Thursday, January 15, 2015

There is Cheese at the End

An old salt on gCaptain recently gave a newbie some advice about getting a toehold in his climb up the hawsepipe. He ended with this encouragement: "It's a rat maze, but there is cheese at the end."

I spent close to 30 minutes on the phone with my evaluator at the Coast Guard's National Maritime Center today. Partly convincing her that yes, I really do want to test for master and mate at the same time and she could in fact write the letter that way. And partly pointing out the three places I had specifically requested a split issuance of my AB and STCW endorsements.

So far as I can tell, everything is fine at work and I'm not planning on going anywhere, but with our clients' budgets tightening and day rates falling, well, it can't hurt to have every endorsement I've ever earned printed in that little red book. 

So anyhow, I have my approval to test. I'm still working the plan my long-suffering spouse and I hatched nearly five years ago. 

At this point, I can smell the cheese.

In the meantime, I'll probably take two more classes -- some sort of prep for the exam, which I hope to sit in June or July -- and an approved Celestial Navigation course, just so I don't have to do that all on my own and then sit that module at the Regional Exam Center.

After that, I'll have to take the new(ish) Leadership and Managerial Skills course to keep my license 
after the end of 2016, and at some point will want to add ARPA, GMDSS (I already have the FCC license, but I self-studied so will have to sit through two weeks of "training.") and ECDIS.

After that, I will have periodic refreshers for RADAR, firefighting and basic safety training. Maybe some other STCW endorsements, as well, but only the same ones everyone else will have to stay current on.

More than four years on, I'm still happy with my decision to change careers.

I love the work. I mean, I really love it. Not just being on the water, which is part of it, but also the combination of hands-on, physicality (moving and maintaining a huge hunk of steel) and the mental challenges of risk analysis and customer relations and voyage planning and crew supervision and training.

It's the perfect career field for someone with a touch of ADHD.

And it connects me to -- places me in -- a tradition that runs deep in my family and throughout the history of human civilization.

It's also tough as hell on family life, and that's the part I don't love. But, as I explained to someone I work with a couple of weeks ago, that -- for me -- is the whole point of upgrading my license. 

It's not that I feel like I "need" a bigger boat (though I will be happy to operate a larger vessel, and will be grateful for more amenities and the additional crew); I need the 180-day schedule, and with the bigger license on a bigger boat, I can afford it.

And it is not, for me, a dick-measuring contest. As my brief career as a porn star under the stage name "Dirk Swank"should have made clear, that's not a concern.

I've met terrific boat-handlers who act ... well, almost ashamed, that they hold "only" a 100-ton license. I've witnessed awful decision-making by people who hold 3000GT or All Gross Tons licenses.

The license doesn't make the mariner; in fact, it's more likely the other way around. A license says "you may." Skill, experience, and training answer the question: "But can you?" And a 100-ton captain can go to jail and pay a fine and lose his livelihood just as easily as an unlimited Master.

In my experience thus far, the answer to that question is utterly independent of whether the license holder graduated from a maritime academy, PMI/MITAGS or the eighth grade.

One thing I should mention here is that there are a number of mariners who have gone before me, and a few making the same trudge I am at the same time, who have been hugely helpful. New England Waterman, for one. 

And the axe-wielding (by this I mean guitar) Scottish Sea Dawg known on gCaptain as Jemplayer, for another. He wrote the definitive guide to getting hired in South Louisiana: it's posted there as a sticky, check it out.

And my buddy Jess, a fellow veteran of the tour and charter boat days and with whom I've worked at three different companies. I bet it will be four before we're done. And Charles, and Ryan, and Shawn, and some other guys I've met through this blog or out and about.

Since I've now turned this into an Academy Awards acceptance speech, before I've even done anything at all noteworthy, I might as well say: Thanks Capt. Mark. And Capt. Brian. And Chief Bryant.

You guys have helped me out a ton, and the stuff you have taught me has made me an immeasurably better sailor. And no, I don't hold you responsible for my f*ck-ups.

And finally, none of this would be possible without my long-suffering spouse, Alexander. Ha. Uh ... Carrie. I mean Carrie. 

A rockstar in her own profession, a working mom, and despite the fact that I sometimes refer to her as "The Old Lady," an incredibly attractive and accomplished woman who looks a lot younger than me -- I'd even characterize as a "MILF" (wait a MINUTE ... so that's where that "M" comes from. Huh.),

I'm not sure why she puts up with me and my unorthodox career. Except that I sometimes help out with the children, when I'm home, and they seem to like me well enough.

So, anyhow, thanks guys. And gal.

And I bet at least one of you have already googled "Dirk Swank," haven't you?
Hahahaha ... oh, I slay myself.

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