Greetings from Training Resources Ltd., where good little sailors go to learn the ins and outs of crewing MSC ships. MSC stands for Military Sealift Command, which is comprised of the Navy owned, civilian crewed ships that supply the US military world-wide. They are designated by USNS, United States Navy Ship, to distinguish them from Navy crewed warships, designated by USS, United States Ship. I have crewed MSC ships before, but we need to re-certify every five years for most things, and every year for firearms.
Today we certified in firearms, and I am pleased to say I did not accidentally shoot anyone. In fact, those pirates and terrorists better watch out. Now if I could just get my Molotov cocktail/grenade throwing technique down, there wouldn’t be any more terrorists.
(P.S. I didn’t shoot anybody on purpose, either).
Wendy with A Shotgun
Terrorists Watch Out
Note the open, empty chamber. No shot in the magazine either. Guns are only loaded on the shooting range, and we were supervised by two former Navy instructors and two retired San Diego cops, all crackerjack gun guys who knew their stuff and looked out for us. I shot 231 (expert) with the 9mm and did considerable target damage with the shotgun. But I wasn’t so good at taking it apart for cleaning and then putting it back together right. I still don’t like guns much, and don’t own one.
Weird that the horrible shooting in CO., happens right when we’re learning the proper use of firearms, especially when not to use them. Rules of engagement are pretty strict on MSC ships, and on civilian ships, we’re even more limited. Shipping companies don’t want to deal with the liability issues if we accidentally shoot innocent civilians.
Next week we learn more about handling ship security and smoking out terrorists.
Original post for this blog:
Well, here ’tis. At long last, I’ve found a harbor to drop the anchor in, from my ship loaded with lying sea stories and a few truths. I write these while at sea, working as an Able Seaman (deckhand) on different kinds of cargo ships–bulk carriers for grain, coal, scrap metal and such like, container ships, car carriers, cruise ships, research vessels, and military supply ships. I post them mainly for my friends who asked if they were published, and for anyone who is interested in what goes on at sea in today’s Merchant Marine. It’s not a life everyone can handle; we’re all a little bonkers out there. Normal people do not go to sea. The hours are long, the work dangerous, and sometimes the people are not the kind you’d invite to your kid’s christening or bar mitzvah.
For those who think life at sea is full of romance and adventure, well, it isn’t and it is. If you put a whole voyage into 24 hours, you’d have 12 hours of working your butt off and getting yelled at by the Mate and the Bosun, 10 hours of sheer boredom, 1 hour and 50 minutes to try and catch up on sleep, and 10 whole minutes of romance and adventure.
So here’s my Sea Log from my last voyage, on the M/V Moku Pahu. Behind it are my other logs in reverse chronological order, most recent first. You can also find them posted on my blog, www.wjoseph924.blogspot.com Enjoy!
Wendy’s Sea Log
Moku Pahu, 4/1/12 to 5/15/12
Between China andJapan, surrounded by fishing boats. Too busy avoiding collisions to write.
A few hundred miles south of theislandofHokkaido,Japan, and no traffic for the last two days. Saw what looked like the tops of container ships but they were actually volcanic tops of a bunch of islands, which got clearer as we approached. The Mate’s been top notch, working with me on adjusting the radar, radios and other instrument displays. Some officers have an AB-is-strictly-hands-off approach, but l like getting the bridge stuff down. Plan to get my mate’s license when I’ve got the three years’ sea time for it. Got a little over a year that counts toward it now.
Got more crane ops time when we were tied up too, which is great; it’s one of those jobs that requires a steady hand, not upper body strength. Yesterday I couldn’t get a big water valve on deck open, and asked one of the guys for help. Felt better when he couldn’t get it open either, even with the big wrench; turned out the thing was frozen tight with rust and paint. Today I will be using my advantage in small size to scrunch under the anchor windlasses and clean out all the gooey crap underneath. Romance! Adventure!
I got the Chief Steward to boil up some eggs yesterday, Easter Sunday, and hid six of them for an Easter egg hunt. Didn’t think I hid them that well, but the avid hunters Cyn and David only found four. Fun to be kids again. I hid one they didn’t find under the stack of paper cups on the mess table, right under their noses. The prize is a little bag of my Reeses Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures, which I seldom share, being naturally stingy and a chocoholic.
Passed Sofu Gan again, 600 feet of rock sticking straight up but had to take that on credit this time. After a first glimpse in the distance, the fog closed in and we could see the stars light years away but not a rock four miles off.
Wed., April 11
Paint the deck! No, not that part, this one! Wrong color! Use a brush! Use a roller! Three weeks to finish? No, three days! Faster! Faster! But make it neat and pretty. What do you want, pretty or fast? Never mind. Paint! Paint your boots! Paint your coveralls! Paint your face! Black, yellow, red, green, blue, white. Whee!
With squares of newly painted gray covering various spots, the deck is starting to look like a checkerboard by Picasso.
Second Mate Liam has graduated from paper airplanes to a remote controlled helicopter. He took it down into an empty hold and it flew well—lots of space in a hold on a 750 foot ship—but it hit the hatch overhead and crashed. He thinks he might be able to fix it. I said to him while painting on deck, “Someday I too will be a mate! Isn’t that frightening?” and he said something nice. “No.”
