Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Tug Boat Cook

So, this is only my 3rd trip as cook onboard a tug and I'm starting to find good flow and be at peace with the job. The recipes come naturally, the steps become easier and everyone seems to be satisfied with my meals. It's not rocket science, but it does take good organizational skills and quite a bit of forethought and preparation.

Right before we left on the this trip, I got an email from my Port Captain saying that this will most likely be my last trip as a cook and that I'll be sailing as the main AB on future trips. So, I thought I'd better write out my thoughts as a cook before I'm no longer a cook. I thought it would be fun to walk through a typical day on a tug, as a cook.

My day begins at 03:15. That's the time that my alarm goes off and I slowly wake myself up and get dressed. My watch starts at 04:00 and I must relieve the AB on watch at 03:45, so this gives me 30 minutes to wake up, get up, grab some coffee (1, maybe 2-cups) and maybe a bowl of cereal. I typically just throw on some pants, t-shirt, Keen sandals then hit the head (bathroom, not my cranium) to brush my teeth and splash some water on my face (shower comes later).

After I'm presentable, I'll make my way down the passageway to the galley. Typically I'll find the AB hanging out, or finishing up his cleaning duties for the night. I'll grab a cup of coffee and something to eat and sit down. This is where I usually get an update about anything new. Last night, we had a leak on our SME (Starboard Main Engine), so the chief a Engineer, had passed down that we need to keep an eye on the freshwater coolant tank when we do our engine room checks. Aside from that, no other news. I'll sometimes ask the AB where we are, or gather any intel on callout times, docking times, weather, etc. We will then usually "shoot the shit" for a few minutes before he heads off to bed.

Once on watch, I usually start on the dishwasher by unloading the dishes from the night before unless the AB was nice enough to do it for me. Then I'll try to get a grip on what needs to happen over the next 4 hours. We stand 2, four-hour watches each day 4-8am and 16-20:00, pm. During the early morning watch, I'll usually prepare lunch, make breakfast and do dinner prep. This morning, I grabbed a cookbook and decided to make broccoli-cheese soup for lunch and chicken Parmesan for dinner. For breakfast, I chose steel cut oats with peaches and brown sugar. I got started on the soup first and cut up all the broccoli, onion and got that all going in a pot, then defrosted some chicken for dinner in between. The soup was easy, and only took about 10-15 minutes to get going. After all mixed up and cooked for 20 minutes with milk, half and half, cheese, spices, I put it in the blender and mixed it to a nice consistency before putting it in the crockpot. My initial taste tests gave it 2 thumbs up, sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Underway, the cook and the AB must do engine room checks and/or security checks every hour and then log it in the boats main log in the pilothouse. Simple problems can be nipped in the bud if caught early, hence the regimen. So, we go down below and check a few things, fuel filters, oil leaks, coolant pressure, bilges, etc. It's a simple walk around the engine room that only takes a few minutes. I usually stick my head out the back of the house and look around at the seas, lands, etc for a minute while grabbing a quick breath of fresh air. Then I head back in and up to the pilothouse to check on the chief mate. He and I always share the same watch together, so I sign the log book and make sure he is awake and good to go. Sometimes we will chat it up and spend 45 minutes talking about random things like wild mushroom types or martial arts... It all just depends.

So then I head back down into the galley to finish my meals. Once the lunch is dialed, I'll continue any prep for dinner, chopping veggies, tenderizing meat, pre cooking things so that my afternoon is easier. After that is all done, I will usually do some cleaning around the galley or organize the stores in the pantry, or the fridge. By 06:30, I usually start breakfast., but doing my hourly engine room rounds in between. In most cases, I try to make eggs, pancakes, French toast or steel cut oats for breakfast. Sometimes I'll throw in some homemade breakfast bread like pumpkin bread/zucchini bread etc.

Once that is all dialed, I'll fire up a fesh pot of coffee for the crew coming onto the 08:00-12:00 watch, which is usually the Captain and the Chief Engineer. Then I will usually just hang out in the pilothouse with the Chief Mate for a bit until it's time to hit my rack.

I've found a routine for sleep that works good for me. I don't sleep too much after my morning watch, maybe 2 hours, but then try to get about 6-7 hours after my evening watch. This schedule allows me to go home and not be completely out of wack with normal hours. If I get into the habit of sleeping too much in the morning, then I will have difficulty sleeping in the evening and it's ugly upon returning home.

During my daytime off-watch period, I will do any or all of the following: workout on deck if it's nice, watch movies, play games on my ipad, write in my blog, read, listen to music, go outside and take pictures, or hang out in the galley and chat with whoever is awake, then I'll grab a few hours of sleep before my 16:00 watch starts up.

At 15:15, my alarm goes off and I basically everything the same. Teeth, clothes, coffee (one cup) and head to the galley for my bi-daily info update. After that, I'll jump right into dinner. Dinner must be ready between 17:00 and 17:30, so there's only about an hour between the time I start and the scheduled dinner time, which is why I typically do so much prep in the morning. If all goes well, I have dinner done and ready for consumption around 17:00. Once the captain comes down to eat, and everything is put out (salad bar included), I'll head to the pilothouse and relieve the Chief Mate so that he can eat. During that time, I drive the boat. Last night, the chief handed over the pilothouse to me and said there wasn't any traffic. Immediately after he left, I noticed a dim light about 3 miles off our port bow. As we go closer, I could make out that it was a fishing vessel and that I could see his starboard navigation light, which indicates that he is trying to cross our bow. I plotted him on the radar to get his speed and direction, only to realize that we were in danger of running into him. I made several attempts to reach him on the radio, but no reply. By that time, I was starting to worry, so I rang the phone in the galley to grab the attention of the chief, and then proceeded downstairs to grab him. He and the captain both came up while I tried 2 more times to contact the fishing boat. We technically had the right of way, but with no way of contacting him and being in restricted manueverability, the captain decided to come left and take the vessels stern. It's typically not advised to turn to port in a situation like this, all the rules of navigation state that when you are in doubt, turn to starboard, but this vessel had his outriggers out and seemed to be on a steady northeast course. We passed him on his stern and everything turned out fine, but it could have gotten ugly, especially if he decided to turn to starboard at the last minute.

After the incident, the chief asked about what I did before coming to work on tugs. I told him about my past and Navy experience/etc. He said the reason he asked was that I was very comfortable on the radio, unlike most cooks or AB's who don't get much practice. My training at PMI and years of radar operation had me doing things as if it were a daily occurance.

So, back to my day. After the chief scarfed down his dinner, he will take back control of the tug and I'll head down to eat and clean up. Cleanup for me is enjoyable because it marks the end of the day. I package up any leftovers, wash the dishes, wipe down the counters and make the galley look new again. After all that is done, I will usually head to the pilothouse and hang out until it's time to hit my rack again, doing my engine room checks as usual on the hour. Sometimes, I'll think ahead and plan dinner for the following night and defrost anything that needs to be defrosted.

