Monday, August 20, 2012

General Life at Sea

I've shipped with both SUP (Sailors' Union of the Pacific) and SIU (Sailors' International Union); I also worked briefly for NOAA, on a fishing trawler up in the Bering Sea. Got my sea card - Merchant Mariners' Credential (MMC) officially -  in 2000. You get them through the Coast Guard, and have to jump through a lot of beauracratic hoops, what with all that Homeland Security requires now. They used to call them Z cards in my dad's day because the ID number always started with a Z, but that went by the wayside a long time ago. I've sailed the Atlantic, Pacific, North Sea, Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Norwegian Sea, South China Sea, Philippine Sea, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Mexico, Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean.

Best experience so far was steering a ship the size of an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Gibraltar in convoy formation with seven other big ships, with the Spanish Navy escorting us. It was just like the movies, only it was real. You can look out one window and see Africa, and out the other and see Europe.

Worst experience was crossing the Columbia River Bar at 2 am in December, with snow, sleet, rain, and hail all mixed up together. A lot of wrecks out there; it's called the Cape Horn of the Pacific. I've sailed through two typhoons and four hurricanes, and run into characters that defy description; sailors are truly like no other breed there is.

Came in in 2006 because I wanted a life; there's a lot you can't do out there, like go to the ballet, which I love, and a lot of guys have big time problems with personal relationships, both on and off the ship, for two reasons: great social skills are not an absolute requirement for sailors, knowing how to do this or that job is; and you don't have enough time ashore to solidify a good relationship with anyone. Alcoholism is still a problem as well, and there are drug tests too, both scheduled and random. I'm the only sailor I know who doesn't like beer, and I've never failed a drug test. I worked at a school and in a law office for a while, but went back out in 2010.

Uniforms - Only the cruise line in Hawaii that I worked for required the crew to wear uniforms. For the deck crew, this was a light blue work shirt or dark blue t-shirt with cruise line logo, dark blue long pants or shorts, and baseball cap with logo. On the cargo ships, we wore our own scruffy work clothes, old shirts, Levis or Carhartt pants, and the ship usually had baseball caps with the shipping line's logo on it we could buy from the slop chest, crew slang for the ship's store. Usually you could get toiletries, soda and candy from the slop chest as well.  For work coveralls, the colors are standard throughout the industry: white for officers, whether deck or engineering dept; black for engineering crew, and medium grayish blue for deck crew, with the shipping line logo on them.  All but one shipping company I worked for provided the coveralls free. 

Safety calls for hard hats and steel toed boots, but a lot of us wore sneakers because they were more comfy, and you're on your feet 24/7. Some sneakers do have steel toes. I always wore a hard hat though, and hearing protection, plugs and /or muffs, because the noise level is exceptionally high on cargo ships, what with machinery and reverberation in a steel container, ie., the ship itself. Enforcement of safety rules differed from ship to ship; on some we had to wear steel toed boots all the time.
Only the officers on the cruise ship wore standard officers' uniforms and hats; most cargo ship captains wore whatever was comfy, including tie-dyed shirts, and only wore their captain's hat if some VIP was coming aboard in port.

Hair length - I had long hair and tied it up in a bandana, then cut it short. You can't let anything dangly, including hair, get in the way when you're working around machinery, so guys with long hair had to keep it tied back.  A lot have beards, but Santa Claus length is not practical, and anyone who has to suit up for firefighting needs to be clean shaven so the face mask on the SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) will have an airtight fit. Everything on a ship is geared toward work, toward getting the job done, and you have to keep things practical for safety.

Laundry - All ships have a laundry room; usually there are two, one for the officers and one for the crew, with from two to six washers and the same number of dryers. They are the same sort you would see in a laundromat but these are free. Soap and bleach is provided, but you have to get your own dryer sheets. On my NOAA ships there was only one laundry room for both officers and crew, and on the cruise ships, with 1000 crew, there was a laundry room on nearly every deck in the crew quarters, way down in the bowels of the ship - no portholes to look out of for us.  We did have our own bar down in the crew quarters, and that one, compared to the passengers' stately and proper facilities several decks above was kind of like the scene in Titanic - "Want to go to a real party?"

One of the NOAA ship's laundry had machines that were so old that they put red rust on your clothes, rather than getting them clean. When things got really rough in the Bering Sea (it is always rough out there; rough is normal, then there is really rough, super rough, and only-idiots-are-out-here rough), we couldn't run the washing machines, as they might have agitated themselves loose. There was a really filthy cargo ship I worked on, oil and grunge over everything, and the Stewards' dept, which does the cooking and cleaning and always wears white, was ticked off at putting their whites in the wash and having them come out all grease stained.

Linens are provided by union contract, but they are not always in the greatest shape - some are ragged, thin and stained. One sailor I knew made it a matter of course to buy some cheap sheets at Walmart for himself on every ship he crewed. And some ships only provide towels and top sheets - no fitted sheets, no washcloths. I always brought my own washcloths.

Speaking of rough waters, most people don’t realize that the ordinary tasks of life have to go on in spite of the weather, including cooking and bathing. Taking a shower in the Bering Sea was a wild rocking affair, and you got adept at scrubbing yourself with one hand while hanging on to the grab bar with the other. Plenty of grip stuff on the shower floor wasn’t just a good idea, it was a necessity. All pots have to be secured onto the stove, with the lids firmly clamped on, and pans inside the stove have to be secured there too. Once on a training ship, the chicken cacciatore wasn’t secured, and we had flying chicken. Everywhere.

Tattoos - Some of the older guys have tattoos of anchors, but the younger ones go for whatever is current in body art. I think I've seen more tattoo'd landlubbers than sailors lately. Some sailors, like myself, have no tattoos at all. One female third mate I know got her arms and back tattoo’d with seaweed. Another sailor had King Neptune tattoo’d on her back. Generally speaking, the US-born crew had more tattoos; the ones from Asia, Africa and south of the border seldom had any. Some sailors have body piercings besides and beyond their ears, but again, I think I've seen more and wilder stuff ashore. I have one piercing per ear, and wear pirate style round gold earrings. There was a 16th century Dutch law that said all sailors had to wear at least one gold earring, to cover funeral expenses if they died at sea close enough to land to bury them, or if the body washed ashore. That is how the practice of sailors, including pirates, wearing gold earrings originated.

Duffel Bags – Some sailors carry a duffel bag, but most have regular suitcases you pull on wheels, like everybody else you see at the airport. Sailors used to live close to the dock where they shipped out of, so carrying a duffel a block or two was not a big deal. Now the union flies us to whatever ship needs a crew member, wherever it is in the world, so we spend a lot of time in airports, and the wheeled suitcases make more sense. One sailor I knew traveled with his stuff in plastic storage bins. Another must have just been thrown out by his wife, as he brought half his household gear aboard, including his Bowflex exerciser. Speaking of which, every ship I was on had an exercise room with various weights and machines. Mostly the officers used them, as the crew got enough exercise on deck.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wendy’s Shoreside Sea Log – San Diego

Thur., 7/19/12

Greetings from Training Resources Ltd., where good little sailors go to learn the ins and outs of crewing MSC ships. MSC stands for Military Sealift Command, which is comprised of the Navy owned, civilian crewed ships that supply the US military world-wide. They are designated by USNS, United States Navy Ship, to distinguish them from Navy crewed warships, designated by USS, United States Ship. I have crewed MSC ships before, but we need to re-certify every five years for most things, and every year for firearms.

Today we certified in firearms, and I am pleased to say I did not accidentally shoot anyone. In fact, those pirates and terrorists better watch out. Now if I could just get my Molotov cocktail/grenade throwing technique down, there wouldn’t be any more terrorists.

P.S. I didn't shoot anyone on purpose, either.

Wendy with A Shotgun

Terrorists Watch Out
Pirates Beware

Note the open, empty chamber. No shot in the magazine either. Guns are only loaded on the shooting range, and we were supervised by two former Navy instructors and two retired San Diego cops, all crackerjack gun guys who knew their stuff and looked out for us. I shot 231 (expert) with the 9mm and did considerable target damage with the shotgun. But I wasn’t so good at taking it apart for cleaning and then putting it back together right. I still don’t like guns much, and don’t own one.

Fri., 7/20/12

Weird that the horrible shooting in CO., happens right when we’re learning the proper use of firearms, especially when not to use them. Rules of engagement are pretty strict on MSC ships, and on civilian ships, we’re even more limited. Shipping companies don’t want to deal with the liability issues if we accidentally shoot innocent civilians.

Next week we learn more about handling ship security and smoking out terrorists. Oh, and I am going to see Batman tonight. Unarmed. A theatre showing Batman is probably the safest place in the country tonight.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wendy’s Sea Log

Shanghai to Long Beach and San Francisco
Matson Ship SS Lihue

Faded with poison
The city breathes, “Dance with me.”
Welcome to Shanghai

9/26/11, Monday

The Lady Washington Never Did It Like This

On the wing over the Pacific at 35,000 feet, Capt. Cook stowed his spyglass and screwed an eye at me. “Fortunate we are not putting in at the Sandwich Islands. Those feathered heathen savages will be the death of me. But all in all, this is a damnably dull means of transport. No leg room. Why, on my quarterdeck, you could put a King’s Division.” Then the Old Man disappeared.

