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?
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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.

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. 😉

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. 😉

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!

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.

This Is Where I Work

When I work.

This is the kind of ship I’ve been working on most recently. This video was taken on the DS-4. I used to work on the DS-3 and DS-5 and a couple of other sister ships. Sisters, meaning they’re all built to the same basic plan.

These drill ships are technological wonders. They’re very capable and fairly comfortable ships to work on. I would go back in a NY second! I keep hoping the price of oil will go back up. There will be no work for me or anybody else out there until it does. According to reports, there are around a half million people out of work due to the low price of oil.

I read the news every day to see the price of a barrel and how many rigs are working. So far, the price has recovered from around $26/bbl to around $50/bbl (just dropped back down to $47 last few days). The ON SHORE drillers have been taking advantage of the situation and are drilling like crazy!

They have already returned a couple hundred rigs to work. Every time they do, they put downward pressure on the price of a barrel of oil. That only delays offshore drilling from starting up again.

At this point, I’m wondering if we’ll EVER be able to go back to work. it is not cheap to drill for oil offshore. They’re not going to do it at a price of only $50/bbl. The companies that work offshore can’t work without making a profit. That means oil must be over $60/bbl and it has to stabilize there before any of us see steady work again. (IMHO).

I know, most people are happy to get cheap gas, I would be too if I was actually getting it as cheap as it should be with price/bbl so low. And if so many people weren’t out of work because of it.

If I could find some other type of work that was in any way comparable, I would be doing it. There’s nothing like offshore. There’s nothing I’d rather do than be a mariner. I’ll just keep hoping things get better before I’m forced out for good.

Already

Yeah, it’s over. Already! My first real job since I was laid off back in September of 2015 lasted exactly 5 days!

I was hoping it would go for at least a week, every day of work I get now is like a godsend.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go back offshore for a few days, even tho I had to give up the 4 days I was scheduled to work in Houston. Wish I could have done both, but have to take offshore whenever it comes up. There’s just no comparison.

I hope this short job will be a foot in the door for future opportunities there. I know not many people are taking time off for any reason, not if they can help it. But sometimes, like this time, they have to. Maybe I can at least start filling in again when that happens.

Work

Finally! I’m going to work tomorrow! 🙂

It’s only a temp job. Maybe not even a week. But it’s the first real job I’ve had since I went as AB on that delivery job down to Colombia last August.

I’ll be going out as 3rd mate/JDPO (junior dynamic positioning officer) just to relieve someone who had to leave unexpectedly.

I hope, really really hope this is the start of something good!

Blogging

I haven’t been paying as much attention to my blogging as I would like lately. Since I went on that delivery trip to Colombia and was totally cut off from the world (no internet), it seems like I’ve just been trying to catch up.

I haven’t been doing much that would explain my absence. I’ve only had a total of 5 days work (whoo-hoo!). I went to a Nautical Institute seminar and then left for a travel writing workshop in New Orleans for a week. That was fun but kept me super busy.

When I got back I had a room mate move in, so trying to get used to having someone new in the house. I finished my taxes (finally) or at least enough to get them to my accountant before the deadline this coming week. And I finished with everything I needed to do to give my license renewal application to the Coast Guard.

Along with all that crap I pretty much had to do, I also managed to do a few fun things I wanted to do. I got to go out for the last of the Rum Races with Captain Vic on the Laz. I made it to a couple of Campaign for Liberty (political) meet ups. I started painting class again. Went to the inaugural Sail La Vie Dive Bar tour (looking forward to the next one).

Went to see Snowdon last week and the Deepwater Horizon movie Friday (both were good, the DWH was intense!).

I’ve been off the Buzcador for about 6 weeks now. I still haven’t caught up with everything I was cut off from when I went out there for 3 weeks with no internet! I’ve been spending a minimum of 2 hours/day online (usually much more) and still can’t make any progress.

I feel like I should apologize, that I haven’t been spending much time blogging, but I just don’t feel like spending anymore time online. It’s getting to be a real drag.

I’d much prefer to spend my online time blogging and writing, but I’ve been spending it catching up on ‘important’ emails, looking for work and filling out ridiculously long and repetitive online applications (that have nothing to do with the job I’m applying for).