After my watch, I shower to get that "galley smell" off, shave, brush my teeth and I'll hit my rack for a good 6+ hours. No movies, no games, just sleep... And good sleep it is!

That's what I do as a cook onboard a tugboat.

That entire schedule is based on a day "underway". When we pull into port, or we are having to make and break tow, I don a PFD, work gloves, carhartts pants, steeltoe boots and handle lines, and help connect the barge to the boat. Once our barge arrives at its destination, I help unlash the cargo and unload the barge, then reload/re-lash. During those times, I typically don't cook as they can easily be 12-15+ hour days. I will try to plan ahead and have something ready to go that one of the mates can throw into the oven in my absence. After a day if cargo, my body is usually so tired, that cooking is a major chore, so planning ahead is a must. It takes me about 2-3 days to fully recover from a day of cargo, but we usually have at least 5 days in between ports, sometimes much longer depending on where we are heading.

The next time I write about "my day", it should be about what I do all day as the AB deckhand. See you then!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ship Stability and Construction

How do they stack 1500 containers onto a ship and send it out into the ocean and maintain positive buoyancy? Well, that's what we've been learning at PMI this week. Monday we refreshed on basic ship construction nomenclature: strakes, stringers, camber, flare, web frames, racking stresses, mangers, breast hooks, stealer plates, wildcats, hawsepipes and gypsy heads.... To name a few. Then we took an exam and moved on to the nuts and bolt of this class... Stability.

Stability is about keeping a ship/boat afloat and evenly loaded. We learned specifics about center of gravity, center of buoyancy, metacentric height, reserve buoyancy and other extremely crucial factors that keep a boat or ship from sinking or flipping over. We also learned how to crunch numbers and distribute weight (cargo, fuels, ballast, stores) evenly in order to maintain positive, stable stability.

Here's a video example of numbers that weren't crunched correctly...


Our Instructor, Capt. William George, wrote the book on Stability... Literally, and he knows his stuff!

It takes quite a bit of patience, a good calculator and precise pencil-point accuracy to achieve good results. We take our final exam tomorrow and we can shelve this topic for a while.

I can't say that I'm ready to go out and start loading a ship, far from it, but at least I have a better understanding of the principles and ideas behind how it's done. The men and women who run cargo plans and figure this stuff out are pretty amazing. They keep our boats upright, our sailors safe and dry, and our loads intact.

Next week, it's "Emergency Procedures" and "Search and Rescue"..

I'll be shipping out on Friday for an " Anchorage Run" and gone for 3 weeks or so. Should be interesting as the weather up north is turning "winter". If I get time next week, I'll do a little recap on the week before I head up to the boat in Everett.



Saturday, October 12, 2013

Radar and Security

I just wrapped up 2 more weeks of training at PMI and am home for a 3-day weekend. The first week at school was a class/certification for Vessel Security Officer and a one-day class on general leadership. Week 2 was five days on Radar for our "Radar Observer Unlimited" certification. Having been a radar operator in the Navy, I wasn't too concerned about the practical aspect of this class, but the theory part of the course, which includes theory, bandwidths, pulse lengths, beam widths, etc, somewhat caught me off-gaurd. I managed to keep up, but it required a little more focus than I thought. All said and done, the class was good and I feel like I'm fairly proficient at any and all radar plotting and operation.

We spend a majority of the week calculating the closest point of approach and real course and speed of radar contacts, using a large plot called a Radar plotting sheet, or a maneuvering board. We also spent a fair amount of time taking bearings and ranges to fixed objects for general navigation.

We received our certificates for Radar and Security, and next week we move into ARPA, which is Automatic Radar Plotting Aids. ARPA is the feature that will essentially track your contacts for you on the radar and give you real courses and speeds, therefore eliminating the need to plot the contacts. Not all boats are equipped with ARPA, so we still need to have a full grasp in the plotting aspect of radar operations to determine that data manually.

Here's a few pics from class....

Plotting bearings and contacts
Radar Lab: Photo courtesy: Jared Wendell
The info we must attain


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Workboat Academy: Academic Session #3

After two weeks home, I packed up and headed north again. Before coming up, we had an epic week of cleaning out our storage unit and selling off a bunch of stuff that was taking up space. I also decided to sell my mountain bike, which hadn't got much use this year. This school thing is about making good on a career path that will let me "be somebody" before retirement comes, so sacrifices have to be made and the mountain bike had to go. School isn't cheap and the extra funds from miscellaneous things that I don't have time for, come in really handy. Once school is done, I'll have more time to ride my bike and can build up another.

At any rate, I'm here in Seattle digs, renting a room from a friend of a friend. My accommodations are awesome and I'm fortunate to have made this connection. The person I rent from is down to earth and his kids are cool as well. They remind me of my kids in many ways.

This is week one of a 5-week session. This week we are learning about Vessel and Port Security in the "Vessel Security Officer" module. Friday is "Leadership" and then we move onto Radar, Radar Plotting Aids, Search and Rescue, Construction and Stability and Emergency Procedures. This is one of the longer sessions, but at least it's a bunch of smaller, simpler topics. Our class is combined with about 10 other mariners from various backgrounds and jobs. We have salty captains and newer deckhands who are all in need of this certification class for some reason or another. It's fun hearing various stories from other parts of the world and industry.


Today, we discussed vessel security, bag searches, bombs, terrorism and other fun things that pertain to boats in today's world. We did some mock security checkpoints and discussed how someone might be able to "pull a fast one" on you in an attempt to smuggle contraband or weapons aboard your vessel. Once the class is over, we will be awarded the Vessel Security Officer Certificate, which isn't required for the Mate program, but essentially adds a nice piece of marketability to our résumé.

So far, the Pacific Northwest in the fall is everything that its cracked up to be. It has rained off and on since my drive up, but its not terrible cold. I don't mind it so much, but I'm sure after a few more weeks of this I'll be ready to head south. I'm looking forward to getting out this weekend to explore, or do some hiking. I'm assuming that its going to be too wet for riding, and I'm kinda itchin to hike anyhow.

I posted up a few older posts that apparently never made their way onto the site.. One of my classmates told me that they ran across a shipmate out there that follows my blog and was bummed that I hadn't posted anything in awhile, so I decided to sit and update. So, whoever you are, I apologize and I'll try to keep up on a regular basis. :-)

Off to study!


Monday, September 23, 2013

Gearing Back Up for more...

Been home for a week after two back to back hitches in Alaska.  I'm gearing up for a 5-week trip to Seattle for school
And then hopefully some work trips in the  winter.

I've been slacking off on the blog posts since I haven't really been doing much "new", just repeating some of the same stuff over and over again and didn't want to bore my followers.   

For October, we learn a ton of new topics: Leadership, Vessel Construction, Radar, Search and Rescue and a few others. It should be a good session, filled with good stuff.

