Work

Finally! I’m going to work tomorrow! ūüôā

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 ‚Ķ

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. ūüė¶

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 ‚Äď gCaptain

Another Week Flies By

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

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. ūüė¶

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. ūüôā

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.

I¬†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. ūüė¶

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. ūüė¶

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.

I¬†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. ūüė¶

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. ūüė¶

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. ūüė¶

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. ūüė¶

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. ūüė¶

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?

USCG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buzcador Barges Through the Bayous

 

It took longer than expected, but we were finally ready to go. The plan was to be towed out from Berwick, down the Atchafalaya River and out through the bay. The¬†Buzcador¬†would depart Berwick as an “unmanned barge”.

Wondering why we had to get towed out? Why we couldn’t stay onboard? Because even though we were light ship, we had no cargo, little ballast and just enough fuel and water to make it- we were still really pushing our luck with our draft. We didn’t want to take any chances with our engines.

The¬†Atchafalaya¬†is not a very deep river. It has a lot of shallow spots. It’s also unique in that it’s actually replenishing the land in it’s delta. Most of the rest of Louisiana is loosing ground to the sea.

 

Our draft was over 12 ft and we knew we would be touching the bottom in at least a couple of places. Also, the intake for our engine cooling water was going to be sucking mud the entire time- not good!

So, we got underway about noon. The mighty Miss Edmay would be pulling and the Basin Endeavor would be pushing. The Buzcador would be ‘dead ship’ until we hit the sea buoy. ¬†No engines, no power, no lights, etc. We all scrambled over to ride the Endeavor out.

We did alright until we got to ‘Crewboat Cut’. We ran hard aground! I didn’t expect to have any trouble until much further down the river. The Atchafalaya River is always changing tho. We used to avoid this area by taking a bend in the river called the “Horseshoe”, but that stretch has been discontinued for navigation and the navigation aids removed. No telling what it was like.

Our 2 tugs tried hard to get us off the bottom. They struggled for at least 2-3 hours. Pushing and pulling, twisting and turning. The decision was made to call for another tug. We broke free just as the new tug “Mr Nicolas” arrived on scene.

They made fast and we proceeded on down the Atchafalaya. We made it as far as the ‘Lighthouse” before we were hard aground again. Another couple of hours spent to break us free, while questioning our chances of making it all the way out the river. The Lighthouse was only the 1st of the shallow spots I knew about. We still had at least 3 more to pass for sure.

The decision was made to turn back and try a different route. We cut the Endeavor loose as we turned into Bayou Chene and made our way through the ICW to the Houma Navigation Canal. I had some doubts about whether we would have the same problems there. I’d been through that way before and run aground there too.

Turns out, it was a good decision. We made it all the way out with no problems at all. I slept through most of it since I was going to be up all night on lookout. Nice scenery. I was  up to see Cocodrie, and the last lowland parts of Louisiana as we made our way through Terrebonne Bay and out Cat Island Pass.

We turned the tugs loose at the sea buoy, stumbled around in the dark until the engineers cranked up the engines, and we were off!

More to come! ūüėČ

Good News!

I¬†thought I had some really great news today. I got a call about a DPO job! Only for a month, but hey- I’ll do just about anything right now. A month as DPO would help a LOT!

I was actually in Houston for an interview for a different job when I got the call about the DPO. I think the interview went pretty well, but will have to wait and see what happens next week. I’m still not sure exactly what that job is all about.

When I got out of the interview (I had my phone turned off), I had another call about a job. This one was leaving immediately. Only for AB, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers! I still remember how to chip and paint. ūüôā

The DPO job is not a sure thing, they don’t even know for sure when they’d need me, or IF they’d need me at all. I figure a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush (learned that lesson). I’m leaving early in the morning.

I’ll drive to Louisiana, get on the boat, deliver the boat to Columbia, fly back home. Should take less than 10 days if everything goes as planned (it never does).

