Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Product Placement

Have you noticed on TV lately that the placement of certain products in the background of a scene have just become blatant endorsements? I'm just waiting for the dialogue to begin to reflect this as well.

"Come on, Jennifer. If we don't get into our 2014 Hyundai Elantra with a six speed variable transmission soon. We'll never make it to Pepsi-co Field on time to stop the terrorists. Even with our stylish Hyundai Elantra getting 38 miles per gallon highway and going from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds, not even it's 5 star crash safety rating could save us then."

Yeah, it's starting to get that bad.

But what does Jennifer and stopping terrorists have to do with tugboats?


But I'm about to do a shameless product endorsement and I had to lead with something.

We have been in shipyard for the last couple of weeks.
Hence the complete lack of new, funny, and hip stories on this here blog. Aside from the normal "shave and a haircut" for the boat, Mongo and I were tasked with forming our own construction company in order to rebuild the galley. "Two Morons Construction Company" was founded and most of our time was invested on destroying and then rebuilding the galley to our exacting tolerances. Banging on a computer keyboard at night to relay our tales of joy just was not in the cards.

But now I'm on my time off. The Christmas lights have been strung around the house, the mud room cabinets that I promised to build the wife have been built, and mandatory tugboat training has been accomplished. So between getting online Christmas shopping done and playing semi-pro firefighter this week, I finally had time to put zeros and ones out into cyberspace.

Oh yeah, product placement. Right.

During shipyard you get dirty. Depending on what project you are doing (i.e. toilet blowing up in your face) you can get REALLY dirty. After getting dirty, you need to get clean. Which sometimes is an issue when the water pipes to the boat are laying in pieces on the deck of the engine room.
For years the old standby for getting you hands clean has been to use "GoJo", the "Natural Orange Pumice Hand Cleaner".
Smells like oranges. Doesn't taste like them.
That was, of course, until this shipyard period.
After one such day of getting way too dirty, there was a new bottle of hand cleaner in the engine room sink. I had already washed my hands with the old standby GoJo, but was less than pleased with the results. I figured that I would try out some of this new stuff and see if my results were any closer to being actually clean.

Enter... CODE RED. I had neither seen nor heard of it before. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It smelled of cherries. I passed on the taste testing part. It had a smidgen of pumice similar to the old go-to GoJo. But immediately upon rubbing it into my previously GoJo cleaned hands, it whisked away any of the remaining dirty, grime, wood glue, sandblasting grit, paint, and whatever else was plastered on my hands. I was thoroughly pleased. This stuff was good. For the rest of the time we were on the boat anytime my hands got too dirty to tell that they were still hands, I went with the Code Red. It never failed to get my hands clean from whatever happened to be ground into them. GoJo had to go. It's Code Red for me from now on.

Now that I'm home, where the Honey-Do list never seems to get smaller, and my hands get just as dirty as in the shipyard, I realized that I MUST get some Code Red. Trouble is, I can't find any. Even my online searches have come up empty on when to find a local retailer. I found where to buy a Main Battle Tank online! You would think I could find hand cleaner!
Alas, the search continues. So if anyone happens to know where I can find it, send me a link. Or a sample. Or a bottle. Or a 55-gallon drum of it. The same holds true for anyone who works for the company that makes Code Red. This is good advertising.

"Jennifer, my hands are so clean from using Code Red hand cleanser I know that we can fool the finger print scanner and stop the terrorists."

You know, product placement.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Captain

Generally, when reading about a post on a blog that concerns the maritime world you would suspect that a post called “The Captain” would be about the head honcho onboard boats. Generally, you would be correct. Today, you’re wrong.

“The Captain” in question happens to be the captain of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter. If you happen to follow baseball you are well aware that this is Derek Jeter’s last season in the majors. Even if you don’t follow baseball you are still probably well aware that it his last season. Every stadium that the Yankees have played in this year has been essentially turned into a traveling tribute to one of the classiest guys to ever play the game. 

My wife is a Yankees fan, through and through. I happen to be a member of the Red Sox Nation. As she likes to say, “No one is perfect.”
Which is true. We all have our own faults.
However, throughout a storied 20 year career, Jeter has managed to not just play the game with skill and prowess but just as importantly (maybe even more so), managed to keep his name free and clear by not engaging in any bad behavior which so seems to dominate professional sports.