Did I mention such visions are common to this little old salt? The usual way was to wake up foggy headed after a night of carousing in a dockside bar, which you couldn't remember much of, to find yourself in a foul hold on a strange ship bound across the Pacific--the big one, not the little one that starts with an "A"--for some godforsaken little fishing village on the other side of the world called Shanghai. Lots of tea and silk to be loaded there, on account of its being at the mouth of the Yangtze River in China, wide as the Mississippi they said, and twice as long but they were lying. So we be aloft in a Boeing 777, feasting on delights out of tinfoil and plastic ware, meself, Bloody Wendy, the Wicked Witch of the Seven Seas, Harry the Bosun, the Deadly McDonald Borthers and the Philippino Mafia, out to rescue the good ship SS Lihue from the hands of Chinese privateers holdin' 'er in the Nantong shipyard, and take 'er home wit a load a' loot. Don't know what they did in the yard but we'll have a lotta cleanin' up to do, engine and deck. Good thing they sent me. My seat is comfy enough for economy class, and the food wasn't bad, though I was miffed they didn't have chopsticks for the rice on a plane full of Chinese headed for China.

OK, Shanghai. The Back Pearl of the Orient, the haunt and bedevilment of many a sailor, forsworn and forsaken, the city that fused its name to the terrible practice of kidnapping for a brutal ransom, hired slavery, a six month to a year to an indeterminate time sentence to Hell, or direct entry thereto. The creepers shiver up your spine, the word has a busted bottle with your name on it aimed at yer head; the Ship of No Return is your lot. You are like to disappear from the face of the waters. Oh the varmints! Oh the terror!

9/28/11, Wednesday

Tied up in Nantong Shipyard, up the river from Shanghai. I was going to bring some of the Yangtze River home, but was afraid it might eat through the bottle before I got there. Without a doubt it's the filthiest water I've ever seen. The Mississippi doesn't come close. Don't drink it. Don't bathe in it. Don't eat anything that comes out of it. Don't sail your boat in it. I saw some people crabbing with small pots from a sampan, which they still have a few of, and wondered how long they had to live. Wanted to shout to them, “Don’t eat it! It’s poison!” but didn’t have any Chinese.

The ship’s been here in the yard since the end of July and the deck is still a mess, but we are scheduled to sail in three days.

Sailors and shipyards are a rowdy combination, but the Chinese are more subdued than we are. The yardbirds here are hard workers, but quieter, warm enough and polite, but resigned, maybe cautious. Maybe it's knowing that if you say the wrong thing, the Red Federales will get you. Maybe it's from not having a real say in how you're governed. Maybe it's a remnant of Chairman Mao's repression. They have one release: Firecrackers! Never heard so many firecrackers as in the last couple of days. Appears to be a holiday week or weekend coming up, and I’m told they shoot them off for any old reason, someone died, someone had a first date, someone stubbed their toe, etc. Firecrackers going off in a shipyard! They’d get arrested for that in the States.

I suspect they make half of what we do. Not sure. No evident resentment toward us about it. More to come when we get to Shanghai.

There were about a dozen female yard workers, chiefly painters and welders. Several did double takes when they saw me; are Western female sailors that much of an oddity? Noticed that most of them were wearing make up, eyebrow pencil and lipstick mostly, and if working girls are wearing makeup the market in China for it must be good. Tried to talk to one but she didn’t speak English. I have only one Chinese phrase: “She-she,” “Thank you.” It goes a long ways. One gal was littler than I am, but we hauled some heavy garbage to the bin together and dumped it in, without needing to talk. Amazing what you can get done without knowing the other’s language, using gestures and nods. Why can’t they do this in the Mideast?

Capt. David Burchard is a young looking 40ish, and looks like a dark haired surfer dude. The deckies are all out of the Wilmington SUP Hall, as are several in the Engine Dept.

10/1/11, Saturday

Nantong Shipyard, China.

Departure day. Chinese Customs came aboard: two officers, one military, with four military enlisted guys. They called us all to the officers’ lounge and checked that we matched our passports, then the military guys went to search the ship for contraband and stowaways. Two stayed behind to watch us, and it felt like being held hostage. They didn’t find any drugs or bombs or pirated DVD’s or Chinese hiding in a container, trying to get to America.

Tied up at Shanghai, which is down the Yangtze from Nantong, to load containers. No shore leave. We parted a stern spring line tying up but had no injuries or damage from it. Can’t see Shanghai for the smog. Literally. LA never looked this bad, and I remember some bad days from the 1960’s, before emission controls. A yellowish concrete hued haze smothers sea, land, and sky; the city disappears before you can see much of it.

Instead of the customary beep-beep from the forklifts when they back up Stateside, here they speak in Chinese. No kidding. A warning message is activated when the forklift goes into reverse. One forklift had a lady driver; we caught eyes when she was helping with the forklift to haul the gangway into position, angled away from the ship onto the dock. She seemed a little surprised.

Left Shanghai after less than twenty-four hours, and headed out to sea. I steered her out, and had no trouble following the Chinese pilot’s English orders. While we were loading stores late lat night after a full day’s work, the guy on the dock didn’t secure the net properly and three boxes of food fell in the water. Don’t know what kind. We’ll find out when we don’t have enough of something.

Hey! I get to sit down!

Wendy’s Sea Log
10/3/11, Monday
        At noon every day we test the ship’s alarm bell and whistle. Today I pulled the whistle lever over and got a tiny “ennnnh” sound. Apparently the engineers are messing around with something. The ship’s forty years old, and mostly solid, but has her little glitches.
        The Chief Mate likes rock on his watch. The 3rd Mate likes ABBA. The 2nd Mate doesn’t like music on his watch at all. Yuk. That’s my watch. Maybe I can change his mind. I mentioned I was glad we weren’t going south to Hawaiian waters this trip, so the Red-footed boobies wouldn’t be a problem. He said, “If that’s your biggest problem you don’t belong here.” This man has clearly never washed down a deck paved with boobie guano. Maybe he never washed a deck.
        Matson has a Sparks on this ship, a radio operator. Radio operators were phased out with Morse code, now that everything is high tech. There is some older equipment on this ship, but not a Morse telegraph. He does a few additional things like print out our daily e-news for the crew. Great that the Tigers are 2-1 over the Yanks in the American League Division Series.
        Had a bomb drill with a realistic looking homemade “bomb:” a box with batteries, wires, flares, etc. stuck to it. Not too much worry about that in this part of the world. But you never know. At least we’ve had no pirate warnings.

10/5/11, Wednesday
42°41’97” N
145°59’50” E
Course: 090°
0150 hrs.
        This is the good part, the fifteen minutes of romance and adventure. Heading home, through Tsugaru Kaikyo, the strait between Honshu and Hokkaido Islands, Japan. Could see lights from Japan on both sides. Clear night, no more traffic, and headed out into the Pacific. Passed some trash in the water earlier—pieces of plastic that looked like parts of food containers.
        There were ten to twelve fishing boats about, longliners, and northern waters mean arctic birds—fulmars with mean looking eyes, set into a natural permanent glare, narrower winged kittiwakes, plus terns and gulls. Lots of birds now. Good fishing waters but we can’t drop a line. Thank God we’re on the northern great circle route and so aren’t going near Hawaii; that means tropical waters and Red footed boobies making poop all over my deck.
        Saw two good ship names on the AIS: Great Blossom and Oriente Shine. AIS is the Automatic Identification of Ships (I think those are the correct meanings of the initials), a little box with a screen that tells us the name, position, distance, and bearing of nearby ships. Pretty nice. Picked up some Japanese and Russian on the radio.

10/6/11, Thursday
2345 hrs.
17 kt.
        My words to John, relieving me at the bridge watch change: “Well, we can look at the radar screen here, and you can see there’s lots of nothing. Out the window, more nothing. But wait! There’s more—nothing! Nothing on the AIS! Nothing! Your watch.”
        Strong wind off the starboard beam. Thought about the “still waters” the 23rd Psalm promises. Not a night to be outside in the weather. Wonder what the wind is saying; “Eat you alive.”? Maybe Mother Nature is doing some deep breathing. An alarm beep went off and the 2nd Mate said to me, “Have any idea what that was?” Great. Nothing like a guy who knows his bridge gear. Not a DIW (Dead in the Water), when the ship loses all power and is at the mercy of the wind and waves, or every alarm on the bridge would be going off.
        Brought some tooth floss up here. You don’t offend anybody when you do it in the dark.
Sent 10/28/11

10/7/11, Friday
38°55’29” N
162°03’94” E
Course: 109°
Beaufort Force 7 weather; 28 kt. wind
        Midnight to 0400. Rocking and rolling, but steered south to avoid bigger seven foot swells up north in the Gulf of Alaska. Whee! Whee! Upsy daisy! Downsy daisy! Wind and swell making lots of white horses. Temperature has gone from the 50’s to the 70’s since we turned south. Might see those bloody boobies after all.
        Noon to 1600. Thought of Arwen in the wind and spray and coils of spindrift last night. Think she was out there. The Evenstar of her people has become a guiding spirit and light for all mariners.
        Still see an occasional piece of plastic floating by. Wish I could pick it all up. Came up to the bridge in a T-shirt, long sleeved shirt, sweater and carrying my jacket, and quickly disrobed of all but the T-shirt. Don’t want to get the guys too excited. I always sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in heavy weather. Brings good luck on the bridge. The mate doesn’t seem to be into superstitions.
        We checked the accuracy of the gyro compass, in a room below the bridge, with its repeater on the bridge. I was below on the radio, reading out the compass numbers to the mate on the bridge as we steered on automatic pilot, when the compass jumped suddenly, so the report went like this: “90.5°, 90.2°, 90°, oops, 88.2° . . .” “Oops” is now an official nautical term.

