About Me

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

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.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Suez Canal and the Red Sea

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Anchored in Bitter Lake, Suez Canal

That was a very long night. We initially anchored a few miles north of the Suez Canal entrance to wait for enough ships to queue up for the passage. That happened around 3:00 in the afternoon. My evening watch begins at 8:00 pm, so I started it by patrolling the deck. We finally pulled the hook around 10:30, to assume our place 3rd in line, and I took my place at the helm a little before that. Just before Midnight, I was relieved at the helm by Ray. However, since we were steering in hand, and I was the helm standby man and had to relieve Ray every hour. So, an hour later, I was back on the wheel for an hour and had to return again for the last hour of Ray's watch. It was a little before 4:00 am when I was able to return to my room to finally take a shower and go to bed. At 7:00, I got up again to have breakfast and to assume my watch--having less than three hours of sleep. The ship arrived at Bitter Lake, the midway point for the southbound convoy, around 6:30 and was anchored up by 7:30. I'm glad I took the time to snag some sleep, instead of working overtime yesterday. Still, that last hour on the wheel was tough.

If you haven't figured it out by now, the southbound convoy has to pull over and anchor at Bitter Lake to allow the northbound ships to pass. Once they are clear, the southbound ships pull anchor and resume their passage south. The word is we will be on our way around 11:00 am. We should be clear of "The Ditch" and done with the pilots sometime between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. Once again, I will have to be Ray's back up, so I won't see any sleep until after 4:00 pm and before 7:15, when I will wake up and get ready for my evening watch again. Gotta love it...

12:32 PM The Truman is underway again. We're making slow headway out of Bitter Lake,
as we maneuver around the other ships anchored here. Now is my lunch hour and my helm standby for the 12 to 4 watch.

Our pilot for this southern leg of the transit is Captain Magdy El Rafey. He is very personable, very well humored, and of a cosmopolitan mind. It might have two weeks ago that the Egyptian football team beat Italy, 1-0. What a stupendous feat against the World Cup defenders! Of course, we chatted about the game. "They were in good athletic shape, healthy, and they were fighters!" said Captain El Rafey. Sadly for Team Egypt, the U.S. soccer team beat them the following week, 3-0. The U.S. advanced to play as the last of four teams standing, having won a tie by having a better scoring ratio, thus leaving Egypt behind. El Rafey noted Egypt's loss was because their skill was greatest in the air and not on the ground. Because the U.S. players are much taller than the Egyptians are, the latter's aerial ball handling became ineffective. Corner kicks and high passes were shut down.

3:51 PM
I just finished my last hour steering as backup helmsman for the 12 to 4 watch. Too bad I wasn't able to take pictures of Port Suez, as well as some of the buildings and the presidential (local governor's?) mansion at Ismailia. That building is quite elegant and worthy of a picture post.

Sunday, June 28, 2009
Too Hot for Golf and Pirates:

Last Friday was some nasty heat. The night before, the ship was leaving the Red Sea and entering the Gulf of Aden. That was when the heat really kicked in. Bosun Norm was the first person standing the pirate lookout on the stern, and he felt it first. By the next day, it had reached the level of pain. To add to it, we were laying on white paint to the ship's superstructure (aka, "the house'"). The paint reflected and further intensified the solar heat. I started my overtime work after the lunch hour, and I couldn't believe the sensation of the heat. I don't think it took even an hour before I started feeling all swoony. Norm didn't object when I suggested I get a cooler full of ice water.

By now, we've cleared the Gulf of Aden and the heart of the recognized piracy area. Arrival at Jebel Ali is currently slated for 1000 tomorrow. The high for Dubai is over 100 degrees. I suppose the only good thing one can say about the heat is that it must be too hot for even piracy. Yup, no reported activity. Surprise, surprise...

7:11 PM
Crap! I think the air conditioning went on the fritz. My room suddenly got real warm and humid. This is not good.

The Mediterranean and Passing Italy

Saturday, June 20, 2009
1:49 AM
Entering the Mediterranean Ocean.
So we transited the Straits of Gibraltar Thursday night. Yes, yes, that was two nights ago. Technically, that was yesterday night. Don't forget: I'm writing when I get off of watch, so, though it's the next day, the reference point is actually the day before. In other words, that was only yesterday. Right? Welcome to the world of sailing through time zones.