There aren’t many people in professional sports that I would consider to be a role model, both professionally and personally.
For me, Derek Jeter is at the top of that very select group.
Which is pretty high praise coming from a Red Sox fan.

The other night, Jeter played his last game in the hallowed halls of Yankees Stadium.
I was going to try to describe it in my own words, however I think this video captures the moment better than I ever could.

 To say that it couldn’t have been written by a Hollywood movie maker any more perfectly than it did would be the understatement of the decade.

Alas, the season isn’t over. The Yankees traveled to Boston to play out the final 3 games of their season. The Hollywood version would have had Jeter hitting a home run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the World Series to win the title. Sadly, for both Sox and Yankees fans, neither team is headed for the playoffs this year.

The silver lining in this story is that the New York Yankees are finishing the season against the hated Boston Red Sox. If there is one team, one group of fans, that respect Derek Jeter as much as Yankees fan do, it would have to be the members of Red Sox Nation.

Boston fans are rabid about their sports teams. They are knowledgeable, dedicated, no holds barred, supporters of their teams. They will let their players know when they are playing well. They will let their players know when they are playing poorly. They will especially let their players know when they downright suck. Boston fans aren’t just fans of their own teams, but also fans of the game itself. They appreciate a good play just as much as anyone. Even if it was against their beloved home team.

If there were ever a group of fans that appreciate all that Derek Jeter has done for the game of baseball (other than Yankees fans) it would have to be the ones from Boston.
Jeter may not get the sendoff that he received in New York, but knowing Boston fans, it will probably be pretty close.

And it is well deserved.

Now I would be remiss if there wasn’t at least one way for me to integrate the maritime world into this baseball post.
So here it is…
Talking with two separate pilots that we had onboard this week concerning Derek Jeter’s upcoming retirement led to the discovery that not just one, but both of them, were planning on attending baseball games this week. One of them was traveling up to New York to attend Derek Jeter’s final game at home. The other one was going up to Boston to attend Derek Jeter’s final game, ever. To say that I was jealous would also be an understatement of the decade.
Bribes were considered.
Instead, we are stuck with watching the final games of Derek Jeter’s career on the boat on TV. Not quite the same as being in the crowd, but we’ll take it.

Congratulations, Derek Jeter!
Enjoy your retirement.
I was a pleasure to watch you play the game as well as you did for as long as you did.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's A Small World

Headed up the Mississippi River the other day we were just getting ready to pass a ship that was moored at one of the coal piers that line the river. The ship’s self-unloading boom was extended out over the river and both I and the pilot onboard agreed that passing under the boom would be a poor navigational choice.
The ship in question
Our conversation then shifted to discussing the ship’s particulars and how the pilot had also been onboard that ship for a trip or two on the river.
“It’s a coal fired steam ship. Should the Zombie Apocalypse ever happen they can run the ship with their cargo for like 10 years”, remarked the pilot, “It also has a steam line running from the engine room up to the bridge. The captain has an old-time hot dog steamer up there. He loves hot dogs. In fact, you can’t do a trip onboard without being offered one. Or two. Or ten. They even steam the buns.”
Which I thought was an interesting tidbit of peculiar shipboard engineering. I remarked that a dedicated steam line from the engine room to the bridge definitely showed how different tugs and ships are. Tugboat hotdog preparation methods are slightly less refined.
Complete with bun warmer.
We then shifted our comments from hot dogs to the affore mentioned hot dog obsessed Captain. “He was my roommate at the Academy.”
Turns out, the pilot was a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Hence, the Captain of the ship was a MMA graduate as well. 
As am I. 
And so is my wife

Graduation years were discussed and it was determined that I had “escaped” (please note that both the pilot and I used the term “escaped” from the Academy when referring to graduating) a few years before he and the ship’s Captain had arrived. However, my wife was in her senior year when the two of them had started school. Consequently, the pilot knew who my wife was. She had made him do pushups and “get in the half” on more than one occasion. 
"The Half" Stay there until your arms fall off.
Based on this information, it was also determined that my wife probably knew the pilot’s roommate as well. Innocently enough I asked, “What was your room mates name?”   
“Shane Murphy.”
For those that aren’t familiar with the name, a quick read of this blog post might refresh your memory (selfless promotion).

