Sunday, August 2, 2015

And ... Done!

A couple of the problems in terrestrial navigation deal with the concept of slip -- the difference between one's theoretical and actual advance. All you need is the pitch of the propeller (feet per revolution) and RPM (revolutions per minute) so know how you're doing.

When one falls short of the theoretical distance traveled, we call that positive slip (though it's really a negative).

Negative slip is a good thing -- you're moving farther or faster than your RPMs indicate.

Slip can result from any number of conditions -- a foul hull, set and drift, draft, whatever.

Anyway, there's a nifty "per line" operation to calculate slip -- or distance traveled, or just about anything else. It's kind of magical.

Reflecting on the 5-year journey to the successful completion of my mate and master exams this week, it occurred to me that I am about a month behind the target date I set three years ago.

Just one month. Or positive slip of about .027 percent.

Given that there were months of classes (that weren't always scheduled during my time off, or didn't always have available seats) for endorsements that cost something on the order of $10,000, lots of sea time on appropriate tonnage and routes, and the fact that I believed myself to be functionally innumerate until about three weeks ago (and learning to navigate the old-fashioned way involves algebra and trigonometry), that's kind of amazing.

Two children under five and a teenager: really, no one is more surprised than me that I got this done.

The utterly unsurprising part is that I didn't do it by myself. 

There was a grand plan that involved decisions about what we, as a family, would spend money on and where we would live; the work my wife would do, the times I would need to be home to take care of the littles, the sacrifices she would make while I was away.

We called-on grandparents, who graciously stopped some gaps for us. We weathered some pretty rough days and weeks during long (28-day and more, sometimes) hitches, because that's typically what 100-ton captains work in the oilfield, and that is typically not conducive to family life.

A couple of friends who climbed the hawsepipe ahead of me reached down and gave me a hand up with advice, study materials and encouragement.

Believe me when I say I will pay that forward.

This past month I and two other guys engaged the services of what must surely be the smartest, most efficient and most passionate teacher of terrestrial navigation in these United States.

We rented a house together in Galveston, and studied and practiced 10 and 14 and sometimes 18 hours a day for 21 days straight.

It was a mountain of material. And I didn't know anything about the scientific part of a scientific calculator when we started. "Okay, next, find the sin of d ...."

Uh ... where's the "sin button?"

At one point someone mentioned we were doing trigonometry. I began hyperventilating.

The thing is, not only did I learn the stuff well enough to pass the tests, I even began to understand the why and how of it all. Some of the calculations we use to solve navigation problems are downright elegant.

Anyway, all this to say: thanks. Thanks to my family for the  incredible support on this journey. Thanks to my friends -- the ones who went ahead of me, the ones making the journey with me, and the ones just a few steps behind.

And a huge thanks to Andy, our instructor and coach this past month. E-mail me if you want his contact information or the dates of upcoming classes.

One of the frustrations -- and also the joys -- of the career I've chosen is that the lessons never end. There's always another endorsement, refresher or raise-in-grade to knock out. On the boat itself, nearly every hitch brings something I haven't seen or had to do before.

So, really, I'm not done at all. Just done with this step and taking a short breather before tackling the next rung of the ladder.


  1. So good to see your latest blog. What a nice way to wrap up this segment. See you soon!

  2. Very proud of you Aaron. You might be a late bloomer but look at what you bloomed! You have learned a lot of how to live life as well as trig, so pat yourself on the back and have a hug from your auntie Ruth.

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  4. Excellent blog with lots to say to my maritime students! And congratulations for your upgrade!!

  5. Congratulations from a regular reader. And applause.