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