Photo of the week 1-28-15

From a day excursion with the Therapist Fiance earlier in this trip home, more to come on that later.

Probable Cause, what a name!

Probable Cause, what a name!

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Platform Allison just south of Fourchon

Gcaptain broke the news this morning here, that the 260′ DP-2 OSV Connor Bordelon allided with a platform just south of the jetties outside of Port Fourchon. The vessel is reported to have been taking water and there is a fire on the surface next to the platform.

Connor Bordelon in march shortly after going on charter with Baker Hughes

Connor Bordelon in march shortly after going on charter with Baker Hughes

Other details are scarce at this point however I will be shaking the bushes a bit at work and see if I can’t get any more info. What I can say is the area this happened in is right outside Belle Pass in an area where vessels converge from all points of the compass into the bottle neck just before the Jetties and entrance to Belle Pass/Fourchon. It wouldn’t take much to loose some situational awareness and find yourself way to close to a platform while concentrating on a three, four, or more boat meeting and crossing situation.

Update, here is a picture of the bow of the Connor Bordelon post collision taken by Glen Daigrepont.
Below it is a photo courtesy of Capt. Zane Wooley of the ST-27 platform that was struck, post collision and fire.

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What it’s Like

“Now his wife and his kids are caught in the midst of all of this pain
You know it comes that way
At least that’s what they say when you play the game
God forbid, you ever had to wake up to hear the news
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to lose
Then you really might know what it’s like
Then you really might know what it’s like
Then you really might know what it’s like to have to lose”

-What It’s Like, By Everlast

What I don’t think I’ve ever accurately conveyed, in any one post, are the truly negative aspects of the life of a sailor. You see for the sailor at sea, and especially the family at home, this life isn’t all beautiful sunsets and joyous homecomings. Even when working an even time schedule which has the mariner home for nearly six months of the year, (remember, you aren’t home on those days you are traveling) it can still be a daunting task to get all the projects around the house done, have time with friends family and then just by yourselves. Add in a spouse that is also working, and the time together decreases even more in quality and quantity.

I would love to be able to write more about what makes it hard for the spouses and families, to tell their side of the story. However I cant in good faith even attempt to do that. It would be demeaning to them in my opinion to try and explain an experience that I have and probably never will have. I don’t know their struggles first hand, and on the other side of the coin the family of the mariner probably has very little knowledge of what they go through.
There in lies the problem, at the end of the day both people go through difficulties, and neither person often really can understand what the other is dealing with. So this post isn’t for other mariners, in fact most of you should just call me a whiney bitch right now and then go back to online shopping, this post is for the people at home.

Most of us sailors are hard to understand, I’d have to say half the people I work with are out here for a reason that doesn’t involve a love the ocean or boats. Generally that reason is both the money and time off, or they are the type of person that just can’t function in the “normal world”. Another word for that second type of person is an asshole. Anti-social pain the ass works as well. For many people they are simply referred to as an ex-husband. I wont try and explain what’s difficult for them, because they will generally just say it’s my lying ex wife if you ask them.

That first group of mariners, the ones out here for the money and the time off, generally like those things as they relate to their families. For a person with out a college degree there aren’t many jobs where you can with a few years be making 80-100k+ a year, and that year only being six to eight months of work. That leaves a lot of time to make up for being away, and it gives them the ability to support their children in a way they otherwise would not. It’s simply the best means to an end they have at their disposal. For a lot of mariners it’s hard to see life beyond that black and white. I’ve met more than one guy out here that grew up dirt poor, hand to mouth and was lucky to have a meal every night. So to be able to give their kids a nice house, clean clothes and the access to an education they couldn’t get is all that really matters to them. It’s not to say that people wear this sacrifice with out it weighing them down like a cross. Regardless of how good a life you are providing for those whom you love, it is impossible to not wonder if everything you are missing out on is worth it. The regret, or fear of regret, and the self-doubt they breed can make a bad day out here worse. The feeling of helplessness when things are wrong at the house, the crushing sensation of it all can be like drowning.
Now for others this job, being a sailor, is a life long calling. It can even come to define a large portion part of who you are. Everyone always says that if you love what you do for a living you’ll never work a day in your life. Its true, being on the water and doing things that the majority of the world doesn’t know happen or exist is pretty rewarding. A friend in the tugboat industry likes to say, “I get paid to orchestrate controlled collisions on a regular basis” and lets face it; that sounds like a lot of fun! So it can help with the loneliness, with the general misery that comes with some many aspects of this job.

