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. 😉

Working

I did get a job last week! I’m so glad it worked out! Even a few days offshore makes up for a lot. I’m hoping this job will last a while, but I really have no idea. They just said ‘2 weeks, maybe’.  I left early Friday afternoon. I flew to New Orleans, got picked up by the crew van and was delivered straight to the ship at around midnight thirty.

I didn’t even really meet the other 10 guys in the van with me, since everyone was exhausted and trying to catch a few winks on the ride to Fourchon (tho it was too bumpy for me).

On arrival, I got a quick familiarization with the captain, then assigned my bunk and tried to catch a few hours of sleep. I’ve been on the 0600-1800 watch since then.

That’s a good watch for me. I haven’t ever really worked an anchor boat, so it’s not something I can do by myself. I try to watch the captain as much as possible. He’s been doing it for ages and he’s really good.

The divers all seem to be pretty decent. I don’t really see much of them since I spend most of my time on the bridge and they’re always out on deck. We have about 45 people on here, total. It gets pretty cramped when more than a couple of people are in the same area at the same time. Like the galley at meal times, for instance.

The cooks on here have been doing a great job so far. There are 3 of them (plus an OS who’s helping out as a galley hand). They’re working around the clock to keep us all fat and happy.

We’re working on a project out here with a couple of other boats. One is a tug boat we use to help us pick up and place our anchors. We’re a ‘4-point anchor boat’. I’ve done a lot of diving work, but always either ‘live boat’ or DP (dynamic positioning). This is totally different.

I’m learning a lot here. That’s always a good thing. 🙂

Tanked!

mobile barge available for training purposes

Whew! I’m glad that’s over! I’m tanked! I’ve spent the last week teaching tankerman up at San Jacinto Maritime in La Porte. And a few days studying hard myself so that I could teach it (I haven’t worked on a tankship since 2002).

San Jacinto is about an hour and a half drive for me. I’ve been getting up at 0430 in the morning. Trying to get out of the house by 0530, so I can be sure to arrive by the time class starts at 0730.

I am NOT a morning person!

Getting by on less than 4 hours of sleep per night is not good for me (or anybody else).

So. I’m glad it’s over. I know there are lots of people who drive like that or even more every day for years. I don’t know how they manage and I’m SO thankful that I’ve never had to do it myself (until now).

The class went well and all my students passed with flying colors. I actually think I studied more than they did. 😉 They all got their course certificates they can turn in to the Coast Guard with their sea time letters. Hopefully, they will be able to get the promotions they were after.

SanJac doesn’t have me scheduled for any more classes (at the moment- that could change at any time). Maersk didn’t have anything last month at all. We’re waiting to see the schedule for July and hoping for at least 1-2 courses there. I still have no word of any real work coming up. It looks like I’ll have a chance to catch up on my sleep next week.

I should be able to post more often too. 🙂

Court

Hey! I’m really glad so many of you responded to my post yesterday about going to court in support of raw milk and ‘food freedom’ in general. It’s great to know that people really do care about some of these issues and I’m not just beating my head against the wall. I’ll have to update this again later. Today’s court session was not exactly clear to me as to what was going on. 😦

It looked to me like the entire courtroom was packed with raw milk supporters. We all had little white stickers on our shirts to show our support.

A few minutes after the appointed time, they called out names. People were coming a going up to the front of the room where the ‘official people’ sat around behind desks and computers (the judge was not in the courtroom yet).

I didn’t know the name of the person charged or exactly what the charges were. Sorry to say, I still don’t. I did see the lady and the gist of what I heard of the charges against her was: ‘unsanitary conditions’ and something to do with not being ‘licensed’ as a food business.

OK. Here’s the story. Her friends asked her to go to a licensed dairy farm and pick up some milk for them. They gave her money to pay for it. As far as I could tell, they did not pay her anything for going to get it. So I’m still very confused as to what she did that was actually illegal or what possible reason could there be for making anything she did illegal?

It is legal to buy raw milk in Texas.

At this point, all I can say is that the lawyers seemed to think they got a good result today. There was a LOT of local support for the whole raw milk thing. People whole heartedly support the idea of “food freedom” and their rights to choose what they want to be able to eat, drink, grow, smoke, buy, sell, etc.

