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.

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

Buzcador Breaks Free!

We finally made it to sea!

It only took us about a day extra to meander our way out through the Louisiana bayous. Instead of heading straight out down the Atchafalaya River like we planned, we had to backtrack to find a way out where we wouldn’t keep running aground.

#AHTS #Buzcador underway in #Atchafalaya River

We headed back up the Atchafalaya, passed through Bayou Chene, took the ICW to the Houma Navigation Canal and made it to the sea buoy at Cat Island Pass around 2200 our second day of the voyage.

We scrambled back aboard the Buzcador at the buoy and thanked our trusty tugs Ms Edmay and Mr Nicolas. We finally got underway under our own power for the first time. It was a beautiful night as we made our way through the offshore oilfields, heading almost due South. The stars were bright, the seas were calm and we were making decent time. Nights like that are why I’m always ready to go sailing again. 🙂

The night sky is so awesome far out to sea! There’s really nothing to compare.

I don’t know why I was expecting to see more traffic. Shipping has been dead– at least in the Gulf of Mexico- where so much shipping is related to oil. Since the price of oil dropped like a rock- from over $100 to mid $20’s- a year ago. Hundreds of Gulf boats have been stacked. It happened too quickly for any reaction but huge layoffs. I’ve heard there’ve been more than a half million people laid off in the oil fields already (and still nothing but bad news).

Even passing through the Yucatan Channel and further South, we saw very few ships. With the opening of the new Panama Canal, I expected to see lots of big container ships passing by. I thought we’d see tons of local freighters and fishing boats once we got past Cuba and into the Caribbean Sea. But I never saw much of anything till the approach to Cartagena. Even then, traffic was very light compared to normal.

#chart showing progress of the #AHTS #Buzcador

We spent a full 10 days underway- more than twice as long as expected. We had some problems with the ship. Nothing really unexpected. The Buzcador had been cold stacked for years before we were brought aboard. Mechanics had been working frantically for weeks to get everything done so we could deliver her to her new owners.

Nothing was done that didn’t ‘need’ to be done. IMHO we were cutting it close, but after 9+ months without a real job, I was ready to take a few chances in order to earn a decent paycheck. Sure, I was happy as hell to get an AB job! A captains license doesn’t mean shit when you can’t find a boat!

Our engines worked fine for the first day or so. After that, we had to baby them a bit. The port shaft bearing was overheating and the starboard generator had problems with the oil pressure. We cut our RPMs down and made about 6 knots (close to half speed). The weather didn’t help much either.

It started kicking up before we reached Cuba and never let up. The mainmast shook so bad when we hit a heavy sea, we wondered when it was going to come crashing through the wheelhouse on us. Part of it had already fallen off when the other AB went up to change the masthead light before we left.

#mainmast of the #AHTS #Buzcador

mainmast with #backscratcher hanging off

We sprung a couple of leaks around the ship and occasionally more pieces would fall off. Most of the outside lights around the house were falling off and full of water. Good thing we didn’t need to turn them on. 😉

The AC system for the house leaked. It got so bad that I would scoop up the water with a dust pan every time I went by. A couple of days like that and it got worse all the sudden. The whole room was awash. We were dumping 4-5 5 gallon buckets every couple of hours! Marvin the OS (ordinary seaman) finally got a chance to take a look at it and sent the water somewhere other than inside the AC room.

The pictures don’t look so bad, but we had over 8′ seas for most of the trip, over 10′ for a day or 2. We were bouncing around like a cork (which didn’t help our speed either). The weather was squally most of the way and pretty much overcast after the first couple of days. I never really got to see the stars again once the moon grew full.

sun breaking out behind the clouds on a rough day at sea

It was getting to the point where we were starting to worry about our food, fuel, water supplies. This entire trip was only supposed to take about 6 days (I wound up spending 21 days aboard). We were also worried about catching our flights home.