For those of you who prefer the Cliffs Notes version…
(Now) Captain Shane Murphy, was previously the Chief Mate on a once little known ship, the Maersk Alabama. Perhaps you are familiar with the book, or the movie starring Tom Hanks, concerning said ship. It featured Captain Richard Phillips (also a MMA graduate) and the takeover of the ship by Somali pirates. The exact same ship that Shane was serving aboard as Chief Mate, at the exact time that the pirates decided to take the ship’s lifeboat and it's captain on a brief joy ride. A joy ride that ended with the Somali pirates meeting up with the sharp end of the Navy SEALs broad reaching sword. Long reaching rifles, in all actuality.
Note to pirates.
So while Captain Phillips was out in the lifeboat with the pirates on a 3-hour tour (It's okay to sing the song. You know you want to). Chief Mate Shane Murphy was therefore unceremoniously promoted to Captain in the previous Captain’s absence.
Shane did not take over for Tom Hanks.
Now Shane has his own ship to command. A ship that is totally zombie proof. Which is good to know. That has a hot dog steamer on the bridge. Also, good to know.

This brings us back to the title. 
It’s a small world. 
You never know who you are going to meet out here. The maritime community is a small place to begin with. Just how small, happened to be highlighted quite nicely this week. 

Besides, it’s nice to know that if I ever want to work on a certain ship I know the Captain’s weaknesses. Hot dogs and the fact that my wife made him do pushups while he was in school.
All good things to know.

It really is a small world.
Feel free to sing this song as well. 

***Those dolls are creepy. Why has no one made a movie with these dolls coming to life and going on a murderous rampage? Perfect, right? If anyone does make a movie I want partial credit. You saw it here first.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Folding Paper

Seems simple enough.
Heck, even the Origami stuff looks relatively easy. But we aren't talking about Origami or making paper airplanes. 
We are talking about trying to fold brand spankin’ new nautical charts. Which sucks. And isn't easy. And isn't simple. Did I mention it sucks?
Chart #11309 Corpus Christi Bay
For the less than nautically inclined, nautical charts are maps of the ocean. But they aren't maps. They are charts. They are the same thing. Except that they aren't. Maps are for roads, charts are for the water. See, in the maritime world we have a lot of different names for things that already have names. Keeps the non mariners from really understanding what is really going on. Walls are bulkheads, floors are decks, ceiling are overheads, port is left, and starboard is right. The list goes on and on. So, maps are charts and new ones suck.

As a general rule, I have no issue with charts. It's just the new ones that are the subject of my ire. Every week the Feds come out with a list of corrections we have to do our to our chart portfolio. Buoys get moved. New navigation lights get put up or taken down. Changes in the hydrography. And of course, wrecks happen. And all the changes have to get put down on the chart in order to make sure the information is as current and as accurate as possible. So every week we get to do "Arts and Crafts" on the boat. We get to use markers, colored pencils, tape, scissors, rub on transfer sheets, and stickers. It's all very preschool. But every now and then there are enough changes over the years to a particular area that a new chart is issued. Now you would think that a brand new chart would be nice. You would be wrong.
Arts and Crafts. Nautical version.
I hate new charts. Hate them. Not as much as I hate Corpus Christi, TX. But it’s definitely right up there.
To begin with, your old tired beat up chart had all of your courses laid out. It had all of your distances and average speeds put down. You had all kinds of notes and hints and local knowledge of the area written in the margins. Areas to avoid and good holding anchorage spots were meticulously maintained on that old chart. A new chart has none of that. And the only way to keep that information updated is to break out the pens, colored pencils, and highlighters and transfer it all onto the new chart. But that isn't really my biggest gripe. The thing that irks me the most about brand new nautical charts is folding them. How could folding a piece of paper into a couple of squares be so difficult? First of all, have you ever tried folding a circle into a square? Yeah, not so easy.

Our new charts come to the boat all rolled up in the tightest cylinder ever made possible by machines.
Then the charts sit in this nice tight cylindrical form for about 2 months so the paper builds up a very nice memory of its current shape. The mere act of trying to get this paper from a circle to a square is where the paper and I no longer are friends. 
Six charts. Rolled up nice and tight.
The more I try to unroll the chart and make it lay flat, the more it rolls itself back up and mocks me. I've tried rolling it up the opposite direction. I've tried leaving it alone unrolled for a week in high humidity. I've let them hang over the wheelhouse railings to let gravity do some of the work. I've tried leaning both of my arms on it, putting books at the corners, using a ruler to straighten out the edges. I think I've tried just about every method ever known to mariners. I even contemplated just leaving them for the other crew. And since they are paper, where would you be without the mandatory paper cut somewhere along the way. Needless to say, new charts and I just don't get along.
Unrolled. And rolled right back up again.
 After a tirade infused 15 minutes of fighting with a piece of paper, it’s one chart down, 12 more to go. It’s going to be a long afternoon.

