Friday, December 19, 2014

Feet Dry

We arrived in Seattle at about 06:00 this morning and quickly broke tow and handed off the barge to the guys at Western Towboat and then immediately high-tailed it north to Everett.  When you're running free on a tug, it's called "light boat".

We got to Everett around 09:00, offloaded the trash for the FDA inspector to check out and then packed the car and headed south.  I had to drop our 2nd Mate off at the airport and then I was southbound to Portland to grab a flight home.

Good trip, relatively speaking.  Good crew, good boat, bad weather and a long boring crossing.  I really don't like the long boring runs and would prefer to be engaged more on a daily basis with new sites, new ports, different scenarios, but I'm glad to have gotten the trip at this point in the year when most of those "other" trips are dwindling.

At any rate... Glad to be off the boat.  Glad to be off the ocean.  Glad to be going home.

Now it's holidays!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Homeward Bound

Honolulu came and went without a hitch.  We pulled in Friday afternoon and back out on Sunday around noon.  It’s now Tuesday morning, 2am and we are heading NE at about 10 knots.  The weather is good and the tradewinds are working in our favor.  There’s some large storms brewing up north that are creating some nasty conditions for anyone heading southwest, but that works in our favor and should get us home much quicker.

We run two trips to Hawaii each month, leaving every other Friday.  The boat that was scheduled to leave from Seattle this last Friday was put on hold until the weather conditions lighten up.  We should come sailing in with some good winds on our stern, but they can’t even poke their nose out into it without getting beaten down.

At any rate, all is well and it’s nice to finally be coming home.  The past few months have been draining.  I haven’t been home since the first part of October and it was only for a week.  Prior to that, I was in school for all of September.  The entire Fall season has been spent on a boat or in a class and I’m really ready for some downtime.  I’ll get a few weeks off after this trip for Christmas and New Year’s and then back north for a short week and a half of classes.  At that point, I’m going to hopefully be organizing my packet and application for submittal to the Coast Guard.  I have to show proof of all my seatime, my certificates of class completion, medical exams, drug screening and all the assessments that I’ve had to complete underway.  If all goes well, they will approve my application for testing.  It should take a month or so to get approval and then I just need to schedule a testing date, study and sit for the exams.

I’m shooting for the 3rd Mate Unlimited license, which will include 7 modules (exams).  Each module covers various topics, (i.e. Deck General, Deck Safety, Nav General (oceans and near coastal), Nav Problems (oceans and near coastal), Rules of the Road, Chart Plot, ) and each module will take about 3 hours to complete over a period of 4 days.  Once completed and passed my license will be issued and I’ll be deck officer.  I won’t bore you with the details of what happens if I don’t pass, because that isn’t an option.  :-)

I’ve begin studying, using an ipad/iphone app called Upgrade U.  It’s about a $20 purchase, but well worth every penny.  It lays out all the test pool questions and then tests you repeatedly until your scores are high enough.  We have to score a 90% on Rules of the Road, which is the one that typically haunts everyone the first time around.  I plan on studying as much as I can over the next few months to prepare.  I’ve learned a great deal of information over the past few years, and regurgitating it is going to be tough, but do-able.

Anyhow, that’s all for now….

Sunday, December 7, 2014


We arrived in Hono yesterday afternoon, got the boat and barge tied up nicely and then headed ashore. I was on the hunt for wifi and ended up at a new brewery just across the street.  As per company policy, we can't drink at all during a trip, so I sat at the bar, enjoyed an iced tea and a burger while I uploaded some blogs from the past few weeks.

Today, we moved the boat over to the fuel dock and took on 59,000 gallons for the trip home.  My job during fueling is to keep an eye on the valves and make sure no leaks appear.  So, I essentially sit on deck in a camp chair for 3-4 hours and chill.

It was actually a nice relaxing afternoon and I managed to squeeze off some emails and make a call or two in the process.

After we finished up, moved the boat and helped the cook load groceries, Jon (the 2nd mate) and I headed over to Waikiki for the remainder of the day.  He proceeded on up to Diamond Head for a hike and I hit the stores to do a little Christmas shopping.

It felt good to get out and stretch the legs and look around. I managed to pick up some cool island stuff for the family, grab some fish tacos and meet back up with Jon at the beach during sunset.  
At that point, we grabbed some ice cream, then a cab back to the boat.

We are scheduled to get back underway tomorrow around noon, and then hopefully back in Seattle about 12 days later.  Overall, it was good quick stop here on Oahu.

Right now I'm on a security watch for a few hours then I think I may grab some sleep and head out for some breakfast before we get underway.  The weather is looking pretty promising for our return trip, but we'll see.  Fingers crossed.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pacific Crappiness

It’s day 11 of our trip to Hawaii and it has been less than pleasant, scratch that, crappy.  The last Hawaii run I did was back in March/April and we had our share of bad days, but once we got down low enough in latitude, the weather improved, the seas become calm and blue and it was actually nice out.  This trip has been nothing but hell.

We started off out of Juan de Fuca with some pretty heavy seas, which are always to be expected, then we battled headwinds all the way down the western seashore because of a low pressure system farther out.  As we got down below the pressure system, it followed us and we ended up just having headwinds for a few more days.  Then, the system appeared to be dissipating and things were looking good, but then it picked up again and started following us farther.  At one point, it got so windy and nasty that we just had to point our nose into the wind, throttle down to idle and sit in place for a day, probably moved backwards quite a bit as well.  It was gusting 40-50 with 30’ seas and the ride was absolutely nauseating. 

The 2nd Mate and I were discussing how much were hating the Hawaii run and were amazed that these regular guys can put up with this trip year round.  But then, just when we thought we were being wimps about it, we happen to see an email that the Captain sent to the main office. It went something like this.  “The weather has been bad and this has been THE TRIP FROM HELL”.  So, after reading that and knowing that this is somewhat of an anomaly I feel better about my wimpy-ness.   This captain strictly does the Hawaii run and has been for many years, so if he says this is bad stuff, then I feel better about myself.

A while ago, I stepped outside the back hatch to get some air and as I look out off the starboard side, all I could see was swell after swell coming at us.  As they approach the boat, you look up at the crest of the wave about 10’ higher than you and it makes you feel pretty insignificant as they crash over the back end of the deck.

The good news is that, the stalking low-pressure system appears to have given up on us and we are finally leaving it behind as we finish up our last 800 mile leg into Honolulu.  The winds are slowly coming around behind us and the ride is starting to smooth a little into a gentle surfing action. The pounding over the past week has been hard to sleep with.  You have to wedge something under your mattress to cradle you in, otherwise your body gets tossed back and forth, waking you up every other minute.

The icing on the cake for the week, was that our A/C unit blew a refrigerant hose today, so we have no A/C until we can get into port and get it fixed.  Luckily, the air temps are too warm yet and it’s not unbearable.  The upper deck staterooms get a bit warm because they are near the stack, but mine is below and insulated slightly.