10/8/11, Saturday
30°00’00” N
178°51’04” E
        Midnight to 0400. The wind has shifted from the starboard to the port quarter. The moon is nearing full and is bright enough to write by.
        The 2nd Mate never read Tolkien and doesn’t want to. How sad to have no imagination. Our ETA on the navigation computer says, “ Never (space) Never.” We’re going to Neverland! Second star to the right and straight on till morning!
        1155 hrs. The outline of the wheelhouse looks like the Art Deco ferry Kalakala, like a rounded sea slug. Got our first visual contact of another ship in three days. Many small pieces of trash, mostly plastic, have floated by in the last couple of hours. There was one bathroom sized trash can. We see them every ten seconds or so. There were also three crab pot buoys between 1300 and 1400. We’re halfway through the voyage.
        Closed in on the International Date Line and crossed it around 1500. In the Western Hemisphere now.

10/9/11, Sunday
        Midnight to 0400. Ship’s doing long rolls, slowly back and forth. The wind’s up as a small front is overtaking us.
        Standing lookout is mandatory by federal law, even in the middle of the Pacific without a ship in sight or on the radar. It’s not like we have to worry about terrorist attacks out here, either. Just Mother Nature, but she can be a real child abuser. Going through multiple time zones can play holy willy with your circadian rhythm. Wonder if the real reason they have two of us on watch, an officer and an AB, is so one can make sure the other doesn’t go to sleep.
        What makes me feel good? Not sinking.
        There’s no getting around it. As dull and boring as it can get out here—and staring out the window at an unchanging sea can get pretty dull and boring; “What do you do for a living?” “I look out the window”—there is still the romance of the sea. The weather can stink, the people be difficult to work with, and the hours unending, but there’s something about the sea. It’s a different kind of job; it’s not something everyone does for a living. It’s not something everyone can do.

1240 hrs.
38°27’30” N
172°04’60” W
Temp: 70’s

Ship rolling all night through today, gentle to severe, things about the house bumping, my closet doors swinging open. Had a bizarre dream that I was on a ship rolling in the ocean. Usually my dreams have nothing whatsoever to do with the waking world. Rain earlier; clearing now. Some cumulous clouds at the NE horizon.

The deckies, day workers Jun and Gabby and Bosun Harry, are done on the bow and are going below, after hauling two big mooring lines up from the foc’sle hatch and faking them out and securing them on deck. I was concerned for their safety as the ship is rolling and the wind is a near gale, but no waves are coming over the bow. The ship is riding well, angled at about 45° to the seas.

Bosun Harry is amazing. About eighty, shuffling walk, and is hauling lines and moving heavy stuff. White ruffled fringes of hair. Never carries a radio, which bosuns normally do. Yells a lot, which bosuns normally do. Gets ticked off at us AB’s.

1400 hrs. Near gale; wind shifted 180° from the starboard quarter to the port bow. Beaufort Force 7; 28-33 kt. wind. Heaped up waves starting to break ,and white foam blown in streaks by the wind. That front that was astern has caught up with us.

Sent 11/3/11

10/10/11, Monday

0100. Partially cloudy, little rolling, temperature in the 60’s. Bright moonlight. Walked out on the starboard bridge wing and laughed; breathed, “I get paid to do this!”

Columbus Day celebrated today, an officially union recognized holiday, ergo, OT (Overtime)! Twelve OT hours! Eight hours of watch standing plus my usual four of overtime. Since all of the following discovered America, how about a holiday each for St. Brendan the Navigator, Eric the Red, or was it Leif Erickson, and the Chinese from the Pacific side, was it Madame Chang or somebody from the Ming Dynasty? Put them all in August, which doesn’t have any holidays, and you’ve got three OT days. Huzzah!

Just after the noon bell and whistle check, we are also required to test the steering. The sequence of actions I do under the Mate’s orders is this:

        1. Switch from autopilot to hand steering by turning the little handle below the wheel
        2. Turn the switch on the console from port to starboard hydraulic pump.
            (Or from starboard to port, depending on which pump we’re using that day)
        3. Wait ten seconds for the pump to get going.
        4. Turn the wheel five degrees right, wait to see that the rudder angle indicator
            shows that the rudder is responding five degrees right, then repeat to the left.
        5. Switch the Gyro/Hand/NFU control knob to NFU, Non Follow Up steering. This
            is a separate system and uses a knob instead of the wheel.
        6. Turn the NFU steering knob five degrees right and left, as with hand steering.
        7. Bring the ship back to its original course, with either NFU or by switching back to
            hand steering.
        All done!
        Oh, if any of the systems doesn’t work, we yell at the enginheers.

Temperature’s in the 60’s; the thermometer is still put away somewhere and is not in its outside mount, so this is a guesstimate. Overcast with strato-cumulous clouds.

Beaufort Force 4 – Moderate seas, some whitecaps.
Waves: 2-5 ft.
Wind: 15 kt.
Direction of wind 315° and seas135°, off the port quarter.
Fairly smooth, with little rolling.
Course: 85°  Steering great circle route.
Speed: 17.5 kt.

Talked with the AB’s and Bosun about ships’ ghosts. The container ship Mahi Mahi had a bosun who fell to his death while fixing a bow antennae, and he’s still aboard and has made his presence known. He is there to help, like the Tryfina’s Extra Hand. You can hear him walking, and sometimes you hear music with no source nearby. They called him China. He was Hawaiian. Another ghost on the ITB Moku Pahu said to a crew member, “I mean you no harm,” If you die on a ship you become its guardian angel. ITB stands for “Integrated Tug Barge,” where the bow of the tug fits into a wedge shaped cut-out in the stern of the barge. It is considered one vessel.

1400 hrs. Up to Beaufort Force 5, Fresh. 17-21 kt.wind, with more whitecaps. We’re skirting the edge of a front from a low system in the Gulf of Alaska. Skies clearing. Cumulous and cumulostratus clouds. Never pay much attention to weather at home. Take a coat or umbrella with you is all it means. Out here, it’s fascinating. Weather is way more important at sea, as weather changes can delay arrival dates and mess up scheduling.

10/12/11, Wednesday

0001 hrs. Another fine night on the SS Lihue. Some squalls on the 1200-1600 watch Tues. but clearing with some leftover cumulous and smooth sailing now. Course 093°; we’re starting to curve south on the great circle route to Long Beach, CA. Out on the bridge wing, the Mate said the star overhead is Venus. I think it may be Jupiter or Saturn. I started singing “When You Wish Upon A Star,” and the Mate went inside. Sang “Eddystone Light” in the mess at dinner, and no one had heard it before. The checkered red tablecloth and wine bottle shaped Balsamic vinegar bottle made it feel like a NY Italian restaurant, so I sang. No tips. Course 094° now. Will be home in time to watch the World Series. Nice.

The secret to longevity is good genes and a steady job. One you like.

39°08’30” N
145°24’10” W
Course: 097°
Speed: 15 kt.
Wind Direction: 320°, from port quarter (NW)
Wave/Swell Direction: 140° (SE)

Overcast but warm on the bridge. Don’t need a sweater. We’ve slowed to meet our arrival time. The Bosun is outraged because he thinks the Chief Steward is running short on food. No more milk for the mess or bridge coffee. Thought the White Act abolished all that, along with corporal punishment, i.e., flogging, back in 1898. If there’s a shortage the other unions aboard will have it out with the Steward’s SIU (Seamens International Union). We’re not starving but the breakfast cereal boxes are getting low. Don’t know what the stores problem is; the three boxes we lost in the drink in Shanghai weren’t that big. Maybe they didn’t deliver enough even with the boxes.

We were throwing some pieces of scrap metal over the side. Rusted iron makes good fish food. Been hauling old lines and crap out of the foc’sle hatch. Our expensive new navigator computer is trying to steer 074° when the Mate asks it for 097°. Machines. Switched from the nav. computer to gyro autopilot.

Sent 11/23/11

10/13/11, Thursday

38°07’83” N.
137°22’24” W.
Course: 101°
Speed: 15 kt.
Wind Direction: 014°, over the port bow
Wind Speed: 23 kt.
Swell: 225°, SW
Temperature: 63°

1200-1600. There is nothing better than warm and dry after cold and wet. Spent the morning out in the rain, humping the old crappy lines back below to the storage holds. Felt like Sisyphus, as we’d pulled them up to clean the holds last week. Rainy and blowy on the bow. Warm socks are toasty, and my boots and gloves are drying in the laundry room, with both dryers going. And hot Navy Bean soup never tasted so good.