I WILL CRUSH YOU !!!  Put the new charts under a giant stack of old charts and let them sit and think about what they have done for a week before even thinking about touching them again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Time Flies

Many, many tides ago.

Ten years ago I was working for a different tugboat company moving aggregate (which is just a fancy way of saying ‘rocks and dirt’) all around the Northeast. We were headed up the Hudson River with a couple of empty barges to meet up with another tug. They were coming down the river with a couple of loaded barges.  Somewhere along the line we were going to meet up so that we could swap out the light barges for the loaded barges and then turn around and head back in our respective directions from hence we had come from.

It was 1:30 in the morning, I was steering the boat and had just passed under the Bear Mountain Bridge, when my cell phone rang.
Now we all know that nothing good can ever come from a phone call after 9PM. No one from Publisher’s Clearing House ever wakes you up at Zero Dark Thirty to tell you that you had just won $1 million a year for life. Ever.

However, my wife was expecting our first child at the time. And even though we had just gone to the doctor’s the day before, where he assured us that it was safe for me to go back to work because it didn’t look as though our child was ready to join us quite yet, I had a feeling that this phone call was to inform me that that wasn’t the case.  I was hoping that my wife was just calling to see how things we going because she had woken up and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I was wrong.
“My water just broke.”
There it is folks. Straight to the point.

Now even though this was our first child. And even though I didn’t attend medical school. And even though I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express. I knew that when the levy breaks, the kid is coming. Whether you happen to be away from home working on a tugboat, or not.

“Don’t worry. I talked to the doctor and he said we have plenty of time and that everything is fine. I’m just going to pack up some things and head down to the hospital. When can you get off the boat?”
First thing, the doctor (who had said the day before we had plenty of time) was now assuring us we had plenty of time. Again.
Secondly, it’s 1:30 in the morning. I’m headed up the Hudson River. I just can’t hope off the boat and drive home. No one is in the office to find me a relief. No one will even be in the office for at least another 6 hours. Logistically speaking, I’m going to need plenty of time.
Unfortunately, I had plenty of time. To sit there and try and figure out how I was going to be able to make this work. It was a LONG night of standing watch.
Just before 0600 the Captain came up to relieve me. I needed to be relieved. Even another phone call from my wife saying she was at the hospital, everything was good, and she was going to take a nap wasn’t a relief.
“We gotta get you out of here”, was the Captain’s first words after relaying the tale of my stress filled night to him. Which was sweet music to my ears and, finally, a bit of a relief.

As soon as the Port Captain was in the office, the boat Captain was on the phone with him.
They arranged that someone from the office was going to drive up to wherever the boat happened to be to pick me up and take me back so I could pick up my car and head to the hospital. Problem #1 solved. Problem #2 was a bit more complicated. How was I going to get off the boat? The Hudson River doesn’t have a lot of options as far as just showing up with a couple of barges and landing at someone’s dock. Luckily, we just happened to be located just off one of the stone (aggregate) terminals. At this particular terminal the barges are moored offshore. Then a small shifting tug comes out to pick up an empty barge and brings it into the terminal to be loaded. Once loaded, the shifting tug takes the loaded barge back out to the mooring in the river, where a larger tug takes the tow of multiple barges down river to their final destination. As it were, the shifting tug was just starting the day’s work. A quick call over the VHF radio and the guys on the small tug were more than willing to give a desperate guy like me a quick ride into the dock.
A BIG ‘Thank You’ goes out to those guys. I really appreciated it.
They even sent a truck down to the dock to pick me up and take me back to the terminal’s office to await my ride.
That is where things kind of fell apart.

