Photos from the East End

Well this blogger is back in his usual haunts for a couple weeks of rest, relaxation, and catching up on the to do list at the house! I decided it was time to start a new regular blog post for my tug and vessel spotting at the Cape Cod Canal, in particular down at the east end. The furry child, Therapist Fiancé and myself have spend countless hours down by the canal, and its a favorite spot for us. So on that note on with the photos!

Two regulars to start, Independence & Lucy Reinauer

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Next is a favorite boat of mine, Barbara McAllister, escorted by the ever present Buckley

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One of Hydroid’s AUV deployment boats.

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Aegean Sea with a light scow, New Bedford bound

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One of the usual suspects

Is there someone behind me?

Is there someone behind me?

McKinley Sea & Buckley McAllister

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Scarlett Isabella

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Buckley McAllister headed back for the barn, Mass Maritime that is.

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Magothy with Double Skin 50 on the wire.

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Out of the Frying Pan

“New York Harbor Experience preferred”, it is the bold letters in every tugboat related help wanted add in the back of workboat or professional mariner. Simply put, if you can to do it all as a tugboat master or mate in New York, you are never going to be out of work any longer than you want to be. It takes a skill set that encompasses a need for sharp boat and barge handling skills, an incredible depth of local knowledge, and the ability to think ten steps ahead and plan every job according to tide and weather. All of that coupled with non-stop traffic ranging from tankers, container ships, Ro/Ro’s, other tug and barges, and the ever-constant ferryboats.

Elizabeth McAllister in newark bay

Elizabeth McAllister in newark bay


So far the learning curve has been steep and it has involved a multitude of adjustments to my skill set. From having every chink in my boat handling armor exposed, to having the local knowledge that is key to being a New York harbor boatman thrown at me around the clock. It has made for a lot of 18-hour days to stay up and do an assist or barge landing I haven’t yet, trying to soak up everything I can as fast as possible. The highs have been certainly been high. Acing a barge landing and only using the assist boat to pin her at the dock. Coming along side a ship just right with a light touch, and nailing every step of the assist. Of course the lows have been low as well. Landing on the next ship hard, or having the Captain step in and take over while landing or sailing a barge. It’s all part of the learning process that will take some time.
A waterman if I ever saw one

A waterman if I ever saw one


Then there is the pace of things, that is to say busier than I’ve been in a long time. In the five straight weeks that my first hitch consisted of, there were maybe four or five six-hour watches where we didn’t have at least one job. Downtime is at a minimum and the up time is mentally and physically more taxing than doing the Fourchon shuffle.
Lady Liberty

Lady Liberty


See on supply boats the goal is pretty much “don’t hit things”, and you have a lot of vectorable thrust to accomplish that goal with. Here I am often trying to hit things, whether they are a barge or ship, but not hit them very hard. Though when you are needed you have to get in the game and be alongside or pushing as fast as possible, so you can’t exactly take your sweet time. It’s a fine line you are aiming for, and you are often doing it at five or six knots, all while keeping the boat out of a spot where metal will meet metal.
Bruce McAllister with the city in the background

Bruce McAllister with the city in the background


The same can be said for landing and sailing barges, whether in and out of a berth or alongside a ship. You are trying to balance forces and conserve momentum in order to use a minimum of power and do thing efficiently. However get things moving too quickly and you will end up with the barge landing against things you don’t want it to, and often a speed that is faster than you would like. Once you loose control of momentum it starts to control you, and the damage that can ensue is not exactly a career enhancer.
Charles D McAllister off 149th St.

Charles D McAllister off 149th St.


Initially I was anxious about this change. I knew it was a step out of the frying pan, right into the fire. Though after my first hitch there is still anxiety, its more targeted instead of a general feeling. The general feeling now is excitement. I feel challenged, and am learning things every day. The skill set I am building is the same one so many of the captains I’ve looked up to for years possess. Not that I didn’t learn anything in my detour to the Gulf of Mexico, I certainly gained valuable management, boat handling, and leadership skills. However looking back I do almost wish upon finding out I was headed to a mud boat and not a 7200 HP tractor tug, that I had gotten on a plane and flown back home. Call it the honeymoon phase, or new job excitement, call it what you want. All I know is being back on tugs, bigger ones in the busiest harbor on the east coast, is exactly where I am meant to be.

My new office, the container barge came with it!

My new office, the container barge came with it!

Resolute working easy on the shoulder

Resolute working easy on the shoulder

Ellen McAllister testing the tip

Ellen McAllister testing the tip

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Resolute & the B-233

Resolute & the B-233

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Photos of the week 3-16-15 Frozen North Edition

Well I have taken more than a few photos the last five weeks, and I haven’t shared any of them on here! You only have so much in the tank after an 18 hour day, and my priority is generally, talk to the therapist fiancé, eat, sleep, and shower when I can!
That being said I picked a hell of a winter to come back north for work! The ice has been something else in the Hudson and even New York Harbor itself. While I didn’t get any trips up the river, I do have some good shots from the harbor.

