Home: Get Ready to Work

I’m home. But only for a short stay. I got home from my FRC (fast rescue craft) class last night. I’m leaving for my course in Leadership (management level) on Sunday. FRC was only 3 days. Leadership is 5 days. All these courses are required (by law) for me to keep my license.

So, I really only have today and tomorrow to catch up on a lot of stuff. I’ve got to go for an eye exam this morning (also required for my license- yearly). I’m going to the dentist tomorrow morning. I need to get a haircut. I need to try and get my computers fixed. I need to see about getting my house exterminated (pretty sure I’ve acquired mice since I’ve been gone- and some sort of LARGER creature that is rampaging around my attic at night).

When I get back from the leadership course (in Baltimore at MITAGS), I’ve got to get my USCG physical done (required yearly so I can keep my license). That entails blood tests I’ve got to get done for my Dr to renew my prescriptions. I’m trying to do that through an online service since it’s MUCH cheaper (and I REFUSE to get sucked in to the Obamacare trap!!)

After I get done with all the medical crap (and “training” crap) I need to do in order to keep my license (without it I am not ALLOWED to work), then I need to try to figure out my tax situation.

Since I am not working for an American company now, they don’t take anything out of my paycheck for taxes. This is the first time I’ve been in this situation. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to pay my own taxes quarterly now. All I know is, I’ve got to get my accountant on it so I don’t get screwed (any more than usual) by the IRS next year.

I’m still in the pool at work so I’m figuring I’ll be due back around Dec 4 (leave Houston Dec 2). That means that in my “month off”, I’ll have had 14 days at home. That’s pretty typical now a days, considering all the required courses and not required (except by the company) “training” we have to take in order to keep working.

How the HELL did it come to this? A free country where most of your time is spent trying to complete government mandates (license to work, TAXES)?  A job at sea once was the ultimate in FREEDOM. You just had to do your job and nothing else mattered. Now, it’s almost the complete opposite.

First of all, if you piss in the jar and it somehow ‘fails’ the test, then you’re OUT, completely and totally. You can not work for ANYONE for a LONG time. You might as well forget about ever working at sea again. What that piss test has to do with your job is totally beyond me, it’s just a bunch of pure BULLSHIT that has tied it to your ability to do your job, but it has become all important. 😦

After you manage to pass that hurdle, of the company deciding that they OWN your time OFF the job as well as on it, then you can try and pass the ‘physical’ hurdle. Some (very few now) companies are happy enough with the required USCG physical (which gets harder and harder every time there is some sort of incident that gets some news coverage).

Most companies now have their OWN standards. They have their OWN doctors they send you to for things like MRI’s and even psychological tests! Here’s an example of what one recently thought was important that I could do: balance on one foot on a trampoline for a couple of minutes. Another thought I needed to be able to climb up and down the stairs for 20 minutes while carrying a weight of 50 lbs (for a company where it’s not allowed to carry weights of over 35 lbs)! Remember, you can’t set off the BP/pulse monitor either while you’re doing all that!!

Then, once you pass all that and you’re actually allowed to show up on the job, you have to complete a ream of paperwork before you can actually START even the simplest job (JSEA, risk assessment, PROMT card, etc). Oh yeah, you have to be dressed to the hilt in all sorts of ‘safety’ gear: steel-toed boots, hard hat, hearing protection, safety glasses, coveralls, gloves, lanyard for your hard hat.

But NO knife! They are ‘prohibited’ as DANGEROUS. WOW! What twisted logic we have to live by offshore.

So, here I am, a person who chose to go to sea for the FREEDOM it once offered, now suffering from an overdose of ‘safety’ which has completely destroyed the freedom. The same thing is happening on shore. All over the country.

What the HELL has happened to America? A country founded by people from all over the world who once valued their FREEDOM above all else? We’ve turned into a country of whiny-baby scaredy cats, willing and able to sue anybody and anything and blame anybody but ourselves, we need to be ‘protected’ from the big bad world and even ourselves. 😦

I wonder is it some sort of disease? Something that causes people to lose their common sense? Or is it some kind of intentional mind control, something put out by ‘our leaders’ to get us to stop thinking for ourselves and just do whatever they tell us, no matter how stupid (no knives, airport strip searches, etc).

