About Me

A slightly over-educated sailor sharing the wet and dry sides of his life.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Bad News From Home

Major Bummer!  I called home from Sri Lanka and could hear in Margaret's voice that something was wrong.  Apparently, two days ago, Wanda the cat was hit by a car and was found in a neighbor's yard.  She's the cat featured near the beginning of my blog, back in June or July.  I was shocked and dumbfounded, as Wanda seemed too sharp to allow that to happen.  My theory is that it was a hybrid car that did her in.  I say that because she grew up near busy intersections (46th and Fremont Ave in Seattle) and never got in trouble.  She was used to traffic.  Well, I should stop with that blathering, as I'll only get more depressed.  I know it will really hit me when I return home in two and a half weeks and not have her greet me. 

That enough for me for now.  The ship will be leaving Sri Lanka early tomorrow morning.  Might as well sign off.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back In the Orient Again: Banana Port Control, Jamming on the Uk e, Jack Tar Guilty and Fined, and Seafarers Club WiFi Bandwidth

Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been kind of distracted lately. Yes, "The Blue Screen of Death" and the task of rebuilding my hard-drive. Of course, that only takes up so much time, but it's more about finding out
what no longer can be done, due to lost codecs and other items installed through 6 years of updates to resident software. 

Another distraction that has kept me away from blogging is that I've been trying to learn the folk song, "Wayfaring Stranger" on the ukulele. The chords aren't that difficult to learn and get right. What is hard is memorizing all the lyrics. There isn't really that much when it comes to the number of words and verses. The problem is with the regional turns of phrase. As a speaker of the West Coast dialect of American Standard English, my language habits make me want to resort to words not in the song to say the same thing. This is a big No-No when you have end-rhymes. I actually have a photo copy of the lyrics in my pocket as I type. If I wasn't so tired all the time, I probably would have had this task completed by now.  At least the song sounds like it was meant to be played on the uke. Since the song is about someone looking forward to dying and minor chords sound brittle when played on a ukulele, it really works. 

The ship is currently heading for Singapore, having finished with Jebel Ali this morning. The passage through the Med and the Suez Canal all went well.  The passage through the Straits of Hormuz (between Iran to the north and Oman and U.A.E. to the south) gave the night watches a heavy dose of Banana Radio. The Filipinos, Pakistanis, Indians, and others were out in full force insulting each other over Channel 16 ("I can't see you, but I can smell you."). There will be more of that, as the ship exits the Persian Gulf. Fujairah, U.A.E. has an incredible number of ships sitting at anchor there. Basically, at night is when the stars of "Banana Port Control" come out. I just wish these clowns didn't jam-up the frequency reserved for ship-to-ship hailing.

Jebel Ali went as well as one can hope for. I went to the Seafarer's club again and finally managed to get online with my laptop. The WiFi system was easy enough to connect through with; however, with all the people there with laptops being online, the speed of the broadband connection was reduced significantly. This was very apparent when loading web pages and attempting to navigate through my Hotmail account. Often images failed to load. When I visited Boing Boing, download time was long and many image boxes remained blank after the Internet browser indicated it was finished loading. One other thing I discovered was that the videos I uploaded to my blog are presently missing. I don't know if the fault was with my computer's browser of if it's with my blog. Either way, I have no way of knowing at this point. I am bummed.

Another killer to the online experience was that my computer's processing power was distracted by its need for updating. Imagine all those seafarers' laptops doing the same thing, because we've all been at sea and away from an Internet connection for the past month or so. Now imagine the drain to bandwidth. Flashback to dial-up, anyone?

One more thing about the Club: The band was back again. The big difference was that there was a new girl on stage. I should have spent some time taking them in, but the Internet took priority and two of my shipmates wanted to go back to the ship as soon as they were done online. Geez, what's with this new generation? What ever happened to sitting around in a bar and knocking back a few cold ones and BS'ing until closing? Umm... How about the amount of cig smoke in the room and the need for sleep? There you go.

The latest word on the sailor who was taken into custody four months ago, is that he was declared guilty of whatever it was they charged him for (Bad-mouthing the country?) and fined $2700.00. Since there are still more formalities that need to move forward, he's still in custody. Fortunately, he has been staying in an extended-stay hotel suite somewhere--instead of jail. At this point, no one knows how much long it will be. For some reason, something tells me that I'll make it home before he does.  Since the ship finished cargo way ahead of schedule, we were called out at 0345. Unfortunately, that turned out to be premature. More trucks with containers kept appearing at the last minute, prolonging our stay by more than an hour. An then, the pilot took forever to arrive at the ship. In the end, we didn't get underway until after 0600. Unbelievable! So I now have to go to bed to make up for that loss of sleep. No, it's more like I NEED to. 

So that's it. Good night for now. By the way: Less than a month to go before I'm home!!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Grim Tidings...? or "The Blue Screen of Death Strikes Again!!!"

I can't believe it's happening. My Gateway notebook computer finally has
shown me the blue screen of death. It's been six years since I bought it,
and--after all the wheezing and puffing it has exhibited to me over the last
couple of years--it finally decided to wave the blue flag. Well, instead of
letting it die a dignified death, I decided to resusitate the coma victim.
I am re-formatting the hard-drive. I accept the ugly fate of amnesia in the
name of preserving the body. Re-education might restore the memory, but I
realize that this creature will never be the same. It will be like the mind
of a child inserted into a body in mid-life crisis. I did save all the "My
Documents" folder in an external hard drive or thumb drive. Somewhere. So
hope springs eternal.

I return to my stateroom/the patient's quarters to assess the progress.
Wish us well.


Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

Are we surprised that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, or what? I
have to laugh, as I know there are a lot of detractors out there who are
gnashing their teeth. Still, it's safe to say that what he was recognized for was his reaching out to the international community and for his respectful tone. In other words, the recognition is more for how he is
going about things than for what he has accomplished. From what I've read in the NY Times Digest, it would seem that this is a point that Obama's critics miss completely. Then again, this is also the same thing the Bush
Adminstration failed to grasp while they held the reins. There you go.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Graffiti-Style Street Art in Singapore

Here's some pictures of some Singapore urban art.  The first one is taxi dashboard art.  I really dig the strange, featureless smiley doll sitting above the Jesus cross word.  For some reason it makes me think of Karl Marx saying that religion is the opium for the masses.

The following pics are of the only instance of street art I've seen in Singapore.  I think I saw these before at either Boingboing.net or the Wooster Collective website.  I highly recommend both.

This last one made me laugh.  Like it makes the joke:  What does Count Dracula and a vacuum cleaner have in common?  They both suck."  Of course, you are not laughing.  I'm not disappointed by that, you know. 

Well I hope you enjoyed the pics.  I hope to figure out more to post by the time I reach Jebel Ali and Singapore.  Certainly some of the new guys in the Deck Gang, eh? 


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Minor Update: Heading Westbound Across the Atlantic

September 20, 2003

The ship is clear of the Mediterranean and heading across the Atlantic, back
to New York's Staten Island. We've received notice of the new guys for the
Deck Department. I've sailed with two of the guys before, so I'm happy to
see them again. Both Big Mike Orosz and Dave Shands are good people. The
Bosun is new to me, but Norm vouches for him. That is a good thing.
Captain Carubia will be back for next trip, but we will be getting a new
Chief Mate. The Mate who normally is scheduled for this interval sailed as
relief captain for this trip. Bill Westrum also got promoted to the captain
slot on the APL Japan, so that explains the opening here. Additionally,
Captain Diederiks would normally be here for the interval of next trip,
except that he decided to retire. As his replacement, Captain Reynolds,
from the APL Thailand, will be promoted to this ship. This is a promotion,
because the C-10's pay at a higher rate for captains and mates than the

These changes will be interesting, as it will significantly change the scene
for the Truman. I hope to keep in touch with the guys who will remain
behind here after I leave in November. I hope to return here, when I ship
again in March. If the word gets out too much that the Truman is a good
ship--which it is--then I can expect some A-books to start getting in my
way. All three of the sailors coming to this ship are A-books, so the
change just might be at hand. My fingers are crossed that this is only an
accidental blip on the radar screen of the future. It's hard enough finding
a good ship these days. APL added two re-flagged ships for the S.U.P. to
this route. Unfortunately, they pay at a lower rate than the existing ships
we have. Worse than that, the days you have to work on those ships for
medical benefits is bad. There, you have to return to work two months after
get off, least you lose your benefits. Considering that you have to work 5
½ months (three trips) to get your unemployment and transportation home, you
are getting a very raw deal. After three trips, you really have no desire
to return until close to four months have passed. Since I view the
President Polk as a pariah of the fleet (two fucked-up captains), I have
only the Jackson and the Truman as viable ships to work on. If I find that
I have enough time with the Union to get my A-book, I'll be looking to fly
to Hawaii, San Francisco, or Los Angeles to get a job before I have to ship
on the Polk, Agate, or Japan. At least I'll have fun (though not in Los
Angeles) while waiting for a ship.

