Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New career: Day 1

Well, I'm sitting on a plane heading to Anchorage Alaska for my first trip as Mate, and essentially Day 1 of a new career.  

The last 2 years have flown by and it still hasn't hit me that schooling is over and that the licensing process is done with.  I'm excited, nervous and tired (from getting up at 03:30) all in one nice little package but mostly just looking forward to officially starting this new career in the maritime world.

The past 27 months were an essential part of the process, but they were all part of the training and licensing path to get me through to this stage where the career begins.  This what I envisioned about 3 years ago when I decided to get back into the maritime world.  

It won't be easy and I don't expect it to be "fun" as some people might think, but it will be a good solid job, good income and will include something that is core to me, the water.  Don't get me wrong, I always make things fun somehow, but day-to-day life on a 40 year old boat and being away from family for extended periods of time is no joke.  I look forward to having good solid chunks of time at home and a job that allows my family to travel and have fun when those chunks of time arrive.

So, my boss has me flying into Anchorage and joining a crew on the "Snohomish" to bring a barge back down to Seattle.  It'll be a short run, but then I'm apparently staying onboard for yet another run back north, most likely hitting Juneau, Anchorage and maybe one other port.  Details to come...

My blog from this point forward will mostly be focused on the career, the people, the places and the experiences as I move forward and hopefully "up" over time.  My next benchmark is to get my upgrade to Master in a few years and eventually move up to Captain.  

Being a Mate is like being co-pilot #2... You take turns driving the boat with the other Mate and the Captain. My particular watch is from 12-4 morning and night (00:00-0400 and 12:00-16:00).  The Captain does the 8-12's and the Chief Mate stands the 4-8's.  When we are pulling in and out of port, the Captain usually takes the helm or he directs the Chief Mate via radio from the barge. The Cook, AB, and the engineer also stand watches parallel to us so that we always have a watch partner while the rest of the crew sleeps.

So, here we go... wish me luck!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Licensed! Pigs do fly!

I know that I said I was going to post up some progress reports while I was home studying, but the reality is, that when I got home from my 2 weeks of official test prep at PMI, I went into a headspace that I did not know existed.  For 4 weeks, my day consisted of getting up, making coffee, making lunches for the kids and seeing them off to school. After which, I would sit down at the kitchen table and stare at tiny numbers and formulas until the mid afternoon until it was time to pick up my son from school.  I would then come back home, squeeze out another few hours at some point before dinner and bed.  I was pretty religious about this because I knew it needed to get done in order for me to make it through exams.  It hurt, my eyes were fried, my back hurt, I was eating crap and drinking way too much coffee and hadn't worked out in weeks.  A very unhealthy month to say the least.
Our kitchen table for 4 weeks.
I started the official studying process in January with an app called Upgrade U.  I was home for a few weeks, so I would spend about an hour or so a day going through various modules, familiarizing myself with the questions.  I went out to sea in Feb and continued familiarization, but focusing more on Rules of the Road since the passing requirement for that module is 90%.  I got a few weeks off after that first trip and then went back out for a month and tackled all the Murphy books, page by page, trying to learn/memorize as much as I could.

My intention was to finish up that second trip, head to test prep at PMI and then go straight into testing, however, test prep reminded me that I had more work to do and I headed home for "a week or two" to finalize things before committing to exams.  Once I got home and started running practice tests all day long, I soon realized that I still wasn't ready and I needed to keep plugging away until my practice scores were consistently in the passing range.

By then end of "at home" week 4, I was completely burnt out on studying and the learning process was beginning to fade.  I got to the point where I just needed to do something different and decided to book my exam date and see what happens.  I was so fried from staring at Lapware and small numbers for 4 weeks, that I didn't care anymore and I just needed to get up from the kitchen table and either pass or fail something and move on.

I called and booked the exam for June 1st, the day after my 46th birthday. (yes, I know I'm old now).

Well, about a week ago (6/1), I headed down to Oakland and began a 3-day testing process, tackling 2/day, studying all night at a friend's house in S.F. and repeating.  I started with Rules of the Road and Deck General on day 1, passing both no problem! Day 2 was Deck Safety and the Chart plot, again, no problems, actually scoring a 100% on my Chart plot! Finally my 2 toughest modules... Nav General and Nav Problems... on day 3.
"Boo" helping me with some chart plots
So, I came back to my friend's house after day 2 and hit the books in the afternoon/evening for about 8 hours, completely stressing out about the last 2 exams knowing fully that Day 3 was either make it or break it.  I ran Nav Problem after Nav Problem and was still not sure if I was ready.  The next morning, I woke up at 3:57 am and hit the books again until 6am, grabbed my stuff and headed to Oakland where I studied for another hour before walking into the REC for Day 3 chaos.

Nav Gen went ok and it was easier than I had imagined, then came the Nav Problems test.  I struggled with one question because it threw a curveball at me, I skipped it, finished the rest of the easier problems, came back to the problem child, figured it out, turned it in and passed with a 90%!

No repeats, no hiccups!

I about passed out when she told me I passed.  I was so relieved, ecstatic, stoked, lightheaded? etc...  and could not believe that I had somehow managed to pass my exams.  In fact, it still hasn't hit me 5 days later.
Minutes after passing my final exam, outside REC Oakland 
2 years, 83 days after I started the training and licensing process, I'm done and licensed (although still waiting for the official MMC to arrive, which should be in a day or two).

Wow, me... a licensed deck officer?  Still not sinking in.

Now, I'm back home and awaiting the arrival of my MMC before I can head back to work.  My boss said he'll have me on a trip in a few weeks, which is perfect because I can now actually relax and have a some time to chill, go camping, work around the house and spend some quality time with the family before jumping right back on a boat.

I have to say that without the support of my wonderful wife Erin, my awesome kids, all my other family members and friends, I would not have been able to pull this off.  There were times, where I was just tired and wanted to take a side step.  All the travel, studying, back to back trips and being gone... but the end result is well worth it.

All in all, a quick 2 years and everything went smoothly.  It was stressful at times, but completely within reach with a little effort and some passion.  I have a good luck charm that my wife Erin gave me when I started this process in March of 2013.  He is "Voodoo Pirate", designed to ward off bad juju and he accompanied me into the exam room (in my pocket) and I now have good faith in this guy.  He's been with me for the past few years and things have gone quite smoothly ever since.
Voodoo Pirate Lucky Charm
My fortune cookie inspiration that is taped to my laptop.

I'll continue to blog about the life as a mate on Ocean-going tugs and beyond.  This is just the beginning of my career and I'm looking forward to learning more, doing new things and tackling whatever life throws at me.