Saturday, July 10, 2010
So I'm back in Seattle for a few hours today. The Kauai arrived in the wee hours of the morning, as usual. I would have headed home, right away, except that 0800 was all hands for lowering the starboard lifeboat. Every so-many months, the boats have to be tested in the water and puttered about a little. This is not a major thing; however, it's a bummer when it keeps you from being home--though as brief as it may be--with your sweetie-pie. Since the ship was all fast around 0215, and then a fuel barge came alongside shortly afterwards, I wasn't off the deck until around 0300. Since I would have needed to leave home around 0700, to make the lifeboat drop at 0800, there was no point in spending the night at home. Wahh! Since I was aboard, I was callec back out at 0645 to let go the fuel barge. Not much sleep for this dude.
Well, I'm not going to spend all my time at home blogging, so I shall leave off here and attend to that which calls me.
Friday, July 09, 2010
Many apologies to those who died of boredom since the last time I posted on this blog. I spent a couple months more ashore than I ever intended. I left the President Truman in November and finally got a ship at the end of May. Somewhere in there, my shipping card burned, forcing me to re-register for a second time. Six months is way too long to be out of work.
By some miracle, I managed to finally score a Matson job. I’m now sailing aboard the Matson containership, the S.S. Kauai. This is a very mellow gig. We do this two-week route, going from
It is kind of crappy to arrive home at that hour in
So what of
Yeah, yeah, I was supposed to post a video or an audio clip of me doing something on the ukulele. Sorry that didn’t happen. I’m still hashing out audio quality issues. It would appear that webcams suck wind and rock when it comes to rendering sound. I could barely give a damn about the video, but it’s the sound quality that sorely lacks. That project is hereby on standby.
Anyway, I’ve been in contact with the head luthier of KoAloha Ukuleles, Paul Okami. Heck of a nice guy! We’ve been trying to figure out how to arrange for a tour of his family’s factory, where my first ukulele was built. Sadly, July has been a busy time for the Okamis. Actually, it more that the ship’s timing has been on the busiest Sundays for them. The good thing is that they’re having fun. So the S.S. Kauai manages to arrive on the 4th of July. Two weeks later, it happens that it’s the Hawaii Ukulele Festival. Of course, I will make that. A long ride on a bike, but it sure beats the cost of a cab ride there. As you can see, July is “chock-a-block” for everyone. Busy fun.
So why have I been talking with Paul? Well, I hate to admit it, but I really want one of KoAloha’s tenor ukuleles. Without having played them, it’s a toss up between the 4-string tenor and the 6-string “D-VI” tenor. The latter uke is strung and tuned similar to a guitar, though built on a tenor ukulele with a solid koa wood body. The idea is that you get the ukulele sound with guitar chords and such. However, the 4-string does present a quite different world of advantage. There are whole messes of jazz chords that are rather difficult on a guitar (for someone like me) but much simpler on the ukulele. Plus, The Girl From Ipanema sounds way better on a uke than a steel-string guitar: Small, intimate, and plaintive.
Meanwhile, I discovered that, while the kiosk at Ala Moana Mall, where I bought my soprano ukulele back in Y2K, is long-since gone, The Hawaiian Ukulele Company was the parent business. This I found out on my first trip to the Aloha Tower Mall. After looking for the closest KoAloha ukulele dealer to the ship, HUC turned up. After my first purchase of some music books, the proprietor, Mamiko Nelson, handed me a business card. When I looked at the layout with the icons and dingbats, I mentally flashed back to the original business card that still resides in my soprano uke case from ten years ago. Everything was the same, except for the business name: The Ala Moana Ukulele Company versus The Hawaiian Ukulele Company. So I had to ask. Mamiko was surprised that I made the connection: One in the same. We were both pleased--as if long lost friend found each other.
Now I’m starting to see a two-way convergence: I’ve been thinking that my soprano really needs the string action lowered a bit. At the same time, I really want a KoAloha tenor uke: Big time. As far as I can tell, the time is now. This last Sunday, I tuck my “Little Flea” into my back pack and ride my bike to The Hawaiian Ukulele Company. Now this turns into something bigger than Mamiko and I ever envisioned.
