Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Having made it safely to Sky Harbor on one tank of jet fuel I found myself in the desert metropolis of Phoenix Arizona. My initial reaction to Phoenix strongly aligns with my sentiments for Southern Florida. It makes as much sense to build a city in the middle of an inferno as it does to build one on a narrow strip of sand and limestone abutting the everglades. Phoenix like Miami is a city of convenience. Air conditioning, massive amounts on concrete and pavement, and nature defying engineering allow millions of people to inhabit both cities. In Miami there is too much water, it is held back by levies and drained out every time a tropical deluge floods the streets. In Phoenix there is not enough water so it is scavenged off rivers and aquifers from very far away.

With these things on my mind I spent the day walking the streets of Phoenix waiting for my second grade study buddy to drive down from Flagstaff and pick me up. I spent an hour in a used book store with an impressive selection of historical and maritime books on it's dusty shelves. The proprietor, a grizzly old man sat with his back to a row of books stroking his grizzly old cat. His wife pointed me towards the Heard museum of Native American history downtown which I headed to next after making my obligatory purchase of a 1942 ship construction text I had never seen before.

After discovering the many tribes that once inhabited the Arizona red rock in force and a few ancient specimens of their woven sandals I made my way back to the bus route dodging clouds heavy with rain, a meteorological phenomena that took me by surprise. My friend showed up finally and after taking every wrong exit on the way to the airport we picked up another high school buddy and headed up the long road to Flagstaff.

At this point I had been awake for about 36 hours. Being practiced in sleep deprivation I was still functioning rather well until we began climbing from Phoenix's moderate 1000 Ft. elevation to Flagstaff's 7000 Ft. elevation. Being born and raised at sea level and having only once before been up a mountain above the 6000 footers of New England I was floored by the thinner air at Arizona's ceiling. I was light headed and dizzy with a creeping headache. I wanted to get out and start running to see how long I could go before falling over. I quickly began to drift off to sleep wondering if I would suffer from altitude sickness and wake up snow blind.

A few days later I would re-read "Into Thin Air" and realize that base camp for everest starts at 17,000 feet! Ten thousand feet above me and my headache in Flagstaff. This humbled my weak lungs and made me want to start road biking at higher altitudes.

After two days in Flagstaff I hardly noticed the 6000 foot difference any longer. We spent one day in Sedona several thousand feet below flagstaff hiking in the red rock. This was my first real day in a desert in the Western Hemisphere. I have seen the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas but they looked like barren wastes compared to the stunningly beautiful Arizona desert. The spires of rock, cactus, yucca, and clear canyon floor creeks were very exciting. I wanted to hike out there for days.

After departing Arizona we spent one night in the San Bernadino Mountains high above San Diego sleeping underneath a nearly full moon with little worry of rain or morning dew. The camp sites were empty and the air very still. My travel buddies had intelligently packed a Coleman cook stove, there was no wood for burning, so we fried steaks and potatoes to go with our Budweiser. Coyotes woke my friends in the middle of the night but I slept through it.

The following day we arrived in San Diego California where my cross country road trip with an uncle would start only minutes after separating with my chums who would continue on their quest of good times up the Pacific Coast.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Density Altitude

I'm not huge on brand loyalty. I usually go with the cheapest product when I'm at the grocery store but for airlines I'm beginning to notice the differences between carriers each time I fly. Jet Blue so far has impressed me the most. They have the newer jets, cleaner planes, better seats (eliminating a first or business class is brilliant for domestic flights) and great customer service while en route.

On my way out to Phoenix I was really pleased with the candid manner in which the pilot informed us passengers why the cabin was getting hot and why we might have to stop over in Denver or some other way point for refueling. My flight coincided with the headlines in all the major papers about how the airlines were trying to conserve fuel given the rise in oil prices.

One of the ideas was to slow the planes adding a few minutes onto the flight times but greatly reducing fuel consumption just as if you slow your car on the highway to 55 MPH you'll save fuel as opposed to driving around 70 MPH as I do. Another idea was to short load fuel so that the payload when taking off is reduced decreasing the fuel spent just to get the aircraft off the ground and up to cruising altitude.

This seems to have been the case with my aircraft when the pilot told us that the cabin temperature would be increasing as he reduced the load on the A/C in order to conserve fuel. We were only flying from New York's JFK to Phoenix's Sky Harbor but with the encounter of jet stream head winds double what had been fore casted (Nearly 150 MPH!) the plane was laboring to keep up her speed.

The Pilot was forced to decide whether to risk running out of fuel and stay in the calmer less turbulent jet stream or decrease altitude and fly in more bumpy conditions where the winds weren't as strong. He opted to try and make it without stopping for refueling and therefore turned down the A/C and turned on the seat belt light as we descended into more turbulent air.

I found this critical decision interesting because it reminded me so much of steaming south along the Pacific coast of Japan and encountering the Kuroshio current. Do you head further offshore to try and find a counter current to push you towards your next port, head for the coast to break free of the current and instead contend with heavy coast-wise traffic, or do you sacrifice time and keep it simple by steaming straight into it?

Though it's not likely that an opposing current would cause a ship to run out of bunkers at sea it is still the same decision process. I have entered ports where the engineers were about to switch over to distillate because the ship was sucking up the last of the heavy fuel oil because the company was short loading fuel either because of price differences from the departure port and the arrival port or just because they thought it imprudent to sail a ship with more fuel than necessary for the upcoming voyage. In that case a foul four knot current would have made the difference.

Yes, these are the things I think about when flying across the country and I have the customer conscientious pilot's at Jet Blue to thank for it. As an end note, while driving across country with my uncle, a hobby aviator I learned another very interesting piece of information, this one in no way comparable with maritime matters but interesting none the less.

