About Me

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Saved By The Palm Pilot T/X

Posting from the Jebel Ali Seamans Centre. I didn't give myself enough time to pack my laptop but did bring the Palm Pilot. I followed my sister's directions and went to settings. Now I'll be able to post text via email from the ship. Cool! Unfortunately, company policy doesn't allow attachments. That means no pics until I reach Singapore.

Starting tomorrow or the next day, I will begin posting the thirteen pages (Yikes!!!) of my writings since the ship left Charleston. Each section will be dated from when it was composed. I hope that will allow readers to better follow the events until I get caught up with realtime events.

Pictures and a few video clips should arrive around July 9th. That will be when the ship will be in Singapore.

At this point, I have to say that the trip has not been without incident. Sorry, but no pirates. However, a couple of our guys got on the wrong side of the local immigration authorities. No good. I'll fill you all in on that later, once all the facts come in. Too bad you're going to have to first wade through all the crap I've written but not posted yet.

Well, the live music has started in the club It's time to close. Stay tuned in the mean time.


Monday, June 08, 2009

The First Day or Three: Staten Island and Charleston, S.C.

Friday, June 05, 2009
Another sad-bellied start to joining a ship. Getting up at five in the morning to make an 8:00 flight, you have breakfast at the airport. SeaTac may have Cathy Casey's Dish D'lish, but breakfast is still a fried egg sandwich. Can you say "egg-a-muffin"? Perhaps that’s a little unfair. Though it was an egg sandwich, it’s also safe to say it was probably better than any other of the same found in an airport. The good bread and an above average sausage patty helped a lot.

The hour spent hanging out with Margaret before clearing security was bitter-sweet as usual. It will be close to six months before I see her again, but having her there smoothes the transition for the both of us. Not to mention that good company makes almost any food taste better.

About an hour or so after take off, I fell fast asleep for an hour. Last night didn't provide much rest. Last minute adjustments with my packing kept me up until around midnight. And then, there was the dead rat Wanda, one of our two cats, brought gifted me a little after 2:30 am. I'm certain she knew, from my bags packed in the living room, I was leaving. This has happened more than once before. It almost always happens after we've fallen asleep. The first thing that causes you to wake is a foreign difference in the way her collar bell rings. It has to do with having a rodent hanging out of her mouth and the effect on her posture and gait. And then, what confirms the presence of the gift is her strange vocalization. Is there an actual name for that sound? It's something between a meow and a cackle, though clearly not the cackle cats make when they spy a slow, fat fly buzzing in the house or a flock of birds in a small, low tree. Either way, you have learned to wake up to a preferably dead rodent. I say, "Preferably dead," because chasing a live one in the middle of the night--it having the wide-awake advantage in a room full of luggage, while you're barefoot in your knickers, adrenaline piercing through your sleep like worms through a corpse's skull--is never good. Wanda used to bring me live ones on occasion. I think that ended the night I, in a fit of sleep-deprived rage, dispatched a rat when it scurried up behind the bedroom dresser mirror. I’ll say no more than to mention that the mirror was secured to neither the dresser nor the wall.

Wanda, the demure killer of rodents:

I should mention a few things about the vagaries of often having to fly out to a ship. The flight to Newark included a layover in Phoenix. My seat companions were an African-American mother and daughter. This surprisingly strict young mother made sure her kindergarten child had a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to keep her busy. Now here’s my riff: It never ceases to drive me up the bulkheads when I’m done with my time aboard a ship and I’m on a plane with an obnoxious child sitting behind me who spends the whole flight kicking the back of my seat. Typically, the accompanying parent is weak when it comes to controlling the behavior of their child. In this case, though this girl was filled with curiosity and wanted to share her book with me, she was very polite and considerate. I offer my compliments to her.

