Thursday, January 30, 2014

Days and "WU"?

It is Thursday evening and we are steaming south towards Seattle. We stopped yesterday for a few hours outside of Ketchikan to pick up our 2nd barge (tandem tow) and are now just a few hours north of Johnstone Straits. The tidal predictions has us missing the ideal tide at Seymoure, so we are going to have to slow up and hit the next one, putting us into a Seattle around 14:00 on Saturday.

When I was on deployment in the Navy, we always had a countdown going for when we'd arrive home. We never counted the very last day, instead we referred to the last "wake-up" on the final day as a "WU". "39 days and WU and we'll be home!", etc. I can't help but still think of remaining time in that manner, so in this case, we have one day and WU... Or 3 watches left to stand.

This trip was supposed to be 3 weeks, but weather had us jogging and doing round-turns for 12 days, stretching it out. It's been a fairly uneventful trip with relatively easy cargo work and a good crew. 4 weeks can really drag on, but it seemed to go by pretty quick. The extra week of pay and ATO is much appreciated as well. We also make an additional 10% on our paychecks as "weather bonus" when traveling west of a Cape Spencer in the winter months, so that helps ease the burden as well, especially when the weather is actually crappy and we earn every dime of that 10%!

The one "stressor" on this trip for me has revolved around food supplies. We ran out of milk, coffee, cheese, water, produce and fruits. Plenty of entrees and snacks, but the crew starts to get a little pissy with the cook, even though I'm not the one in charge of the weather. I could have bought more, but who knew. In the end, it all worked out. We picked up a few cases of water, some coffee and milk from the assist boat in Ketchikan yesterday and everyone is happy again. Our boats all have water makers/de-salinators, but sometimes the water tanks add a little extra coloring and it looks a little funny. According to the engineer, it's awesome tasting water, but if there's an option for bottled, I typically will go that route unless absolutely necessary.

The one "bummer" for this trip, is that because it went long, I now don't have time to go home to see the family before school starts on Monday. I had planned in having at least a few days to fly home, but now it's looking like I won't see them until the end of a February. It's tough, but it'll go by quick. I'm currently scheduled to go back out on March 14th, so it appears that I'll have a few weeks of family time after school is out. This year is gonna fly by and my sights are on the big picture and Spring 2015 where I will hopefully be sitting for my licensing exam and moving into a Mate position soon thereafter.

Well, it's time to wrap up season 2 of Game of Thrones and go to bed. Good stuff!

Pics from this morning's sunrise.

Looking southeast


Tandem tow



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Resurrection Round-Turns

We pulled out of Seward on Tuesday and began round turns in Resurrection Bay because the winds were supposed to pick up and it could have gotten ugly at the docks. It's typically easier to deal with winds underway than at the dock. After we departed, the winds calmed down and were never really a problem, but it was too late at that point and too much work to try and pull back in. A full docking process can take 2 hours start to finish by the time we fire up, warm up get the crew on deck and lines pulled. So, we did round turns in the bay until this morning (Thursday) when the captain decided to make a run for Prince William Sound.

Prince William is about 50 miles to the east, so he figured we'd take advantage of a shift to north westerly winds and pop over there, putting us slightly closer to home and more room to jog (do round turns). Everything else this week is supposed to be blowing out of the east and right in our face at about 35-50kts and seas 18-20', so we may be held up here for a few days until it calms down.uckily, we pulled out of resurrection at the end of my watch and we up inside Prince William when I came back on, so I got to sleep through the bumpy ride. I sleep like a baby when the boat's rocking hard.

So, we bounced our way over and our now doing round turns somewhere in Prince William, south of Whittier in Knights Island Passage.

Dinner tonight was a linguini with breaded scallops and shrimp, mixed with fresh sautéed veggies, cilantro, tomatoes and Parmesan. Turned out pretty good for not having a recipe. Tomorrow eve, I'm doing my famous blackened pan-fried steaks. They are only famous because each time I've made them, I get good feedback. So, they are famous to me..


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Diesel Spill on Aisle 2

I've talked about it before, but one of the things that the AB and the cook must do during their watch is regular engine room checks, and/or security rounds. It's a simple hourly check on the engines to make sure they aren't any major leaks, smoke, noises that sound out of the ordinary, etc. We also pump out the ecology dams on a regular basis, which is an area under the shaft where fresh sea water will leak in through the packing or from the adjacent rudder compartment.

At any rate, I was cooking dinner last night and had to take a break to make my rounds. I put on my ears (hearing protect) and started down into the engine room. I got 2 steps down and noticed pink fluid all over the deck beneath the ladderwell. I immediately recognized it as diesel fuel and noticed it was pouring out of the centrifuge. The centrifuge is a device that the fuel runs through and it helps keep our day tanks full at an appropriate rate depending on our RPM's. I immediately went back into the house and woke the chief and then went back down to see what I could help with.

