Thursday, April 20, 2017

Get thee to sea

First off, check this out.

( - Four decades ago, in the mid-1970s, young American adults--in the 18-to-34 age bracket--were far more likely to be married and living with a spouse than living in their parents’ home.
But that is no longer the case, according to a new study by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“There are now more young people living with their parents than in any other arrangement,” says the Census Bureau study.
“What is more,” says the study, “almost 9 in 10 young people who were living in their parents’ home a year ago are still living there today, making it the most stable living arrangement.”
The Number 1 living arrangement today for Americans in the 18-to-34 age bracket, according to the Census Bureau, is to reside without a spouse in their parents’ home.

      Lots of folks attribute that to many different issues- and many of them are likely correct. The economy, education (and lack thereof), evolution of the job market and competition for jobs with low-and-high skillset work being a globalized market for workers thanks to shitty enforcement and utterly retarded labor laws. I'm sure the answer is a laundry list of why Chad and Brittany are still living with Mommy or Daddy and their new stepmom/stepdad. 

...and that's part of the equation, too. Intact nuclear families are the most stable and successful, from start to finish. The numbers are absolutely ironclad, and also shrinking as they have been for 40 years or so. 

           Part of me feels that a lot of this is the chickens coming home to roost. I have plenty of friends from blue-collar backgrounds who are VERY successful tradesmen, generally making more money than anyone without a graduate degree in a STEM field could ever hope to make... that is, if they've avoided addiction, alcoholism (to a lesser extent) or being a teenage parent, which has been killing or hobbling a LOT of people where I grew up. 
  If a parent isn't strong enough to stop their child to go in the hole for a master's degree in Transgender Asian Dance Studies, I figure they either don't much like their kids, are a baby boomer and perhaps overly sanguine about the job market for bright young minds without marketable skills, or lack in credibility themselves. Either way, not my circus, not my monkeys. A child will try and stay in your home forever now, like a cat, but doesn't have the decency to die a few years after you get tired of caring for it. 

 I was late getting out. I moved back into my parents' house after grad school, while I was getting my shit together after transitioning from being a normal respectable citizen to being a commercial fisherman. I got out after a short time. I'll forever appreciate my parents' forbearance, and I was and am ashamed that I stayed there for almost a year.

 Life happens, and life changes happen. One of my brothers suffered a spinal injury years ago, and his life went in the toilet after. Lost everything, had to start all over, but without his health. He's my mom's full-time caregiver now although at first it was mostly the other way around. That sort of living situation makes sense in an awful, pragmatic way. 

 Now, my nephew is 18, and plans to go to college, but doesn't plan on going in the hole more than necessary. So he's working on one of my employer's tugboats here, almost a year after finishing high school, and mostly saving his money. He's leaning towards a career in medicine, but he's saving his money and working hard... for 2 weeks out of the month at a VERY healthy salary as an Ordinary Seaman on a tug. He bought a luxury European sedan last week, a car that I can't afford today, precisely because he could pay cash for it, as he has no kids, no mortgage and no student loans yet, and it should last him well past college. He'll likely not again be able to afford or justify spending that kind of money for another 20 years, if ever.  I'm jealous.
 I didn't even own a car at his age. I hadn't discovered tugboating, either, though. He's 18, lives with his parents when he's home, and is a solid citizen and hard worker. He's got that blend of humor, empathy and intelligence that you want in a family doctor. I hope he doesn't go career out here unless he decides it's a passion worth pursuing, but while his peers are working at Starbucks, movie theatres or smoking weed full-time and dicking off, he's hard at work, and should his own career choices prove unsatisfying, he'll have a back-up career path that can support a family. 
 Somehow I don't think that he'll be raiding the change jar on the counter at ma's house to go down to the Coinstar machine at the grocery store to buy a dime bag.  But then again, his parents drilled into him the need to work and be self-sufficient, to choose training in something that pays,  a true anodyne against what seems to be happening to all these lost Millennials.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Little boat update

I was able to put some time into the little boat while I was at home this past time. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife had a busy schedule, and my kid is still in school, so I was able to knock out the honey-do list in a few days, signed over one arm, one leg to Home Depot and get things shipshape and do the heavy lifting that often gets put off while I'm out getting baked on fuel fumes at work.

