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!