Tossed a message in a bottle overboard tonight. It held a note, and a dollar bill with George prominently displayed. The note gave our position, 28°13.2′ N, 151°24.9′ E, and the date, said whoever found it could keep the money, and requested the finder to contact me at my email address. So we’ll see if it ever shows up again, and where. Who knows?
The Chief Engineer’s birthday is today, so we had a barbeque and cake. Liam fixed up a picture of Captain Cook with the Chief’s face, and grubby engine grease pasted in. The Chief himself is actually better looking then Cook. We warned him to be careful inHawaii, as the natives there killed Cook.
Coleridge used Capt. Cook’s best selling accounts of his round the world voyage for descriptive details in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
About, about, in reel and rout,
The death fires dances at night.
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white
The colors are the Northern lights, reflected in the sea. “About, about” is from the witch’s chant in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Sat. April 14
Titanic hits the iceberg just before midnight tonight. Wonder what sort of commemorations are going on.
I finally took a day off doing overtime today, after two weeks of 16 hour days and round the clock watches. The other two AB’s have already taken time off. I outlasted them.
Ta-da! Now I’m going back to bed.
Mon. April 16
The 14th was my niece Michelle’s birthday. Sunday the 15th I sent her a Happy Birthday email, thinking it was late, then realized that across the Date Line, it was still the 14th in theUS, so it got there on the right day. One of the nice things about yesterday being today.
AB Cody’s room sink fell off the bulkhead today. Don’t know if he hit it or was leaning against it. Weird. Those things are epoxied pretty securely. At least it didn’t hit his foot. AB Ben and I would have had to do all his work.
Tue. April 17
Message verbatim off the internet from EGC, Electronic Global Communications, which usually sends weather alerts; this one was marked “Urgent”:
NAVAREA XI WARNING
NAVAREA XI 0233/12
PIRATES INFORMATION. 151600ZAPR.
SEVEN PIRATES ARMED WITH GUNS AND KNIVES
BOARDED A TANKER UNDERWAY.
THEY THREATENED THE CREWMEMBERS, DAMAGED
THE COMMUNICATION EQUIPMENTS AND STOLE
SHIP’S CASH AND PROPERTIES AND ESCAPED.
NO INJURIES TO CREW MEMBERS.
VESSELS REQUESTED TO BE CAUTION ADVISED.
NAVAREA XI is the Singapore/Straits of Malacca Navigational Area. Haven’t had pirate activity there in quite a while. 0233 would be 2:33 amSingaporetime, when GBC received the piracy report. 151300Z is 3:15 pm, Greenwich time, when they sent the alert out. We received it on the ship via satellite at 3:48 am, nearly halfway around the world.
Wed. April 18
Normal people do not go to sea. Our QMED (Qualified Member of the Engine Dept., equivalent to an AB rating in the Deck Dept.) Cin used to roll up Hershey’s Kisses foil into little balls and stick them in her ear as a kid. She has ear trouble from it to this day. Our Chief Mate ate spaghetti through his nose as a teenager. As kids, my little brother and I would make paper airplanes, tie a string to them so we could fly them around our heads in a circle, then sail them in and out of the fireplace until they caught fire and burned. Don’t know where our parents were. Sailors are not normal people, and this aberrancy usually shows up in childhood.
Wed April 18
This is not a duplicate entry. There really is a second Wednesday on this voyage, courtesy the International Date Line. Like Groundhog Day, we get a chance to do everything over again to get it right. Don’t know if we’ll make it.
Sent April 20
Sat. April 21
We’re painting the living daylights out of the ship; in places no one ever goes, all must be spic and span, and look like new. The shipowners, the business suits, are coming aboard in Maui. Suits. Wish they’d OK another Ordinary Seaman day worker in the Deck Dept. That would help.
Mon. April 23
St. George’sday and Shakespeare’s birthday. The Mate and 2nd Mate Liam were going over the “confined space entry” paperwork for a leak in the chain locker, and I said, “Confined space entry? Come on, you guys! No sex until we make landfall!”
This is not the most politically correct business.
Wed. April 25, 2012
Drifting on purpose off of Oahu, till our sugar on Mauiis ready to be loaded on the 30th. Then we head in, fill the holds, and go to Crockett in the Bay Area to deliver the goods. Drifting saves fuel, and wear on the anchor windlass and chain. Plenty of sea room out here, southwest of Oahu, mostly in the lee of the Northeast trade winds. Gentle rolling and a nice sleep at night. Beats theSuez run. No nasty natives. Wish I could get ashore to a drug store and get some shampoo, conditioner, and hand cream. Running low, and an air drop is not likely. Now if we were running low on toilet paper . . .
Getting enough sleep is always a challenge out here. The work is continuous; there are innumerable jobs to be done, and usually someone who wants them done yesterday. Yet you can’t work too fast or with too little rest, because then accidents happen. So far this voyage we’ve had no injuries or damage. But everybody is tired. Had three cups of coffee this morning and still couldn’t get my eyes open.
Steered in hand while we were maneuvering into drifting position yesterday. From casual watch banter, the Mate’s voice went to crisp authority and mine responded in kind. Got her where we wanted her, and I was glad to steer. Doesn’t happen enough anymore. Autopilot does most of the steering when we’re at sea. We only put her in hand coming in and out of port, with the pilot aboard.
