Friday, September 5, 2014

Three Plus Two Equals a Long Hitch (and other math)

Three weeks in shipyard, a few days floating around Fourchon, nearly two weeks on two different jobs.
I finally made crew change on the morning of Day 36 in Venice, the polyp on the rectum of the American Midwest.

It’s fun to poo-poo Venice (see what I did there?), but in truth it was sort of nice to be back.

When I got up for my first watch after we arrived, there on the boat sterning-up next to us at the back of Slip 2 was a fellow I had been in the DP Induction course with a few months back.

A boat I worked alongside last winter is still there, and I caught up over the radio with one of her captains. A boat working the same job we were on was captained by a mutual friend of several guys I’ve worked with in the past.

In Fourchon I got within waving (and photo) distance of NewEngland Waterman and enjoyed a quick visit with The Rocket Scientist. One night while running to a platform 70 miles offshore I crossed paths a good friend I’ve worked with at three different companies, starting back in the South Padre Island days.

Both he and another Texas captain stopped by to say howdy when we were in shipyard.

All of that got me to thinking about the “loose” connections some of us maintain out in the oil patch.

Those connections are useful in all kinds of ways; not least in alleviating the loneliness of those long stretches away from land and from home, but also in job leads and recommendations and in up-to-date local knowledge about passes or working channels.

Those loose connections also will get you a bag of sugar, a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper or a gallon of paint in a pinch.

It’s a commonplace that a sailor’s favorite ships are the last one and the next one. That said, I couldn’t be much happier with the boat and crew to which I was assigned.

Joining them in shipyard, well in advance of our various inspections, gave me the opportunity to spend some quality time with parts of the vessel I might not get around to messing with in weeks or months, normally.

It also gave me time to get to know my port captains, shipmates and safety guys, and to learn some of the paperwork routine before worrying about handling a more massive vessel with different propulsion than I’m used to.

I was nervous about that last thing: this is my first steel-hull vessel, and my first really big twin-screw vessel, and my first real DP boat. And before and after everything else, driving a boat (well) is what I get paid for.

Turns out that what friends who made that transition ahead of me said is true: workboats are easier than crewboats.

It’s different, for sure, but it’s mostly a process of subtraction: subtract two throttles, subtract about 3,000 horsepower, subtract a whole lot of maneuverability and responsiveness, subtract the expectation that you’ll get anywhere fast.

All of that math comes down to this: think ahead of the boat, not with it, and know that everything – including stopping – takes longer. Oh, and this: that bow thruster really isn’t optional in some situations.

The short week home has been all kids all the time, except for Wednesday, when The Old Lady and I attended Wednesday Night Church Services (aka, the Jon Dee Graham/James McMurtry double bill at the Continental Club in Austin).

I didn’t know how much I needed that until about the second verse of the first song.

I got to catch up a little with some folks I used to hang out with two or three nights a week. I was astonished to find out that the baby I knew one guy’s wife was expecting last we talked is now seven months old.

I was saddened to hear another friend’s mom died last week.

It was another reminder of the value of those loose connections, this time on land, where people I care about and with whom I have much in common but I too rarely see in person, also make me feel a little less lonely.

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