Saw a flock of birds this morning around 9 am, flying just ahead of us. 1st since leaving Japanese waters. Finally got our thermometer set up outside the bridge.

10/14/11, Friday

36°45’54” N.
130°24’84” W.

Course: 106°
Speed: 17.4 kt
Wind Speed: 25 kt.
Wind Direction: 225°, from the SW, off the starboard quarter
Wave Direction: 045°, NE
Wave Height: 1-2 ft.
Swell: 145°, from the SE, wide but gentle, 3 ft., underlying the surface waves.
Temp.: 67°F

1200-1600 Watch

A Beautiful Day! Sun out, some scarce, high cirrostratus and stratus on the horizon, deep blue ocean, and I Love My Job! Skylord Apollo’s flint and steel hoofed horses have ignited his chariot and catapulted it onto the waters, spilling a fiery shimmer that invites us south. Bright sunlight on the forward port counter, where I write when on the bridge. The crew mood is jubilant and the girl-starved guys are reading Maxim magazine, copies of which are appearing in the crew coffee room. The last time change was last night and we are on West Coast time now, with three days to go.

Did some “pretty work” painting this morning—lipstick on burnt pork chops. They painted one coat over rust and dirt in the shipyard, so it looks good for one photo op, then rusts away again. We will look decent enough when we pull into the layup berth in San Francisco. She’ll be there till she’s called out again to replace another ship. No plans to put her on a regular route, as steam engines are far more expensive to fire up than diesel, and the SS Lihue is just what the first two letters say it is—a steam ship. She’s an old girl, built back in the 70’s before the oil crunch made fuel costs soar. Wish they could figure out a way to recycle the steam, turn it back to water, then reheat it and use it for power again, instead of just letting it go out the stack. Would solar heaters and a non-toxic refrigerant work?

Brought my laptop up on the bridge again last night and we had Gilbert and Sullivan on the 0000-0400 watch. A number of water level clouds out there now—fog banks that reduce visibility to one to three miles for a few minutes, and then we’ve passed by or through them and visibility clears.

10/15/11, Saturday

0030. Moon bright enough to write by, though past full, right through the port bow window onto the counter. Hanging up there just off the port bow. Picked up our first Coast Guard radio message, out of San Diego. Welcome to home waters.

Comfiest watch chair I’ve ever had to sit in, like a Captain’s chair. Feel like a little kid sitting in the Grownup’s Chair. Nobody ever really grows up. Not if you’re lucky. got Steve Lalor’s Airs to You CD on now. Ah, Bach.

Just got a GMDSS warning about a rocket falling out of the sky into the Western Pacific. Wonder if it was from the missile range on Kwajalein. I’d rather deal with Mother Nature on a Katrina day then this. P.S. No sign of a rocket.

10/16/11, Sunday

34°35’05” N.
122°17’40” W.

1200-1600. The 3rd Mate left his whale watching book on the bridge. No sightings yet. Not onto the continental shelf yet. Gray and overcast but a bright glare; shades down on the bridge windows. A birdie flew across the bow. First California bird today.

I’ve got 45 hours of OT, second only to John’s 49. The other guys have 20’s and 30’s OT hours. Mine works out to 60 hour work weeks, seven days a week. Our very experienced AB, Jun, asked me for help carrying the bridge life ring holder from the main deck level up to the bridge. Hooray!! A sign of respect.

10/17/11, Monday

1200-1600. In and out of Long Beach in 12 hours. Now heading up the coast to San Francisco at 22 kts. Got to sleep in today; no OT call out. Hooray! Going to a spa when I get back and get all pretty.

South of San Francisco I saw a whale blow three times. Didn’t break the surface. But I got to say, “Thar she blows! Whale, two points to port!”

Fog at 1300 hrs. Visibility down to a quarter mile. Closing in on San Francisco Bay; in the traffic separation zone, where you have lanes with invisible lines on the water you have to stay within.

By 1500, the fog had cleared and we made our entrance. First time sailing into San Francisco Bay and I got to steer under the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridges!

Checked the chart and was surprised they haven’t officially charted McCovey Cove as such yet, by the Giants’ stadium. What’s the matter with those guys? What are they waiting for?

10/18/11, Tuesday

Signed off, took my pay, and flew home.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wendy’s Sea Log
8/6/11 to

At Sea – Gulf of Mexico

Greetings to all again, and welcome back to the highjinks and shenanigans of your humble Able Seaman. Joined the ship in Violet, LA, on the muddy Mississippi, just south of New Orleans and not too far from where they fought the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Hadn’t been here since 2004, so I didn’t know what Katrina had taken and what she had left. They’ve re-done the Superbowl, the food is still great, the politicos are still crooked, and all’s right with the world. The road to the ship had a tree lined avenue section, with big oaks or big somethings overhanging it, like you see in the road up to the plantation house. Did Katrina demolish them? There was a 90 year old frame house near the ship, and the lady who lived there had a lovely garden with roses and other flowers. She had once given me some for the ship. Was it still there?

The trees remain, and are still grand. The house and garden are there, and well cared for, but I didn’t get a chance to knock on the door and say hi. I couldn’t find Bessie, our gate security guard, or anyone else I shipped with here in 2004. But the new gate guard is an off duty cop, and if you ever get in trouble down here, just mention my name and you’ll be fine. Under the table money is good too.

Started off on the wrong foot when signing ship’s articles. I signed my name on the Captain’s line, and flubbed up a couple of other places. That is not the way to make a good first impression. I then went to my room, pulled out a piece of paper and wrote, “I will never mess up signing articles again.” twenty-five times, and handed it in to the Captain. So I’m still aboard.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wendy’s Sea Log

Moku Pahu, 4/1/12 to 5/15/12

Sat. 4/7/12

Between China and Japan, surrounded by fishing boats. Too busy avoiding collisions to write.

Mon. 4/9/12

A few hundred miles south of the island of Hokkaido, Japan, and no traffic for the last two days. Saw what looked like the tops of container ships but they were actually volcanic tops of a bunch of islands, which got clearer as we approached. The Mate’s been top notch, working with me on adjusting the radar, radios and other instrument displays. Some officers have an AB-is-strictly-hands-off approach, but l like getting the bridge stuff down. Plan to get my mate's license when I've got the three years' sea time for it. Got a little over a year that counts toward it now.

Got more crane ops time when we were tied up too, which is great; it’s one of those jobs that requires a steady hand, not upper body strength. Yesterday I couldn’t get a big water valve on deck open, and asked one of the guys for help. Felt better when he couldn’t get it open either, even with the big wrench; turned out the thing was frozen tight with rust and paint. Today I will be using my advantage in small size to scrunch under the anchor windlasses and clean out all the gooey crap underneath. Romance! Adventure!

I got the Chief Steward to boil up some eggs yesterday, Easter Sunday, and hid six of them for an Easter egg hunt. Didn’t think I hid them that well, but the avid hunters Cyn and David only found four. Fun to be kids again. I hid one they didn't find under the stack of paper cups on the mess table, right under their noses. The prize is a little bag of my Reeses Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures, which I seldom share, being naturally stingy and a chocoholic.  

Passed Sofu Gan again, 600 feet of rock sticking straight up but had to take that on credit this time. After a first glimpse in the distance, the fog closed in and we could see the stars light years away but not a rock four miles off.

Wed., April 11

Paint the deck! No, not that part, this one! Wrong color! Use a brush! Use a roller! Three weeks to finish? No, three days! Faster! Faster! But make it neat and pretty. What do you want, pretty or fast? Never mind. Paint! Paint your boots! Paint your coveralls! Paint your face! Black, yellow, red, green, blue, white. Whee!

With squares of newly painted gray covering various spots, the deck is starting to look like a checkerboard by Picasso.

Second Mate Liam has graduated from paper airplanes to a remote controlled helicopter. He took it down into an empty hold and it flew well—lots of space in a hold on a 750 foot ship—but it hit the hatch overhead and crashed. He thinks he might be able to fix it. I said to him while painting on deck, "Someday I too will be a mate! Isn't that frightening?" and he said something nice. "No."

Tossed a message in a bottle overboard tonight. It held a note, and a dollar bill with George prominently displayed. The note gave our position, 28°13.2' N, 151°24.9' E, and the date, said whoever found it could keep the money, and requested the finder to contact me at my email address. So we'll see if it ever shows up again, and where. Who knows?

Sent 4/12

The Chief Engineer's birthday is today, so we had a barbeque and cake. Liam fixed up a picture of Captain Cook with the Chief's face, and grubby engine grease pasted in. The Chief himself is actually better looking then Cook. We warned him to be careful in Hawaii, as the natives there killed Cook.

Coleridge used Capt. Cook's best selling accounts of his round the world voyage for descriptive details in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." 