The chief came down, bypasses the centrifuge and begin to take it all in. Apparently something had broken inside of it and it re-routed all the fuel out through a relief valve on the side which essentially just dumps it onto the deck in the engine room. I don't know how many gallons were dumped, but judging by the mess, it was probably 10-20 at least.

I grabbed some diapers (absorbent pads) and began soaking up what it could. The chief took over and I headed back to the galley.

So, long story short, those mundane engine room checks are mostly uneventful, but they exist for a reason. We could have easily dumped 200-300 gallons into the bilge had I not been making my rounds every hour. It felt good to nip something in the bud for a change.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Alaskan Moments

The one constant variable in Alaska, is that you can almost always count on there being something beautiful to look at. When it's clear or the sun is out, I try to grab my camera on go on deck. Here's a few shots from the last few days. I'll post up more once we get across the gulf and back on the inside. Since I took these, we've had nothing but rain and haze.

Resurrection Bay near Seward
This pod of Orcas were swimming in formation, 4 total. Resurrection Bay, Seward, AK.
This one popped up to say hi
Outside of Whittier
Sunset in Resurrection bay



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

From Zero to Hero

In this job, you can't really have a perfect work schedule. Our schedules are sometimes based on tides, storms, headwinds and many other criteria that are uncontrollable. You can never count on getting a full night's sleep because things happen and sometimes the captain needs the entire crew on deck. These instances are called "call outs". When we get a call out, it means that we have 15 minutes to be dressed and on deck ready to work. Most of the time we know about when a call out will take place, but sometimes we get caught off gaurd and get called out in the middle of the best snooze ever.

This morning was one of those days.

We have been in Seward since yesterday morning, we had finished our cargo work and were planning to stay tied up to the dock for a few days while a storm in the gulf passes through. I stay up late after my morning watch to make some phone calls and watch some tv. I fell asleep around 10:30 and it was a good sleep, complete with vivid dreams and everything. Around a 12:30, the dreaded knock on the door came. "Mike, call-out. We are pulling away from the dock because the winds are coming up." Ugh.

So, I got up, put on my cozy quilt lined, double-knee, duck-washed Carhartt coveralls (love these by the way), a few layers, my warm booties, knit cap and headed to the galley for some coffee. 20 minutes later, we were pulling long, soaked lines, each weighing a few hundred pounds onto the barge, dragging them across the deck and securing them with chain. No warm up, just zero to 60, from rack to freezing temps in little time. Then, about an hour later, we were underway and I was free to crawl back into my "house clothes" as I call them (sweatpants, keen sandals, sweatshirt) and do whatever I want.

My 9-5 call-out analogy: imagine having your boss come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying "you need to be in the office in 15 minutes and I'm going to need about 2 hours of your time, thanks!"

The good news, is that if you're "off watch" and get called out, you are immediately on overtime until the work is complete, so we really don't mind. It does hurt sometimes going from zero to hero, especially in the cold.

Now that we "escaped" the grasps of the docks, we are sitting just a few miles away, doing circles in Resurection Bay... No winds, beautiful skies. Oh well. Sitting at the dock sounds better, but really it kind of sucks. The boat is quiet and doesn't move much, therefore hampering the full sleep experience (moving boat = sound sleep).

No call outs anticipated for this off-session, so I'm calling it a night.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Caloric Emergency on Deck

So, we pulled into Whittier, AK yesterday and immediately began cargo ops. We pushed on in the freezing temps until the entire barge was empty and we ended up cutting loose around midnight thirty or so. The dock guys wanted us back out the next morning, but we had about 9 hours off. I awoke around 07:30 with an amazing headache... Amazing in the sense that I was amazed at how freaking bad it was. I grabbed some pills and downed some coffee and laid in my rack until about 09:30. At that point, I got dressed! grabbed 2 pieces of toast and headed off to work cargo. I was't even thinking about nourishment, simply wanting my headache to go away.

About 6 hours later, I bonked hard and soon realized that I needed food. We finished up the backload (cargo that we are taking back with us for the return trip), pulled the lines and headed out. After everything was wrapped up, I went down and started dinner for the crew. I whipped up some quick tacos and got everyone fed. I too had a few tacos, quesadilla and some other quick grab snacks.

After I got off of watch, I laid in my rack and watch some TV shows on my ipad, but then got hungry again, craving a Marie Calendars Turkey pot pie... This is where the emergency takes place...

I got up, fetched a pot pie from the freezer, popped it in the microwave and stood patiently for 6 minutes and 30seconds for it to finish. I lined up my plate, got my fork and began to pull it out of the microwave at the end of its cook time. The door on the microwave swung open as I reached in and then closed, hitting my arm and knocking the entire pie onto the deck... FRAAAAKKKKK! I was so pissed. I mumbled some words while cleaning up the hot gooey mess and headed back to my rack to write this down. I WILL attempt to eat another one... Soon.