I’m getting to the point where I’m trying to decide should I just say ‘the hell with it all’ and ‘retire’?

Even tho I have no where near enough money saved up to support myself for the (hopefully) 30+ years I’ll have left. Do that, move to somewhere cheap like Mexico and work on my writing, photography, and painting? In hope that somehow I’ll be able to survive?

Maybe one of these days I’ll figure out how to ‘monetize’ my blog. Or someone will like one of my photographs or paintings enough to buy one (for more than a quarter!). Or maybe my book will become a best seller?

Or give up on doing anything with my life, suck it up and take some soul-sucking minimum wage job at McDonalds or Walmart?

I think I don’t really have much of a choice at this point. There’s nothing I can do about the price of oil, so not a thing I can do to go back to a decent job, a job that I care anything about. I’ve already applied to every maritime company in the USA, most of them more than once. Plenty of overseas companies too.

I think, for the sake of my sanity, I’m going to have to ‘retire’.

But I don’t want to. 😦

USCG

I’ll be busy today. I’m heading up to Houston this morning to renew my RADAR certification, then to turn in my application at the US Coast Guard (USCG). I heard about a job lead from a friend yesterday, so I plan to stop by their office and try again (I’ve already sent them an email about the job).

I’m getting more than a little frustrated about the work situation. Having to deal with the USCG so often is getting extremely aggravating. I do not believe that anyone should be forced to beg permission from their government in order to earn a living. No, no one, ever, for ANY job, for ANY reason. Period!

Especially in America which is supposed to be a free country. Which was specifically formed in order to limit the government. Which was not supposed to have any power to do anything like that!

It was never so insane as it has become lately. The USCG has bowed down to the ‘international community’ and has forced US mariners to submit to the regulations of the STCW (standards of training, certification and watch keeping) put out by the IMO (international maritime organization).

Most of the STCW regulations are just plain stupid (IMHO). They are there for absolutely no purpose but to make the regulators feel like they have done something useful, and of course to make money for the ‘training’ operations at the expense of the mariners who basically have no opportunity to say anything about it.

They sell this all by insisting it has something to do with ‘safety’. I don’t believe it does, but even if it did, it certainly does not make up for all the extra BS they put us through for it. SO much time, money and aggravation to each and every mariner!

How can anyone look at our licensing scheme in the past and what we have to deal with now and say it makes any sense? It does not. In any way.

When I started going to sea (seriously) in 1978, I got a mariners document that was good for life. Yes, the officers had to renew every 5 years, but they only had to apply and renew RADAR. That’s it!

Now, all documents must be renewed every 5 years and there is an absolutely ridiculous amount of ‘training’ that needs to be renewed every 5 years as well. That all needs to be done at USCG approved ‘training’ centers. That is all very time consuming and expensive.

Are we any better sailors for it? I can guarantee you the answer to that is NO! Try to compare an AB from 100 years ago, the ones on the windjammers, to an AB today. There is just no comparison. The same goes for the officers.

Those guys had NO formal training and NO licensing either (until they, themselves insisted on it- as usual, in order to keep out the competition).

The improvements in safety since then had to do with improvements in the technology, NOT in the training or licensing of the crew. Any loss of safety has more to do with economics than anything else. Meaning companies cutting down on crew size, maintenance and tight scheduling.

Of course, as usual, the companies will blame anything and everything on the crew. It is always ‘human error’ that is at fault. Never their fault for pushing the ships and crews beyond what would be prudent (or safe).

They talk safety til it’s coming out your ears, but when it starts costing them a few bucks, that all goes right out the window! I’ve seen very few companies (in over 40 years at sea) that actually follow through. I can’t count the times I’ve been told “if you won’t do it we’ll just find someone who will”. It’s certainly not just happening to me!

How many mariners are able to walk off the job when that situation comes up? Not many.

Until that changes, all the ‘training’ in the world is not going to help anything much.

Just put more and more of us out of work, unable to pay for the ‘training’ we need in order to even try to find a job.