Ever since I first bought that soprano uke, I’ve been amazed by its tone. We’re talking about this little, tiny sound that manages to project with amazing clarity and brightness with ten year old generic strings. And this “little flea” was built within the first five or six years of the company’s existence—well before they became tied for the top ukulele builder in
What she told me is that, though I paid $365.00 back in December 2000, she feels that it’s now worth around $900.00!!! To cut to the chase, my uke is 100% solid Hawaiian koa wood. The front, back, and sides are all individual one-piece sections of wood. The front and back look to be cut from the same slice of wood. The neck and fret board are both koa wood. Also, the depth of the sound box (the body) is slightly deeper than the current, equivalent models.
There are other nuances, but, when it all comes down to it, I really feel that my soprano was the best soprano in the shop that day. The ukulele sounded so good, Mamiko felt that I shouldn’t even change those old strings. Weird, no? Actually, not: By instinct—despite the difficulty I have with cramming my fingers between those frets—I tend to grab that instrument first when I feel the impulse to play music. Even Margaret feels the same impulse to pick up that little flea. She’s actually considering taking lessons. You might sing at a whisper, but that uke will give you all the support you need. No more and no less. I feel so privileged that I do own something so sweetly accommodating. It might be a perfect musical instrument. In class with a Stradivarius? No. Among ukuleles: Yes!
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Okay. Funny/weird things have been happening. It has to do with Jerry, this new day worker AB. He joined the ship the last time we were in
On Monday, the day of arrival into
You see, Jerry has sailed on more Matson ships than I have, so there should have been no confusion. Plain and simple, he should have known. Still, he went up before the proper time () and relieved the helmsman as the ship sailed into
Later, I quizzed him on: “How do you know it’s your turn for dinner chow relief?” Answer: “You are the Sano Man!!!” Bada-bing, bada-boom!!! I wasn’t surprised that deer caught in the headlights have no answer.
Yesterday, I was assigned to take a garden hose and rinse the stack soot from the after house (Deck officers forward, versus unlicensed deck and engine and licensed engineers in the aft house). After Jerry finished with his sanitary duties, he was assigned to help tend the 100 to 150 feet of hose I was working. There are all these nooks and crannies that hide soot, so I have to twist and turn a lot. Problem is, I kept coming up short on hose because Jerry had a grip six feet behind me and didn’t give me enough slack to turn with. “Jesus Christ, Jerry!” I snapped, “Back off and give me enough slack to move with! Whut tha fuck?”
Little over an hour later, something else comes up. I knew it must be getting close to coffee time—rather it was getting close to when Jerry needed to knock off early to make the coffee for the up-coming break. Since Sano Man is a day-long dedicated job, Sano Man has to also make the coffee for the coffee breaks. Since I was fully decked-out in rain gear and he wasn’t, I asked him if he could check the time for me. He then tells me that he doesn’t know. I say, “What? Don’t you have a watch?” “Well, no,” He replied, “I lost it on the last ship I was on.” I’m incredulous: “You mean to say that you never got another one? Dude, you’re too poor not to have a watch. Working people like us gotta have a watch. Only the homeless and the super-rich don’t wear watches.”
This morning, at breakfast, I thought to explain to Jerry that, since today is the beginning of the month, the Deck Department now has to add to the sanitary duties the Crew Lounge, the Laundry Room, and the Computer Room--from the first through the tenth. He then offers up that he has been cleaning the laundry room all along. All of a sudden I get this realization and say as much: “Well, Jerry, I guess that if you had been soogeeing the bulkheads, you would have noticed the sign over the sink that says the Deck Department does the Laundry, Lounge, and Computer rooms from the first through the tenth of the month.” Rim shot, please?
To be honest, I did apologize to Jerry--saying that, though I’m normally a nice guy, it’s very hard for me to pass up on the opportunity to give someone a hard time. “And, dude, you gave me an ‘in’.” Nothing personal, but… Actually, after I spoke, I felt more like saying that I’m normally an asshole but often mistaken for a nice guy. For the life of me, I wish the guy was not such a hapless buffoon.
