Saturday, March 30, 2013

PMI Session #1: COMPLETE!

Yesterday we finished up day 2 of our Basic Firefighting class, which essentially consisted of a classroom phase and test, then a 3-4 hour practical session at the mockup. Everyone did well fighting the fires inside the mockup, trading out positions in tight quarters and rescuing "Joe", our decapitated dummy/"missing person". Afterwards, the instructors handed out our certificates and we headed to the Nickerson Pub for some "Session 1 Closure".

Class C fire in the engine room with Team India as primary.
Basic Firefighting complete...
Nickerson Pub with most of the class...

Most of my classmates have their itineraries dialed in and are shipping out this coming week on their sea phases, although a few are still trying to get ahold of their companies and iron everything out. Some folks are heading down to the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) to work on tugs that supply the oil Industry, while others are heading to research vessels, or Northwest tow companies like me. Once the sea phases begin, we have a myriad of things that we must do while underway, in addition to our job on the boat. We have a training record book that must get checked off by a designated person onboard, and we have a few special projects to complete during the phase.

Because I already have sufficient sea-time under my belt, I went ahead and signed up for a Lifeboatmen class in Edmonds for this upcoming week. I had a few days of downtime anyhow, so I checked with PMI and they agreed to let me take the class early, which does two things for me, 1. It speeds up my Able-Seaman certificate by two months, which hopefully equates to a raise in pay with my company, and 2. Gives me an additional week off in June while the rest of the class is taking the class. During that week, I can either come home, or work on the boat. The timing just worked out that they had a class available, and that I had dead time while waiting to ship out.

Today, I'm going to assemble my bike that has been sitting in the back of my car for the past 3 weeks, and go for a spin on the Burke-Gilman bike trail, which is similar to the American River trail back home. The weather today is supposed to be upper 60's, so I'm going to go out and soak as much of that warmth up as possible before heading north to Alaska!

I'll post up a few things during LB class, but then you might not hear from me for a few weeks or even a month depending on wifi access in our ports of call. From what I understand, we will pull into port, offload/on load, tie stuff down and GO. We may or may not have any shore time during these ports, but that is to be determined.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Firefighting and Alaskan Deployment

Today we started our 2-day shipboard fire-fighting course. A few hours of classroom discussion and about 3-4 hours of practical. The first part of the hands-on part, was fire fighting with Co2 extinguishers. then we donned full bunker gear, air canisters and entered the mockup to fight a fire and get some "hose time". It was hot, fun, sweaty.. Tomorrow we work more on technique and timing to meet the Coast Guard requirements needed to pass the course. After tomorrow, we are out of school until June, but deployment begins...

Bunker gear fits, now it's time for my SCBA, (self contained breathing apparatus)
The mockup trainer in Seattle where thousands of merchant mariners learn how to fight fire each year.

I also talked with my new boss today and he told me that my first cruise will begin next Friday (April 5th) and that I'm heading to Western Alaska on the tugboat "Polar Endurance", and that I won't be back until the early part of May. Originally I was told that the first cruise would only be a few weeks to Southeast Alaska, but apparently the info was incorrect and I'm heading across the Gulf Alaska, pulling barges and most likely coming back with a ton of refrigerated containers full of fish.

I did a little research to see what ports we might be stopping at, and it appears that this run is supposed to hit Anchorage, Dutch Harbor, Dillingham, Naknek, Port Moller and Bristol Bay... but that hasn't been confirmed as of yet. This info came from the Northland Services website, which is the company that coordinates all the freight that we tow. Hopefully I'll have the Chance to come home for a week or two after this trip and see the family.

Polar Endurance, my home for about a month...

I'm excited for the trip, but also bummed about the fact that I'm going to be gone so much on this initial cruise and not see the family for a while. Originally, I had anticipated that the class sessions would be 8 weeks, so I guess this isn't so bad, relatively speaking. It's still a large pill to swallow right off the bat, regardless. Once I graduate, the job will have long work sessions, balanced by long time-off sessions. But for now, most of my time-off from work, is going to be filled with classroom. We will figure it out...


