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.