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.

Last Few Days of Home...

It's Tuesday on the week prior to school starting up and I'm home getting my head around what I'll need to pack for this next trip up to Seattle. School will consist of 3 weeks of navigation training and it has a reputation of being the toughest session during the entire program. I'm hoping that having a little bit of time on charts under my belt, will help ease the pain a bit. Either way, I love navigation, compass bearings, charts, etc., and look forward to soaking up as much as possible. We spent a few days on the topic during my Bareboat Charter class, plus we did a fair amount of navigation in the Navy. I know my way around a chart table pretty good, but definitely need to soak up more basics. I taught map and compass to groups back in college, but nautical applications vary a little.

This is also the last week home for at least 3 weeks, so I'm making sure things are dialed. The pool is in autopilot, the broken things are fixed and messes are cleaned up. This stint won't be as painful as the 9 week session before, but with all this great weather, I'm definitely going to dread heading north a little. This time, I'm bringing my mountain bike and plan to get out and explore the Northwest a little during the weekends. Dunlap has me scheduled for a 10-day Southeast Alaska trip sometime in July, so there's a small chance I may go straight to sea after this classroom phase, but for only 10 days. I'm also scheduled for a longer trip in August back out to the Southwest Alaska ports. Now that I have my AB ticket, I'm slightly more eager for the sea-time because of the potential for income. My first trip out, I sailed as a "cadet", non-union wages, and made a small stipend for my time, plus cargo pay. Full AB wages will help ease the school expense burden and lessen the stress back home a little.

So, it's pack time. Gotta figure out my Seattle clothing needs, now that it's warming up a little. If you're reading this and have info on mountain biking trails in the Seattle area, feel free to comment below and guide me towards the best rides.

Now, where did I put those duffels?


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sea/Class Phase #1 and Liberty Call!

I've just arrived back home in California after completing my first schooling phase and sea phase within the Workboat Academy at PMI. The school phase was 3 weeks, plus I opted for an additional class (Lifeboatman) since I had to be in Seattle an extra week anyhow, (which will essentially shorten my next class phase and finalize my AB ticket).
After the class phase, I went through a hiring process/physical/drug screening/etc, for Dunlap Towing Ocean Division and did a 40 day hitch onboard the Polar Endurance towboat to Western Alaska with a crew of 7 (including myself).
The trip went well and I learned a ton about ocean towing. By the time we finished out our cruise, we had been to Anchorage, Dutch Harbor 2x, and Naknek, offloading/loading cargo at each port. The weather was mild for the entire trip, yet a few days of wind and heavier seas left me feeling a little under the weather while my sea legs re-sprouted from beneath my inner ear. On numerous occasion, we'd get hammered by winds and heavier seas, and I would find myself "getting fresh air" out in the fidley looking out the back hatch. The video below is an example of one of those instances, and the picture below it is the opposite weather conditions.
Getting hammered by wind

Smooth sailing day
Smooth sailing day

Making and breaking tow is an interesting process. Not terribly difficult, but can be extremely dangerous if you aren't paying attention. It involves dealing with heavy objects and lines/cables under extreme tension where one mistake can lead to serious consequences. Fortunately, our crew was well trained and everything went as planned.
Typical cargo loading

Cargo work on the barge in port is expected amongst the deckhands, so each time we would pull into port, I would don a hard hard, gloves and work clothes for long days and night of unlashing and lashing of the cargo containers upon the barge... not rocket science, but hard on the hands, knees, back, especially after being awake for long periods prior to coming pier side. We had some pretty chilly days in Dutch and Naknek, that were hard on the joints during the cargo process, but we all survived.