Today is our cook’s 58th birthday, so the engineer made him a really cool chocolate cake with peanut butter filling and cream cheese frosting. He even drew a picture of his custom van on the top that turned out quite awesome. I built him a pretty cool little key fob out of some small stuff that I had and added a nice stainless shackle and a turk’s head to finish it off, then wrapped it up in a paper towel and tied it off with some fancy string.  He was totally stoked that I took the time to make him something for his day.

Cornish game hens for dinner.  Hopefully my appetite comes out to play.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Blue Friday

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and our cook did a wonderful job of putting together a Thanksgiving meal.  The winds and waves are still beating us up a little, but the meal came out perfect.  He’s been a cook at Dunlap for 20 years and has his technique pretty dialed.  It’s nice to see someone so comfortable in the galley for a change.  He put together a turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beens, rolls, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, deviled eggs and more.  I couldn’t have planned a better meal at home.
Today, he’s baking lasagna and we are all excited about that as well.  Lasagna is one of my most favorite foods of all times.  The last trip I was on, we had a great cook but he wasn’t a red sauce fan and barely made anything with red sauce.  I’ve been craving Lasagna for over a month now and am really looking forward to dinner tonight.

The bouncy ride messes with my head a little and makes me want to just lay down in my off time, which then leads to sleep, and then over-sleep.  I think I’m averaging about 10 hours/day right now and it tends to make me feel groggy during the waking hours. I’ve finally acquired a chair for my room in an attempt to sit up and watch some shows vs. laying down, which will hopefully help cut down on the over-sleep problem.  I’m well stocked on TV shows and movies, probably enough to last me through the spring.  I’ve started a few new series in addition to the Sopranos that I’m still plugging away at.  If you are reading this because you are joining the merchant marines, one bit of advice… buy a big external hard drive, bring a laptop and get some good noise canceling headphones.  It’s the only way take your mind off the monotony and boredom of long trips.

I was up in the pilothouse a while ago, and I checked the “mileage to go”… which was well over 1000 miles still.  We’ve been underway for one week and we STILL have over 1000 miles to go at 8-9 knots.  oy.  This run certainly tests your tolerance, on many levels.

So, that makes today Black Friday, but the sun is out and the closest shopping is over a 1000 miles away, so today is blue friday for many reasons.  One because it’s sad to be out here in the middle of nowhere on a holiday period, and 2 because the water is becoming bluer each day as we make our way southwest towards Hawaii. The one saving grace is that we make double time on holidays, plus extra ATO. 

Capt seems to think that this low-pressure system that has been stalking us for the past few days is finally turning back north and we should be good to go for the remainder of the trip. 
The temps are rising and I’ve pulled out my cargo shorts since the boat is starting to get a bit muggy.

I got a few emails today from the family and it sounds like all is well and that Thanksgiving was a success as usual. Megan (daughter) has taken on the roll of making the pumpkin pies and that has me very excited.  I taught her a few years ago, so it’s nice to see that she’s finally got an opportunity to shine.  I guess she’s making apple as well, which is always a hit in my book.

Looking forward to getting home and laying down on a floor that doesn’t move.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

It’s Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we are directly abeam (to the West) of San Francisco by a few hundred miles.  We are clipping along at about 9 knots and the weather is pretty calm.  Our first few days out of the Straights of Juan de Fuca were pretty crappy, but the last two have been better but still less than ideal.  It’s only day 4 of a long transit, but the seas are beginning to calm down and the water is slowly turning from dark greenish to a lighter blue.  I dare not look at the “miles to go” line on the chart plotter because it’s depressing, but I’m fairly certain we still have about 1800+ miles to go before arriving in Honolulu.

As the weather warms and improves, as does the morale.  Today, the engineer rigged up some outriggers for our hand lines so that the fishing can begin.  In a few days, we’ll start fishing daily for whatever the ocean will throw us.  They’ve been known to pull in some pretty large fish on this run and I’m really looking forward to learning the routine since my deep sea fishing knowledge if pretty null and void.  If all goes well, I’ll be bringing home some frozen Mahi or ?.

I got an email from home today giving me a quick recap on the weekend’s activities.  Erin and the kids hopped in the car and went down to Yosemite for a quick overnight and rented a little cabin in Curry Village.  It sounded really cool and I obviously wished I could’ve been there.  It’s tough knowing that your family is out doing fun things and you’re stuck in a 30’x60’ steel box on a boat in the middle of nothing with 5 other guys.  My off time consists of watching Sopranos (because I had never seen it) and a few other good series.  I just finished up True Detective and I dabble a little with “It’s always Sunny in Phillidelphia”, Criminal Minds, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and the list goes on. There’s never a shortage of movies and TV shows to go around.  Everyone keeps a collection on the their hard drives, so it’s pretty easy to find something to watch.

Tonight, our cook came down ill with something and I offered to take over dinner for him…  (Nothing like watching a sick guy prepare your meal for you).  He ended up getting everything prepared and I just have to cook it up and clean up afterwards.  I then volunteered to work a double and take the overtime so that he could not have to worry about doing engine room checks as well.  It’s not like I had someplace to be or something better to do. So, I’m chilling in the galley on my laptop, waiting to see if the engineer is going to get up for dinner before I clean up the grub.  After that, I’ll probably just hang out for a bit before I get relieved at 19:45, then I’ll watch a show, grab a nap and come on watch at midnight.

tha tis all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Difficulty in the Rear View!

GMDSS didn't go so well back in the Spring, so I did a retake this week on the lab portion and somehow completed the course.  It wasn't easy and the material wasn't as fresh as it was a few months ago, but it stuck enough to help me through.  Definitely a hard class and I'm glad to have it behind me.

In the process of GMDSS this week, I did a little research and met with the officials of the school regarding my sea time.  I had been told by various mariner friends that I "might" already have the needed sea time for licensing and that I just needed to finish a few classes and submit the application to the Coast Guard.  After a few emails and phone calls, I met with the school and we confirmed that I have indeed already met the requirements for testing as a "Hawsepiper", and furthermore, should be able to go for a bigger license than originally expected.  I was originally shooting for a 1600 ton Near Coastal and 500 ton Oceans Mate license, but because I spent all of my Navy time on vessels that were "unlimited" tonnage (i.e. huge), that I should qualify for the grand daddy of Mate licenses "3rd Mate Unlimited".  It means that I will need to step aside from the Workboat Mate Program to submit my application, but I'll still be a PMI Student and finish out my classes with all my class/shipmates and then celebrate graduation in the Spring.

So, once I return from this trip to Hawaii (leaving tomorrow morning), I'll be working towards getting my application together and arranging all my paperwork for submission.  If all goes well, I'll be sitting for my license in February or March.  Worst case scenario is that the Coast Guard gives me grief about "recency" with regards to Unlimited tonnage, but I can still sit for my 1600 ton and upgrade to 3rd later.  The actual testing with the Coast Guard takes about a week...  7 modules over 4-5 days. Oy.  I'm thinking at this point that becoming a lawyer might be an easier path.  :-)

At any rate, the light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter each week and the stress loads are slowly lifting.  Right now, I'm sitting in a brewery, enjoying a beer to celebrate the completion of GMDSS and preparing my mind for another month at sea.