We're in the Med. Too bad it isn't as glamorous as it seems. We're just passing through. As soon as we cleared Gibraltar, visibility closed in to a hair over a mile. We hate fog so much, we refer to it as the "F-word." Even 3rd Mate Wes called it low clouds. Nice euphemism.

Sunday, June 21, 2009
12:40 AM
The Straits of Sicily
At the end of watch, we cleared the Straits of Sicily. Twelve hours before, we were just starting in. During my lunch hour, I emailed my friend, Lisa Osse. She and her husband, Jim, are in Lerici, Italy. He works in La Spezia. They just moved there last month from Seattle for his job. Some people are so lucky!

It's so strange passing by them in this manner, knowing I have friends from home in this part of the world. This creates an odd intimacy, a lessening of abstraction, with this part of Europe. Though the nautical chart we use for these waters only shows the very southern belly of Sicily, my mind imagines what lies further to the north. Do visit their blog at ossesinitaly.blogspot.com. I'll be checking up on them when the ship reaches Singapore. I want to see more of the little harbor of Lerici! Here's a poem.

While Sailing Past Sicily
--for Jim and Lisa

The ship's engine thrums
With a heart pulse
As we steam
Into the western reach
Of the Strait of Sicily.
To the north is the rest of Italy.

From Gibraltar to Sicily,
The Mediterranean Ocean
Is not blue:
The air is something between
low clouds and fog.
The sea is gray.
Visibility barely more than a mile.

The roiling cloud tops
Seem just outside of reach,
But there is blue sky above.
The ridge tops of the Atlas Mountains
Break the airy meniscus to the south
Like the great toothed whale
Folding itself
Into a hunger-driven
Deep sounding,
Forehead pointed
Downward, listening
For the echoes of its own desire.

The nautical chart shows only
The southern belly of Sicily.
But I can't help but think
Of two friends,
Recently transplanted,
Far to the north in Lerici.

I imagine their small harbor,
The tiny sand-patch of a beach
Crowded with boats,
The sea reflecting a blue sky.

My friends will learn
From the fisher people
A simple art of leisure
That can't be found
Where we come from.

Their mornings will reveal
How the fishermen move
Through blue morning air,
Down the cobblestone streets,
Down to the harbor,
Hauling their boats down
To fish the Ligurian Sea.

Their afternoons will offer
The riddle of townspeople
Whiling away hours that lean
Into the setting sun, of a hand
Hooked inside an elbow,
And a head leaning into
The shoulder of a loved one.

And the evening piazzas
Will fill their ears with liquid
Voices rising like a tide,
Of friends chatting with friends,
Of families out for a late stroll,
Of silverware and wine glasses chiming
Through this polyphony of life.

And before it is all over,
They will find time
More valuable than money.
They will discover
That lovely space found
Inside a crowded piazza.
And they will hold the gift
That is blue sadness,
That is blue joy,
That is blue wonder.
That is blue awe.

(Written June 21 & 22, 2009)

Ciao, Peeps!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Monkey Radio and Other Related Issues

Friday, June 19, 2009
12:40 AM

Monkey Radio
Once again, back in my stateroom after watch. This morning (or was it last night?) was the beginning of "Monkey Radio." It usually starts about a day or two from Europe and continues through to the north end of the South China Sea. Either earlier this year or late last year, NPR had a brief piece on this phenomenon. It was part of a series on the Somalia pirates. Well, as a merchant seaman, I have to state that NPR failed to convey the reality. Monkey Radio actually is no more than racial slurs, over vessel radio, directed towards Philippine mariners.

First, I must offer some foreground this issue: Filipinos comprise a considerable percent of the global number of merchant seafarers--perhaps even the majority. However, the problematic aspect is that, in the corporate pursuit of lower wages, shipping companies have re-flagged their ships to nations that offer very low tax burdens. Additionally, this provides the companies the opportunity to staff their ships with third-world labor--from top to bottom. To this, they have found that Filipinos provide a fairly passive ("cooperative" is the term the companies have used in description) labor force that will accept sub-standard labor practices that the companies' own populations would refuse on humanitarian grounds. For instance, Filipinos often accept two or more year contracts to serve aboard a ship, with no opportunity to take time off to visit home, and receive little to no pay until the end of their time on ship. Should a sailor quit, they have to surrender their earnings. Of course, such a contract would be illegal in most developed countries; however, it is unlikely the average Filipino has access to legal representation that will allow recovery of earnings. Also, once a sailor reaches his 40's, he is no longer accepted for work through the many hiring agencies found in his own country. The hiring practices favor the companies by minimizing their liability for the health and welfare of the sailors.

