About Me

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

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.

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