Friday, November 15, 2013

Time to go Shopping

I lose my car keys at the house all of time. It’s a skill I have become quite good at. Losing things at home is no big deal. However, losing things on the boat IS a big deal. 
Patron Saint of Lost Things 

A few hours ago The Boss and I were sitting in the wheelhouse awaiting the arrival of the other crew. The conversation was about nothing in particular. But one subject that came up was leaving things behind. I mentioned that I have left my wallet behind on the boat before. Not having a driver’s license, credit cards, or money can be problematic for 2 weeks. Just random conversation. No big deal.

When the launch boat came alongside and just as we were leaving the wheelhouse I noticed that The Boss had left his iPod next to the radio.
“Hey, don’t forget your iPod. That would suck not to have for 2 weeks.”
“Yes, it would. Thanks.”
And off we went. 

When we got to the dock I opened my bag to get my ID, wallet, and my money so I would have it with me. It was then I realized my cell phone wasn’t in my pocket. It also wasn’t in my bag. A quick check of the memory bank determined that I had left it on the window sill of the wheelhouse. Your know, the wheelhouse where I reminded The Boss not to forget his iPod. 

Moments later, my suspicions were confirmed as the Chief Engineer laughed at me and said, “Your cell phone is calling me. Want me to answer it?” Crap.

So I have no cell phone
It’s alright, I was planning on buying a new one this time home anyway. 

Now I just have to figure out how to call my wife from the airport so I can get a ride home.

That might be a problem.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Good 'Ole Days

Technology sure has transformed the maritime industry. I could go on and on about advances in RADAR, AIS, GPS, SONAR, and a whole host of other maritime related acronyms. But what I’m really talking about is advances in communication devices, namely, cell phones. 

When I first started in the business there were no cell phones. If you wanted to talk to your loved ones, family members, friends, probation officer, or just a good divorce lawyer, the only way to communicate with them was a good old pay phone. Obviously, there are some logistical problems with using pay phones when you work on boats. Most glaringly, there are no pay phones on boats. Your only option was to wait until you get to a dock in order to use one. After a while, you knew the location of every single pay phone, at every single dock, in every single terminal, in every single port that you went to. Now just because you managed to figure out the location of all of the payphones on the eastern seaboard, you still had to deal with a bunch of other issues. 
The now extinct "payphone". For the younger crowd.
Namely, just because you finally were able to get to the dock and find a working pay phone, there was no guarantee that the person you wanted to talk to was going to be near their phone. Many a conversation was dashed to pieces by the phone ringing and ringing and ringing etc. only to fall on deaf ears. Back in the day some people didn’t even have answering machines. On occasion, even that didn’t matter. Case in point, even today, I call my parents and their answering machine has the ‘robo-voice’ greeting on it. I love technology. How my parents have not managed to embrace the technological advances in the world and yet still have me as a child is mind boggling. 

Another issue that I had concerning pay phones was that my wife was still in college when I first started working on boats. At the time, she didn’t have a private phone in her room. So I was forced to call another payphone that was in the hallway of her dorm in order to talk to her. After being at anchor for over a week, all you could hope for was that some kind soul would answer the phone and then attempt to find her so that we could talk. More often than not, it just rang and rang. Sometimes you would get someone. Sometimes they might even go look for her. Sometimes they just left the phone hanging off the hook. Sometimes you just listened to the conversations in the background of an off the hook phone just because it was all you had. Sometimes, on the very rare occasion, we actually got to talk to one another. In retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t more than one mariner type relationship that had ended because of payphones.
“No, sorry. She isn’t here.”
“That’s too bad. Hey, what are you doing tonight?” Or something along those lines. 

For some reason, she stuck with me through the payphone days.
Then came the cell phone era. As with the beginning of most things, it started with one. 

One hitch, the Chief Engineer on a long past boat, came back with this new miracle of communication. It might as well have been a communicator from Star Trek as far as we were concerned.
"No Service"...Damn it, Spock!!!...
The cost per minute for using this new cell phone was absolutely ridiculous. The cell phone tower coverage sucked. It was ugly, unwieldy, and unreliable.
And we all had to have one!!!
The days of standing out in the snow and rain waiting for your turn on the only payphone within 50 miles was over!

It started with the Chief’s phone. A trip or two later the Captain had one. Then someone else bought one.
Eventually, when we sat down at the galley table for dinner, there was a pile of cell phones in the middle of the table. Should one of them ring, it was a mad scramble to determine who the proper owner of the phone was. No personalized ring tones back in the day.
Hello?... Hello?... Hello?...

Fast forward to today. Everyone has a cell phone. Most are smart phones. Most have more computing power then some of those early day RADARs, AIS units, and other assorted letter jumble electronics we have aboard.
Right up until it breaks.
Which is where we are today. 

My wife’s cell phone broke. Technical support (me) from a few hundred miles away wasn’t able to fix it. She is now cell phoneless. An absolutely horrible condition in today’s technological world. 

Calls to the house went unanswered. Messages left on the answering machine were ignored.
It was like being back in the old days of the payphone all over again. The horror!

A new cell phone is on order. In the interim, she had a friend give her an old phone that she had lying around. It might be able to send text messages. It might not. Either way, it is a phone. We can talk once again. Honestly, if she happened to look in one of our kids toy boxes she probably would have been able to find my original cell phone. It got retired on 9/11/01 after the terrorist attacks. I got frustrated, threw it on the galley table, and smashed the screen. Yet the thing still worked. Probably still does. Try that with one of today’s smart phones.
You never forget your first

With all of that being said, sometimes it’s nice not being in constant communication with the rest of the world. There aren’t any cell phone towers offshore. And some of the places we go, the phone and internet service is spotty, at best. It’s nice to be “off the grid” every now and then.