My guess would be the second one. 😉


Only 4 Weeks

I’m ‘late’ going to work this time. I’m not exactly sure how that works since I’m still in the ‘pool’. I wonder if I’m going to work for my usual schedule or if I’m only going to be going for 3 weeks.

If I am only going to the rig to fill in for a person who is coming back for his regular schedule, then I will get off in approx 3 weeks. If there is not a regular person here that I am filling in for, then maybe I will be here longer.

I think I need to wait til the weekend is over to email my ‘handler’ in the office. Just like the last couple of ships I’ve worked on here, I get conflicting answers from the different people I ask about it on board.

It’s weird being in ‘the pool”.

On my last ship, they asked me if I preferred it to a regular rig. I told them I thought it would be a good idea to stay in it until I had a chance to complete most of my mandatory training. I thought so because I thought it would be easier to arrange the courses if I didn’t have a set schedule.

At the end of my last trip, I found out that this company figures training time as vacation time and so I now OWE them at least 18 days! I was not very happy to learn that (to put it mildly).

Now I really don’t see any advantage to staying in the pool except that I do still like to go to the different vessels. I always did like to see how the different people do basically the same job differently. I always liked meeting all the different people. I always liked working on the different ships and going to different places.

But, now with the huge issue I had with the people at the airport about my overweight luggage, I’m not sure I want to have to deal with that every time I come and go. Since they count training as vacation time, it seems they’ll always be pushing to send me back to work after 4 weeks no matter what I’ve been doing with my time off the rig.

Well, they already told me that it’s not up to me. It’s not even up to the crews (including the Master or OIM) of the rigs I’ve been working on. The decision of where I’ll be working is up to someone in the office. So, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens and then make MY decisions after that. 🙂

Week in Review: Aberdeen to Angola

I made it to Luanda, Angola this morning. I was happy to find out that they were not sending me directly to work after all. They put me up in a nice hotel for the day so I could get some much needed rest.

It´s really a very nice hotel, but I can´t say much for the surroundings. Actually, I pretty much just passed out once I got to my room. I was really tired from the trip.I´m just not up to staying awake for 24 hours at a time any more. 😉

I was told by the driver this morning that he would be picking me up at 0530 in the morning, but that was not certain. I have been trying to check the email for a message to see if that will be the time for sure or if things will change.

The problem is, the internet does not seem to work very well here. I tried for a while this morning. It was in and out, but I could get a few things done in between the computer dropping offline.

Tonight (so far) it´s been impossible. I had to go down to the business center and work there. I´m trying to get a little work done before dinner and then will go to bed early since it looks like I´ll have to get up at 0330 to get ready for work.

So, it´s been an interesting week so far. I had a nice time in Scotland. The course was better than I expected. I´ve never been down in one of those freefall lifeboats before and yes, it was definitely different.

I hope to hell I never have to get into one of those things for real!

Yes, as Fraser (our instructor) told us, there are advantages to them. The main one is that you can launch and get away from the danger much faster. But OMG, those things are uncomfortable!

interior- freefall lifeboat

interior- freefall lifeboat

Not that the regular lifeboats are at all comfortable themselves. Imagine 60 people stuffed into an 8 x 20 ft (totally enclosed) space. You´re all strapped down in your seatbelts. The boat is rocking and rolling, pitching and heaving. It´s noisy. It´s wet, or at least damp and humid. There´s not a lot of ventilation. It´s either sweltering or freezing, depending on where in the world you´re sailing. If you´re REALLY lucky no one has started puking.

loading up the lifeboat

loading up the lifeboat

Imagine that scenario. The freefall lifeboats are WORSE!

We were riding around in a 9 man boat (Verhoef brand) for the week. There were only 6 of us in the class (plus the instructor), so 7 total in a 9 man boat. The one time we all got in the boat and launched, it was horribly cramped and crowded. I can´t imagine what it would be like on a 100 man boat (UGH). 😦

After we did that one full launch, we launched a few more times with just 3 people in the boat. It made it much better. We all got a chance to be 1st coxswain and then 2nd coxswain.

We practiced driving the boat around the river Dee to get used to its manuevering capabilites (it handles much better than the usual -twinfall- lifeboats).

We spent a couple of days out in the bay. We practiced man overboard drills. We worked with the other (twinfall) lifeboats to practice towing and pacing exercises.