Monday, March 25, 2013

Basic Safety and Towboat Tours

Today we started BST (Basic Safety Training) and did our First Aid and CPR class. Pretty straight forward and fast since almost everyone had been certified at one point. We finished the day with a mock-up hands-on practical test down at the training center where they do all the fire-fighting and other fun stuff.
Afterwards, one of the guys (Brett), took Jake and I on a tour of the "Gulf Titan", which is one of the flagship vessels of Western Towboat. Brett has worked with them for about 2 years and loves it. Western is known in these parts as having some of the cleanest, most detailed tugs in the Pacific Northwest. The pictures below will pretty much sum it up. This boat is similar in size and purpose to what I will be working on, however I doubt that I will be as blessed with such wow factor. The crew for this boat is typically about 5 from what I understand and each person usually gets a full stateroom to themselves, even though each room has double bunks. This boat will run 1 Captain, one 1st Mate, one 2nd Mate, and 2 deckhands or AB's.

If you are curious about the specs on a boat like this, check out Western's website and see some of their other vessels.        Western Towboat - the Gulf Titan

Friday, March 22, 2013


I just finished up the Able Seaman class and passed both tests.  I thought we had it licked pretty good, but there was a fair amount of items on the test that weren't really discussed in the class at much detail.  Anything having to do with vessels in fog, left me kinda "in the fog".. many variables to consider and many that we didn't spend much time on.  At any rate, I PASSED and am ready to move onto the next class, Basic Safety Training, next week. I won't get my Coast Guard "ticket" for Able Seaman until I complete the Lifeboatman class, which I'm trying to fit in in April.  That "ticket" is a huge pay upgrade in the merchant mariner world, so it's a high priority on my list.  Luckily, my Navy seatime is what is helping me get there faster.  Many of the folks in my class will have to wait a year+ before getting their AB ticket because they are lacking seatime.

For BST next week, we get to do a ton of things like get in the water with immersion suits, fight fire, flip a life raft, CPR/First Aid, etc.  It will certainly be a nice change from being wrapped up in the classroom for the past week or so. It should be a bit more interactive....

For now, it's 2 days of rest and maybe a few celebratory beers.  I'll be meeting up with an old high school buddy on Sunday over on Bainbridge Island, which will be kinda fun.

dat is all for now...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Treasure Hunts

This past weekend, I got together with Jake, one of my classmates (also ex-Navy) and we went on a quick whirlwind of a mission to locate some of the more iconic Seattle spots. My friend Joe, who used to live up in these parts, sent me a list of things to check out, so we did our best to scratch them off the list.

Waterfall Park
The "Gumwall"

The mission went something like this: The Gumwall, Pioneer Square, Waterfall Park, the Locks, Gasworks Park, Freemont and the Freemont Troll. We managed to hit a few other places and grab a good burger, Bloody Mary and beer along the way, and those were not in any particular order either. What it did, was force us to get out and navigate the city a little. We saw some other cool things that forced us to stop and look around.

Fisherman's Terminal
The Fremont Troll
Gasworks Park


Bacon Bloody Mary

Sunday, I reconnected with my friend Patrick from the USS Enterprise ('89-90) and we grabbed dinner and a movie. It was nice to talk about the "ol days" and Navy adventures that we encountered. He works at the Pink Door in Seattle, which has AMAZING Italian cuisine. If you're in the area, do stop in there for dinner and if you see a good looking chap names Patrick, tell him I sent you!

Yesterday was Monday, and we began our weeklong "AB" class (Able Bodied Seaman) which is a compilation of all the true nitty-gritty mariner duties and tasks. We are studying rules of the road, navigation lights, braiding and knot tying, cargo loading, breaking strengths and safe working loads of lines, pollution control, helmsman duties, fire extinguishers, survival equipment, line handling, rescue at sea, etc, etc, etc.... Tons of information thrown into one week, with two tests on Friday and multiple quizzes in between. We are in class from about 7:30-5 every day, and yet it's still somewhat fun. I guess I just like boats. :-)

The navigation aspect of this week is one of the hardest since we have to memorize all the flashing lights, navigation lights for vessels towing, fishing, working, dredging, "not under command", anchoring, yadda yadda yadda... But again, I must like boats because I enjoy learning this stuff.