I’ll report more on this later. I’ve been promised more information from people who are more involved in this than I am. In the meantime, check out the links towards the end of yesterdays post.

I’ve got to get up early tomorrow to repeat my HUET course (again- for about the 5th time). It doesn’t actually expire, but almost all companies insist on repeating it every 3-4 years anyway. Are they really expecting their helicopters to crash that often? What is it that they think we forget in the class that we must repeat it so often? Is it really that hard to remember to open the window and climb out of the thing?????

I really, really wish the people who insist on forcing all this ‘training’ on us would get their shit together and figure out one acceptable class for all this crap! Instead, each company insists you take their class (which is pretty much exactly like the other guys class).

Companies that work in Europe don’t accept USA typical courses, nor do they have a ‘gap closing’ course, so if you want to be eligible to work anywhere outside of the USA, you are forced to pay again, for the exact same ‘training’ you’ve already paid for except for a grand total of 1 hour of something different.

I’m too tired tonight to get into it. I had a long day of running around Houston. I’ll write it up tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll still be ticked off enough to explain. 😉

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. 😉

Maritime Monday for June 5th 2017- Singapore Invaded by Giant Sea Urchins!

Sorry I’ve been away from the computer for so long. I finally got a little bit of work. Not nearly enough, but even those short couple of weeks will keep me going for another couple of months! I wish they had decent internet aboard, but can’t be picky about work at this point!

I got in late Saturday night, it’s taken me this long to catch up a little bit and start to interact with the world again. I got my dose of Maritime Monday yesterday and felt like it’s worth passing on. There’s a cool story about Singapore and the latest cool project over there. Be sure to check out the interesting pottery by Florida sculptor Mitchell Grafton. I really like what I’ve seen of his work so far.

As if there weren’t enough to worry about, Singapore is being invaded by giant crocheted sea urchins.  >> via Trevor Corson, author of the books “The Secret Life of Lobsters” and “The Story of Sushi.”  –TrevorCorson.com National Ocean Service – Looking for a getaway for a few minutes during your work day? Check out our […]

Source: Maritime Monday for June 5th, 2017 – gCaptain

K is for Kestrel- #AtoZChallenge

b18f2-k

“K” is for Kestrel. No, not the bird, but the dive boat I used to work on for CalDive.

My captain took that picture (for some reason, I can’t figure out how to get all my photos onto this computer). Check out his website, he has more cool ship pictures. 🙂

I only worked on the Kestrel for a short time. I was hired on for a job as Chief Mate, but when I actually got there, the company informed me that I would instead be sailing as Second Mate. Who knew for how long?

Of course I was not happy with that situation and made plans to take another job. I only needed 6 more weeks of sea time as Chief Mate before I could apply for my Master Mariners license.

Luckily, I was able to get those 6 weeks on board the Kestrel after all. 🙂

It was an ‘interesting’ job. And old ship, but a good crew kept her going. Too bad the last I heard she was sold for scrap. 😦

E is for ENSCO- #AtoZChallenge

E” is for ENSCO. I used to work there off and on. I worked for the marine crewing agency C-Mar (among others). Back when there was still work to be had in the offshore sector.

ENSCO is a drilling company. They bought out Pride and built up a pretty good fleet of offshore drilling assets. I worked on many of their vessels over the last few years: the Deep Ocean Mendocino (renamed DS-5), the DS-3, and most of their semi-submersibles.

I spent time on the ENSCO 8500, 8501, 8503 and 8506. The 8506 was one of my favorites. Maybe just because I spent the most time on her. Maybe because I was officially the “Hurricane Master” on board.

That was one of the best jobs I ever had. If it had been located anywhere other than the Gulf of Mexico, I would have said one of the top 2. 🙂

My job basically was to watch the weather, stay on alert for any hurricanes approaching the Gulf and to get the rig ready to move if we had to run from one. I joined the 8506 in the shipyard in Corpus Christi and brought her out to a test location and then on to her first well. I had a great crew to work with and the rig was pretty much brand new.