About, about, in reel and rout,
The death fires dances at night.
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue, and white

The colors are the Northern lights, reflected in the sea. "About, about" is from the witch's chant in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Sat. April 14

Titanic hits the iceberg just before midnight tonight. Wonder what sort of commemorations are going on.

I finally took a day off doing overtime today, after two weeks of 16 hour days and round the clock watches. The other two AB's have already taken time off. I outlasted them.
Ta-da! Now I'm going back to bed.

Mon. April 16

The 14th was my niece Michelle's birthday. Sunday the 15th I sent her a Happy Birthday email, thinking it was late, then realized that across the Date Line, it was still the 14th in the US, so it got there on the right day. One of the nice things about yesterday being today.

AB Cody's room sink fell off the bulkhead today. Don't know if he hit it or was leaning against it. Weird. Those things are epoxied pretty securely. At least it didn't hit his foot. AB Ben and I would have had to do all his work.

Tue. April 17

Message verbatim off the internet from EGC, Electronic Global Communications, which usually sends weather alerts; this one was marked "Urgent":

NAVAREA XI 0233/12
01-35N 104-37E

NAVAREA XI is the Singapore/Straits of Malacca Navigational Area. Haven't had pirate activity there in quite a while. 0233 would be 2:33 am Singapore time, when GBC received the piracy report. 151300Z is 3:15 pm, Greenwich time, when they sent the alert out. We received it on the ship via satellite at 3:48 am, nearly halfway around the world.

Wed. April 18

Normal people do not go to sea. Our QMED (Qualified Member of the Engine Dept., equivalent to an AB rating in the Deck Dept.) Cin used to roll up Hershey's Kisses foil into little balls and stick them in her ear as a kid. She has ear trouble from it to this day. Our Chief Mate ate spaghetti through his nose as a teenager. As kids, my little brother and I would make paper airplanes, tie a string to them so we could fly them around our heads in a circle, then sail them in and out of the fireplace until they caught fire and burned. Don't know where our parents were. Sailors are not normal people, and this aberrancy usually shows up in childhood.

Wed April 18

This is not a duplicate entry. There really is a second Wednesday on this voyage, courtesy the International Date Line. Like Groundhog Day, we get a chance to do everything over again to get it right. Don't know if we'll make it.

Sent April 20

Sat. April 21

We're painting the living daylights out of the ship; in places no one ever goes, all must be spic and span, and look like new. The shipowners, the business suits, are coming aboard in Maui. Suits. Wish they'd OK another Ordinary Seaman day worker in the Deck Dept. That would help.

Mon. April 23

St. George's day and Shakespeare's birthday. The Mate and 2nd Mate Liam were going over the "confined space entry" paperwork for a leak in the chain locker, and I said, "Confined space entry? Come on, you guys! No sex until we make landfall!"

This is not the most politically correct business.

Wed. April 25, 2012

Drifting on purpose off of Oahu, till our sugar on Maui is ready to be loaded on the 30th. Then we head in, fill the holds, and go to Crockett in the Bay Area to deliver the goods. Drifting saves fuel, and wear on the anchor windlass and chain. Plenty of sea room out here, southwest of Oahu, mostly in the lee of the Northeast trade winds. Gentle rolling and a nice sleep at night. Beats the Suez run. No nasty natives. Wish I could get ashore to a drug store and get some shampoo, conditioner, and hand cream. Running low, and an air drop is not likely. Now if we were running low on toilet paper . . .

Getting enough sleep is always a challenge out here. The work is continuous; there are innumerable jobs to be done, and usually someone who wants them done yesterday. Yet you can't work too fast or with too little rest, because then accidents happen. So far this voyage we've had no injuries or damage. But everybody is tired. Had three cups of coffee this morning and still couldn't get my eyes open.

Steered in hand while we were maneuvering into drifting position yesterday. From casual watch banter, the Mate's voice went to crisp authority and mine responded in kind. Got her where we wanted her, and I was glad to steer. Doesn't happen enough anymore. Autopilot does most of the steering when we're at sea. We only put her in hand coming in and out of port, with the pilot aboard.

Sat. April 28

Wish we could put in to port. Feel more like taking a Hawaiian vacation than working.

Sun. April 29

It's getting like Groundhog Day out here, continuously drifting. Makes me think of the ship that drifted in the Pacific for years till she washed up on the West Coast, with only skeletons aboard. They hadn't been able to make landfall or meet another ship to resupply food and water, so they all starved to death. Forget what her name was, or which century it was.

We've started up and are heading out further from the islands so we can dump trash. Matson observes a fifty mile boundary instead of the usual twenty-five for trash dumping. Only things we can never dump are oil and plastic. Everything else can go over the side. Good thing too, as all our trash barrels are full.

Finally dumped trash.

Mon. April 30

Made official contact with the US of A this morning, and we've cleared customs via our agent, who came out in a water taxi off of Honolulu, and took our entrance documents in to port. Easiest Customs clearance I've ever seen. Pilot also came aboard, and guess what? I came in second in the pilot pool and won $50, for guessing the second closest time the pilot was officially logged aboard. Oh, goody. Now I can pay for cat food for my poor starving kitties. And the really good part was when the Matson ship Mahi Mahi hailed us as she was passing by, and told us, "Welcome home." Nice. No more Chinese food. Hooray for the US Dept of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration of America, and all the other good people and rules that give us decent food here, with no cat bones in the ground beef!

Got thoroughly doused on the bow doing port prep, which is hauling out the mooring lines and laying them out for tie up. Lots of spray. I told Hawaiian sea god Kanaloa he can baptize us all he wants, but he's still a pagan god and I don't worship him so there. Was thinking of Japanese Zeros and the Arizona while passing the entrance to Pearl Harbor, and of Father Damian as we passed Molokai during port prep. And Capt. Cook too. Can't get away from the history here. I should keep my mind on my work more.

Tied up in Kahalui. Midnight. Had to wait for my old cruise ship Pride of America to leave the dock. A little blowy with some whitecaps, about 25 knots; they waited till dark so the passengers couldn't see the waves and get upset at the terrible sailing weather, oh horrors. You're on a boat, folks, with bilge keels to keep it from rocking. Sailor up.

Note re Chinese American relations: the Chinese girls claim they can't pronounce our 1st Engineer's name. So instead of Seth Warner, he's Sack Warmer.

Wed. May 2

Went ashore last night and got a pedicure. Ta-da! My first treat this trip. And we loaded up with stores of American grown food, including Washington apples and potatoes. Ah, bliss! Nobody better criticize the US of A in my presence. I'll pack them off to Shanghai and have them eat Chinese garbage with God knows what in it.

Fri. May 4

Left Maui yesterday. Up at 12:30 am; secure the holds, lowering the hatch covers with the big cranes, 24 thousand tons of sugar piled high in all six holds. We smell like a Southern bakery because of the molasses in raw cane sugar. As usual some has spilled on deck and we'll have to hose the slippery stuff off. Then cast off at 3 am, secure the lines, and head out. Up to the bridge for watch straight from the deck at 3:45; steered out mostly in hand through the watch.

At 7:20 we played chicken with a little whale watching launch, between Maui and Molokai. He was approaching from off our starboard side, which in an equal situation gives him the right of way. But when one boat is much bigger then the other, and therefore far less maneuverable, it has the right of way, and that was us. We were changing course, turning to starboard in a big circle, and at first it looked like he was going to cut astern of us, but then he changed his mind and decided to continue across our bow. I held her through the turn as the Capt. jumped up and down yelling, "I'm bigger than you are!"

Nobody flinched, and she crossed our bow with about half a mile of sea room, which is a few inches when your ship is 760 feet long and takes two miles to stop. I guarantee all the passengers on that boat were freaked at seeing a huge ship bearing down on them when we were dead ahead of them, with our bow toward them, during our slow turn. "She is going to miss us? She is, right?" Right.

Off watch at 7:45 and back to the deck right after to stow lines below. Taking lots of spray on the bow; they put me below to stow the line in the huge baskets there because little me fits best there. The first basket we stowed properly, with the line fed in through the scuttle hatch, from the winch at a regular speed, so I could stow it in concentric circles, winding it around and around in a growing coil. I got wet from the line and spray falling in anyway. The second basket they were tired of getting soaked above and I played dodgeball with cascading heaps of four inch in diameter braided line, piling it up the best I could in the basket. But it will pay out without getting tangled.

More work on deck, then afternoon watch, 4 to 8 pm, then to bed. Lots of overtime, but where did I stow my brain?

Sent 5/4/12  


Anchored in San Francisco Bay. Trip across a little bumpy. Last night the Captain came up and polished the 4"x6" brass plaque on the wooden statue of Kanaloa on the bridge. I said, "I'll do that, Cap," but he said he'd do it himself. Only brass we have on the ship. We've cleaned and polished and painted her up like a real ship, and she looks and acts almost brand new. Now we'll proceed to get her dirty again.

2nd Mate Liam is getting off soon, so I drew a cartoon of the Moku Pahu sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, and him getting off onto a Jacob's ladder tied to the span. Lots of people jump off, but I never heard of one climbing up.