I’ve mentioned loneliness several times now, and lets talk about that. Part of what makes it hard for me and many other mariners to understand what their family is going through are the different types of loneliness we go through. For the mariner it is just missing their family, and to a certain extent friends. Not in my opinion true, I haven’t interacted with anyone who isn’t a cashier or bagger or the kids way that a lot of family members go through. In fact this job isn’t always all at lonely. When you get a good crew on a boat it feels like family, in the same sense that I hear many friends in the armed forces talk about the brotherhood of soldiery. Everyone shares the load together and as much as most men don’t want to admit it, that load includes the emotional baggage of everyone. That’s a big part of the job many people love, whether they say it or not.
Of course there is that flip side of the good crew coin, which is the people that make you start to imagine you toothbrush is a shotgun every time you get up for watch. These crews exist, and often any crew has one or two people that make your skin crawl. Its part of why I prefer vessels with smaller crews, there may be more work, but the chance of having too many assholes to deal with. Whether they are the type that doesn’t clean up after themselves, shoves their political views down your throat, or are chronically late for watch (my favorite), these people will suck the life out of a crew.

That kind of misery isn’t the worse for the mariners who love to sail. A bad crew can be changed, or you can concentrate on the positive aspects of the job. The worst misery that this job has in store is when you have the realization that you’ve gone from loving it, and sometimes being indifferent to it. To hating it, to despising it, and wishing you did anything else in the world. When you love your family, and you love this job it’s a fight in your head and your heart everyday. The guilt from seeing your wife upset when you leave, or not being able to be there when she is sick. Missing kids birthdays, their graduations. It all adds up. It can make you feel selfish, selfish for being happy at all at work. That leads to resentment, to hating something you once loved. That feeling will make you miserable and it’s hard to not let that feeling bleed over into the interactions you have with your loved ones while you are at work. So after a watch, or when you know you are missing something at home it can get really hard to want to interact with people. I don’t think I am alone in saying that some days when you get off watch all you want to do is take a shower and go to sleep. Regardless of how much you miss your family, subconsciously you know as soon as the “how was your day?” question comes up, the misery will come spilling out. It isn’t healthy but it’s a hell of a lot easier to just not say anything. To push it back out of sight and count the days on the calendar until crew change.

All these feelings, everything I’ve talked about here is why the single thing that is guaranteed to make any mariner or their family angry is when other people even attempt to act like they understand the hardships of the lifestyle. As much as the therapist fiancé and I might not fully understand what each other go through, 99% of the people who we interact with at home have zero to fuck all of a clue. Going back to the beginning of this post, it’s the notion that you know what someone is going through in a situation you haven’t lived or experienced that is bound to cause problems. That problem being your mariner brother, or son, or friend, and their spouse will start resenting you for every single condescending “Well that’s just the life I guess” statement you make.

So before you get frustrated with the bonehead mariner in your life, just remember we have feelings too, most of us just wont admit it. Before making the “he loves you and will find a job at home before you know it”, blanket comforting statement to the significant other of the mariner in your life. Just remember acting like you know what they are going through is demeaning far from validation. Whether you are the mariner, the mariner’s family, or the friends and extended family of both. Use the kids gloves when things aren’t good, because until you’ve walked a while in the other persons shoes, you don’t know what its like.

On that note, it’s crew change day! In a few short hours I will be headed home to see my bride to be and our furry child. So today, all is right in the world.

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Don’t be a menace in south central while oil is below $60 a barrel