Saturday, June 06, 2009
Arrived at the ship around 10:00 pm. As the U.S. Airway flight I was on descended to the runway, I could see the dock at Howland Hook. The thing was, the Truman wasn’t there. Clearly, the ship was delayed, but no one from APL contacted me with the arrival information. Normally, the ships arrive in the morning, so I became concerned. It had been a week since I accepted the job and received my flight information. In the interim, I heard nothing about the ship’s arrival time. I ended up calling the travel liaison person and found that it due at the dock at 10:00. It was at least half an hour after I got off the plane before I rooted up the information. Is Mercury still in retrograde?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Saturday at Staten Island, though busy, didn’t last long. First thing in the morning, as the 8 to 12 Able Seaman, I had the coastwise sanitary duties for the first two hours of my day. However, because of the amount of voyage stores the ship was receiving, I had to postpone my normal duties and assist the rest of the deck gang craning aboard and moving food and other provisions (for the Deck and Engine Departments) to their storage locations.

The stores boat from above.

Able Seaman, Chuck Maringer watching the boat gang sling up another pallet. Chuck is in his 70's and still going strong. It must be his rude and crude nature. May we all live as long and have as much verve as he.

At one point in the afternoon, there was an electrical failure in the stores crane, and work ground to a halt. Fortunately, all the food was aboard, and the repair was completed with an hour. The sailing board was originally set for 5:00 pm (cargo was done around 4:00 pm), but departure was delayed to 6:30 (an 18.5 hour port stay) to accommodate a quick replacement of some main engine parts. This is no mean feat.

People tend to see ships from at a distance. They rarely have the opportunity to view them up close. If that were to happen--and if they took it upon themselves to imagine the size of the internal spaces--they might begin to guess the size of the main engine of such a vessel. Certainly these people would not be the ones who are in the habit of calling a ship a “boat.” For one, boats do not have engines that are two stories tall. (Note: Actually, you should never get so close to a ship that you would have these thoughts. If you did, you got too close and should be looking over your shoulder to see if the Coast Guard and Homeland Security are about to slap you down for getting too close to a merchant ship. As it is, we try very hard to keep at least a half mile from boats when in open water. If the water isn't the open ocean and, instead tight quarters, then you're making us nervous. Please don't do that to us. Just keep your thoughts innocent and do your best to stay clear.)

A view down into the engine room hatch. Big cylinder heads, no?

When it comes to changing out a piston, a cylinder liner, or even the head from a piston cylinder, it is no mean feat. It takes a crane to lift one from the dock or a delivery boat and into the engine room. Once inside, there is an overhead lift to position a heavy engine part into position. The weight of these parts are so great, an engineer need only tighten the retaining nuts only by hand.

Here's a picture of Captain Charlie Carubia.

This is his "No pictures! No pictures!" look. He's heading home to NYC, after finishing his 8 week rotation. Talk about an easy commute! Captain Carubia is well liked and respected by all past and present crew. He'll never have a problem getting sailors on his ship. I'm looking forward to seeing him again in 8 weeks. About two hours later, we set sail for Charleston, South Carolina.

Monday, June 08, 2009
I just got off watch. It’s midnight, and I need to get some sleep. The ship will be receiving the Charleston (South Carolina) River pilot at 3:40 am. I will be called out at 3:00 to make ready the pilot ladder. Nightie night!

6:08 AM
Ship all fast at Charleston. What’s the point of going back to sleep when breakfast starts serving at 7:20?

So what did I do this morning--other than take these pictures of the Charleston Bridge? I had to lay down some white paint around the bridge wings. No pictures of that. Like, white paint is photogenic? After the lunch hour, once again I had the sanitation duty until 1500 (3:00 pm), when I was free to go ashore. The union contract spells out that, if the ship is staying overnight and there isn't any pressing work to be done between 1500 and 1700, then the sailor are allowed to go shore early. Gotta make it to the post office!