Next week is "Basic Safety Training" and we get a more hands-on approach to the curriculim. We will be putting on exposure suits and jumping into the water, doing first aid, basic firefighting, abandon ship procedures and more. It should be a bit more engaging to say the least. After that, classes are out until June and I will be boarding a boat for up to a month, most likely heading into Alaska. At some point in there, I'm hoping to squeeze home for a few days to see the family, but I'm afraid that it might not happen until May. FaceTime has been awesome for getting to see and talk with the family, but its still tough being away from them. We all know that this is a short term sacrifice for a long term gain and so far things are going pretty well despite being away.

I'd best get back to my studies if I'm going to nail Fridays tests..



Friday, March 15, 2013

Introduction to Sim, Day 4.

Today was day 4 (and also Friday!) and we began the day with a lecture from the Coast Guard regarding drug and alcohol, plus many stories of idiots who break the rules and lose their Mariner Credentials. I gave a short PowerPoint presentation on the company that I'll be working for and sat through a few others before lunch. After lunch, we went into one of the simulators and played around. We won't ever get the opportunity to "play around" in there again and they take it very seriously, but today was just about getting a feel for what it can do and how it works.

All three simulators are linked together, so you can essentially have three boats in a scene, operated by different people and maneuvering around together while the control room creates scenarios for you. They were flying helicopters at us, submarines, other boats and making extreme storm conditions to give us a feel for the capabilities of the sim. For those that get a little queasy staring at moving screens, it's not for you. They also have radios and radar up and running with real time scenario contacts piped in so you can talk back and forth to the other ships. I think that the simulator is going to be one of my favorite aspects of the school.

Enter weekend... It's Friday night and I'm kind of at a loss for what to do for the next 2 days. I can't really go tinker on the house or clean up the garage. I emailed my classmates and it looks like I'm going to meet one of them down at Pikes Place Market to walk around tomorrow and check things out. I'm sure over time I'll get more of a routine and schedule together, after all, I've only been here for 5 days.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Today's topic? "Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch", which is essentially the basics for watch keeping with regards to protocol and etiquette. For instance; How to relieve a watchstander (and hand over your watch) effectively, how to report contacts to the bridge when on lookout duties, how to call out bearings relative to the boat, taking orders at the helm, making course adjustments, how to adjust for gyro error, magnetic variations and much more. We moved through the class pretty fast and it seemed fairly easy for someone who has experience with compass work and bridge time. The exam was simple and I scored a 100% before receiving my official certificate of Training. Many more to come.
Tomorrow we report to school at 08:00 and we are apparently going to board a Foss tug and do some line handling, and potentially go for a spin. Should be fun.
I got word today from my sponsor company that when I ship out on the 5th, that I won't be back until early May. Originally I thought it would only be a few weeks, but its looking more like a month. I immediately called Erin and broke the news. This means that I'm looking at being gone from home for at least 7 weeks maybe longer on this first session. The life of a mariner I guess...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

First Day of School!

It began with an early rise, shower, bagel sandwich breakfast and a short drive down the hill. I pulled into the parking lot and immediately noticed a guy hanging out in his vanagon, along with about 10 other Subarus and I knew everything was going to be ok.

I went in, submitted some paperwork, grabbed some coffee from the galley and found my seat in classroom "B/C". Everyone else slowly trickled in and we started to chat and get to know each other. We will all be spending a great deal of time with one another over the next 2 years, unlike other classes where you meet for semester and move one.

A couple other ex-Navy folk in the class and a few women as well. 15 brave soles all in and willing to give up 2 years of their lives in an attempt to start a new exciting career. I'm clearly one of the older, if not the "oldest" cadets, and I bring a fair amount of sea time and experience to the table, unlike a few that have none at all. Most have some sort of experience or "tie" to the maritime industry, but a diverse group with regards to where we all gained our interests and strong attraction to the "life" at sea.

Today's agenda was mostly introductions and talking about what to expect over the next 24 months. We met all the staff at PMI, had pizza and shared stories, and even Skyped with a current cadet who is about halfway through his schooling.