Sat. April 28
Wish we could put in to port. Feel more like taking a Hawaiian vacation than working.
Sun. April 29
It’s getting like Groundhog Day out here, continuously drifting. Makes me think of the ship that drifted in the Pacific for years till she washed up on the West Coast, with only skeletons aboard. They hadn’t been able to make landfall or meet another ship to resupply food and water, so they all starved to death. Forget what her name was, or which century it was.
We’ve started up and are heading out further from the islands so we can dump trash. Matson observes a fifty mile boundary instead of the usual twenty-five for trash dumping. Only things we can never dump are oil and plastic. Everything else can go over the side. Good thing too, as all our trash barrels are full.
Finally dumped trash.
Mon. April 30
Made official contact with the US of A this morning, and we’ve cleared customs via our agent, who came out in a water taxi off of Honolulu, and took our entrance documents in to port. Easiest Customs clearance I’ve ever seen. Pilot also came aboard, and guess what? I came in second in the pilot pool and won $50, for guessing the second closest time the pilot was officially logged aboard. Oh, goody. Now I can pay for cat food for my poor starving kitties. And the really good part was when the Matson ship Mahi Mahi hailed us as she was passing by, and told us, “Welcome home.” Nice. No more Chinese food. Hooray for the US Dept of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration of America, and all the other good people and rules that give us decent food here, with no cat bones in the ground beef!
Got thoroughly doused on the bow doing port prep, which is hauling out the mooring lines and laying them out for tie up. Lots of spray. I told Hawaiian sea god Kanaloa he can baptize us all he wants, but he’s still a pagan god and I don’t worship him so there. Was thinking of Japanese Zeros and the Arizona while passing the entrance to Pearl Harbor, and of Father Damian as we passed Molokai during port prep. And Capt. Cook too. Can’t get away from the history here. I should keep my mind on my work more.
Tied up in Kahalui. Midnight. Had to wait for my old cruise ship Pride of America to leave the dock. A little blowy with some whitecaps, about 25 knots; they waited till dark so the passengers couldn’t see the waves and get upset at the terrible sailing weather, oh horrors. You’re on a boat, folks, with bilge keels to keep it from rocking. Sailor up.
Note re Chinese American relations: the Chinese girls claim they can’t pronounce our 1st Engineer’s name. So instead of Seth Warner, he’s Sack Warmer.
Wed. May 2
Went ashore last night and got a pedicure. Ta-da! My first treat this trip. And we loaded up with stores of American grown food, includingWashington apples and potatoes. Ah, bliss! Nobody better criticize the US of A in my presence. I’ll pack them off toShanghai and have them eat Chinese garbage with God knows what in it.
Fri. May 4
Left Maui yesterday. Up at 12:30 am; secure the holds, lowering the hatch covers with the big cranes, 24 thousand tons of sugar piled high in all six holds. We smell like a Southern bakery because of the molasses in raw cane sugar. As usual some has spilled on deck and we’ll have to hose the slippery stuff off. Then cast off at 3 am, secure the lines, and head out. Up to the bridge for watch straight from the deck at 3:45; steered out mostly in hand through the watch.
At 7:20 we played chicken with a little whale watching launch, between Maui and Molokai. He was approaching from off our starboard side, which in an equal situation gives him the right of way. But when one boat is much bigger then the other, and therefore far less maneuverable, it has the right of way, and that was us. We were changing course, turning to starboard in a big circle, and at first it looked like he was going to cut astern of us, but then he changed his mind and decided to continue across our bow. I held her through the turn as the Capt. jumped up and down yelling, “I’m bigger than you are!”
Nobody flinched, and she crossed our bow with about half a mile of sea room, which is a few inches when your ship is 760 feet long and takes two miles to stop. I guarantee all the passengers on that boat were freaked at seeing a huge ship bearing down on them when we were dead ahead of them, with our bow toward them, during our slow turn. “She is going to miss us? She is, right?” Right.
Off watch at 7:45 and back to the deck right after to stow lines below. Taking lots of spray on the bow; they put me below to stow the line in the huge baskets there because little me fits best there. The first basket we stowed properly, with the line fed in through the scuttle hatch, from the winch at a regular speed, so I could stow it in concentric circles, winding it around and around in a growing coil. I got wet from the line and spray falling in anyway. The second basket they were tired of getting soaked above and I played dodgeball with cascading heaps of four inch in diameter braided line, piling it up the best I could in the basket. But it will pay out without getting tangled.
More work on deck, then afternoon watch, 4 to 8 pm, then to bed. Lots of overtime, but where did I stow my brain?
Anchored inSan FranciscoBay. Trip across a little bumpy. Last night the Captain came up and polished the 4″x6″ brass plaque on the wooden statue of Kanaloa on the bridge. I said, “I’ll do that, Cap,” but he said he’d do it himself. Only brass we have on the ship. We’ve cleaned and polished and painted her up like a real ship, and she looks and acts almost brand new. Now we’ll proceed to get her dirty again.
2nd Mate Liam is getting off soon, so I drew a cartoon of the Moku Pahu sailing under theGolden Gate Bridge, and him getting off onto a Jacob’s ladder tied to the span. Lots of people jump off, but I never heard of one climbing up.