 I spent 30-45 minutes in the morning and again at night on the first week just filling nicks in the hull, priming, then wet sanding, etc etc until diminishing returns made me call 'good enough' and I painted the hull a semi-gloss black- the ultimate color for showing off dings, nicks, surface irregularities and lack of fairness. It came out respectable.

I set it outside in the sun to bake all day after the paint set. The black shows off the dust I was kicking up. 

  Between the wood, fiberglass, epoxy and paint, the hull is up to 6lbs now. At 4 1/2 feet, that's pretty light. I'll need at least 50lbs of ballast when the time comes to finish it.

 Over my second week home, I found time here and there to build the lower house, shape the curved front of the house up forward, and install a coaming in the hull so that the house will be removable (there will be a motorcycle battery under it) but snug enough to be waterproof the when set in place so I don't fill up the boat with any splashed water on deck.

The bowed front was made by joining the upper and lower frame up forward with 30 or so 1/4" sticks, then bondo'ing between them.

While I was gluing and screwing the lower house, I also mocked up a cardboard jig to shape the after deck raised platform that will cover the rudder compartment, and another one up forward in the bow. These were slow to come together, as I wasn't working off the plans, which don't quite capture the shape of the boat proper. I made them with a cutout piece of basswood ply and again with the 1/4" sticks glued down. I also had to reshape the cap rail over the fantail, as it was out of true- the boats back in the day had a complex bend to the sheer, and they're very elegant looking, and I wanted to do it justice, so I spend another day or two making dust by building up the cap rails and sanding them down again. 


Yes I am a big dork, thank you for noticing.

back to it

Sadly, no one will pay me to sit at home and do my own thing there, so I had to go back to work. Dove right in with a complex load and discharge combo right off the bat, so time is in short supply. Going to be a busy 36 hours.

 It was a great time home. We spent Easter right properly, for the most part, and I cooked a prime rib that was my new personal best. My wife looked askew at me for volunteering to cook Easter dinner, but prime rib requires a man's touch, IMHO. I did no disappoint.

 Anyhow, more later when I get a little more time.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Being an idiot saved my life!

Back before I was married and living in Margaritaville, back before I was dreaming of getting the hell out of the miserable low-class suburb I was squatting in to the west and and south outside of Boston, I was a commercial lobsterman, dirt poor, and sailed on an oil tanker in the wintertime. I lived with my two roommates, Johnny Sparks, an ironworker, and Spinach, a political hack at the time,  in a house we called 'The Pickle Jar.'   It was a pretty good life, but lonely at times, so I had a girlfriend and it was OK.
       My ex was a nice person. A professional, with a very healthy high-paying state job. I was in an honest-to-God stable, adult relationship. It was... pleasant, in the way that a businesses' foyer is pleasant, like a weekend outing sponsored by your employer is pleasant.
 Like golf is pleasant. That kind of pleasant. 

         My ex didn't like my friends. Oh, Johnny and Spinach she tolerated. My other friends, drinking buddies, not so much. She hated that I was a lobsterman with an underutilized STEM education, although I think she was attracted to my passion for the sea. Not that she shared it, but I don't think she had ever been exposed to someone who was professionally pursuing his lifelong dreams, and was actually good enough to make a living in doing so.

        I didn't know it, but I was unhappy. I'm not someone who can tolerate pleasant very long. I'd rather have challenge and struggle, and spectacular success or failure than mediocrity. And that's what my relationship was.

      One weekend my ex wanted to introduce me to one of her good friends, and so we went bowling, meeting at an alley close to her house, north of Boston. I took Spinach with me, because he was single too, and because he had more tolerance for pleasant than Johnny Sparks.

 Unsurprisingly enough, it was a pleasant night.
    We ended up going to a restaurant for drinks after. We piled into my ex's sedan, because my truck stank of bait, being a lobsterman's truck. After we had our drinks, my ex drove us back to my truck. I had to be up at 4:30 to go fishing, anyhow, and it was a 45 min drive home. Must have been about 9pm, and it was dark.

 And that's when I saw it. 

