Thursday, May 16, 2013


The Atlantic, which may be my favorite long-form online news source, recaps this feature on sailors' tattoos produced by Scuttlefish and Bowsprite.

I saw a claim the other day that one in five adult Americans has permanent art somewhere on his or her body. That 's a sh*tload of tattoos. And it all started with members of my profession.

I probably need a few more.

Way back when I got my first tattoo I thought I'd find some support from my Uncle Junior (that's Ramon, Jr., for my grandfather, but everyone in the family called him "Junior"). Uncle Junior was a retired Navy man with 20 years on destroyers and he had some pretty good ink on his arms.

I imagined that some of it came from port calls in Hawaii, even.

"Why the hell would you want to do that?!" he thundered at me. "Tattoos are stupid. They're permanent. Don't get a tattoo."

Oh well.

Tattoos are, now, much more widely accepted (and acceptable) than they were even 20 or 30 years ago. College kids get them during drunken spring break binges. Accountants and lawyers get them.

Bikers and gang members get them, too, of course.

But so do soldiers and sailors. Still.

A Modest Reward

There's a long tradition in the Army of a certain apprehension when one is getting "short" on a deployment or in a combat zone: you've made it this far, it would really suck to buy it in the last week.

Similarly, but not quite at the same life-and-death level of seriousness, I felt a real sense of relief as I got up for my last watch of a 28-day hitch: so far, I hadn't dented the boat or gotten anyone hurt.

And then: one more run.

And that one went okay too.

So, as a small pat on the back to myself, and a welcome home, and because my dermatologist gave me a clean bill of health at a post-skin cancer checkup (and Academy was right next door) and because it will be useful when making notations in the log or for when I begin my HIIT workouts on the boat (yeah, right ...), I took a cue from my old fishing buddy Fil Spencer, IFA Kayak Angler of the Year and now timepiece model for Academy Sports and Outdoors.

I picked-up a Freestyle Mariner for less than $70.

All I can say so far is that the numbers are big, the backlight is cool and it's comfortable on the wrist. It looks enough like the old Timex that the wife hasn't noticed yet that I have a new watch (the 2-year-old did ... but he's observant that way).

Anyhow, we'll see how it holds up.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


It's Wednesday. I'm drinking a Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout for lunch. Because I can.

Sunrise over Ship Shoal, May 14, 2013. A long  run on crew-
change morning. Yep, we were late.
I arrived home at about 2:30 this morning and found a boy in my bed. He rolled over sleepily, said "Daddy" and smiled before drifting off again.

The wife was happy to see me. The brown dog was happy to see me and thought it would be an excellent time to play ball.

The cat, who I officially and publicly despise (but privately am quite fond of) gave every appearance of having missed me.

It's good to be home.

Three glorious weeks of at-homeness stretch before me: kid time, an adults-only trip to the Pacific coast of Mexico. A mini-family reunion and anniversary celebration in Mayberry-by-the-Sea.

Awesome. See y'all in ... about three weeks.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rolling, rolling, rolling ....

Coming into day seven of long, back-to-back runs. We’ve done a bit of everything: we have been to drilling rigs, lift boats and production platforms; pumped water and fuel, transferred cargo and personnel, even got a few hours of standby time in 200-feet of water.

During our offshore standby time the lead captain caught a tuna on the first drop, and that was lunch.

The weather has been all over the place, too, with a late-season cold front stalled over the area. Two nights in a row we had 40-knot winds, 5-to-7-foot seas, lightning and torrential rain. We even had hail, which makes quite a racket on an aluminum-hulled boat.

I’m also coming into day 27 of a 28-day hitch. I figured-out a while back that it’s not helpful to count the days ‘til the end, which now is nigh. Phew!

I could complain about my first hitch on this boat, but I’d have to make something up. The crew is still coming together, but the new first captain seems like a real good guy.

Back when we were still sitting at the dock a couple of days at a stretch, back in the good old days, we got some painting done on deck and have been tackling small repair and maintenance projects as we can. But mostly things are in good shape, and what’s not will be fixed when we go to shipyard in a month or so.

