Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Outward Bound

As I was throwing out a fridge full of food this morning I was thinking about how nice it would be to have a roommate. Instead of having to sanitize, drape, de energize, and lock my apartment I could simply park my car in the shade and saunter off to meet the train. Of course then much of the freedom with which I spread my stuff out around the place would be curtailed, but still it would be nice leaving my flat in the care of another person for the next two months.

I'm headed north this morning to spend the night before an early flight out tomorrow. The ship is only an hour and a half away by plane. I always prefer to meet the ship in my own country, even better when on my own coast. Anything is preferable to a flight to Singapore, Abu Dhabi, or Los Angeles. Its also nice getting on the ship when she has just begun her coast wise passage ensuring that if my bag is lost in transit it stands a better chance of making it to the next port before we sail overseas.

I stopped to talk to a neighbor this morning just before the taxi showed up to take me into town. She was curious about where I was headed this time and remarked on what a different life it is that I live. I hear this over and over every time I explain to someone why I haven't been at work for fifty-five days or why I won't be home until the ides of August. After almost five years of these reactions I am starting to tire of it. It makes you feel as if you're the only person in the world who spends half of their time away from "home" to make your living. In military communities every one is aware of what a deployment constitutes but in the civilian world seafarers are sometimes the lone ranger spending only half the time around the house getting to know the neighbors. I suppose I might as well just get used to it.

The ship I will be joining this week will be my fourth as an officer. Having been on the same ship for the last three years I've grown accustomed to the working environment that was inherent to her for the last fifteen years of unchanged management. She was sold this winter to a new owner while I was sailing as the Chief Mate. It abruptly ended my first promotion and put me back on shore unemployed.

About a month ago I was informed that I will be sailing as the Second Mate on a new ship that has just been re-flagged from Sweden to the United States and added to my companies fleet of car carriers.

She was built in 1994 for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines, has a dead weight Tonnage of 22, 862 metric tones (The weight necessary to load her full and down from her light draft to deep draft including fuel, crew, and stores), 5000 tons more than my last ship. Her car capacity is 5846 units of automobiles, which are based on the "RT43" standard calculated for a 1982 Toyota Corolla with a broken stowage factor of 1.156 cubic meters. She has three lifting decks; my former ship had four, and a stern ramp capacity of 105 tons. All that information was available from the Internet.

As any mariner knows no two ships have ever been run alike in the history of seafaring. The temperament of the Captain on board decides much about how your day-to-day life will be lived. Even within the same company and despite the cookie cutter SMS manuals the personality of a ship's Captain and Chief Engineer set the pace of everything on ship. From how you dress at meals to how the log is filled to how long the fire and boat drills take.

It's natural to feel a little bit of the nervousness still today that I felt when I clambered up the gangway of my first ship, a very haggard chemical tanker, when I was a cadet with too much gear and not enough common sense. Luckily I had just enough to survive but even today a new ship, a new captain, and a new way to tuck a long splice will keep me on my toes for the next two months. I'm looking forward to it.

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