Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cleveland Rocks!

Or so I'm told.

Well, I got my wish from a few days ago concerning the weather. It truly was “high winds and rough seas”. In fact, I do believe the weather conditions were worse than the previous episode. Southeast winds at 25 knots and an easy 6 foot seas with the occasional 3-wave sets that were 8+ footers. The biggest difference this time was the launch boat was a 50-foot (approximately double the size of the boat in our last adventure) fully enclosed pilot boat. It didn't make a difference.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

At 2230 (that's 10:30 PM for those of you not familiar with military time), a mere hour and a half before I was scheduled to head home, our deckhand informed me that my relief was in Cleveland. And he was staying in Cleveland for the night. Something about planes being broken and missed connections. I honestly didn't care about the actual reason. All I knew was my relief was in Ohio and I was in Texas. Not the easiest way to conduct a face-to-face crew change. Annoying? Sure. Not quite as annoying as getting this information third hand instead of a direct phone call or text message from the man himself. (As I am writing this I have still yet to receive any sort of update from my relief).

So I settled myself to the fact that my flight was going to depart early the next morning with my seat being vacant. At least I could keep one of the tankerman from my crew from being lonely. His relief told him on Monday that he wasn't coming back to work either. Misery loves company.

Turns out that a glimmer of hope for me still existed. Big thanks go out to our Personnel Manager who let me go home on time, as one of the deckhands on the other crew had a license and would cover the spot until my relief got there the next day. Or not. I still haven't spoken to him yet.

Minor hiccup averted.

Time for hiccup #2. The pilot boat wouldn't be dropping off the crew at midnight as scheduled. Instead, the boat would be picking up one of their pilots from an outbound cargo ship around 0100. Sometime after they finished up with that job they would get to us. Time is money.

Hiccup #3 enters the picture. The oncoming crew gets picked up at the airport by a car service (van service really) and gets dropped off at the launch boat. The driver then waits until we get off the boat and then does the return trip dropping us off at the place where they keep the planes. Turns out the driver didn't feel like waiting for us to get off. He told the other crew that he would be back at 0330 to drive us to the airport then. I guess it could have been worse as we stood waiting in a parking lot at 3 in the morning. It could have been raining Or snowing. Or both. The cockroaches learned their lesson from the first escapade, as there were none to be found. Cockroach swimming lessons were canceled.

Of course all of these hiccups have found their way into our consciousness before we have even taken one step off the boat.

Which is where we are at right now in our story.

At 0130 our aluminum hulled chariot is spotted rounding the breakwaters enroute to us. It looks like a shitty ride from far away. It doesn't get any better looking as it gets closer.

It looks to be getting worse.


Now one boat bobbing in these waves is dangerous. Add in another vessel bobbing in the waves at a completely different frequency as the first vessel and you have a disaster in the making. Now add in trying to transfer 11 people between the two out of sync bobbing vessels and you have an insurance adjusters nightmare. But wait! It gets better!

During the many conversations between the two Captains, the oncoming crew was told to buy only the most essential grub items (bread, milk, & eggs) as the transfer of people was going to be dangerous enough without the added in factor of trying to hand over a ton of food between the boats. That sage piece of advice was completely disregarded and a full boat of grub arrived alongside.

We tried to create a lee. It almost worked.

The pilot boat operator tried to come alongside. It almost worked.

We tried to get our personnel and luggage and grub and cases of drinking water (only the essentials) from one boat to the other. It almost worked.

The eggs didn't stand a chance.

Detect a pattern with the eggs?

I'm not a religious person, but I can only comprehend that the only reason why someone didn't get seriously injured, or worse, was that someone was looking over us. Or beneath us, if you subscribe to the Neptune or Poseidon mythology.
I'm sexy and I know it.
One crew member, who has been working out at sea longer than the majority of us have even been alive remarked, “This is one of the stupidest things that I have done in a long time!” Based on some of his experiences that I know about, I'm fairly positive that that list of “stupid things” is both long and distinguished.

I'm not sure how long it took to transfer the people and food between the two boats.

I know it took longer than it should have.

I know it was more dangerous than it should have been.

And I know that tempers were running short.