Good night. :-(


Wednesday, January 8, 2014


When we left Everett on Friday, we got stuck for a while because our tow winch broke. The mechanics came out and tinkered, but eventually we just ended up using the other winch on the port side. Apparently they fixed it, but still had some question about whether or not we should make it our main tow winch.
Yesterday, 4 days into the trip, we received an email from the office stating that we are to stop into Ketchikan on the way home and pick up a 2nd barge and pull a tandem tow down to Seattle. We all raised our brows with some question, but the email also said "you just need to fill up the winch with gear lube and it should be good to go". Hmm. Should make for an interesting ride south. If for some reason that winch goes out during our tandem tow back down, we might be forced to take the long route, avoiding all the narrow passages. We have to reel the barge/s in close when in narrow passages/ tight maneuvering, which would be a problem if one winche is on the fritz. I guess we'll just have to see what happens and roll with the flow. Everyday is an adventure on a tugboat.
On another note, I made some pretty tasty BBQ pork ribs last night and this morning, made a 3-layer lasagna for tonight's dinner. We are scheduled to pop out into the gulf this morning, so the 3 day roller coaster ride begins. I typically like to do all my dinner prep in the mornings, so that all I need to do is get up in the afternoon and throw it in the oven. If it's sloppy out, I also choose dinners that require less prep. Tomorrow, I'm doing either enchiladas or hamburgers... Haven't yet decided.... Whatever floats my boat. :-)
Off to catch an hour of Boardwalk Empire.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sleep and a Positive Attitude

Day 2. Just south of Seymoure Narrows

Before crew-up date arrived, my mind begins to go into packing mode. A few days prior to leaving home, I began to think about what needs to take place at home before I leave, what needs to be packed and what did I forget and mean to bring on the last trip. I start my to-do list and somehow everything comes together. The one thing that I neglect to think about is sleep.

Driving from Sacramento to Seattle is a 12-13 hour endeavor. I would fly if I were simply heading north for work, but since I'll be attending school for the month of February, I needed my car and therefore drove.

I left Sacramento around 6:30, stopped in Portland to have dinner with friends, and then arrived at the boat late Thursday evening. I unpacked and grabbed some sleep, but tossed and turned a little, most likely from all the coffee I consumed during the drive.

Friday morning rolled around pretty early and I went on the clock at 8:30 to begin the grocery process. All said and done, with groceries, getting underway, making tow and everything in between, it was a 15 hour day.

Typically, a 15 hour day is not a problem for me, I've been known to stay up 30+ hours, working, driving, etc, but for some reason, my lack of adequate rest during this first day, put me in a funk. I kept thinking, "it's Friday, why am I here and not home with the family", "this trip is going to suck", etc.. Just a bunch of non-sense negativity. I'm typically pretty positive and do my best to make the best of any situation, but I couldn't snap out of it and it was pretty damn depressing.

After finally making tow, getting underway and securing the deck, it was 23:30. I went straight to bed, knowing that only 3-4 hours of sleep wasn't going to fix my head. The 4 hour morning watch was tough, couldn't stop yawning and day dreaming about my pillow. When 08:00 finally rolled around and I was able to take a full 8 hours off, sleep came and I took full advantage of it, getting in at least 7.5 hours of shuteye. When I got up around 15:15 to come on watch, I had a completely different mindset. The funk was gone, as was the negativity that was ruining my demeanor. I was finally back to being myself and getting on with my day, embracing change and focusing on the positive things in life.

I began to think back about the past 48 hours and soon realized that my lack of good rest is probably the main culprit.

In retrospect, I realize that my attitude is directly related to the amount of rest I get. Switching from a normal at-home schedule to a 4 on-8 off watch rotation also takes a day or so to adapt to, which can be taxing on the body and more importantly, the mind.

Get some rest so the world can be a better place. :-)


Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year Underway!

Drove up from Sacramento today, making a pit stop in Portland to have dinner with some good friends that recently relocated from San Jose, then finished off the journey, arriving to the boat about 21:30. I carried my bags down and upon entering the boat, ran into the engineer who had also decided to come early. Together, we got the boat somewhat "woken up" and ready for occupancy for the night. We are scheduled to pull lines tomorrow morning and head to Seattle for our barge before heading north. This trip shouldn't be too long, as we are only supposed to be going to Whittier, AK and back, which should take no more than 3 weeks.

I've been home for the past 6 weeks, enjoying the holidays and gearing up for a busy year. I have 3 school sessions at PMI in 2014, one in Jan. 2015 and a ton of sea-time that needs to be accumulated before I can sit for my licensing exam. I told my port captain to send me out as much as possible and I'll fly home when I can in between trips and school. He told me that I wouldn't have to cook anymore, but there was a trip going out that needed a cook... And I needed sea time, so I said "sure", and here I am.

It's going to be a crazy year, but it will go by fast. I'm going to miss the family immensely, but will do my best to fly home, Facetime, call, email or text when I can to help ease the pain. The last 6 weeks spoiled me with home-time and it was nice just chillin' with the my wife and kids throughout the holidays.

Stay tuned for more blog posts, cuz it's about to get busy and I'll be doing my best to account for each new and exciting experiences.