I’m looking forward to the adventure. ūüôā

I’ll be SO glad to be back at sea again. Only problem is- I’ll be incommunicado. They have no internet or phone. I swore I’d never take a job again where I couldn’t stay in touch, but it’s been so long since I’ve had ANY work. I’m just going to have to suck it up and keep hoping things get better offshore soon.

It’s hard to believe how people treat you when they know you’re desperate for work. Hard to believe anyone thinks it’s OK to send people to work totally cut off from the world for weeks at a time. Yes, we were all used to that, back in the day. Back when no one had internet or cel phones, it was bearable. We waited to get snail mail when we reached port. That was decades ago! Hard to believe employers still get away with treating their people like that. We’re not talking 3rd world employers either, these are Americans. ūüė¶

Anybody out there from Columbia? I would love to learn more about it. I was there for a short time during high school, not nearly enough time.

Another Week at Home

It’s getting harder and harder to motivate myself. If you’re wondering where I’ve been lately, why I haven’t been posting much. I really just haven’t felt like doing anything. It’s getting really hard to make myself do anything that I don’t feel like I ‘have’ to. ūüė¶

It’s not like I’ve just been lying on the couch watching the boob tube. I¬†have¬†been out and about. I went to visit a good friend on Monday, spent the afternoon and evening over there. I brought over a¬†Cottage pie¬†(with hamburger) and we had dinner together.

She’s also been having some computer issues, but we actually managed to fix hers (it was only the printer). Mine are still not working right which makes it even harder to try and do anything online. ūüė¶

I also got around to applying to Dominos as a delivery driver. They called me Tuesday morning while I was at work up in Houston to come in for an interview.

So, Tuesday was pretty busy. I had to get up at 0430 to get to work on time. Afterwards I met another friend for lunch (great big plate of Chinese food). Got home just in time to go to the weekly political meeting at the Italian place (we moved from the Greek place cause it went out of business).

Yeah, I overdid it on the meal plan Tuesday. ūüėČ

Wednesday I had an interview at Domino’s to be a pizza delivery driver. I’ve been a good customer of theirs for years, but never thought I might wind up on the other side. I don’t know yet if they’re going to hire me, but it sounded like they might.

I got home in time to sign on to the teach English webinar. I try to listen in every week. I’m still hoping to do some teaching as soon as I can take care of all my Coast Guard license stuff this fall. I’m really getting frustrated with the situation here.

I’d like to go use that TEFL certificate¬†I earned¬†back in February, but since I have to be back here by September, I don’t think it’s practical for me to even try. So, I hang out here at the house and wait. I spend a¬†lot¬†of time doing online applications. Many of them for companies that are just trying to ‘prove’ there are no Americans to do the work so they can get a waiver and hire cheap foreigners. Those places never respond in any way, they’re just scams.

I spent most of the day yesterday on that kind of thing. Filling out online applications (they¬†all¬†take¬†so¬†long!)- and then went up to Houston for another ‘networking event’. For some reason, I was not getting a good vibe there and left early. It was pretty much a waste of time going all the way up to Houston for that, but there really isn’t anything down here in any way related to my previous experience, so I go to those things any time I think there might be even the¬†slightest¬†possibility of meeting someone that could help me find some sort of work.

Today is the first day all week that things have sorted out, I have some time and I’m not falling asleep sitting here on the couch. ūüôā

I went out this evening to the reception at the Art League gallery. They’ve opened a new show:¬†Art Through the Ages. Some of that stuff was REALLY good! I especially loved the¬†Klimt, but then I’ve always loved his work. Check this out…

 

I liked it so much, I even made a bid on it. The group projects are all for sale by silent auction. ūüôā

PS- those photos are not mine, I took them from the internet

A Bird in the Hand

Is worth two in the bush.

I should have thought about that little rhyme a little bit more last week.

I had 2 prospective jobs last week. There’s the catch- “prospective’. Not actual. ūüė¶

I thought I was a shoe-in for both. I turned down one for the other that paid better. Lost out on both of them.

So, now I have nothing again.

I’m so disappointed.

I’m so frustrated

I’m so worried.

I’m so sad.

I’m so confused.