Now, let me break scene here and remind you, if you missed the constant stream of dick and fart jokes here on this blog, that  I have the maturity of a 12-year old, and normally know enough to keep it under wraps in polite company. I'm serious, too. The guys I work with are friggin' saints for putting up with my monkey ass. I'm VERY well educated, very articulate, very crude, vulgar and can turn on and off the social graces at will, though sometimes it happens at random, too, which is what happened on the night I'm talking about.

   Now, my ex, being a pleasant but somewhat snobby, selfish person (the spoiled only child of a high-end business executive), stuck Spinach and I in the back seat of her sedan so she could chat with her friend. I was at my peak strength at this point in my life, and at my peak size, too, so it was a pretty miserable ride.
     We were passing through Peabody MA, one of Boston's northern suburbs (and an unknown to me. Being from the South Shore, the North Shore was to be distrusted and avoided). The businesses were still open, and I was looking out the window to see where the hell we were.

 And there it was. It didn't register for a couple of seconds.

    That is an actual liquor store, located in the heart of Puritan Country, outside of Sodom, Boston, Massachusetts.

 ...I saw the sign, and I lost my shit. I'm talking, grabbed my buddy, then pointed and brayed like a donkey. I was laughing so hard at the unexpected humor that no noises were coming out of my mouth for lack of breath.  It took me until we got to my truck to stop giggling, and even then, after an exasperated and somewhat cold  goodnight from my ex, Spinach and I were still laughing about it.

  I failed to display the proper deference and gravitas with my ex and her friend, and that night was the beginning of the end for us. I heard about how embarrassed she was for quite a while. It was not pleasant.

 I still laugh when I see that picture. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife wouldn't get the imagery or the double-entendre without a full explanation, but she'd roll her eyes and chuckle, mostly at me acting like a child, but she's got a great sense of humor, and would never put me in sexile for irrational exuberance in front of her friends.

 At any rate, a year or so, I forget how long, after things wrapped up with my ex, I met my wife to be, and while the dick and fart jokes don't flow like wine when I'm home, out of respect for my wife, I'll sometimes get a giggle out of her at least.

Alternate Title: How Alcohol was both the problem and the solution!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Get the hell out my way

Did you know that the worst three airports in the US for delays are also the 3 airports that serve New York?

 I know this because the last time I got home on time I didn't have gray in my beard.

 3 hours and counting for my current weather-related delay. It stopped raining hours ago and the fog lifted shortly after breakfast. Now that we're approaching sunset, it's still fucked.

       God dammmit.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Eat the poop cake.

Well, another year passes. We bunkered the EMPIRE STATE for their spring cruise.

 The Empire State is the NY maritime academy's training ship. It's a well-preserved dinosaur from the golden era of US shipping, but make no mistake, this ship is elderly, and it's about to have a couple hundred 20-ish year old maritime students on board for a couple of months as they cruise to South America or Europe, make some port calls and learn how to drive a boat.

 I could write for a while on what the hell these poor pricks are going to do when they graduate, as there is already massive competition for unlimited-tonnage jobs on American ships- SUNY sends out some absolutely excellent grads, but the jobs are currently in tugboats and limited-tonnage work, mostly brown-water stuff, and they don't offer much in the way of it.

 My employer regularly recruits some grads each year. They have to spend a couple of years as Able-Bodied seamen on our tugs,  to learn how to do what we do, rather than sitting on a bridge spilling coffee for the watch AB to mop up in the dark, but they do make good towing officers once they learn what it is to work a workboat through experience.

 Well, at any rate, we bunkered the Empire state earlier this week, and as always, it was a bear.

 With a house mounted in the middle of the ship, and the heavy fuel manifold mounted at the base of the house on the weather deck, it's actually not a bad spot for us to moor up to them alongside- old ships have round, seakindly hulls, and not much parallel midbody, so they can be tough to safely come alongside and transfer fuel.