Well, it looks like water spout weather is upon us. I saw one this morning
while on watch. I was telling 3rd Mate Kyle that I was wanting to see a
water spout, when I decided to take a stroll out on the starboard bridge
wing. I thought to look behind the ship, and, lo and behold, I noticed a
bit of a cloud forming a point from underneath the larger mass. Sure
enough, as a few minutes went by, it grew larger and more pointed.
Eventually, it formed into a funnel, though not reaching fully to the water.
Still, from what I've seen in the past, the funnel doesn't have to clearly
touch water to actually start drawing water upward. What you can see, if
you're close enough, is a swirling on the ocean's surface where water is
getting lifted up. The distance from the water can be several hundred feet
from the tip of the funnel for this to happen. Nonetheless, I'm still
waiting for a full touch-down. When that happens, I hope to have my camera
on the ready. I figure next trip should provide some camera opportunities.

Well, that's about it for now. There's less than a week from New York and
less than two months before I return home after that. I can't wait to be
home again! Though it will be late November and the beginning of winter
weather, I'll be happy nonetheless. It'll be the life of cooking dinner for
Margaret, hanging out with the cats and chickens, and going out fly fishing

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sri Lanka Again, Death by Slow Connection Speed, and International Phone Calls

Once again, I'm defeated by slow Internet connection speed. I was hoping to post pictures of some cool street art I saw in Singapore. I guess that will have to wait until I get to the Seafarers Center in Charleston. When I was wandering down that street, the graphics I saw looked strangely familiar. I think I might have seen them posted at either the Wooster Collective website or at Boingboing.net. If you haven't checked out these website, I have to strongly recommend them. Some good eye and brain candy to be found.

Right now, I'm killing time at the Flying Angel Seaman's Club. In about fifteen minutes, I'll be heading out to the hotel next door for something to eat. I've heard that the food is good, so that should be interesting. My experience with Sri Lankan cuisine has been limited to a platter of spicy shrimp I had here at the Seaman's Club. It was very good, so my hopes are up for some good grinds. After that, I'll be heading back to the ship for some quality phone time with Margaret. We killed a couple of hours when I was back in Singapore. It's always nice to chat with her and get connected again.

Speaking of calling home from overseas, it is so important to have an unlocked SIM card phone. When travelling from port to port, one can obtain local SIM cards to insert into a 3G phone to make calls home. If you can get a local international calling card, the price of calling home gets reduced dramatically. A $20 top-off card and a $10 calling card can get you as much as 10 hours of talk time from Singapore. Of course, calls get dropped and connection fees can rob you of minutes. Still, even if you get half the talk time, you're doing very well.

Another option is something I've heard about but haven't yet fully investigated. It's MaxRoam.com. They provide an international SIM card that supposed to be cheaper than ATT and T Mobile when roaming overseas. Additionally, you can get the area code of your choice assigned with your number. That's a nice thing for the people back home calling you.

The one combination that they can't beat is using a local SIM card with a local international calling card. I just visited their website and used their rates calculator, and saw that a local call in Singapore is about $0.24/minute, while a call to the United States is $0.86/minute. This is pretty good; however, the above cited Singtel top-off card and the Sunshine calling card will give you something like a $0.02/minute rate (that's if connection fees reduce your talk time to 7 hours). There's your comparison shopping done for you. Nonetheless, if you can't get an international calling card where you live, the MaxRoam option seems a good one.

Gotta go. It's time to eat.


Friday, September 04, 2009

The Ship's Server is Back Online, Jack Tar in Kafka's "Trial", "Payboys" in Singapore, and A Meditation on Prostitution.

Thursday, September 03, 2009
Well, it has been somewhat like a vacation with the ship's server being down for over a month. I say that because I ended up using my writing time for sleep and reading books given to me by Margaret. I finished two books since I received my new glasses and have started a third--but more on that in a later post (if I remember to).

I must have mentioned this before, but I do work 12 hours a day and seven days a week, when the ship is out at sea. On occasion, I will pass on 4 hours of overtime, but that happens only when fatigue has left my body feeling near ill. Why do I do this? Well, if it wasn't for the overtime, this job wouldn't pay enough. Clear and simple. You might ask why I don't find a job that pays the same without all the additional hours. Well, how many jobs allow you four or five months off a year? People often forget that time is money when operating within a capitalist economy. So, more OT I make, more time I can spend at home. It's as easy as that.

First of all, an update on Jack Tar in Jebel Ali is required. I heard tonight that his story was covered by CNN. The latest word is that he was brought to trial, but a translator wasn't available. Down with the gavel and trial delayed for another two months. I have to say that it's unbelievable how this has gone on for so long. Of course, such would be unheard of in the United States; however, with such shenanigans, it would appear that the local authorities seized this opportunity to harass him. As I said before, his only crime was to get upset because the Immigration officials were acting like unprofessional jerks. True, there might have been new requirements for photo identification, but the way they handled the matter was clearly gauged to frustrate and infuriate. Their motivation was clearly to wield the power of a petty bureaucrat over those with less power than themselves. Sadly, he played into their hands.

Anyway, the ship left Singapore this morning. The two nights spent there was well received by the crew. The one crimp on the fun was that the ship docked on Tuesday sometime around 9:00 pm. That didn't leave the "Payboys" ((not "Playboys," if you know what I mean...) much time to make it ashore tto Peoples Park. Of the ones who made it there before the girls gravitated to Orchard Towers (this generally occurring around 10:30 pm, they arrived in such a harried state, two reported experiencing degrees of erectile dysfunction. The phrase, "Haste makes waste," comes to mind here. Actually, it probably had more to do with a work long day, high heat and high temperature.

The following morning, and through the afternoon, was somewhat of a cluster fuck. Bunker barge, stores, and engine parts all competed for the Deck Department's time. For some reason, none of these arrived at 8:00 am, when the work day started. Worst of all, the food stores and the engine parts showed up late in the morning and just before a cargo crane shifted to hatch #6, effectively blocking off the delivery trucks from our stores crane. Though it is possible for a truck to squeeze in between the crane and the edge of the dock, this is strictly not allowed by the port. The ship's agent did manage to hold off the return of the cargo crane, when it took an hour to work another hatch. Unfortunately, it came back during a momentary lull between crane lifts. This resulted in a several hour delay in the loading of the engine parts.

Now, there is a side to these unfortunate series of delays which ties together both of the previous paragraphs. You see, the postponement of stores was detaining the Deck Gang well into the afternoon. Had the
deliveries appeared first thing in the morning, we would most likely have been done by noon or shortly after that. As it was, I believe the lifts were completed late in the afternoon or not long after dinner (I was cut loose at 3:00 pm, since all hands were not needed for the last of the lifts). The twist to this story is that the Payboys, having been disappointed by their performances the night before, were on a mission for redemption. To them, the whole day sat as torment, leaving them kicking the stall and chomping at the bit. And it didn't help that the powers that be failed to schedule deliveries to the ship in a smart manner.

What's this? Do I sense some scorn towards the Payboys for their catering to the ladies of Peoples Park? Nay, I must protest! What many do not know or realize is that these hard-working guys are in their 60's. They are men who, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, "do not go gentle into that good night. They rage, rage against the dying of the light." Some may view them as cads, but none can deny their verve. By the way, their second night did find redemption.