We depart Seattle tomorrow for a month-long trip to Hawaii, (2-weeks there, 2 weeks back).  It'll go quick and then I'll be home for the holidays with my family.  I'm REALLY looking forward to seeing my wife and kids.

I probably won't have any more posts for a few weeks, but I'll upload some posts once we reach Oahu.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

GMDSS Squeeze-in

I just finished up a 4-week hitch yesterday, hopped off the boat, grabbed a burrito and headed to my favorite coffee house in West Seattle for some studying.  Last May, I bombed the lab part of GMDSS and needed to retake it, (see May 2014) and there just happened to be one offered in between two work trips, so I signed up.
     So, it hasn't even been 24hrs since we docked, and I'm headed back to class for more punishment.  It's Saturday and we have a 6-hr class today that goes over the lab equipment and basic introduction, all of which I'm fairly comfortable with, but will obviously need some time to re-familiarize myself with. The class ends on Thursday (hopefully for good this time) and then I crew up on Friday morning for a month long hitch to Hawaii.  Every time I mention to someone that I'm going to Hawaii on a work trip, they say "ooh, nice!".   Not so much.   It's a 2 week crossing of the Pacific, 24-36 hours in port and then a 2-week crossing home.  It's boring, the seas can get ugly and we don't really have enough time in port to do much, BUT, it's work and I'll take it.  I need the sea time under my belt and the income is nice too.
      Bummed about being gone so long from the family, but this SHOULD be the last long one and then I can settle into a regular work schedule that allows a bit more home time.  When I get home from Hawaii, I will have been gone 9 weeks and before that, it was a quick 10 day visit after my month long class.  Essentially, Since the start of September, I've been home for 10 days.  All I can do at this point is focus on that homecoming date and spending time with my wife and kids for Christmas.
     I don't have class tomorrow, so I'm going to probably do absolutely nothing.  I haven't had a day off in over a month, so I may just stare out the window and drool.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Radar Fritz and Nautical Beatings

So, we spent about 5 days in Prince William Sound, waiting for better weather in the Gulf before heading across.  While we steamed around in circles and waited, a few things kept us busy.  The first one being the small search for a missing boat that I wrote about in a prior post, and the other was our radar taking a dump.  Since Radar is our most important navigational tool, we had to comprise a plan to get it fixed. We have a required secondary radar, but it’s old, outdated and has had some issues on this trip to the point where is wasn’t reliable. The closest port was Whittier, so after our engineer decided that it was beyond his abilities, we got on the Sat phone and made some calls.  The end result, was a trip to Whittier, where we met with a radar tech from Anchorage and he got us going again with some new brushes.  We landed the barge in the late afternoon and had a few hours of downtime and dinner.  During that time, 3 of us took a stroll into the bustling community of Whittier where very few lights are even left on, let alone businesses open.  It was 8 in the evening, so we didn’t expect much, but the only store in town was open until 9 and we were in luck.  I think the tiny asian woman thought we were there to mug her, but we quickly put her at ease with our magazine purchases and toiletries.  It was then back to the boat, and underway.

A day or two after Whittier, it was evident that the weather wasn’t going to get much better, so our captain decided it was time to make a run for it before things got any worse.  There was a big super-storm brewing out in the Aleutians, and I don’t think he wanted to stick around and see if it was going to head our way. I knew that night was going to be nasty, so I popped motion sickness pill as a precaution, which in retrospect, I probably should’ve popped 2.

We decided to head out the main entrance to Prince William Sound, which is the main traffic lanes for ships heading into Valdez.  The currents and wind through there are typically a challenge on an average day, and we were already beyond that point in the weather.  About 2 hours into it, we were taking 25’ waves straight ahead and winds exceeded 45 knots.  That combined with some large swell from the south and we were taking a nasty pounding.  When I got up for watch around midnight, all I could hear was stuff crashing around in the galley that was fairly well secured, or at least we thought.  I staggered out to find books, condiments, DVD players, napkins, coffee filters, playing cards and much more, strewn all across the deck of the galley.  It was awesome, but my inner ear didn’t agree and soon I was feeling the effects pretty bad.  I knew it was nasty when our seasoned engineer comes in from the engine room with the same look on his face that I had.  His accent made it even better when he said “jeezus, man, this come nasty shit!”.  He too wasn’t feeling well and immediately headed off to his room.  All I could do was hang on for 4 hours until my watch was over.  I wedged myself in at the galley table with a bucket nearby and watched the time click by.  It was bad and probably the worst seasickness I’ve endured.  I still managed to do my rounds, collect trash and so forth and I kept a good attitude despite the level of suckiness.  The next day got better and I felt much better, the day after that, I was good to go.  I typically only get seasick if the transition from calm to nasty is short.  If it slowly ramps up over a few days, I tend to adapt fairly well.  I know that others have experienced rougher conditions, but this was the nastiest I’ve seen on tug so far to date.  It’s a great way to lose weight quick and start a new diet.  ;-)

So, we made it across and are now on the inside passage near Ketchikan, heading south towards Seattle.  We should be in port sometime Friday and then I get to head straight to class for a GMDSS Lab makeup.  After that, I’ll be hopping onto a slow boat to Hawaii for a month.  I’m certainly not fond of having to be gone so long right now, but if I want to get my license, I need to jump at the opportunity to get available sea time and income between now and next Spring.  The short term pain is worth the long-term gain and soon I can fall into a better schedule of being home in between trips.  School is out soon and so it’ll just be sea time to deal with.

Today, I sat down with our Captain for a few hours and went through my TOAR (Towing Officer Assessment Record) and he signed me off on a bunch of it.  It’s basically a document that says you are ready to be an officer on a towing vessel.  I was glad that he took the time to help me out because the TOAR is a big chunk of assessments that must be done before you work as a mate on a towing tug.  Getting there…

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Hunt For Big Johnson

Yesterday, we overheard the Coast Guard putting a call out for an overdue fishing boat called the “Big Johnson”.  It was 27’ Hughescraft, which is an aluminum fishing vessel, and apparently the owner’s son called the Coast Guard because he was concerned that his dad and the crew aboard didn’t have enough fuel to make it all the way into Whittier.

The CG did get ahold of the vessel and the the skipper said they were aiming for a hunting lodge in a small bay near Knight’s Island Passage, which is where we’ve been driving around in circle for the past few days.  They were planning to get some fuel there and continue on with their voyage up to Whittier this morning. So, it seemed that everything was good to go.