In the end, Filipinos are exploited. This is clearly evident in the numbers of these sailors stranded in Somalia, after their ships have been seized by pirates. To date, well over 300 Filipinos are languishing in Somalia, waiting for someone to raise their ransom. This is something that probably will not happen, as the only people with that kind of money was their employers--a lot that obviously have abandoned them at this point. To say the least, their families do not have that kind of money. If they had, these men would not have taken the job.

To continue: In the face of this so-called "outsourcing" of jobs (in the maritime industry, we call it "scabbing-out"), it is not surprising that a level of resentment exists against Filipino mariners. However, it would be foolish to dodge the issue of racism. Ironically, the closer to the lower rungs of scab labor, the worse the racism gets. It is said that, once you're off the coast of India, you're scraping the bottom of the barrel. The abuse passed between Indians and Filipinos is appalling. It starts generically and is similar to this: "Filipino monkey... Filipino monkey?" The reply: "Fuck you! You're the monkey!" The generic counter reply: "Filipino monkey like a ba-na-na?" The scorched-earth reply: "Indian monkey, I eat your god."

Probably the most cold-blooded piece of abuse I ever heard was one without words. If I recall correctly, it was back in 1991, and I was on a car carrier transiting the English Channel. As always, it started over channel 16, the frequency strictly reserved for ship-to-ship hailing (you first establish contact with another ship and then switch to another channel) and emergency communication. I heard what I recognized as tiny cymbals banging together: "Ching-ching-ching-ching-ching-ching-ching-ching..." I was initially confused as to the source of this noise. Suddenly, I realized it was one of those wind-up toy chimps. Ouch!

But I have been offered correction about my assumption that all this abuse comes from non-Filipinos. Apparently, there are some Filipinos who engage in this behavior--just to see if they can piss-off one of their own countrymen. This was related to me by 3rd Mate Wes. He had sailed with an elderly Filipino, who once sailed as a mate on the foreign flag ships but found better pay as an able seaman on U.S. ships. This sailor discerned that a particular antagonist was really a Filipino. He then got on the radio (with permission, of course) and informed the other person that he was shaming his own people and should stop this kind of behavior.

I couldn't agree more. Not like it's an "Uncle Tom" kind of a thing, but it's more about being aware that you and your people are striving to better themselves against a lot of adversity. If there are individuals who are giving cause to your oppressors, then behavior that gives fuel to the fire must stop. There's no point in engaging the monkey business. As someone who is half-Japanese and grew up through some of the residual post-WWII anti-Japanese sentiment of the 60's and 70's, I can attest to this one thing: Individual pride is one thing, but respecting your own dignity and that of others is another. The energy spent defending your own pride can easily fuel an unending cycle of vengeance.

Perhaps, in one sense, this is what lies at the nexus of "Monkey Radio." It's sad to see a corner of the maritime world where people at the lowest economic rungs are tearing at each other. You see what all this outsourcing of labor does? It's like wealthy members of the Klan pitting poor whites against poor blacks. So long as the have-nots are fighting between themselves for intentionally discarded crumbs, the haves are able to exploit the situation for a profit by alternating favor and disfavor between the two impoverished groups and keep them from realizing their common cause.

So why is there this animosity between the Indians and the Filipinos? It's because these two English-as-second-language groups see each other in competition for what they don't realize are the lowest paying jobs in the industry. Nearly all shipping companies from developed nations have jettisoned their own nation's people in favor of labor from poorer countries. And are these third-world people getting paid at the same standard of living as the previous, developed nation seafarers? Of course not. Meanwhile, they get to see their families for only a little while between their contracts. And they live sad and lonely lives at sea, seething on the inside, and hating what most resembles them.

