Sunday, September 18, 2016

Back in the Bay

It's my 4th hitch with Sause and I'm back on the Cochise and bouncing around between docks here in SF Bay.  My hitch started out with a flight to Coos Bay via Seattle and Portland, and I crewed up on the Klihyam for a few days and we took the new cargo barge (Namakani) up to Portland.

Klihyam pulling the Namakani.  picture courtesy of Sause Bros.
At that point, I sat around for a few days  on the Klihyam awaiting new orders.  Then they flew me from PDX down to San Francisco to the Cochise.  Immediately after checking onboard we did a run up to Eureka, then back to Richmond, then up to Portland.

The PDX trip north was slow with 30-40 kt winds in our face for the entire leg. It pretty much sucked, but we managed to claw our way up there, unload our barge and then have a few days of downtime at the Sause docks.

Typically when I'm in PDX, I try to hang out with my good friends who transplanted up there a few years back.

So, after that short layover, we popped back down the Columbia and headed back to the Bay with an empty barge.  Now we're sitting at Pier 50 by the ballpark, awaiting our next load date over in Richmond, which will take place late tonight.  We'll load up, head to Martinez for a day, then come back to Richmond for another load and then up to Eureka.  After that, it sounds like we'll be sitting back here at Pier 50 for a few days until our next load on 10/1.  I'm should be going home shortly thereafter, so the busy schedule leading up to it will be nice and help time go quick.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tandem Lumber South

After a nice refreshing 44 days off, I got dispatched up to Portland to the tug Chinook that was doing the lumber run from Rainier down to Long Beach.  I checked onboard Thursday afternoon and we got underway Saturday to head down the Columbia and grab our two barges in Rainier.  I guess the lumber we haul is mainly for Home Depots in Southern, CA.

So, we are currently just off the coast of the Oregon/California border and heading south at a whopping 6 knots.  We are scheduled to get into Long Beach sometime around Sunday or so.  From there, we will tie up at the Sause docks for a short spell and then head back north with a couple empty barges in tandem.

The crew onboard is great, including the cook that is providing me with endless reasons to get fat.  Every meal so far has been excellent and hard to pass up.  We picked up a PMI cadet on Saturday before departing.  Good guy, eager to learn and a hard worker.  I remember those days and it seems like yesterday. I've been doing my best to give him a good overall introduction to the job of a Mate while at the same time, giving him some good navigational ammo for his TCNav classes next month.

The Chinook is an older boat, built in the 70's, but quite roomy, fairly quiet and has a pretty good ride.  So far, most of the winds have been at our backs, but she handles it well and smooth.  The quarters onboard are more than roomy and the overall layout seems pretty well thought out.

Anyhow, we'll be down there in a few days and then back up to Rainier.  I've been told that the boat will be heading into the yards after this round-trip, and I'll probably depart at that point and head home for Meg's (my daughter) high school graduation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sause Bros Hitch 1

Sitting in a bus-stop waiting area, waiting for my wife to pick me up here in Richmond outside the Chevron refinery.  I just stepped off the boat after a hitch of about 37 days. This was my first trip with Sause Bros. towing and I felt that it went quite smoothly.  There was certainly a learning curve as I figured out a new way of doing things and working with new people, new boats and new ports.  At times, it was overwhelming, but I nestled in, took good notes and slowly began to figure it all out. The captain gave me a good review today, so hopefully they keep me around for bit.

For the past 3 years, I’ve worked with containerized cargo barges, loading and unloading, lashing and unlashing.  The container barges are pretty simple and the boat crews have to manually handle all the lines upon arrival at the docks.  The tank barges that we deal with at Sause, have hydraulic winches to do all the hard work, we simply have to make sure the lines get lead correctly and that the barge is on spot for transfer operations.  Makes for a much easier job, but it comes with a little bit of a learning curve.

Sause put me on one of the newest boats in the fleet, the “Cochise”, which was built in 2007.  It has 7 staterooms, 3 heads a large galley, satellite TV and wifi.  The latter 2 were having some issues, but the wifi worked most of the time.  The boat is extremely quiet, spacious, comfy, plus she rode fairly good compared to what I’m used to.  It also has a computerized winch system that allows you to punch in a number and the winch will stream the tow in or out to the preset number all on its own.  This particular boat also has an elliptical machine and rowing machine onboard to ensure that we don’t get too lazy and fat.  Many nice positive attributes and features.

