Monday, January 5, 2009

Six Strand

The first day of 2009 was gray and quiet. Most of the crew stayed up until midnight to watch the Third Assistant's fire works display as the ball dropped in our particular time zone. Thanks to some oversized bottle rockets from the U.K. and a three-barreled launcher which took a few hours of overtime in the machine shop to make, they all had an excuse to lie in.

Unlike most ships out there plying the oceans this New Years we are void of liquor and beer and therefore any chemically forged camaraderie beyond coffee time and smoke breaks is absent. Once upon a time, when under a Swedish flag, the non watch standing crew would spend every Sunday in the ship's bar, now just an elaborate smoking lounge, shooting darts and getting snockered. This is a strictly verboten now as is the case on most, not all mind you, but most American flagged ships in what is proven to be the most litigious merchant marine in the world.

Despite the prohibition of spirits some of us were still determined to have a good time on New Years. Hence the fireworks, ample amount of Havana's finest cigars and frequent usage of the sauna to sweat off the pounds of turkey and king crab legs consumed later in the afternoon. The deck cadet also liberated the last of the chocolates his mother had given to the ship as a Christmas present. They had been stashed away by the steward in some secret cabinet for rationing at her own discretion. Something we all found tantamount to barratry.

Putting back out to sea was a great relief to everyone. We probably set a record for the most port time a Pure Car Truck Carrier can get in Northern Europe and a few crew members set their own records on using up every bit of non working 'rest' hours enjoying the shore life. The old adage that port rots ships and men is absolutely true. A lot of seafaring peoples just can't stay out of the bar when the opportunity is there and after three nights out no one turns to for overtime making it hard to get the work done that lay berths are perfect for.

The cargo volumes we saw were way down making the loading and discharge operations a boring affair. Without the normal pressure from ship's lining up for a berth the stevedores took their sweet time getting the cars and heavy equipment on and off. Even in England where the port had just laid off 45 of the 120 full time longshoremen they still took a laboriously long time to move what few pieces we had for discharge and then load back the even fewer pieces for the states.

The weather which started out fine on new years day has now deteriorated to a full on gale as we pass north of the Flemish Cap towards St. Johns Newfoundland. The pounding from the head swell became so frequent and intense we had to put the ship on a "Tack" keeping the southwesterly swell broad on the port bow and reduce the engine revolutions. On car carriers the large amount of wind area on the sides of the ship actually allows for a bit of motor sailing in rough weather. The wind stabilizes and dampens the rolls once ballasted into it and reducing the speed lengthens the period between slams into oncoming waves.

I've fallen ill with early onset channel fever this week as the end of my hitch is now visible on the calendar. It's been two months at sea and I'm realizing that my tolerance for isolation, monotony and limited social interaction is diminishing with each trip I make (Working eight hours in the dark isn't helping). That overwhelming feeling of impatience and longing for life ashore is a downward spiral I have to snap myself out of. This is best accomplished by finding something on overtime that actually engages my mind, i.e. not paperwork.

Today that came in the form of tagging along with a couple of the crew and putting a new eye in one of the ragged forward mooring hawsers. Something I've noticed about working on a newer ship, after spending the last three years on a rust bucket, is that there isn't the constant necessity of critical repair jobs that I had grown so accustomed to. This lack of dirty hands on work has been a cause for much of my boredom in recent weeks, the paper burden of ISO/ISM being a poor substitute. These rare occasions when I get to accomplish something salty and seafarer like are now memorable occasions.

Breathing in the damp air of the foc'sle, fid in hand, working six strand hard line into a splice is a job I could spend all day at. It only took a few minutes to get the ABs started on a proper tuck but being surrounded by the swaying coils of manila and piles of spare hawsers listening to the anchors rattle in their hawesepipes each time the deck dropped out from under our feet was great. The crew enjoyed the work too; the alternative being a needle gun and crate in the bow thruster space. There won't be any more work on deck until this gale blows itself out.

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