 I phoned the office to let them know that I had made it off the boat and was awaiting my ride at the office of the stone dock. It was then that I learned that my ride had taken a detour on the way to pick me up. A delivery had to be made in The City. New York City, that is. Anyone that is familiar with The City knows that first thing in the morning traffic is a complete and total disaster. My ride was nowhere to be found. And wouldn’t be anywhere to be found for quite some time. My once solved Problem #1 was once again a Problem. And a HUGE one at that. Especially when I called my wife’s phone at the hospital and my neighbor (who had accompanied my wife to the hospital in my absence) answered with, “Where are you?!” Judging by her tone, my “plenty of time” was running out. Quickly. 

Once again, the people at the stone dock were more than willing to help. Back into the truck we went and off to the nearest car rental office we sped.
As we pulled into the local Enterprise Rent-a-Car office, a sales person had just finished checking in a dropped off car. As I jumped out of the still moving truck he astutely asked, “Can I help you, sir?”
“I need a car. I need it now. I don’t care what kind of car it is or how much it costs. I need one NOW.”
“Umm. Okay. Is there a problem?”
“My wife is having our first baby and I would kind of like to be there for it.”
I can only assume that the initially very confused sales person also happened to be a father himself. Because all of a sudden he shifted into high gear and he couldn’t do things fast enough even for his own liking.
“Tommy (or whatever the name of the guy working there was)! Get that car we just checked in back out in front! Now! “
“Do you want the insurance?”
“Honestly, I don’t care. But I’m going to go with ‘yes’ since I’m going to beat the shit out of this car trying to get to the hospital in time,” was my reply.
“Noted. Generally we do a walk around to make sure everything is okay before you rent a car. But you need to get out of here. So everything is fine. Here are the keys. Good luck.”
And with a quick nod and a firm hand shake, I peeled out of the car rental parking lot laying down a patch of rubber that would make the employees of the Goodyear Tire Company smile.

I terrorized the back roads of New York State. I found the entrance to the highway and floored it.

Fun Fact: A 2004 Chevy Aveo rental car can do in excess of 115 miles per hour.
Another fun fact: Said Chevy Aveo also has very good brakes. As when you are doing 115 mph and see a NY State Trooper on the side of the road it is best not to go by him doing triple digits.
The 1.6 Liter, 103 hp Monster of the Road!
I exited NY and screamed in NJ. I was making good time. Then the phone rang.
“Where are you?” was my neighbors query, in a much more subdued tone than our previous conversation.
“I’m 15 minutes out!”
“Slow down. Your son is adorable.”

So slow down I did. To 100 mph.
I pulled into the hospital parking lot 14 ½ minutes later. For some reason the entire lot was full. Not a space to be found. Anywhere. So I pulled the car rather haphazardly into the only kind-of sort-of open space that was available. Up onto the grass median strip it went, where I unceremoniously left it. It was, after all, a rental car.
To be honest, this isn't that far from the truth.
I sprinted across the parking lot and into the hospital lobby, where there was a very nice group of 3 elderly ladies at the front desk.
“Can I help you, sir?” asked one of them.
“Yes. I just missed the birth of my son. Could you please direct me to which floor they would be on.”
And with that one statement, I’m fairly sure I ruined every single one of those very nice ladies day. Inadvertently, of course. You could just see the disappointment in their faces. I felt kind of bad.
They directed me around the corner to a bank of elevators and off I went.

My neighbor was right. My son was adorable.

The hospital gives you a small blue and white button inscribed with “It’s a boy!” Which, I dutifully wore around the hospital for the following days.
It seemed to help to spark conversation among the staff and some of the new parents.
However, while answering certain questions about my newborn son, when I happened to mention that I had missed his birth, people’s eyes would light up and they would point and declare, “You’re the tugboat guy!”
And so it went for the next two days.
I was “The Tugboat Guy” to everyone. Including, complete strangers who had been told the tale by someone in the hospital. Probably those poor nice old ladies whose day I had ruined at the front desk.

Later on, after all the dust had settled, I just happened to check the paperwork for the car rental. As it were, I completed the paperwork at 09:59. My son was born at 09:57. I was standing at a car rental counter in Haverstraw, NY when my son was born.

My son just turned 10 the other day. I was home for his birthday. I would have preferred to be home for his birth.
I’m not sure if it qualifies me for “Dad of the Year” status. But it sure makes for an interesting story.
Such is the life of a mariner.
Either way…
Happy Birthday to my Lil’ Binky Booter!
Time sure does fly by.

Just before his 1st Birthday.
Handsome young man.