The crew was really good, seasoned and helpful as I scratched away at the learning curve. Sause likes to keep its crew on roughly a 42-day rotation, but everyone is on a different schedule.  We went through a full crew swap during my hitch, so I got to work with 2 separate Captains, 1st mates, Engineers, Asst Eng., Cook and so-on.   All good guys.

So, for the next 35 days or so, I’m off work, paid, home, enjoying my off time.  The dispatcher has me on roughly a 35 day rotation so that I can make my daughter Megan’s graduation in June.  After that, I’ll most likely be going back on a 42-day rotation.

So, it's time for the honey-do list and 35 days of rest and relaxation...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sitting on the dock of the bay...

That pretty much says it all.  I arrived down in San Francisco about 2 weeks ago to start my hitch onboard the Sause tug "Cochise".
 She's a good looking boat, built in 2007 and very comfortable with regards to the interior.
The boat was actually up in Martinez that day, so I shuttled it up there and checked onboard. We finished up in Martinez, then headed down to Richmond to fill up for a trip to Eureka.  Our job down here is to move fuel and oil via large tank barge to various facilities in the Bay Area and occasionally up to Eureka.  It's not a hard job, but sometimes we stay on the move for a few days straight between docks down here.  

Last week, we did a Eureka run and then came back down to pier 50 (next to AT&T park) in San Francisco where we have been tied up ever since.  Our next run isn't scheduled until this coming Sunday, so we've just been doing maintenance and cleaning aboard the boat and enjoying some free afternoon/evenings to get out into the city.

I've been lucky enough to meet my family for lunch, go for a bike ride (we have a bike that stays onboard the barge), catch a movie and see some sights here and there.  It's pretty boring being tied up to the pier for so long, but sure beats getting tossed around in Alaska somewhere in between heinous cargo stops.

The boat is nice, the crew is good, the food is great and the weather has been amazing to say the least.  The view from my stateroom looks out at the San Francisco skyline and the Bay bridge.  Pretty hard to beat a view like that!
I've taken a few coffee breaks out on deck and just enjoyed the view while we have it.
We will be heading over the Richmond in a few days and then make another run up to Eureka.  From there, I'm sure we will be back down here bouncing around the bay from dock to dock. 
We did nearly a full crew swap today, so I've got some new names to remember. Everyone seems cool so far!  Anyhow, thats all I've got for now.  2 weeks down and about 3 to go!  

Back to my duties...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Change Course: new job!

I haven't written anything for a while, so I thought I'd take a minute to update anyone who might wander across my blog now and then.

The past few months have been pretty quiet. I finished up a couple hitches on a dredge job down in San Francisco and then went home for Christmas, New Years and all of January. 

I received an officially layoff in the beginning of January, which was to be expected.  I was hoping to avoid the "job hunt dance" with unemployment, but ended up having to put out some resumes and applications here and there in order to receive benefits.

In the process, I did a little networking and talking with friends in the industry and with some solid referrals, landed a job with a new company.

So, I'm currently on a plane, enroute to Coos Bay Oregon for a new-hire orientation at Sause Brothers Towing.  They do mostly cargo and petroleum barge towing up and down the West Coast and Hawaii. 

I have heard really good things about the company and am looking forward to learning more over the next few days.  The dispatcher told me to bring my gear and be ready to ship out after orientation. The typical schedule with them is 6weeks on/off steady rotation from what I've heard.  I don't yet know where, when, or how long I'm heading out on this first hitch... So let the adventure begin.  

I'll make more entries after I learn more and get my first assignment.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A day in the life of a dredge job

Somebody asked me about my schedule down here in San Francisco Bay and my duties, so I thought it would be fun to do a "day in the life of", for this current dredge job.

Me: 2nd Mate on the Gene Dunlap Ocean Tug.

The Contract:  Dredge job for Manson Construction near Richmond, that will be a 3-month job, dredging mostly the Richmond channel at the outer entrance, outer harbor near the long-wharf and the inner harbor that leads to the marinas.

We were hired to move and empty the dump skows (220'+ barges that open and close for dumping).
 Each barge holds about 3000-4000 cubic yards of material. We have 3 skows, 2 that we rotate and one for backup.  
There are 3 dump sites:  one is SF10, which is our currently used site, and it's about 6 miles to the north-northeast in San Pablo Bay. The next one is offshore near the Farralone Islands (SFDOD), approx 60 miles from the dredging area and won't be used until we begin dredging the inner harbor in November.