Eventually, Ensco hired their own crews and stopped using temps like me. 😦

Sadly, even the vessel itself has been out of work for a while.

Locked Out

“Your account is temporarily locked, please try again in a few minutes”. I hate when it does that!

I always check my email first thing in the morning. Just to see if I have anything important in there. Usually not lately. I keep hoping for somebody to contact me about work. I’ve been looking for work since September of 2015 and not finding anything.

Usually, I’ll have at least 4-5 emails for work every week. It’s horrible how this downturn has been. None of the others have even come close. At least for the marine side of things. The onshore drillers have already been going back to work for a few months now. Ever since oil hit $40/bbl.

I don’t think offshore will see a break until oil hits at least $60/bbl and it looks like we’re still a long way from there. 😦

In the meantime, I check my email ever day, sometimes 4-5 times a day. Hoping to see something. I have seen a few jobs. Unfortunately they’re not anything useful for me. Either they’re so far away (and not rotational) and I would have to move. Or the pay is so low that it doesn’t make sense for me to consider (no way I could come close to paying my bills). Or they really have nothing to do with maritime (‘job captain’, ‘team mate’, etc).

I suppose I should be using this time to ‘pound the pavement’ trying to sell my ‘art. My writing, photography, painting, etc. But I’m not a salesman and never have been. You would think the internet would make it easier. I suppose it has given me the ability to show my work to people all over the world.

The only problem with that is that it has given that same opportunity to millions of other people who are also trying to sell their work (and a lot of them have some really, really great stuff)! I am now competing with millions of others instead of just the few here locally. It’s very discouraging.

I’ll keep plugging along. Maybe I’ll get a break somehow. Hopefully before my savings runs out completely.

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.

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!

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

Another Week Flies By

And here I am still here, still looking for work, still not finding anything. 😦

I did get 3 days of work in Houston last week and I’ll have one more day up there this week. Every little bit helps. It’s just a hard let down, I’m working for 1/10th the day rate I used to get and only working about 1/10th the amount of time too. 😦

Thank goodness I have my real estate investments to fall back on! I’ve gone through almost all of my savings now. The rent I get from those properties is pretty much the only income I’ve had for the past 17 months. I haven’t been able to use much of that money myself either, most of it goes to pay expenses. I’m just thankful they’re not still costing me money.

I did go to a real estate investment seminar last Friday. I had hopes it would be a way I could work my way out of this mess. A way I could earn a living without having to wait for the price of oil to go back up high enough to where they’ll start drilling offshore again.

Sad to say, the program was not at all like what they sold us on at the seminar! Not even close! I was tempted to buy the ‘tax lien investor’ program. I was already buying properties and could have ‘flipped’ them if I wanted to, but I prefer keeping them for rentals. So I wasn’t really interested in their property flipping program.

I thought the tax lien program might work for me. I was already familiar with how they work. Basically, you pay the taxes owed to the county in return for a lien on the property. The property owner has a certain amount of time to pay up. When the time runs out and they don’t, you can claim the property. In the meantime, you collect a high interest rate from the time you pay the county for the lien. Whatever happens, you make money- IF you’ve done your due diligence and bid on a good property!

I’ve gone to a couple of auctions locally. A friend has invested in a few of them and he explained it all to me a few years ago. The thing that convinced me to buy their program was that they said they would do all the research. They would take care of the ‘due diligence’.

Nope. Turns out that’s not at all what they do.

Turns out, they only deal with properties in Florida (even after I- and others- asked them specifically where the properties were located and was told “all over the US, Canada, the Caribbean and the US Pacific Islands including Guam). I suppose only investing in Florida is fine, IF you only want to invest for the interest. Even so, I would still be concerned about the necessary research. That all takes quite a bit of time, especially if it’s not local.

Yes, you can make a lot of money just investing for the interest (never for the property itself), IF you have a lot to invest already. I mean, how much is it really going to help to make 20% interest if you only have $100 to invest? You CAN make a lot of money if you actually get that property behind the lien. That is what I was interested in doing, but turns out they had nothing at all to offer for help on that.

So, I called and asked for a refund. They said they would cancel the credit card charges and I would have to return their books. I haven’t made it to the post office yet but figure i’ll be out at least $20 on postage. Lesson learned- no matter what you do it’s going to cost you money!