While I do not condone the whole business of prostitution, I certainly will not sit in judgment against it. It is because there is one aspect that I suspect many of those who condemn it fail to consider. It is that of the
human need for intimacy. And, when I say "intimacy," I'm encompassing the aspects of the emotional, the psychological, the physical, and, perhaps, the spiritual.  Sure, one can validly suggest that johns should instead cultivate a normal, healthy relationship with a woman. There is also the matter of many a prostitute having a history of sexual abuse, thus experiencing a destruction of intimacy and the subsequent  rationalization of "might as well sell it." Unfortunately, since I am neither a woman nor one who experienced sexual abuse, I feel I am not in a position to speak to how a woman might uniquely experience damage to her capacity for intimacy. However, in the midst of all this loss, there still remains desire.

But what is the shape of desire in a world where life, let alone intimacy, has been mediated by monetary exchange? Consider this: The average unlicensed sailor spends the majority of his year, and, by retirement, the majority of his life at sea. For that time, he is lives among men. If he is heterosexual, he is lives removed from women or the experience of life with women. While ashore, he might or might not find the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with a woman. Depending on his prior level of emotional maturity around women, he might find himself in a strong relationship. Otherwise, the day he retires, his wife might just greet him
on that day by dumping a pot of boiling water on him. Nonetheless, he will spend the better part of the year away from her. If he is homosexual, more often than not he will find himself among only heterosexuals who are not interested in his desires.

In all cases, the seafarer is at a disadvantage when it comes to fulfilling his need for intimacy when the rest of his emotional life is as a cog in the vast machine of global commerce. In the meantime, he feels his life force, his verve, ebbing away as more than half of every year he lives passes by estranged from human touch. So this begs the question: In the face of an inherently emotionally alienating lifestyle, how might he find a means of experiencing some kind, any kind of intimacy? When those who live in a world where half of all marriages end in divorce feel fit to sit in judgment, who is right and who is wrong when it comes to how a human being seeks out intimacy in what ever form it might take?

In the face of all this, I think it useful to consider the possibility of the union of a particular set of desires. When a man in need of experiencing intimacy contracts with a woman seeking to salvage her sexual
dignity, what might be the interaction? While one can preempt with the suggestion of a mutually enabling relationship, I would counter that this position is potentially nihilistic. This assumes that any contractual
relationship will be bereft of transcendence. I must protest and insist that this is not necessary. At the least, when both parties are aware of their desires, certainly the possibility of redemption exists against the
loss that both have experienced. Even if the relationship is an imagined fantasy, in that realm of the imagination redemption is acted out. Therefore a therapeutic value does exist. Is there not the element of an acting out upon a theater stage when a client talks out his or her anxieties with a psychotherapist? For that reason, I have to hesitate to judge.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fun at the Jebel Ali Seafarer's Club

I really love these people! Their hearts are so pure--and it shows in their performance. 100% corazon! I would introduce the name of the song, but I would rather have it as a reward for those who choose to watch this video. Towards the end of the night, they allowed some of the people in the audience--some fortified with drink and others less so--to come on stage and perform a favorite song. Sorry no videos of full performances, as the file size would exceed the limits set by the Blog Gods. Enjoy!

Scenes from the Suez Canal

This is a Suez Canal line boat. Every ship must hoist to the rail one of these boats prior to entering the canal. Should a ship lose power or steering, this boat will take a ship's lines to shore, where the ship can moor up. If a ship chooses not to take aboard a line boat, the other option is a tug escort--the pricier option.

This is one of the Suez Canal pilots. I took this picture from last voyage. That's Captain Diederiks staring out the window in he background. Unfortunately, I neglected to get this pilot's name. He was one of our northbound pilots. I printed out this picture for him, and he was very pleased.
This picture also came from last voyage. This is Captain El Rafey. I mentioned him in a previous post. He was our southbound pilot and the one who filled me in on Egyptian's national football/soccer team.

This is a typical fishing boat found in Bitter Lake, the anchorage for the southbound ships transiting the Suez Canal. As you can see, the fishermen both sail and row these boats. The sail is interesting, as it is a traditional lateen(?) rig for these parts. Sadly, I've also seen boats that had to stoop to a blue tarp for a sail. Yes, those very same blue tarps that you can buy in any store at home. I would have posted a picture of one of these boats, but it was too sad for even myself.

This mosque is located at Port Suez, the southern end of the Canal. I really love the lines of this structure. I probably should have loaded up the full-sized picture, so people could really take in the details.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different... Chickens!

Because all this ship-related stuff can be boorish for me at times, here's something completely different. Say hello to the hens. As you can see, Penny loves the camera.



Singapore Videos!!!

This is what the Singapore container port looks like from the bridge deck of the Truman. Lots of ships!

More Singapore Pics

Here's an oddly worded sign from inside of Coho Fishing Tackle. It comes from Japan. Despite all that, the gist is rather pleasant.

The following two pictures are of my favorite place to eat in Singapore. It is Blu Jazz. As I posted before, their Nasi goreng and Mee Goreng are out of this world!

Scenes from Singapore

This is the yard oiler that provided the Truman with fuel. You don't see these kinds of little ships anymore in the United States, because the Coast Guard passed regulations on minimum ship staffing. This was done for safety reasons. Unfortunately, the response was to dump these ships in exchange for tugs and barges. Tugs require fewer sailors, but the demands for safe transfer of vessel fuel remains the same.

This is a piston cylinder liner. It had been swapped out for a new one and is going ashore to be either cleaned up or scrapped. The Truman is in the middle of a cylinder liner exchange because of overheating issues. The high temperatures have limited our speed, thus affecting the timey delivery of cargo.

This is a view down the dock as the Truman was maneuvering for its berth. Lots of cranes at Brani Island. Singapore is one of the largest trans-shipment ports in the world. Containers from smaller ports in the region collect here before getting farmed out to ships heading to other parts of the world. It's analogous to how airlines utilize hub cities to redistribute passengers to other cities.

I believe this is the largest ferris wheel in the world. It used to rotate opposite from the direction it now does. Apparently, Feng Shui masters informed the city that it was causing the city's wealth to go away. Of course, that was enough reason to change the wheel's direction.

This is one of my favorite spots to visit in Singapore. As you can see, it is a tackle shop. However, it is also the only fly fishing shop in town. I managed to make friends with Michael Booey, the owner. Unfortunately for me, he was away in China, looking for some business opportunities--as well as fishing ones.

Back on the East Coast: Another Salting, Passage of a Sailor, an d a Jack Tar Update

The ship is back on the East Coast. I was wrong about thinking that there
would be no more "saltings." The morning after the ship arrived in New
York, the Reeferman discovered salt on his chair. He immediately accused
Day Junior Engineer, Rocky Balboa of the "crime. Rocky is a well-liked, and
very nice and mellow Filipino and is also the smallest guy on the ship.
Little Rocky Balboa. It was very obvious that Reeferman Brian had no idea
who was actually behind the deed, but when he started making threatening
statements toward Rocky, Danny, an AB and a fellow Filipino, jumped in to
defend Rocky. Fortunately, never escalated beyond this.

The thing is, though I can't prove it, I still think Cecilio salted Brian's
chair just before he left the ship, the night before, to end his time
aboard. Nothing like a free-shot from the foul line. And all through this,
Brian never reflected upon who actually might have cause enough to
antagonize him. It goes to show how some people are oblivious as to how
their behavior affects others.

A tragic note: An AB I sailed with before, on other ships, recently passed
away. Phil Fritts was taken down by a stroke, shortly after he ended his
tour aboard the President Polk. It was severe enough that his prospects
looked poor from the start. I believe he was in his late 50's. Phil was
somewhat an odd duck, but he was also a decent person. My prayers go with

Well, the ship is on its way to Charleston. We are supposed to pick up the
pilot around 2000 tonight. It's going to be a late one at the dock. I just
hope to have enough time to hit Whole Foods before we leave on Monday. My
fingers are crossed for those Garden of Eatin' Red Hot Blues blue corn


Monday, July 27, 2009

Black Salt & Upping the Ante

My sister, Karen, just sent me an email elaborating on the use of salt in
ritual. Below is the text of her message. The fact that she mentions
"black salt" is profound, as I neglected to mention the presence of the same
at the Reeferman's place in the mess hall. The black salt showed up a day
or so after the white salt first appeared. This does nothing less than
confirm an attempt at black magic. Wild shit, no?