Had one injury; AB Ben hurt his hand on the way from Hawaii and got replaced here by Cory, a new kid, good attitude, knows stuff and picks up stuff quickly. Ben was on his second stint of overtime the afternoon he slipped and hurt his hand. Our most experienced AB.
I steered her under theGolden Gate, and we had two traffic advisories. Both were for small groups of swimmers. The water here is not very warm, and it was 7 am, but some people do weird things. They couldn’t have stayed home and helped with Mother’s Day breakfast in bed? One group was swimming beneath the bridge span from south to north, and another was going from Alcatraz south to somewhere. Both paths went across our course, but we didn’t run over anybody. Or maybe they just didn’t scream loud enough to hear. Nobody jumped from the bridge this time, and a kayaker wisely stayed put on our starboard side so he could cross astern of us. On a sunny day the windsurfers like to do suicide runs across our bow. So many windsurfers. So little time.
Lost Track of Time
We tied up a few days later in Crockett at the C&H plant to unload the sugar. Crockett’s at the delta of the Sacramento River, at the north end of San Francisco Bay. We have to open the holds with our big cranes, and from fifty feet up the sugar in the hold looks like Arizona, pale brownish, and falls away in scooped out areas like the Grand Canyon. Other places it looks like sand dunes and you expect the Sheik of Araby to materialize. There is a temptation to dive out the crane cab window into a seeming soft cloud of sand below, but I yielded not to temptation. The dockside unloaders look like something out of Star Wars, big contraptions that scoop/vacuum the stuff up and send it onto a conveyer belt to be processed in the plant.
The C&H plant here was built before and survived the 1906 earthquake, and looks it. Great for a night shoot at a creepy old factory.
Sun. May 20
Surprised to learn there was an annular eclipse today, conveniently scheduled to start right after we got off at 5 pm. Very bright on the water, and a weird bright gray light at its max. The engineers let us use their welder’s masks to look at it directly without frying our retinas. Very cool view. First annular I’ve ever seen, the sun a nearly complete bright ring around the moon.
Tues. May 22
Finally got her unloaded and tied up at her layup berth inSan Francisco. I tarred the cogs on the anchor winch the last time we pulled up the hook, and it took half an hour to get the stuff out of the unprotected parts of my epidermis. Oh joy. We gave our leftover stores to the Delancey Street Restaurant, which trains people just out of prison in the restaurant business. A couple of nice felons came to pick it up. Then onto the plane and back to LA and I am going to bed now. Good night, all. This voyage is ended; finished with writing.
Sent May 25, 2012
Wendy’s Sea Log – Matson’s ITB, the M/V Moku Pahu, 12-16-11 to 2-5-12
Tied up at RichlandinSan FranciscoBay, taking on garbage. Literally. We’re ferrying a load of scrap metal across the Pacific, to make toys for all ages which they then ship back to sell to us. Destinations, according to the articles I signed, include “one or more ports in theFar East, for a period of not more than six months.” A little over a month is what it sounds like. We’re headed forChinaandKorea, most likelyShanghaiandPusan, and will leave the ship in the shipyard at one of those ports for some regular required maintenance, then fly home.
We loaded a bunch of tons of finely macerated scrap, each piece about the size of a cell phone, until it rose in one or two steep heaps in the hold. Then we hooked up a caterpillar bulldozer to one of our three big cargo cranes, hoisted it up and lowered it onto the heap. The driver was strapped in for the ride, and just as the dozer was brushing the top of the heap, he started her up and began pushing the heap down, still hooked to the crane and using it to swing him this way and that, kind of like “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Then we set him down on as level a place as there was, he unhooked the crane straps, and started pushing the scrap around to level it off so we’ll be balanced, on an even keel and not listing from being too heavy on one side or the other. But consider this: the guy is literally teetering on this steep hill of rusty metal, making small avalanches as he works, inches from either being buried alive or flipped over, and capsizing a caterpillar rig is not something I want to think about.
When the scrap was all leveled, we hoisted him out and into the next hold, for four holds. He did this for a day and a night, without many breaks, then we hoisted him back up and onto the dock. If the cat had been red, it would have looked like Santa’s sleigh up there.
Whatever they pay that guy, it ain’t enough. Or maybe he’s just mental.
The Moku Pahu is an ITB, an Integrated Tug Barge, the first one I’ve sailed on. The stern of the barge is cut out so the bow of the tug fits into it, and they’re held together with hydraulic link arms. From a distance she looks like a regular ship. We were down where they join today, greasing the gear that holds her together. The hydraulic link arms can lift straight up or back and forth.
The nice part about this ship is that it takes longer to fill her holds than it does to load container ships, so maybe we’ll get some time ashore.
Off the coast of southernCalifornia.
Left San FranciscoBayat 0130 after a day of deck work. I took her out; no steering problems. Went forward at 0400 after watch to help with securing the anchor. Then crashed in my clothes till noon watch; I’m on the 12 to 4.
Scraping the sugar gunk from the hatch seals was a new one for me; this boat’s last cargo was cane sugar, and she’s 660 feet long with six holds, so that’s a lot of sugar. Some sugar spills during loading and unloading, and it looks like dirty corn snow when it clumps up around the hatches. Underneath, it’s super gooey. Got covered with the stuff all over and felt like the Sugar Plum Fairy. Or a candy cane. Or a popsicle. Or the time I picked pie cherries onVashon Island. Pie cherries are thin skinned and break easily, so by the end of the day I was a walking, sticky piece of cherry pie.