‘Starvin’ Marvin’ and Noel the mate, had a fishing line out. Marvin cooked us up a couple of nice fish dinners. We had a dorado (dolphin/mahi-mahi) one night, a tuna the next, and a barracuda one day that no one would eat but him.

We actually did just fine. We didn’t run out of much of anything (just laundry soap and jelly -for the PBJ’s). We had plenty of beans and rice every day thanks to Marvin. I helped cook a couple of times and so did the Chief Engineer ‘Middle Aged Mutant Ninja Turtle’. (Captain Todd gave us all nicknames within a couple of days- I was ‘Jilligan’- like from Gilligans Island). 🙂

#ships crew, #engineers

Sing-Sing, Chief Middle Aged Mutant Ninja Turtle & Starvin’ Marvin

We were able to increase our speed after a couple of days. The engine crew was sure busy that trip! Chief Engineer (Ninja Turtle), client rep (Colombia) and oiler (Sing-Sing) spent most of their time down in the super hot and noisy engine room, trying to keep us going.

Kudos to them for working so hard! It seems there was always something going on down there. I’d make my rounds at night, go down there to check up on them and they were always in the engine room, checking the bilges, checking the bearings, checking the temperatures and pressures. Always having to fix something.

#night sky at #sea, #full moon

I spent most of my time up at night, as lookout. I was night AB (able body seaman). I worked from 1800-0600 every night once we got underway. Sid the Sloth was the day AB, he relieved me in the mornings (below right).

It was actually a nice change. Capt Todd (above left) was on from 1000-2200 and Noel the mate was on from 2200-1000 (tho it seemed he never slept and was always on the bridge). Between rounds I would talk to them about previous ships, ports and people we’d worked with. Telling sea stories is another favorite activity of mine. 😉

Since this was just a delivery job, we weren’t really concerned with all the usual things we’d be doing to take care of the ship. For instance, as AB, normally I’d be spending all day chipping and painting, cleaning and greasing, etc. This time, I spent almost all of my time as lookout on the bridge. I tried to help in the galley when I got a chance, cooked a couple of times, and cleaned up the house when it got too bad.

Still, we were glad to reach Colombia. I went to bed before we got the pilot, when I woke up, we were all fast in Cartagena.

More later.

A to Z: USCG

Today’s post for the A to Z challenge is: USCG (United States Coast Guard).

As an American merchant mariner, I have to say I have a love-hate relationship with the USCG. They are the government agency I have to deal with the most in my life at sea.

They do a lot of good things. They protect our waterways, conduct vessel inspections, enforce the safety regulations. They license the people who work on the water. Their search and rescue operations are absolutely heroic. I am relieved to know they’re out there and ready to help if I ever need them.

I do have a lot of issues with them in some other areas, mostly to do with licensing of mariners. I know they’re ‘only doing their job’ and following the rules. But those rules are pretty damned complicated and a lot of them are up for differing interpretations.

As a mariner, I can not work without getting some sort of license from the USCG. In other words, beg permission from the federal government in order to earn a living. Yes, I really do have problems with that.

Besides the philosophical objections, I don’t really think it’s at all necessary to make it as difficult and complicated as it is. Not just that earning the license is difficult (it is), but that the rule making process is so long, drawn out and what comes out at the end is something that almost always makes life more difficult (and expensive) for the mariner just trying to earn a living. We have no clout in Washington DC where the rules are made. 😦

That’s not all due to the Coast Guard, in fact most of it is simply due to how the political system works (or not) in the US today. Rules are proposed, dozens of different stakeholders make changes and what comes out is a twisted mess of spaghetti that almost never helps the mariners who are the ones who have to deal with it. 😦

A to Z: Sailing

Today’s post for the A to Z Challenge is on sailing.

I’ve been a sailor since I was a kid. How about you?

I grew up on the beach in Florida. At my dads house, the backyard ended at the bay. He kept his big old schooner at the dock right there. I had my own little Sea Snark sailing dingy.