More and more companies are insisting on more and more ‘training’, more certificates- before they’ll even consider talking to you. For instance, I’ve been trying to work worldwide. The European companies want you to have something called BOSIET, which is exactly the same thing as what employers here insist on called BST + HUET.

The only difference is about an hours worth of ‘training’ on something called a ‘re-breather’. There is no ‘gap-closing’ course. So, I can not apply for any of those jobs unless I waste another entire week and spend a few thousand dollars to take the BOSIET course!

I’ve been out of work since last September. I can’t afford to take any more classes. Luckily, I’ve already taken the latest newly required classes (Leadership and Management and ECDIS). I only have to renew my RADAR certification, which I plan to do today.

Why do we have to renew this stuff (or even take a course ashore in the first place)? There really is no reason other than to ensure a fine flow of mariners to the training centers. These classes are all about things we either do every day (RADAR, BST), or won’t make any difference to anything anyway (leadership).

No one ever seems to take into account the mariners. The people who are the actual experts on the subject at hand. The people who’ve actually been forced into complying with these new requirements. It’s all done in our name, but we’re never asked our opinions, we never have anything to say about any of it!

We have all taken these jobs for certain reasons. One of the biggest reasons is for the time off. We spend weeks, months, more (some spend years), at sea. Working 24/7 without a break. We hardly even get shore leave any more. We are supposed to be able to come home and take a well deserved break!

Not any more. That time off has been whittled away, more and more, by so called ‘training’. Training that is supposed to be so all-fired important that it’s worth taking up weeks or months of our well earned and deserved time off (without any compensation for the loss). But that training is the exact same thing we do onboard!

If it’s so damned important, why can’t the companies spend the money to ensure their people are trained? Especially when so many of them absolutely refuse to accept anyone else’s ‘training’ even when it’s exactly the same (except for the name)! Most of it is stuff anyone who’s spent even a week working offshore will know by heart!

I keep wondering what’s going to happen when shipping picks up again? There are so many of us out of work. Hundred of thousands around the world, and that’s just for the oilfield, not even counting deep sea shipping! How many can afford to take the necessary training to be ABLE to go back to work when the jobs start opening up again?

We need to have 150 days on a vessel in the last 5 years. We ALSO now need to re-take quite a few courses in a certain time frame before our papers need to be renewed (mostly a year). How many jobs ashore will give you the time off or pay you enough so that you can renew those classes? I can tell you right now the answer to that question- NONE!

IMHO, the STCW is about nothing more than helping the shipowners replace “expensive” American/European/Australian mariners with cheaper sailors from places like the Philippines. They’re now able to say, “they all have the exact same training” (according to the STCW), so why not hire an entire crew of Philippinos for the price of 1 American? That is exactly what they have been doing since the STCW came into force. 😦

I hate to think I’m going to be forced to retire. I still love working at sea. But I can see the end coming and it’s not pretty for American mariners. 😦

One Day

I worked yesterday. One day. That’s it for the month. I got a total of 4 days for July. I’m thankful, but somehow that’s just not enough.

I was reading the latest Workboat Magazine. I saw an ad for cooks and galley hands and it actually got my hopes up. Until I called this afternoon and they told me they weren’t really looking for anyone. They got a special deal on ads, so they were running them every month regardless of not needing anyone. 😦

I never imagined that I would ever again be so thrilled at the prospect of a job as a galley hand! I thought those days were long gone. After all the time, effort and money I’ve invested in myself to earn a master mariners license and I’m back to the position of jumping at any chance to be a galley hand, and thrilled for the opportunity. How sad.

It seems to have become standard practice for companies these days to advertise constantly when they don’t want to hire anybody. Then most of them refuse to respond in any way. I was lucky today to reach a company that actually answered the phone with a human being! It’s much better to be told the truth, rather than hanging on hope when there’s really nothing there to hope for.

I keep wondering what society will be like when such large numbers of people are put out of work. So many people are now being replaced by robots. What are we all going to do? It’s bad enough already when people who used to make good money have lost those jobs to overseas workers and have to work for minimum wage instead. They can’t afford to buy anything American made anymore, so even more jobs are shipped overseas.