This morning, the Coast Guard tried multiple times to contact the Big Johnson on Ch 16, but no luck.  The Coast Guard knew that we were in the vicinity and asked if we could get closer to where the lodge is reported to be and see if we could see a vessel or any activity.  We re-routed from our “busy”, scratch that “extremely boring” day of round turns and went to investigate.  We couldn’t get into the bay because of the shallow depths, but could make out a few things via binocular that appeared to be where a lodge might be hidden, yet no boat.  The visibility was good, but we were still sitting about 3-4 Nm’s off the beach and couldn’t be exactly sure. Finally, after repeated attempts of the CG calling “Big Johnson” on the radio, we offered to give it a try, thinking that maybe that the boat couldn’t hear the CG, and to our surprise, they answered.  Apparently, they stayed the night, found some fuel at the empty lodge, and were just about to get underway towards Whittier.

So, all said and done, we got to play SAR for an hour or so and it certainly gave us a break in the mundane vicious circle of round turns. The best part of the whole ordeal, was hearing the female CG watch officer put the call out for the “Big Johnson” repeatedly for quite a few hours. I think we’ve been stuck here too long, because it sparked many inappropriate jokes about boat names and CG calls.  Sometimes you just have to laugh and be silly.

The weather might be offering us a slight break in the next 48 hours, so we might poke our heads out into the Gulf and make run for it.  It’s going to be nasty and we’ll get beat up quite a bit, but it shouldn’t last for more than a few days and then we’ll be back on the inside of Southeast Alaska where hopefully it’ll provide some shelter.

If all goes well, I’ll be feet dry before Saturday 11/15 and I can take the rest of my GMDSS class before shipping off on the Hawaii run, 11/21.  Looking forward to getting all this stuff done so I can tone it down a little and actually see my family a little more often. I “should” be home for Christmas and a few weeks following before we take our last class session at PMI in the 2nd week of January.  ALMOST DONE!

It’s 17:07 and I’m 7 minutes late for dinner..    gotta run!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Anchorage, Nikiski and more

Well, it’s been a good trip so far.  We towed a fairly light barge, yet lightly loaded, up to Anchorage, offloaded its contents and then popped over to Nikiski, about 50 miles away, to pick up a random load that consisted of a drilling rig that had been broken down into about 60 pieces.  Because the tides in Cook Inlet are so drastic, we had to break tow and send the boat away for about 6 hours, leaving 2 of us on the barge to help load cargo through the night in freezing temps.  We started cargo ops around 9pm and quite around 7am.  The next day, we returned to finish up the load, but had to break away again for tides.  All in all, we got it all done an were out of there by the end of the 2nd day.  Between Anchorage and Nikiski, I logged about 38 hours of cargo, which is a pretty good amount. My body ached, mostly from from the cold, and I couldn’t stop eating for a few days.

After we left Nikiski, we had to pop into Kachemak Bay to hide out from the winds and logged another 5 hours of cargo time on the barge, double lashing and fixing a few things that were rushed in Nikiski.  After about 24 hours there, we popped out into the Gulf and headed over towards Prince William sound where we are now, waiting for the weather to die down.  Winds in the Gulf tonight are supposed to be in the 40 knot range, so our captain thought it be best if we sit tight out of sight.

So, we’ve been comparing music, watching movies, reading, playing guitar, etc.  until it’s go-time.  I’m just about to go on watch (midnight), and nothing really new to report.  We’ll probably run out of bottled water due to the detention and round turns, but there’s plenty of rust colored tap water to tap into.  yumm  We have a desalinator, yet for some reason, the water the fresh water goes into an old tank and picks up some nice color, so we drink bottled water.  We plan to fill our bottles directly from the desalinator once we officially run out.  Hopefully that goes well.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Let Brass be Brass

It might just be me, but I'm a strong believer that certainly metals should be left to age and patina naturally.  It may also just be a little of my "particular-ness" that can't let things like this go...  So, today I decided to undo some wrong-doing.  I grew up on a boat, and thanks to my parents, have a high degree of respect for brass, stainless steel and even aluminum and don't think (although there are exceptions) that these metals should be painted.
This poor light cover has 2-3 layers of epoxy paint on it, which will always end up chipping over time and looking like crap.  I think a nicely tarnished brass has a certain amount of nautical sexiness that shouldn't be mesed with.
I took it upon my self to go around the boat and give brass back its sexiness. Not  because I like polished brass, but because naturally tarnished brass is "the way it should be.
Let it be, let it be...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Packing up.

          Each time I head out for a trip, I like to layout all my stuff and make sure I have everything.  Sometimes I take something out of my bag for use at home and forget to put it back.  If you get out on the boat and realize that you left a vital piece of gear, you're just going to have to do without until the next port.
          At any rate, I prefer to go through and check stuff off my list while packing up and since I've had a few folks email me through my blog, asking questions about "what to pack", I thought I'd get a little more organized and throw it out there for new folks that are starting the Workboat Program, or just new mariners in general.  This is not a comprehensive list, but it might shed some light on what to bring.   I work on towboats and we work cargo in port, so I bring things specific to that environment.  Some folks don't do cargo, but they work on tanker barges and their needs might vary slightly. Almost all of the boats have washer/dryer, but sometimes they break..  plan accordingly.  I sometimes do runs to Hawaii, so I scale back on the winter gear and obviously throw in some extra warm weather clothes/shorts for those trips.

For packing purposes, I like to have 2 bags. A seabag with shoulder straps and one with wheels for trucking through airports.  The seabag is my Navy seabag and I use it for core work gear plus it has backpack straps and easy to carry. The other rolling duffle is for general clothes/toiletries/etc.  I also bring my laptop bag with my Mac, cords, iPad (mostly for reading and games), hard drives, etc, credentials, etc.  I like these bags because they fold down pretty small and can stow away in my quarters pretty easy.  When I come home, these bags pretty much stay packed and ready to go with the exception of a few items.

Bag #1; (I use a military/Navy Seabag)
-Foul Weather Gear (waterproof parka and bibs).  I have an extra parka that I bring for cargo because it's a bit more breathable than my Grundens Rain Parka.
-Slip-on workboots. I prefer steel toe, (specifically Keens)
-Extratuf boots.  I prefer the steel toe/insulated because I sometimes wear them on the barge for cargo ops and they are warm in the winter months in Alaska
-Work pants: 3 pair.  I prefer Carhartt double knee and I insert the kneepads. (cargo/painting/etc)
-Knee Pads (optional, yet nice when you're painting low all day)
-Heavy Carhartt Jacket: mostly for heading into town when in port.
-Heavy pullover hoodie
-Coveralls for dirty work/painting/etc.
-Workout Mat and resistance bands   nice for working out on deck/stretching
-Workgloves (I use the blue Atlas and white thermal Atlas, plus a pair of latex Atlas for wet conditions)

Bag #2: (Rolling Duffle.  Eagle Creek makes a nice one that folds up)
-T-shirts (a week's worth)  I throw in some extra in case I trash a few
-Lounging/offwatch/workout clothes (shorts, sweatpants, etc.)
-Shoes for off-watch
-Underlayers top and bottoms for winter
-Socks (a week's worth)
-Underwear (a week's worth)
-Toiletries (make sure you have enough for the trip). Toothbrush/shampoo/shaving cream/Meds/etc.
-Shower sandals
-Cords/chargers/extension cord or strip.
-Flashlight and headlamp
-Knives (I bring an extra, and keep one on me at all times)
-Sunglasses (plus one extra)
-Headphones (I recommend noise canceling because tugs are noisy)
-Books/Coast Guard study stuff if you're trying to move up in the world like me
-Laundry Bag  the mesh type works well.
-Misc:   I throw in a bungie cord, cordage, straps for use my room. Hanging up stuff/etc.