Hey now!!! We just left
Well, that’s all I have to report at this juncture.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
This is a big sea-change. Since now no longer have to take the first thing that comes along, I can now fulfill a promise I made to finally take a Matson ship running between Seattle, Oakland, and Honolulu. That will allow me to be home, for at least a few hours, every two weeks. I'm looking forward to that! It'll be so nice to see Margaret twice a month, instead of having to wait over five months. Next week, there's supposed to be three jobs opening up on the Kauai. My union agent says there's no reason that I shouldn't be able to get one of those berths.
I can't wait!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
It's all looking good this morning, with the number of jobs and my ranking with among those looking to get out. Vince calls for a Bosun. Two A-Books throw in, and the guy with the Bosun's stamp wins out. And here's where I screwed up: Rhonda (the other A-book) doesn't throw back in for the next group of jobs--that of watch standers. She's holding out for one of the two dayworker slots.
Not realizing how the playing field just shifted, I'm thinking that I'm out of luck vying for a watchstanding slot. So I hold back my shipping card for one of the two day worker slots. You can see where this is heading. Meanwhile, I'm sitting very low in my shipping seniority list, and the last watchstander job gets snagged by someone lower than myself. Since Rhonda is wielding her A-Card, she already secured her dayworker berth. And, since another B-Book with an older card than mine wanted that last dayworker slot, I was left out in the cold.
Once again, I get taught the age-old lesson that "beggars can't be choosers." Well, at least something is supposed to turn up two weeks from now. The President Truman might cough up something. To think that was the ship I was hoping to sail on again--back eight weeks or so ago.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
I've been trying to ship out for the past two or three weeks, and it has been for not. I keep on getting aced-out by others with greater priority. But that's how unions rig things to favor those who have been on the waiting list the longest.
Still, Mercury in WAS keeps running interferance in other ways. The lastest victim was my recording a video clip of my many takes of two ukulele songs I've been working on. Ha ha!!! So I finally have a reasonably good take of Minnie The Moocher. I turns out that the file is too big for me to upload, via email, to this blog. OKAY! Now what? You see, there never is an easy way. There never is. Sure, the idea is so sweet, easy, and perfect--but it never works the way you were hoping it would.
On the otherside of things, I had to visit my mom to give her a hand with some work around her house. On the way back, I decided to take the ferry from Southworth to Fauntleroy/West Seattle. I brought my uke along to practice some songs, in case such an opportunity presented itself.
It was pretty sweet. I was lucky enough to get parked at the front of the boat. Nothing but the changing view of Puget Sound--from the departure view across to West Seattle and the east side of the Sound, the backwards entry to Vashon Island and the northerly view to Eagle Island, and the final approach into Fauntleroy. All a while, I worked out some tunes on the uke and a number with a harmonica solo. It felt good. I promise to get the songs I worked on posted.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
For one, I waited a little too long, after returning home, to re-register my shipping card. What's that all about? Well, the "game" works like this: The shipping cards issued by my union expire after 3 months. If I happen to have a ship in mind that I would like to sail on and there ought to be a job opening there on a given date, it would be a good idea to make sure my card is as mature as possible on the date that job gets posted. But it's never as easy as that.
Registering your shipping card for a ship can be tricky business. As I said before, the ideal is to have the oldest card on the job call date. However, should the ship become inordinately delayed, or there is a surprise schedule change for the ship, or someone with greater seniority beats you out, you will be left with an expired card. You are now at the bottom of your seniority list and having to wait for your card to mature all over again. Since I'm a B-card, there's always the chance that a full-book member (A-cards have invested six or more years of sea-time with the union. That can take anywhere from eight to twelve years) can snatch a job I've been gunning for out from under me.
To minimize the degree of job-seeking damage that kind of subterfuge can inflict upon me, I usually plan on having a little over two months on my card when shooting for a ship. Giving myself that extra month leeway allows me that month's worth of opportunity to salvage work somewhere else. Unfortunately, when the ship I was waiting for (the President Truman) showed up, two guys came out of the woodwork and beat me out. What made it really sting was that both of them were in my seniority level. Then again, it was obvious that they were waiting to get out for a long while. Chances are, they needed the work more than myself. No resentment there. We're all brothers in the struggle.