While we were out there, we got to see the dolphins playing all around us. THAT was fantastic! I wish I had better pictures to show you. They were all around us and jumping completley out of the water. I´ve never seen them doing flips on thier own like that. I thought they only did that in the aquariums, but they were having a fine time. It was great to see them every day. 🙂

In the river, we were priviledged to watch a couple of big harbor seals that would come and play right next to our dock. I couldn´t get any pictures of them, they were just too fast. Pretty entertaining to see.

The guys who worked at the facility were happy to see the small salmon hanging around the dock. They said they hadn´t seen so many in a long time. That was nice to hear. The river (Dee) looked pretty clean to me, but they said it was really pretty dirty (compared to historically).

It didn´t get dark til after 10:00 PM, so I was able to get out after class every day and wander around the city. I was really impressed by the history and the beautiful location of the city of Aberdeen.

I wandered around the harbor to the lighthouse at the jetties and spent some time exploring down there and then up along the beach. I went to see the Maritime Museum which was very nice. They had exhibits on the old sailing ships and fishing boats this area was famous for. Then they had some nice stuff on the oil and gas industry which is driving the economy now. I even saw an old DP desk!

DP desk

DP desk

I stopped in and talked to people at the Fishermans Mission and the Seafarers Center. I also stopped in at C-Mars office here, just to see if there was anybody there I knew (nope- but they were nice to me anyway). I met a former fisherman who told me the story of Footdie. I learned all about the different kinds of shortbread from a lady in a shop. People were really friendly and helpful.

I wandered around a couple of old churchyards and parks (churches were closed by the time I got there so I couldn´t go inside, but the stained glass looked pretty impressive even from the outside). I went up to Kings College and talked to a nice man who lived accross the street for quite a while. He showed me a great place to take pictures from his garden pond where the steeple from the church reflected in the water.

Kings College reflecting in the pool

Kings College reflecting in the pool

I wandered up into the biological gardens and then down along the River Don. I was lucky to have some gorgeous weather while I was there. The temperature was perfect, in the 70s all day. It got pretty chilly once the sun went down, so I had to head back since I didn´t have a jacket until my luggage finally showed up. It was time to go to bed by then anyway.

All in all, it was a very nice trip. Now I´ve been re-certified as a lifeboat coxswain and that should be good for another 2 years (depending on who I´m working for). I wouldn´t mind going back to Aberdeen for another course. 😉

Is it Safer to Work Offshore in 2013?

Is it Safer to Work Offshore in 2013?.

Well, I don’t really know. I would like to see some statistics on how it compares to back in say the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Personally, I think its probably a LITTLE better. The companies I’ve been working with are constantly harping on safety. They go on and on til its coming out our ears. But I still hear of people doing really stupid things. Like that fire on the platform back in November last year , due to improper welding operations (http://www.blackelkenergy.com/news/67-explosion-and-fire-on-gulf-platform-occurred-during-welding-contractors-failed-to-follow-standard-safety-practices.html) . I mean, jeeze…

What the hell is it going to take?? I get sick and tired of being treated like a moron when I go to work. The company has to tell me how to get dressed in the morning? REALLY???

I’ve only been working offshore (professionally) since 1977! Having to re-take classes like BST (Basic Safety Training) or Rigpass really gets old. I mean, who forgets how to put on a life jacket??? What’s new in shipboard fire fighting? We have the same classes of fires we’ve always had (except they now label a galley grease fire as “K” for kitchen I guess- trying to make it SEEM like there’s actually something new). We fight them the same way.

I think the way to make things safer offshore is to concentrate on creating a culture of personal responsibility!!! Get people to understand that they can do what they’re going to do but THEY are responsible for their actions. They’ll pay attention if they know THEY are going to pay the price if anything goes wrong.

The fact is that we have all sorts of programs out here that SEEM to encourage safety. Instead, they take the ability to THINK about and then CHOOSE their actions away from people. Take away options from people and you take with it their responsibility. You can only BLAME them then, since you’ve taken away any REAL choices.

It seems to me these companies love to send people to these classes so they can tell the world, “it’s not OUR fault those people got hurt. After all, we sent them to training. They should have known how to do the job properly without getting hurt.” Yeah, like a day long class is really going to teach someone ALL they need to know to work safely out here. I don’t think so!

