Friday, August 28, 2009

Fast Rescue Boats

Last week I had to take a break from all the fun I was having up in New England to attend another professional training course. Normally these classes take one or two weeks, include a lot of power point and sometimes a little bridge simulator action. I've now taken months and months of required courses to upgrade my license and keep my certificates current. Gone are the days of a single radar re-certification course once every five years (Way before my time).

Thanks to the International Maritime Organization homogenization of seafarers a Merchant Mariner now attends mandatory weeks of training courses during their off time. If your in a seafaring union as I am than you are rarely reimbursed for being there. At least the cost of this burdensome ongoing education is covered by the union's benefits plan. This last course though was a pleasant departure from the normal week long session of classroom instruction and desktop exercises; the formula normally used to complete pages and pages of "Competencies" needed to prove the student meets the international standard for another course certificate.

Unlike the license upgrade courses I completed two years ago the Proficiency in Fast Rescue Boat course is not yet required as an endorsement on a mariner's STCW certificate. Instead it is normally mandated by shipping companies that have fast rescue boats installed on their vessels which includes all passenger ships. I was taking it in preparation for each one of the vessels in my company installing a fast rescue boat.

The course took place in hot and sunny Fort Lauderdale over four days, half of which were spent in the water on two eight meter RHIBs (Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat). One fast boat was propelled by twin 175 horse power outboard engines, the other by a 375 horsepower Cummings diesel jet drive. Both of these boats could get up and go in a moment's notice and required white knuckle grips when turning at high speed.

Fast rescue boats are characterized by having powerful propulsion, self righting capabilities, and a high degree of maneuverability. They are normally constructed of fiberglass or aluminum for weight savings and rimmed by an air and foam filled sponson to provide buoyancy.The hull form is known as a deep V which allows the boat to rise from the displacement mode at slow speeds to a planing mode just like any speed boat. Both of the boats we used represented the larger size of fast rescue boats, the longest allowed being 8.5 meters. The rescue boats I have used are usually 4-6 meters in length.

The rescue boat provides two primary uses on board a ship. The first is to retrieve persons from the water whether they fell from your own vessel or you are taking part in a rescue operation. Secondly the boat can be used to gather and assist less maneuverable life boats or life rafts. Either or these missions require a trained crew and a prepared boat to be safely lowered and recovered from the water in heavy weather day or night.

During the course we practiced recovering persons from the water, transferring perons from boat to boat while making way, high speed maneuvers, towing, righting capsized rescue craft and conducting search patterns. Most of the training took place in the open ocean during daylight, with warm water and 1-2 foot seas; ideal conditions for any rescue boat operation.

Of course as this past weekend proved when the swell from Hurricane Bill took the life of a 7 year old girl in Acadia National Park rescue missions normally do not take place in benign conditions. Even the Coast Guard with a 47 foot motor life boat, a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft took three hours to recover the girl in the 12-15 foot seas near Thunder Hole.

With all luck I'll never need to use a fast boat for anything more than touching up the draft marks.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kuroshio Sea - 2nd largest aquarium tank in the world

I found this video on you tube and was instantly mesmerized. When I think about the size of the oceans, the complexity of the life within them and the number of people who'll never have any idea of what has lived for ages under it's surface I can't help but feel sorry for those who will never have the chance visit these fish in their natural environment.

At least there will be aquariums where people can pass by and view these creatures without getting wet and this is the most impressive I've ever seen as far as fish tanks go.

I have scuba dived with rays and schools of predatory fish but the gigantic and docile whale shark remains at the top of my bucket list. One of my earliest memories is of a photograph I used to stare at taken either by or of Jacques Cousteau. The free diver was hanging on to the fin of a a huge whale shark who was gliding just under the surface.

Below is a photograph I took off of Cape Cod in July where you can just make out the shape of a basking shark. The urge I had to jump over the gunwale and hang on to this guys dorsal fin was overwhelming but I refrained. I probably would have had a few teenagers follow me in and that wouldn't have been good.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Maritime skills aid windmill workers - Bangor Daily News

This article from the Bangor Daily News reports on two mariners who have combined their engineering backgrounds and stomach for perilous situations to inspect and maintain Maine's new push for alternative energy.

"The winds that once powered fleets of Maine’s storied sailing ships now churn out the juice for a green energy industry the state is breathlessly pursuing. Technology that moves ships through the seas is much the same as what’s applied on the turbines."Maritime skills aid windmill workers
By The Associated Press

If you've sailed past the shores of Holland lately you may have noticed the pinwheel topped spires laid out in neat rows along the coast. These huge wind towers have been and are still being erected in massive fields up and down the North Sea. Their immensity is staggering, the operation to erect and maintain them massive and the consensus around European power producers solid. Why else would you bother to erect a string of wind turbines along a breakwater which shelters a Liquefied Natural Gas terminal as they did in Zeebrugge Belgium. Both sources of energy which are not going away anytime soon.

In northern New England wind power is a hotly debated topic. Many residents want the investment in renewable energy to be made now lessening dependence on fossil fuel and bringing new jobs to the region. Others cite the impact on the environment from the land foot print needed, disruption to migratory birds and their aesthetic unpleasantness as reasons to not construct wind farms.

Of course land based wind power is just the first step. To date the United States hasn't yet ventured into deep waters to erect wind turbines on the scale that Europe has:

The Ocean Energy Institute, founded by Matthew Simmons, is advocating developing wind power in the Gulf of Maine that would generate sufficient power in winter to replace the state's consumption of home heating oil.

