Monday, April 18, 2011

Open Water

Looking out my office window today I could see the last pair of green and red buoys marking the channel to Fort Sumter range. For the next ten days these channel buoys will be the last vestiges of shallow water. The only other objects afloat such as ODAS buoys for weather forecasting or DART buoys for tsunami detection are found in deeper water on the edge of the continental shelf.

If you imagine what lies beneath the waves when going to sea then leaving the continental shelf gives the impression of taking off in flight. The bottom drastically recedes from the surface making room for abyssal plains and mid atlantic mountains. Miles of water fill the void between our tiny hull and the darkness of the unseen ocean floor.

With our speed reduced for the right whale seasonal management area off the Carolinas the buoys slowly fell astern lending to an overwhelming sense of relief. I've been onboard the ship for twenty days now and have had no more than 72 hours at sea in-between Texas and Florida, otherwise it's been in and out of ports on the east coast non stop. Three strait weeks of port calls makes time fly but it's tiring. Port means cargo and with the support of the third and second mates it is a lot of work facilitating the safe and efficient loading of our ship. Now with a sizable 12,000 metric tons of cargo onboard we are ready to begin the Atlantic crossing and head for the Strait of Gibraltar.

During pilotages in two different east coast ports I saw pilots using an Ipad as an electronic chart. Running NOAA charts through the iNavX application in conjunction with a wireless signal fed by our own AIS the pilots were receiving accurate GPS position, speed and course data for our vessel and surrounding vessels fitted with AIS. I thought that was a pretty novel use of the latest device from Apple.

It looks like I've lucked out on the crewing end for this trip. The boatswain, who arrived not with one or two seabags but an entire Uhaul truck stuffed with all his belongings including furniture is enthusiastic despite his apparent homelessness. He's the first Boatswain I've had that kept a work log tracking each crew member's hours and jobs on overtime.

He also is a bit of a nut when it comes to tactical police gear which he revealed one coffee break when showing off a pair of SWAT team goggles. "I got these on store credit" he bragged to one of the day men. "Why do you have those?" someone asked. "Because the guy who owns the store didn't have enough change when I bought my taser...and they're awesome" he boasted holding them up for all to see. Okay, but you're a boatswain, not a hostage negotiator I thought. "I'll drop a thousand bucks on this stuff when I'm at home" he continued. Possibly a contributing factor to why he's homeless? I guess we all have our vices.

When it comes to seafarers I have learned not to judge people by their actions ashore. If you choose on your own time to spend your money on women and booze, pick fights in bars or use it to dress up like you're in the special forces it's your business as long as you pull your own weight at sea and as the saying goes, hand, reef and steer then that's good enough for me. Just don't run out on a hooker as I was assured by an AB from Fall River that this brings the heaviest of weather.

The rest of the crew appears hard working and interested in overtime. Several of the unlicensed are return crew and most of the officers have now been onboard for an entire year so it should be a huge improvement from my first trip when I was burdened with one complete sociopath and a schizophrenic.

In other news the large upper deck lounge and reception area has been transformed from a disused venue for schmoozing port officials with Becks beer and Aquavit, which are no longer allowed on board, to the senior officers entertainment center, guests by invitation only. The Captain and Chief wall mounted a 52 inch flat screen TV with surround sound and DVD player plus an Xbox. There is a seating arrangement diagram taped to the bulkhead and ample room for all the officers onboard to partake in movie time which begins promptly at 2000 every night. Lunch and coffee breaks are reserved for Halo.

My girlfriend for one reason or another did not greet this improvement with as much enthusiasm as I had hoped. Apparently when I'm at sea she pictures me reading Herman Melville as I swing from my hammock, knocking together ditty bags and rope buckets and learning sea shanties on the guitar. While I certainly do all those things I also enjoy having some of the comforts of life on the beach at work such as rotting my mind with video games from time to time. Something I've gotten much better at with the help of her child.

Everyone on the ship is bracing for a long trip. There is talk about a stop on the eastern coast of India and there will most likely be a shipyard somewhere in the far east. I'm focused on getting home for a camping trip in July so as long as that happens all else will fall into it's right place.

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