Beautiful day. 2nd Mate Liam came up to the bridge for noon watch looking like a pooch somebody’d just dragged out of the water. Nice guy, easy to talk to, and a musician too, who likes some of the same stuff I do, so watch should go well. Saw a whale blow, and its back slightly surfaced off of Pt. Sur. Probably a gray whale; didn’t see a dorsal fin. Don’t want to hit any whales. It’s illegal, and no fun for the ship or the whale.
We were to bunker (fuel) in San Francisco Bay but they didn’t the right kind of ignitable propulsive hydrocarbon we needed, so we’re on our way down to LA to bunker there. It’ll be at anchor, so no shore leave. I think it’ll take about 12 hours, so we’ll have another one am departure. My watch again.
By the way, the guys on this boat are the best looking bunch I’ve seen yet, mostly 20 and 30-somethings. Pity I’m not a little younger.
In Richmond, north of Oaklandin San FranciscoBay, we tied up across from the USS Iowa, the retired battleship that had the guns blow up on her a few years back. A grand warhorse in her day, she looks small now, and her hull is rusty, in need of a lot of TLC with a needle gun and sandblaster. She’s coming down to San Pedro when she’s refurbished and will tie up permanently near the SS Lane Victory, the WWII cargo ship I’ve volunteered on. The Lane people are happy; the Iowa will be a draw, so more people will be coming around to see the Lane too, and sign up for one of her WWII cruises. The Iowa doesn’t offer that.
We dropped anchor inLong BeachHarborfor bunkering; the bunker barge came out to us to tie up alongside. So, no shore leave. Almost could have roped my guitar in from my room inWilmingtonwith a heaving line.
Peace on Earth.
Found a Christmas stocking on my door in the morning, with a bottle of Pilsner and assorted candy inside. Pity I don’t like beer, but it was one of those “aw, how nice” moments. Everyone on the ship got a stocking. Steered the ship out ofLong BeachHarborat 1:30 am, trying not to let anybody see me falling asleep at the wheel. Got her out without mishap and on course except for a three degree deviation outside the harbor breakwater, but got that corrected.
Now it looks like we’ll be going straight to the dock/shipyard in Nantong, on the Yangtze, instead of the port further up as originally planned. About a three hour drive to Shanghai, so here’s hoping for shore leave. My watch partner, 2nd Mate Liam, said something awfully nice today re my being a woman trying to hold her own in this business: “I take my hat off to you.” Ah. gee!
We have a pool going for the International Date Line. $10 a guess, and whoever gets the right minute we cross the Line wins.
New Year’s Eve. Barbecue on the aft deck. We landed two mahi mahi this morning, so I wrote it up for the ship’s paper:
Sailors on board the M/V Moku Pahu fought of a massive assault by an army of invading mahi mahi today. The attack was apparently in retaliation for the deaths of two outstanding members of the local mahi mahi school, at the hands of the Moku Pahu crew.
Singled out for heroic conduct were Wiper Abdul, Chief Mate Rob, and Chief Steward Marcus, who fought bravely at the aft lines, and alert 3rd Mate Beau, who warned of the fishy armada’s approach.
There were no crew casualties. The number of fish casualties will be made available as soon as the Chief Steward and Chief Cook finish counting and freezing them.
Big blow and rollers began early am; sun out though, air fresh, and I LOVE MY JOB! No one allowed on the aft deck as we’re pitching and taking water over the rails there.
Wind brisk and plenty of whitecaps, but lots of deep blue too. We have no anemometer on this ship—why is an unanswered question—but it looks to be blowing 25-30 kt., over the port bow. Lots of arcing white spray over the forward #1 hold. Was working with the Bosun up there earlier; another deckie there now, helping secure the huge steel cable bridle for lifting containers, inside the #1 crane tower. Hard work.
The Moku Pahu’s stern is cut away in the center, so her hull there extends out on both sides, like catamaran pontoons. From one side you can watch the propeller working beneath the other side, making light blue sliced curves under water. Unique view.
Gone south from 30° latitude to 28°; amazing what a difference in temperature a couple of degrees makes. 76° now, at 1330, from the 50’s a few days ago. My watch partner Liam tried yet another paper airplane from the bridge, this one made from a cardboard box. So-so flight. The random sized pieces of cardboard he tossed over next flew just as well.
Our oxygen measuring gizmo decided to go Beep Beep all night long, so it ended up in the Mate’s office where it wouldn’t bother anybody. If we’d kept it on the bridge, the scenario would have gone like this:
Mate. Bring her over to 270° (BEEP BEEP)
AB. What was that? (BEEP BEEP) Say again? (BEEP BEEP)
Mate. 2-7-0 (BEEP BEEP)
Mate. No, 2-7 (BEEP BEEP) zero.
AB. 2-7-0. Right. She’s (BEEP BEEP) drifting to port (BEEP BEEP).
Mate. No, not (BEEP BEEP) 2-3-4!
AB. Roger that, (BEEP BEEP) bringing her to 2-3-4.