Here's Karen's lowdown:

"The salt thing intrigued me--as you know, I have a decades-old interest in
things mythical, spiritual, and religious, and a bell rang in the back of my
mind regarding salt rituals or cures. You are quite right that salt as
defense against evil is a pretty universal thing, from Catholic baptism
(salt on the lips of the baptized child will bring wisdom to the child),
exorcism (apparently demons hate salt, and it's used in vampire prevention),
and weddings (Christian and Jewish weddings, where salt exchanged between
partners indicates an honest and binding contract) to Shinto purification

"It's also used in Santeria--a blend of Catholicism and Voudoo--sprinkled in the footsteps (or where he or she has stood or sat) of a person who is
annoying you to make them go away. Black salt (a combination of ash and
salt, or salt and pepper) is what's usually used, but regular salt will do.
Also, throwing salt after or behind a person who has threatened you is a way
of keeping them away from you and your premises.

"So if your cook felt threatened by the Reeferman, it would totally make sense that he would do this if he at all had any association with Santeria as a practitioner or even just had a cultural association. First there's the easy availability of salt in the kitchen, and second, if his native culture/land had any Santeria or even old Catholic traditions, it would fit.

"I'm with you--I would very much prefer someone leaving salt in a
threatening person's footsteps or seat as a way to ward them off than
violence. Of course, the strength of the ritual is in proportion to the
strength of the practitioner's will and anger, and the addition of pepper
supposedly makes the ritual even more fiery and potent (typical "rule of
similars" effect). I would think that if pepper was used then or
afterwards, the person using the ritual was angry indeed. The problem with
infusing anger into such a ritual involving pepper is that it can spread
beyond the intended harasser to innocent bystanders, especially if it's a
very strong pepper, and very strong anger. Best to just keep to salt, as a
pure ward against evil and annoyance.

"So there is my wealth of knowledge regarding the use of salt (and pepper) in rituals. :-)

"There probably is some kind of scientific basis behind the universal use of salt as a ritual purifier, such as salt air giving off negative ions, which not only has a calming effect on people, but actually does purify the air and reduces airborne bacteria."

So there you have it: Black salt. I still hesitate to confirm this to the victim--least he turn violent or get locked up as a nut. However, I think the cook is upping the ante. Just this morning, a can of Slim Fast was discovered at Reeferman Brian's seat. Now I'm wondering what my sister will have to say about that.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Go Do The Voodoo That You Do So Well

Friday, July 24, 2009
6:23 PM
Whoa! Stop the presses! We have strange developments here. Someone has
been putting salt on the refrigeration engineer's seat in the mess hall.
Apparently, this was discovered a few days ago by Rocky Balboa, the Day
Junior engineer, and has been happening everyday since. I found out today,
because Bosun Norm asked me if I was the one who was doing it. Of course,
it wasn't me. However, I suspect it might be the cook.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, the cook had an altercation with Reeferman
Brian. This was stupid, because it started when Cecilio plated some food
and handed it over behind himself, to his right, to get across the steam
table. Well, Brian had moved from that spot over to the salad bar, which
was to the left of Cecilio and where he couldn't see Brian. That was when
it started. Brian then said, "I'm over here. What? Are you stupid or
something?" From there, Brian continued berating Cecilio, even challenging
him to "take it outside." Since I was there, I thought it prudent to say,
"Take it easy, gentlemen" a couple of times over. As far as getting between
them, well, that could also give one of them some kind of added motivation
to up the ante. I've seen that kind of bullshit before, so I know enough to
keep my bodily parts separate from the action. However, should fists come
up, it would then be time to jump in. Actually, that isn't true. It would
be better to let a few blows get thrown, so that both the bums would get
fired. If a knife came out, well, that would be a different story.
Anyway, given all that, I got to wondering if the salt could be some kind of
voodoo-type gesture. I know that salt is used in many cultures to ward off
evil spirits. In Japan, sumo wrestlers toss a handful of salt to purify the
ring before entering. Perhaps in Caribbean Santeria it could have a similar
role in magic ritual. Since the cook is from Puerto Rico and the only
person who could be holding a grudge against Brian, I felt it a safe bet
that he had to be the one. When I proposed this to the Deck Gang, boy, did
the guys light up with excitement! I guess I really must have made their
day with that idea. You see, the whole Caribbean voodoo grudge thing made
perfect sense. That's why they sailors loved it so much: A perfect sea
story in the making! Now I can't help but wonder if someone is going to
break the news to Reeferman Brian. Awesome! I only say that because I'd
rather have someone try black magic than pull a knife.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Other Events and Updates
A couple of days ago, Bosun Norm encountered a mystery liquid out on deck.
He made the mistake of touching and smelling it in an attempt to identify
it. The result was burning in the sinuses and lungs, as well as skin
irritation. In an attempt to wash it off, the substance spread to his face.
Redness and swelling ensued. Since the ship didn't have any means of
identifying the possible culpret, beyond a HAZMAT category listing, it must
have been at least three days before the company was able to provide an
answer. It turned out the liquid was pepper spray. Too bad Norm doesn't do
hot sauce on a regular basis. But seriously, it's a good thing it was no
more than that. The sailors will be taking precautions as we washdown the
decks today.
By the way, we cleared the Strait of Gibralter this morning. Too bad it
happened before my watch. Considering the westbound side of the voyage puts
us closer to The Rock, it would have been a great for a photo opportunity.
Maybe next trip?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gulf of Aden, The Red Sea, Thoughts on Global Shipping, The Suez Canal, and Into the Med.

Saturday, July 18, 2009
5:26 PM
The Truman is back in the Red Sea again. The ship has been in lockdown with
all the newly installed gates and latches securing all means of ingress to
the ship's vital areas. This time around, it would seem that the sea state
was too rough for the pirates: No radio traffic declaring an attack, nor
any telex messages to the same. We did see some small boats just inside the
straits at Bab el Mandeb, but they looked to be mere fishermen and not

We are currently running at least a day behind schedule, due to high seas
and engine temperature issues. If we fail to make Port Suez by 1800
tomorrow, despite the company offering to pay extra to the Canal Authority
to allow us to arrive at that hour and join the convoy, we can expect to
have to wait until the following day to make the passage. That will cause
us to arrive at Staten Island two day late. How we will manage to make up
for that lost time is a little beyond me. There was talk of Savannah,
Georgia getting dropped from the schedule, but it's currently back on. At
this point, I'm wondering if it might get erased just the same. The funny
thing is that we did omit Salalah, Oman for this voyage, and we still
managed to fall behind schedule. Oh well.

Sunday, July 19, 2009
12:28 PM
Another hot, Red Sea day in the 90's with high humidity. Like I'm looking
forward to working this afternoon.

A note about the global recession and shipping.
Aboard the Truman, we receive news via three email sources: The New York
Times Digest, ChartCo International, and News Link. The first one comes
courtesy of Captain Carubia, who lives in New York City. The latter two are
based out of the UK and are publications from the maritime industry. The
last one, News Link, also carries marine industry and safety topics.

Recently, I found one industry-related article touching on the global
recession and shipping. Currently, the amount of cargo moving has
increased, indicating a slow recovery is occurring. However, there is still
a surplus of ship tonnage (the way ship numbers is gauged), thereby
suppressing what the shipping companies can charge for moving cargo, and,
therefore, diminishing profit margins.

So the companies have this industry conference. A representative from
Maersk-Sealand explains to the crowd that profits are down, despite the slow
upswing in cargo, because the companies keep throwing more ships whenever
there is a small up-tick. What they need to do, he further elaborated, is
to retire old ships, to bring down worldwide tonnage. That would accomplish
two things: One, it would drive up the demand for ships; and, two, it would
leave newer ships sailing, which would provide seafarers with safer ships.
Unfortunately, the response he received was less than enthusiastic. Perhaps
that was because Maersk-Sealand is the largest shipping company in the world
and remains in the best position to pursue the above said strategy. No
surprise he was received with skepticism.