Eric McAllister with a nice coating

Eric McAllister with a nice coating

At the yard

Looking east out of south of shooters reach

Looking east out of south of shooters reach

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Mcyard

Mcyard

Mcyard

Off the Battery
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Bayridge Anchorage

The charlie buoy looking very Marilyn Monroe like

The charlie buoy looking very Marilyn Monroe like

Chesapeake Coast picking her way into Gowanus

Chesapeake Coast picking her way into Gowanus

Anchored units in Bayridge

Anchored units in Bayridge

Chesapeake Coast making her escape

Chesapeake Coast making her escape

My three favorite shots

Ellen McAllister in the ice in Bayridge waiting to assist us into Court St.

Ellen McAllister in the ice in Bayridge waiting to assist us into Court St.

Brooklyn inbound MOT with the snow coming down fast

Brooklyn inbound MOT with the snow coming down fast

Tangier Island & HMS Justice in the Gowanus

Tangier Island & HMS Justice in the Gowanus

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Will the last person out of Louisiana please turn off the lights?

For the last six months the global oil market has taken a dizzyingly sharp plunge in search of a price bottom that no one is sure we have found yet. Across the county and even across the globe tens of thousands of workers, people much like myself, held their collective breath. Around galley tables talk shifted from home improvements and new trucks to OPEC, national energy policy and oil price forecasting. Like watching a train about to hit a bus stuck on the tracks, everyone knew what was coming and just didn’t want to believe it would happen. “Surely the OPEC nations can’t keep boosting production, they must be hurting as well.” Said many overnight experts on global energy trading. Even I was cautiously optimistic about things, saying more than once that our market, the Gulf of Mexico was one of the most attractive places in the world for deep-water drilling.
After all the G.O.M. was the most politically stable oil rich region in the world! Located next to one of the largest energy markets in the world and a plethora of refineries and ports. Sure things would slow down; we would take some pay cuts, but lay offs? Then the prices of oil went lower, and again lower. Every day the news was worse and memories of the slump of the late 80’s started to surface. For many in the oil business this isn’t their first down turn, and for many it won’t be the last. Those who had been around long enough were often smart enough to be in a position financially to weather the storm. However for many of the younger guys in my age group this been a bucket of cold water to the face. For some followed with a punch to the throat.
What really surprised me is how quickly things happened. It seemed like in a matter of hitches everything went from being a little slow to people being sent home. Before I knew it two boats I had been on were warm stacked, and I have no doubt a few of them will be cold iron before long. Very suddenly the downturn was very real, and no longer just “too bad for those guys at XYZ offshore”
As I write this all of the major OSV companies are stacking boats, and sending people home for lack of work. 401k matches are being suspended, travel pay and safety bonuses eliminated, and pay is often being “restructured” if not out right cut. I have friends, good friends, who have been at home with no work and not a word of hope from their office for weeks now.
When you go back and really look at things it should be no surprise how quickly costs were slashed and driven down. The last decade, with the exception of the Deepwater Horizon incident moratorium, have been a bit of a golden time for offshore drilling contractors in the G.O.M. One large discovery after another and the expand at any cost necessary attitude lead to nearly unchecked spending on exploration and production projects. Day rates for new generation drill ships and rigs soared towards nearly a million dollars a day, and nearly a dozen multi billion dollar deepwater projects in the G.O.M. alone were undertaken.
While this exploration and expansion of reserves is necessary for any major oil company to stay soluble, there is a variable that for most cannot be ignored, the shareholders. As time went on and budgets spiraled upward shareholders voices on the subject went from a muted rumble to an outright roar. Dividends had suffered for far too long in the name of expansion and at many publicly owned oil and oil services companies cost control was well on the boards mind before the plunge of oil.
When you add all of this together, the oversupply due to the fracking boom, OPEC continuing to boost production, oil major shareholders screaming for higher dividends, it all comes together to put a tremendous hurting on the men and women at the operational level of the oilfield. All of the roughnecks, the field engineers, the support staffs, the boat crews. They need less of us and are going to pay those of us left less.
For me this meant it was time for a change that had been in all likely hood coming soon anyway. I got up the courage to step to the door, jump, and look back at the plane as I pulled the ripcord on one of my maritime parachutes. After a couple weeks at home it was off to new adventures in the part of the industry I’ve always wanted to be in; tugboats in New York Harbor. It’s been several weeks of 18 hour days learning the harbor and sharpening my tug boating skill set on larger equipment at a much busier pace. There will of course be more on this to come in the following weeks and months!
In southern Louisiana and indeed the whole gulf coast the train still hasn’t quite hit that bus stuck on the tracks, but in the coming months and even the next year or two the impact will be felt. As contracts and projects that had already begun before oil’s sudden plunge wrap up, there will be much less work to follow, and it will all be at lower day rates. One captain I’ve worked with said he is going to start printing up new versions of the bumper stickers you saw all over the oil patch in the mid to early 80’s. One said “Survive 85’!”, his plan was to cross out the 85’ and write 15’. The other may need no modification and asks, “Will the last person out of Louisiana please turn off the lights”

Fare well and adieu  You Fourchon dispatchers, Fare well and adieu To you dispatchers of Fourchon, For I've seen orders To sail for New York Harbor, And so in a short while I'll never see you again.....

Fare well and adieu
You Fourchon dispatchers,
Fare well and adieu
To you dispatchers of Fourchon,
For I’ve seen orders
To sail for New York Harbor,
And so in a short while
I’ll never see you again…..

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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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