Mate. No, (BEEP BEEP) no!
Beeper ends up in the drink.
Course: 270°, due west
Speed: 6 kt.
Just over the Big Island of Hawaii about 100 miles to the south. Only sign of land is a seabird or two sighted. No traffic for quite a while. Rising and falling on 40’ swells, coming at us from about 330°, NW by N. We were heading more straight on to them but that means that when there’s a swell under the bow and one under the stern, there might be nothing but air beneath us midships. With no water supporting us there, and with tons of scrap metal in our holds just above, the hull and keel could literally break in two. The Captain said, “I don’t like breaking,” and ordered a course change so we’d be taking the swells more diagonally and riding along their sides more, rather than just hitting the tops.
A three foot high wood statue of Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the sea, stands on the bridge. I’ve abstained from rubbing his head for luck. No way, my Judeo-Christian and Muslim friends, is this good Jewish Catholic girl going to be accused of idol worship. To the pagans out there, my regrets.
Fire drill today. Helped squad partner Cody get attired in his firefighting gear, and tended the hose. Went well. Fires at sea are not nice so we drill once a week.
Been spending the last four mornings doing overtime in the three big cargo cranes on deck. They’re hydraulic, which means they leak a lot as the hydraulic fluid is under a lot of pressure when they lift tons of cargo. So somebody has to go up and clean up the stuff that leaks under the winches. Who do you send to scrounge around in a very small space, hitting your head a given thing, getting drenched with very slippery stuff, and swabbing out all that gooey goo? A big tough guy sailor dude with shoulders the size of a Suburban? Nope.
They send scrawny little me.
I can get into the little places where the big guys don’t fit. The winches are about halfway up the 60 foot crane towers, on platforms with a two inch coaming around them. The platform under Winch #1 had a lot of filthy sludge. Winch #2 had clear hydraulic fluid, and not much of it. Winch #3’s platform was nearly full with mostly clear fluid. Noah’s ark would have floated in it. It’s the consistency of corn syrup, or the oil you put in your car. The area of each platform is roughly 7×7 feet, and I filled two five gallon buckets with fluid and four trash bags with sopping diapers from the three cranes, scooping up the goo with a scooper made from the bottom of a plastic gallon jug. Not the fastest cleaning technique.
These diapers, by the way, are not the kind you put on babies; they are made of soft adherent material that makes grease stick to it. Gets pretty goopy. Oh, and the winches with their wound up cables are themselves tarry with grime, which sticks to you if you brush up against it. We can’t send photo attachments with this ship email, so when I get home I’ll email pix of me after four days of this little job. This will be to quash any notions that working at sea is glamorous or romantic. Well it is in a way, but it’s pretty filthy too. You’ll see.
I gave up on the idea of washing my winch cleaning clothes and threw them in the HazMat (Hazardous Material) barrel.
On noon to 1600 watch:
Course: Steering 275° to make good a true course of 283°, countering the wind and seas, which are trying to throw us off course.
Speed: 7.3 kt.
Wind: 27 kt., Beaufort Force 6
Waves: 10’, coming from 330°, off the port bow.
Temp: 75° F.
Choppy swell; magnificent white horses off the port bow. Bumpy ride. Our twin sterns have dipped under a few times.
My Moku Pahu t-shirt boasts that she’s delivered over 8 million tons of C&H Sugar since 1983, but the Chief Steward still has to buy our bags of C&H, the same as the other stores.
The International Date Line looms ahead. Today the notice board in the mess read, “Retard clocks one hour tonight, and go from Monday to Wednesday. Skip Tuesday.”
We won’t actually cross the Date Line till around 1930 (7:30 pm) tonight. So if we haven’t crossed the Line yet, is it still Tuesday? Nope. The Captain said it’s Wednesday, so Wednesday it is. Our daily enews printout says it’s Tuesday, however. This means that from now till the end of the voyage, we’ll be getting yesterday’s news.
Sloooooow boat toChina. We’ve been running a lot of experiments in aerodynamics from the bridge wings. So far we’ve been averaging 16 paper airplanes in any given 24 hour period. As long as we don’t make them out of navigation charts, we’re OK. Results: one semi-parachute action, one impressive wave skimmer, and a lot of loop-the-loops, tumbling tumbleweeds, and nose dives into the drink. Second Mate Liam makes planes that fly better than mine. Damn.
Got a notice that the Russians’ Phobos Grunt satellite (I didn’t name it) will be re-entering the atmosphere off ofJapanbetween Jan. 14 and 16, and that not all the pieces will burn up in the atmosphere. Don’t think any will come this far out. But will be watching.
A weather system began right over us today. Sprung out of nowhere; nothing in the weather report about it. Supposed to be clear and smooth, with the wind and waves out of the northwest. Well this morning the chop picked up, wind and waves out of the southwest, and the barometer did a swan dive into a flat tire, a bungee jump that didn’t come back up, wheeeeeeeeee-oomph.
The gyro steering couldn’t hold our course on just the starboard engine at 4.5 kts, so we went to hand steering. It was like trying to drive a steam roller uphill and backwards through an avalanche. But I did better than the gyro, human being better than the machine once again, yes! Hard over and she took a good five minutes to begin to turn. Wind was blowing over 40 kt, bumpy ride, and the Captain came up to the bridge and took the con till the engineers got the second engine, port side, up and running to give us ten kts. OK now but still bumpy, and no one knows what this storm’s going to do. It wasn’t on the chart.