Another way to view this situation would be to compare the scarcity of cargo
among the excess number of ships to a pond full of fish. There is a limited
amount of food available in the pond. Meanwhile, there is this one very big
fish and lots of smaller fish. The big fish managed to get to its size by
successfully competing for bugs, after which it then proceeded to gobble up
small fish. Still, there are lots of smaller fish hiding in the niches in
the pond and picking off the bugs the large fish still needs to eat for
survival during the lean months. So, feeling a seasonal crunch in the
available food supply, the big fish starts preaching to the little fish that
they need to cull their numbers so there will be enough food for everyone.
Of course, the small fish know how that big fish got to be as big as he is,
and they don't buy the program. Meanwhile, the big fish gets thin and snaky
and the little fish get stunted, never growing as large as the big fish. In
other words, it would seem that, unless the global economy surges, shipping
companies could find themselves locked in a financial downward spiral
towards insolvency. At the end of that mess, the world could face a "last
man standing" scenario similar to the financial crisis, with J.P.
Morgan-Chase and Goldman Sachs swallowing up lesser rivals. In the case of
the shipping industry, a monopoly--or at least a cabal--could easily raise
shipping rates at a whim, creating inflationary pressure on imported
consumer goods,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
6:45 AM

Port Suez
The Truman arrived at the Port Suez anchorage last night at the start of my
watch. I spent my four hours roaming the deck and assisting with receiving
various officials who require their various forms filled out and their
standard form of baksheesh: Marlboro "reds" cigs. Around 2145, we took
alongside a slops barge, so we could get rid of all the dirty oils the ship
generated. I think I heard that over 60 tons was pumped over.

At this point in time, I just woke up. The ship is already underway through
the Canal. From my window, all I can see are the sandy berms of the Sinai
side. If I were standing higher on the ship, I would only see more sand and
perhaps the various military camps stationed to look over canal security.

5:53 PM
Dinner over, and it's time to take a nap before watch. As usual, the
helmsman needs an hourly break from steering the ship "in hand." So, after
my morning 8 to 12 watch, I had wheel relief duties until 1600. That last
hour sure was raggedy. Fortunately, the pilot for the last half of the
canal spared me the 1 degree course changes and asked me to keep the ship in
the middle of the channel. For some reason, it's easier to stay alert doing
that than niggling over single degree course changes.

After my first hour on the 12 to 4 watch, I asked the pilot if he would let
me take a picture of him. He agreed, but afterwards asked me if I could
print out the picture. It took me a while to transfer the file to my thumb
drive, so I could take it to a computer with a printer. Though the image
was printed on stock paper, it came out well enough to please him.

Friday, July 24, 2009
12:26 AM
A couple of days went by with no descriptions of the Canal transit. Sorry,
Gang. To write when you work twelve hours a day is no mean thing. I'm half
tempted to bag this and just head to bed. Unfortunately, there are so many
things I want to write about. If my head were clearer, I think I would give
it a go--but not tonight. I'll post the latest pictures of the Suez Canal
(EEK! The horror... The horror...) when the ship reaches Charleston.

3:04 PM
The ship is already off of the Algerian coast. This morning, the radar
picked up what looked like a giant wall reaching many miles across the bow.
The Third Mate and I puzzled over what it might be: Fog, a sandstorm, or a
strong tidal rip? As we approached this wall, it became apparent that it
was a swath of smog. Given the wind direction, it had to be coming from the
city of Algiers. The first time I saw anything like this, it was when I
sailed to Kaiohsiung, Taiwan, back in 2003. The APL Thailand was
approaching Kaiohsiung from the east, and I initially mistook that swath on
the horizon for a fog bank. I was soon corrected. I was flabbergasted at
the density. Prior to entering the smog, I could see the green hill of the
southern point of the island. Once in, visibility dropped to only a few
miles. Though this Algerian smog wasn't that bad, it was nonetheless
shocking to see. It wasn't until we passed through that the origin of the
smog was apparent. One of the plagues of developing economies.

Yesterday, while steaming through the Straits of Sicily, the ship sailed
what was clearly a fog bank. There was no mistaking the white wall reaching
as far as the eye could see. What made it so striking was that it was no
higher than the top of the ship. Had I been on the bridge, there was a good
chance I could see over the top. I've heard stories of the fog in San
Francisco rolling in a low blanket where the bow lookout can't see a thing
but the bridge crew can see only the superstructure of the ships in the bay.
Since I was tending line for Danny and Greg on a scaffolding hung over the
side of the house, I wasn't able to run to the bridge to take a look, let
alone to grab my camera. Bummer.

One thing, though: The fog didn't last but no more than a half hour. As
soon as it cleared, I saw a pod of dolphin peel off from the ship. Their
sleek gray bodies were visible under the blue waves, as they powered along
after each leap. What startled me was that I briefly saw a white silhouette
among the gray ones. Because they were there and gone within a few seconds,
I didn't get a second look at that aberration. I'm still mystified: I
don't know of any species of marine mammal that is white and exists within
the Mediterranean Ocean.

--Dave E.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Monday, July 13, 2009
12:25 PM

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Ship sailing delayed 7 hours. Initially, the cause was due to cargo not
being finished. When I went to bed last night, I fully expected to be
called out for undocking around 5:30. When I woke at 7:00, I was surprised
to see light sneaking in past my window curtains. That was my first
indication that there was a delay. Over breakfast, Bosun Norm informed me
that we were looking at sometime around 10:30. By coffee time, it became
11:30 and an early lunch. By 11:00, departure became: "The port is
supposed to call the Captain at 11:30, to let him know when we're really
getting out of here." Noon was the call for all hands at 12:30. By around
13:00, we were underway.

Things about Colombo: Ports of the World, The Estrangement of Sailors, and
The Raging Hornys
First of all, I have to admit that I haven't seen that much of Colombo.
Since it is the capital of Sri Lanka, I can only imagine there being parts
far nicer than the sections around the port. As a matter of fact, it is a
rare thing for ports around the world to be even remotely called a good
section of a city. Seattle, my home, can be said to be a notable exception,
where Pioneer Square, Delridge, and West Seattle border the port. In
Colombo, all I've seen are dirt sidewalks, roll-down metal doors sealing
business fronts after hours, military check points, cab drivers offering you
rides while doing their best to bilk you, pariah dogs fucking in the
streets, and everyone trying to score a handout from you.

Of course, that's a rather coarse and simplistic description, but it's also
not that far from the truth--but only within the area immediately
surrounding the port. From the bridge of my ship, I could see what seemed
like nice apartments stacked on lush hillocks, and distant high-rise hotels
near beaches. Through binoculars, these places seemed clean, well kept, and
inviting. Over one hill, I could see what looked like a set of playfield
lights, perhaps for a soccer stadium.

By now I suspect some might be able to detect that the modern sailor
experiences a degree of estrangement with the places he visits: There is
often so little time available for shore leave that only the seedier sides
of town are all that is seen. Additionally, many cab drivers receive
kick-backs for delivering you to preferred places of business that often are
not to your own advantage. Then again, it can be argued that the seedy
district exists because of the immediate demands of those who frequent the
port. So here one sees the essence of estrangement: The object of desire
resides at a distance, while the interstitial zone is filled with a
dysfunction that inhibits or prevents the passage through.

Speaking of the seedier side of life, one of the crew confessed to me of
having, what I now call, a "Jack Tar" moment. In a fit of "the raging
hornys," he visited a Sri Lankan whorehouse. It was so dark and dank, he
hit the shower the moment he returned to the ship. Ah, well... I suppose,
the next time around, he will either visit Rosie Palm and Her Five Sisters
or demand a better referral from the cab driver. All I can say is, "But for
the grace of God, there go I." Yes, yes, I know there are some of you
waving the flag of STD's, but one should never underestimate the biological
desperation that comes from being stuck on a ship for months at a time while
in the absence of the mediating factor of everyday home society. True
transcendence is a formidable attainment. Certainly Abraham Maslow would
agree. Like I said: "But for the grace of God, there go I."

