Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Gmbh

Thank god for the seaman's mission. I'm typing away with the cadet from Great Lakes Maritime sitting across from me engorssed in his own laptop. I'm nursing a Becks and he's nursing a wicked hangover imposed by two thirty something year olds that latched onto him last night at the always reputable American Seaman's Club. Yes Bremerhaven, where American seaman have been coming to get wasted and hooked up for decades now. Unfortunately (Or fortunately) for me, I have a watch to attend to come midnight which means no clubbing time so instead I'll soon be asleep. But of course that hasn't stopped me from getting these last few posts out and taking in some horrible Phillipino Karoke sessions. Yes, the Phillipino's love thier Karoke. So much that besides doing it every night at sea they persist to do it at the seaman's center insuring that the rest of us sailors typing out emails or sending money orders home have to endure thier lovely renditions of popuar music I'd rather never hear again. I'll stop at this juncture and drink another beer, I've a few calls to make and the sun is allready setting at this northerly lattitude.


There’s nothing worse than laying in bed for two hours wanting to be anything but awake. This never happens when I’m at home. Only when I have to go on watch in three or four hours will I wake up in the middle of my off time and roll around endlessly searching for the right physical arrangement on my single sized mattress to return to the warm bliss of the horizontal time accelerator. Alas tonight it won’t work. I finally gave up and with an epithet of disgust, turned on the light and finished a book that’s taken way too long to complete.

Half an hour later I’m at it again, rolling around, wondering why boxers are so uncomfortable, ready to punch the wall because I know that if I don’t fall asleep now I’ll only get three hours of rest before standing on the bridge for eight and doing my overtime on top of that. It just seems ludicrous that my body would not be incapable of sleeping seven hours after a full day’s work. Then again, we have changed time zones five times in the last week, maybe that has something to do with it.

Regardless, after giving in a second time I’m back on my feet and heading down to the galley to see if there’s any ice cream left totally abandoning any hope of further sleep and any guilt I might associate with eating ice cream in the middle of the night. Fortunately for me there is a full tray of delicious pizza left out from dinner. Replete with artichoke hearts, quartered garlic cloves, onions, mushrooms and an unidentifiable meat product, I gladly partake in it. Then it’s to the reefer for Harris Teeters brand Bear Claw, equally satisfying to the restless mind. In this short period of self-indulgence I have an opportunity to take in my surroundings in the quiet of late evening. The lights are dimmed, the shades drawn and the deck under the table gently sways as the ship makes good speed across the Atlantic.

At moments like this one I often feel a sensation elicited by the dark night and cold water being just outside the hatch and over the rail. It is a feeling of fondness mixed with awe. I appreciate the ship because it is the only barrier between my meek human existence and the overpowering vastness of the deep ocean. I feel at awe because the ship is so well suited to take care of us, her crew. Her house is watertight, except a little leak over the Captain’s computer, her hull is sound and the engine runs day and night without question.

All this is possible because of the people who attend to her every request and need, and the owners who bankroll our efforts. Additionally our predecessors took good care of the now 15 year old girl and with due diligence we intend to do the same. As I look around I can honestly say I love the functionality of not just this ship but any I've come across. It's a wonder how they are designed to keep their crew dry and warm in the midst of a November gale, how simple it is to exist day to day in the confines of her hull with enough creature comforts to live and for the most part, work happily.

Of course there are times when not everything about the ship is great. Every ship is a machine and every machine can fail. No ship in the world is invincible to waves and wind and no matter how well designed all are defenseless when it comes to human error. Nonetheless I’ve been grateful for every ship I’ve set foot on, even the rust buckets (“Good experience” I always say) and that fondness only seems to build over time. Having a sauna onboard helps too.

Servers down

This morning the unthinkable happened. The solitary server that connects all user terminals, printers, security cameras, email and most importantly our maintenance and requisitioning system crashed with a loud buzzing alarm. This means that every file saved to the server, virtually everything I have for work documents, is now toast.