Catching Up

I’ve been busy for the last week or so. I was lucky and got to work for 3 whole days last week. I’m scheduled for 3 more days this week and one more day the week after that! That’s the most work I’ve had since I went on that delivery job as AB down to Colombia (in August)! I hope it keeps picking up, but right now it looks like this little spurt will be it for a while.

Offshore things still look pretty grim. I did hear of one company hiring, which is great news, but even tho I’ve sent them my resume, I don’t think they’ll even look at it this time around. Looks like they’ve hired a crewing agency to fill their positions and since I’ve already ‘contacted’ them, I won’t be one of the people considered.  Continue reading

Decisions

I might not be on here for a few days. I’ve got a hard decision to make. I got laid off of work last September (2014). I’m not eligible for any help (unemployment) since my last job was overseas. The offshore oilfield still shows no signs of improvement and probably won’t til the price of oil stabilizes above $60/barrel.

Everything I’ve tried to do to earn money since I’ve been laid off has not worked. No one has been interested enough in buying my beach house to even take a look at it. I haven’t sold one piece of art except a small 4×6 photo for $10. My writing mostly hasn’t been interesting enough to an editor to be worth a reply. None of the jobs I’ve applied to have been interested enough to call me back, except Dominos Pizza for $6 and change/hour.

Beach House- For Sale- Fishermans Delight!

I still work doing the emergency management training if they have a class and if they put me on the schedule. That hasn’t happened since the end of October. Nothing coming up til the last week of January.

I’m really starting to worry about my situation. I’ve managed to save some money, normally enough to last being laid off, but I never thought it would ever take this long to find a job!  My friends tell me to ‘sell some of my stuff’. They don’t realize I’ve been trying to. No one wants to give me a fair price and I’m not willing to just give it away.

The decision I’ve been wrestling with is to take a job as a ‘safety attendant’, working in the plants around here. It’s ‘local’- I’d only have to drive 2-3 hours back and forth every day. My truck is getting to the point where I don’t want to put it through that (1997 F-150). It’s a 12 hour/day job, every day. Until the job ends. Then you’re supposed to be able to collect unemployment til they call you back again at some point. It pays $14/hour.

That would (barely) cover my bills (if I don’t have any time off- no down time for weather, etc). It would mean I’d have zero time for anything at all but eat, sleep, shower, work. For weeks, maybe months on end.

I have to spend all day Wednesday-Thursday in ‘training’ in order to get certified to do this job. Same thing I’ve done for the last 30+ years, but never needed a certificate to do it offshore (yes, it’s amazing that they don’t require it too, but actually let us do a simple job without spending hours in a ‘training facility’ on the beach!). They give us the same training, they just call it something else at every company. This place doesn’t even pay for the training.

I’m thinking I should at least go to the training. Maybe I can find out more about the actual conditions of this particular job from others there?

The other choice is: to just give up. To quit ‘working’ altogether. Forget about trying to keep my documents current. Forget about looking for work. Stop spending hours filling out online applications for jobs that don’t exist and just chill. Relax and work on my art. 🙂

an example of my art- star fish in pastels

Spend that time figuring out how to get the hell out of this ratrace and find somewhere that I can afford to live with no job. From previous travel and research, I know already that almost everywhere is cheaper than the US. My only real concern is how long can I make it without any income from work at all? I’m (only) 55. A very, very long way from being able to collect on social security (if it’s even still there).

If things were like they were when I started this career, it wouldn’t be an issue. I could take off for a couple of years and when I was ready, just  jump right back in to work. That’s not possible any more.

When I was taking my walk tonight, I figured the absolute minimum I would need to just keep my license current would be $10,000 and 5 weeks of time! We have to re-take a hell of a lot of ‘training’ now and it seems they require more of it every year. That’s really a very, very low estimate.

So, if I do decide to quit. I won’t be able to come back. Ever.

hate the thought of that. I LOVE what I do! I’ve spent almost my entire life at sea and I don’t want to leave it. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars to get my license. I hate the thought of just throwing all that away.