Laptop Bag
-Credentials (passport, TWIC, MMC)
-Study guides/TOAR/TRB/Etc
-GoPro and access.   I just recently picked one up and it's great fun.  Gives me something to do in the off time.

Here's everything packed and ready to go:

Sometimes, I'll have a little extra room and I might throw in an extra pair of shoes or an extra sweatshirt/extra hat/etc for use in port or in case I completely trash some clothes. There might be something that I'm forgetting to put in the list, but it usually makes it's way into my bag at the last minute.

A good habit to get into is to keep your packing list on your phone/laptop/etc. and every time you think of something you forgot, write it down.  I'm constantly making tweaks to my list underway.

I depart on Friday for a trip up north and then next month I'll be heading to Hawaii on another boat.  Might have to swap some clothes out for that one.

Happy sailing!

Workboat Academy

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Post-Med Pause: Almost Done!

        My wife flew up to Seattle the evening before our last class and we had dinner in West Seattle and a few beers with friends.  The next day I finished up a week of Med Pro (Medical Care Provider).  This was a great class and we had plenty of hands-on practice with First Aid and CPR.  We did the usual stuff as with any first aid/cpr class, but then took it to another level with regards to the type of emergencies that we would encounter out at sea. Stroke, burns, heart attacks, compound fractures etc. and how to deal with them when your closest medical help is hours or even days away.  We had great paramedic instructors who kept the week lively and entertaining, which felt great after 2 weeks of tough celestial thought process.   The best feeling, was the realization that we are essentially done with all of our big classes.  We have about 8 days of mild classes left in January and thats it!  The end is in sight!
The Med Pro room, blown up with first aid supplies

Multiple trauma injury patient


After class on Friday and after we had all passed our exams, we had our traditional (and celebratory) "end of the session" lunch/beers with classmates and then my wife and I headed south... she drove.  ;-)   We spent the weekend in Portland with our good friends and so that she and our friend Joe could run the Portland Marathon. Monday morning we headed south again for the warm and dry climate of California.

My wife and our good friend Joe

       I'm home now and trying to relax for a few days before heading back north for work.  I'll be crewing up on the 17th and heading to Anchorage for a 3-4 week trip.  I'm still awaiting word on whether or not I'll have any other trips after this one.  The winter slows down quite a bit for our company, so trips become few and far between after October.  I still need 150 days of sea time before I can submit my packet and test with the Coast Guard next year.  It's going to be a push, but the sooner I get through all the requirements, the sooner I can get that license and move up the ladder to officer status.

      It will go by quick, but I'm dreading the fact that I'll be potential gone a lot over the next 6 months. I think it's safe to say that in a year from now, I'll be working as a Mate, and that is all the motivation I need to get me through the next 6-12 months.  We have a few weeks of test prep after our packets are submitted to the CG in the spring, and then it's test time!  Testing will take all week at the Coast Guard Regional Exam Center and it will be hell... but if all goes well, I'll walk out of there as a Merchant Marine Deck Officer!

I'd better get back to my relaxation, because I may not get much after next week.

Workboat Academy

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pigs do Fly! A Celestial Nav Recap

The past two weeks have been spent in the classroom, learning all about Celestial Navigation.  The first day or two started off pretty good and then it ramped up to our expected pace of "drinking from the firehose".  We had to learn all about the sextant itself and how to use it,
but the majority of the class was about the calculations and how to plot a fix and actually find your position using various methods.
     The information poured out and we slurped up as much as we could.  At the end of the first week, things were going ok, but we had a test and an assessment on plotting a 3-star fix and a sun plot to study for on Monday.  I hadn't quite figured out the process come Monday morning and turned in my assessment sheets empty and sat my sorry butt back down at the desk, knowing that I could retake the assessment at the end of the week if I was ready.
       Over the next few days I tried repeatedly to figure out the plot, but my numbers kept going in the wrong direction and my plots were nowhere close to the 1 nautical mile minimum tolerance.  In the meantime, we drank more formulas and concepts from the hose and began the wind-down towards the final exam.  The exam was to consist of 10 navigation problems from the various topics we'd gone over during the session and the entire exam would take about 3 hours.  We were being tested on finding latitude of Local Area Noon, ETA's, Great circle sailings, mid-latitude sailings, parallel sailings, Sunset and Sunrise on a specific location and a few other problems.  I was so overwhelmed with everything the last few days, that I had pretty much accepted the fact that I wasn't going to pass the class this time around.  I was bummed, but I had accepted it and was moving on.  I was still going to do my best to learn what I could and make the best of it.

        Wednesday night, I worked more on my plots and started to understand what I was doing wrong, but still wasn't getting the right answers. Even if I figure the plots out, I still needed to practice the other problems for the exam AND pass the test with at least a 70% minimum required passing grade, and then re-take my plotting assessment as well.  It was barely achievable, but I wasn't going to easily just throw in the towel. I went to bed early, but couldn't sleep, tossed and turned all night thinking about equations, nav problems, etc.  Just a bunch of numbers floating around in my head that was pretty much jelly by this point.

a fried, stressed, studying session with
"crazy eyes".
Thursday was tough.  I was wiped out, tired, brain fried..  but I went to one of the instructors and told her that my numbers aren't coming out right.  She agreed to run through them and see what was going on.  These plotting problems can take upwards of 30-40 minutes before you can even begin to plot your findings on a chart.  She ran through everything and found that I wasn't applying one simple step mid-problem.  I was delighted to find out that is was that simple, but I still needed to go about the plotting and make sure I can nail down the right fix.

That night I decided to skip the plotting and study solely for the exam the next day, knowing that the plot assessment was low priority at this point.  I hit the library and went though each topic,  for about 4 hours.  That night, again, I went to bed early but tossed and turned only yielding about 5 hours of sleep.

The next morning I made my way to Starbucks for a XL Americano, and headed to school.  I was simply looking forward to just getting this session over with, pass OR fail... assuming a fail.

We started the exam around 8:30 and I had to go through each problem at a snail's pace, using Bowditch as a reference (One of the allowed testing publications).  I took my time, assessing each step, and nailing down the best answer for each question.  I had to make one or two educated guesses at the very end, but I finished and turned it in.

My instructor pulled out her grading pen and went over them all with a quickness.  I was waiting for the dreaded "X" on the problem as she went over each one... but in never came.  She checked it against her grading sheet again... no X.   I had passed the exam with 100%!

