Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Giving Thanks

It has been absolutely gorgeous out here; a big half moon has lit the Gulf half of each night, and if I had a solid, non-vibrating surface on which to set the camera I could take some really nifty long-exposure photos our here right now.

On the way out, bio-luminescing jellies (or so I supppose) rolled out of our bow wave like so many radioactive bowling balls.

In the field, large, white gulls (the Sibley is at home, I believe) are colonizing our buoy, and brown pelicans -- rarely seen over the summer -- have taken up residence on several platforms.

I wish I could share the sights with my wife and kids.

 It’s Thanksgiving as I write this. Last Thanksgiving, on another crewboat at another company, the turkey came out of the oven just as we cleared the ends of the Galveston jetties.

Today our deckhand has been tending the galley between offloads and a veritable feast awaits us: smoked ham, candied yams, macaroni casserole, corn, hot rolls, made-from-scratch mashed potatoes and (also made from scratch) gravy.

Man, it really smells good.

This year I am thankful for many things: including the continued presence of my 13-year-old in my life, my wonderful wife, who keeps things going while I’m away, the healthy little guys at home, and my job.


No, nothing to do with the Coast Guard or the TSA … it’s more like, well, vocational renewal, I guess.

A couple of weeks ago I told you my boat was headed to the shipyard. It did, but I didn’t go with it. Instead, I was asked to hop over to the replacement boat – a sister ship – and help familiarize the new crew with the field and our job out here for however long they are needed.

One week has turned into two, and for all I know (and, actually, rather hope) may turn into a full four-week hitch. 

The regular third captain on this boat had other business the first week, and then – just as I was preparing to head to a completely new boat and a possible long-term relief master position – “mysteriously fell down a ladder” the day he was supposed to come back to work.

That means that when the first captain comes back to this boat, and the regular second goes home, they’ll be right back where they started if I also leave. So it would make sense for me to stay for a third week, and at that point (in my humble opinion), I might as well stay on the full four.

It does not escape my notice that this arrangement would still allow me to have Christmas at home with the family.

Anyhow, same job, almost identical boat, different crew. And it’s a world of difference.

I am grateful for what the guys on the other boat taught me over the past five-and-a-half months, for sure. 
But it was a couple months past time for me to get off that boat. Call it differences in management styles, or priorities. Maybe culture, too.

A week working with the crew on this boat, and it’s like a whole different company. We actually do things I’d only read about in our recommended safety practices binder.

I can see the bottom of the bilge when I lift a deck plate in the engine room. 

People are pleasant, and professional, and I share some common interests with the other two captains here.

So, anyway, we’ll see what happens. The boat I was supposed to go to this week also sounds cool.

In the end, I’m carrying everything I need to go wherever the company needs me, or home if it comes to that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Which is not to Say ...

That I am ungrateful for the opportunity to perform work I enjoy and get paid well enough for it that I can have only one job, not two or three, as so many people today must.

If I worked in an office downtown, I'd be carping about having to wear a tie (well, probably not in Austin), and I'd certainly be cursing the traffic.

On another note: bald eagles along the ICW in Morgan City this morning! Pretty cool.

My regular boat is off to the shipyard, and I'm filling-in on a sister ship for the week. It's interesting -- and a little discouraging -- to compare "my" boat to this boat.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Don't Leave Me

I have an hour to pack and get on the road if I'm going to sit-out Houston's rush hour at the Petrol Station with one of my oldest friends. Then on to Morgan City with crew change at midnight.

The day I arrived home I drank a six-pack of beer and struggled to stay awake long enough to see the kiddos and re-set my internal clock to normal waking hours.

The next morning started with a 0430 wake-up and trip to the hospital for an outpatient procedure that left me groggy and off-balance the rest of the day. Then into the weekend and kids, kids, kids.

It's chaos here: Two boys under 3, two dogs and a cat. I really don't understand how my wife keeps up with it all and works full-time, but I'm grateful.

And then, there's this: every single day, every time I walk toward the door or the 2-year-old hears the jangle of car keys, he says: "Daddy, don't leave me!" And he means, specifically, don't go back to the boat.

I wish I didn't a.) love my work so much, and b.) need the income.

A 5:1 schedule is just ridiculous, and I doubt I'll be doing that again. Even the 2:1 schedule is kind of crazy, and I'm still holding out hope for even time.

It's not all about stacking up the green, and I decided a long time ago that I was on the "work to live" team, not the "live to work" bunch.

We'll see. In the meantime, one more load of clothes to throw in the dryer ....

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Lies Beneath

I've written about some of the cool critters we see out in the Gulf, but had to come home to have the time and bandwidth to actually upload video.

So here it is, with thanks to JJ Grey (with whom I briefly sat on the board of a marine conservation non-profit) for the music.

The camera is a Panasonic Lumix duct-taped to the end of a hook pole. No live view as I was filming, so please excuse the herky-jerky quality of the video.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Adapt and Overcome

Second day offshore of the final week of a hard five and the weather is beautiful. Early this morning we get the call to backload a crane part and head to an unmanned platform 20 miles distant – in another field altogether, as a matter of fact – and in water nearly 700 feet deep.

It’s directly on the other side of a busy shipping lane for vessels headed to the mouth of the Mississippi, and I got to make passing arrangements with a 600-foot tanker on the way out.

This particular unmanned platform is our customer’s most productive in the area and we carry equipment out there on average once a month.

The issue with the crane is a bad swing motor; we’re carrying the replacement, and meet half a dozen production operators who have flown out to the platform.

The first challenge is getting the boat positioned directly under the fast line so the lift can be picked-up while the crane is in its rest. There’s a pretty good current running into the jacket, but light wind and calm seas make that part of the operation pretty straightforward.

Until the operators discover the crane won’t start.

On Channel 10: “Hey Cap, y’all wouldn’t happen to have a 12-volt jumper box on the boat?”

“Yessir, we sure do. Do you have somewhere to plug it in?”

“No, we sure don’t. I guess we’d need a mighty long extension cord.”

I eyeball the distance from the deck to the crane pedestal. Less than a boat length, but not much. Maybe 100-120 feet. I consider how many extension cords we have on the boat.

“Well, I think  maybe we can make that.”

We cobble together four or five extension cords and send them up on a low-tech handline we tie to the handle of the jumper box.

A few minutes pass as I hold the boat directly below the crane, and simultaneously I hear a diesel engine roar to life and a ragged cheer go up from the cluster of men on the platform.


We offload the swing motor and set a course for our next stop, more than two hours away.

I am reminded of advice I once gave boaters in a hook-and-bullet magazine I then wrote for:
Carry jumper cables on your boat. Many otherwise fine fishing days have been ruined by a dead battery, and for some reason most boaters don’t carry jumper cables on board, even though they probably have them in their trucks.

This marks the first time I’ve every jump-started a crane from a boat, but apparently it’s not unheard of.

Telling our other captain about the morning’s fun when he comes on watch, he recalls the time he used an air compressor on deck to start a platform’s crane, 100 feet of air hose draped from the pedestal to the boat’s deck.

More than one hundred miles and many hours from shore-side support, we frequently have to find work-arounds for challenges that beg more perfect solutions.

Some challenges, of course, can’t be adequately met out here, and for that we have our scheduled shipyard time – scheduled, in this case, to coincide with our biannual USCG hull inspection.

Our office still hasn’t given us a date, but it pretty much has to be in the next two weeks since our COI expires Nov. 18. Our work list is already three pages long.