 The problem with the Empire State is the damn diesel oil. When the ship was built, they didn't NEED much diesel as they use today, as they didn't have environmental regulations delimiting fuel specifications, and they certainly didn't have Environmental Control Areas . To get diesel into their diesel tank, we have to connect to a fitting in a machinery space, directly over the tank, which is in the stern of the ship in the double bottoms, I believe. At any rate, our 100-foot diesel hose is nowhere near enough. We have to load two extra100-foot diesel hoses on board, connect them to my diesel hose and use the crane to send 40-foot bights of hose to the edge of their deck and 10-20 young kids will drag it bodily from the edge of the deck to the stern of the ship a couple hundred feet away from my own diesel manifold. We barely make it, and always, ALWAYS the last hose, my own hose for regualr service,  gets dented slightly, cutting its' service life shorter. I have never had a diesel hose reach replacement age (5 years), btb. 

   With so many students dedicated to marine engineering, they need to take part in bunkering too, so the engineer stations kids over each tank on the ship. In the era when ships like this were used, they had a LOT of small tanks to keep the ship in trim. at 50ish years old, the Empire State is elderly, and they're afraid to put much pressure on the fuel lines... or the students I suppose, so we have to pump the fuel with just one of my pump engines running only at idle speed- about 150 tons per hour, as we transfer 1500 tons of heavy fuel and 300 or so tons of diesel to them too. A smaller job by today's standards. 

 I was planning on taking plenty of pictures, but this year, along with constantly dealing with the engineer, who micromanages the fuel transfer, and the couple of hours it takes to connect the fuel hoses, we had heavy rain and some wind. It was just a shitty day. 

... and that's the problem. We do a pretty good job, and worse, all of us on here get along great with the chief engineer and the captain of the ship, who also always comes down to visit us for a bit and stretch his legs. They're great guys. I suppose they'd have to be, to deal with a couple hundred college kids in a tiny space and keep the right balance between discipline and teaching. 
      ... from my company's end, they use us, me, specifically, 75% of the time for this job. We do it OK, I guess, but it beats the hell out of us and causes a mess. We will take the poop cake and deliver it, perhaps with some mild bitching, but without having a tantrum over it, which has happened with other crews. No one likes delivering this particular poop cake.  I've got 200 extra feet of hose with no home, and disconnecting it makes a mess, plus there's no home for it, so it's coiled down and placed in the only spot where it won't get damaged, which is right in one of our walkways, so we get to trip over them for a week or two until someone sends a tug alongside to take them away. 
 It turns into a 16-20 hour day for us, and there's no avoiding it. 

 Oh, the ship uses a grade of fuel that no one stocks anymore, RME-180, so we make our own by blending RMG-380, standard heavy fuel oil, with ultra-low sulphur diesel. We blend it in our tanks by loading the diesel right on top of the heavy fuel oil (the proportions are calculated for us, and we adjust volumes by hand, using pen, paper and calculator, depending on the density and temperature of each product, in order to give us a known final volume and density. Sounds complicated, it's not really, but it is risky. If we fuck up,we own the fuel. No one will take back blended fuel, and the ship won't take improperly blended fuel. End result is that with our calculations, we have to run and squirt volumes of diesel, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, between our already semi-full fuel tanks. It's done at a jogging pace and with numbers and info relayed back and forth. I can do it by myself on deck, and like to, but this particular hull that is the current HQ is old school- laid out for simplicity and functionality, and I know how she likes to naturally feed some tanks faster than others, and can pinch down some tanks just so, so that no tanks finish up at the same time. 
 Oh, and this time, after the diesel cut, we had an additional heavy fuel oil cut to also blend into all the tanks on top of the diesel, to flushout the diesel in the terminal's pipeline, which normally carries just heavy fuel, plus a little extra to be sure the diesel is gone. So, proportioning that is another layer on the poop cake. In the rain. Uphill both ways. 
     Well, end result is that it was successful, and while we may have rode bitch on this job, we made money for daddy. 
Pictured: how I viewed the ops people who assign me the poop cake. 

 Every. Damn. Time. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Shifting Shipping patterns in NY

As I hinted at earlier in the week, we're seeing some changes in ship visits here in New York harbor. This is interesting because shipping traffic is such a bellwether for what the economy is doing.
 Now, I'm no trade analyst, and I'm also not documenting this info with much in the way of hard numbers. I'm reporting anecdotal observations, which are only one weak part of forming a picture of what's going on.