More Catching Up: At Sea, Advancing the Clock, & Deck Work

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
12:24 AM
Advancing the Clock
Just got off watch. I haven't written anything over the past days, because of lack of sleep and fatigue. Two days ago, we advanced the clocks one hour. Last night (over the previous watches), we advanced the clock three hours, starting after Noon and finishing on my 8 to 12 evening watch. We do this changing of the clocks in order to keep ourselves synchronized with the local time zone. While it isn't like we are stopping anywhere between the East Coast of the United States and the Suez Canal, we will be crossing something like seven time zones by the time we reach Egypt and have to communicate with the local authorities. Moreover, it is, naturally, important to stay with the Sun. In order to do this, as we progress eastward, we have to shorten our days by advancing the ship's clocks. Conversely, when we return westward, we will retard our clocks and lengthen our days. Interestingly, it is convenient to advance the clocks three hours in one day, one hour per four hour watch, starting between Noon and 1600. We do this twice during the eastward leg of a voyage. In the case of a one-hour time change, the clock is moved twenty minutes per watch. When we sail westward, we only change the clocks one hour on a given day.

Such as it is with sailors, we always find a reason to complain. When we advance the clocks, we complain that we lose sleep. When we retard the clocks, we complain that our watches are longer. The only people who seem to have reason to be happy with the time changes are the day workers. With the advancing of the clocks, they only have to work seven hours during the day. When we retard the clocks, they gain an extra hour for sleep or recreation. Sometimes it seems that there is no group that can complain like sailors.

Work in General and The Bosun's Chair
So what has the deck gang been doing lately? Well, as usual, there is plenty of rust to chip. It was either yesterday or the day before that Danny Ycoy was put into a Bosun's chair and lowered down the port side of the ship's house to chip rust from around the stateroom windows. While that may not seem that much of a deal, that's a six-story drop down to the deck, with the man swinging away from the side when the ship rolls to port. Danny got stuck with that job, because he's one of the two day-working AB's. I suspect Chuck Maringer dodged the bullet because he's as old as he is. Greg has been high-pressure water-blasting rust from around the pool (Yes, we do have a pool, though it is small.), while Ray has been chipping rust somewhere else. Myself? Well, since I have some woodworking skills, I've been assisting the Bosun with some projects. One was repairing a chair and another is helping him with building a shelf extension in the paint locker. This is quite the project, as there is this reinforced section of the anchor housing that protrudes up from the deck inside the paint locker, which we have to build around. Talk about a custom fit!

Stormin' Norman
Since it was raining today, Danny's job was put on hold. I don't know what he was detailed to do, but I'm sure Bosun Norm had something up his sleeve. Norm Christiansen is, it can be said, is infamous for being a task master. He is also known for getting a lot of work out of his men. I do not dispute either of these claims, as I have worked with him in the past. Nonetheless, I have no complaints. I have made good money because of him and have learned some good skills to boot. Norm is one of the last ship's carpenters in the Sailors Union has--despite the position having been phased out with the arrival of the container ships. Up until then, he had shipped as a carpenter for 14 years straight. Nonetheless, most captains and chief mates like having him aboard. Lots of work gets done, and no one questions his integrity. "Stormin' Norman" may be a tough taskmaster, but I always end up going home with a bit of knowledge that will serve me around the house. More on that soon enough! It's past time for bed, and I still need to catch up on sleep. Lord knows when that will happen...

More Catching Up: Norfolk, Virginia

Thursday, June 11, 2009
12:47 AM
Going Ashore in Norfolk
We expect to receive the Norfolk pilot around 1000. From there, it will be close to three hours before we're finished with docking and lines. Considering that we are schedule to leave at midnight, and that there will be lots of Engine and Steward Department stores, I may find myself unable to go ashore. That will be a drag! I still have some toiletry items that I need, pit-stop being high on the list. The other issue is my being able to post another entry for this blog at Fair Grounds coffee shop, just off of Colley Avenue. They offer free WiFi, so I highly recommend their generosity and good coffee. FG is kitty corner and half-a-block away from a Starbucks. The only thing 'Bucks has over SG is that they sell The New York Times.

I also hope to buy a cheap guitar to leave on the ship. The last time I was in Norfolk, I recalled seeing an inexpensive Yamaha at a music shop in the Ghent neighborhood. If that doesn't pan-out, I'll have to find one in Singapore. Though I've been there several times, the one place I saw guitars for sale is no longer in business. The search starts all over again?