I had so much fun with that boat growing up! I would go out by myself, just puttering around. I might take a friend or two. It was always a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I went to school on a couple of large, traditional sailing ships. I went to a high school that also included a sail training program along with cultural studies, languages and international travel.

I decided while I was there that I wanted to be a ship captain! I wanted to sail around the world and get paid for it! I’m still trying to do that.

Over the years, I’ve managed to find work at sea until being laid off recently when the price of oil hit the skids. It hasn’t been on sailboats very often.

I still go out on those for fun tho. 😉

A to Z: International Living

Today’s post for the A to Z Challenge is International Living (IL). It’s a magazine that I’ve been subscribing to for around 30 years (I love it- it’s so inspiring!).

I’ve always loved to travel. Even as a baby, living in a cabover camper on the back of dad’s pickup truck. When I got the chance to sail around the world on a couple of traditional sailing ships in high school I was hooked.

Schooner Ariadne

Schooner Ariadne

I wanted to sail around the world and get paid for it! Hopefully I could satisfy my wanderlust that way.

I have been able to do some traveling by sea, through my work as a professional mariner over the last 30+ years. But not nearly enough.

I want to move overseas. Permanently.

International Living has dozens of articles every month describing how others (mostly from US and Canada) have been able to make the move. It gives me all kinds of ideas. Sometimes I actually hurt over wanting it so bad.

IL publishes stories about people who’ve moved overseas and retired, bought property, started businesses (all kinds). People write about how much easier it is to do all of those things in places where the cost of living is so much lower and the bureaucracy is less burdensome (usually). They all mention how much less stress there is and how they’re able to really enjoy day to day life for a change.

I’ve just never felt that I could make it work. That I personally had the skills (and/or money) to be able to last for months, years, decades in foreign lands without being able to work (legally). Yes, I’m sure I could probably find some kind of under the table work (I’ve done it before), but I’m much more cautious now than I was at 16. I don’t want to worry about being deported  and shipped back ‘home’. 😦

I don’t feel comfortable with just dropping everything and leaving. With not having any money. Money is freedom in my mind. It allows for options. I’m not sure I want to travel as a backpacker, staying in hostels, etc. (in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t). I want to be sure I can at least be safe. I want to be able to move immediately if things start going wrong.

Then again, things here at home are not going very well, in fact it’s becoming unbearable. The more time I spend at home, not working, the more time I have to think. The more time to watch what’s going on in the news, etc. I don’t think things here are going to get any better. I feel like I need to get out while I still can.

I have been trying to follow some of the suggestions in IL for years. Things like find some source of independent income, multiple income sources, learn useful skills, find portable ‘jobs’, etc.

I’ve gone to some of their events over the years. Retire Overseas conferencesFund Your Life conferences, travel writing and photography courses, etc. I’ve gathered up a lot of great information and met some really cool people, but still haven’t managed to do much to actually make a move. 😦

I have been buying and renovating property for rental income since 2001. At this point, they mostly pay for themselves. There is only one that still needs supplemental income from my job. Since I have not been able to find work for the last 6+ months, I’ve had to put that one up for sale. I just can’t afford it if I’m not able to find work. Once that one is sold, I should be able to live on savings and rental income for at least a couple of years.

NOT the one I’m selling!

I’m thinking this would be the best time for me to move.

I have no job, I have nothing tying me down. I’ll have enough cash to live on for a couple of years when my house is sold. I even have a ‘useful skill’ now, since I just got certified to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL).

The only thing holding me back now is FEAR.

Now how to get rid of that (along with all the stuff I’ll need to pack up and get rid of so I can leave my house to the renters)?

A to Z: DPO

I’ve been posting in the A to Z Challenge the last few days. I missed out yesterday on the post for D. I was just too busy. I’m trying to catch up today. I actually wrote one earlier today (Dreamstime). I can’t believe I didn’t immediately think to post on this instead.