I’m NOT saying we need to go to any more classes!!! What I AM saying is that once a person goes through those very basic classes, they have only the bare minimum of knowledge. We can and should use the time spent in our weekly drills and safety meetings to train people PAST that bare minimum!

Those of us out here with some experience need to take into consideration that SOME of the people we’re working with are almost totally ignorant! From my perspective, it seems like a lot of the incidents are happening with relatively new people. We need to concentrate our efforts on training THOSE people! We need to keep a good eye on them. We need to take the time to really MENTOR them. We need to be generous with our time and our knowledge and not keep it to ourselves in fear of losing our jobs to the newbies…

It would help a LOT if we were not constantly having the crew size cut and cut and cut some more! OK, this below is referring to shipping and not so much drilling since I don’t know too much about drilling yet (but its probably still relevant)…

A typical ship used to carry a crew of 45-50 men. Now they sail with half that (and LOTS more work to do)! Some COIs (Certificate Of Inspection) will allow only 17 man crew (or less). This is for a 1000 ft long tanker!!! ATBs (tug/barge combination) which can run up to 600-700+ feet long, can be run with less than 10!!!

Check out the REAL results of the investigation into the Exxon Valdez incident. You’ll find that it was actually caused by the fact that the entire crew was exhausted and had NOTHING to do with the Captain at all. He could have been totally sober or drunk as a skunk and it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference.

They passed the 12 hour rule after the Valdez spill to remedy that. There are work hour restrictions in US law and in the STCW. So it applies to pretty much ALL shipping worldwide. That does include all the larger oilfield support vessels. I don’t know how the drilling industry has escaped notice on this but I don’t know of anything similar that they have to abide by (I might just be uninformed on this point- any drillers to comment?).

Ask any sailor around the world how well they follow that rule. I can almost guarantee you they’re being ‘forced’ by their company policies to break it constantly. Of course, company will never admit it, will blame it on the crew if it ever comes up, and will deny they ever had any idea it was happening 😦

Being tired is one of the leading causes of accidents. I would think that would be one very easy solution to vastly improve safety. But of course, it would cost some extra money to hire a few extra hands. Is that gonna happen any time soon???

Safety first??? I don’t think so 😦

Falado of Rhodes Sunk Yesterday in the Vicinity of Iceland

Iceland Review Online: Daily News from Iceland, Current Affairs, Business, Politics, Sports, Culture.

I found this on a discussion in the traditional sail professionals group on http://www.linkedin.com.  I am sad to see yet another tall ship go down. I love these old ships and I’m sorry to see the level of seamanship is nowhere near the traditional skill levels.

I was lucky enough to start out under sail-training with Captain Jespersen of Denmark who was a real traditional sailor. He was sail-training master of the Danish ship Danmark. He was a fantastic teacher. I’ll never forget the time I was sailing on the Ariadne (3- masted schooner- German flag) and the Phoenix (brigantine- Irish flag) as a student with the Oceanics School. I spent a total of about 8 months on those ships and those lessons have sunk into my bones. The lessons I learned then have come in handy many times over the years. Traditional sail takes a long time under “mentors” (or a good bosun!) to learn it properly. I don’t see people getting trained in any useful way today.

Yeah, the companies I work for send you to USCG/IMO (STCW) required BST (Basic Safety Training) now. You MUST go to this class now before you can go to sea on anything other than inland or under 100 GT. IMHO, that class is a total joke. They send you there and then you’re on your own. After all, you’ve been “trained” now. You already know everything you need to know. Yeah, riiiighht.

WOW Conference coming up!

I wanted to get this out there in case anyone was interested and planning to go this year. WOW = Women on the Water. I haven’t had time to check into it much myself yet. At the moment it looks like I’ll be off and so will plan to go. Its going to be Oct 31-Nov 2 at SUNY (Bronx, NY). Here’s the link to the website. Its http://www.sunymaritime.edu/wow

If anyone is interested in going, be sure to contact me. We can be sure to get together at the conference. I went to the one at Texas A & M in Galveston a couple of years ago and had a blast! Come on, a couple hundred SEAFARING women??? You know we had a great time 🙂

PS- men ARE welcome too