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.