Home and Gone

Sorry I haven’t been able to post for a while. I was actually at work (SO thankful to have gotten that last minute gig). The boat was pretty sweet. It was “brand new”. Christening was only a couple of weeks before I joined. This was her first job. 

A friend took this photo with his drone. This is Oceaneering’s new MSV Ocean Evolution

So we had a few things to learn (one of which was extremely limited internet access while offshore, out of telephone range).

We were offshore for about 2 weeks. Did a quick job for one of the oil majors. The actual thing we were there to do (pumping some chemicals down the well) only took a few hours. The preparations took a few days. We had to put all kinds of equipment onboard, secure it properly (welded down), test it, etc. The voyage to the work site took 48 hours (with a test for the ROVs on the way) and 36 hours to get back to Port Fourchon.

We were supposed to crew change July 3, I was looking forward to seeing the fireworks and party with friends on the 4th. But we didn’t get in til early morning on the 5th. I got home late that afternoon and so tired I was falling asleep at the wheel on the way home from the airport.

I woke up Saturday, had my morning cup of tea, sorted through the huge pile of mail and took a look for anything important in my email, turned on my phone (it doesn’t work offshore, so I just turn it off). I got some bad, sad news from a friend.

My best and oldest friend had passed away while I was gone. She had basically adopted me when I first moved to Texas, barely 17 and all alone. We had a hell of a lot of good times over all those years. I spent the day Sunday with her/my family. I’m glad I was able to be home for that.

Now I’m on the way back to work. I left yesterday. I’m glad it’ll keep me from dwelling on all that. I’ll be busy and distracted for at least a month. 

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Celebrate


I’m so happy! I finally got a call to go to work! Yeah!

I was thinking a lot about my situation. I hate being broke. I really don’t like being constantly on call either. I feel like I can’t really do anything. I certainly can’t plan anything more than a day or two in advance.

I have only had 5 weeks of work since the end of October. I had planned to go to the Rigzone job fair in Houston today and meet a friend for lunch afterwards. I had to blow off that and everything else and just get ready to go to work. Pack, clean out the fridge, get rid of garbage, drop off library books, get all the bills in the mail, make important phone calls, etc. This job is only for 2 weeks, but thank goodness, it should pay my bills next month.

I heard from a friend late last week that they needed a relief on his boat, so I called about it yesterday. They called me this afternoon and asked if I was available. Hell yes! I’ve been available for months!

I can’t get this song out of my head now. 🙂

Still Sticking Around

My ship is the one on the left

It looks like I’ll be able to stay here a little longer. Yeah! I need all the work I can get after the last 3 years of having so little of it. It’s been rough, tho I managed to survive. Many of my friends have not. People who’ve been working in the maritime industry for decades and who’ve worked their way up to the highest levels have lost their licenses and so their livelihoods. It’s such a waste!


Same as the ships they’ve been scrapping lately (and for the last few decades). There’s really nothing at all wrong with them. In the case of the tankers, the IMO ruled that they must be double hulled. Perfecly good ships, thrown out like yesterdays’ garbage. Driven up on the beach in Alang to be torn apart by miserably low paid peons who have no better options and are happy to have the work.


Lately, they’ve started scrapping the semisubmersibles and drillships. Yes, some of them are (a little bit) outdated- but still perfectly capable of doing the job they were designed for. Even some of the latest 6th generation drillships, barely out of the yard are being scrapped. We’re talking multiple hundreds of millions of dollars for each vessel- wasted!


I’m docked here in Las Palmas looking over at least 11 of them right now. I’m pretty sure there are at least that many parked over on Tenerife. I know there are more in Trinidad, and sitting in the Graveyard off Southwest Pass.


How many billions of dollars are going to be wasted before this downturn is over and we can go back to work? How many thousands of highly skilled people will be kicked to the curb with no other job prospects but a possible managers’ job at McDonalds?


I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I’ve been through these downturns before, so I knew what was coming. I survived the early ‘80’s, the early 2000’s. I even managed to work through the Macondo moratorium. I saved everything I could. I constantly put as much as I could into my savings account. I bought rental property and spent any spare time and money fixing them up so I could get them rented out and paying for themselves ASAP.


Thank goodness I did that. Those rental properties have been my saving grace. The rents have been practically my only income for the last 3 ½ years. I’ve managed to find a boat job every few months which allowed me to stock up my savings a little bit and take the edge off, but not nearly enough work to keep from sucking up my savings and stressing me out.


I put my best (and most expensive) property up for sale when it became clear I wasn’t going to get any kind of regular work for a while. It still hasn’t sold. I still can’t afford it.


Still, I’m one of the lucky ones. I had enough DP time to renew my DP certificate. I had enough sea time to renew my US Coast Guard license. I had enough money in the bank to (re) take the required classes we have to take in order to go to work. I know so many people who were not able to do those things. They’re not going to be able to go back to work even when things do eventually pick up.


It’s hard to go from a lifestyle of earning over $100,000/year for only 6 months of work. I went from close to double that as a SDPO (senior dynamic positioning operator) to only earning $3000/month MAX from my rentals. I usually had expenses to pay out of the rents, so my take was less than $1000/month. Sometimes I didn’t have anything left and had to live off my savings. It was hard, really hard, to adjust…

More Crashing Helicopters!