People say it’s like back in the days when cars replaced the horse and buggy. What happened to the people that made horse whips? Or swept up the horse shit? I understand why they bring up that comparison, but I don’t think it’s really the same situation.

First of all, we had a much smaller population (in the US and worldwide). Second of all, we were not so ‘globalized’ back then. Americans were not all competing against foreigners who could do the work so much cheaper- transportation and communication systems were not up to the job. Third, the pace of change is so much faster. A person used to be able to learn a trade and spend decades, if not a lifetime, doing one thing. Not any more.

How many skills can one learn in a lifetime? How good can you get at a skill if you’re forced to learn another every couple of years? How can you afford to constantly re-educate yourself, especially when everything now requires specialized, expensive ‘training’ and a piece of paper?

Can this country survive when the vast majority of us are either unemployed or barely surviving on minimum wage jobs?

Maybe, but I’m not sure I want to see it.

Looking Forward to Monday Morning!

Who’s looking forward to Monday morning?

I am!

Thank god I’m going to work tomorrow morning! I’m scheduled for a grand total of 3 days of work this month and hope to hell I get all 3!

I’m not eligible for any unemployment assistance, even tho I’ve paid into it for over 40 years. Now, when I really need it, I can’t get it, simply because my last job was with a foreign company (for a year and a half). A job I took mostly in order to get ‘insurance’ which is now mandatory according to ‘Obamacare’.

So, now that I’m laid off, I can’t qualify for any of the programs I’ve been supporting for over 40 years. And people wonder why so many Americans are pissed off?!

So, I’m very thankful I can get ANY work at this point. It’s not much, but it’ll pay the gas to get to and fro, it might even take care of the electric bill (tho it’s summertime now and I seriously doubt that- AC running 24/7!).

I know most people are happy to see the gas prices so low (not nearly as low as they should be), but since my job is tied to the price of oil, I’ve been wishing it higher for months now. It’s been creeping up slowly, and I’ve heard that some land rigs have been starting up again.

Offshore drilling needs a stable price and it needs to be higher than where it is now. I’d guess around $80/bbl would start work up again. I’ve been working in the offshore oilfields for the last few years. Simply because that’s where all the work was.

I’ve been trying to find work on ANY kind of vessel since I’ve been laid off, but all the available openings have already been taken by people laid off before I was. It doesn’t help at all that the US Coast Guard keeps restricting our licenses so that we can only work on very specific types of vessels.

Basically, the rules we have to work by now state that if you don’t have so much time on 1 type within the last 5 years, you can’t work on that type of vessel any more, ever. At least not until you go through a time consuming, expensive, ‘training’ rigamarole. They treat you like you’ve never been on a boat a day in your life before! It doesn’t matter at all if you’ve previously spent 20+ years on one type of boat, say a towboat, and then you went fishing for 5 years. Doesn’t matter, you start from scratch to go back on a towboat!

Companies just refuse to hire you if you don’t have the exact, specific, ‘training’ and certificates they insist on. Even tho it would take less than a week of time onboard to re-qualify. Nope, they won’t let you on til you have it already. Catch-22 in action.

My original license said “Freight & Towing”. Since I haven’t worked on a towboat in the last 5 years, my license now says “Steam & Motor” and I’m not qualified to work on a towboat. Not until I get a TOAR. That takes a minimum of 30 days onboard a towing vessel. There is VERY little in that assessment that a licensed mariner isn’t already completely proficient in. The only items are those specific to a tug and tow (about 10 things on the list).

All the towing companies I’ve talked to since I’ve been laid off want me to spend at least 2-3 YEARS on deck before even considering upgrading me to tankerman (I job which I previously worked for over 13 yrs). I need 2 transfers to get back that license (tankerman PIC), but without it, I can’t get onboard a vessel to get those 2 transfers. See what I mean?

Smaller and smaller boxes we’re shoved into. Is it any wonder they’re having a hard time finding qualified mariners? (They say this, yet hundreds of thousands of us looking for work around the world).

What a paradox!

All I know at this point is that I’m very happy to be going to work in the morning for a change.

Anybody else been out of work for a long time? How did you survive it?

A to Z: Water

Today’s post for the A to Z challenge is: water.

