Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Grub Gods

Working out to sea sometimes requires a lot of sacrifice.
Most notably, we sacrifice time with our family.
Sometimes it is just inevitable that we are going to miss the important things in our family's life. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and even the occasional kids appendix surgery.

But there are other types of sacrifices that we have to make as well.
There was the one occasion we had to sacrifice a fishing pole to the deep in order to break our string of horrendously bad luck at fishing. Totally worth it.

But just this week we had to make another type of sacrifice.
Sure we were on the boat for Thanksgiving. Missing our friends and family over the holiday weekend. But not that kind of sacrifice.
We had to make a sacrifice to the "Grub Gods".

“An army marches on its stomach”, attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, also rings true for tugboats.
Contrary to popular belief, our boat does not run on diesel fuel. It runs on coffee and food . Or as it is known in maritime circles, grub. Nothing slows a boat down, or kills morale quicker, than a boat with no grub. Except maybe a Charlie Foxtrot of a crew change. But since this blog is already about the chronicles of some of our illustrious crew changes, we will stick to grub for this blog post.

Not to say running out of grub doesn't happen. In some of the ports we go to it can be a logistical nightmare just trying to get to a grocery store. Shopping for, transporting, transferring, and loading $1500 of food can be an absolute nightmare. Add in a less than helpful terminal that doesn't quite understand that getting a sufficient amount of food on board is an absolute necessity, can be enough to question ones career choice. Plus, based on what kind of crew you work with, $1500 doesn't last long. Whenever a cashier asks how many guys we are buying food for, and how long it will last, they are always shocked when our answer is, "Seven. See you next week." Seven guys (sometimes more) can put some food away.

So entering week number two of our three week hitch, we were due for a "grub shop". Our neatly detailed grub list was compiled and we begged, borrowed, and pleaded enlisted the help of another one of our tugs to come pick up our guy for the trip to the grocery store. Four hours later (it takes a while to get that much grub) our waterborne taxi cab returned with the fruits (and vegetables) of our grub expedition. We were at anchor so the other tug had to maneuver alongside of us in order to pass the grub from one boat to the other. The weather wasn't too bad. A little brisk and breezy, but we've done this exact thing in far worse weather conditions. Milk, eggs, meats, all the things that make a crew happy (read: cookies and cake), were passed from one boat to the other.

And then it happened...

A shopping bag containing, of all things, a bag of candy, slipped from my hands as it was being passed across the gap between the two rocking boats. Down it went. I was sure it was headed straight to the depths of Davey Jones's Locker. A sacrifice to the Grub Gods for sure. Then it hit the rudder fendering, got stuck there momentarily, just before the two boats rubbed together trapping the bag just inches from the swift running water. The spry deckhand from the other boat reached down and deftly retrieved our lost bag of candy from the icy grips of the harbor. Our candy was saved! As was a couple of bags of beans. But seriously, our candy was saved. Not this time Grub Gods! Tragedy averted, we continued transferring the grub.
You didn't think I would post a picture of beans now did you?

But the Grub Gods were not to be denied. Minutes later, as we were nearing the end of the project, a 12-pack of soda was being passed through the air. A gentle, sloping arch of a pass from one crew member to the next in line. Except this pass was too quick. The previous 12-pack of soda had not been passed on to the next crew member. A traffic jam of the grub kind. An attempt was made to catch the flying soda with one hand as the other soda was shifted to the other hand. It was all for naught. At least one 12-pack was going to be lost in this battle. Coke Zero sprayed everywhere! The case broke open, cans spilled out, and the thin aluminum had no chance against the hard steel deck. It was a fireworks show of carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, and other natural flavors. 
A "before it hit the deck" representation.

A sacrifice had been made. The Grub Gods were happy. 

It's a regular occurrence. A gallon of milk here, a carton of eggs there. More often than not the Grub Gods will get their fill. You just have to plan ahead for the inevitable. For starters, don't put all of the same item in one bag. If you lose one, at least you will have a backup bag with another. Especially the candy! 

And especially if you are using another boat to transfer the grub. Sometimes the candy disappears that way.

You can't blame the Grub Gods for that.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Remembering El Faro

The last few nights, while the crew has been eating dinner, as is Standard Operating Procedure, the television has been tuned to the local news station.  There have been plenty of things to report on; a train crash in New Jersey, a man saved by a Chinese cargo ship after being in a liferaft for a week, and, of course, all the political banter one could ever hope for. But when the local weatherman has been cued up to start his report, it gets very quiet in the galley. 

There is a hurricane in the Caribbean. 
A big one. 

At one point it reached Category 5 status, the highest category issued by the National Hurricane Center. It’s currently taking aim at the islands of Jamaica and Cuba. After that, the forecast is somewhat uncertain. It may head for the East Coast of the United States, or it may head “safely out to sea”. No matter what course it will take, one thing is certain, Hurricane Matthew is not going to be a storm to trifle with. 
Current forecast track of Hurricane Matthew
Exactly one year ago today there was another hurricane spinning in the Caribbean. Hurricane Joaquin, with winds in excess of 130 mph was battering the islands of the Bahamas. It was also battering a 790-foot long US-flagged cargo ship, the El Faro. On board that cargo ship were 33 fellow mariners involved in a fight for their lives against the powerful storm. 
The El Faro
One of those 33 sailors onboard the El Faro was an Engineer named Jeff Mathias. Jeff was working as a contractor preparing the ship for some work that was going to be done in an upcoming shipyard period. As the eye of the storm approached perilously close to their location, the ship lost power. With no ability to maneuver, there is no doubt that every member of that engineering crew, Jeff included, was using every trick in the book to get the huge engineering power plant back online and running. Unfortunately, the storm proved to be too powerful. So powerful that when the El Faro was located 15,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, the top two decks of the ship’s superstructure, including the wheelhouse, were ripped off from the rest of the vessel and found a half-mile away from the rest of the wreckage. All 33 sailors were claimed by the hurricane and the sea.
The wreckage of the El Faro
The wheelhouse located 1/2 mile from the rest of the wreckage
Two weeks ago, at the Homecoming celebration at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, they dedicated the Diesel Engineering Lab to Jeff Mathias. Two weeks ago was the celebration of my 20th year reunion of me graduating from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Had he not been on the El Faro, Jeff would have celebrated his 20th year reunion as well. Jeff was a classmate of mine at the Academy.

Over my career, I have lost numerous good friends to the sea. During that same span, many mariners, though not personal friends of mine but still ones with a shared kinship, have been taken by the unrelenting waters as well.
So when I hear a local television weather personality say that a powerful and dangerous hurricane or storm is going, “safely out to sea”, you can probably see why this simple, unassuming statement causes me such ire. 
It is a pet peeve of mine.
I think reasonably so.

Alas, I’ll keep one eye watching the television personalities recite their forecasts, and I’ll keep the other one on the skies. A hurricane spinning off the coast of Cuba may not be a concern for many, but for me and my fellow mariners, it could very well be a matter of life and death.