They’ll get out of the way, I learned that driving the Houma
Day 17 of my hitch has started with us standing by at the home dock. It’s been a good hitch thus far with trainee’s galore and plenty of painting accomplished. Aside from about a week of good wind, including a day of WNW gale that shut down bunkering in the anchorage, the weather has even really turned to summer.
Earlier in the hitch I got to finally meet another blogger I’ve followed for a long time. Hawsepiper is a funny as hell writer and a really cool guy. He’s one of the great tankermen to deal with here too, a real professional. Definitely check out his blog for an insight into the lives of the guys who handle the product I move around, and for general commentary on the industry in general. He also another box checked off on the “fellow bloggers I’ve met in the industry after creeping on them for ages online” list. Who said you can’t make meaningful connections in the digital age? Of course you could say the most meaningful part of our connection is the strap, headline and stern line between my boat and his barge.
This morning I spent about an hour catching my personal logbook up. I use a large moleskin notebook through out the day to keep a personal deck log running. It makes it easy to do the vessel logs later as I can keep in my pocket whether I am in the upper or lower wheelhouse, and it allows me to keep track of my sea time and recency easily. Keeping a personal log is something I have always done on and off, and I am trying to put the hammer down with self-discipline to keep it up. I’ve got a step further and started adding notes at the end of the day and even diagrams about something new we might have done, or just an interesting situation. This hitch my discipline has waned and I had to catch up about a week and a half worth of entries earlier.
While I don’t intend to let my log run so far behind on a regular basis, it was a decent moment of reflection on the last few months at work, that is since I changed jobs. To be honest my last few months at my previous employer had become a struggle. Unhappiness was the name of the game for a lot of my co-workers, and I was struggling making progress as a boatman. Why I can’t really put a finger on, general dissatisfaction probably had a lot to do with it, that and the near constant looming threat of lay offs. I wasn’t putting forth 100% of the effort that was needed to continue to advance my skill set, and in hindsight I really regret letting myself backslide like that. It was with all of this in the back of my mind that I came into things at the new job with a renewed vigor and focus.
At the end of the day it has paid off, a couple of months down the road and things have really positively clicked for me. Though a change in attitude isn’t the only thing I can attribute to turning things around. Working for and around two good friends who I respect and admire as mariner’s, and who both told me “you’ve got this, just drive the boat”, definitely had something to do with it. Being able to answer a phone call from the office without a sense of dread can be added to the list.
From an operational standpoint though, the type of work I am doing is exactly what I needed to get my skill set where it needs to be when it comes to barge handling. The majority of barges we work with in the harbor are anywhere from 250-300′, 25k-35k barrels, and with 8-12′ loaded drafts. In short pretty easy to handle with a 3000 HP tug that itself handles like a sports car. To borrow a term from athletics, we also get a lot of “touches” during the day. In lacrosse this would mean you got to handle the ball a lot, and made a lot of catches and passes, for us it is an expression of how often we are making barge moves. On a busy day we will be making three to four moves in a six-hour watch, often with different barges, different berths, and different make ups. This means in a short period time you get a lot of practice in and, if you can keep up, can learn a lot. We also do as much of our work as possible without an assist tug. It saves the customer a lot of money, and often time. Sometimes it’s unavoidable from a safety standpoint, and that decision-making process is something I’ve vastly improved on.
Since we do a lot of dockings and sailings with out an assist I’ve learned to be creative with working with the environment, and it has really made barge handling fun for me. Thinking outside of the box, using fendering, playing the conditions, the control and at times conservation of momentum. With out an assist tug you need to have three plans in your pocket and think everything out well in advance. Having a great deckhand or tanker man on the barge helps too. I’ve found that nothing, truly nothing, sucks as much as nailing an approach to a berth with tricky wind or tide. Only to have the guy on the barge not be able to ace their throw with the first line, forcing you to fight the conditions or even have to do things all over again.
Now if we can get some trips out of town so I can build recency in a few more places, and get more time on the wire, then I would have zero complaints! I hope you’ve enjoyed the short time lapses from the last few weeks. Nothing fancy, just shot with my iPhone 6s, and this last one is edited together with the GoPro splice app.