I’m in Houston tonight. Prepping to take the HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) once more. So I can put a T (tropical) in front of it. 😦

These courses are supposed to be good for 4 years. I’ve taken this course at least a half dozen times since returning to the Gulf of Mexico in mid 2007. So, averaging about once every 2 years (price has gone down some, it’s ‘only’ costing me $500 this time). Once again, this is another course I need to take in order to work. Once again, nothing has changed since the first time I took this course in 2007.

Please ignore the music of the video if ‘strong language’ offends you. I got it off youtube, last time I tried to take photos, they wouldn’t let me so I have none of my own to show you what it’s like.

We do the same things: float/swim in the pool, jump from a height wearing a life jacket, put on the life jacket, swim with the life jacket, float/swim as a group wearing life jackets/survival(gumby) suits, get in a life raft, flip the helicopter upside down in the pool and get out of it a few times. I really don’t know why these companies keep insisting we do these things over and over and over again. It’s not like you forget any of it!

And, again, nothing has changed. I just took HUET last summer. At this point, I will not be allowed to work again until I re-take it (adding the T). What is the difference between T-HUET and HUET? I tried to find something sensible. NOPE, not happening. Here’s the difference…

T-BOSIET/T-FOET/T-HUET certifications are only valid for use in tropical region (T stands for TROPICAL) while BOSIET/FOET/HUET certifications are valid for BOTH cold water and tropical water regions.

You get that? T-HUET is ONLY valid for use in tropical regions, HUET is good for BOTH cold water AND tropical waters, so pretty much worldwide. So, my question is: WHY do the companies no longer accept HUET and insist on forcing us to go take another course teaching EXACTLY the same thing, but is not good for use in nearly as many places?

It’s incredibly frustrating to me (and most other mariners I’ve talked to since all this BS started). We have ALL been trained in how to put on life jackets, survival suits, how to operate life rafts and even life boats. Most of us have had many years of weekly drills on all this sort of thing (also fire-fighting, first aid and a whole bunch of other training on things that could go wrong). We continue to do these drills (by law) every week.

Then, to add insult to injury, the companies we work for insist on everyone repeatedly being trained on things like ‘rigging’, ‘swing rope’, ‘rig pass’, even if you will probably never have to deal with any of those things in your job! The last time I had to use a swing rope was about 30 years ago (it’s really not a very safe thing to play Tarzan out there!). As an AB, I was trained VERY WELL in rigging and as a deck officer, even better. But those years of training and experience don’t mean diddly squat to these people. It really is ridiculous that a licensed officer is told they’re not qualified to work offshore because they don’t have a ‘current rigging certificate’. 😦

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if the companies we work for would all get together and agree on some standard. Instead, we have to go and re-take the same courses over and over because one company will only accept BOSIET, one will only accept THUET, another will still accept HUET. BOSIET is pretty much the same as BST (basic safety training) that we ALL have to take every 5 years now, required and approved by the US Coast Guard (but not by OPITO which is the oil company standard setting organization- like the US Coast Guard is not up to snuff!) plus HUET.

You can’t take BST and HUET and get a BOSIET. You can’t even take BST and HUET and then take FOET (further offshore emergency training) which is basically just a renewal of BOSIET. You MUST take BOSIET first. It’s about $800 more expensive. 😦

Next year they’ll add another letter, or change the name. Training will still be the same, or maybe they’ll say something different for an hour (that surely could’ve been done at work), and force us to go back to take the class all over again. And no, they don’t offer any bridging courses, you have to do the whole thing over. 😦

I wonder, do these companies EXPECT that their helicopters are going to crash. Crash so often that every single person must be ready every single time to escape from the water? Why do only these offshore oil companies feel that way?

After all, airplanes crash just as often (probably more) than helicopters do. Do the pilots and air crew have to practice flipping their planes over in the water and escaping from a flooded plane? I asked. No, they NEVER have to do that! Much less do it a minimum of every 4 years! Do airplane companies force their passengers to practice ditching from their planes, EVER? NO, they don’t!

I want to know WHY do we have to do this same thing over and over and over. Somebody please give me a real reason. I’m not talking about insurance company BS either. I mean a REAL reason!

Some company PLEASE start up and act in a reasonable manner! Hire good, competent people and LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS! We do not need to be coddled, protected and micromanaged out the ying-yang!

Still Out Here

Tomorrow will mark 3 weeks offshore and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I will get to stay out here even longer.

Usually by this time, I’ve about had enough and I’m itching to get off the boat and go home. Take a nice, long vacation somewhere. This trip has been the first real work I’ve had in a loooong time, so I am not in quite the same frame of mind.

The only thing I could wish for out here is a little better situation with the internet, but oh well, we all just have to deal with it…

I will stay out here for as long as I possibly can. Especially since there is no telling how many more months I might have to wait until I can find another ship.