Midnight to 0400
Still rough. Times like this make you think about not knowing if, when you go to bed, it’ll be your last night on earth. No fear among the crew and nothing spoken, but with our load of tons of iron and steel, one flooded hold could drop us under the water like a stone before the alarms got going. Said a Hail Mary as I came off watch.
0700. Thank you Mother of God. We’re still chugging. And without help from our pagan idol on the bridge, Hawaiian sea god Kanaloa. The Captain told the story of a deckie who always brought a McDonald’s Happy Meal aboard to lay at Kanaloa’s feet, everything except the Coke, which the deckie drank. For the three months the guy was here, they had perfect weather. Then the guy left, no one brought Kanaloa Happy Meals any more, and the weather turned nasty. Real nasty.
Over the last few days, Kanaloa actually came a little loose from his pretty secure mount by the Captain’s chair. But he’s been bolted there so long, stuck in one place, maybe he just wanted to stretch his legs a bit, you know?
We have all filled out our declarations for Chinese Customs. If you forget to include one of your CD’s or DVD’s in your declaration, they can confiscate it. They can search your room when they come aboard (oh police states!) and they must make juicy hauls from forgetful people. Only cigarettes are listed to declare under tobacco products. Apparently no one inChinasmokes cigars or pipes, much less chews. Chewing seems to be an entirely American habit. Liam has his chewing tobacco in little round, clearly labeled tins, but there is the interesting possibility that the Customs guys might think it was some other kind of herb, and undeclared, too. We’ll see what happens.
Our weather system yesterday never did show up in NOAA’s official weather report.
Permit me to introduce Honorable Sofu Gan. “Gan” means “rock” in Japanese, and I don’t know what “Sofu” means. Black and stark, it sticks straight up 300 feet out of the water, and looks like a tower out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, maybe Barad Dûr. Nothing else around for hundreds of miles.Japan claims sovereignty, which effectively extends her territorial fishing waters 1000 miles from the main islands, including the 200 miles around Sofu Gan. To protect her fishing rights,Japan stations a destroyer in the near vicinity of the Gan. No sign of her, but we have taken in our fishing lines astern. Not a good idea to tick off a warship. With sunrays around the Gan coming through rain clouds, it really looks like we’re sailing into a mythological world. We passed within three miles of her. Up close from one angle she looks like a bare foot with a pointed toe, and from another the Virgin Mary in a robe, holding the infant Jesus. Didn’t see any pilgrims around though.
Things get crazy if you’re too long at sea. Our Bosun did a dance on the bridge today, after washing down the bridge wings—the open-to-the-weather parts of the bridge that stick out to port and starboard—pretending he was the Scrubbing Bubbles bubblehead guy. 2nd Mate Liam and I stepped back a little.
I finally got one of my paper airplanes to fly well off the bridge wing, and so made a new business card:
Wendy’s Aeronautical Engineering&
Today was a bit blustery, everyone in foul weather gear on deck, and we did port prep, laying out the mooring lines where they’ll be needed for tie-up. Got splashed a bit in the bow wash. Force 8 conditions, ship pitching, lots of spray, wind about 38 kt. Looks like we’ll be anchoring out, then picking up the pilot tomorrow morning, then anchoring again upriver for the night, and so into port on Friday.
2nd Mate Liam wore his white faced ski mask on deck, and it did look a little like ceramic, like the Phantom of the Opera’s mask. Great. So I’m sailing around with the Phantom of the Opera and the Scrubbing Bubbles guy.
What do you get if you have an eye splice with many good tucks in the splice, and throw it into a hot skillet? Friar Tucks!
The Chief just started up the starboard engine! We have both engines going now! No more 6 kts! Steering that actually responds! Yippee!
Nearing the anchorage outsideShanghai. 32 days at sea and we’re almost there. The Chinese were using Channel 16 as a party line, the way they do in theMideast, though it’s only supposed to be used for emergencies. Had a couple of guys who thought they were singers. Ouch. They like rap here. Sounded like one guy was saying Mao tse Dung/ Mao you suck. Maybe not. It was all in Mandarin. The Captain was giving his interpretations. He speaks no Mandarin. I actually spent the last watch either on the helm or spotting boats and calling positions, as a good helmsperson and lookout does, instead of doing the crossword puzzle because of no traffic for a hundred miles.
Moku Pahu Blues
Woke up this morning
Too early for light
Woke up this morning
Didn’t hardly sleep last night
On the Moku Pahu
My heart’s delight
On the Moku Pahu
Can’t believe that girl
On the Moku Pahu
All around the world
She’ll give you a ride
At six knots, for the rest of your life
We got mud on the anchor
Trying to spray it down
Got mud on the anchor
Every link, all around
On the Moku Pahu
She’s a muddy machine
She’s a slow boat toChina
Halfway round the world
Stuff ain’t there and don’t work
But we gotta come through
She’ll eat up your insides
She’s a real mean girl
Lower the lifeboat
Can’t get it back
You lower that lifeboat
She’ll put you on the rack
She’ll take off your fingers
Bring your brains home in a sack
We run out of taters
No rice in the pot
We got no more milk now
Just keeping the pasta hot
If we run out of coffee
Someone’s gonna get shot
Hey reservation lady
Get me a ticket today
I’d give all my money
If I could fly away
But on the Moku Pahu
I’m gonna stay
Made port in Jiangyin at 2 pm, about 40 miles up the Yangtze fromNantong, where the shipyard is. Here we’ll be discharging our cargo. Nothing but murky yellow haze up the river; hazy horizon, hazy everything. How can people live in this stuff and never see blue sky? I need the Northwest. I suspect the real reason we can’t throw anything over the side into the filthy water is that the Yangtze would rear up and bite back. Temperature in the 40’s, and drizzly.