It seems an appropriate subject. I’ve spent almost my entire life in, on and around the water.

Of course I understand (in a back of the mind sort of way) how vitally important water is in so many ways. All life on earth (and maybe space too) depends on water. Without it nothing living can survive for long. But I don’t think of it that way most of the time.

I usually think of it as a necessary ingredient for me to work (and sometimes play). As a merchant marine, I spend my life at sea. I started out working on local fishing boats when I was very young, moved up to the party boats, back to commercial fishing. I moved to Texas to go to school and earn my AB and QMED certificates from the USCG since it was so hard for women to find work offshore back then.

Since then, I’ve worked my way up over the years on crew boats, production boats, standby boats, supply boats, tankers, trawlers, ROV support vessels, dive boats, construction boats, pipe layers, semi submersibles and drillships. Whew!

Thats a lot of years at sea! I only count the 39 years since starting as a cadet in 1977. I still love it and can’t wait for a chance to get back out there. 🙂

How do you think of water? Do you work on/with it? Play on/with it?

Underway

I’ve been pretty busy for the last few days. We got on the ship and left pretty quickly. I really wish we could have stayed a little longer. It was a beautiful little island. Here’s a photo I took from the bridge so you can see what I mean.

Port Louis, Mauritius

Port Louis, Mauritius

I’ll post more pictures later, as soon as I can get caught up with everything here at work. I still gotta admit, no matter how much things have changed for the worse out here, there’s still nothing to compare to the view from my ‘office’ windows. 🙂

Achievement: Master Any Gross Tons

Here’s my entry for the Daily Posts’ Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement challenge.

Master Unlimited license from the US Coast Guard

Master Unlimited license from the US Coast Guard

It might not seem like such a big deal just from looking at it (the old style was much more impressive), but it took me over 30 years of steadily working towards my goal to get one. I admit, it’s not usually THAT hard to get. It doesn’t take most people that long to get one (if it did, they wouldn’t be able to run all the ships we have running around the world).

This license shows the world that I am capable of running ANY ship, anywhere in the world (or at least that’s what it did mean before they started up with the new rules, there are some few restrictions now).

I know the usual path is for a person to go to one of our maritime universities. You can go to one of those schools and come out in 4 years with a bachelors degree AND a maritime license.

If you have the means to go to a 4 year university like that, you will come out with a 3rd mate license (or 3rd assistant engineer) and then you only need a year of sea time to get a 2nd mates license. One more year of sea time and you can get your Chief Mates license (along with a test). One year sailing as Chief Mate and you can get your Unlimited Masters license. So, you can become an Unlimited Master in only about 10 years, or even less if you’re lucky with finding the right kind of work.

That is the way MOST people get their license. I was not able to do it that way. First of all, I couldn’t afford to go to school for 4 years. I had to work. You can’t work offshore AND go to school. It’s really hard to be in 2 places at the same time!

Some people are able to go to Kings Point, the US Merchant Marine Academy. If you can get into that school, its FREE! I did try, but I was too fat to pass their physical. Then I tried to get in the Navy. Same problem- too fat.

So, I went to a 2 year program instead. I moved to Texas to go to the Ocean Marine Technology program at Brazosport College. It was a 2 year program that when you finished you would get an Associates Degree in Ocean Marine Technology AND both an AB (able body seaman) and a QMED (qualified member of the engine department).

It took me 5 years to finish, (and to my regret I never tested for the QMED so I can’t work in the engine department any more).

When I got out, I started working in the offshore oil field. I worked my way up from ordinary seaman, to able body seaman, to 1000 ton mate, to 1600 ton captain.

I started the OMT program in 1978. I was able to work my way up to 1600 ton master by 1986. It was NOT easy. I had a couple of strikes against me from the start. One, I was female and things were VERY hard for women trying to work offshore in those days. Two, I was fat. The job description is ABLE BODY seaman. Most people did (and some still do) discriminate against me for both of those reasons.

When I got my 1600 ton masters license from the Coast Guard, they gave me an unlimited 2nd mates license along with it. Like an IDIOT I gave it back to them! I had not asked for that license, simply because I didn’t feel completely confident in my ability to do that job. I didn’t want to be thrown into a situation where I might screw up and hurt somebody.