Crew dynamics is always an interesting subject. You meet 5-6 people for the first time and then cram into a living space that is roughly a 2-story, ~25'x60' steel box with few windows (the "house" upon the boat") and then yet set forth on a voyage for 30-50 days. You get to know some people really well, others just baffle you and make you scratch your head. If you're an easy going person like myself, you do great and just motor through making the best of the whole dynamic. Others get caught up in "sailor drama", talk smack, complain and really just create more headache than what it's worth. I prefer to stay fairly neutral and enjoy the ride for the most part. Social differences wont typically get hammered out amongst strangers in a 30 day period, soI don't bother to try. I met some cool people and will most likely keep in contact, potentially sailing with them again at some point.
Some of my homies

As far as readiness goes, I felt that my 4 weeks of classes that I had prior to my sea phase, prepared me more than sufficiently for working on a tugboat for the first time. I knew the terminology, understood the processes fairly well, had good expectations and came aboard with a fair amount of confidence and respect for what I was about to undertake. PMI goes a little farther with their classes than most schools so that you are not just getting trained, but that you are comfortable with the subject knowledge and "ready" to implement it. Being fresh out of class, it was nice being able to recite rules of the road, navigation lights, marlinspike seamanship and safety training topics verbatim. I'm sure the freshness will wear off and I too will fall prey to some lost knowledge over time, but for now, it feel good to have at the ready.

I term that I use to use quite a bit when I managed an outdoor adventure company, was "withitness". It was coined by one of our rock climbing instructors and I've held onto it ever since. We use it to explain a leaders demeanor with regards to guiding, leading, working in technically challenging jobs that can and will contain elements of risk and or safety. I try to always strive for a certain level of "withitness" and try to have my sh#% together so-to-speak when on the job. Tug boating is no exception, especially when trying to move up the ladder into the pilothouse. My goal in life, is to build that "withitness" through training, practice and assessment. PMI did a great job in that regards and I look forward to the remainder of my classroom sessions in June and October this year.
I got word from my wife on our way back that my Able Bodied Seaman upgrade was approved by the Coast Guard, as well as my STCW endorsement. My prior Navy time was sufficient for me to not only get the AB ticket, but to get the AB "Limited" upgraded endorsement. AB consists of "Special", "Limited" and "Unlmimited", each based in sea-time. I'm close to the unlimited upgrade, but it doesn't really make any difference as far as pay goes, unless I'm wanting to work on large ocean going ships. For tug operations, an AB ticket is an AB ticket regardless of your rank and pay is typically the same.
AB Limited!

So, I'm home now with a honey-do list of things that need to get addressed before I ship out again. Mostly lawn, garden, pool related so that the house is ready for summer. We are planning a large pool party for Memorial Day weekend, so I'm inspired to get it all done soon. I'll be heading back to Seattle for another 3-week session on navigation and then potentially shipping out on another sea phase sometime soon thereafter. I may make a few short posts here and there in the meantime, but mostly I'll be blogging about the Navigation class once it starts up on the 3rd of June.

Liberty Call! "Request permission to go ashore... Granted!" C-ya!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Land Ho"

We came within sight of land today. It's a good thing too, because we had been getting hammered from some northwest winds and we were sitting in the trough, bouncing us around real good. Moving around on a boat that is eating tossed a little, is a workout. You start to move one way, the boat forces you to move the other way, then when you start to get somewhere, the boat pushes you back to where you started. Sometimes you just have to dance around and let the motion take over. If done correctly, you can dance down a passageway or across the galley like a drunken ninja. There's a reason why Johnny Depp moves around like a drunk in his Pirate movies, it's because that's how you get around in a boat. Its an art that only some can master. Depp apparently has a beautiful sailing yacht that he spends his spare time on, and he probably mastered his movements entertaining guests at sea. Our cook Perry has some good drunken sailor moves. He will spin around in the galley when moving about Ike's he's doing the tango. Somehow it works and he gets from point A to point B with little effort. You just have to relax and not fight the pitch and roll.

So, land is is here and we are officially inland. The Nav software shows us getting into Elliot Bay (Seattle) Saturday evening around 22:00, but from there, we hand off our barge and it's a few hours north to our docks in Everett. Feet dry for Mother's Day!