I also know that when people are trying to get the last bags of grub onboard and get the last remaining crew member onto the launch, that it is probably the wrong time to be taking a video on your iPhone.

Mariners have a surprising number of profanities at their disposal. And yet there were some words shouted at one another that even I had never heard of. It is possible that someone even went so far to be flinging profanities in Dutch. No one, on either crew, even knows how to speak Dutch. Maybe there is something to that Rosetta Stone thing after all. I'm fairly sure somebody's feelings were hurt. Somebody's mother was probably offended as well.

After all was said and done, no one got physically injured. No one got... well... worse. And the only thing that got broken were the eggs. Which I can neither confirm, nor deny, were thrown on purpose.

Sure, a crew change in New Orleans would have been cheaper, easier, and less dangerous. But there has to be something to base these sea stories on. This was just one of those crew changes for the ages.

Too bad my relief wasn't there to partake in the festivities.
I wonder if he is still in Cleveland?

Finally, a tip of the watch cap to the deckhand and the operator of the pilot boat. Who both went well above and beyond the call of duty in getting us safely on and off the boat. I hope the two cases of water that we refused to even try to pass to the tug were a small consolation for your outstanding efforts.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Christmas in July

You know the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”? It would seem as though my current wish will go against everything that a mariner would ever ask for.

“I wish for high winds and rough seas.” Briefly.

Turns out that our crew change will not go as planned due to the efforts of a single person. Again. For the umpteenth time.

Instead of a crew change in the civilized port of New Orleans (at least as far as crew changes go) one person has decided that coming back to work a day early is a no-go. Instead, we get to proceed to Corpus Christi, Texas and crew change, at a minimum of a day late, over there. Now most people would be under the impression that Corpus Christi is a nice place to go and visit, spend the day, see the sights. And they would be correct. But not when your only goal in life is to get out of town and head home with extreme prejudice. Perhaps an explanation concerning my wish will help to clarify things some.

In October of last year we got to experience the joy that is crew change in Corpus Christi, TX. The boat was anchored approximately 5 miles offshore. Seas were running about 6-8 feet with a wind out of the southeast at 20 knots. Our mighty steed for these marginal weather conditions was a 22-foot open cockpit center console SeaTow boat. Our transportation to-be was not at the marina, but instead arrived at the dock on a trailer. A trailer with only three wheels. One had disintegrated at some point enroute to its destination. Not a good sign. But appropriate considering the following tale. We were then informed that the crew would be split up into two separate groups, as the vessel was not rated to carry more than 6 passengers for hire at any one time. We loaded up our grub, and half of the crew, including the “person who shall not be named”, into all of the available deck space for the voyage into the unknown. The rest of the crew, myself included, was left behind on the dock to ponder life in general and to kick the cockroaches into the water as they scurried by. It passed the time.

An hour and a half later the dinghy, and half of the off coming crew, was sighted rounding the bend as they approached the marina. I believe we spied the whites of their teeth before we spotted the boat. As they pulled into the slip we could see a jovial group, not just happy to be off the boat to be going home, but one filled with the knowledge that “the person who shall not be named” had one of the most terrifying experiences of his life. It was related to us that by the time the SeaTow vessel had reached the boat, the crew was soaked to the bone, the food was thoroughly drenched in a bath of salt water, the eggs and other perishables were smashed to pieces, and “the person not to be named” was white as a ghost and had the look of death upon his face.

If I have but one regret in life up until this point, it is that I wasn't there to see his face.

Apparently, it wasn't a smooth ride.

As my relief relayed the tale of hilarity, he passed to me a multitude of 55 gallon trash bags.
“Here, wear this”, he told me, “you'll thank me later.”
If there was ever a sign of impending doom, this was it. So we wrapped ourselves and our luggage into the giant Hefty bags and set out on the mariner equivalent of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride". You could see the crew that was going home on the dock, waving, and cat-calling, with the biggest shit-eating grins you have ever seen in your life on their faces as we exited the marina.
I believe I relayed to them (edited for content), “Smile all you want. You won't have a relief anymore if we all die!”
I don't think it helped. I'm pretty sure their comments got more crass and crude.

As we rounded the jetties we got our first taste of what the other crew was so giddy about. The eggs didn't have a chance.

