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:

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.