I about fell down.  Could NOT believe that I had just passed the celestial nav exam with flying colors.

My answer sheet.  P for "passing"
Now, I know that some folks breezed through this class without a problem, but at the ripe age of 45, stuff like this isn't as easy to swallow as it was when I was in my 20's.  Studying is much more of a process these days and info just doesn't stick like it used to.

Anyhow, I was done with the exam and still needed to retake my plotting assessment.  I grabbed a few bites of lunch and headed right back into class.  My first retake went ok and I passed the star plot, but my sun plot was still a little off.  I had one more try...   I asked to retake it immediately and I whipped it out in about 15-20 minutes with full confidence.  I KNEW it was right, so I sat down and waited patiently for my instructor to check my work.  I still crossed my fingers, but I was pretty sure that I'd just passed Celestial Navigation completely.   She checked it and confirmed that my plot was perfect.   I was done.

So, moral of the story.... it aint over till it's over and miracles do happen.

I stopped for 2 cold beers on my way back to the house.  THE best beer that I've had in a long time.

As a side note: I got a message from one of my classmates today that pretty much sums it up.  He said that today (Saturday) he was suffering from PTSD.  I couldn't help but agree.  Tough class and glad to be done.

Best beer in the world!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Celestial Break

As I "rest" in between 2 weeks of hell that is called Celestial Navigation, I managed to squeeze away from studying for the day and spend some time with my folks who were up from CA, visiting WA.  I met up with them in Everett and took them down to our docks and showed them around the boats a little.  Afterwards, we hopped on the Edmonds ferry to Kingston and drove up to Nordland Island near Port Townsend to see a high school friend of my parents and her husband Gene, who is a retired ship captain in the Merchant Marines.

      They live on a rural island on the Western side of the main shipping channel, directly across from Whidbey Island, directly abeam the "SC" (Sierra Charlie) buoy. Gene was a captain for MSC (Military Sealift Command) for over 20 years and has been all over the world.  He has also sailed on the University of WA's Thomas G. Thomson as a Chief Mate.  It was inspiring to hear about his career, and to see how a retired captain lives.  They had the most amazing property with unbeatable views, surrounded by old growth trees, long forested driveway and situated right on the water.  I couldn't have dreamed up a better place to live if I tried. We chatted for a bit, talked about boats and then headed into town for a bite to eat.  Afterwards we parted ways and headed back to Everett, and then home to Seattle.   A great day all in all.
       Tomorrow it's nose back in the books.  I'm really not feeling good about exams next week and really have no clue as to how I will come close to passing this class, but I'm over it.  If I don't make it, then I'll just have to retake it a later date.  I took today off from studying because A. I needed it and B. it's not too often your parents come north and are in town.  Celestial Nav is a hard subject, I'm not as sharp as I used to be, and it's not worth stressing over.  Moving on while still giving my all.

Off to bed rest and a long day of studying.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Celestial Mindmelt

This week has been a doozy.  We began with an overview on Azimuths, which is basically shooting a bearing to the sun. Then we progressed into learning about the sextant itself, Aries, Polaris and how to obtain Latitudes from them, then on to taking bearings from multiple celestial bodies and plotting them on a chart.
      Yesterday, we took the Sextants outside and played with them a little to help understand how to make adjusts and take bearings.  Pretty simple piece of equipment to use, but there's a few tweaks that you have to make before using.
Example of an Azimuth problem to solve for Declination
A Sextant

Today, the chart plotting process seemed to overwhelm the entire class, but as with anything, it will take time. Tomorrow, we work on everything that we've learned so far, and then we get to take actual bearings of the sun in the simulator and apply them to paper. Our theory test is on Monday, so we have all weekend to study, but it's gonna be a tough one.

IF I pass Celestial Nav, I'm going to celebrate well...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cargo Loaded!

I just finished up a week of Cargo Handling and Stowage at PMI.  This class took us through all the various types of cargo ships; Container, Tanker, Bulk Carriers, Break-Bulk, Grain, Ro-Ro's (roll-on, roll-off) etc. We spent a fair amount of time learning how to calculate cargo space using various formulas and learned the nuances of loading and stowing hazardous cargoes as well as the different types of lashing systems used for each ship and/or cargo. Vehicles onboard Ro-Ro's obviously use different lashing systems than found on container ships and so on.

Loading a ship is a science and has many factors that must be taken into consideration.  Ignoring just one factor can lead to disaster.

The majority of the class was geared towards cargo ships, yet there was a fair amount of it that applied to general cargo, even if being transported via barge, which is what I deal with mostly.
Loading our barge full of frozen salmon in Dutch Harbor.

 We also had to learn about various regulations regarding hazardous materials, how they are treated, prepared for, accounted for, etc.

The week went by pretty quick, the studying and homework was pretty straight forward and the final test on Friday wasn't too bad.  Coast Guard requires a 70% to pass and most of us passed in the 80-85% range.  It was a fair amount of material to take in within the shorter timeframe (as usual), but organized well and pretty easy to swallow.  Our instructor was good and her experience sailing as an officer on Ro-Ro's provided good insight into the practical/real-world application of the material.

All in all, a good week.

Monday we start up Celestial Navigation, and it's not going to be an easy go.  I've been told that it's one of the the hardest elements that we will go through, yet I'm optimistic that it will be interesting enough to keep us all on track.  Time will tell!

Enjoying my weekend down in Portland with friends...  I will be posting more next week.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cargo, Stars and Med Pro

Well, I'm at it again.  I left Sacramento yesterday morning around 5:30am and headed north into the cooler Pacific Northwest.  Made a short stop in Portland to see some close friends and have dinner, then rolled into Seattle around 22:30.

This morning came early and I headed down off the hill to PMI with a quick stop at the Starbucks Corp. for a Grande Italian. I'm managing to wean myself off of coffee right now, and am excited to report that aside from some minor vision blurriness, I'm managing quite well with only one cup of coffee today and yesterday.  I have no clue if the vision blur is from coffee or just fatigue from driving, but I'd like to think of it as a detox thing.  :-)    As my shipmates arrived at school, we swapped some sea stories and caught up before starting our class.  It's always fun to hear about everyone's experiences from their sea phase.

This week we are studying all aspects of cargo, cargo handling, stowage, history, damage, and anything that pertains to getting stuff from here to there across the water. The one interesting statistic that I took away from day one, is that 90% of what we use in our lives today, came on a boat. Think about it. Where are your clothes made? Car? Toothbrush? household appliances?  yup.   Ships have been moving goods across the oceans for hundreds of years and it feels good to be a part of such an old industry.  Much has changed, but then much is the same.

Anyhow, next week we dive into Celestial Navigation for 2 weeks and then we wrap up with Medical Provider before heading back into our next sea phase.  It feels really good to know that in 4 weeks, I can say that I only have one school session left!  LIGHT at the end of the tunnel!!!