My uncle had mentioned that while passing through Page Arizona we might rent a small aircraft and spend an hour or two flying over the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately due to the soaring temperatures we encountered in the desert on our way through Nevada, it was 109 Fahrenheit, he was having second thoughts. He explained the concept of "Density Altitude" to me so that I wouldn't be too disappointed.

Aircraft performance is rated at sea level and at a mild temperature providing ample air pressure for providing the necessary lift for flight. As air temperature increases though air density decreases causing a reduction in plane performance. To compound this if we had taken off in Page at an elevation of over 4000 ft than we would have had two compounding issues affecting our aircraft effectively reducing a ceiling altitude from say 18,000 feet for a Cessna 350 to much less.

The decrease in air pressure leads to a decrease in aircraft performance which increases the chance of stalling. Stalling occurs because the properties of lift have been negated by a change in air pressure over the wing due to perhaps banking the aircraft too quickly for the given Density Altitude. This causes gravity to take over and the plane to plummet which would have effectively put an abrupt end to our road trip as it has historically for flat land pilots from Illinois. For this and other reasons, such as my uncle having to get his corn crop in the ground for duck season this fall, we did not get to fly over the Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Westward Bound

Today I'm embarking for Portland Maine, tomorrow Phoenix Arizona, then on to California to start a road trip that will end in Chicago. Two trains, two planes, one car and a whole lot of CO2. Yes, it's good to be spoiled by oil sometimes. Some day this fast continental travel may not be so simple as a Jet Blue ticket. Someday...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday Night

One of the undeniable luxuries of having long amounts of consolidated time off from work is being able to stay up as late as you want on a Sunday night without any consequences at the office Monday morning. This sort of flexible partying power came in handy last night staying up late in town to see Ozomatli! This band provided a rare opportunity to dance salsa, meringue, and hip hop in a small New England town until midnight. From my birth place of Los Angeles, California they bring a huge sound with no less than eight members on stage complete with horns, keyboard, three percussionists, a footloose bassist and some choreographed stage moves wherever they go. The vibe is all positive and amped up with marching band style energy. The show ended with an acoustic conga line tour of the theater and impromptu percussion battle jam in the lobby complete with startled looks from the concessionary when the ring leader jumped onto the bar for one last round of the hokey pokey. These guys could start a party at a young republican convention. It was awesome! Unfortunately for my girlfriend, she does have a day job and is probably fighting off a headache at the desk this very moment. Viva Ozo!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

About Me

I guess to get going I should provide some back ground information and make it sound as interesting as I possibly can. I reside in a small town in South Eastern New Hampshire, USA. It is nestled in a shallow valley surrounded by trees and horse farms. The buildings are almost all brick, having been built two hundred years ago as mills and the homes for the people who worked there producing textiles. The old company bank is still on main street, now a veterinarians practice, and the former textile mills are now studios for over 80 artists and business space for light manufacturing.
I've only been here for the last year but have endeavored to make it my home as I've been without one for long enough. Home though is a part time place for me. I make my living working on commercial ships plying the global trade routes as an officer. I stand a navigational watch at sea guiding and monitoring the vessel from port to port and stand a cargo watch once the ship is moored to the dock. Lately I've worked solely on Roll On / Roll Off vessels all belonging to the same fleet. I'll get more specific about these kinds of ships in the future.
How did I end up doing this for a living? Four years and thousands of dollars in loans provided me enough paper and identification cards to climb the gangway of any floating object in the world with an engine and sign my name off in the log as being liable for it's fortune roughly one third of the working day. Something I do happily six months of the year. A maritime career was a natural choice for me being the son of a sailor and always having had a keen interest in boating on the lakes and coast of Maine.
As for the other six months of the year, I'm still working on that part of the equation. Besides taking the mornings slowly, checking the email and drinking ridiculously good coffee I often find myself traveling near and far. Either by car around New England, visiting friends, or by plane to places more distant. I ride a road bike in the summer months and when the weather is colder I ride a snowboard in the White Mountains. I just purchased a newer sleeping bag, warmer than my last so I have high hopes of spending some quality time in the great outdoors this upcoming summer.
Well I think that will be enough for starters. It's a lovely May day here in NH and I'm off to see a friend just home from sea.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Bloggers Beginning

I've been procrastinating on this for long enough so I might as well get started. A year ago I had no idea what a blog was or why I would ever want to write one. Fortunately ample amounts of time at home, with not a lot to do afforded me with the chance to peruse the Internet, beginning to end, yes I think I found the end of it, and harvest the most interesting places for myself and my bookmarks.
In doing so I discovered all of these great blogs. Not sites, not search engines, but blogs. Real people with similar interests, some on the other side of the world, some who were friends, writing about their professional and personal lives. Writing about their endeavors, adventures, trials, and triumphs for the rest of us, the rest of the world to read. I really fell in love with this idea. With being able to share parts of your own life with others, friends, family, and strangers included, at any time, from almost any place.
Pretty cool I thought, so why not share my own experiences. I journal about them, keeping a work log when I'm out at sea. But I hardly ever share it. I can't say I haven't been encouraged though. My old man thinks I could be the next Nathaniel Phillbrick citing the lack of current maritime authors and the time I used to put into writing letters to family from afar.
But seeing how I haven't written hardly a word beyond my seafaring journals for the last four or five years I doubt it, but... it doesn't mean I can't start blogging some.
So there you have it, my grand impetus to begin contributing to this wonderful online world where we can share what we see, we do, and we experience. And maybe that will be enough to get my butt in gear and start writing the way I've always wanted to, frequently and at length.