 This session is one of the longest at 5 weeks, but because of the various topics, I don't think it will be too overwhelming and weekend study time probably won't be necessary.
 I'm bringing my bike and planning to do some riding into off time to stay in shape.

I've been getting hit up by quite a few folks who are interested in the Workboat Academy and I'm more than happy to answer any questions you have about the school or the towboat industry.
 I'm still new, but have learned a great deal this year.  You can either
Comment on here, or pop me an email:  michaelrupchurch@gmail.com

Here's a couple cool pictures that I took out my galley porthole on my last trip. One near Anchorage and the other in Seymoure Narrows (porpoises).  Thought I'd share.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day 17: Back through Ketchikan and heading south

We arrived in back in Ketchikan on Saturday morning around 8am, and immediately dove into cargo. Northland Services had a light crew for a heavy load, which left only the other AB and myself lashing and hanging chains on cargo boxes all day while the forklift operators just kept bringing us containers. We loaded over 70, 40' containers in about 14 hours. I heard the foreman say that half do the load was canned salmon, weighing in at over 80 million pounds. The other half of the barge was 40' refrigerators, mostly frozen fish, weighing probably at least double that. I did notice a few reefers coming from Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau, which I'm a big fan of. I'm constantly amazed at the sheer number in weight and dollar amount of the stuff we transport. It's not a pretty business, but somebody has to do it and the most economical way to get something shipped to or from Alaska, is by barge. We pass towboats constantly, making the trips north or south, towing barges and moving fish and or supplies to some of these hard to reach towns. It's a good feeling sometimes, knowing that you are helping feed the economy and are assisting businesses with getting their product to market... Especially beer!
So, with our last cargo stop behind us, we head south through Canadian waters, through Seymour Narrows and back into Seattle. The trip from Ketchikan to Seattle takes about 3 days on average depending on the tides. If we can grab the tide right entering the narrows, we can get flushed out the south side and make good time home. If not, we have to slow down until the tide is right, therefore pushing us back a few hours. When I get on watch in a few hours, I will hopefully hear that we are making good time. The one thing that is hurting us on this leg, is that our barge is completely loaded down. We stacked quite a few rows up 6-high in Ketchikan, and there isn't a gap left to fill. The heavy barge is sluggish, keeping our average speed lower.
I get about 9 days off after this trip, and then I get to do the same trip all over again. I'll be crewing up with the same crew, different boat, although I think we are getting a different AB. This crew has been great, super laid back, easy going, and they know each other pretty well which lends itself to some good humor at times. The Captain is good at what he does, yet he's humble and likes to make people laugh. At this point, I assume that I'm cooking, but who knows. It doesn't really matter to me, but I wouldn't mind seeing how some of the other AB's do it. Between the two AB's, the job isn't too much different. Underway, I cook, and the other one cleans and does maintenance, painting, etc. When we pull into port, we each have the same duties... handle lines, make/break tow and work cargo.
If I don't post much over the next week, it's because I'm chilblain at home. But, I may pop a few notes in here before Seattle. Cya

Friday, September 6, 2013

K-Town one, scratch that, 2 more times...?

I thought I'd type this up now since my hands will be so fried after cargo ops today that I won't be able to do this later tonight.
So, it's 03:00 and our callout is at 04:30. I got up early to stretch, take a shower, eat some food and get my head around the day in a nice easy pace. Jumping out of your rack and throwing your workwear on in little time is no way to start a hard day of cargo... At least for this guy. I tend to treat my cargo days like marathons. I work on getting my head in the right place before feet enter the right race. I also treat cargo like its a workout, focusing on technique when lifting and squatting, so that A. I don't get hurt, and B. I get a workout in. But being a long day, you typically have to pace yourself in a manner that is going to let you last for 12+.. (Or 16+ hours... ). So, think I'm dialed for the day, just gotta down copious amounts of coffee before heading out on deck.

We got back on the inside yesterday (and off the Gulf) and will be dockside in Ketchikan in a few hours. This was supposed to be our last stop, but we received an email from dispatch yesterday stating that they need us to swap barges after Ketchikan with a tug from Western Towboat, take that barge BACK to Ketchikan, drop it off and then head straight back to port. Pretty simple except we are meeting the Western tug a day or two south of Ketchikan, and then having to backtrack with their barge before heading home. It's all in the name of the game we call work and it just means another few days of pay, so we roll with it.
The Captain, Chief Mate and I were in the pilothouse last night and they were giving me some pointers on how to move the controls around for docking, (between auto pilot, and the various follow-up levers in the pilothouse and aft deck). I needed to get "assessed" and checked off, so I was drilling them with questions and they were doing pretty good about teaching me as much as possible, (and re-learning some of the processes for themselves). The end result was us talking about how I can get some time in the pilothouse while we are landing the second barge in a few days. Learning the docking commands and how they apply to the controls is critical since usually the captain/master will go out on the barge and call the commands to the chief over the radio. Commands like "twist right, easy easy", "a little more on the go", "ease off the go", etc. are what they use to maneuver the barge into place inch by inch. There's typically another tug helping with the maneuvering as well, and the captain has to give different orders to both boats at once. It's definitely an art that will take years of practice. So, they said I could come up and hang out during the landing of that barge and then also get some helm time for the trip back to Everett since we will be "light tug", meaning that we won't be towing a barge on the way home. They also chatted about taking some-off-the-beaten-path routes since we can and are rarely afforded the opportunity to do so.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Epic Cargo Ops

Yesterday morning, Aug. 31st, we were called out on deck at 02:30am to begin our entrance into Anchorage. We typically get a "call-out" at least an hour prior to arrival so that we have time to get the deck ready with lines and all the appropriate tools needed to make or break tow. At around 3:30, we flopped on the barge and our day of cargo began.
We had about 120 containers to offload, and a pretty good crew from the Northland yard this time to help make things easier. We worked through the morning, afternoon and evening and Northland provided breakfast and lunch to keep us fueled. At around 20:00 (8pm), we lashed down the remaining container from the backload and we pulled away from the dock. 16 hours of pure cargo ops and a 18 hours workday all said and done by the time we secured the deck and removed our gloves.
It's 04:00 the following morning and I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep enforce coming on watch. My body is screaming "WTF!" As I down coffee and other fuels to shut it up. A hard day indeed, one that will probably take about 5 days to recover from... Just in time to do it again as we stop in Ketchikan on our journey home. Hands are about 80% numb, so I'm gonna wrap this up.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Steak and a Movie!