If you watch the news, or better yet drive a car, you may have noticed lately that the price of fuel has dropped in the last six months. By drop I mean plummeted, with Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate down to under $60 a barrel from over $100 just six months ago. For the producers and consumers this is great news. When energy is cheap it means things are cheaper to make, cheaper to ship, and consumers have more money in their pocket to spend.
However for people in my line of work, that is Oil and Gas production, the drastic slide in prices is the beginning of another batch of bad times for the industry. The oil industry goes in cycles with supply and demand as anyone from a company exec to the roughneck with no high school diploma can tell you. When demand is up and prices are high things get very good for everyone. New equipment is ordered, day rates for everything and everyone soars.
Though when the bottom drops out, it is for a lot of people like getting pushed off a cliff. This whole business is a gamble, and many of the major players would probably fit right in at a high stakes poker table. If you put yourself out there you can gain a lot in a short amount of time during the up cycles, it’s just when the down turn comes you better be ready for it.
For many of the smaller operators and even some of the bigger ones in the boat business this will be a very trying year or more while waiting for the rebound. Already many companies, and their mariner’s are feeling the squeeze. Several of the larger companies have announced pay and benefit cuts, cut peoples time at work and more. For the small companies, particularly those competing in the declining shelf market, even this temporary down turn might be a killer blow.
What does this mean for me? For one I’ve shook some trees in the tug and barge side of things to get an idea on making a transition back if need be. One of the reasons I work on Jaguar at home is to keep my towing license up, because having the ability to work on tugs as well is a lot like a SOLAS rated life raft for me. It takes some effort keep in usable condition, but it could save my bacon!
Diversity is certainly a good thing at times. There is a quote I have always liked about staying diverse in your skill set as a person:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
-Robert A. Heinlein

While I have always liked that quote, it has definitely hit home for me in the recent months. I might not have much experience in life outside of running and maintaining boats, but at least I can run and maintain a few of different types of boats! Regardless of the price of oil or being on supply boats or tugs at the end of the day all you can do is continue to do your job to the best of your abilities, and not be the low hanging fruit. Boats are still working, and the paperwork still needs to be filed, the helm manned.

Just last week we had a couple day charter doing a deck load run for Heerema, taking groceries and assorted containers to their DP crane rig the Balder. This is a very cool rig built for heavy deep water construction and pipe laying. For its full specs check out Heerema’s website here. For some immediate satisfaction of your curiosity here are a couple photos.

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Photo of the week 1-2-14

Here is another contribution from the Maine Maritime Alumni network, this shot by Jeremy Dann. Yes, The Jeremy Dann from the Jeremy Dann show. Taken from the wheelhouse of the tug Magothy northbound on the Delaware. Not a bad office, but that goes with out saying.

Hard to ask for more!

Hard to ask for more!

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Twas the Night Before Christmas

I’m not in a very creative mood, however the show must go on and I simply can’t be the only blogger with out a christmas post. Tapping in to save me with his rendition, that is now a yearly staple on many a Maine Maritime grad’s Facebook newsfeed, is Capt. Ed Snell with:

A Tugboat Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the tug,
Only the deckhand was stirring
The tea in his mug.

The dock lines were hung
By the fiddly with care
In hopes that crew change
Soon would be there.

The tug’s crew was nestled
Safe in their beds
All thankful the pilots
Had taken their meds.

Me, out of my float coat,
And warm woolen cap,
Had just settled in for
A short off-watch nap.

When down in the galley
There arose such a clatter
I rolled right back over-
didn’t care what’s the matter.

While the moon on the breasts
Of the calendar girls
Gave luster to New Year,
They twinkled like pearls.

When what to my wandering eyes should appear?
But a rusty old crew boat
Approaching, too near.

With a little old driver,
All Cajun and thick
I could tell right away,
That he wasn’t too quick.
More rapid than eagles
His curses, they came
As he yelled at his deckhand
And called out bad names.

Go faster!
Get moving!
He was boozed up and drooling!
He had a pistol!
The kind used for dueling!

He was dressed in his besties,
From his head to his testes
Three coonskins, a gator’s hide
And 2 robin’s nesties.

His eyes, they were bloodshot-
His dimples, all hairy
His hair smelled like onions,
His nose was quite scary.

Then up to the wheelhouse
The drunk Cajun flew
With reckless abandon,
Like he’d been sniffing glue.

And then with a clinking
A clunk and a shutter
He flew to the stacks
And slid down like butter.

But he spoke not a word
And went straight to his work
He ate all our junk food
This guy was a jerk!

No gumbo? He asked
Nay Nay, he demanded
For a spontaneous rampage,
It seemed like he’d planned it.

And laying his finger
Beside of his nose
He emptied its contents,
As if blown from a hose.

As I watched from my room
With great confusion,
I couldn’t make any sense
Of the midnight intrusion.