What did I do when I went ashore? I got a ride to Whole Foods from the Seafarers Center, a volunteer group sponsored by the Catholic Church. These people provide a kind and wonderful service to all seafarers who arrive in port and have no means of going ashore. Often, the sailors from foreign countries have neither adequate money for ground transportation or knowledge of the locale. Here, the volunteers step in and assist the sailors in whatever way they can. They even provide religious services for those who desire.

So what does a sailor buy at Whole Foods? Habanero hot sauce, Red Hot Blues blue corn chips, hommus, baba ghannouj, almond butter, oolong and green teas, a small wedge of Campo de Montalban, three slices of pizza, and The New York Times. Had the Steward, Brendan Maeda, been with me, zaru soba and dipping sauce fixin's would have been on the list.

After the Seafarers Center people picked me back up, we swung by a Barnes & Noble to retrieve another sailor from my ship. Since we were early, I snagged a CD by Esperanza Spalding and another by Luciana Souza. I highly recommend these jazz artists to anyone. The young Esperanza, from the Bay Area, is skilled as a jazz singer and bass player. Make no bones about that! She was featured on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz(NPR). Listen to the podcast. And Souza, from Brazil, is simply amazing (aren't all Brazilians musicians jazz naturals?). I'm still looking for her album of Pablo Neruda poems put to music.

Well, it's time for bed. The sailing board is set for 0700. Savannah, Georgia is next.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Back on Track?

Well, it has been a long time since I first set up this blog. I can't even remember my original intent for doing it. Anyway, it seems like it's time to get it going.

Why "None of Your Penguins"? Well, I suppose it comes from my viewing penguins as some sort of symbol for or totem of the imagination. Consider this: They are flightless birds that do fly, however, underwater. The objective correlative exists in that, though people speak of "flights of the imagination," in reality, one has to dive beneath the surface of things in order to retrieve the sublime/submarine food for the imagination. Again, why "None of Your Penguins"? While objects are readily co-opted and commodified (the "nouns" of existence), it is far difficult to do the same to processes (the "verbs" of existence).

Speaking of the ocean:

Tomorrow morning, I'll be flying out to Newark and then head to Staten Island to start another job on a ship. I will be working as an Able Seaman on the American President Line (APL) containership, President Truman. The ship will visit ports on the East Coast, the Middle East (via the Suez Canal), the Far East, and Sri Lanka. This gig will last almost 6 months, as I intend on making three of these voyages. I hope to post some pictures from my time aboard the Truman.

I am a member of the Sailors Union of the Pacific--what might be the first unlicensed maritime union started in the United States. While no longer the size we once were back in the heyday of American shipping, and though we are now the smallest of the unlicensed unions, we manage to cast a long shadow.

Given the stories in the news of the pirate attacks in and around the Gulf of Aden, I figure people might find some value or interest in the fact that my ship will be sailing through those waters. The last time I shipped out through the Gulf of Aden, a ship that was 25 miles ahead of us was boarded and taken by pirates. We could hear over our bridge VHF radio the ship's captain calling the Coalition Forces in the area. Sadly, help was too far away to save them.

While my friends and family have expressed worry that my ships have to sail through the pirate waters, I tell them that the APL ships are too large and fast for pirates to waste their time with us. Very true! There are many other ships that are far more value rich, being slower and lower to the water.

Well, I have to get some sleep before my morning flight. The opportunities for me to post won't be that frequent, but I will do my best to keep this blog alive. Also, when I'm not out on the sea, I'm home in Washington State, just north of Seattle. Margaret and I keep two cats (Wanda and Fern) and four chickens (Butch, Penny, Henny, and Edie) around the house. While home this last time around, I put in some time building a greenhouse. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to fully complete it. It is almost done, my having glazed the roof, the west and the north sides. Basically, all that needs to be done is the east side and the interior. Fortunately, if Margaret isn't able to get some of her brothers to put on the finishing touches, I will be home before winter. I'll be sure to post some pics I took of the home front from the past few days--as soon as I can find an Internet cafe somewhere in my travels.

Until then...

--Dave Eriksen