Thursday, July 16, 2009
5:51 PM
What a rough ride! For the past two days, it has been rough outside. Wind
is up into the 40 knot range, and the seas has the ship laboring for what
speed it can manage. Many times we had to slow down because engine
cylinders were overheating. This is a tricky business: Too high the rpm's
in these conditions, the cylinder liners get too hot; too low the rpm's, the
turbochargers aren't turning and pushing enough air to keep the engine cool.
Additionally, the ship's rolling in the seas cause the pistons to lean too
hard to one side, and friction-induced heat accumulates. Should the
temperature get out of hand, the automatic controls will kick in and the
propulsion plant will power down. Tricky, indeed! At this point, we are at
least a day behind schedule for arriving at Staten Island, NY.

Back in Singapore, we took on material for welders to fabricate some
anti-piracy devices. In the time we were dockside, they built cage-doorways
to seal-off external stairways from the house and the stern from the rest of
the main deck. They also installed some barring devices to all the weather
deck doors. This afternoon, we locked down the ship in preparation of
entering the Gulf of Aden pirate waters. Sadly, it wouldn't take too much
imagination to get around most of these barriers. At best, these measures
would only slow down an ambitious pirate. It's amazing what the people in
the office can come up with. Nonetheless, with the weather being what it
is, I really doubt there will be any attacks in the near-future. Still, if
the ship cannot keep up speed well over 17 knots, Captain Diederiks might
seek out a military escorted convoy to join. Should that happen, we will
end up steaming around 10 knots or less. So much for making schedule.

11:48 PM
End of the watch. Seas have moderated, the ship's speed is back up, and
we're less than a day from the way point that points the ship into the Gulf
of Aden. It will be interesting to see what the day holds for work on deck
when everything is locked down.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slug Bait Connection

Sorry everyone. The connection I'm working with, here in Sri Lanka, is excrutiatingly slow. It takes nearly forever to upload anything. On top of that, I keep getting failure to connect messages when I try posting. I'm so very bummed that I can't post the pictures I took, from the Suez Canal, Jebel Ali, Singapore, and Sri Lanka. Anyway, I will do what I can when I reach the States. I tell you, when it takes over an hour for a video to fail to upload, you know you're in trouble. In the meantime, I will make it point to keep up with the text.

Take care, everybody!


Suez Canal Transit

This is the Egyptian Bazzar that appears whenever a ship sails through the Suez Canal. There's a line boat, which the ship has to crane up to the main deck, that supposed to haul mooring lines to shore in the even the ship loses power. The boat crew always brings crummy made-in-China tourist crap to sell to the crew. Check it out. I probably shouldn't be so harsh about their trying to suppliment their meager earnings, but I keep telling them to bring Um Kulthum CD's to sell--to no avail. All they need to do is to let people hear her singing, and they will want that piece of Egypt!

This is Captain El Rafey, the Suez Canal pilot. I mentioned him in my original Suez post. Fun guy with great sense of humor.

This is Port Suez, at the south end of the Canal. This mosque is spectacular! I wish I could have provided a closer shot. If I'm not mistaken, the dome is patterned with a mosaic.

Her's a video clip of half of Bitter Lake, where the southbound convoy of ships anchor up while waiting for the northbound ships to pass through.
I'm going to have to wait to post the videos of Bitter Lake. The upload was taking a ridiculous amount of time.

Singapore: Fly Fishing, Mee Goreng, etc

Saturday, July 11, 2009
6:01 PM
Post-Singapore: Coho Fishing Tackle, Fly fishing and Blu Jazz Mee Goreng
Well, tomorrow afternoon we will be in Colombo, Sri Lanka. While in Singapore, I managed to do only a few things that I wanted to do over the single night I used to go ashore. My first evening was spent calling home on my SIM card cell phone: Talked to Margaret and then my mom. There was nothing but good news, so all is good on the home front. The hens are still happily laying eggs (The eggs taste best when you feed the hens Swiss chard!!!), and little Wanda Cat has been throwing down some serious feline-fu, terrorizing the other neighborhood kittens. I wonder if my playing paw-slap with her might have turned into a bad thing. Fern pretty much is still lazing about the house, sleeping on her favorite chair in the living room. Mom is in the middle of cataract eye surgery, which has been going very well.

My second evening was spent changing money at the Harborfront Center Mall and hopping a cab over to the Arab Street neighborhood to visit two of my favorite places in Singapore. Both are on Bali Lane, an alley and a street to the west of Arab Street. The first is Coho Fishing Tackle; Singapore’s only fly fishing shop. The second is Blu Jazz, located next door and my favorite place for Mee Goreng, a spicy noodle and seafood dish.

Let me explain my relationship to Mee Goreng. Back in the 80’s, I shared a house with a friend, Mark Borgers. There were around five of us in the house, and we all shared rotating cooking duties. One day, I made a big skillet of fried rice, which Mark called Nasi Goreng. Since I had never heard of such a thing, he explained that his mother used to make her own version of fried rice; however, he and his parents had spent a number of years living in Indonesia. Put simply, Nasi Goreng is the Malay version of fried rice.

It wasn’t until my first container ship job in 2003 that I finally sailed to Singapore on the APL Thailand. On my first day there, I naively walked from the docks to what was turned out to be across the city. By the time I arrived at Orchard Towers (Infamously known as the “Four Floors of Whores.” If anyone wants me to go “on assignment” then you better let me know soon. I have only two more opportunities to investigate this legend amongst the sailors, before I get off this ship. ), my hips, knees, and feet were in severe pain. It must have been around 5:00 or 6:00 PM when I left the Maritime House (one of several local nation-based seafarer’s support facilities) and around 9:00 PM when I arrived at the far-end of town. By then, all the energy I had was for getting something to eat and to head back to the ship (No, I wasn’t planning on soliciting. I was curious to see which of my shipmates I would see there. Besides, I was there too early to see anything interesting, and the scene was rather dull though noisy: I spend too much time around noisy machines to do noisy on my time off.). I ended up heading down stairs to the food court and discovered a place that served the noodle version of Nasi Goreng. Sadly, the flavors were muddied and the greasy spiciness super-charged the carbonation of the beer I had with the meal. I ended up feeling bloated, like someone shot me with a CO2 dart. As I climbed up the stairs up to the street level, belches were steaming past my teeth and cheeks with every step. Mlehh!

It might have been on a subsequent trip on the Thailand, or a few years later on the APL Korea, that I discovered Coho Fishing Tackle. To make a long story short, it took a little sleuthing with a phone book to find it. I’m always curious to see what kind of fishing tackle the rest of the world uses. Anyway, I ended up making friends with the owner of the shop, Michael Booey. Needless to say, I was very pleased that I found a tackle shop with a strong fly fishing emphasis.

By then, I had been to the shop a number of times, and, this time around, I brought my fly tying gear and made up some flies to give to Michael. So we’re hanging out and talking fish. Michael somehow gets a pitcher of beer brought to the shop from the restaurant next door. We’re drinking beer and talking shop. At some point, I tell him that I have to eat. He then tells me that the owner of the restaurant next door is a friend of his and that he’ll have a waiter come by to take my order. Like, what the fuck? So I tell him that I have a thing for rice and noodle dishes--it’s my Asian side speaking for my stomach. I propose a plate of Mee Goreng. This time around, it’s so unbelievably good! I mean, it’s this plate of dry-fried egg noodles (no soupy gravy), shrimp and squid, all in a bitchin’ spicy tamarind crusty-glaze. I think I might have whimpered when I finished the plate, because it was gone just before I reached total and complete heat and spice-induced euphoria. Bummer! And that is my only complaint about Blu Jazz, the place next door: For my appetite, I could use a 50% larger serving to meet my dining needs. When traveling as a foody, you often times eat for effect.

To say the least, a Singapore visit to Blu Jazz and their Mee Goreng is worth the effort. This time around, I had to have this dish again. On my previous visit, I had their Nasi Goreng, which was also very good; however, I strongly recommend the Mee Goreng. There’s something about the way they stir-fry the egg noodles that comes out with only a touch of sweetness, a slight savory bitterness from the tamarind, and the right amount of heat, to make the flavors all stand out in sharp relief--and it never disappoints. If I recall rightly, Michael Booey once told me the chefs were trained in Paris. Well, after eating at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, I have to say French and French-trained chefs kick-ass when cooking non-French--they really know how to bring together flavors without letting the flavors get lost in muddiness. Personally, I have no idea what a French-trained chef is doing working with a menu that also serves fish and chips. Still, if you want a taste of regional cooking done tight, you need to visit Blu Jazz.