It gives me chills even to think of giving it up forever. I really don’t know what to do. I’ve been in this limbo for months now. I can’t concentrate on trying to make a living with my art (writing/photography/painting) since I’m distracted all the time trying to look for ‘a real job’. I think I might quit for a while, but then I remember theres no coming back if I do.

This really sucks!

I keep hoping that someone will come through with a real job for me! A job where I can do what I’ve been trained to do already! A job that I’m good at. A job that I actually LIKE!

I’ll call them all again tomorrow, see if there’s any hope at all. Keeping my fingers crossed.

one of my favorite paintings- I did this on the ship using deck paint!

Good News

I finally got some good news today. The mail came with my new, corrected, USCG license! I sent it in to the Coast Guard on September 29. So, it only (major sarcasm) took them a little less than 3 months to process a simple renewal.

My license expired December 16, so I figured I had plenty of time. Even with the end of the year rush due to new STCW ‘gap-closing’ requirements.

Every time I checked, for over 2 months, my license status was listed as PQEB. Waiting for an evaluator. Strange, cause they sent my medical certificate back within a week. I had no idea why it was taking so long until I got some help from the Coast Guard’s National Mariner Center booth at the Workboat Show in early December. They got things moving immediately and helped a lot.

I did actually apply for one extra endorsement. Maybe that was the reason for the holdup? I asked for the OIM (offshore installation manager). Reading the rules, I figured I was eligible. I had already taken stability for my Chief Mates license. I already had a few rig moves, under supervision and while in charge.

Since I am already a Master Mariner, that should have covered me for the OIM endorsement. The rules are different if you’re not already holding that license.

But, the USCG has decided that the much more intense stability course I took is not applicable for this endorsement. I need to take a much simpler course which is only specific to certain vessels (mostly MODU’s– mobile offshore drilling units). I learned all this after finally being assigned to an evaluator after the Workboat Show.

The rules also say that at least one of the rig moves must be within the last year.

So, since I was laid off by Ocean Rig in September of 2015, I have not worked since then, I’m shit out of luck until I can go back to work again. I can’t afford to take the necessary course until I find work again anyway, so the whole thing is moot.

The whole point of asking for the endorsement was in hopes it would help me find a job so I could go back to work again.

After a couple of emails back and forth about all this (the GC rep was very helpful and fast to respond), I decided to just drop the request for the endorsement and just renew everything I already had.

I got an email the next day that my MMD (merchant mariner document) was in the mail! The process moved along pretty quick once assigned an evaluator.  I was feeling pretty good until I got my document a few days later and looked it over.

For some reason they restricted me to only vessels without ECDIS. I had taken that course as well for my Chief Mate license. I couldn’t have qualified to sit for the test without it. The CG rep told me that the class I took couldn’t have been approved back then.

Well, why would I have taken it then? The USCG gives us a listing of all the approved courses and all the approved schools where we can take them. Of course I checked the list and would never have gone anywhere to take any class that wasn’t on the list. It would have been a total waste of time and money since the certificate earned would not be valid!

After a few days of arguing and sending documents to the USCG, all the while freaking out about having to re-take another expensive week long course and not being allowed to work after December 31, 2016, the CG allowed that the course I took was actually OK.

Whew!

So, today I finally got my MMD, one that has everything I need to show in order to go back to work. Now I just need a job!

Another Roadblock

I haven’t been posting much about work on here lately. Mostly because I haven’t had any for the last year now. 😦

It’s been so frustrating and depressing. I’ve never been out of work for anywhere near this long in my entire life! I’ve always been able to find something to do. Not this time. This time there’s nothing. Nothing at all. 😦

It doesn’t help that the people in charge of jobs in this industry- the US Coast Guard- keep changing the rules to make it harder and harder to get and/or keep a job! It used to be that you could take a job in a different sector of the maritime industry when things got slow. For example, when things got bad in the 80’s, I went to work on tankers. I could even take a job ashore. I worked as bartender lots of times between offshore jobs back then.