I’ve been working as a Dynamic Positioning Officer (DPO) since 2002. Or, I was, until I got laid off along with so many others who work(ed) in the oilfield. My last job was as DPO on a drillship like the one in the picture below. I haven’t heard of any work since last October. I heard over a half million oilfield workers laid off world-wide a couple of months ago and still seeing more lay-offs in the news daily. 😦

Ocean Rig Apollo drillship

I’m guessing that unless you or someone you know works in the oilfield, you’re probably pretty happy with the low price of oil. I would be too, if my job and so many others weren’t so dependent on it.

I’ve been working at sea since 1977, when I went off to school. I sailed as a cadet on a couple of large traditional sailing ships. I was hooked and wanted to continue that lifestyle forever.

But the American Merchant Marine has been shrinking for decades. We have been globalized and most ships are no longer operated by Americans. Pretty much the only place to work has been related to the oil industry. Either tankers, ATBs, or some type of support vessel working directly in the oilfield.

DSV Global Orion

DSV Global Orion

I worked as an AB on tankers for about 10 years in the 90’s. I moved up to third officer and then my company sold out, scrapped all their ships and laid us all off. I was very lucky to find a job on a DP vessel at that point (before the requirements got so strict that they kept almost everyone from becoming certified).

I’ve been fairly happy sailing as DPO since then. I worked my way up from third officer to master. I sailed mostly as second officer/senior DPO. I really enjoyed the job most of the time.

A DPO’s job is to operate the DP system onboard a vessel. Sounds simple, right? Most companies would agree. Plenty of them seriously think any monkey could do it. Sorry, but it’s not.

No, it’s not ‘rocket science’, but it’s not all that simple either.

First of all, most clients ask for a licensed officer to run the desk (they would always be required on the bridge anyway). Requirements changing to reflect that now too. It is not easy at all to become a licensed ships officer. There are a few different ways to go about it. You can either take the easy way and go to school (if you can afford it), or you can work your way “up the hawsepipe” (the hole in the ships bow where the anchor chain comes aboard).

It takes at least 4 years at a maritime academy to earn your third officers license. There is also a requirement for sea time. Then there is the US Coast Guard exam. You have to pass the Rules of the Road section with a 90% score. No, it’s not at all like the one for driving on land! The other sections are a tiny little bit easier, but you still have to get over 80% on most.

Then there are all the new ‘assessments’ added since the STCW came into effect. They are required for both academy grads and hawsepipers.

To work your way up the hawsepipe, you will probably spend much more time to get that license. You will spend quite a bit of cash to get those assessments signed off. But at least you’re able to work and earn some money along the way. You can still study on your own to pass the US Coast Guard exams.

So, after you get your US Coast Guard license as Third Officer, then you can start the process of getting your DP certificate. First you have to take an ‘induction’ class. That only takes a week and a couple thousand dollars.

The hard part is: you have to get onboard a DP vessel to get your log book signed off before you’re allowed into the ‘simulator’ class. Since most companies have cut crew levels to the bone (even before the latest crisis), they do not want to take anyone onboard who’s not fully capable and qualified (licensed) to do the job. This makes it almost impossible for any prospective DPO to get certified.

Those that do get lucky (and that is what it takes- LUCK), go on to take their simulator course. After that, they’ll need at least a couple more months onboard as a ‘trainee’ DPO (so still facing major hurdles in getting that position onboard any vessel).

If they finally manage to make it through the training stage (before the allotted time runs out), then they were in high demand (up until last year).

They would be in charge of keeping the vessel safe and steady in position for it to do the work it was hired to do. They controlled the computers that controlled the vessel. Keeping a drillship positioned over the well, or a dive boat over the top of the divers, or a pipe layer on the right track while they laid down the pipe.

These jobs might sound easy to some, but they are actually working in some pretty exact tolerances. For instance, a drillship in shallow water (<500 ft) might only have a watch circle of 9 meters. That means that the DPOs must keep that 6-800 ft ship’s moon pool inside a circle with a diameter of less than 30 ft. In ALL conditions. All the while contending with helicopter traffic, supply boats wanting to come alongside, stability issues, permits, phone calls, pages, etc.