Then again, it is also nice to be able to talk to my wife and kids when I’m at work. 

Plus, it also means I get to look for a new phone when I get home. Why should she be the only one with a cool new cell phone?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

We Have a NEW #1!!!

"Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

It used to be that my favorite place to crew change was off Corpus Christi, TX.
For reference please see HERE and HERE
Alas, times have changed. 

Please welcome Calcasieu Pass Anchorage off of Lake Charles, LA to the top of the list for fun places to die in a horrible maritime accident crew change.

It started of innocently enough. A quick text message:  “Ok everything is set for a launch off lake charles. Take your Dramamine its gonna be 4-5 feet. Tug will be underway so they can make a lee.”
Now there is a long running rule in the maritime world that whenever you get a forecast from our friends over at the National Weather Service you take the forecast numbers, add them together, and what you end up with will be the actual wind and wave conditions. In this case, add the 4-5 foot wave forecast to get 9 footers. Not surprisingly, that was just about right. This crew change made the Corpus crew changes look like a piece of cake.
Our choice of launch boats for this venture was a 36-foot catamaran style police/dive boat. Think party barge on steroids. 
Pontoon boat. a.k.a. Party Barge.  
Considering the sea conditions it was about as smooth a ride as we were going to get. Except, of course, if you happened to factor in the 100-foot+ offshore supply boats that were tied up next to us. 
More appropriate?
If you add in the ton of grub that we bought, 7 of us going to the boat, 2 crew members for the launch boat, it could be said that space on board the launch was at a premium. Half of us were inside the cabin, the other half got to sit outside on the stern in the weather. Which, in retrospect, was kind of handy, had the Chief Engineer decided to lighten the load by getting rid of any food that he had eaten that day. I think we may have even made it out to the jetty entrance before the guys outside were soaking wet. 

Once outside the jetty the ride didn’t get any better. The guys outside didn’t get any less soaked. And the chatter about the Chief chumming for the fish seemed to diminish more and more the longer the ride went on. And when we got in the vicinity of the tug, the friendly banter ceased altogether.
It was immediately clear that this was not going to be an easy crew change. 

Even with the tug underway and trying its best to create a lee in the winds and waves for the launch boat to come alongside, we all knew that wasn’t going to happen. The tug’s rubber fendering was coming out of the water so high that if the launch came alongside it would have crushed the boat, and anyone that happened to be in the way, as it came crashing back down.  
Plan B was instituted.
The other crew then had to rig a pilot ladder over the side for us to try to scramble aboard the barge that way. Hats off to the pilots who have to do the transfer from a pilot boat to another vessel and vice versa every day. It is no easy task. Timing is everything. It might even be the ONLY thing. Because if your timing is off, and the boat surges at the wrong time, it is truly ‘GAME OVER’ for you. You are either getting crushed, going into “the drink”, or any other number of situation that can only end badly for you. It happens every year where pilots have been killed or severely injured in transfers to/from pilot boats. Our only hope was not to become one of those statistics. With 7 guys going on, and 7 guys coming off the statistics weren’t on our side.

I didn’t have a chance to observe the whole operation. My job was to get onboard the barge, scurry back to the tug, go to the wheelhouse to relieve my guy of steering the boat, and allow him to scurry back to the barge in order to get aboard the launch. All I know was that some arrivals and departures weren’t so graceful. 
Full disclosure: Mine was one of those not so graceful ones. The timing was right. The grip by one of my hands on the Jacobs Ladder was suspect. I swung to the right, holding onto the ladder with one hand and one foot, as the other foot and hand searched for something to grasp on to. I lost style points for that one. But, I managed to regain a solid grip and climb aboard the pitching barge without being mangled by the launch. Bonus points for that. 
One Foot? No!
One hand? Not how it is suppose to be done!

After that, for me at least, it was just trying to keep the boat pointed up into the seas as the other crew got aboard the launch. I heard more style points were lost during that procedure. Even more point were lost during the transfer of our grub and the other crew’s personnel effects.

When we got aboard the launch there was a GIANT cooler that we loaded all of our grub into. When we got to the boat and we realized that there was no way we were going to go alongside the tug we had to institute a new plan to get the cooler with said grub aboard the barge. The only way to do it was to use the barge’s crane to pick up the cooler and swing it onto the barge. Now, picture a small boat, alongside a larger boat, both pitching a rolling at different rates. Add to that a giant metal hook at the end of a cable at the end of a boom swinging at a completely different rate. Imagine trying to attach this giant metal hook to a cargo net containing a cooler with a ton of food without getting knocked out or killed with all of the aforementioned issues. It took more than one try. Once aboard, the food was replaced with the off-going crew’s luggage. Once again, a cargo net with a giant cooler, loaded with stuff, attached to a cable, at the end of a boom, was attempted to be surgically lowered onto a small pitching boat from the deck of a larger pitching boat. This too, took more than one attempt.

In a way, I’m happy I was in the wheelhouse and missed most of it.

I hate doing stupid things.

Even more, I hate watching other people doing stupid things.

In terms of stupid things, this crew change was way up on the “Stupid Shit-o-meter”!