In the last week of running, I have been reminded of some of the unique privileges of this work. A new moon and a cloudless sky several nights have showcased the spangled vault above with the great, hazy wash of the Milky Way arcing overhead.

Our bow wave this past week has been a molten cascade of blue. It is the electric blue of lightning, the neon blue of sin, the plasma blue of a Star Trek warp drive.

On no more evidence than the color, I blame moderate densities of Noctiluca scintillans. The water is still cool enough for those bioluminescing dinoflagellates to be hanging around.

Anyhow, mesmerizing to watch, difficult to photograph.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Name that Boat

The recent change in management at the Vatican hasn’t slowed things down here in Port Fourchon.

It’s not unusual to hear Pope Benedict conversing with Infant Jesus of Prague (familiarly, they often just use the shorthand “Benedict” and “Jesus”) or Our Lady of La Salette.

Continuing in a religious vein, I remember my astonishment upon hearing a captain proclaiming the good news to a ghost ship: "CSS Texas, Jesus Saves!" (Two towboats making passing arrangements near the interesection of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Texas City Ship Channel.)

I surmise, with little direct evidence, that Jesus Saves, Hallelujah and Resurrection may all belong to the same company.

More mundane names float across the airwaves, too: Will Bordelon chatting with Dino Chouest, Kevin Gros courting Chantise G.

Among the boat companies serving the oil patch, family feeling runs strong. At the company I work for, the boats are named for family members spanning four generations.

Key employees and long-time captains sometimes are honored with a boat name: take, for instance, Chouest’s Gary Rook, named for that company’s design chief.

Among my favorite boat names are the melodic Santee, Congaree and Wateree, Starfleet crewboats named for South Carolina rivers (or perhaps the native peoples that preceded them).

Other boat names are more practical or thematic: for instance, the cohort of platform supply vessels beginning with “C” (again, for Chouest) – C-Performer, C-Fighter, etc. Likewise, Hornbeck Offshore Services includes “HOS” in many – maybe all – of its boat names: HOS Innovator, HOS Strongline, HOS Centerline, and so on.

To some online hilarity, Hornbeck has recently announced a class of Louisiana food-themed boats: HOS Beignet, HOS Boudin, HOS Frog Legs … okay, I kid about the frog legs. But the others are real. In fact, I just heard the sausage boat leaving the dock.

Some companies leave even less doubt about whose boat you’re dealing with. Odyssea Marine has the Odyssea Explorer, Odyssea Titan, Odyssea Ranger and so-on. Or the prosaic Harvey Carrier or Harvey Supplier.

This can be carried a bit too far, as with the unimaginative K-Marine VII, K-Marine VIII, BoTruc 39, BoTruc-41, etc. On the radio, the captains of these vessels often come back with a simple “Thirty-nine,” or “Eight,” leading me to picture a Galactica- or Star Trek-type cyborg.

“BoTruc” itself, though, is evocative of the very early days of specialized oilfied service vessels. The first boat-trucks represented the marriage of a Cajun mariner’s desires and a Rhode Island naval architect’s drafting skill.

Other boat names bring to mind other things. Damon P. Bankston, for instance, a hero of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Or Warrior, high and dry at the north end of the Eugene Island Channel.

Boat names are, widely, shrouded in superstition and  tradition. Successfully changing a boat's name requires some metaphysical gymnastics to placate the gods of the sea, as well as a heap of paperwork to soothe regulatory authorities.

I always wondered about the wisdom naming one's Gulf shrimp trawler Stormy Waters (still afloat in Port Isabel, so far as I know).

A recurring fantasy is that someday I’ll have my own boat company. I ponder color schemes and boat names. A Texas rivers series would be fun: Bravo, Nueces, Aransas, Brazos, Neches, Sabine ….

Or maybe shorebirds and seabirds? Heron, Egret, Kingfisher, Sanderling, Skimmer, Avocet, Bittern, Skua, Gannet, Gallinule … nah, not Gallinule. No Spoonbill, either.

No matter what fantasy names I come up with, or what whimsy or foolishness I hear on the radio, it will be pretty hard to top my favorite shrimp boat from back home: Ol' Dead Possum.