Last night, I decided we needed steak. When we were in Ketchikan, the Captain went ashore for some groceries, and he picked up 6 awesome rib eye steaks. I was not feeling super comfortable trying to broil (and do justice) to $60 worth if meat, but after hunting around in my cook books, I came across a pan-fried rib-eye recipe and decided to give it a shot, along with a new mashed potatoes recipe that uses a block of cream cheese and garlic. The seasonings and the cooking process all went perfect and the crew was stoked. I got compliments from everyone, but my favorites were 1.) "I think that was the best meal I have had out here on a tug!" and 2.). "God damn, that was good!" I pretty much fattened everyone up to the point of food coma and they kept talking about how full they were and they were going to sleep good on the next go-round. I was a good night as "cookie".
This morning, I put together a broccoli and cheddar quiche and called it good. Tonight I'm preparing a shrimp and fettucini scampi dish with fried oysters on the side.
I grabbed a few movies from home before leaving, so last night and the night before, I watched Gangs of New York. Great movie. Tonight, I'm going to watch Master and Commander because I don't think I've ever seen the entire movie. At some point, I need to get my movie collection going on a portable hard-drive so that it's easily transported, and actually acquire a "movie collection" as I really don't officially have one.
Next stop, Anchorage!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ketchikan and Beyond

We pulled into Ketchikan around 18:00 on Monday. I had prepared a chicken enchilada dish earlier that morning, know that dinner time would be interrupted by docking and cargo ops. After jockeying the barge into place and getting her all tied down, the other AB and I went to work. We only had about 50-60 containers to unload and the unlashing went pretty quick. The full unload took about 5 hours and then we had about 8 or so containers coming back on ("backload") that were headed towards Anchorage. All said and done, we were in and out in about 6 hours and again heading north.

The weather was fair, just some thick fog here and there. The Gulf weather was reportedly calm, so we popped out into the big water at Cape Decision. Had there been heavier winds or seas, we would have stayed on the inland route north and popped out at Cape Spencer a few days later. Cape Spencer is the northernmost entrance to the inland passage.

It's now Wednesday, and we are into the Gulf heading northwest on a heading of 302 towards Cook Inlet. It'll take us a few days, but we are already making fast headway with the winds at our backs. To steam along at 10+ knots in the Gulf is good and we've been doing just that. Once into Cook, we head north for about a day into Anchorage. At that point, all cargo will come off and some backload will come back on. At this point, we aren't planning to stop anywhere else, so the trip back home should be a quick one. Everything can and has changed, so we've learned to be flexible and not count on anything to be solid until our feet are back on the docks.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Trip #3: Snohomish - Mike 'O

After 9 days off at home, I flew back up to Seattle, grabbed a shuttle to where my car was parked, and then drive up to Dunlap in Everett. I immediately had to stow my gear, grab the company truck and head to Safeway to pick up our food order. It was a fairly sizable order, and I added another cart on top of it to round it out to a whopping $2500. That amount of food is usually good enough for about 2 weeks, then we re-stock when we are in port.

After loading the truck and driving back to the docks, we transferred all the food over to the boat via crane, threw it in the galley and cast off. We started out on the "Snohomish", but our orders were to transfer everything to the "Mike O'Leary" somewhere north along the way. After chatting with the "Mike-O" on the radio, we learned that we'd be meeting up with them around 04:40. So, we grabbed some fuel, grabbed our barge and headed north.

Knowing fully that all of our food was going to be transferred over to the Mike-O, I only unpacked the frozen and perishable times, leaving everything else in boxes. We had about 25 cases of food, (enough to fill a longbed Ford, with two layers of boxes) so finding storage space in the galley was challenging. I ended up putting about 10 boxes in my room and filling up the settee with the rest to get it out of the way. The Snohomish had a funky layout, so I was glad that it was only a temporary stay.

04:00 came quick and I been up since 03:00 re-packing boxes with frozen meats and things. We had to "flop" on the barge, break tow, transfer all of our foods, gear bags, and bedding over to the Mike-O and then make tow again to the barge and get underway. The crew of the Mike-O, had to break tow, leaving their barge adrift in the middle of the channel and come over to us, transfer their gear and bedding to our boat as well. It was a cluster F#%^, but we pulled it off without a problem. After all transferring was compete, we broke away, grabbed our barge again and went on our way. At that point, I started stowing ALL the foods, which took me about a 2 hours.

From that point, it was about a 4-day trip to Ketchikan where we would ditch some of our cargo and sweat off some pounds.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Day 13: Back in Gulf

Well, we slammed out Anchorage in a shit-storm of "hurry let's go!". Our goal was a 12hr turnaround on cargo, which means we have to get everything off the barge, and new stuff brought back on, lashed down and ready to rock. We did it, but it was a long day with no breaks. We took a 30 minute lunch break, but aside from that, it was go go go all day. My hands were fried, swollen and numb, for about 2 days afterwards.
The last 2 days since we left Anchorage have had us bucking some high winds, heading mostly into it, and bouncing us around real good. I still managed to pump out the meals, but it was work. In heavy seas, everything becomes harder and slower. A simple task like getting something out of the fridge, becomes an exercise in patience. First of all, you have to get to the fridge, which requires certain "drunken sailor" walking, then you position yourself, feet approx. 3' apart for stability, then you are ready to open the door. At this point, you have to be ready to catch anything that falls with one hand, holding the door with the other, or catch many things and somehow hold the door with your knee. Last night, I went to the freezer, opened the door, and about 6 heavy frozen items came crashing to my feet before I could even get an arm in there. It sounded like we had run aground on a gravel bar or something. It was like opening a cage full of dogs who wanted to bolt.
Then there's the stove. Everything that goes on the stove, needs to be held down, this is done with metal bars and springs. It's crude, but works very effectively and keeps the hot stuff from dumping into your lap. I'll add a picture once we get home. One of the most dangerous items in my opinion, is the knife. You're cutting some veggies, you set the knife down for one second to grab another veggie, and its as if the knife will come to life and slide across the counter and is looking for something to kill.
So, meals are tough when the boat is a rocking. This boat rides like crap, so I've been told. I hear the stories from all the seasoned guys about other boats and other crew. Apparently this boat is a cork compared to some of the others.
I got word this morning that I will be sailing with the same crew on a different boat, leaving the 23rd. I'm cool with that since I like everyone onboard, AND they haven't screamed at me yet about any of my cooking. I'm fairly certain that I've done an ok job so far, so hopefully that continues and they stay happy.
It's now Wednesday the 7th and we are about halfway across the Gulf, heading east. We got word that we might need to stop in Sitka for a little cargo, but that may mean skipping Ketchikan. Either way, I think our arrival time back to Seattle will still be around the 13th.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 9: Cookin up a storm

So, I woke up at about 03:15, got dressed and came into the galley for coffee to find the AB and Chief Mate chatting it up. We all shared a few words while we sipped our morning liquids. The Mate ascended to the pilothouse, the AB hit his rack and I went to work.

I had planned on making a pot roast for dinner tonight, so I thought I'd better get going on it since it takes a few hours to cook and I won't have enough time when I come on watch at 16:00 to get t done before dinner at 17:00, so I whipped up spices, some broth and got it going in the oven. Then, I fired up the crockpot and made a pretty tasty corn chowder for lunch, complete with bacon, which then prompted me to get breakfast going with bacon and pancakes. The AB caught a whiff of the bacon and re-emerged from his stateroom around 6:45, mumbling something about eggs. I said, "no, just pancakes and bacon, but I'd be happy to make some for you". So I cooked him up a few eggs so he could make a breakfast sandwich.