 Several things are happening at the same time. The Panama Canal expansion is complete, and shipping trade patterns are already adjusting, and in many cases, already adjusted. Some US ports are midway- or already finished in dredging their channels to allow for increased traffic and deeper draught ships. Presumably there's a sliding regime of scale and scope that allows for equilibrium between the two, but these programs are starting and finishing on their own time, so ports are coming onstream with their changed infrastructural capabilities on a continuous, chaotic basis. Must be fun for the shipping companies to deal with that.

 Hanjin Lines was a massive presence in the US, and their liner service between the Far East, EU and the US disappeared overnight when the company went tits up. And what a shit show it is. There's stacks of empty Hanjin containers at most terminals in the NY/NJ area cluttering up the place until buyers can be found. This was a serious disruption, but there are other companies with other ships all starving too, so the capacity was absorbed quickly. Economies of scale being a thing, and the fuel price crisis still being in recent memory, old-style Panamax ships are being scrapped before their midlife period even begins and newer and larger ships ordered back in the heyday of shipping construction are available.
   Awful lot of 100,000 ton container ships available or being scrapped. Wicked bahgen prices, too, like we used to say where I grew up.
          So the principle bottleneck here in port of NY/NJ has been the Bayonne Bridge, which is too low to allow new larger ships into the container ports of NJ, which have the infrastructure in place to handle super-size ships. (room, road access, and seriously big-ass container cranes). Some New Panamax or smaller ships can fit under the bridge at low tide, if they have a mast that can be articulated and lowered.
    This actually presented a real challenge when Hanjin went under. They had ships on the way to ports all over the world, and ports didn't want to take the ships- they weren't sure whether or not they'd be getting paid to empty the ships or whether or not the ships would be leaving their port since the company couldn't pay crew or buy fuel. On top of that, Hanjin's old Panamax-or better-sized ships could fit under the Bayonne bridge, but if they weren't going to be loaded with freight on the outbound leg, they would be too tall to get under the bridge. We had some ships anchored or slow steaming out in the ocean for a few days while they pondered what the hell to do.

 Well, since NY/NJ is pretty fucking broke after years of spendthrift government, they didn't have money to build a new Bayonne Bridge. So they're raising it up in what is either a brilliant or absolutely retarded delaying tactical scheme- I'm not sure which . You can read about it here.  This will allow larger ships to come into the ports on the far side of the bridge.
        We're already seeing a fair number of new post-panamax scale ships showing up here. With Hanjin's capacity up for grabs and container companies in the middle of their own crisis     any chance at making money, or, more accurately, losing money more slowly, had to be grabbed out of the vacuum left by Hanjin's passing. Chinese companies Yang Ming Lines and Evergreen have added liner service using some of their existing panamax fleets as a result, which is probably nice for them. Yang Ming is transitioning from monthly to weekly service, and Evergreen is still adding port visits too.
     With smaller ships, this also means more traffic, which is good for the pilots and and bums like me who rely on gassing up these beasts while they're here. I'm doing a LOT more full loads than ever before, servicing these ships, which also tells me that we're going to need bigger bunker barges too, eventually. Some of these ships are taking 6,000 tons of heavy oil, 500 tons of diesel and an equal amount of ultra-low sulphur fuel oil, which is diesel oil cut with a soupcon of cleaner heavy fuel oil. 

 Practically speaking, this is working out well for me. Chinese ships tend to have well-trained, disciplined crews who work fast and efficient together in teams. This means that I don't have to spend 2 hours watching a bunch of hung over surly Russian engineers using their thumbs for fart corks, berating the one 90-lb Filipino crewman trying to muscle 2,000lbs of fuel hose into position, or worse, the arab engineers who come down to my office 3 times over the course of 90 minutes insisting that I get up on his ship right now and connect my own hose to his ship. 
 Yeah, I know. Not very PC. If it wasn't truly a thing, I wouldn't be reporting it. 
          What all this means, big-picture-wise, is a mystery to me still. I know that on top of this Shepard's Pie of information, new fuel regs will drastically change things, too. Couple more years, fuel will get a lot cleaner and a lot more expensive in much of the world, as new environmental regulations come onstream. That's going to mess with things too. If container trade is already so unprofitable because of overcapacity, imagine what's going to happen when fuel is suddenly vastly more expensive. I suspect that the very largest of container ships will weather it better than the current sized-fleet.