Had one injury; AB Ben hurt his hand on the way from Hawaii and got replaced here by Cory, a new kid, good attitude, knows stuff and picks up stuff quickly. Ben was on his second stint of overtime the afternoon he slipped and hurt his hand. Our most experienced AB.

I steered her under the Golden Gate, and we had two traffic advisories. Both were for small groups of swimmers. The water here is not very warm, and it was 7 am, but some people do weird things. They couldn't have stayed home and helped with Mother's Day breakfast in bed? One group was swimming beneath the bridge span from south to north, and another was going from Alcatraz south to somewhere. Both paths went across our course, but we didn't run over anybody. Or maybe they just didn't scream loud enough to hear. Nobody jumped from the bridge this time, and a kayaker wisely stayed put on our starboard side so he could cross astern of us. On a sunny day the windsurfers like to do suicide runs across our bow. So many windsurfers. So little time.

Lost Track of Time

We tied up a few days later in Crockett at the C&H plant to unload the sugar. Crockett’s at the delta of the Sacramento River, at the north end of San Francisco Bay, We have to open the holds with our big cranes, and from fifty feet up the sugar in the hold looks like Arizona, pale brownish, and falls away in scooped out areas like the Grand Canyon. Other places it looks like sand dunes and you expect the Sheik of Araby to materialize. There is a temptation to dive out the crane cab window into a seeming soft cloud of sand below, but I yielded not to temptation. The dockside unloaders look like something out of Star Wars, big contraptions that scoop/vacuum the stuff up and send it onto a conveyer belt to be processed in the plant.

The C&H plant here was built before and survived the 1906 earthquake, and looks it. Great for a night shoot at a creepy old factory.

Sun. May 20

Surprised to learn there was an annular eclipse today, conveniently scheduled to start right after we got off at 5 pm. Very bright on the water, and a weird bright gray light at its max. The engineers let us use their welder’s masks to look at it directly without frying our retinas. Very cool view. First annular I’ve ever seen, the sun a nearly complete bright ring around the moon.

Tues. May 22

Finally got her unloaded and tied up at her layup berth in San Francisco. I tarred the cogs on the anchor winch the last time we pulled up the hook, and it took half an hour to get the stuff out of the unprotected parts of my epidermis. Oh joy. We gave our leftover stores to the Delancey Street Restaurant, which trains people just out of prison in the restaurant business. A couple of nice felons came to pick it up. Then onto the plane and back to LA and I am going to bed now. Good night, all. This voyage is ended; finished with writing.

Sent May 25, 2012

Wendy’s Sea Log – Matson's ITB, the M/V Moku Pahu, 12-16-11 to 2-5-12
12-19-11, Monday
Tied up at Richland in San Francisco Bay, taking on garbage. Literally. We’re ferrying a load of scrap metal across the Pacific, to make toys for all ages which they then ship back to sell to us. Destinations, according to the articles I signed, include "one or more ports in the Far East, for a period of not more than six months." A little over a month is what it sounds like. We’re headed for China and Korea, most likely Shanghai and Pusan, and will leave the ship in the shipyard at one of those ports for some regular required maintenance, then fly home.
We loaded a bunch of tons of finely macerated scrap, each piece about the size of a cell phone, until it rose in one or two steep heaps in the hold. Then we hooked up a caterpillar bulldozer to one of our three big cargo cranes, hoisted it up and lowered it onto the heap. The driver was strapped in for the ride, and just as the dozer was brushing the top of the heap, he started her up and began pushing the heap down, still hooked to the crane and using it to swing him this way and that, kind of like "The Pit and the Pendulum." Then we set him down on as level a place as there was, he unhooked the crane straps, and started pushing the scrap around to level it off so we’ll be balanced, on an even keel and not listing from being too heavy on one side or the other. But consider this: the guy is literally teetering on this steep hill of rusty metal, making small avalanches as he works, inches from either being buried alive or flipped over, and capsizing a caterpillar rig is not something I want to think about.
When the scrap was all leveled, we hoisted him out and into the next hold, for four holds. He did this for a day and a night, without many breaks, then we hoisted him back up and onto the dock. If the cat had been red, it would have looked like Santa’s sleigh up there.

Whatever they pay that guy, it ain’t enough. Or maybe he’s just mental.

The Moku Pahu is an ITB, an Integrated Tug Barge, the first one I’ve sailed on. The stern of the barge is cut out so the bow of the tug fits into it, and they’re held together with hydraulic link arms. From a distance she looks like a regular ship. We were down where they join today, greasing the gear that holds her together. The hydraulic link arms can lift straight up or back and forth.

The nice part about this ship is that it takes longer to fill her holds than it does to load container ships, so maybe we’ll get some time ashore.

12/23/11, Friday

Off the coast of southern California.

Left San Francisco Bay at 0130 after a day of deck work. I took her out; no steering problems. Went forward at 0400 after watch to help with securing the anchor. Then crashed in my clothes till noon watch; I’m on the 12 to 4.

Scraping the sugar gunk from the hatch seals was a new one for me; this boat’s last cargo was cane sugar, and she’s 660 feet long with six holds, so that’s a lot of sugar. Some sugar spills during loading and unloading, and it looks like dirty corn snow when it clumps up around the hatches. Underneath, it’s super gooey. Got covered with the stuff all over and felt like the Sugar Plum Fairy. Or a candy cane. Or a popsicle. Or the time I picked pie cherries on Vashon Island. Pie cherries are thin skinned and break easily, so by the end of the day I was a walking, sticky piece of cherry pie.

Beautiful day. 2nd Mate Liam came up to the bridge for noon watch looking like a pooch somebody’d just dragged out of the water. Nice guy, easy to talk to, and a musician too, who likes some of the same stuff I do, so watch should go well. Saw a whale blow, and its back slightly surfaced off of Pt. Sur. Probably a gray whale; didn’t see a dorsal fin. Don’t want to hit any whales. It’s illegal, and no fun for the ship or the whale.

We were to bunker (fuel) in San Francisco Bay but they didn’t the right kind of ignitable propulsive hydrocarbon we needed, so we’re on our way down to LA to bunker there. It’ll be at anchor, so no shore leave. I think it’ll take about 12 hours, so we’ll have another one am departure. My watch again.

By the way, the guys on this boat are the best looking bunch I’ve seen yet, mostly 20 and 30-somethings. Pity I’m not a little younger.

In Richmond, north of Oakland in San Francisco Bay, we tied up across from the USS Iowa, the retired battleship that had the guns blow up on her a few years back. A grand warhorse in her day, she looks small now, and her hull is rusty, in need of a lot of TLC with a needle gun and sandblaster. She’s coming down to San Pedro when she’s refurbished and will tie up permanently near the SS Lane Victory, the WWII cargo ship I’ve volunteered on. The Lane people are happy; the Iowa will be a draw, so more people will be coming around to see the Lane too, and sign up for one of her WWII cruises. The Iowa doesn’t offer that.

12-24-11, Saturday

We dropped anchor in Long Beach Harbor for bunkering; the bunker barge came out to us to tie up alongside. So, no shore leave. Almost could have roped my guitar in from my room in Wilmington with a heaving line.

Merry Christmas.
Peace on Earth.

12-25-11, Sunday

Found a Christmas stocking on my door in the morning, with a bottle of Pilsner and assorted candy inside. Pity I don’t like beer, but it was one of those “aw, how nice” moments. Everyone on the ship got a stocking. Steered the ship out of Long Beach Harbor at 1:30 am, trying not to let anybody see me falling asleep at the wheel. Got her out without mishap and on course except for a three degree deviation outside the harbor breakwater, but got that corrected.

12/28/11, Wednesday

Now it looks like we’ll be going straight to the dock/shipyard in Nantong, on the Yangtze, instead of the port further up as originally planned. About a three hour drive to Shanghai, so here’s hoping for shore leave. My watch partner, 2nd Mate Liam, said something awfully nice today re my being a woman trying to hold her own in this business: “I take my hat off to you.” Ah. gee!

We have a pool going for the International Date Line. $10 a guess, and whoever gets the right minute we cross the Line wins.

Sent 12/29/11

12/31/11, Saturday

New Year’s Eve. Barbecue on the aft deck. We landed two mahi mahi this morning, so I wrote it up for the ship’s paper:

Mariners Battle Invading Fish

Sailors on board the M/V Moku Pahu fought of a massive assault by an army of invading mahi mahi today. The attack was apparently in retaliation for the deaths of two outstanding members of the local mahi mahi school, at the hands of the Moku Pahu crew.

Singled out for heroic conduct were Wiper Abdul, Chief Mate Rob, and Chief Steward Marcus, who fought bravely at the aft lines, and alert 3rd Mate Beau, who warned of the fishy armada’s approach.

There were no crew casualties. The number of fish casualties will be made available as soon as the Chief Steward and Chief Cook finish counting and freezing them.

1/1/12, Sunday

Big blow and rollers began early am; sun out though, air fresh, and I LOVE MY JOB! No one allowed on the aft deck as we’re pitching and taking water over the rails there.

1/2/12, Monday

28°16.859’ N.
151°24.964’ W.