So, I'm gonna hit the rack early and try to catch up on some long overdue rest.  More later.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Broken Tow Wire Re-cap

I've been home for the past 3 weeks and still have 2 more weeks before heading back up to Seattle for Session #6.  My last hitch was a Western Alaska run as the AB and I landed about 50 days of sea time, which equates to about 30 days of ATO, (Accumulated Time Off).  I unfortunately didn't write as much on this past trip as I'd like, but I posted a few things here and there. I recently picked up a new laptop to replace the one that was stolen from my car, so I promise to blog a bit more from here on out.

The final days of our trip included some interesting learning experiences.  The most memorable was a broken tow wire as we were entering Puget Sound near Port Townsend.  We had dropped back to put our reefer tech on the first barge (we were pulling a tandem), and upon retrieval of the tech, our rear barge's tow wire got caught up and snagged something on the bottom, instantly snapping the tow wire and sending our smaller 2nd barge adrift in the traffic lanes, which were luckily empty.

I was asleep when it happened, but the slowing of the engines and the commotion on deck woke me up.  I went out to see what was going on and saw our barge about 1/4 mile off the stern, pointing in an odd direction and not moving.  Meanwhile, the cook and other crew members were running around on deck pulling lines and such.  I jumped back into the house and threw on my work clothes and immediately assisted with the lines.
The plan was to come around and hip-up on the port stern of the smaller barge to regain control, while still towing our large reefer barge.  As we came about and tried to approach the smaller barge on the stern, the larger barge didn't make the turn (due to it's weight) and it grazed the side of the smaller barge, which then bumped into us and leaving a dent about 4-5' in diameter on the large barge.  It then continued on a course heading away from the tug as we were trying to jump off onto the smaller barge.  After getting the larger barge to flip around and behave, we hopped off and tied up to the smaller barge with double headlines, spring and stern lines.  In the process of getting a 2nd headline on the barge, the 1st line came up tight and snapped a few feet from where I was standing.  I heard it come tight and pretty much dove to the deck to get out of the way.  Luckily, it was a heavy cotton line and it didn't recoil with as much force as some of the newer synthetic lines.  It did however, sound like a shotgun going off, and it left a cloud of cotton fibers as if a duck had just been shot down from the sky.  It was an interesting experience to be a part of, and highly educational.

After finally getting 6 lines on the smaller barge and pointed in the right direction, we slowly brought her around the point at Port Townsend and headed south towards Seattle.  We put out a call asking for a no-wake courtesy from all passing ships and we steamed at about 3-4 knots throughout the night before arriving in Elliot Bay, Seattle around 06:30 where we handed both barges off to Western Towboat.  Because of our limited visibility around the starboard side of the smaller barge, we also posted a lookout on the bow of the barge as an extra safety precaution.

Once in Seattle, the smaller barge got put on a buoy and we were told to stay put and help a dive boat retrieve the tow bridle hanging down from the bow.  The diver showed up and helped us attach our working wire to one of the bridle links and we hauled it in, fired up the torch and cut off the broken end of the cable, attached a new swede wire/safety, hung the gear and went on our way.

The last few weeks home have been awesome.  Did some sailing on Lake Tahoe and have basically just been hanging out at home, fixing things and enjoying the time off.

I head back to PMI in 2 weeks to study Celestial Nav, Cargo Handling and Medical Care Provider, which will take about 4 weeks.  After that, It sounds like I may be on boat to Hawaii for a month.  My boss is supposed to confirm sometime soon.  I don't mind the Hawaii run, but it's fairly boring and we don't get to work Cargo, which means less pay, but no sweaty 20/hours days. I picked up a new GoPro, so maybe I'll make some vids and play around with some cool action shots.

I'll be blogging about celestial in a few weeks, so check back to see what that's all about.

I've thrown in a few pics of our broken tow wire for your viewing pleasure..

I'm also including a link to my Flickr album of a few past trips.  I'll be adding more trips to the album shortly.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Leaving Dutch and heading home

Sitting in the library at Dutch Harbor, realizing that I haven't been writing much. Here's the Clif notes.

3rd day in Dutch, awaiting for our 2nd barge to take back to Seattle. Weather good. Should be home around the 30th, and the transit should be about 12 days.

Been on this boat for over a month now and ready go home. Great crew, good boat, good food, no complaints whatsoever except anxious to see the family.

I'll write more on our transit back and upload once we arrive. Hoping the my car is back in full operational status and ready for the trip south.



Underway: Polar Viking

It's been a busy few months. After getting back from a Hawaii run in April and 4 weeks of classes to follow, I'm back out to sea and operating in the Western Alaska region. This time, I'm sailing a the AB and I have to admit, I am ecstatic about not having to cook. We have a Maine Maritime cadet onboard who is doing all the cooking, and doing a mighty fine job at that.

We left Seattle on June 13th, after a quick 2-day trip home to see the family and celebrate my daughter's 16th birthday. We headed straight up the inside passage, popped out into the Gulf at Cape Decision and were pier side in Anchorage on following Saturday. The crossing was pretty mild, with only a day or two of being in the trough and getting bounced around. We logged about 21 hours of cargo time and left Anchorage Sunday afternoon, headed southwest to Dutch Harbor. We arrived in Dutch Weds evening, the 25th, offloaded a bunch of cargo on Thursday, backloaded a bunch more cargo and headed north later that evening. Now we are about 240 miles south of Nome, which will be our next port of call. From Nome, well head back south to Dillingham, NakNek and then back to Dutch before making our way back across the gulf.

I'm really hoping to get off the barge in Nome and look around, maybe pick up some souvenirs or something fun for the kids. We are expected to be there a day or two, so it should be possible.

I've been doing a bunch of fun projects around the boat. The last two days have been spent chipping paint off the deck in the fidley with a needle gun. My plan is to get all the paint up, some primer down and a new color (replacing red with grey) onto the deck before we get back home.

After this trip, I should have a full month and then some, home with the family beforem school starts up in September. I am very much looking forward to some downtime.

Tonight's dinner is "B4D", (breakfast for dinner) a mariner's favorite. It's always a hit, mostly because our weird watch typically schedules limits breakfast access for 2/3 of the boat. On the menu, stuffed French toast, which is apparently French toast, stuffed with cream cheese and fresh fruit. Yumm.

That is all for now...


Nome and No-More

We left Anchorage on the 22nd, pulled into Dutch on the 26th, then it was off to Nome. The weather was good, yet windy, so we ended up doing round turns outside of Nome for 3 days before finally landing on the 3rd of July. It was 2 days of cargo work to get everything off and reloaded before pulling lines and heading south towards Dillingham. I did manage to get into town in Nome and help with the grocery shopping and to have a look around. Not much to report except a bunch of bars and a ton of gold hungry folks. They were preparing the Main Street for the 4th of July parade and festivities. The sun goes down around 2am, so I doubt they were planning any fireworks. The gold dredges line the beach and it's a constant flow of dredge traffic pulling in and out of the tiny port in search of their riches.