Then he sprang to his crew-boat
Still belching black smoke-
I know I’m up early
But this must be a joke!

And I heard him exclaim
As he steamed out of sight
“I drive boats by day,
And I pillage by night!”

Then up from my nap
I was suddenly wakened
It was all just a dream—
But why am I naked?

So Merry Christmas here from the HOS Bluewater in Port Fourchon, LA. To everyone at home I send my love, and to everyone at sea I’ll see ya on the one!

Tis the Season!

Tis the Season!

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It Belongs in a Museum!

Short trip home this time, the details on that coming in another post once I am a little less apt to write something angry.
Regardless I did get to be involved with towing the Mayflower II, not exactly a first for me, however this time the destination was! In years past the Mayflower II would spend her winter on the railway at the former D.N. Kelly’s shipyard in Fairhaven (now Fairhaven shipyard north). This would allow the plantation staff to do below the waterline repairs and just generally catch up on larger projects that couldn’t be done during the summer.
However this year and the next few to come, she is spending her winter at the mecca of wooden vessels in the northeast, Mystic Seaport. There are few facilities in the country set up and staffed in the manner that the seaport is, and in collaboration with the Plimouth Plantation staff, there is truly an expert team set to perform a full restoration on the nearly 60 year old ship.
While I am a fan of wooden ship building and the techniques used, my part of the job has nothing to do with wielding an adze or driving oakum into seams. Instead I am part of the team in place to make sure she gets from point A to point B safely and intact. In the case of our normal trips from Plymouth to Fairhaven this involves an easy daylight tow on a short hawser. The daylight part remained the same for this trip, however it involved three legs, a tugboat friend catching lines for us, lots of in an out with the hawser, and a final tricky trip up the Mystic river.
While we are completely able to make the tow in a single leg with an overnight passage, due to insurance reasons we had to make only daylight trips. Leg one consisted of an afternoon departure from Plymouth, transiting the Cape Cod Canal and arriving at the state pier in New Bedford for the night. In Plymouth we arrived on site with the hawser ready to go. I passed a heaving line to the bow of the Mayflower and their crew shackled the thimble of our hawser into their wire bridles. These bridles are wire and attached to two eyes near the waterline on Mayflower II’s bow. To make the connection the crew on the Mayflower II uses a block and tackle to lift the ring for their bridles up on deck, and makes it fast with a stopper. They then pull the thimble end of our hawser across as we feed them slack, and connect their bridles and our hawser with a heavy shackle. The shackle pin is seized with wire and the now connected bridles and hawser are dropped clear into the water. Their pick up line is left connected to the bridles, with the sufficient slack in it.

The bridle connection can be see here in this photo of us outbound New London bound for Mystic

The bridle connection can be see here in this photo of us outbound New London bound for Mystic

With the bridles made up, Louise and I fed a bit more hawser out and made it up on Capt. Charlie’s command. With a light application of tension we first eased the bow away from the pier, and then pulled ahead to bring her out into the channel. This is where the first of the two hardest parts of this tow take place, at least for the guy at the wheel! The Mayflower II has a lot of mass for her size and tracks along quite straight. So even when shortened up it she tends to dive off to one side or the other in turns. Due to this Charlie has to compensate coming into each and every turn, otherwise Mayflower II would continue off on whichever way she would like!

Below is a link to a short video from CBS Boston showing our departure.

See the video here

Once around the point of Long Beach the towing gets easier. With the weather being calm we leave the hawser fairly short to make less work for the deck crew, and head for the Cape Cod Canal. Arriving at the east end shortly after dark to quite a reception committee! At least a dozen cars with headlights on and camera lights flashing! Including the Therapist Fiance and her Mother who had come down to the canal to see us pass through. Getting to wave and blow the whistle for them is probably my favorite part of working on Jaguar, in this job your family generally never gets to see you at work and being able to wave is something that really warms your heart. In the same sense as this blog, it is a great feeling to share what I love to do with those who I love.