The Evils of Technicalities
Despite all that disappointment, there is still a bright side to all this shipping-out biz. It has wonderfully happened that American Presidents Line added an extra week to their ships' schedule--from 8 weeks/56 days to 9 weeks/63 days. What's so good about a longer voyage? According to the Sailors Union of the Pacific's Shipping Rules, Shuttle Voyages (trips that neither begin or end on the West Coast) are a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 180 days.
How is that interpreted in cases of voyages greater or less than these times? If a given set of voyages fall short of the 120 day minimum, another voyage must be undertaken to secure a paid trip back home to the West Coast, as well as recognition as having not quit and access to unemployment insurance. That's the short side of things. With the old schedule, you had to do a three trip minimum of 24 weeks, for a total of 168 days. With the new schedule, it's down to two trips and only 18 weeks, for a total of 126 days. 42 days is a huge difference when it comes to your own personal measure of sanity, being able to score your free ticket home and unemployment money.
So here's the other tasty bit of scheduling news that's filtered down to the butt of scuttle: Despite the East Coast ships having to visit a very unsecure and unnamed port, it has been said that the ships will be visiting GENOA, ITALY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is that not AWESOME or what?
I am dancing the jungle boogie as I write.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The reporter's reaction is priceless. What's great is how he maintains his sense of humor.
Have a nice day, where ever you are!
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Here's the greenhouse I built for Margaret. It wasn't fully finished when I shipped out last year, around the end of spring. I managed to get all the glazing on, with the exception of the door and a salvaged window pane on the east side, to the right of the door. What was still unfinished However, with the help of Grant, the husband of one of Margaret's friends, Betty, this is how it looks now. Grant did a great job! Leave it to someone who actually knows something about building construction--unlike me.
Monday, March 01, 2010
Anyway, it's always good to be home. Unfortunately, this stay at home is going to be shorter than last time. As a matter of fact, it's now March, and I'll be back in the union hall looking for a ship towards the end of this week. Not that I'm guaranteed to get a ship, but it's more the matter that I've pointed my nose back in that direction. Fugly.
So what have I done since I got home in November? Well, let's reel things back a little. Um... How about back a lotta ways.
I really don't wish to neglect some pictures I took on my last voyage on the President Truman. This is the mosque at Port Suez, at the south end of the canal. If you click the image, you will be able to view it in greater detail. This is an amazing piece of architecture. There is so much for the eye to take in. Though I've been through the Suez Canal many times over, this particular structure never fails to engage me.
Below is a picture of one of my favorite sailors to ship out with, Mike Orosz. Big Mike and I always manage to have a good time. It doesn't matter what we might be up to, but we always manage to squeeze a laugh out of near any situation. Sadly, we somehow manage to spend no more than one round trip together on a ship. Also, he's looking to retire soon, so I'll view myself as lucky if I sail with him at least once more.
Below is the Mount Lavinia Hotel. It's located in Colombo, Sri Lanka and dates back to the early 1800's. Apparently, the new British Governer arrived and was disappointed with the residence he was presented with. In turn, he had built this palace.
I have to say that the one thing more impressive is the view out back. The following picture was taken earlier in the day.
Just before sunset, a rain squall drove everyone inside. While I waited for the dinner hour, a group of young musicians came in and started their set. The music is pretty cool and represents well the South Asian musical traditions, though I suspect the music is of India and not Sri Lanka. Still, the drowsy sound well suited the post-rain humidity.
This is a Mediterranean fog bank. Most awesome looking, but one pain in the ass. If I recall correctly, we were sailing somewhere near Sicily. I suppose the temperature difference between the western and eastern halves of the Med and tide pushing water around is the main cause.
How do you know you're almost out of the Med? How about The Rock of Gibraltar? Cool, no?
Well that about covers the last group of pictures that I wanted to post. Whatever I forgot to include, I imagine I'll have plenty of opportunity to post new pictures of the same in the future. Next post will be of what has been so good about being home--now that I'm about to ship out again... Boo hoo!