About Me

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

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.



Anonymous said...

Hey, Dave, we are interested in your posts! Love your efforts and contributions to social networking..."staying connected"!

We just might be inspired to take pictures of the National Sr. Olympics in Palo Alto this summer in hopes of having friends join us in participating as they turn the big five-O.
Stan & Brenda

--Karen H said...

Great post, Dave. Love the valiant Wanda, who is far more useful than our lazy Newman who has not caught any kind of rodent at all. I'm RSS'ing your blog for sure. :-)

--Karen H said...

But dang...I can't set an RSS feed to your blog! You need to set this up!