It’s very important for DPOs to know the weather, and how their vessel will react to differing conditions. Storm fronts can change the wind direction 180 degrees and increase from 5 knots to 50+ in less than 10 minutes. A DPO had better be on his toes and know exactly what to do and when to do it!

And the weather is only a small part of the things they need to know. There is so much more, but too much to get into for this post.

If you’re interested and want to know more, let me know. Comment and ask questions if you want.

Marina

Last night I went to watch the dancers again (will upload photos later). I got there 45 minutes early and STILL couldn’t get a seat where I could see to take good pictures. So I stood again for the whole show ( 2 hours +45 mins). My back was killing me by the time it was over, but I did at least manage to get some decent pictures this time.

I met my friends from the TEFL course there and we wandered down the Malecon afterwards. We stopped to have dinner and a couple of margaritas. I had plain and they had strawberry. Instead of salt on the rim, they had spicy pepper! I’m glad I stuck with the regular. They were strong! Dinner (for 1) and 6 margaritas for $15! Our waiter turned out to be from Houston.

Doesn’t it make you wonder about our supposed economic recovery (and “free country” status) when so many Mexicans are leaving the US and finding things much better in Mexico? I’ve certainly found things much better here than at home. I would love to live here permanently and I’m seriously considering it. That’s the whole reason I’m getting certified in TEFL. It will finally allow me a way to get out of the US.

I’ll just have to adjust to a serious pay cut (about 90%!) and so far I’m not really ready to accept that.

Today, I’m going to the marina. I’m hoping I can get in to wander around the docks and talk to people there. I’d like to find out about the possibilities of working on some of those yachts. If I can’t get down on the docks (which is more and more common today and a SERIOUS disadvantage to those of us who work aboard), then I’ll try to find a bar where the sailors hang out.

I’ll try to find  out through word of mouth if anyone is looking for crew, or if there is someplace with a bulletin board, or if there are any other hang outs. That has worked for me before. When I finished high school on the sailing ships and was supposed to have a job working my way home on a ship from London and it fell through, luckily I found a job helping out on a Thames sailing barge for the summer. I had the best time that summer!

I wouldn’t mind doing something like that again. 🙂

Sail Away

Like I said yesterday for the Daily Post’s prompt, I have more than 1 favorite quote. Quotes that inspire me. Quotes that I wish I could follow more closely. All of my favorite quotes have the same theme. They’re all related in some way or another to FREEDOM.

Yesterdays was about the freedom of a ship at sea. There’s nothing else like it. You’re out there in your own little world. You have to deal with your fellow shipmates, the ship itself, and the surrounding environment. It really is special.

Today, I’d like to share another favorite. I love this quote by Mark Twain (he used to be a riverboat pilot). It really speaks to me, more and more as I get older and more fearful. Also more aware of time passing by. I’ve been wanting to leave the US and travel the world ever since I went to school with the Oceanics when I was a teenager.

I’ve spent my entire life at sea, trying to have those same kinds of experiences again. But the world at sea has changed SO much since then. They’ve taken all the fun and enjoyment out of it. Now, it’s pretty much just another job.

I still love the time off it offers. It gave me plenty of opportunity to travel on my time off. I did, every chance I got. Whenever I had the money and I wasn’t spending my time off in ‘training’, I would take a trip somewhere.

I started investigating what it would take for me to move overseas and found out that I would not be able to do that until I was old enough to retire (or won the lottery).

I don’t have the resources it would take to start a business, which is actually a good option in a lot of places, but I could not find a single country that would allow me to move there and WORK to support myself for the time it would take to become a citizen. The only option left was to teach English.

So, I started looking into learning how to teach English. I was never really very serious about it. I was still able to work offshore and the pay differential is just HUGE. I was able to earn more in 1 day at sea than I would earn as a teacher in a month (or even 2 months)!