The Coast Guard officer who had just given me my license was shocked at my decision. Apparently no one else had ever given back their license they had earned before. But I was told that I could come back and get it at any time, whenever I wanted it.

BIG MISTAKE! The USCG changed the rules re: licensing without telling me (or anybody else). That was against their own rules, they are required to publicize it any time they want to change the rules, to prevent just exactly what happened to me!

When I did feel confident of my skills to run the bridge of a large ship, I went back to the USCG to ask for the 2nd mates license I should have already had. They informed me then that they had changed the rules and I could not have it. I would have to stop sailing as master/mate and go back down the ladder to sailing as AB in order to get a THIRD mates license!

WTF??!! I would have to go 2 steps down the ladder to earn again what I was already owed! I would have to work for a minimum of 3 years as AB to get that license back! So, I sucked it up and went and found a job as an AB on a ship large enough that it would count towards getting back that 2nd mates license I had already earned.

I was lucky to get a job with SeaRiver on their tankers. I spent a few years running up the West Coast to Alaska. I really enjoyed the job and they helped me get my third mates license. The only problem with them was, they told me they would NEVER promote me to third mate due to the fact that I was an “alcoholic”.

WTF??!! Yeah, I had a DWI, way back in 1982. When I asked for a promotion it was 1998 or so. Yeah, they consider you PERMANENTLY an alcoholic if you’ve EVER had any problem with it. WOW!

Considering their experience with the Exxon Valdez and the fact that they threw Captain Hazlewood under the bus to get the focus off of their company POLICY (which REALLY caused the accident), I can totally understand their reasoning. So I just quit. People told me I should have sued them over that, but it really wasn’t worth arguing with them about it to me (and I would have had to win millions since for sure I would have been black-balled).

For some reason, I decided to listen to my grandmother and go back to school. I had a bunch of money saved up. It was gone in 2 years. I had to go back to work. I took a job with Coastal Tankships as 3rd mate. I asked them in the interview if they had any problems with me being ‘an alcoholic” due to my long ago arrest for DWI. They laughed and basically welcomed me on board. 🙂

I had a great time working for Coastal as 3rd mate. I had some really great ABs that helped me learn how to be a good Third mate. I would have stayed there forever. But Coastal sold out to El Paso and they scrapped all their ships. 😦

I had seen the writing on the wall since the buy-out and had already applied to Oceaneering. It took them over 6 months to actually hire me. It worked out well, since it gave me the time I needed to study and pass my Second mate exam. Talk about STRESS!

I passed the tests and got my Second mates license in January 2002. On February 1, 2002 the STCW 95 amendments went into effect. Whew! In by the skin of my teeth!! I had been hearing rumors of this huge change in the rules, but nobody had any real knowledge of what was going on. Even the USCG, who would be in charge of enforcing these new rules had NO idea when I asked them about it in November 2001 when I was applying to take the Second mates exam.

The problem (again) was that they didn’t notify anyone of what the rules were or how they would affect us. It is a rule that they HAVE to do that. They didn’t. So, I got ROYALLY SCREWED (again)!

I should have been able to simply get my 1 years sea time as second mate and then sit for my Chief Mates license. Since they changed the rules (again), I would now be forced to (re)take a dozen classes (each of which cost a minimum of $1000).

So, yes, I TRIED to protest. I wrote to everyone from the local USCG office to the President. No one was willing to consider my arguments (the fact that they did not follow their own rules, the fact that I had ALREADY taken each and every one of the required classes). All I got from any of them was that the USCG thought the rules were the rules and had to be followed (never mind the fact that THEY broke the rules)!

In the meantime, while I was trying to protest, I started taking the courses whenever I had both the time and the money together. It took me over 7 years and $50,000 (not counting the lost income I should have already been earning) to complete the courses so that I could apply to test for my Chief mates license!

I FINALLY got it and then had to get a minimum of 6 months sea time sailing AS CHIEF MATE. It was really hard to find a position as chief mate and so I did just get the bare minimum. I was able to use a full year sea time as Second mate to fulfill the requirements for Master.