I'm uncertain whether to ask for a reimbursement out of the ship's recreation fund for the guitar. I know there are other sailors who play guitar and would enjoy having an instrument to keep up their chops on. Then again, to bring a guitar aboard is ultimately self-serving. At the same time, I have been asked to play for the crew (as if I enjoyed being obliged to play for people by a captain I didn't particularly like. I did it, though, only because it was for a Chief Mate that I did like).

8:58 AM
One more hour before we pick up the pilot. After that, it will be steering in hand, instead of relying on the auto pilot. We've already started the hour-for-hour rotation on the wheel. That's why I'm able to write right now, my being on "standby."

Getting up this morning was a little rough. I stayed up a bit too late last night. As a watch stander, I have only eight hours from the end of on watch to the start of my next (each bridge watch lasts four hours). I also work four hours of overtime in the four hours between lunch and dinner. Because of this schedule, it's important to get into bed as soon as possible after work. It would seem that keeping up this blog is not going to be that easy. Once we get out to sea, I hope to spread out the time I spend writing. Besides, everything falls back into the daily routine once we get out to sea for the passage across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean.

Saturday, June 13, 2009
12:27 AM
Not Enough Sleep
Too tired to add to the log over the last 24 hours. We left the dock at Norfolk at Midnight. It was three hours more when we dropped off the Chesapeake Bay harbor pilot. Since the Bosun, Norm Christiansen, and I were on the 8 to 12 watch, we were the so-called "Back-up watch" for the mid-watch and, therefore, had to take care of the bow lookout and assist the standby helmsman with rigging and securing the pilot ladder. It was a little after 0300 when we were done with work and off to bed.

This is a prime example of why sleep is always at such a premium. Since I'm the 8 to 12 watch stander, I get up for breakfast and my 0800 watch. Though I get a wake-up call at 0720, I try to get up a half-hour before that, in order to give myself enough time to clear my head and grind some coffee beans for my French press. Coffee is my friend. Even without the interruption of docking and undocking, I normally get only six hours of sleep between midnight and 0700, it being my habit of needing an hour to wind-down enough to get to sleep. After dinner, I try to take a nap before my 2000 watch, which actually starts at 1945. That early start time allows for passing-on the ship's true course, course steered, and the magnetic compass heading, as well as word on any vessels within visual and radar range, to the relieving helmsman. In reality, it is a rare thing to find myself getting a full eight hours of sleep when I'm a watch stander.

On that note, I'm heading to bed. It's a quarter-to-one, and I'm now looking at that precious six hours of snooze. I'll be doing my best to keep this blog alive.

By the way, by now it must be obvious that I failed to make it to Fair Grounds coffee shop (That's why this entry is getting posted on the blog weeks after the writing). I lucked into a free ride into town, but the wait and dinner with the people I was with used up more time than I thought I had (a little more of that in a bit...). Now I'll end up having to wait until Singapore or Jebel Ali (if I'm lucky to find a connection) for the next opportunity to cut and paste my writings into this blog. There has to be a better way. We shall see.

I did score a cheap guitar, though. It's an all-black, six-string acoustic Ibanez with a cut-away body and pick up system (as if that has any use out here). I found it at Russell's Music World, a tiny shop located at 504 Washington Park, in Norfolk, Virginia. The owner, Russell Scarborough, is a nice guy and had two acoustic guitars I was able to try out. I chose this one, because it was the cheaper of the two, and I liked the overall sound better. Since no one else brought an instrument, I have to go it alone. I did bring four harmonicas and a neck rack with me, so I can now musically rub my stomach and pat my head in the privacy of my own stateroom.

You Cocksucker!!!
At some point, I hope to write more about Mark Nemergut. He was the generous soul that gave me and 3rd Mate, Wes Wilson, a ride to town in Norfolk--and then some. Mark is the Chief Mate aboard the APL ship, President Jackson. He is now the reason I've penciled-in the Jackson as a ship worth sailing on. What a character! He wants to write a book titled: "I Told the Cocksucker..." Or: My Life in the Merchant Marine.

I think the name says it all. Yes, we actually do say such things as "Motherless cocksucker!" or address a despised individual as "You focking cunt!!!" It's not like we have anything against gays or women, it's more like, the harsher the epithet or more extreme the phrase, the better. "The Taboo" is useful. Actually, we do enjoy it when a gay or transvestite sailor arrives aboard. They often shake things up a bit and rock many an ultra-conservative homophobe's boat. It's always good sport when someone shows up to the Captain's office at the end of a voyage in drag ("Yo, Franky, we loves ya!" But that's another sea story...).