What should I do? What¬†can¬†I do? I¬†want¬†to just say the hell with it all and go away somewhere. I want to stop wasting my life here, hanging around trying to find work when there just¬†isn’t any! I want to go spend some time somewhere where I can be happy, where I can do something useful, where I can have some fun, where I can learn new things, meet new people, try something different.

All I think of when I think of those things, is: how can I¬†afford¬†to leave? And to come back in time to renew everything I need to in order to keep my license? I need that license if I¬†ever¬†want to go back to sea again. If I don’t renew it in December, it’ll be like I’ve never stepped foot on a boat in my life, and I’d have just wasted 50 years of experience on the water! I DON’T want that to happen!

Actually, I’m starting to regret choosing this career. It’s mostly been good, it’s given me plenty of opportunities where I really enjoyed my job, plus plenty of time off and enough money to enjoy it. But, after all the years, after all the effort, after all the sacrifices I’ve made in order to keep working offshore- all it takes is the price of oil to drop and it’s over.

I’ve been out of work over 6 months already and there’s no telling when I’ll get back out there. IF I don’t manage to get enough sea time to renew next time, that’ll be it. It’s over! The way it’s going, the way the pundits are predicting, it might be¬†years¬†before the price of oil goes up, high enough for them to start hiring again.

There’s a lot more to it than just the price of oil. Mostly to do with the¬†US Coast Guard¬†and the¬†IMO. That’s a whole other subject and enough for a book! All the things they’ve done to ruin this profession!

It’s an argument I’m having more and more often with myself. Keep trying, don’t give up til there is no hope of keeping that license? Knowing how much more time, effort, money and lost opportunities to LIVE LIFE? Or, give it up for good? Find some other way to support myself? Even the thought of that almost makes me cry. ūüė¶

And what else could I possibly do? I have no idea. I’ve been trying for over 3 years to earn some income from this blog. So far I haven’t earned even one cent. I’ve been trying to earn income from my art- painting and photography. In over 3 years, I’ve earned a grand total of $5.33. I’ve tried to earn income from writing. That’s been my big earner so far. I’ve earned $250!

So- what else is there?

I’ve invested in property. I have recently started to just about break even. That is only if there are no major repairs to be made. There’s always something that comes up so I lose money every year. Only ONE of my properties is worth selling. The rest of them will lose me a LOT of money if I try to sell them (due to major structural damage that has occurred since I bought them). I put that ONE property up for sale to help tide me over this period of unemployment, but haven’t had ONE offer since it was listed. Sure, I could lower the asking price, but then I would lose out on what I’ve spent on improving that one too! The rent from that house is all that’s keeping me above water, I’ve basically had NO other income this year! My last job was for a foreign company, so I’m not eligible for unemployment pay. So, after 40+ years of paying into the system, I get NO help when I need it myself.

So. What else is there? I’m trained to be a mariner. That’s it. I have no other papers (except a¬†Math¬†degree which has been totally useless so far). It seems pretty much all the decent jobs out there require some kind of certificate (at minimum) now. Do I have the time and money to spend to get one? NO. I will jump ship the 1st time they call me to go offshore!

Same goes for working a shore side job like McDonalds or Walmarts. I have applied there. I figured they must have a pretty high turnover, so I don’t feel bad about quitting if I get a call to go offshore. Problem is, even those jobs are not calling. They’ve all told me they won’t even start hiring til August.

I haven’t felt¬†this¬†bad in a¬†long¬†time.

What to do, what to do…

Nibbles

I’ve had a couple of nibbles in the last couple of days. Nothing positive yet, but I¬†may¬†be able to go to work soon. This is really the first time I’ve heard anything about offshore work since I was laid off. I’m hoping to get something definite out of them tomorrow.

It’s a huge pay cut, but it’s better than nothing. Not even having unemployment money coming in is really killing my finances! My job in Houston is down to 2-3 days/month. I just hope the work actually happens this time!