Another thing about Blu Jazz: They also host live music in the evenings, after 9:30, on the second and third floors. Though I failed to drop in for that and cannot attest to the quality of the band(s), I would hope that the music matches the quality of the food.

So I suspect some of you are wondering why I didn’t catch the music. Well, it’s because I am enslaved to this blog and am subject to the bandwidth of the local Internet cafes. I must have spent at three hours editing out the stupid ship email-induced line breaks and uploading the few pictures I last posted. If you read this before I clean up the text, via the Internet nodes at the Flying Angel Club (another church-based seafarer’s support organization) in Colombo, then you might appreciate the work I’m doing to make your blog experience that much more pleasant.

It had to have been around 10:00 before I realized the time and squared things up so I could head back to the ship. By the time I made it through the port’s gate and security, I had missed a bus and was looking at a half-hour wait. Instead of waiting and wasting an extra 45 minutes to an hour, I hoofed it and arrived at the ship a little before 11:30 PM.

Sunday, July 12, 2009
11:41 AM
Offshore of Sri Lanka
The ship is offshore of Sri Lanka. Lucky me that I saved a minutes top-off card from the last time I was here. That allowed me a short call to Margaret. Nothing like a little phone bliss with the one you love. As soon as I finish lunch, this will get posted via email. Once I get ashore, I’ll head to the Flying Angel seafarer’s club to pick up where I left off in Singapore, with the uploading of pictures. I really hope I won’t find myself spending all my time there with blog duties. Colombo is a colorful place, and it would be nice to see more than just the inside of the club.

Ahh, crap! I just realized that I missed the latest email transmission time. You see, the ship transmits, via satellite link, email messages three times a day, at 0130, 0730, and 1830 hours GMT. Actually, the transmission starts 15 minutes prior to the times listed. These times are more a guideline for when to expect incoming email. If I miss the send time, as you can see, it will be either six, eleven, or seven hours before the next opportunity. Since there is no way I’ll be able to make the 0730 time, I might as well wait until I go ashore to post. All these little stinking details about life at sea…

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

More Pics: At Sea

I'm running out of time ashore. It looks like I'm going to dump pics now and edit when we reach Sri Lanka. So here we go:

The Steward, Branden Maeda and the Steward Assistant (I have enough problems just understanding him...).
Me getting in touch with my inner penguin.

3rd Mate Wes Wilson. Good guy! We both love good coffee. See that cup? I brewed the joe. Wes is now under my command.

Greg is riding down in a Bosun's Chair. Gotta do some chipping of rust and then painting. Big fun!

Chief Mate Bill Westrum.
Well, that's going to have to be it for now. I'll try to post more pics when we arrive in Colombo. Till then!

Photo Flood: Charleston to Norfolk

Okay, here we go. I finally caught up with the space-time continuum, so it's time to post some photos I took. I have to apologize ahead of time for the lack of pics for certain places. More often than not, I'm unable to explore a location, due to the lack of time available to me.

Charleston, S.C.

This is the Seafarers Center at Charleston, South Carolina. It may not seem like much, but the people inside are providing a wonderful service to all shipboard personnel. My hat goes off to them.

This is the bridge crossing from Point Pleasant to Charleston proper. I have yet to visit town because of my time limitations. For some reason, this bridge reminds me of the Yokohama Bay Bridge. Sorry, but no pics of the Whole Foods I went to. I know that might be a let down to some, but, if you've been to one, it's highly unlikely you're going to get lost in a different one.

Savannah, Georgia:

This is the tug, Edward J. Moran. Moran is one of the main players throughout the East Coast tow boat scene. On the West Coast, people either think of Foss Tugs or Crowley. Moran tugboats are as ubiquitous.

Crap! I was going to upload a cool video of a container crane setting a cargo hatch back on the ship, while we were in Savannah. Unfortunately, it was 69MB too big. I'm going to have to do something about that.

This is the Savannah City Hall.

And next is the river front before City Hall. This section of the river is pretty much tourist-ville. Somewhere I heard that what now is for the tourists once was where slaves were brought for sale. Somehow or another, I just know there must be a common thread in there that's wet with irony.

Next is Ray Ramirez and Chuck Maringer. Chuck is one of the day-working AB's, and Ray is on the 12 to 4 watch.

View of my workstation:

This is the ship's helm. I think you can click the pic and get the huge version. Do note the devices on the console above the tiller wheel. You should be able to see the labels for what they are. And DO NOT laugh at the left and right labels on either side of the wheel. You'd be surprised at the number of people who initially have problems following a compass or who throw the rudder over in the wrong direction. If there is a cause for getting fired by the Captain, this is one of the big ones. Interestingly, a sailor can retain more of his dignity after getting fired for drinking than for not being able to steer.

The Dock at Norfolk, Virginia:

This vehicle with the container under it is called a "Strad." These are also used in Japan and are very efficient when it comes to obtaining and positioning boxes for loading aboard. I wouldn't be surprised when the Pacific Coast ports finally get them too. Then again, the number of jobs lost would be substantial. As I post more pictures of the other ports, note how this same job gets done, as well as the likely number of people involved in the task.

Checkout these cool hooded gulls. The one on the right is examining a piece of fried chicken some longshoreman tossed. What made these gulls doubly cool was their call.

Click the video and listen to them birds!

Here's Bosun Norm and 2nd Mate Joe Perry. During docking and undockings, the 2nd Mate supervises the bow operations, while the 3rd Mate does the stern. I'm still working on Wes Wilson's pic.

I can't say that this is such a great photo of the Truman, but it was the best I could manage up until that point.

Well, that covers the U.S. side of the water.


Finally Caught Up: Jebel Ali, Jack Tar, and Straits of Malacca

Monday, June 29, 2009
3:48 PM
Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates
The deck gang is done with docking and some crane lifts. My room is uncomfortably warm, though not as hot as outside. Yes, the air conditioning is laboring after having gone down for a couple of hours last night. At least the humidity control is doing some good. The temperature in Jebel Ali has to be over 100 degrees. I’ve read the news digest we receive over email, and the temperature in Dubai has been 108 for the past few weeks. Since Dubai can be barely seen to the southeast through the haze of humidity, it has to be the same here. Around 2200 last night, it was 91 degrees and very humid. To step out on the bridge wings was like baking a loaf of bread and opening the oven. Oddly, the air smells like sandalwood.

Having read about trout and dissolved oxygen content in higher water temperatures, I have learned that heat-excited oxygen molecules in water bounce off of each other, creating greater space between them. Thus, warmer water is less oxygen-rich than colder water. I can really relate to heat-stressed trout in this manner. It’s as if the oxygen molecules in the air have spread themselves apart to the point I feel like I’m sucking on the space between them. What? Am I going to town? Screw that! Not in this heat. I plan on taking it easy and catching up on this pre-blog log.

5:17 PM
Sailors in Trouble
Before I go any further on the following subject, I need to say something. When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would not mention anything negative about any of my shipmates. Well, at this point, I have to moderate my promise a touch. What I will maintain is that I will not connect any names to any negative or potentially negative incident. Given the description of the incident at hand, I find it a bit too juicy to deny.

I need to start by saying these two words: Oh shit! Three of our guys got turned back at the Customs and Immigration checkpoint, while a fourth one made it through. They were looking to head to Dubai and ran afoul with the officials. The sailors were told their papers were wrong, that the digital picture attached to their shore passes was not adequate (despite being so in the past), and their seaman’s documents and passports were also not good. Two openly complained, raising issue. I think they told me they were instructed to wait. However, seeing that their documents wouldn’t get them out from the port, they returned to the ship.