Right in our face was the wind and seas. It was rough. It was wet. It was making me smile thinking about how miserable “the person who shall not be named” had been. It took a good 45 minutes to travel the 5 miles to the boat.

I would like to take this opportunity to officially thank my relief for his gift of trash bags. Sure, I looked like a gigantic condom, but I was dry. Sort of.

Amazingly, we all survived.

The first thing that was said by “the person who shall not be named” after we had gotten all dried off and settled in was, “That was bullshit! That will never happen again!”

Well, fast forward a couple of months. Since “the person who shall not be named” doesn't want to crew change in New Orleans we are going to crew change in Corpus Christi.

“I wish for high winds and rough seas.”

As it turns out, the other crew, with those shit-eating grins on their faces, got theirs in the end. The Corpus Christi airport closes completely at night. “Lock the doors and roll up the carpet” kind of closed. So they were forced to sit outside the airport all night until it opened in the AM. More than one security guard got the, “No shit!” look flashed their way when they remarked, “Airport is closed.”

So in addition to getting off the boat late, we also get to sit outside the airport all night as well. Sure is going to beat crew changing in New Orleans.

“I wish for high winds and rough seas.”
I don't ask for much.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Flying the Friendly(?) Skies

Getting on an airplane is apparently one of the most difficult things a human being can do. Ever.

It has to be. I always thought it was no big deal. But the more I fly, the more I realize how it is a really complex task for some people.

Lets just start with zone boarding. If you are zone #1, you get to go first. Zone #2 gets to go next. And so on and so forth. Simple, right? Oh nay nay. Zone #6 people, can't quite comprehend when they are going to be called. So they crowd the podium, hoping upon all hope, that their number will be miraculously called right after the First Class people get on board. It's not. And it isn't going to get you on the plane any earlier if you prevent everyone else from getting aboard in an expedient manner. Go sit down, study your plane ticket, and memorize your seat number. Because after trying to figure out what zone comes after #4, your next complex task is trying to figure out where seat #17B is.

I enjoy the people who walk down the aisle looking at the overhead bins straining to anticipate what seat comes next after passing row #11. “Could it be #12? Let me check. What seat am I in? Is seat A near the window or is A for Aisle? It has both letters and numbers! Ahhhh! Let me check again!! Where am I?”

All the while, as they keep checking their boarding pass for the off chance that their seat number may have changed in the last 1.6 seconds since they checked it last, they are abusing the knees and elbows of those poor people who actually knew where their seats were, with their carry on luggage. You know the carry on luggage that doesn't have a chance to fit in the airport “sizing cage” that conveniently is never used. The one so heavy that they can't pick it up and are forced to try to wheel it down the aisle getting it caught on every single armrest from first class all they way to the rear of the plane. And, as it is getting snagged on every obstruction imaginable, they turn around and swing their over-sized purse and/or handbag around and smash everyone within a 3 seat radius in the face.

Then, once they locate seat #24B it's time for everyone's favorite game, “Luggage Tetris”. The futile attempt to try to squeeze an elephant into a Mini Cooper. Time to punish the patrons who are actually able to follow the rules about having one carry on bag. Shifting all the bags around from one side to the other, forwards or backwards, into three different compartments, or just plain 'ole crushing your bag until their bag fits. Well, kind of fits. That is always fun to watch. Especially when two of the stewardesses get involved. The more the merrier. Plus, you need at least two of them to Hulk Hogan the bin closed. Shoulder straps that are hanging out of the bin be damned!

Quick hint here: If the bin is closed before you get there, it's full. There is no more room. It's full. That's why the bin is closed. It's full. So they closed it. Because it's full. Get the point? Stop opening all of them. It's full.

This is where it gets confusing,. They have the aisle correct, trust me, they checked 38,684 times on the way there. But now they have a letter thrown in there. Scary. Sometimes the airlines like to mess with you. Make the seats Go A-C, instead of A-B-C. It's a trap! If you have a window seat, I guarantee you that the person in the aisle seat got there first. And they put on their seat belt already. Then you get to do the “airplane aisle salsa” and switch all around. All the while the person in seat #23 is swinging around hitting you with their giant handbag as they pound their carry on into the bin with the Jaws of Life.

As you can imagine, getting off the plane is just as much fun.