First Few Days on the St Louis Express

I joined the St Louis Express in Houston at the Barbours Cut Container Terminal. I got there around 1030 at night after driving around looking for the ship for a while. The ship didn’t get in til 1900 and they told me to get there soon after.

I was excited to join my first container ship, so tried to get there soon after 7, but as usual things got in the way. Turns out, I really shouldn’t have showed up ’til morning anyway. I had to find a spare room to spend the night in, then move in the morning when the guy I was relieving got with me.

view from my cabin, starboard side looking forward

view aft from crane #4

So, first thing we did was get me checked out in the crane. I’ve run cranes before and do fine with them. These cranes are way up off the deck. I’ve tried to count the rungs on the (straight) ladders, but keep losing count. We have 4 large cranes onboard. The climbing up and down has been killing me! I hate to admit it, but I may not be able to handle this job for another month if it consists of so much up and down climbing. 😦

I haven’t even been here a week yet and I’m already worn out! I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into by signing on as a dayworker. “AB Maintenance”. On the other ships I’ve worked on, they just did the usual maintenance work. The big difference here is the cranes. I’m really concerned about my ability to do that part of the job. I hate to be a crybaby or a quitter, but I really can’t afford to take any chances. Especially now, when I’ve been out of work for so long. It’s already been over 27 months with just a few little 1-2 week temp jobs every few months to keep me going. I can’t afford to get hurt.

Other than crane ops, I’ve been doing a lot of greasing. I have my little green bucket filled with rags, grease gun, screwdriver, pipe wrench, WD-40, and crescent wrench. I carry it around in the mornings from 08-10 and work on greasing and exercising all the movable parts on board. So far, I have only got the aft mooring winches and roller chocks done since I usually only do that work from 08-10.

After the morning break, the Bosun (the boss of the deck crew) has had me chipping with the AB on the catwalks. We take off the gratings and crawl around underneath and get as much rust off as we can with the needle guns and air chisels. After coffee in the afternoon, we clean up the mess and the OS paints everything with corroseal. Next we prime it, then paint. It’s a big project, but gives everyone a chance to get overtime.

walking up the main deck port side

lots of ship traffic S Florida

We left Houston 2200 Sunday (night). The weather was cool and the seas were calm. We had our first fire and boat drills and got some idea of our schedule from the Captain Monday. We had a nice ride across the Gulf of Mexico. I was hoping to see the Florida Keys when we passed but they were too far away.

We got to Savannah this morning around 0900. It took a few hours to run up the river and dock. We spent the night at anchor due to fog and the weather was still pretty grey and misty. We were all fast by 1130.

coming up the river to Savannah

First thing we had to do was to move all our cranes out of their cradles and hang them over the offshore side. If not, they’ll interfere with the dockside cranes loading the containers onboard. Same with the pilot ladder (it’s attached to an accommodation ladder).

we’re docked just forward of the first containership in the photo

After lunch, it was back up in the crane. This time in crane #4 to load some crates into the engine room. They have a large hatch right behind the accommodations. It opens up right over the engines. It’s pretty cool to see all that machinery. My first day, I was in the crane and we had to change out a part for the engine. Someone mentioned it cost about a half million dollars. I’m glad they told me afterward!

So far, the sailing board is still set for midnight tonight. We’ll be off to Norfolk and then after that, on across the ‘pond’.

passing downtown Savannah, tug coming alongside

I’ll post more later. My new smart phone and it’s ‘mobile hotspot’ seems to be working OK so far, but we still have to be in cel phone range for me to use it. As soon as we left Galveston, we lost signal and only got it back on arrival this morning.

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Going to Houston Again

I was up in Houston yesterday. I don’t go up there any more than I have to. I usually plan to do everything I need to in one trip. It’s ‘only’ an hour and a half drive, but with traffic it seems longer.

Yesterday I did a little shopping, stopped by the SIU to see if they had any work coming up, and finished up at the WISTA event.

Turns out, the SIU did have something for me. They called me this morning with good news. They had a ship for me!

Now I have to go back up there and do some paperwork. Hopefully I will ship out about this time next week. 🙂

I don’t really know anything about the job yet (except that I’ll be going as AB maintenance- not watch standing). I’ll find out more this afternoon.

Of course I wish I could go to work as an officer and use the license I’ve worked so hard for, but unlicensed work is all I’ve been able to find in over 2 years now. At this point, I’ll take what I can get and be happy about it.

WISTA Sista’s Help Santa with Seafarers

Tonight was the annual get together of the Houston-Galveston area WISTA Sista’s to ready the Christmas care packages for our local seafarers. The Houston Pilots let us use their facility to organize the assembly of the boxes.