So, I continued working and traveling when I could on my time off. Too fearful to take the plunge and just GO. I would never have hesitated when I was younger. I knew then (and I know now) that I could find something to do that would allow me to travel and spend time in a place I liked. Back then, I would never have let worries about not having a work visa stop me from taking whatever opportunities offered.

I know there are people all over the world working under the table as bartenders, waiters, baby-sitters, time-share salesmen, etc. I know I could do a lot of those jobs too. But I’ve been letting my fears stop me from doing anything about my desire to get out of here!

I hate the idea of being forced to give up my chosen livelihood. I really still love working at sea, sailing for a living. I don’t want to give it up and never would have by choice.

So I guess it’s a good thing for me that the price of oil is so low that there is no hope of work for the foreseeable future. If there was, I would still be sitting here at home, spending most of my time applying for non-existent jobs and hoping for a phone call.

Since I finally admitted to myself that there IS no hope, I could finally force myself into signing up for the TEFL course and probably even spending some time afterwards in a foreign country.

I am still fearful, nervous and depressed, but I’m throwing off those lines anyway. 🙂

This is also a post for the Just Jot It January challenge. 🙂

LOVE IT

I get so discouraged working out here sometimes. I used to love coming to work offshore. I actually looked forward to it and was eager and excited to come back to work. I wanted to go places, to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

I loved working outside on deck, where I could enjoy the weather. I loved the feeling of the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin (even tho I sunburn easily). I loved looking out and seeing nothing but the blue, blue water all the way to the horizon.

I loved to see the beautiful constantly changing seascape. I loved to watch the waves and clouds. I looked for signs of life around me. Birds: pelicans, sea gulls, terns, herons. Fish: mahi-mahi, ling cod, tuna, sharks, and dolphins (mammals, not fish). Even things like seaweed and jellyfish were of interest. I loved to watch the intense colors of the sky when the sun rose or set.

I loved the fact that my job depended only how well I did my job. It didn’t matter what I looked like, how I talked, my level of formal education, how much money I had in the bank, what kind of car I drove, how I dressed. I loved being able to work dressed in an old pair of shorts, t-shirt and a pair of flip-flops.

I loved slow days offshore when we would throw a line over and catch a few fish. We always caught something. Mahi-mahi, ling cod, rainbow runners, sharks, kingfish, snapper, grouper, catfish, etc. Sometimes we kept them to eat, sometimes we threw them back.

I loved standing lookout at night and seeing the stars so blazingly bright at sea when there was nothing around for hundreds of miles to blot out their light. I loved watching the dolphins play in the bow wake when we were underway and seeing them pass by at the rig. Continue reading

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

Met A Neighbor Today

Isn’t it cool? I think it’s neat, that I can be at work thousands of miles away from home and meet someone who lives less than a mile from my house.

That’s one thing about being a sailor, it’s a small world out here. I almost always know someone onboard, or we might have worked with the same people in the past, or on the same ship at some point. It gives us a good starting point to talk about.

People we know, ships we’ve sailed, ports we’ve been to. It’s nice to have that commonality right from the start when you step aboard thousands of miles from home on a new ship with a new crew.

Unexpected News!

Looks like I’ll be leaving soon after all. I was not expecting this at all. Not that I’m complaining. It’s always nice to be getting off work and going home. 🙂

home

I’m now busy trying to get everything done I need to do before leaving here. I have a room-mate so I can’t get in my room til he gets out tonight. I need to get in there to get my seamans books to have the captain sign me off.

I’ll have to get up (even more) early in the morning to pack. I have to put away my hard hat and coveralls somewhere in case I come back here. There’s no way I can fit that stuff in my carry on bag which is all I brought with me this trip (due to helicopter weight limits here).

It seems I always have too much to do and too little time. I’m already making plans for my time off (or trying to- it’s very hard to plan anything much when I don’t know how long I’ll be home for).