Now, due to new USCG rules, if you change sectors you’re very likely to be pigeonholed into just being able to work in that sector. You’ll have no other options! Not without making major efforts to make the move. For example- my license used to say “freight & towing’. Now it says ‘steam & motor”. That means I can’t work on any tugboats any more unless and until I get a ‘towing endorsement’ on my license. That is not at all easy to do!

Same goes for tankers. I worked on tankers for over 13 years, but since I haven’t worked on a tanker in the last 5 years, I can’t work on tankers ever again until I go spend a bunch of time and money to get back that endorsement.

There goes 2 large sectors of maritime employment totally out of my reach now!

And if I have to take a job on land? Forget it! If I don’t keep up my sea time (and training), I will have to start all over from the bottom if I ever want to go back to sea! We need to have at least 360 days sea time in the last 5 years, plus a bunch of newly required ‘training’ (plus the training that was already required) in order to renew our documents. Documents we absolutely can not work without. No, not anywhere in the world!

So. In order to have 360 days sea time in the last 5 years, that basically means you need to have at least 2 years of STEADY employment offshore. If you take a land job, you need to quit as soon as you find something you think (hope) will last a while at sea. Then, you need to hope like hell your company will help pay for all the necessary training. Cause sure as hell, no land job will give you either the pay rate or the time off in order for you to keep up with it!

Seafaring used to be a really good way to earn a living. After all this, I’m not sure I can say that anymore, but I still prefer it over anything else I can imagine.

had high hopes for finding some sort of relief job over the holidays. That’s always the best time of year to find work offshore. People understandably want to take time off to spend it with their families and all sorts of deals get made.

Not last year.

No one took any (earned) vacation time. I didn’t get a single call all winter. Neither did anyone else I know who’d been laid off. Everyone still lucky enough to be employed was just scared to death that they might not be able to come back to work. The oilfield was still in shock and everyone was living in fear.

Things seem to be improving. Slightly.

The price of oil has gone up from around $26/barrel to around $50/barrel. Almost doubled. That’s great! Only problem is, that for the offshore oil fields to go back to work the price of oil needs to be somewhere above $75/barrel (IMHO).

I was dearly hoping to get a call to sub in for someone over the holidays. I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for months.

But…

The USCG now requires us to renew our documents every 5 years. If we don’t beg permission from the government and jump through all kinds of ridiculous hoops, we’re locked out of a job. 😦

I sent in my paperwork back in the first part of September. My license expires December 16 this year, so I figured I had plenty of time. Even considering there are all kinds of new hoops to jump through coming into effect at the end of the year and so a mad scramble by all mariners to renew their documents before that.

My license was still sitting in limbo when I got back from overseas. Luckily, I was able to speak to a USCG rep at the Workboat Show and they made a phone call and got my papers moved over to the fast track. I thank them for helping, they were great!

I was happy to see my status changed the next day and only a few days later I received my new MMD in the mail.

Only one problem. They restricted me to only vessels without ECDIS. That means pretty much only small or inland vessels. That means I’m pretty much shit outta luck for finding any work until I get that restriction removed!

That totally knocked me for a loop! No way was I expecting them to come back with that! They’ve renewed my license at least twice since I originally turned in that course certificate and not once did they mention that it might not be acceptable.

What really gets my goat (besides the fact that I should have to beg permission from the government to go to work in the first place), is that I DID already take the required training in order NOT to have that restriction on my license.

I took that class back in 2008 since it was required for me to sit for my chief mates license. Of course, the USCG removed the requirement to take most of the courses that I was forced to take (at a cost of almost $50,000), but I did take that class and it is still required.

The problem is that the USCG is now saying that the course I took (so long ago) could not have been ‘approved’. Well hell! WTF would I have taken ANY course if it was NOT USCG approved?

Simple. I wouldn’t have!

The USCG maintains a listing of ALL approved courses and ALL approved course providers right there on their website. Of COURSE I checked to make sure the course I was considering was USCG approved.

At this point I have to assume that the course I took was approved at the time and somewhere between then and now, they changed the rules again to where it’s no longer acceptable. It would’ve been nice to get some notification.

None of these required classes is cheap. They’re completely worthless if they’re NOT USCG approved. Mostly worthless even so. Why would I (or anybody) spend thousands of dollars and a week (or more), plus transportation costs, plus room and board expenses, to waste all that time sitting in a classroom somewhere when they could be doing something (anything) else?

