Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Getting Underway

It’s not quite as impressive as a pilot circling his aircraft, kicking the tires, testing control surfaces and draining fuel, but getting a 165-foot fast supply vessel ready for a voyage has its own rituals and procedures.

Verify tank cargo levels, perform stability calculations, prepare voyage plan, complete pre-departure checklist (check propulsion, steering, navigation and communication equipment, etc., etc.), bind deck cargo if necessary, ensure passenger and cargo manifests are complete and in-hand, check-in with dispatcher or rig, make security call, drop lines, don’t forget to check over my shoulder before pulling out ….

Getting underway involves all that and more. 

I can pretty much do it without conscious thought after so many repetitions. Not so much at home.

Wake the 3-year-old, breakfast for the 3-year-old, TV to cartoons, wake the baby, change and dress the baby, breakfast for the baby, dress the 3-year-old, make lunches for both boys, find socks – where are Conor’s damned socks?! – matching shoes for each child (on the correct feet this time, please), remember key card for the day care entrance, remember to carry everything to the truck, carry the baby and strap him into the truck while trying to keep tabs on the 3-year-old … shoo the dog back into the house. Did I even close the door?

Meanwhile, the subjects of my preparations are not made fast to anything, much less a dock. They are in constant motion and need frequent intervention while I’m doing everything else.

Truthfully, getting the boat underway is a lot easier – and faster – than getting the littles out the door to school with everything they need. (And damnit, I just remembered that I was supposed to take a blanket in for the baby this morning).

Some days it’s easier just to keep them at home with me.

My long-suffering and beautiful wife has her own rituals and procedures for mornings, and I’m guessing they are slightly more efficient than mine. Still, she gets the kids out the door and to school every workday before hers even starts, and that’s nothing less than amazing.

My hat’s off to you, Babe. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Despite the Shenanigans, Joy

For all the shenanigans, for the sometimes crappy conditions, for all of the time away from home, working on a crewboat still affords many moments of what I can describe only as joy.

Folks end up working on boats for many reasons, not the least of which is money. It is not difficult, within just a few years of entering the profession, to make what many doctors and lawyers are making.

There is much more to it than that, though.

For some people – I’m one – being on and around boats is a pleasure in and of itself. We were dropped on our heads, into salty water, when we were babies. The experience rewired our brains forever.

I’m no gearhead, and my truck is a mid-sized one sans brush guard and lift kit. I don’t go “mudding,” and I’ve never seen a NASCAR race. I have never been inclined to operate heavy equipment, and I’m not especially fond of loud noises. But …

There is a sublimely powerful feeling in having 6,000 horses at one’s fingertips, literally.

Speaking for myself, I get a real charge out of standing on the 40-yard line and precisely controlling a very large object (the stern of the boat) in the end zone just feet or inches away from some very large obstructions.

In 1996 I was named U.S. Army Europe military journalist of the year. I have won top awards at the Department of Defense level. I have planned every facet of a successful overseas deployment to a war zone.

I have seen my stories and photographs published in dozens of magazines. I’ve rescued people from flood waters and retrieved them from the destruction of a hurricane.

None of that, or anything else I’ve ever done, matches the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a calm, controlled and safe offload or backload bow-up in 8-foot seas and 30 knots of wind.

I love the sailorly arts, the ones that connect me to age-old tradition: making-up mooring or dock lines, plotting a course, making passing arrangements in a busy port.

I enjoy teaching new guys the things they need to know to keep themselves, the vessel and their shipmates safe. I enjoy learning about my shipmates; you get to know the people you sail with (and live and work with 24-hours-a-day) on a level that compares only to family or brothers-in-arms.

Hell, I don’t even mind the ever-growing mountains of paperwork our customers require.

There are other benefits that you’ll never see listed on a boat company’s web site: in this line of work, one gets to experience things that people working and living ashore can barely imagine.

Things like a whale shark snuggling up to the boat for a couple of hours, or a pod of dolphins cavorting in the wake, flying fish skimming the wave tops next to the boat, a towering thunderstorm reflected in a glassy calm sea … a fat orange moon rising out of the Gulf, sunrises, and sunsets.

Those sorts of things never get old, truly. And sometimes when the shenanigans are in full swing, a single spectacular sunset can ransom another week of enthusiasm for the job.