The 3rd disposal site is about 35 miles northeast up near Antioch and Pittsburgh.

Right now, it's just our crew and one boat (Gene Dunlap) doing the dump runs
However next month the Snohomish will be joining our efforts as we begin the offshore runs.

The daily grind.  
We have 3 deck officers (One Captain and two Mates), and the mates are working a 6 on, 6 off rotation while the Captain floats and gets up when needed, which is usually during tricky maneuvering and landings.

I'm working the 6-12 watch morning and evening, so my day goes something like this.

05:25 alarm clock.  Get up, throw some clothes on, hit the head (use the bathroom AND hit my noggin since I'm sleeping in a short bunk), then roll into the galley for a bowl of cereal and some fresh fruit (special thanks to our cook for that daily treat).  After that, I make a cup of coffee and head up to the wheelhouse to take the watch around 05:45.  
If nothing is happening, I basically sit in the wheelhouse, fill out some paperwork and monitor VTS Ch 14 and our working channel 66 for the dredge itself, and basically stand an anchor watch.

In between dumping barges, we anchor
Near the dredge on our tow wire by letting out extra wire and locking us in place.

When the dredge has a loaded barge for us ready to go, they give us a one-hour heads up and we fire up the mains (main engines).  It takes the dredge anywhere from 4-8 hours to fully load a barge.

We then reel in our empty barge, break tow (disconnect), let the other assist tug come and take it from us, then we head to the dredge to make up tow on the fully loaded skow.

Once we've connected our tow wire, the dredge crew drops the lines and we pull away.  As soon as that happens and the captain has us clear of the dredge, I take the helm and drive us up to the disposal site (SF10,) which takes about 45 minutes or so. Once we get there, I throttle down, scrub speed and bring the tug/barge into the site using special GPS software provided to us by the Army Corp of Engineers. They track every movement of the barge and are very specific about where we dump. It must happen within the small site, or fines will be assessed.
Once the software shows that the barge is safely inside the box, we use a remote transmitter to fire up the barge engine and begin the opening process.

After we get the barge opening, it begins to dump and rise up.  The opening process takes about 6-10 minutes, but it can take up to 20 minutes or so to completely empty.  After we are convinced that most of the material is gone (judging it by the draft lines), we close it up and power down the engines.
Then we throttle up the boat and head back to anchorage number 5, just south of the Richmond bridge and wait for the next call.  

We've been averaging about 2 dumps per day, sometimes more sometimes less depending on whether the dredge has to move out of the channel, for passing ships.

Once 12 rolls around, I get relieved by the other mate, I'll grab some lunch and hit my rack for some sleep, maybe a movie or a book, then do it all over again
6 hours later starting with dinner at 17:00 and a cup of coffee, finishing out my day at midnight.

The weather has been great, the views awesome, and I can't really complain about much. We also have really good internet and phone signal, which helps ease the pain. The 6 and 6 rotation kinda sucks, but considering the facts, it's a pretty good gig. 
When not on watch, I go out on deck and soak up the sun, watch the yachts go by and enjoy the views.

I've been getting a ton of "stick time", landing barges on buoys, moving barges from moorings to docks and back, and have become quite comfortable with the maneuverings, and keeping the barge in the postage stamp sized dump site.

I'll be onboard for another 2 weeks and then home for about a month. Hopefully I'll be back down here for another hitch in December to finish out the job.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

San Francisco Dredgin'

Well, when I got into tugs, it was my goal to find work in San Francisco Bay.  This month, I met my goal at least for the short term.  Our company landed a dredge job near Richmond, so I'm sitting down here for about a month moving dump skows daily.  It's not the most glamorous life, but it's certainly nice being on the Bay and driving around the waterways that I know and love.  I know the San Francisco Bay, having spent quite a few summers down here sailing and anchoring around as a kid as well as sailing with Tradewinds Sailing Club out of Richmond Marina a few years back.  It brings back good memories and the weather has been excellent to say the least.
I'll be down here for a few more weeks, and then rotating out.  The job is supposed to take about 3 months total.  

If you don't know what a dump skow is, check out my video here:

I like to kill the time with photography and photo editing.  Enjoy!