I got my Masters unlimited license in December 2011. I was SO happy. I could hardly wait to get outside the building and shout YEAH! FINALLY GOT IT!!

If you click on the link, you can see what these license USED to look like.

printcert.pdf

Rambling On: Crew Change, Korea, and the Frontier Discoverer

I made it to the airport! I was only out a short time this trip, but going home still feels as good as ever. I was out on the Deepwater Pathfinder. It was a pretty good hitch, even if it was shorter than usual.

I was a little frustrated over the weekend with not being able to get a flight out of New Orleans til early evening. Hard to believe there wasn’t an available flight til almost 1800!

Turns out there is a big golf tournament going on in Houston and all the flights are booked solid.

I was lucky to get a flight at all!

Really, it worked out that I was on the late flight since the weather was foggy with a cold front between us and the heliport. I didn’t get to the airport til almost 1300. At least I wasn’t panicking about missing my flight. 😉 It all worked out in the end.

So, I should be able to catch up a little bit here over the next few days and get ready for my trip to Korea. It’s only about a week away, YEAH!

I really have no idea what to do there other than the travel writing/photography workshop I’m going to Seoul for. I haven’t had time or internet availability to do any research. Anybody have any suggestions? I have a couple of weeks before the class and a week after.

I was thinking I might go down to Busan to visit the company I used to work with when I was on the tuna boat. The new captain on the ship I just got off mentioned that they have a good maritime university in Busan. That sounds like it might be worth checking into.

I’m hoping to go see an old friend I used to work with at Oceaneering. He’s an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) mechanic. When they brought our boat to the Gulf of Mexico to work, he was able to get a transfer to Korea and has been working there ever since.

I would have LOVED to do that too, but Oceaneering only had one vessel over 1600 tons and so they didn’t have any other jobs to offer me. Being a ships officer/DPO doesn’t make for an easy job transfer when there isn’t any other ship. I felt I had no other option but to leave at the first opportunity.

Too bad, they sent the ship out of the Gulf only a couple of months later. When I found out, I was sad I didn’t stay longer. The job I took instead turned into a disaster and I didn’t even stay for the whole trip. 😦

I hated to quit that job. It sounded so perfect when I decided to take it! I had never really been interested in drilling since it always seemed so BORING. Sit in one spot for months on end, never moving, never really doing much ‘SAILING’.

But this one seemed to be a great option. It was supposed to work in Alaska in the summer and Australia in the winter. I would actually get to do quite a bit of sailing. 🙂

But when I got to the ship, I felt a little queasy. Not because I was seasick!

The ship was in bad shape. It was old. It was rusty. It had issues. LOTS of issues!

It was basically an old ship (built 1966!!) that they had cleared off the topsides, then stuck a new house and a drilling rig on top of it. It had not been taken care of properly. I was not comfortable with it at all.  Bad news. 😦

I’m not any sort of safety nazi, not by a long shot, but I was really concerned about the condition of that ship and the lack of concern for all of the ordinary things we seamen look out for.

I stayed on there as long as I could, hoping that things would improve. I finally had to leave after only 3 weeks. I couldn’t stick around knowing the problems that were bound to come up. No job is worth my license I’ve worked so long and hard to earn, or my life! This one was seriously putting both at risk.

I couldn’t figure out WHY they would want to bring an old piece of sh*t like that up to work in the pristine waters of Alaska, KNOWING Greenpeace would be all over them.

Turns out, they DID have all kinds of problems on the trip to Alaska and since. They’re presently back in Asia in the shipyard (again) and all plans for Alaskan drilling on hold (again).

I wonder if that was the plan all along? If they had a nice, new, fully functioning rig would there have been such an outcry? Would there have been so many problems? Would the oil companies all have put off their plans to follow the success of this adventure in Alaska?

I don’t know, but I think if they had a better ship/rig, they would be drilling by now instead of still spending a fortune in the shipyard. Was all this a case of trying to save a few bucks by using old, worn out equipment? If so, they sure messed up on THAT decision!

Is she, or isn't she aground? I'm sure glad I got off when I did!

Is she, or isn’t she aground? I’m sure glad I got off when I did!