I’m really hoping to be able to get down to Panama this time. 🙂

 

Women Rallied Behind Beautiful, Wartless Witches

Women of the Early 1900s Rallied Behind Beautiful, Wartless Witches | History | Smithsonian.

Check out these cool Halloween cards. I thought the history mentioned in the article was pretty interesting.

It’s hard for me to imagine how different life must have been for women in the past. Of course, for most women in the world things are still very different than they are here in the USA (not that we’re perfect yet).

Women in many countries around the world are still treated like second class citizens. They’re still denied the opportunities and options that men have, simply because of their gender.

As an American, growing up as an American girl, I can hardly imagine what it must be like. How does a girl from somewhere like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or even India or Africa or South America manage enjoy life, or even to get through it all without the options we have here?

I imagine they must only be able to bear it when they don’t know about any other options. Maybe they just don’t think they can live any other way. I don’t really know. It amazes (and disgusts and infuriates) me that in this day and age we STILL have not managed to create a society where women can live their lives as THEY choose.

It’s hard for me to imagine how I would be able to stand a life like that. That I would not have any choices. I wouldn’t be able to go to school. I wouldn’t be able to LEARN about so many things. I wouldn’t be able to decide what kind of work I would like to do. To choose who I would want to marry or IF I would want to marry at all. To be able to choose when I want to have sex, or with who, or IF I want to have sex at all. To be able to choose to have children, or not to have any.

SO many choices taken away from me, just because I happen to be female. What must that be like?

I read a book- Infidel- by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It really opened my eyes. I have to say I admire her strength and courage to do what she did. She grew up in Somalia, was raised a Muslim, and then grew disillusioned with the life she had. She moved to the Netherlands as a refugee, eventually became a member of Parliament there. Her story is really encouraging. I hope more people (especially young girls) will read it and take hope.

I can see from the Smithsonian article (and even from my own life), that we have made some progress in the USA.

I remember when I was young and I chose to work at sea. I had to fight so hard for every job I ever got. It was ALWAYS a struggle to get hired. Yes, just because I was a woman. No one wanted to have a woman on board. 😦

Now, (30-40 years later), it is not nearly as much as a problem (tho, yes, it IS still a problem). I see more and more women working at sea. I even see other women in positions of authority. They are no longer delegated to the stewards department, they can work at other jobs and be more than just cooks and room stewards!

I happen to be the only woman on board this ship, (1 out of 178) but on my last one there were women working as geologists, mud engineers, fluid engineers, etc. I’ve seen quite a few other women DPOs lately and even a couple of other captains. 🙂

I hope to see more women from other countries able to take advantage of all the opportunities the world offers. I was very encouraged to hear about the Italian livestock carrier who had female master and chief mates.

Hopefully sometime soon women from all over the world will have the same rights and opportunities that men have always had. It would be wonderful if everyone everywhere had the chance to live their lives the way THEY choose to.

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!

This Video Will Make You Want to Become a Houston Harbor Pilot

gCaptain Maritime & Offshore News | This Video Will Make You Want to Become a Houston Harbor Pilot.

 

I agree! It’s a good video, a good advertisement for the Houston Pilots.

I almost don’t even think about it any more; what a pilot does, what it takes to become one, what it’s like to be one, how much we depend on them.

I’ve sailed on dozens of ships when we’ve used pilots. I’ve been on the helm entering Cape Hinchinbrook going to Valdez, AK. I’ve been on the helm entering San Francisco Bay heading up to Benicia. I’ve been on the helm passing through New York Harbor. I’ve been on the helm transiting the Houston Ship Channel.

I’ve always admired the skill, experience and local knowledge the pilots have. They’re a fantastic aid to any ship passing through an unfamiliar port.

I’ve never really wanted to be a pilot myself, tho it is definitely a challenging job. I still like traveling and HOPE to be able to go somewhere interesting again one of these days. Pilots are experts on their port and they stay in one place.

It seems the pilots job is one most captains hope for one day but not me. 😉