Angus King, a former governor of Maine, is supportive of the idea."I see this as a huge economic development opportunity for Maine,... This thing could create 20,000 to 30,000 jobs." However, others have challenged the project's projected cost, which could reach $25 billion. (

The State of Maine is now the largest wind power producing state in New England. With the construction of offshore wind power, like the turbine fields I sail by in the North Sea, Maine could be one of the largest in the country. Not to mention a lot of mariners could be put to work in their own back yards including mine.

And just in case you were wondering what an offshore wind farm would look like on your 3 CM radar when ranged out to 12 miles and offset it would appear something like this. There are two wind farms in the lower right quadrant of the picture. One is the circular group of yellow blips, the other rectangle shaped and still under construction with 37 larger turbines. Of course the proposed wind farm for the Gulf of Maine would have 1000 turbines!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Sunday soul choir

Sunday mornings in my vacation abode are an audible experience unlike no other I've known. I haven't been to a proper church service since I fell out of liking with the Lutheran church of my teens. I have been to a few Christmas services and stop by the seaman's chapel in Southampton every chance I get to say a silent prayer in the serenity of that little space for the voyage but beyond that I mainly avoid organized deity worship.

That is not the case though for our next door neighbors. A tired old steeple and fake stone and mortar siding encloses one of the most reverent and boisterous preachers I've ever heard. For up to five hours each Sunday the congregation is led my their pastor in round after round of "Hallelujahs" and "Amen's" which crescendo in a full drum, bass and guitar band of soul hymns and gospel. If our windows are open then the music drifts right in to sound as if we were sitting right there in a pew ourselves.

Joyful expressions of love and devotion are really quite uplifting and moving unlike what some other members of the cloth are up to in these hard economic times. Read the link to this New York Time's article from yesterday to see what I mean.

While I find religion to be a personal thing, something I do not spend an overly large amount of time contemplating in these busy modern times, I do appreciate the significance of faith in communities and culture. While we vacationed in Guatemala seeing, hearing and running from the fire works of a mix of Maya and Catholic beliefs proved to be one of the most endearing and amazing aspects of our experience there.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


People frequently ask me if I like having so much time off in between jobs at sea. These days I can answer with surety that I do enjoy the six months of the year which I have mostly to myself, now that so many of my mandatory training courses are completed. When I had just started sailing though it was a different situation figuring out how to spend those idle days away from work.

At first it wasn't an issue at all. I worked in sail training right out of school waiting for the ink to dry on my license. Once it had stopped smudging I went on to tankers and then back on the schooners. After a full year into my seafaring career I finnally had more than a month off which meant ample time for me to contemplate how to spend it.

This proved problematic. Even though I was often telling friends how much I liked having long vacations the truth was that I had no idea what to do with myself. I had grown so accustomed to the constant challenge and action of being at sea that everything ashore seemed a bore. This was ironic since I spent most of my time at sea telling the crew what I'd be doing as soon as I was off the boat.

I began experimenting with my vacations by living in different places and pursuing a variety of activities. Cycling, yoga, scuba diving, surfing all became new interests of mine. I wandered around Argentina a bit, spent more time in Montreal and New York, went to Spain and saw the Balearic Islands. It took a while but eventually I found a home near where I was raised and attempted to start settling a little.

Still I was vexed by an internal nagging that if I wasn't gaining sea time, paper endorsements or most importantly experience in my profession than I was loosing the head start in a race I never knew existed. This spurred me from job to job and sooner than was sane I would find myself back at sea looking for the next license.

Luckily that unrest is beginning to settle as I discover some of the finer things in life that really can only be had with ample time in one place. The best so far is a sense of community, something that I tried hard to keep intact despite my travels. After being abroad for the better part of five years walking into a cafe or a bar and being recognized is very satisfying for me.

Technology has definitely helped in this endeavor, especially since I continue going to sea. Despite how uninteresting I find daily facebook banter I really appreciate having my entire web of friends at my fingertips to update whether I'm in the same hemisphere or not.

After that doing the things I enjoy and having the time for them is a true privilege and this summer has been no exception. I've been fortunate to have a little extra time off waiting for the next job and have taken advantage of it. After sailing to Bermuda and back from hiking the highest point in Maine was top on the list and this long time desire was satisfied shorty after the schooner trip.

There is no lack of natural beauty in Northern New England. I was especially impressed by the remoteness of Baxter State Park and the immensity of Khataddins rock slides. Last year when I headed up to Baxter in late September the summit was snowed in. This year though we made it, the knife edge was as awesome as expected once the cloud cover cleard out. One foray into the woods wasn't enough so a few days later I ventured to one of the prettiest spots in New Hampshire and spent a day swimming in the frigid pools of a mountain stream I've spent days at sea dreaming about.

On the way down from those heavenly pools we stumbled upon this guy munching away in a clearing not five feet off the trail. A sizable bull that could have easily trampled me hardly paid any attention as I backed away to snap pictures from a safer distance.

No New England holiday would be complete without a canoe trip. This site, my absolute favorite, is situated a couple hundred feet from where I grew up in Maine. I was relieved to see that after ten years nothing on the island had changed and despite four years of midsummer highschool parties in this very spot the island wasn't any worse off for it. The only change was that the boat traffic had increased ten fold including one speed boat that almost swamped the canoe and all of our gear.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Building a ship

In this article from the New York Times Nicholas Kulish reports on a group of homeless men in Poland who are fabricating their own vessel to circumnavigate the world.

This article coincides with a major decision by the European Union to provide support financing for Poland's historic Gdansk shipyard. Despite the $356 million dollars being invested in the yard and it's workers two of the three slips will be closed.