Email has been relegated to the stand alone designated terminal on the bridge putting a major dent in the crew’s electronic social life. The Captain hasn’t the time to forward 20 other people’s emails and then sift through the already clogged in box printing out the personal messages.

Then again, I did have one captain who did this routinely. It was the first and probably last ship I will ever work on without a server. This meant only the Captain’s computer had email capabilities and we would have been out of luck if the old man wasn’t so good natured.

Since he was willing to sacrifice extravagant amounts of time for his crews welfare, each night he’d collect all the floppy disks and flash drives from those of us who had a message to send home. He would next open each disk, cut and paste the message from MS Word to MS Outlook, put it in the outbox and send them all out with the PM replication.

When personal messages were received back from wives and sweethearts he would print each individual message and hang them on the crewman’s door. I still to this day look at the paperhanger on my door every morning I open it for a ream of paper fluttering in the passageway. Only once did I see that Captain chew out a cadet for getting too many emails, two to three a day usually, from his overzealous wife who he had just married at the ripe old age of 20. I don’t think that cadet ever wound up going to sea.

Election Day (For Dan)

That first day back at work is a shocker. You often stop to ask yourself “What the @#$% am I doing here?” It doesn’t take long though to remember that the ship and all it represents is first and foremost your livelihood and that without the ship, without the job, you’d be one of the four thousand foreclosures happening every day around the country. As they say “If you take care of the ship, she will take care of you.”

We needed some taking care of as we left Georgia and headed north in search of the Gulf Stream. The first night out was overcast and rainy but nothing too nasty. The second night we were pitching into a sea broad on the bow with such a slamming force I thought the flukes might pop off the anchors. By slowing the engine and heading less directly into the swells we moderated some of the violent pounding but it continued for two full days.

The presidential election wrapped up our second night out. I was afraid I would be the last American to know who had won since I slept through the coverage the Chief Mate was picking up on his XM radio. When I came on at midnight I tuned into the AM band on the MF/HF radio and picked up a station out of Washington D.C.. It wasn’t long before I heard on Federal Radio 1500 that Obama had won the electoral vote by a landslide.

I was relieved to hear that finally in my brief voting history the candidate I had chosen was going to get the White House keys. The reaction from the crew was mixed. A few of the engineers were already convinced their taxes were going to skyrocket, nice to know they make over 250 grand a year because I don’t, and the boson was naturally disgusted with the outcome, everything disgusts him unless it’s wearing breasts.

The Captain and I shared the sentiment that Barack is more prepared to improve the reputation we’ve earned as a nation over the last eight years of cow boy diplomacy. This would certainly be helpful to people who frequently rely on the assistance and services of folks abroad.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On the tarmac again

Today started at 4 AM when my alarm went off causing me to jump out of
bed for the first time in two months. Any sleep before traveling is
always short on quality rest. Atleast thanks to daylight squandering I
did have an additional hour to toss and turn. The routine of air
travel punctuating the beginning and end of each vacation is a little
wearing. I'd much prefer being able to join a ship at a nearby seaport
rather than having to fly down the eastern seaboard but I shouldn't be
complaining. A friend from home just spent the last three days flying
to meet his vessel in Guam! What I will complain about though is the
increasingly negative experience of traveling by plane. It seems that
every time I enter an airport there is always some new inconvienance
or surcharge waiting to raise my blood pressure. Lately it's been the
baggage fees. I do all that is in my power to pack lite, though I'm
sure some would argue otherwise. I've paid the fifty dollar overweight
charge for 55 pound bags enough now to know im better off wearing my
steeltoes onto the plane and putting my books in my carryon. This
morning I was able to convince the woman at the ticket counter, after
removing my winter coat, that a bag containing all my worldly
possesions for the next 75 days weighing in at 51.5 pounds was close
enough to not cost me fifty bucks.
Still thanks to the airline's pay as you use policy I still forked out
fifteen bucks just to check a bag. It really just keeps going down hill.