Wind brisk and plenty of whitecaps, but lots of deep blue too. We have no anemometer on this ship—why is an unanswered question—but it looks to be blowing 25-30 kt., over the port bow. Lots of arcing white spray over the forward #1 hold. Was working with the Bosun up there earlier; another deckie there now, helping secure the huge steel cable bridle for lifting containers, inside the #1 crane tower. Hard work.

The Moku Pahu’s stern is cut away in the center, so her hull there extends out on both sides, like catamaran pontoons. From one side you can watch the propeller working beneath the other side, making light blue sliced curves under water. Unique view.

Gone south from 30° latitude to 28°; amazing what a difference in temperature a couple of degrees makes. 76° now, at 1330, from the 50’s a few days ago. My watch partner Liam tried yet another paper airplane from the bridge, this one made from a cardboard box. So-so flight. The random sized pieces of cardboard he tossed over next flew just as well.

Our oxygen measuring gizmo decided to go Beep Beep all night long, so it ended up in the Mate’s office where it wouldn’t bother anybody. If we’d kept it on the bridge, the scenario would have gone like this:

Mate. Bring her over to 270° (BEEP BEEP)
AB. What was that? (BEEP BEEP) Say again? (BEEP BEEP)
Mate. 2-7-0 (BEEP BEEP)
AB. 2-7-3?
Mate. No, 2-7 (BEEP BEEP) zero.
AB. 2-7-0. Right. She’s (BEEP BEEP) drifting to port (BEEP BEEP).
Mate. No, not (BEEP BEEP) 2-3-4!
AB. Roger that, (BEEP BEEP) bringing her to 2-3-4.
Mate. No, (BEEP BEEP) no!
Beeper ends up in the drink.

1/3/12, Tuesday

27°58.60’ N.
154°22.02 W.

Course: 270°, due west
Speed: 6 kt.

Just over the Big Island of Hawaii about 100 miles to the south. Only sign of land is a seabird or two sighted. No traffic for quite a while. Rising and falling on 40’ swells, coming at us from about 330°, NW by N. We were heading more straight on to them but that means that when there’s a swell under the bow and one under the stern, there might be nothing but air beneath us midships. With no water supporting us there, and with tons of scrap metal in our holds just above, the hull and keel could literally break in two. The Captain said, “I don’t like breaking,” and ordered a course change so we’d be taking the swells more diagonally and riding along their sides more, rather than just hitting the tops.

A three foot high wood statue of Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the sea, stands on the bridge. I’ve abstained from rubbing his head for luck. No way, my Judeo-Christian and Muslim friends, is this good Jewish Catholic girl going to be accused of idol worship. To the pagans out there, my regrets.

Fire drill today. Helped squad partner Cody get attired in his firefighting gear, and tended the hose. Went well. Fires at sea are not nice so we drill once a week.

Sent 1/5/12

1/8/12, Sunday

Been spending the last four mornings doing overtime in the three big cargo cranes on deck. They’re hydraulic, which means they leak a lot as the hydraulic fluid is under a lot of pressure when they lift tons of cargo. So somebody has to go up and clean up the stuff that leaks under the winches. Who do you send to scrounge around in a very small space, hitting your head a given thing, getting drenched with very slippery stuff, and swabbing out all that gooey goo? A big tough guy sailor dude with shoulders the size of a Suburban? Nope.

They send scrawny little me.

I can get into the little places where the big guys don’t fit. The winches are about halfway up the 60 foot crane towers, on platforms with a two inch coaming around them. The platform under Winch #1 had a lot of filthy sludge. Winch #2 had clear hydraulic fluid, and not much of it. Winch #3’s platform was nearly full with mostly clear fluid. Noah’s ark would have floated in it. It’s the consistency of corn syrup, or the oil you put in your car. The area of each platform is roughly 7x7 feet, and I filled two five gallon buckets with fluid and four trash bags with sopping diapers from the three cranes, scooping up the goo with a scooper made from the bottom of a plastic gallon jug. Not the fastest cleaning technique. 

These diapers, by the way, are not the kind you put on babies; they are made of soft adherent material that makes grease stick to it. Gets pretty goopy. Oh, and the winches with their wound up cables are themselves tarry with grime, which sticks to you if you brush up against it. We can’t send photo attachments with this ship email, so when I get home I’ll email pix of me after four days of this little job. This will be to quash any notions that working at sea is glamorous or romantic. Well it is in a way, but it’s pretty filthy too. You’ll see.

I gave up on the idea of washing my winch cleaning clothes and threw them in the HazMat (Hazardous Material) barrel.

On noon to 1600 watch:

28°35.3’ N.
172°54.7’ W.

Course: Steering 275° to make good a true course of 283°, countering the wind and seas, which are trying to throw us off course.
Speed: 7.3 kt.
Wind: 27 kt., Beaufort Force 6
Waves: 10’, coming from 330°, off the port bow.
Temp: 75° F.

Choppy swell; magnificent white horses off the port bow. Bumpy ride. Our twin sterns have dipped under a few times.

My Moku Pahu t-shirt boasts that she’s delivered over 8 million tons of C&H Sugar since 1983, but the Chief Steward still has to buy our bags of C&H, the same as he does the other stores.

1/9/12, Monday


The International Date Line looms ahead. Today the notice board in the mess read, “Retard clocks one hour tonight, and go from Monday to Wednesday. Skip Tuesday.”

1/11/12, Wednesday

We won’t actually cross the Date Line till around 1930 (7:30 pm) tonight. So if we haven’t crossed the Line yet, is it still Tuesday? Nope. The Captain said it’s Wednesday, so Wednesday it is. Our daily enews printout says it’s Tuesday, however. This means that from now till the end of the voyage, we’ll be getting yesterday’s news.

Sent 1/11/12

1/14/12, Saturday

30°00.1 N.
169°00.7 E.

Sloooooow boat to China. We’ve been running a lot of experiments in aerodynamics from the bridge wings. So far we’ve been averaging 16 paper airplanes in any given 24 hour period. As long as we don’t make them out of navigation charts, we’re OK. Results: one semi-parachute action, one impressive wave skimmer, and a lot of loop-the-loops, tumbling tumbleweeds, and nose dives into the drink. Second Mate Liam makes planes that fly better than mine. Damn.

Got a notice that the Russians’ Phobos Grunt satellite (I didn’t name it) will be re-entering the atmosphere off of Japan between Jan. 14 and 16, and that not all the pieces will burn up in the atmosphere. Don’t think any will come this far out. But will be watching.

1/17/12, Tuesday

A weather system began right over us today. Sprung out of nowhere; nothing in the weather report about it. Supposed to be clear and smooth, with the wind and waves out of the northwest. Well this morning the chop picked up, wind and waves out of the southwest, and the barometer did a swan dive into a flat tire, a bungee jump that didn’t come back up, wheeeeeeeeee-oomph.

The gyro steering couldn’t hold our course on just the starboard engine at 4.5 kts, so we went to hand steering. It was like trying to drive a steam roller uphill and backwards through an avalanche. But I did better than the gyro, human being better than the machine once again, yes! Hard over and she took a good five minutes to begin to turn. Wind was blowing over 40 kt, bumpy ride, and the Captain came up to the bridge and took the con till the engineers got the second engine, port side, up and running to give us ten kts. OK now but still bumpy, and no one knows what this storm’s going to do. It wasn’t on the chart.

1/18/12, Wednesday

Midnight to 0400

Still rough. Times like this make you think about not knowing if, when you go to bed, it’ll be your last night on earth. No fear among the crew and nothing spoken, but with our load of tons of iron and steel, one flooded hold could drop us under the water like a stone before the alarms got going. Said a Hail Mary as I came off watch.

0700. Thank you Mother of God. We’re still chugging. And without help from our pagan idol on the bridge, Hawaiian sea god Kanaloa. The Captain told the story of a deckie who always brought a McDonald’s Happy Meal aboard to lay at Kanaloa’s feet, everything except the Coke, which the deckie drank. For the three months the guy was here, they had perfect weather. Then the guy left, no one brought Kanaloa Happy Meals any more, and the weather turned nasty. Real nasty.

Over the last few days, Kanaloa actually came a little loose from his pretty secure mount by the Captain’s chair. But he’s been bolted there so long, stuck in one place, maybe he just wanted to stretch his legs a bit, you know?

We have all filled out our declarations for Chinese Customs. If you forget to include one of your CD’s or DVD’s in your declaration, they can confiscate it. They can search your room when they come aboard (oh police states!) and they must make juicy hauls from forgetful people. Only cigarettes are listed to declare under tobacco products. Apparently no one in China smokes cigars or pipes, much less chews. Chewing seems to be an entirely American habit. Liam has his chewing tobacco in little round, clearly labeled tins, but there is the interesting possibility that the Customs guys might think it was some other kind of herb, and undeclared, too. We’ll see what happens.

Our weather system yesterday never did show up in NOAA’s official weather report.

Sent 1/18/12

1/21/12, Saturday

29°50.8 N.
140°20.2 E.

