Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Captain's Kit

I'm due on the boat in a week and already I'm doing laundry and packing for a 14-day hitch.

I've seen more than a few threads on gCaptain asking: "What do I take to the boat?"

It's true, I'll probably never make anyone's best-dressed list, and frankly I don't care. I've always appreciated sturdy, practical, comfortable clothes that don't require any special care.

Upon being hired at one boat company, I asked the personnel manager if what I was wearing (jeans and polo shirt) would be okay for the boat.

"That would be terrific," he said. "A lot of our captains look like they're going to a dog fight."

Most boats are business casual, with the emphasis on casual, but the officers set the standard for the entire crew and that standard is reflected in everything from footwear to the condition of the bilges.

1. Long pants. I've tried 'em all -- from jeans to Dickies to Carhart -- and have settled on Wrangler's Men's Cargo Pants ($18.97 at Wal-Mart). They come in twill and rip-stop, and they're remarkably sturdy. They're also cheap enough that if I splatter them with paint, I don't pout.

2. Shirts: No company I've worked for has had a uniform requirement, though most do have t-shirts and sweatshirts available from time to time. I wear a combination of work t-shirts (Wolverine, Carhart, Magellan), fishing shirts (Columbia, Magellan) and my favorite graphic tees.

3. Shoes: The SMS policy of any company will likely specify steel-toe shoes or boots for all crew members on duty. In practice, wheelhouse personnel often get by with tennis shoes or Crocs or even flip-flops. I wear Sketcher steel-toes, and I'm on my third pair in a year.

They're comfortable, but tend to fall apart after a couple of months.

4. Light jackets and sweatshirts: layers, layers, layers.

5. Hats: I wear 'em, mostly because of an unfortunate hairline. For the same reason, I usually just buzz my hair down to the scalp. Low maintenance.

6. Flip-flops, shorts and light t-shirts for off-duty cabin and lounge time.

Every offshore vessel should have a functional washer and dryer, but I usually take enough clothes to go a week without doing laundry.

In addition to clothing, I typically pack bedding -- a twin sheet set and a pillow; a sleeping bag to use as a comforter, one or two bath towels and toiletries.

Additional gear includes my laptop (which doubles as a DVD player and music center), my Kindle (which holds my recreational reading, as well as Bowditch and a copy of the Rules), an iPhone, which I can tether to the laptop for interwebs access, a small LED flashlight, and my Spyderco Pacific Salt pocket knife.

I consider the last two items to be safety requirements.

At any given time I may also have a couple of small screwdivers (to quickly address wheelhouse rattles or malfunctions), wirecutters or needle-nose plyers.

All of that gear goes into a sturdy daypack I carry everywhere. The daypack also holds my license and certification documents in a waterproof pouch and a physical copy of the International Rules.

If I'm lucky, I'll remember chargers for the laptop, phone and Kindle.

Finally, I pack sunglasses (for most of my life, Costas, but mid-hitch one month I picked-up a pair of Wiley DVX polarized safety glasses at Wal-Mart, and they're pretty awesome), safety glasses, reading glasses, work gloves, a hard hat and my work vest.

And that's it. That's the basic "going to sea" kit for a modern-day (oilfield) mariner.

Did I miss any essentials? Please leave a comment!

Friday, February 22, 2013

When it Rains ...

Well. Hello there. It's been a while.

I have news.

But, first: there's a thread going around on gCaptain right now on members' hobbies. What do you do when you're at home? (What do you do between hitches? Anything you've had to give up due to working offshore? Leave a comment!)

Me? I change a lot of diapers. Cook. Clean. Sometimes I throw the ball for the brown dog. Occasionally I catch a re-run of House or an episode of Shameless.

My aspirational response is that I read, write, fly fish, paddle a plastic boat, look at birds, carve things out of wood.

And I'm learning to play the ukulele (chosen, in part because chords are simple and there are only four strings, and in part because it's small enough and quiet enough to go to sea with me).

I have been home now for more than two months. My radar endorsement is safely tucked into the little red book. I've primed and painted the front gate. Found a couple of really cool old wooden school chairs cheap on CraigsList and stripped and refinished them. I hung blinds in the kitchen and replaced a couple of toilet seats.

It has been delightful, but I'm ready to go back to work for as long as my long-suffering, incredibly hard-working wife will let me.

With no solid offers arising from my three interviews during the week at school, I decided to head back to Louisiana and knock on some more doors.

But then it was Superbowl Weekend and Superbowl Hangover Week. After that, Mardi Gras.

A trip to Louisiana from the middle of Texas is a significant investment -- a triple C-note in gas roundtrip, plus accommodations, plus I'll probably want to eat once in a while ... it's a gamble, no job guaranteed, so most of us who do this from time-to-time try to make sure we maximize our productivity on any given trip.

And, you know ... Newton's First Law of Motion.

The unbalanced force (e.g., poverty, domestic unrest) had not yet acted upon the object (me) to change its (my) velocity (zero).

I've now buried my lede as far as I possibly can -- so I'll cut to the chase: a couple of days before I had planned to hit the road, I sent out two emails. Late at night, on a holiday. The next day I received a phone call and a job offer from Company Number One -- a smaller, family-owned boat company.

Crewboats, not OSVs, but nice crewboats owned by some folks who have been in business for a lot of years now and have long-term contracts and are willing to pay more than my last employer. Bonus points: an old friend from another life is a captain on the boat they are sending me to.

Ironically, as I wrapped-up my acceptance over the phone, call waiting beeped and it was the other company I had emailed -- bigger boats, newer boats, better bennies.. I reluctantly declined their offer, explaining that I had just accepted at Company Number One and didn't want to burn that bridge.

The personnel manager at Company Number Two teasingly reminded me that she, too, had previously offered me a job and I was turning her down again ....

"Well," I said, "Maybe the third time will be the charm. Can I keep in touch and check back with you down the line?"

"Absolutely," she said.

I am not God's Gift to the Gulf of Mexico, or The World's Greatest Captain. I'm competent, I try to pay attention. I keep my paperwork up-to-date, I speak standard English and I wear clean clothes and look people in the eye when I meet them.

But let me back up: when I say I emailed "companies," that's not exactly right. What I really mean is that I emailed specific individuals, and those particular people called me.

I hold on to business cards, send thank-you notes after interviews, and have been known to share cool photos of boats belonging to companies I did not go to work for -- when I run across them out on the water -- with the people who did not hire me.

My point is this, Grasshopper: never write-off a person or a company just because you don't go to work for them the first time around. This industry in this part of the world is fairly fluid. You never know when a previous good (or at least not negative) impression will pay off.

My other point is that when it rains, by God, it pours. This is my third round of job hunting in the oil patch, and the third time I've had multiple job offers on the same day or in the same week.

And I am so very grateful, because apparently in much of the country still, jobs aren't just falling out of trees.

And for all the sacrifices mariners make, it's damned good money, even in the 100-ton world, even for someone still relatively new to the game.