It's now 08:00, the breakfast is nearly gone, the chowder is cooking, the pot roast is cooling, the trash can is full of wrappers, the coffee pots are full of freshness and I'm tired. Whew. I think I washed my hands about 40 times in 4 hours and my skin is as dry as sandpaper. I do believe I earned my pay today.

Headin' to bed... See ya.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Day 8: Entering Cook

We are slowly getting closer Chugach Island at the tip of the Kenai Penisula, which marks the entrance to the Cook Inlet (which takes us to Anchorage). It's about a day to Anchorage after we enter the inlet and head north by Northeast, which is really just slightly left of northeast. :-)

We are getting pushed in the right direction with some nasty winds right now, and the boat is riding pretty nice. The gusts are supposed to be hitting about 40-45 knots here within the next few hours, so the captain asked me to make sure the galley was all lashed down and ready for weather. With an old boat like this, who knows what is going to bust loose and decide to go flying. Seems like she's got a few loose screws here and there, but something tells me she thrives in the heavy seas. Old Manfred Nystrom himself came strolling through the galley the other night while I was doing dishes. The fidley door just magically swung open, and then swung closed all on its own. The upper dog is always latched (everyone is pretty good about doing so), so I just assumed it was Mr. Nystrom making his rounds.

I burnt a pie tonight, probably the my first cooking screw-up. The oven is funky and never wants to cooperate with me. I typically leave it on all day so that its ready to go (typical protocol), and it was reading 350 all day. I bumped it up just a little for my pie, but it went way high and burnt the crust. It was still good though with a little ice cream.

We had pizza for dinner and they turned out perfect. Everyone was concerned because I put "pepperoni and sum thin" on the menu board, along with "margherita pizza". They was confoozled and thought I was making blended drinks. They liked the pizza nevertheless...

Anyhow, can't sleep. Pretty typical. I'll sleep really good after one watch and crappy after the next. It all works out in the end and usually end up with the right amount per day. It would be nice to just sleep all my spare time away, but its not that easy sometimes. The crew continues to be really cool.. "Stinky" (the chief engineer) relieves me from my watch a bit early every day because he gets up early. Hs real name is Steve, but everyone calls him Stinky. I work the 4-8, he takes over and works the 8-12 with the Captain (Terry).

I got an email from home (via the boat's Sat modem) and my dad is doing well. They had to do a tracheotomy, so he can't talk, but is apparently in good spirits. I told Erin to let him know that teeth are not required for driving a motor home. Hopefully it made him smile.

Well, I'm gonna give sleep a chance and see what happens. Chat at ya later... It sure who, but someone inside my iPad I presume. :-)


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 7: Sauerkraut and Eggs

No, I didn't combine them. But I did throw some kraut/dogs in the crockpot at the same time I was making sausage and eggs, AND bran muffins from scratch. I guess my French roast brew was a bit strong this morning. The other AB usually makes coffee for me at the end of his watch, but he will usually make the standard old Folgers, which I refer to as "water-bewitched" since its more like tea to me (referring to an earlier post about nautical jargon and tea). Folgers will suffice for most folks, but when you have to be up at 3am and preparing 2-3 different meals for 6 hungry dudes, I prefer something with a bit more punch in the eye hole.

Every hour we do engine room checks or "security rounds" on our watch to make sure there isn't a gaping hole in the side of the boat or lube oil flinging around in the engine room. After each round, we check in the with pilothouse and make sure the watch stander (Mate or Captain) is still alive and kicking (there are stories of guys kicking the bucket at the helm and nobody new for hours). Occasionally the mate on watch will ask me to watch the helm for a bit while he hits the head or grabs something to eat. Today, the chief Mate did so, and I had the opportunity to sit there, enjoying the view, thinking... "Man, this is so much more relaxing than having to cook shit all day or clean showers... and I look forward to getting my mate's license!" :-). He returned a good 15 minutes later, so I descended back down to the galley and slaved over the foods for another few hours.

At any rate, another boring day on the gulf. The seas are still 4-6', pretty easy going... But just enough to make you look drunk as you stagger down the passageway.

I was aiming for some good sleep last night, but I tossed and turned for about 3 hours before falling asleep and dreaming that there was a rattlesnake in my room. I wasn't alway in my room, first it was in my house and a friend of mine was trying to convince me that it would be a good pet if we can simply ensure that hedoesn' get out of his aquarium (duh!). He was attempting to illustrate how docile they can be by petting it and treating it like a cobra by waving his arms around slow and mysteriously, but I wasn't buying it. I was trying to figure out how the hell we could make it go away without pissing it off. Once I awoke and convinced myself that even if there was a rattle snake in my room, he probably wouldn't be real... THEN and only then was I able to go back to sleep. Wicked wicked dreams out here I tell you. The steady motion (eventually) rocks you to sleep and settles you into your rack like a layer of sediment... The more motion, the farther you settle. I have some extremely vidid and weird dreams on the water, some good, some bad.

Tonight's menu is chicken tetrazzini. Some sort of chicken and pasta combination thingy that I pulled from the cookbook. Sounded good and looked easy so therefore meets my criteria. We will know for sure around 6pm if it pleases the masses.

I found out that I will most likely be sailing with the same crew on the next run, which leaves on the 23rd. It will be another Anchorage run, and unless we get a cook to fill in for the AB that is leaving, I'll probably be cooking again. Call me cookie.

I'm off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of dreams. Ttfn


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 6: in the Gulf

Wednesday, July 31st. 19:12.

Around 07:00 this morning, we rounded the point at Cape Decision and headed out into the Gulf of Alaska. We let out a few layers of wire and pointed Northwest towards Anchorage. It will take us about 2-3 days to cross the Gulf, depending on weather, winds, etc., which drastically affect our speed. Right now, the seas are manageable. 4-6', and we are hitting about 8-9kts, which is pretty good. We heard that we are expected to have a 12-14 hour turnaround in Anchorage (that's the goal), so it'll be hustle and bustle to get this barge completely unloaded, loaded, the boat fueled, the galley stocked and everything back underway. Apparently they want us to stop by Ketchikan again in the way back to bring some reefers back to Seattle. More cargo time, means more money, so no complaints. The other AB has a family emergency and will most likely be leaving us in Anchorage. No word in a replacement, but if they don't find one, the Engineer and I move into a 6/6 rotation, which means I get 4 hours of overtime each day. I think I could handle that, although cargo will go slower with one man down.

This morning I whipped up some French toast for breakfast and made some chili for the crockpot to be served at lunch. For dinner, I made two racks of BBQ pork ribs, corn, and the typical salad bar routine. Many compliments on the ribs, and I must admit, they turned out perfect.