As I was leaving the mess hall, after eating dinner, Chief Mate Bill collected the three sailors and told them the officials at the gate wanted them to return. Of course, the sailors thought it absurd bullshit. They then were informed that an apology was expected from them. Once again, the sailors thought it absurd bullshit. Apparently, the Immigration officials claimed the sailors (or, at least one of them) slandered the host country. The last thing I heard was The Mate telling one of them the Captain wanted to see him. Who says shipping out is no longer an adventure? At 6:00 PM, a van will show up to take any interested sailor to the seaman’s club. I might just go, so that I’ll be able to hear the rest of what’s going to transpire. I know the boys will end up there. More later!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
12:38 PM
Not much sleep this morning. After returning from the Seamen’s Centre, I had to assist with some crane lifts for the repairmen’s welding gear. The callout was at midnight for 12:30, and the job finished around 1:20. At 4:30, the deck gang was called out for undocking. I wasn’t done until a little after 7:00, when I was released to get some breakfast and clean up for my bridge watch. I’m taking the afternoon off from OT work to take in a long nap. Before that, here’s the rest of the story.

All but two of the guys showed up at the Seamen’s Centre last night. The one stayed aboard the ship after returning from Immigration and the other, who shall remain nameless, is in a United Arab Emirates jail. Apparently, when they were informed that an apology was due, one sailor didn’t wait for the rest and went solo to make nice. The Immigration officers asked him where the others were. He then explained that he immediately left on his own and that the others were waiting for the agent to drive them. When the remaining two arrived, they were questioned. One of them was asked where he is from, what is his country of origin, and he replied that he is a Filipino-American. He received an odd look. In the end, he was released. The last sailor, even before he left the ship, said that he would never apologize. Apparently, he stuck to his guns.

Now, from what I gathered, the incident seemed to have started when this last guy tossed his passport to the officials, instead of handing it to them. Then again, it might also have started when they were told their paperwork was not in order. However, as anyone who read Franz Kafka would know, there are few things more mysterious and terrifying as a bureaucracy. Perhaps one can compare the experience to being blindfolded and waking to the sensation of a train’s lurch. Before your groggy senses can determine whether that lurch was the train stopping or starting, it’s clear that this transition of movement is a sign of a coming unknown.

To this, I cannot but imagine the prideful standing in the face of that unknown. How might one choose to act? Will their first thoughts run to being brave and giving no quarter? Though I do not know who said, “Discretion is the better part of valor,” I’m fairly sure it was John Milton who spoke of “Pride before the fall” in Paradise Lost. Whether or not this man actually spoke ill towards the U.A.E. and, perhaps, broke a local law concerning expressing enmity against the state, surely prudence would dictate the sailor offer up the possibility of misperception of an emotional outburst. From there, one need only apologize for an inappropriate display of frustration. After all, is not patience a virtue?

And there you go: It is often difficult to determine if the leviathan of bureaucracy is swinging its tail out of malice or reflex. Given this indeterminacy and the power of petty bureaucrats, surely it is wise to act prudently by both assuming the lesser of the two impulses and avoiding danger. For being full of pride and lacking discretion, a sailor sits in a foreign jail.

As a final note, I have to a mention that sailors are possessed with a severe case of gallows humor. We are prone to thinking of the ghastliest possibility with a twist of black humor. Without being explicit, some of us have imagined the wayward sailor’s jail experience resembling that of Lawrence of Arabia’s treatment at the hands of Turkish captors. If the idea gets introduced with the question, “Do know what a Turkish Delight is?” then the possibility of humor becomes attainable. “Beware of the thick-fingered Abdullah!” Yes, yes, I know this isn’t P.C., but who ever said sailors ever were?

To be honest, this sailor is no saint. Then again, most of us aren’t either. Doubly again, there are some who are. That aside, this poor S.O.B. has the reputation of being his own worst enemy. Though I won’t tell the most infamous story of him (that could all together give away his identity to those who are skilled at gathering clues), I will tell of his battle with a toaster.

A Toaster Gets the Upper Hand
Back two years ago, when I was forced to head down to Los Angeles to find a ship, I had to settle on a fly-out to Singapore. The President Adams had been in the shipyard and needed a break-out crew. A handful of us sailors took the job, and our hapless friend was part of the group.

Though the President Adams is only one of a handful sister ships, I have to say there are a few minor difference that makes this ship stand apart from the rest. When you remove the factor of people, I’d have to say only one thing stands alone. That one thing is the toaster in the unlicensed mess hall. This unit, if I recall correctly, has two separate controls, versus the one darkness knob found on all toasters. I think the two on this one are for heat and time. When you push down the spring-loaded lever, you can hear the ticking of a timer. A deep and dark toasting will demand not only a long timer but also greater heat. Think of coping with a bagel or an English muffin. When toasting white bread or re-heating slices, low heat and a short timer are called for. In the latter case, one can hear the fast ticking of the shortened timer.

As a regular thing, I like to get up an hour before I have to turn to work, to allow myself as much time as possible to enjoy my breakfast. Often, I found myself as one of the first people in line for food. Our dear friend would also be there, too, getting his breakfast, usually first in line. Our man liked his white bread toast, too. During the first week aboard was when this conflict arose with the toaster. Unfortunately, that thing came with a learning curve.

Every day over that week, he would attempt toasting his white bread. Initially, his toast burned. “Motherfucking cocksucker!” he would shout (As if I enjoy hearing that noise while I’m still trying to wake up?), throwing down the charred bread into the closest garbage can. This happened maybe two or three more times. Next, he either reduced the heat or shortened the timer. The bread came out undercooked. He then pushed the lever back down. The toast burned again, having gone twice the length of cooking time. Again: “Motherfucking cocksucker!” Again: Two slices into the garbage. This happened at least two more times {“This” meaning the burnt toast and the cursing). Of course, he eventually got things straight, and his toast came out perfect--until another variable entered.

After our hero had attained toasting nirvana over a few days, things started going awry again. His toast was burning. It was Motherfucking-cocksucker-toast-hurled-into-the-garbage déjà vu all over again. This went on for another day before I realized what went wrong.

After some time at sea, the ship’s supply of whole grain bread ran out. I then started eating English muffins, instead of regular white bread or the faux wheat bread that was left to be had. As I mentioned before, I also arrived at the mess hall just as it opened for service. Since English muffins take more time to toast, I started toasting my bread before ordering my breakfast. My realization was that the new variable was my toasting my muffins before our hero had his turn. What burned the white bread was all the residual heat in the toaster from the muffins’ longer cooking time. Wow! I fucked him up: Right when he thought he had everything figured out, he was suddenly betrayed once again.

So what did I do about it? I decided to let the treatment continue for another day or two before stopping: I figured he needed to start adjusting the toaster before the problem ceased, thus adding a new layer of torment before things straightened out on their own. There’s nothing like a little stealth revenge for obnoxious behavior first thing in the morning. So you see what I mean when I say he is his own worst enemy. The man just brings it on himself.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009
4:05 PM
More Details on “Jack Tar”
Apparently, the guy, who is in custody, tossed his passport to the Immigration officials instead of handing it to them. It would seem that offended them. From there, everything went south. That was when they started jerking the sailors around. Still, it amazes me how often people fail to realize how important gestures are. Tossing a passport to an Immigration official can only be interpreted in a bad way--and is also poor judgment when that petty bureaucrat holds the keys to the gate you wish to pass through.

Oh, who is Jack Tar? It’s old British slang for a sailor. Go here to find more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Tar
I think I might as well use this name to refer to any wayward sailor involved in a story I have to tell.

In the Straits of Malacca and Approaching Singapore
Right now, the ship has resumed steaming after drifting for a couple of hours inside of the Straits of Malacca. The company finally gave us an update on the conditions at the dock. We were hoping to get in a little earlier than our 1800 (6:00 PM) pilot time; however, there is still a ship at the berth reserved for the Truman. Since it takes about an hour and a half from pilot to finished with lines, it will be close to 2000 by the time the gangway will be down. After that, a fuel barge will come alongside. For myself, I kind of see the rest of night shot down, as far as going to town is concerned. I expect to limit myself to a visit a convenience store at a local mall to buy a top-off card, to add call time to my cell phone, and get an international phone card to extend the minutes on my phone. This is the best way to call home from overseas, as one can turn call-time minutes into hours.