Friday, May 3, 2013

Homeward Bound

We headed back to Dutch Harbor and had to do about 8 hours of cargo, mostly solo while the remainder of the crew tended to other duties. I worked on the barge in 35 degree snow flurries (with 15-20 knot gusts) with one other guy from the docks while the cook and 2nd mate hit up the grocery store, and the everyone else took the boat to the fuel dock. All said and done, we were back underway that night with $2500 worth of food and an extra 45,000 gallons of fuel to get us home. I logged a 8.5 hour cargo day and was pooped by the time we pulled in our lines.

Cold day of cargo in Dutch

We offloaded about 40 or so containers and brought on about 30 40' reefers full of fish. These reefers are packed onboard and then all plugged into one or more Generators, which is simply a 40' container that has been modified to hold 2 diesel motors, set up as generators and then a large 1000 gallon fuel tank is lashed to the top of that to keep them fed. If the "gen-sets" die, the fish might spoil and some big money is lost.

All lashed down, we made tow, pulled away and headed out and crossed over to the southern part of the Aleutians. We then headed up towards Kodiak island where we decided to pass on the southeast side. The weather report indicated that we were going to have an awesome week, so the captain changed our route in an attempt to get us into the Gulf of Alaska sooner, saving at least a day off of our transit. We tucked into a bay on Sunday night to do a last minute barge check before heading across. Once into the gulf, it's too dangerous to do a barge check, so we have to check the gen-sets prior to heading across and again once we reach the other side. Climbing up the pigeon holes on the side of the barge can be a thrill on flat water, let alone on bumpy seas. The barge is light right now, so it has an additional 6' or more of water line showing, making the climb even higher. We don't use harnesses or anything, so you have to make sure that you have a good grip and that your foot is in the hole before moving to the next one. PFD's are worn, but if you fall into the water, there's a really good chance that you won't come back. The water temp, and the fact that that boat is tethered to the barge makes for a difficult man-overboard recovery. The boat can't maneuver fast enough with a barge in tow, and by the time the crew breaks tow and finds you, it's probably about a 45 minute time period. So we grasp those pigeon holes really well when climbing to and from the barge.

Pigeon holes

We are almost smack dab in the middle of the Gulf right now, heading on a constant course towards Canadian waters. Once we enter the inland waters, it will be a beautiful cruise through the tight, forested waterways as we meander back into the US. I'm looking forward to getting some good workouts in on ck for the last few days since its sometimes hard to get out on deck when water is sloshing up on the sides. I worked out last night for the first time in probably 2 weeks, but I've done plenty of "cargo exercises" in the meantime. I've added a few pounds intentionally, trying to fill out a little. I feel like I've been too skinny, for too long and I'd rather have a little extra something that could potentially turn into muscle should I lift a little here and there.

The Gulf of Alaska

The Nav software shows us arriving in Seattle in about 5 days, meaning Saturday night or Sunday morning (Mother's day) and I think that would make for a great Mother's Day gift to call home and say that I'm "feet dry". We could still encounter some funky tides that could slow our pace, but we might hit some in our favor as well... Time will tell. Right now, we are averaging almost 10 knots across open water, which is amazing and the winds are at our stern, helping matters tremendously. The boat is full of fuel and riding quite nice and the crew is all stoked to be heading home. We had prime rib, sautéed shrimp, mashed potatoes, salad and cherry pie for dinner last night. It seems like we are pulling out all the stops and trying to eat up everything good that's left onboard. No holds barred on the menu and it jibes well with my extra eating plan. We have had a pie each day since we left Dutch and I have made blueberry muffins and the chief mate has made cherry cheesecake and cookies. No shortness of fat-making scenarios on this trip!


Its 01:35 and I must get ready for watch... Which means: get dressed, drink coffee, brush teeth, flashlight in one pocket, knife in other pocket. Ready. No need to eat breakfast since we just eat whenever we are hungry, on watch or not.