’m not sure I can say that anymore, but I still prefer it over anything else I can imagine.

had high hopes for finding some sort of relief job over the holidays. That’s always the best time of year to find work offshore. People understandably want to take time off to spend it with their families and all sorts of deals get made.

Not last year.

No one took any (earned) vacation time. I didn’t get a single call all winter. Neither did anyone else I know who’d been laid off. Everyone still lucky enough to be employed was just scared to death that they might not be able to come back to work. The oilfield was still in shock and everyone was living in fear.

Things seem to be improving. Slightly.

The price of oil has gone up from around $26/barrel to around $50/barrel. Almost doubled. That’s great! Only problem is, that for the offshore oil fields to go back to work the price of oil needs to be somewhere above $75/barrel (IMHO).

I was dearly hoping to get a call to sub in for someone over the holidays. I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for months.

But…

The USCG now requires us to renew our documents every 5 years. If we don’t beg permission from the government and jump through all kinds of ridiculous hoops, we’re locked out of a job. 😦

I sent in my paperwork back in the first part of September. My license expires December 16 this year, so I figured I had plenty of time. Even considering there are all kinds of new hoops to jump through coming into effect at the end of the year and so a mad scramble by all mariners to renew their documents before that.

My license was still sitting in limbo when I got back from overseas. Luckily, I was able to speak to a USCG rep at the Workboat Show and they made a phone call and got my papers moved over to the fast track. I thank them for helping, they were great!

I was happy to see my status changed the next day and only a few days later I received my new MMD in the mail.

Only one problem. They restricted me to only vessels without ECDIS. That means pretty much only small or inland vessels. That means I’m pretty much shit outta luck for finding any work until I get that restriction removed!

That totally knocked me for a loop! No way was I expecting them to come back with that! They’ve renewed my license at least twice since I originally turned in that course certificate and not once did they mention that it might not be acceptable.

What really gets my goat (besides the fact that I should have to beg permission from the government to go to work in the first place), is that I DID already take the required training in order NOT to have that restriction on my license.

I took that class back in 2008 since it was required for me to sit for my chief mates license. Of course, the USCG removed the requirement to take most of the courses that I was forced to take (at a cost of almost $50,000), but I did take that class and it is still required.

The problem is that the USCG is now saying that the course I took (so long ago) could not have been ‘approved’. Well hell! WTF would I have taken ANY course if it was NOT USCG approved?

Simple. I wouldn’t have!

The USCG maintains a listing of ALL approved courses and ALL approved course providers right there on their website. Of COURSE I checked to make sure the course I was considering was USCG approved.

At this point I have to assume that the course I took was approved at the time and somewhere between then and now, they changed the rules again to where it’s no longer acceptable. It would’ve been nice to get some notification.

None of these required classes is cheap. They’re completely worthless if they’re NOT USCG approved. Mostly worthless even so. Why would I (or anybody) spend thousands of dollars and a week (or more), plus transportation costs, plus room and board expenses, to waste all that time sitting in a classroom somewhere when they could be doing something (anything) else?

Again, simple! They wouldn’t!

So. I am in limbo again. Waiting for the person I’m dealing with at the Coast Guard to hear back from their superiors in the course approval department. Meantime, I’m investigating who has a class open asap.

The cheapest I can find is San Jacinto Maritime ($1000), but that’s only because I live close enough to where I can (barely) manage to drive back and forth daily. They don’t have an opening until mid- January. Same with most of the others. Remember, I can’t even think about going back to work until I get signed off on this class!

Delgado and Falck offer the course for $900, but they’re both located in Louisiana. I would have to spend hundreds more for transportation, room and board. Falck has a class I might be able to get in to -starting 12/27.

MPT in Ft Lauderdale costs $1299 (plus transport/room & board), but they actually have a class starting next week. If the USCG tells me this week I have to re-take the class, that will be my only option if I really still hope to get any work this year. 😦

If it looks like I’m screwed for work, then my best option will be the Sea School in Bayou La Batre AL. They cost $1100, but I can drive there (10 hours) and they include room and board in that price.

A few other schools have classes starting in January, but they’re all more expensive. MITAGS ($1390 + $850 room/board), Bluewater ($1295), Quality ($1095), Marine Training Institute ($1095), STAR ($$). Those are just the ones in the Southeastern US. I only checked those since I’m trying to keep transport costs down.

If you’re stuck in the same boat I am, you can find all the USCG approved courses and facilities here. DON’T go anywhere that isn’t on this list!