Last night we came upriver to a continual fireworks show, on both sides. Unbelievable. They celebrate Chinese New Year for two weeks here. Tomorrow is the last day.
While I was on the helm today, the Chinese pilot said, “Right ten tee,” which I thought was “Right ten degrees,” but he meant “Right twenty.” I said, “Right twenty,” stressing the “w” so he’d get it, but his pronunciation stayed the same.
Went into town today, past unsmiling Customs guys at the dock entrance. Thought the car that came was the shuttle to the Seaman’s Club but it went to a place called Fang Fang, a Seaman’s store with jackets, cell phones, Chinese souvenirs, and a bar upstairs. The coats were name brand but may have been pirated. No computers for Internet access. The 30-ish proprietress pulled me into a section with watches and electrical toys. I changed some dollars to yuan and bought some ceramic chopsticks. The Fang Fang lady was very forward and pushy, a real hustler. She’d fit in inNew York. Capitalism seems alive and well at her Fang Fang store, but don’t know if she owns the business or if the state has a stake in it. There were a number of small shops and grocers on the street but the area was pretty tumbledown.
Then the Fang Fang lady said she was going into the city, downtown, where the shopping was and where I thought the actual Seaman’s Center was. Passed a big Sheraton on the way. Went to two dept stores, which had pretty good Western style girl power stuff, and lots of people were out shopping though it was cold and rainy. The economy is good when girls are buying frou frou stuff.
Straight black hair is the norm here, and most of the kids stared at my curly brown hair in wonderment. Might have been the first time these kids had seen a real live Westerner with hair like mine.
Finally made it to the Seaman’s Club after dinner, upstatirs in a sleazy old warehouse with a bar and small store, plus a massage room. Only the bar and massage room were heated. The 20-ish proprietress here was a competitor to the Fang Fang lady and said her stuff was no good. Both spoke good English. There were two bar girls, “We both virgins!” Five of us from the ship waited while one bought a phone card and another got a massage, fully clothed, with the door open. We left about 8:30 pm. Understand the place gets going around midnight.
The Chief Engineer once spent two months here and had to go to the hospital with breathing problems. It’s like trying to breathe through a stuffy blanket here. Good thing we’re leaving in a few days. Think I’ll get a chest x-ray when I get back just to make sure I haven’t got brought back some of the atmosphere inside. Anybody out there looking to adopt, adopt a Chinese girl. Baby girls aren’t wanted here and it will get them out of this poison.
BLOWOUT ON THE STARBOARD QUARTER
Never thought I’d prefer Jiangyin air to an alternative. Just after 9 am today, a rusty old fuel pipeline on deck cracked and dumped 25 gallons of goo on the starboard quarter of the barge. None went over the side into the water, so it wasn’t officially a spill, just a mess. A real mess. The fuel oil we use is about the consistency of molasses in the fridge, and the stuff on deck was about an inch thick. All the deckies were out in force, just when I thought I was going to have a nice morning inside, sweeping and swabbing the main deck passageways. Outside, it was 30-something degrees with a wind blowing.
We scraped and wiped and cursed and wiped and cursed and got that awful stuff off our deck. Used diesel and paint thinner to loosen it up and make it more wipe-able. Took a couple of hours, and they had to rotate people inside to warm their hands up when frostbite threatened. But the worst was the fumes. Everyone was coughing, and at the end I felt like throwing up. I know what a bird in an oil spill feels like.
We get an extra $16 an hour for helping to clean up oil messes, but I never heard of anyone causing a spill for a lousy 32 bucks. We also saved the ship thousands of dollars in oil spill fines.
The air in Jiangyin, by the way, was actually pretty nice today. A high pressure area had moved in, there was blue sky, and it only looked like a moderately smoggy LA day.
This job still beats working at McDonald’s, but not by much.
In home port now and no doubt have TB, lung cancer, bronchial pneumonia, emphysema, and one of those little creatures from Aliens growing inside. Found out that the Fang Fang lady actually owns her store and pays a business tax to the state. Bigger businesses are apparently state run and owned. Saw numerous employees at the bigger stores standing around without much to do, but this way everyone inChina has a job.
On the cab ride to the airport, AB Cody had us in stitches with his “conversation” with the driver. Cody would say something to him in English, he’d respond with something in Chinese, and neither one knew the other’s language but both acted like they did.
Remember about adopting a girl from a toxic town like Jiangyin,Nantong, orShanghaiinChina.
The official log entry for the end of the voyage is “Finished with engines.” So, this is AB Wendy, logging off: Finished with writing.