Thursday, October 17, 2013


Thursday the 16th. Crew change day. Grocery day. The mechanics are coming on-board to wrap-up the repair on our steering pump day.

Thursday the 16th. The day our customer fires an entire service company and keeps us in the field until every single piece of their equipment, and all their people, are on our boat.

Our platform is ... well, I don't know if it's unique in all the Gulf, but it's certainly different than any I've ever worked before. There are two cranes, which is not unusual. They are pretty short cranes, which also is not unusual.

At both cranes, the crane operator cannot actually see the deck of the boat he is offloading or backloading, which is very unusual. I mean, not at all. Sometimes they'll post a flagger at the rail to relay crane signals. Other times I or the deckhand give the crane operator verbal signals over the radio.

At one point during the backload, the platform sent down a wireline unit that weighed maybe 15,000 pounds. It had three, really long taglines attached to it. For a deckhand with just one free hand who was simultaneously giving signals over the radio to the crane operator and giving me hand signals about where he wanted the boat.

A consequence of this very short crane with no visual communication between the operator and the deck is that he just hangs the load over the water, and I then position the boat under the lift where I want it set down.

Somehow it all worked out.

Well, mostly. For reasons of stability, I prefer to have heavy loads forward on the deck. So I have a hope of seeing the stern of the boat from the aft helm station, I likewise prefer to have tall loads up close to the house.

But I can direct the loading of the boat that way only if I know what's coming. The crane operator, for some reason, has it in his head that I should have heavy lifts on the stern and all the light stuff up front. We went back and forth on this over the radio, and by the time the heavy stuff started coming down, the front of the deck was already filled-up.

Two days in a row we've been back at the dock by 9:30 in the morning. Now, on crew change day, we don't leave the field until midnight.

Because we're heavy, and despite the fact that I've pumped off about 3,000 gallons of water, we'll now only make about 17 knots. In places, only about 15 knots, depending on the water depth.

At the dock, we have a cargo box of supplies and groceries, a couple of crew members signing-on and two very tired mechanics. On board, we have seven unhappy passengers and there is no clear path from the front of the boat to the back of the boat.

I'm no dummy, and I call our dispatcher about two hours out and explain the situation very clearly. I don't demand that he put us under the crane as soon as we get in, but I figure it should be clear that under the crane is where we need to be.

Not only was there a boat already under the crane, our standby spot was two-deep in crewboats.

Turned out there was a hole about 32-feet wide between their sterns and a 65-foot crewboat that spends the night on our dock. It was suggested that I stern-up there to let our passengers off and our mechanics on.

When I got to this boat, I was told that there is not room to top around in this slip (we back down out of Tiger Pass). And in many places -- due to barges, other boats, etc. -- there is not.

But by going to the very back of the slip and topping around in the "T," I was able to slide back to that hole and sort of twist into it using the bow thruster and the inboards.

It felt like a pretty nifty piece of boat handling to me, though I may have been the only one impressed.

Anyhow, all of this led to a delayed crew change, which meant the on-signers hadn't been able to get any rest, which meant that I needed to stay up later (not to mention we were changing the watch schedule), which meant that I had been up, and mostly operating the boat, for 21 hours by the time I was relieved.

Yesterday, of course, we were back at the dock by noon and we're not expected to have another run until Friday.

Apparently that sort of nonsense only happens on crew change day. On the sixteenth.

It's enough to make a fellow develop a phobia.

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