Cooking with the boat bouncing around wasn't too bad. I expected it to be more challenging, but if you think everything through, you tend to plan for the movement a bit better.

Hitting the rack and aiming for a full 7 in this sleep session. Gotta stock up for those cargo days.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ketchikan in the rear view

My day started at 3am, when I got up and began making lunch (stew takes more prep than breakfast), and after getting everything prepped and into the crockpot, I busted out some bacon, eggs and biscuits for our 6:30am call-out (that's when we get called to work on deck for pulling into port). We pulled into Ketchikan around 9am after jockeying around with the barge and dodging all the cruise ships. Pretty little town, at least what I could see from the barge. We immediately went to work on cargo and didnt let up until around 4pm, with the exception of a 20 minute lunch break. The weather was warm, maybe 70+?

We pulled away from the dock around 4:30 and I immediately went back on watch and began making dinner, which consisted of (you guessed it)... More stew, mostly because not too many people had time to eat it for lunch and the captain said it was cool if I just set that our for dinner. But I added my typical salad bar and some tater tots.

The worst part of my day wasn't the long sweaty back-breaking hours. It was the phone call from my wife and my mom with updates of my dad. He is UC Davis Med center undergoing surgery for some type of fast moving bacterial infection in his face. The are having to remove many of his upper teeth and part of his palate in order to get this thing stopped. It sucks. He doesn't deserve this, nobody does for that matter, but he's the nicest guy on earth and shouldn't have shit like this happen. Anyhow... I await news from home on his condition and hope for the best possible outcome.

Now, I'm showered, in my rack and looking forward to about 8 hours of sleep. The captain also said I could hit my rack early because I've essentially been working since 3am non-stop. We will stay on the inside for another day at least before heading across the gulf to anchorage. I guess the winds are supposed to pick up, so we will get to see how my cooking skills are in a galley the moves.


Day 4

One day out from Ketchikan and nothing really new to report. Meals are going good, made tacos last night and steel cut oats for breakfast, followed by a tuna-noodle casserole for lunch. The crew continues to be cool and relaxed. The weather has been good, we got bounced around a little last night, which left me feeling a little nauseous, but nothing I can't handle. The captain gave me a briefing today on our how we are going to dock the barge in Ketchikan. He seems to think that we will be in and out of there within abut 5 hours, and heading off to Anchorage. I'll be working cargo the entire time, and he said that he would do the food run for me. Hopefully we have smooth seas and we make good time across the gulf.

Off to bed. 10:43am


North to Ketchikan

I arrived at the docks yesterday morning after a quick layover in Seattle. I had driven straight through from Sacramento as usual and crashed on the floor at my Seattle digs (where I rent a room) the night before. The Manfred Nystrom was dockside and undergoing some maintenance as I hauled my bags onboard and found my bunk. Since I'm cooking in this trip, I was hoping to find a stateroom that allowed my some quiet time and good sleep. I think I scored the better of the 4 available rooms on the main deck, complete with sink, medicine cabinet, and a few nicely placed shelves to set stuff on.

The boat is old, and originally named "El Zorro Grande". She's a Burton tug, 126' in length and built at Port Arthur, Texas in 1966. She doesn't boast too much in the way of upgrades, but she makes up for it in spaciousness. The galley and dining area is large and cozy with a large table and ample room to move around. There are only 6 of us onboard, so it's like having a little "extra" breathing room since the tug can easily accommodate 10 or more if need be. 6 is pretty standard for an ocean going crew, but these boats were built to do more back in the day.

The galley has all the creature comforts, 3 fridges, 2 freezers, large pantry, dishwasher, a few coffee makers, espresso maker, and everything you'd need to keep people happy for a few weeks.

After looking around and familiarizing myself, I headed up to the office and talked with the port captain about groceries. After which, I grabbed the keys for the work truck and headed over to Safeway to pick up our order. When the boat returns to port, the cook will put together an order to restock the boat, that way the new crew doesn't have to do all the work. The down side, is that you are kind of at the mercy of the prior cook, and you "hope" that he ordered the correct stuff to stock the boat. For the most part, our order was fairly complete. I had to order a few things additional, but nothing major except bottled water, which we only had enough for 1-2 days. If you mess up an order and run out of some thing critical (water, coffee, TP, etc), the crew is going to hate you, so it's best to check it over yourself.

So, I arrived at Safeway, paid the $2000 food bill, loaded the pickup truck and headed back to the dock. Once I arrived, one of the yard workers helped me load it all onto a pallet and the crane swung it over and set it down on the back deck of the boat for us to unload. By that time, the other AB had arrived and we were able to get it all broken down and loaded into the galley. It took me over an hour to put everything away, and I honestly was a little afraid that we weren't going to have enough room. But it fit. By the time I broke down all the cardboard, we were pulling away from the dock. I managed to hand everything off to the dock workers as we were backing away and heading out.

So we headed south to Seattle, fueled up with about 50,000 gallons of diesel, then met up with our barge, "made tow" and headed north. When you are connecting to the towing assembly (bridle) on the barge, it's called "making tow" and when you are disconnecting, it's called "breaking tow". The process is about an hour all said and done. It's fairly easy, but it takes time and many large components come into play, some of which are dangerous and freaky. All it takes is one component to fail, and it can kill you before you've had time to say "watch out!" So, we take it slow and "keep our heads on a swivel".

I made a spaghetti dinner during refueling and helped with deck work afterwords. As the cook, I still help with all the line work on deck, but my basic duties underway all lie within the galley.

Tonight (Saturday), I made a bomber dinner, with fried chicken, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes (real ones), salad bar and an apple pie. I think the crew is happy, but I'm sure i'll inadvertently give them something to complain about at some point. For now, meals are good. Lunch is a tough one for me. I'm supposed to prepare something easy and have it ready around noon, but I'm only on watch from 4-8 in the morning and at night. So, the crockpot is getting a bunch of use. I made taco soup this morning and it was ready go at noon, but nobody touched it. It sucks to put the effort in, when they just want to make a simple sandwich instead. Oh well, it's a paycheck regardless if they eat or not.

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to do eggs to order, and prepare some sloppy joes for their lunch, followed by either meatloaf or fish for dinner I'm leaning towards fish.

The crew is cool. A bit older and more "seasoned" for the most part. 4 of them have worked together on many trips, so they joke around a lot with each other and they seem to be pretty relaxed. They take their job serious, but they also are very chill with it, which is a nice balance to strive. The AB is 6 years younger than me and fairly new to the maritime world.

So, I'm off watch and we are slowly steaming towards Seymour Narrows. We are awaiting the right tide, so I think we are turning about 2 knots right now, basically going nowhere as we await the tide. Seymour can be dangerous during fast currents, so most commercial mariners schedule their passage around slack tides. It was once described as "one of the vilest stretches of water in the world" by Captain George Vancouver (yes, the guy who has cities and mountains named after him) :-). At any rate, we will be pulling into Ketchikan on Tuesday and immediately doing cargo, but I'll probably be heading to the grocery store for an order.