Outbound Plymouth Bay off the Gurnet, ready to turn for the Canal

Outbound Plymouth Bay off the Gurnet, ready to turn for the Canal

After a canal transit full of onlookers, even in the early winter dark, we passed Mass Maritime and headed for Buzzards Bay. Shortly after making Butlers Flats Light we slowed to bring the Mayflower II alongside. After getting her nearly stopped we fed out some hawser to allowed for the Mayflower II crew to use their pick up line to pick up the shackle and disconnect the hawser from the bridles. Once that is done Louise and I hauled back and faked the hawser out as Charlie backed down and slid alongside. Once alongside the first line up is the spring line, or towing strap. This is made up single part from the shoulder bitt to a post on the main deck. Next the headline is passed just forward of our bow to a shackle on the port side of the Mayflower II, the eye is kept on our forward H-Bitt and the bitter end is passed through the shackle, we then haul the bitter end back and make up on the after side of the forward H-Bitt. Lastly is the stern line, for this a heaving line is passed down to us which we make fast to the quarter bitt. It is in this configuration we came alongside the State Pier in New Bedford as well as the City Pier in our second stop of New London. The only differences between the two legs were; having more hawser out for the longer more exposed route from New Bedford to New London. Having a bit of chop coming in the race, and hauling back that extra bit of hawser just as fast in New London Harbor. A very pleasant surprise upon our arrival there was having Birk Thomas, the purveyor of tugboat information.com, and a good friend of mine on the pier to catch our lines. After getting made up at the pier and putting gangway out, Birk, Charlie, Louise and myself made our way a couple blocks up town to a local Irish pub for a well deserved dinner.

Here are a few pictures from our New Bedford to New London Leg.

Departing New Bedford Harbor on the hip

Departing New Bedford Harbor on the hip

Departing New Bedford for New London. Butlers Flats Light in the background

Departing New Bedford for New London. Butlers Flats Light in the background

Stretching out the hawser

Stretching out the hawser

At the Race

At the Race

Marching along for New London, our couple minutes of wave action happened at the Race

Marching along for New London, our couple minutes of wave action happened at the Race

The next morning after a good nights sleep we awoke for the final leg of our trip up into Mystic and the Seaport. For this leg we swapped out the heavier hawser for a lighter working line that would be easier for us to handle while making up alongside at Mystic, the reason being is we would be walking it forward and turning it into our headline. This process saves several minutes as there is no need for the Mayflower II crew to disconnect, and it eliminates the need to pass a separate headline up. With the short hawser made up eye to eye on the main H-Bitt we proceeded up the winding and tight Mystic river for Mystic Seaport. I only managed to snap a few pictures once we made the river as I was standing by to be ready to jump to if needed. With a vessel in tow that doesn’t track exactly perfect this is a difficult passage to make for the guy in the wheelhouse. To help steer the Mayflower II and keep our speed down the 50′ launch Liberty was made up on her stern, and two small yawl boats on her port and starboard bows.

Our hawser faked out from being hauled back the night before. Our after breakfast exercise involved coiling this back on the stack

Our hawser faked out from being hauled back the night before. Our after breakfast exercise involved coiling this back on the stack

Looking up the stern line. Due to its high lead it is necessary to take a turn on the quarter bitt's horn before making it up. This keeps the line from pulling itself up and off the bitt under tension

Looking up the stern line. Due to its high lead it is necessary to take a turn on the quarter bitt’s horn before making it up. This keeps the line from pulling itself up and off the bitt under tension

Our Sterns with the ferry Race Point in the background

Our Sterns with the ferry Race Point in the background

At the City Pier New London

At the City Pier New London

A panorama for good measure

A panorama for good measure

Post New London departure photos, and into the Mystic.

New London Harbor Light

New London Harbor Light

New London Ledge Light

New London Ledge Light

Mayflower II on a short hawser

Mayflower II on a short hawser

Colors flying!

Colors flying!

Entering the Mystic River, and on to the Seaport

Yawl boat on the starboard bow

Yawl boat on the starboard bow

Yawl boat on the port bow

Yawl boat on the port bow

Liberty as our tail boat

Liberty as our tail boat

Follow the leader

Follow the leader

After getting her made up to the dock at Mystic Seaport we had a little time to wave to the cameras, shake hands with the crew and stow our lines before it was time to make haste back to New Bedford. We still had ships to undock and work to do. The wheels just don’t stop turning.

Safe and sound

Safe and sound

Mystic Seaport in our wake

Mystic Seaport in our wake

Sunset on Fisher Island Island's Sound

Sunset on Fisher Island Island’s Sound

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