Again, simple! They wouldn’t!

So. I am in limbo again. Waiting for the person I’m dealing with at the Coast Guard to hear back from their superiors in the course approval department. Meantime, I’m investigating who has a class open asap.

The cheapest I can find is San Jacinto Maritime ($1000), but that’s only because I live close enough to where I can (barely) manage to drive back and forth daily. They don’t have an opening until mid- January. Same with most of the others. Remember, I can’t even think about going back to work until I get signed off on this class!

Delgado and Falck offer the course for $900, but they’re both located in Louisiana. I would have to spend hundreds more for transportation, room and board. Falck has a class I might be able to get in to -starting 12/27.

MPT in Ft Lauderdale costs $1299 (plus transport/room & board), but they actually have a class starting next week. If the USCG tells me this week I have to re-take the class, that will be my only option if I really still hope to get any work this year. 😦

If it looks like I’m screwed for work, then my best option will be the Sea School in Bayou La Batre AL. They cost $1100, but I can drive there (10 hours) and they include room and board in that price.

A few other schools have classes starting in January, but they’re all more expensive. MITAGS ($1390 + $850 room/board), Bluewater ($1295), Quality ($1095), Marine Training Institute ($1095), STAR ($$). Those are just the ones in the Southeastern US. I only checked those since I’m trying to keep transport costs down.

If you’re stuck in the same boat I am, you can find all the USCG approved courses and facilities here. DON’T go anywhere that isn’t on this list!

Oilpro Halloween Photo Challenge

I just entered the Oilpro Halloween Photo Contest. It’s supposed to be for work, but since I’ve been laid off for a year now, I couldn’t post any photos of scary co-workers or office decorations.

I did the next best thing. I posted a couple of photos I took at the National Museum of Funeral History last week. They had a pretty cool Haunted House.

Check it out.

http://oilpro.com/gallery/1808/23697/scary-pirate

Any of my offshore peeps, feel free to join in here.

Another Week of Re-Certs

I spent most of last week in Houston, re-certifying myself in rigging and crane operating. Apparently these certs are all only good for 2-4 years now- 5 tops. This particular one will be good for 4 years (that is, IF the company I go to work for doesn’t have their own required ‘training’ course on top).

This time I was at Maersk Training. The same place I’ve been working (a few days/month) as a ‘role player’ in the MEM and PIC courses they teach there. They have an excellent facility.

I really enjoyed using the simulator to practice working with the cranes. They could set it up for different kinds of cranes and different scenarios. I got to use a knuckle-boom crane (which I never had before) as well as the usual lattice-boom crane, which I was familiar with from previous ships I’ve worked on.

Check this link for a picture of me on the crane.

I have to say this course was one of the very few I’ve taken where I’ve actually learned something new. In most of the courses we’re now required to re-take every couple of years, they don’t actually have anything new to teach. It’s always just the same old stuff we learned the first time we took the course and practice every time we go offshore to work.

This one was different. There were actual changes to the material taught and in how things are being done in reality. I haven’t really worked as a ‘crane operator’, or done much rigging, in the last few years. I’ve spent most of my time on the bridge. Dealing with JSA’s and work permits is the closest I’ve been to those jobs in a while.

I’m hoping now that I have a ‘valid’ certificate in my hands again, that I’ll be able to find a job. Something better than Domino’s Pizza delivery? In a year of serious job hunting, they’re the only ones interested. 😦

To Work- or Not to Work?

That was the question…

I’m scheduled to work tomorrow and Tuesday this week. If I’m lucky I will get to work both days. Nothing else on the schedule for me for the entire month. 😦

The training center where I’ve been working has also been struggling to survive since the downturn in the oil markets. They have very few students, so very few classes, so not much work for me. 😦

I have a long planned trip coming up the 1st of November. It’s super expensive and something I’ve wanted to do since the 1st time I watched Tarzan on TV when I was a kid. A real bucket list trip. A photography safari!

Friday, I got a call for a possible job. The first real job since last September. I had to give it a pass.

Why does it always seem to work like that?