I'm going to hit my rack and log some hours while I can. The "house" is cold right now, which lends itself nicely to sleeping, but it makes for an uncomfortable lounging atmosphere if you just want to sit in the galley and blog.

That is all for now.....



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Northerly Cookin'

Last day at home and I'm packing up for the drive north. My boat leaves the dock around noon on Friday, so I'm driving up Thursday and staying at my "Seattle home" before checking in on Friday morning. A surprising email popped in yesterday from my Port Captain, letting me know that he needs me to play Cook on this next trip. I guess he had someone quit and since I'm the "new guy", guess what? I'm cookin'!

I don't mind cooking and I love to be in the kitchen/galley, but haven't had much experience cooking for a hungry crew of tug boaters. I've begun a list of things that I think will go over well, and that I know I can pull off successfully, which hopefully leads to a happy crew. The cook can get a great deal of praise, but can also get a great deal of grief if he/she isn't whipping out some good grub. I'll do my best to keep em happy and it'll be a learning experience for sure. One of the most intimating jobs of the cook, is to create the shopping list for when we pull into port, and executing a grocery run. On my last trip, our cook (usually accompanied by another crew member, but not always) made several grocery runs, dropping a few $k, bringing back a truck full of supplies for the next leg of the trip. If you forget something critical, or don't buy enough, you can make enemies real fast. Hopefully they'll go easy on me knowing that I'm kind of getting thrown into the fire here. If not, oh well... It's a job and I'm happy to have one.

The cook onboard basically just manages the galley underway and helps on deck when making and breaking tow, or when pulling into port. I'll also be helping with cargo operations as before unless I'm having to make a grocery run.

I also learned that I'll be doing 2, back-to-back Anchorage runs with maybe one week in between. These runs typically take about 3 weeks, so I'll theoretically get about 6 weeks of sea-time before going back to school in October.

The past month at home has been awesome. I was able to spend a great deal of time with my wife and kids and got a fair amount of down-time while chipping away at various house-hold projects. The 4 weeks went by fast, but I'm fairly certain that the sea-time will fly by as well.

I'll be blogging and sharing my stories from the galley onboard the "Manfred Nystrom" over the next few weeks. Stay tuned...

The Manfred Nystrom


Monday, June 24, 2013

TCNAV complete!

I just returned home from Seattle after 3 weeks of Terrestrial Navigation at PMI. I will admit, it was one of the hardest academic sessions I've ever endured, mostly because of the time frame and complexity of the topics... new material, quick progression, and concepts that are foreign and hard to grasp at first. Most everyone hung well, but it was a great deal of studying and staring at numbers. The topics weren't that difficult, but we weren't allowed too much time to sit back and take it in. You keep up, or get behind. All said and done, we were able to understand everything needed and pass the exams and assessments, but it required some serious focus and determination, mixed with a little coffee and fire.

TCNAV Certificate

So, I passed. There were a few days during the session that I thought that I may not do so, but with a little help and extra study time, it all came together like a complex symphony of brass, woodwind, drums, and a little didgeridoo. Celestial Nav is on deck for next summer, and I'm sure we will once again get punched in the face while drinking from the fire hose.

I'm home for a little more than a month, and then crewing up at the end of July for another 30-40 day trip to Western Alaska.

My last day in Seattle was spent with Erin. She flew up Friday night and I did my best to give her a quick tour of Seattle's best before we hopped in the car for the 12hr drive back to Sac. Saturday was our 17th wedding anniversary, and during our short stint in town, we managed to get a quick tour of the important things... Alki Beach, PMI drive-by, Pike Place, Ballard, Fremont, the Pink Door and a few other fun sites along the way.

The rest of my classmates are still hard at work, completing their Lifeboatmen course this week in Seattle and Anacortes. I did mine in April, so I was able to head home early. School starts up again in October with a few good classes: Leadership, vessel Security Officer, Radar Observer Unlimited, ARPA, Contruction and Stability, Emergency Procedures, and Search and Rescue. Many topics spread out over 5 weeks and I'm sure the pace of the program will once again be challenging. I stole this quote from one of my classmates FB page that sums up my thoughts on the difficult classroom workload... "A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor". So, we continue on and "gitter-dun".

If you are reading this in preparation for joining the program, I have two pieces of advice, maybe 3 for the TCNAV class, which probably applies to a few of the courses in the program.

1. Put your social life on hold for 3 weeks and get good rest. It's like running a marathon and you need energy to keep up with those around you.

2. Don't assume that you'll do fine. Plan for the worst, prey for the best. It'll come at you fast, so pay attention and ask questions.

3. Don't "over-study". 3 hours per night max. I pulled a few 5-6 hour sessions at home and it fried my brain to the point where I couldn't think straight the next day.

Now, where did I put my flip flops and Modelo?.....

Friday, June 14, 2013

Navigating Chaos

Classroom: Where brain cells burn...

We just finished our 2nd week of Terrestrial Navigation with one more to go. This week, we spent each day on a new topic, moving through Tides, Currents, Amplitude of the Sun and finally Azimuth of the sun.

Tides and currents are obviously important to the mariner, and fairly interesting to learn. We can take a listed depth, and make some corrections based off of historical data that will give us an exact depth of the water at a given point in time for safe passage. The same goes for currents, and knowing the exact speed and direction of a current at a specific time can aid you in safe voyage planning.

Amplitude and Azimuth are similar in that you are taking a bearing to the sun and comparing that to various resources in an attempt to find compass error. The process is complicated, painstakingly long and stressful. It's all based off of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), so you must first figure out a few things before moving through the equations. I got lost converting Local time to GMT in the first hour of class and couldn't grasp the concept to save my life and then we moved on to the next part. One question could potentially take 30 minutes to solve with all the trig and table cross-referencing.

The pace of the class, combined with the complexity of the material has helped me draw the conclusion that this was the hardest academic week that I've ever endured (including over 7 years of college classes). There is an amazing amount of stress knowing that we have a test on the material next week that requires a 100% to pass. You spend 10 minutes basing your entire equation on a certain time frame, only to realize that your time is off and the entire equation must be re-written, or that you used East Instead of West and must start over, doh!. I really want to study some of the other items that we will be tested on, but I first need to get a grasp around Azimuth and Amplitude before picking up the other topics again.

I love navigation and could see myself getting really into it, but the past few days have thrown a wet towel over my flames. The sad part is that these cool functions of navigation aren't being used that much on the water anymore because of technology. We rely on modern technology to give us everything we need and we trust that its accurate. If satellites and GPS are ever to stop functioning, there will be a bunch of lost people out there. I would really like to understand all the concepts and know them like the back of my hand, but even if I could possibly do that, it will get lost if not used. The boats that I'll be working on don't have the tools to take a bearing to the sun or the stars, so even if I tried to practice, I couldn't. So, we jump through the hoops that the Coast Guard lays down and we spend time learning things that potentially and unfortunately, may never get used.