Friday, July 03, 2009

Catching Up: From Charleston, S.C. to Savannah, Georgia

Tuesday, June 09, 2009
7:17 PM

Savannah, Georgia:
Ship all fast at Savannah, Georgia. Bunker barge secured to the side of ship. Time for some fuel! We departed the dock at Charleston around 0700, so the transit from dock to dock was about eleven hours: About two hours down the Charleston River, six hours south against the Gulf Stream, and three hours up the Savannah River, with time for handling lines on either end.

Over Sea, Versus Over Land:
I've always wondered why the freight companies don't just freight the cargo at Savannah up to Charleston. Then again, one has to consider how many trucks and/or trains to would take to move the same number of containers the over-ground distance. Take that fuel and personnel cost and weigh it against the same cost for the ship traveling for eleven hours. This ship employs only 20 people, versus the number of truck drivers it would take to haul the 1100 containers we will load here (Actually, that number is the number of containers that will get moved. That may not be the number we will take aboard. It could as easily be the combined number of containers off and on loaded). That's 1100 driver hours having to cover the 60 mile distance from Savannah to Charleston, versus the 220 mariner hours for the same.

Actually, I have to confess I'm no wizard of freight logistics and would like if someone would step up and offer a realistic breakdown of the comparative costs between over-land and over-water transportation. For instance, I have no idea what the typical fuel mileage is for a semi-truck or a freight train pulling 100 containers (three engines pulling 50 double-deckers?), compared to the hourly fuel cost for a C-10 container ship. Nonetheless, I've heard many times that a ship can move more containers far more economically than either truck or train. But for the distance of only 60 statute miles, versus the 98 nautical miles, it's kind of hard for me to speak definitively.

Well, I have to go to bed. At some point in the morning, the 4 to 8 watch AB, Greg Schauf, and I will be called out to let the bunker barge go. On call 24/7...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
1:44 AM
The Two-Hour "Call-Out" and Back to Bed:
Just finished casting off the bunker barge. Sailing around 0600. Go back to bed! Sorry no pictures of the bunker barge and the tow boat. Too much hustle to make time for the camera. This will be a regular problem.

9:34 AM
Premature Call-Out and Steering "In Hand":
The gang was called out at 0545 for 0615. That was an oops. The night mate was new to the procedures of the ship and misinformed Greg on the call-out time for the deck gang. We finally got under way around 0645. I had to eat a quick breakfast and then take the helm by 0745. No rest for the wicked.

BTW, a night mate is a deck officer brought in through the local Master, Mates, and Pilots union hall to either assist or fill in for the mate on watch overseeing the cargo operations. The idea in procuring this individual is to insure the cargo is properly overseen and to allow the other mates time off for rest, relaxation, or shopping in town. Not in that order. Usually it's a quick shopping trip first and then a quick return to the ship for some shut-eye before the ship leaves the dock.

When steering "in hand," the two AB's (short for "Able Bodied Seaman") on a watch rotate an hour on and an hour off. This is to insure that the helmsman doesn't get mentally fatigued from taking rudder and compass heading orders from the pilot, while dancing his eyes from the steering compass, to the rudder angle indicator, and to the rate-of-turn indicator. If you were unable to get much sleep, it can feel like a life-or-death ordeal to maintain ones focus. Fortunately, everyone on the bridge keeps an eye on each other. If the pilot's order seems strange, the helmsman should raise the question. The helmsman also has to repeat the pilot's orders and confirm when they have been carried out. Meanwhile, the pilot, the captain, and the mate-on-watch keep an eye on the helmsman, to see if he is correctly executing the given orders.

When this system of overlapping checks fails, collisions and groundings occur. There is this infamous story of a ship that went aground somewhere on the Mississippi River or somewhere else in the southern coastal states. Anyway, the Coast Guard investigation revealed that both the pilot and captain were on the bridge wing and the mate-on-watch was busy recording the ship's position on the nautical chart when the grounding occurred. The Captain and Pilot were asked why there were outside on the wings, instead of being inside where they could watch the helmsman. They confessed that the helmsman was passing very foul wind and they sought refuge outside. Since the mate was back in the chartroom, he wasn't able to see if the helmsman had correctly followed through on the course change.

More soon!