It's now Sunday the 6th and we are preparing to pull into Dillingham tomorrow morning around 11am on the high tide.

I received a startling email this morning from my wife. She said that my car had apparently been stolen, vandalized and abandoned, and that it now sits in an impound yard somewhere in Washington. I had it parked in the company parking lot behind gates, with the alarm turned on, alongside 20+ other employee vehicles. The car was packed with all my Seattle school stuff, clothes, my custom bike, tools, riding clothes, laptop, books and many other wonderful things. I guess the door handle, the shifter assembly and the steering column were all torn apart and there was some graffiti or something on the car as well. So, I spent my day trying to remember what else I had in there for insurance purposes. Erin is having to juggle all this while I'm gone, and hopefully get it fixed so that I have a way home after this trip.

The past two years have been brutal. One nasty surprise after another...

I'm mostly bummed about my bike. It was hand built by a good friend of mine, and it's very much priceless with quite a bit of sentimental value. All my riding gear and the things that assist me recreationally now possibly lost. My running shoes, my daypack, etc... Ugh. The hassle and the feeling of loss is a bit overwhelming right now and I can't sleep, trying to figure out how everything will play out and what else I has tucked away in my car. Not a great day on the Bering Sea, even though it was sunny and calm...


Friday, June 6, 2014

Clouds and the Arctic Circle

The last 5 days have been spent in class on the topic of meteorology. A subject that, if not applied correctly, can get you killed and at the very least, leave you wet and miserable.

We learned all about atmospheric pressure, what causes it, how clouds are formed, what they mean, where they go, how pressure systems move and why, how global systems change, what type of rain to expect based on wind temps and direction. We studied 24, 48 and 96 hour surface and forecast reports, plus 500mB charts as well. I now understand cold fronts, warm fronts, occluded fronts, troughs and ridges, monsoons, hurricanes, tradewinds, radiation and advection fog, dew points and more! A simple look around outside can now provide me with some basic understanding of what the next few hours are going to bring. Feeling wind in my face, while looking East in the northern hemisphere, has new meaning, as does a layer of high cirrus cloud cover and a rising barometer readings.

Being able to understand that winds twist around low pressure systems in a counter clockwise fashion, and clockwise in a high pressure system, provides information on where you might expect those winds to be later on in the day. A simple course change based on current winds can either make or break your next 24-48 hours.

Weather is extremely complex, yet extremely interesting and even more applicable to our lives and careers. There aren't many topics out there that can be applied to everyday life and your careers to the same intensity and applicability. Weather plays a part on our recreational lives, our daily commutes and whether or not we make it back into port on time, and alive.

The most interesting part to me, is that by being able to forecast and see where storm fronts are going to be in 3-4 days from now, you can keep your crew happy, your boat moving forward, and get to your destination on time or better yet, ahead of schedule. One little flaw In your predictions can easily put your lives at stake and cost your company a ton of money, or worse, the loss of lives.

It was a tough class, with an overwhelming amount of information, but all said and done, I learned a great deal and am thankful for the info. Meteorology and GMDSS within a one-month timeframe is a lot to swallow, but worth the effort, thanks to numerous hours spent at the library in the quiet room under the influence of copious amounts of caffeine. :-)

I'll remain in Seattle for the weekend and then do some simulator training on Monday before heading home for a few days to celebrate my beautiful daughter's 16th birthday. Next Friday, I depart for a Western Alaska trip that will take about 5-6 weeks. We will be hitting a handful of small communities in the North Bering sea after a stop in Dutch Harbor. I'll be sailing as the AB, and we'll have a few cadets onboard from Maine Maritime, one of which is cooking. I'm looking forward to not being "the cook" for the first time.

We are scheduled to hit Naknek, Dillingham, Bethel, Nome, Kotsebue and Dutch. Kotsebue is above the Arctic circle, so that'll be a first for this sailor and I'm looking forward to some Northern exposure! Might have to get a special tattoo after this trip... (Hi mom!). :-)

I'll write more during the trip, but I doubt I'll have much signal to upload blog posts very often. See ya'll soon!


Friday, May 16, 2014

GMDSS Implosion

Well, today I wrapped up week two of GMDSS with a nasty bang, indicating the implosion of my mind. I tested yesterday for my final assessments, missing a few steps and forcing a retake on a few things today. I studied all night, and again early this morning, feeling really good about the re-take. But when it came down to test time, my fatigue and fried memory from 11+ days of studying got the best of me and I dropped the ball on a few similar things, failing the test and the entire class.

It was probably the biggest academic disappointment of my entire life. I can retake the class, and there's no problem there, but the disappointment comes from having put SO much effort into something, only to fail in the end, something I'm not used to.

I'm not a "slow" learner and I typically pick things up fairly quick. I've spent a good portion of my life in classes from grade school up through radar school in the Navy, a Bachelors degree and through half of the Masters program at the CSU level. I've even spent a few extra years at the JC level for business development classes. During my undergrad time, I was on the deans list with 3.9 GPA and I'd like to believe that I have a pretty good handle on how to study with fairly productive study techniques. I will admit that yes, I'm older now and I have to assume that my mind isn't as sharp as it was 15 years ago, but I didn't see such a struggle on the horizon and was a caught a bit off guard.

This class didn't fall into any nice little box that prior experience would benefit me from. The material was interesting and applicable, but so damn language and acronym intensive, that I spent half of my time just trying to remember terminology, let alone general concepts. That, combined with too little time and an instructor who moves quickly from topic to topic, and I was left spinning around grasping for air.

I managed to pass the written test in week 1 with a minimal passing grade, but lab week was even more overwhelming and I couldn't commit to memory, the important steps and details of what was needed.

Over the 11 day period, I spent over 150 hours on the topic, studying after class, all-day on Saturday/Sunday, and it still didn't stick well enough to land me a passing grade. I even had numerous dreams about frequencies, vhf radio conversations and other class related topics. My point is, that I applied myself 200%, and that wasn't enough.

My other 4 lab classmates passed with similar effort, and my hat is off to them. 2 of our classmates from week 1 failed out during the first week, so I'm fortunate to have made it to lab week, but it still really sucks to end on such a bad note. I did manage to pass the Element 1 written test after I was done today, therefore qualifying me for my FCC license. At least I'll be getting something out of the class in addition to a headache and a few more gray hairs.

Frustration and disappointment is really an understatement, but that's life and we move on.

So, here I sit in an airport bar, enjoying an ice cold amber or 4, and waiting for my flight to take me home where family and sunshine will hopefully put the last 11 days behind me. I'll be back for more GMDSS, but not anytime soon. I have one year to take the class again, so I'm thinking somewhere out there around the 11.5 months-from-now timeframe should do the trick. I'm in no hurry to put myself into the hurt locker again that is called GMDSS.

Images from the class:

Typical Furuno GMDSS console
Small, yet stressful classroom
Standard Furuno VHF radios


Inmarsat-C terminal