I now know why sailors have a reputation for over-indulging in drink... Because their brains are full of crazy complex equations and they must "silence the voices" more often.

So, this weekend I study and try to find a way to learn. Hopefully the planets align and somehow I can pull it off on test day, and put this stuff to rest. I keep trying to remind myself that there are other Mates and Officers out there less bright than me who have somehow passed this class. Its not rocket science, but it is complex and it comes at you fast. The best analogy for this class, is that its like trying to take a sip from a fire hose. I try to convince myself that this is some sort of test of perseverance and only the strong-willed will survive. At least for now, that simple thought makes me smile.

I'm tough, I'll figure it out...

Shaking it off at Hooverville


Friday, June 7, 2013

General Navigation Round 1: Check!

Approximately 15 cups of coffee and 5 days later, I've successfully swallowed, digested and regurgitated onto paper, the basic Navigation knowledge that is required of the Coast Guard, passing within the "allowed parameters". We still have many more Navigation assessments and examinations to take over the next 2 weeks, but at least we can put some of it to rest.

The culmination exam at the end of three weeks includes bits and pieces from the whole session and we have a practical test in a few days where we work through a series of problems on charts, plotting positions, set and drift, ranges, DR's and other fun stuff. The most difficult part for me so far, has been getting my head around magnetic variation, deviation, compass error, gyro error and how it all comes together for one big "navigational salad" of goodness. There are about 4-5 forces that some into play when calculating a position on a chart, and you'd better not screw one of them up or you might run aground or kill your crew. Most of it is simply remembering the acrostic sentences and when to add or subtract a degree here or there depending on what you are trying to extrapolate. It's a lot to remember and digest in a short period of time, but somehow it's slowly sinking in.

After class today, a few of us gathered at Hoovertown, the local watering hole, for some stress release. It was THE tastiest, coldest beer I've had in a long time... Well deserved!

Tomorrow, I'm going to a Mariner's game at Safeco Field and I might have an opportunity to go sailing on the Schooner Zodiac (a 160' sailing vessel) on Sunday. Still waiting to hear for sure if the sailing opportunity will come to fruition, but definitely going to jump at a chance to do that if at all possible.

In addition to the fun this weekend, I need to study for Monday's exam. It should be a bit easier since it's mostly chart problems, but we need to score a 100% to pass. The worst part, is that the Coast Guard is notorious for making questions much harder than they need to be, as if this stuff wasn't already taxing enough on the brain. They throw in extra details that aren't pertinent, and they word the questions in a way that makes your head spin around. My only guess is that they are trying to weed out the weak ones. I have news, this guy isn't going anywhere... Even if I fail and have to retake it, I'm here for the long haul!

So, I'm gonna make some dinner, kick back, watch a movie and let my brain untangle the nasty mess I've made of it this week. Then pick myself up and prepare for round 2 of this 3-round battle.



Monday, June 3, 2013

Academic Phase 2: Terrestrial Navigation - Day 1

I wrapped up my 3-week vacation at home, packed the car, kissed the family, hugged the dogs and drove straight through to Seattle arriving yesterday afternoon in a car plastered with NorCal bugs.

This is my bug collection.  I collected them between Sac and Redding.  Ick.

It's a 12hr drive, but I don't mind it too much. After getting my room set up and everything unpacked, my roommate and I headed down to the Georgetown Liquor Company for a few cold ones. The weather up here has been awesome, and a one-mile walk felt great after sitting in a Subaru for most of the day. The walk home was uphill and slightly more challenging after said cold-one.

School kicked off this morning at 08:00 and it was good to see all the familiar faces again. Everyone had stories to tell about their sea phases, and for the most part, it sounds like everyone enjoyed their time on the water. A few classmates had their worlds turned around when the companies they were supposed to be working for, decided not to take them at the last minute. But a few phone calls from the admin folks at PMI and they soon found other companies to take them in (special thanks to Crowley and Sause Bros for rescuing my shipmates).

We are now combined (at least for this phase) with the "AB to Mate" program students, so our class size grew from 14 (we lost one) to 23. All good people so far, but I've only met a few. One of them is an retired Navy Lieutenant that is beginning his Merchant Marine career as an AB.

So, we spent the day going over the basics of Nav., talking about how the earth is broken into segments, meridians, longitudes, parallels, then magnetic variation and deviation etc. and then went on to refresh on what we will find on charts (I.e. buoys, lights, depths, scales, etc.). It was mostly a refresher since we've learned basic navigation stuff in Phase 1.

After lunch, we pulled out the charts and ran through about 15 questions similar to what we would find on the Coast Guard exam. Lots of questions that contain too much information to confuse you, and details that aren't pertinent to the question. My lab partner and I powered through them pretty quickly after scratching our heads a little. It's mostly plotting positions and Dead Reckoning (DR), then taking bearings from objects to determine your position following your last known spot and figuring Lat/Long. We also had to cross reference the Coast Pilot to determine which buoys/ATONs where which (Aids to Navigation).

It's going to be a ton of information to swallow in 3 weeks, but somehow people manage to pass the exam. We have to score an 87% or higher to pass, which doesn't really allow much margin for error. The most difficult part so far is getting your head around magnetic variation and compass deviation, which are two completely different factors that have to be considered and adjusted for when taking bearings and plotting positions. Mag Variation is the difference between true north and magnetic north, and it varies depending in where you are on the earth. Magnetic Deviation, is the forces around you (essentially stuff on the boat) that causes your compass be slightly off. There are a few formulas that help you compensate for all these abnormalities and a few acrostic sentences, like "Can Dead Men Vote Twice", or the opposite "True Virgins Make Dull Companions" (if using the formula in reverse). They stand for Compass, Deviation, Magnetic, Variation, and True. So, you basically fill in the grid of the components that you know, and use formulas to find the missing variables... Then add or subtract here and there for the magic number in bearings... I know, sounds boring, but one small mistake and you're cruising to China instead of Hawaii.

At any rate, this was just the first day and it will only get more complicated as we progress. We were told to put our social lives on hold for a few weeks while we eat, drink, sleep Nav, but I'm gonna need a few power-breaks in between.

I'll add more pics and updates as we move through the course.

BTW, If you read the very early posts in my blog, you will understand why I regurgitate and get technical about the content of the classes. It's a learning mechanism for me and also the main reason why I began this blog in the first place.... But feel free to comment if you have questions.

if you're curious about any of these classes, or others. Click here


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tugboating Images

Shots from around the boatHammered with windsShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boat
Shots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boat
Shots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boat
Shots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boatShots from around the boat

Tugboating, a set on Flickr.

Here's my collection of images from around the boat and on the job.