Friday, August 23, 2013

This and That

Back on the boat and we've been running hard the past few days.

This is my last two weeks as permanent crew on this boat, and it is a bittersweet feeling. 

Most of us out here, I think, like the feeling of having a permanent "home" at work. In an unpredictable business, it's nice (usually) to work with a crew you know on a boat you know on a job that is familiar.

I give a lot of credit to my company that I was able to have an extended conversation with the HR manager and VP about options that would give me a little more time at home with the family. From what I read and hear from other mariners, even broaching such a subject at a lot of companies is likely to land you on the dock immediately.

We weren't able to work-out a formal solution, but in a couple of weeks I'll become a relief captain here, a floater ... kind of like a turd in the giant toilet bowl of the Gulf.

The impetus for the change is this: I have a high school freshman and two toddlers at home. My amazing wife, who works about 60 hours a week, struggles to keep up with the little guys, the house and her job while still getting at least five hours of sleep a night.

The 3-year-old struggles with some other things because his dad is gone. The 1-year-old changes almost daily. And the 14-year-old, well, we have some things to work on.

And I miss all of them, terribly, when I'm gone a month at a time. But if it was just me missing them, I'd take the lump, because after all I did choose this work. And I love my job.

At this point, though, it's a matter of one kid's healthy development and my wife's mental and physical survival.

So, now, in a best-case scenario, I'll essentially work 14/14 with no guarantee of the 14 days on. It was like flicking a switch: I went from worrying about the family in my absence to worrying that I won't be making enough money.

But I'm grateful that my company will continue to carry me on payroll and give me an opportunity to work. And they say I'm welcome to come back full-time whenever I like.

Most guys I talk to - and I've actually conducted a poll on this topic - are very happy with their even-time schedules. 

Of course, all of the guys who have that schedule are on bigger boats at bigger companies and making 50-100 percent more per day than I am, which adds up to a pretty good living for 180 days a year.

That's my goal, too, actually, but it's still a year or two down the road, what with sea time and classes and testing.

In other news ...

On the professional mariner forums there is sometimes some back-and-forth about who are the better, or more professional mariners: the blue water shipping guys or the oilfield boat handlers or the towing gurus, the 1600-ton masters and mates or the 100-ton schmucks like me who have to live-boat everything.

As a broad generalization, I'll say that typically the folks with larger tonnage licenses seem to be a bit more on the ball. But I'm here to tell you there's good and bad everywhere.

Chalk some of that up to "we're all human," and "everyone makes mistakes sometimes." But it's also true that there are idiots everywhere......

Yesterday morning in the wee hours I found myself southbound for sea behind a supply boat with all of its deck lights blazing. Imagine driving down the highway with an oncoming vehicle in your lane with the high-beams on. It was sort of like that.

After several attempts (another boat chimed-in: "That's the Seacor Deaf-and-Dumb, Cap. Good luck.") I finally got the other boat on the radio and kindly asked the captain if she needed those lights or might she turn 'em off.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't even realize they were on."

She then proceeded to have a detailed conversation with someone on another boat about (her husbands? brother's? friend's?) appendicitis. On VHF Ch. 13. Which, in Port Fourchon, is not the channel to conduct friendly conversations, or even to think out-loud. 

It's busy, busy, busy here, and boats need to be able to broadcast security calls and make passing arrangements. Right now.

A little later, I noticed an odd set of lights just off the Martin fuel dock, and just ahead of a northbound crewboat. It was a kayaker, paddling up the bayou in the dark. He got bonus points for exhibiting the required all-around white light. He lost all of those points for also exhibiting a bright red light. 

He plunged into a lifetime points hole for crossing the channel ahead of a work boat and for not having a radio tuned to 13.

Or maybe he did have a radio, but just wasn't talking into it. In which case he would have heard himself referred to as a "retard," an "idiot," an "organ donor," and worse.

Compare and contrast with the captain of the pogey boat Vasco de Gama, who called me as I was approaching the end of the Belle Pass jetties, just to let me know he was holding-up before he crossed the channel.

Which he should have, but it's always nice to know that the other guy knows what he's supposed to do.

In the Northeastern Gulf right now, there's a low-pressure trough moving steadily westward over us. 

The National Hurricane Center says there's only a slight (10 percent) chance it will develop into a tropical cyclone, but we should expect thunderstorms, lightning, strong wind gusts and occasional heavy rain over the next four or five days.

We've had a wicked pretty moon over the horizon in the west in the mornings this week, and from the wheelhouse I can see "isolated showers" here and there across the Gulf. It's a pretty nice view.

One of my cousins asked an interesting question on Facebook the other day: "What's it smell like out there?"

It smells like the sea, but not like the beach, where there is more (often decaying) organic matter. It's a clean, briny sort of aroma, most of the time. Sometimes you get the sweet, mulchy odor of feeding or schooling fish. In the vicinity of those thunderstorms you can often smell ozone.

Less often you might get a whiff of diesel exhaust from the boat, or grease or oil or driling fluids near a rig.

But usually the wind is blowing over open water and it's pretty nice.

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