The price of oil has almost doubled since the first of the year, but it’s still not economic for the offshore drillers to start up again. So, no real work for me til that happens. ¬†I know most people are hoping the gas prices stay low, but I can’t wait for them to get up there to around $80. That should be a nice happy medium. Get us all back to work and not cost¬†too¬†much at the pump.

Did I Pass?

I had to take a math test this afternoon. I applied for a job at Mathnasium and that’s part of the process. They want to make sure you know what you’re doing before they turn you loose to tutor their clients. ūüėČ

I think I might have failed it. I should have studied. I think I did OK on the algebra, but I forgot a lot of the formulas for geometry (area of a circle, triangle, etc). I never was good at word problems either.I haven’t done any math like that since I graduated college (2000). ūüė¶

I’m interested to hear what my scores are. The job probably won’t start til August, and I’m REALLY hoping to get a ‘real’ job (offshore) by then. It’ll still be a good part time gig anyway.

Lost Out…

…on work today (again). I was scheduled to work, but since we finished the training early yesterday, they called it off. So, I’ll have a grand total of 2 days of work for June. ūüė¶

I counted it up last night. I’ll have a total of 16 days of paid work since the 1st of January this year. ūüė¶

I’ve put off applying to local jobs since I’ve been spending so much time trying to find something in my field. A ‘real’ job. Job-hunting IS a full time job! Also been trying to find ways to earn money from my writing and photography (and this blog). Check out my photography for sale at¬†Society6-¬†or if you see any you like here on my blog, just send me a message. All my photos are for sale. Here are a few examples…

Yesterday I started filling out applications for local convenience stores (they do pay more than minimum wage).

It’s sucks, that someone with 2 college degrees (AAS in Ocean Marine Technology and BA in Mathematics) and over 20 years of experience can’t find ¬†anything but entry level employment. ūüė¶

Sucks even worse that the only jobs I’ve seen for offshore are offering $60/day for CHIEF MATES! Now¬†that, that is¬†disgusting! Even worse, some are offering ‘jobs‘ for ‘trainee DPOs’ where the prospective DPO has to pay a few thousand dollars per month for the ‘privilege’ of spending time offshore!

This is for people who have college degrees and enough experience to earn a license! This is NOT any kind of entry level position. But these yahoos, these despicable people who run these predatory companies can get away with treating people like shit because of the situation offshore right now- the low price of oil and all the layoffs because of it. They take advantage of our desperation and fear of losing our ability to EVER return to the work we love (because of new licensing regulations) and they laugh all the way to the bank!

I have a pre employment test scheduled for Friday afternoon for a local tutoring job. At this point, I have to hope I get it. I don’t know if I can survive on only 2 days of paid work/month. I have to find something else to do. ūüė¶

Maybe something like that will help pay the bills and if I only get part time I can still work in Houston and have enough time to keep hunting a ‘real’ job.

Oil prices are going up, but still a LONG way from getting back to work offshore again. This is really hurting a lot of people all over the country (and the world). All I can do is hope, I’m doing all I can.

Looking Forward to Monday Morning!

Who’s looking forward to Monday morning?

I am!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a paradox!

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

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

Closing In On $45

Emails today showed me oil was at $44.66! It’s getting closer to $50, which may be the magic number. The price at which the oil companies will stop laying off people. The price at which they might start thinking about how they’ll manage to continue working without ¬†having the people to do the job.

I’m sure most people are happy to see the price of oil so low. It certainly helps at the gas station (tho prices are no where near as low as they should be if just depending on the price of oil)! I’m happy to pay less at the pump too, but for all the people like me who’ve been laid off over the last year, it hurts. It hurts bad.

I’ve read that somewhere around a half million people have been laid off since the price of oil started dropping. That’s a lot of people forced to cut back, sell assets, into bankruptcy. That’s a lot of people shut out of good paying jobs and into minimum wages (if any).

I keep wondering when things will stop hurting and start getting better? I don’t think anyone really knows. Some pundits say oil will go to $14, others think it will go back to $100+.

I don’t want it to go to either of those extremes. I’d be happy with $70-80. That should be enough to put everyone back to work and keep it affordable at the pumps too. ūüôā