Study time

Homework for tonight; put together a PowerPoint presentation on the company that is sponsoring each of us, and look up about 50 nautical terms and write down the definitions in our own words. Most of these I knew, but a few I had never really used in context and was surprised as to their "real" meaning. (Athwart ships, Gypsy, abaft the beam, sternway, etc).

Since we got out of class around 14:30 today, I've been sitting on my makeshift bed (plywood and mattress on top of 8 bankers boxes) and looking up definitions, listening to chill music and realizing that this "thing" is underway. The last time I really felt this feeling was the first few days of boot camp in 1988. Knowing that I've just jumped into long, fast moving flume that will twist and turn and eventually dump me out into one the most rewarding pools of clear blue water. Looking forward to the ride, but looking even more forward to the final plunge and the first breath of air as I emerge.

Tomorrow we start RFPNW (Ratings Forming Part of a Navigational Watch) course, taught by Captain Jim Caspers. This class is one of many that provides us with an essential deck officer certification. I honestly don't know what the material will consist of, but am looking forward to any and all absorption of maritime info. Most of it will be learning standardized terminology used on the bridge and how you "take over" and "hand off" a watch effectively to your relief. We should also be learning how to report hazards, alarms, sounds, etc.

We took a group photo today and it might end up here.

I'd better get some rest... Off to make soup and relax...


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Arrived at last

Three months of planning and I'm finally here. I rolled into Seattle around 14:30 today. The drizzle met me with open arms and a high-five all at once. I went straight to the house where I'm renting a room and checked in with Chris, who I met through a mutual friend in Sacramento. Chris is good guy, two kids about Dylan's age, he plays in a band and manages the Seattle RacknRoad. He's been very generous with allowing me to stay here and I think it's going to be a great place to call home during my time up here. I'm looking forward to getting to know Seattle a little better. This was the first full day away from the family and I felt every minute of it. I know it gets better once the shock wears off.

Today's drive was almost surreal at times. Oregon is so damn pretty and some of their rest stops have FREE coffee, provided by the VFW. I already had a full cup, so I didn't partake, but I'm sure i'll need to at some point. The fog in the mountains during sunrise was amazing and there was very little traffic until I got close to Portland.

Tomorrow is a free day since school doesn't start until Tuesday. I'm going to run some errands, build myself a bed platform out of cardboard boxes (not quite like the homeless, but close) and get ready for school. I'll probably drive around the city a little and piss on some corners like dogs do in a new backyard. :-). I'm planning to somehow get a workout in as well since 2 days of driving has me feeling a little wound up.

I'm already craving and looking forward to that morning coffee... Sleepy in Seattle. Nite.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Officially "IN"!

At 10:24 this morning, a simple phone call changed my life. It was the Director of the program at Pacific Maritime Institute calling, to say "Welcome Aboard!".
Yesterday I had a Skype interview with Dunlap towing in Everett WA, and apparently I managed to do ok and land the job. I'll be starting out as a cadet, and moving into an "AB" (Able-Bodied Seaman) after a few rounds of classes.
My first round of classes at PMI starts up next week and I'll have to do some tests/physicals/employee indoctrination stuff during that time, but it looks like I will be heading out on a tug run to Alaska on 4/5 for a few weeks. I'll try to keep up with the blog as I go, but I probably won't have email/web access at sea.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Finally, the call that I had been waiting for. A tug company "will see me", in other words, they want to interview me as a cadet for the Workboat Program. This means that we can move forward with getting registered in the program at PMI and finalizing things. The last 3 weeks have been stressful to say the least. 3 companies had "decided" to not take more cadets, so my résumé never even made it past the inbox. The next step is to chat with the school next week and figure out when they want to do the interview. I'm packing my bags and heading north in about a week to start the schooling process. I'm not going to jinx the interview by talking about the company, so I'll wait until officially hired. I'm not even jinxing the program and posting this blog until everything is official and I'm sitting in a classroom. If you're reading this, then I'm well underway (pun intended) to becoming a tugboat worker and eventually a captain. For now, I'm just happy to potentially have a spot on deck.