One side of the room had tables filled up with supplies for the shoe boxes: pens, mini-flashlights, pads of paper, snacks, candies, razors, hats, gloves, toothpaste, cards/envelopes, calendars, tissues, etc.

The other sides tables were filled with supplies for the assemblers (us)! 😉

Trays of cheese and crackers, sliced turkey and salami, pickles, olives, fruits and dip, sandwiches, tiny little cheesecakes, sodas, coffee and wine. 🙂

A few of us filled up the boxes, while others wrapped them up and tied ribbons. I’m not sure how many we made up, but we filled up 2 trucks by the end of the night. Half will go to Houston, and half to Galveston.

I’m not that much into Christmas. I usually work over the holidays. In fact, up until the last 2 years of this horrible downturn, I’ve worked every Christmas but 2 over the last 40 years! It’s great to be home with friends and family. To enjoy all the holiday spirit, traditions, good cheer and company.

Out on the ship, it’s hard to deal with the holidays sometimes. You miss all that’s going on at home. You may or may not have communications with your family (some ships still have no internet access for the crew and cell phones usually don’t work unless you’re in port). Most ships try to do something special for Christmas. They’ll set up a tree, put up some decorations and cook a special meal. Santa may even show up at the ship! 😉

You have no idea how much difference these little shoe boxes can make to a ships crew at Christmas. I’ve seen guys break down and cry. It does make you feel good to know that someone out there is thinking about you. Someone who you don’t even know, that wanted to make sure you had something special for Christmas.

I’m hoping I’ll be back at sea by Christmas! I don’t know if I’ll see Santa this year, but I know that there are people around the world who care for the seafarers (not just Houston, I know Freeport’s seaman’s center does and other seaman’s centers do too).

PS- WISTA is an organization of women in shipping and transportation- there are men members too, we call them WISTA Mr’s 🙂 We had a couple of students from Texas A&M tonight (male and female). We had women who work in insurance, logistics, trading, piloting, training, and sailing. The maritime industry covers a lot of ground, there are all sorts of jobs on shore and on the sea.

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!

Remembering the Importance of Seafarers

 

Remembering the Importance of Seafarers.

June 25th has been declared by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) as the International Day of the Seafarer. Yes, I’m a little late with this post, but I hope you’ll read it and think about it anyway. I’m at sea at the moment. All of the people who work as seafarers spend most of their lives at sea and aren’t always able to keep up with the rest of the world.

I’m very fortunate that I’ve worked my way up to a position where I have some options. I refuse to work on any vessel any more that doesn’t allow me internet access (it works here at least sometimes). You’d be surprised how many companies don’t think that’s important!

I’m one of the few lucky ones. I work in a very competitive area and my wages are much higher than most. I remember my deck crew on the tuna boat asking my why they didn’t earn American wages since they were working on an American boat. The only (true) answer I could give them was Continue reading

MLC 2006 | Seafarers’ Bill of Rights Enters into Force | gCaptain ⚓

MLC 2006 | Seafarers’ Bill of Rights Enters into Force | gCaptain ⚓ Maritime & Offshore News.

I really hope this helps, but I have my doubts. Notice how the seafarers have been punished worse than anyone after 9-11. Because of stupid TWIC rules, they have stolen away the RIGHTS we have always had for hundreds of years! Most ports in the USA now refuse to allow seafarers access to shore leave using excuses such as that we are security threats! If they do ‘allow’ us to transit through their facilities, they charge outrageous fees. No foreign seafarer can afford to pay to get out the gate, it is really sickening how these people (I’m one) are treated every day.

Another pet peeve of mine is the ongoing exploitation by crewing agents both here in the USA and in most other countries. It has been illegal by both US and international law to charge a seaman for a job, yet there are still plenty of companies that do that here (I have dealt with a few myself over the years) and especially virulent overseas. Why can’t they charge the hiring companies the fees? They are the ones who HAVE the money! Seafarers are not known to be rolling in the dough. No, but we are known to be desperate to go back to work and so they continue to take advantage of us instead of doing the RIGHT thing and going to get paid by the company they provide the seafarers to.

Oh yeah, then there’s the issue of refusing to provide a decent atmosphere on board the vessel, undermanned, under provisioned, just plain unsanitary and unsafe ships, and we all just put up with all that and do our best to do our jobs. Yeah, I HOPE the MLC 2006 helps the situation but since the ones in the past didn’t do a whole lot, the companies always found ways around, I think they will manage to find ways around this one to and all us seafarers will still be stuck in the same old boat (literally).