Permit me to introduce Honorable Sofu Gan. “Gan” means “rock” in Japanese, and I don’t know what “Sofu” means. Black and stark, it sticks straight up 300 feet out of the water, and looks like a tower out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, maybe Barad Dûr. Nothing else around for hundreds of miles. Japan claims sovereignty, which effectively extends her territorial fishing waters 1000 miles from the main islands, including the 200 miles around Sofu Gan. To protect her fishing rights, Japan stations a destroyer in the near vicinity of the Gan. No sign of her, but we have taken in our fishing lines astern. Not a good idea to tick off a warship. With sunrays around the Gan coming through rain clouds, it really looks like we’re sailing into a mythological world. We passed within three miles of her. Up close from one angle she looks like a bare foot with a pointed toe, and from another the Virgin Mary in a robe, holding the infant Jesus. Didn’t see any pilgrims around though.

Things get crazy if you’re too long at sea. Our Bosun did a dance on the bridge today, after washing down the bridge wings—the open-to-the-weather parts of the bridge that stick out to port and starboard—pretending he was the Scrubbing Bubbles bubblehead guy. 2nd Mate Liam and I stepped back a little.

I finally got one of my paper airplanes to fly well off the bridge wing, and so made a new business card:

1/25/12, Wednesday

Today was a bit blustery, everyone in foul weather gear on deck, and we did port prep, laying out the mooring lines where they’ll be needed for tie-up. Got splashed a bit in the bow wash. Force 8 conditions, ship pitching, lots of spray, wind about 38 kt. Looks like we’ll be anchoring out, then picking up the pilot tomorrow morning, then anchoring again upriver for the night, and so into port on Friday.

2nd Mate Liam wore his white faced ski mask on deck, and it did look a little like ceramic, like the Phantom of the Opera’s mask. Great. So I’m sailing around with the Phantom of the Opera and the Scrubbing Bubbles guy.

What do you get if you have an eye splice with many good tucks in the splice, and throw it into a hot skillet? Friar Tucks!


The Chief just started up the starboard engine! We have both engines going now! No more 6 kts! Steering that actually responds! Yippee!

1/26/12, Thursday

Nearing the anchorage outside Shanghai. 32 days at sea and we’re almost there. The Chinese were using Channel 16 as a party line, the way they do in the Mideast, though it’s only supposed to be used for emergencies. Had a couple of guys who thought they were singers. Ouch. They like rap here. Sounded like one guy was saying Mao tse Dung/ Mao you suck. Maybe not. It was all in Mandarin. The Captain was giving his interpretations. He speaks no Mandarin. I actually spent the last watch either on the helm or spotting boats and calling positions, as a good helmsperson and lookout does, instead of doing the crossword puzzle because of no traffic for a hundred miles.

1/27/12, Friday

Moku Pahu Blues

                                                         Woke up this morning
                                                         Too early for light
                                                         Woke up this morning
                                                         Didn’t hardly sleep last night

                                                         On the Moku Pahu
                                                         My heart’s delight

                                                         On the Moku Pahu
                                                         Can’t believe that girl
                                                         On the Moku Pahu
                                                         All around the world

                                                         She’ll give you a ride
                                                         At six knots, for the rest of your life

                                                         We got mud on the anchor
                                                         Trying to spray it down
                                                         Got mud on the anchor
                                                         Every link, all around

                                                         On the Moku Pahu
                                                         She’s a muddy machine

                                                         She’s a slow boat to China
                                                         Halfway round the world
                                                         Stuff ain’t there and don’t work
                                                         But we gotta come through
                                                         She’ll eat up your insides
                                                         She’s a real mean girl

                                                         Lower the lifeboat
                                                         Can’t get it back
                                                         You lower that lifeboat
                                                         She’ll put you on the rack

                                                         She’ll take off your fingers
                                                         Bring your brains home in a sack

                                                         We run out of taters
                                                         No rice in the pot
                                                         We got no more milk now
                                                         Just keeping the pasta hot

                                                         If we run out of coffee
                                                         Someone’s gonna get shot

                                                         Hey reservation lady
                                                         Get me a ticket today
                                                         I’d give all my money
                                                         If I could fly away

                                                         But on the Moku Pahu
                                                         I’m gonna stay

Made port in Jiangyin at 2 pm, about 40 miles up the Yangtze from Nantong, where the shipyard is. Here we’ll be discharging our cargo. Nothing but murky yellow haze up the river; hazy horizon, hazy everything. How can people live in this stuff and never see blue sky? I need the Northwest. I suspect the real reason we can’t throw anything over the side into the filthy water is that the Yangtze would rear up and bite back. Temperature in the 40’s, and drizzly.

Last night we came upriver to a continual fireworks show, on both sides. Unbelievable. They celebrate Chinese New Year for two weeks here. Tomorrow is the last day.

While I was on the helm today, the Chinese pilot said, “Right ten tee,” which I thought was “Right ten degrees,” but he meant “Right twenty.” I said, “Right twenty,” stressing the “w” so he’d get it, but his pronunciation stayed the same.

1/28/12, Saturday

Went into town today, past unsmiling Customs guys at the dock entrance. Thought the car that came was the shuttle to the Seaman’s Club but it went to a place called Fang Fang, a Seaman’s store with jackets, cell phones, Chinese souvenirs, and a bar upstairs. The coats were name brand but may have been pirated. No computers for Internet access. The 30-ish proprietress pulled me into a section with watches and electrical toys. I changed some dollars to yuan and bought some ceramic chopsticks. The Fang Fang lady was very forward and pushy, a real hustler. She’d fit in in New York. Capitalism seems alive and well at her Fang Fang store, but don’t know if she owns the business or if the state has a stake in it. There were a number of small shops and grocers on the street but the area was pretty tumbledown.

Then the Fang Fang lady said she was going into the city, downtown, where the shopping was and where I thought the actual Seaman’s Center was. Passed a big Sheraton on the way. Went to two dept stores, which had pretty good Western style girl power stuff, and lots of people were out shopping though it was cold and rainy. The economy is good when girls are buying frou frou stuff.

Straight black hair is the norm here, and most of the kids stared at my curly brown hair in wonderment. Might have been the first time these kids had seen a real live Westerner with hair like mine.

Finally made it to the Seaman’s Club after dinner, upstatirs in a sleazy old warehouse with a bar and small store, plus a massage room. Only the bar and massage room were heated. The 20-ish proprietress here was a competitor to the Fang Fang lady and said her stuff was no good. Both spoke good English. There were two bar girls, “We both virgins!” Five of us from the ship waited while one bought a phone card and another got a massage, fully clothed, with the door open. We left about 8:30 pm. Understand the place gets going around midnight.

The Chief Engineer once spent two months here and had to go to the hospital with breathing problems. It’s like trying to breathe through a stuffy blanket here. Good thing we’re leaving in a few days. Think I’ll get a chest x-ray when I get back just to make sure I haven’t got brought back some of the atmosphere inside. Anybody out there looking to adopt, adopt a Chinese girl. Baby girls aren’t wanted here and it will get them out of this poison.

2/2/12, Thursday


Never thought I’d prefer Jiangyin air to an alternative. Just after 9 am today, a rusty old fuel pipeline on deck cracked and dumped 25 gallons of goo on the starboard quarter of the barge. None went over the side into the water, so it wasn’t officially a spill, just a mess. A real mess. The fuel oil we use is about the consistency of molasses in the fridge, and the stuff on deck was about an inch thick. All the deckies were out in force, just when I thought I was going to have a nice morning inside, sweeping and swabbing the main deck passageways. Outside, it was 30-something degrees with a wind blowing.

We scraped and wiped and cursed and wiped and cursed and got that awful stuff off our deck. Used diesel and paint thinner to loosen it up and make it more wipe-able. Took a couple of hours, and they had to rotate people inside to warm their hands up when frostbite threatened. But the worst was the fumes. Everyone was coughing, and at the end I felt like throwing up. I know what a bird in an oil spill feels like.

We get an extra $16 an hour for helping to clean up oil messes, but I never heard of anyone causing a spill for a lousy 32 bucks. We also saved the ship thousands of dollars in oil spill fines.

The air in Jiangyin, by the way, was actually pretty nice today. A high pressure area had moved in, there was blue sky, and it only looked like a moderately smoggy LA day.

This job still beats working at McDonald’s, but not by much.

Sent 2/2/12

2/7/12, Tuesday

In home port now and no doubt have TB, lung cancer, bronchial pneumonia, emphysema, and one of those little creatures from Aliens growing inside. Found out that the Fang Fang lady actually owns her store and pays a business tax to the state. Bigger businesses are apparently state run and owned. Saw numerous employees at the bigger stores standing around without much to do, but this way everyone in China has a job.

On the cab ride to the airport, AB Cody had us in stitches with his “conversation” with the driver. Cody would say something to him in English, he’d respond with something in Chinese, and neither one knew the other’s language but both acted like they did.

Remember about adopting a girl from a toxic town like Jiangyin, Nantong, or Shanghai in China.

The official log entry for the end of the voyage is “Finished with engines.” So, this is AB Wendy, logging off: Finished with writing.

Sent 2/7/12