I know most people are happy that the price of oil has been so low for so long. I would be too, if my career didn’t depend so much on it. Sadly, the US Merchant Marine is almost totally dependent on the offshore (oil) industry. We have less than 100 deep sea ships left and probably half of those are shipping oil.

When the Gulf of Mexico slows down and lays off crews, it affects the entire US Merchant Marine. Sadly, US mariners are not wanted in most of the rest of the world. Everyone is afraid we are going to sue them I guess. 😦

Internet Today?

Amazing! My computer is actually working for the first time in weeks!

After working on the tuna boat in the South Pacific with extremely limited internet (I would have to wait til we got to port to go ashore and check email), I swore I would never again work on a boat without it.

Well, sad to say, things have been so bad offshore that I am very, very thankful to be out here with or without internet! I just feel frustrated with not being able to keep up with the daily blog posts (or at least weekly). 😉

I don’t know how long the internet will stay on, or how long I will be able to keep working. I’m hoping both will continue for a long time. 😉

I’d like to write more about what we’ve been doing out here, but want to at least let you all know I haven’t stopped posting just because I don’t want to keep communicating with you. 🙂

I hope you’ll stick around for more posts (whenever I can get to post them). 🙂

Finally!

I wonder if things are finally beginning to turn around? I heard a tip from a friend while I was at the TBEX in Huntsville about a job. I immediately tried to call the people who were looking (it was the weekend) and eventually got in touch.

Thank goodness! We were able to work things out and I left for the ship on Monday. I’ll be working as a DPO for at least a couple of weeks! A real job!! 🙂

I was glad I got to go to the TBEX in Huntsville. I learned a lot, ran into some old friends and met some new ones. I hope I will be able to turn my experiences there into some good stories and will follow up on connections asap.

Sadly, that may not be all that soon. It looks like I will be pretty much out of touch while here on the ship since internet is not up to snuff and phone is out of range. 😦

After working for over a year on a tuna boat, 3+ months incommunicado at a time, I swore I would never again work for anyone who didn’t have enough respect for their people to provide them with a minimum ability to keep in touch with friends, family and business at home.

Well, after almost 20 months of unemployment (without being able to collect even a dime of the thousands of dollars I’e paid into the system over the last 40+ years), I’ve had to change my attitude, suck it up and take anything that anybody offered. 😦

Thank goodness, I’m finally working! It could last as long as 6 weeks!!

I just hope this is a sign of better times ahead.

I’ll try to post as often as I’m able. Sorry but I don’t think I’ll be able to very often til I get off. 😦

Met the Buzcador in Berwick

Sorry to have been out of touch for so long. I got a last minute job offer, and tho it was not what I was hoping for I was happy to get it.

I didn’t have much time to get ready, so I left the house with a lot of stuff unfinished. I meant to leave the house about 6 am, but with all the last minute stuff, and then phone calls all morning, I didn’t get on the road til around 10.

It was probably for the best. That allowed me to miss all the traffic in Houston and all along the way. It took me about 6 hours to drive from my house in Lake Jackson to where the boat was, in Berwick LA.

I had to meet a lady when I got close, to get passport photos taken for my Panama seaman’s book application. That took about an hour. I got to the boat about 5, already pretty tired.

The Buzcador was tied up next to a deck barge at Basin Fleeting, along the Atchafalaya River in Berwick. She was an old ex-Tidewater AHTS (anchor handling tug supply) and looked in pretty rough shape.

I drug my gear up the gangway and one of the crew showed me my room. I was pretty happy with it. It had just one bunk, a couch, 2 portholes where I could check the weather, a desk, plenty of storage space and my own head (bathroom). It also had a TV and DVD player, but I never bothered to turn them on so I don’t know if they worked or not.

I met the Captain, who I had worked with before on another boat. He was the one who pretty much got me this position. He had worked with this company before (I had never heard of them), and had made the winning bid to deliver the Buzcador to Colombia.

I hired on as AB. Of course I was hoping to get a mates position, but since I’ve been out of work for so long I was so happy just to get the AB job! At least it would get me out of the house and onto a boat. We were going on a voyage. Out of the Gulf of Mexico! I’m always excited about the chance to go somewhere new and interesting!

I met the other deckhands and QMED that night. I met the rest of the crew the next day. All together, there would be 8 of us making the trip. Captain Todd, Mate Noel, AB Sid, OS Marvin, QMED Wilson, Chief Engineer Carlos, and client rep Yesid.

We spent the next couple of days at the dock, working furiously to get the boat ready for the voyage. She had been cold stacked (tied to the dock with no crew) for years. Any boat will deteriorate if she’s not run regularly. The rust on deck is the last thing to worry about, it’s the machinery that is always the most concern. We had plenty to deal with in all departments.

While we were still at the dock, we had drills. Good thing, since it took a good, long while to get the fire pumps to work correctly. Electricians were still working on the alarm systems. We had outside mechanics to help too. Deck department was busy with cleaning, securing the ship for sea, preparing paperwork and voyage planning. Engineers definitely had the short end of the stick on this trip!

I’ll post more later, hopefully with more pictures. Like I said yesterday, I’m STILL having problems with my computers/internet!