Sea Trials

Whoo-whoo! I’m heading out early tomorrow morning for a job. I’ll be joining the ship in Corpus Christi and heading offshore for sea trials. It’s only temporary, and it’s only as an AB, but it’s a job. At sea!

It should be interesting. I googled the ship I’m going to. It’s a ro-ro (roll on- roll off). I’ve never worked on one of them before. It’s a MSC (Military Sealift Command) ship. Here’s a picture I found on google.

USNS Mendonca

I’ve tried to avoid working for MSC since they seem to never let you off (at least as an officer). I don’t really want to do a 4 month long hitch and then stay for another couple months since they can’t find a relief. Then they want you back after only a month off!

Still, I’ve been considering even going to work for them. I’d rather be at sea as a galley hand than an executive on the beach. I know it’s hard to explain, but I just love being out there.

I am starting to feel like I’ve pretty much wasted the last 30+ years of my life (and tens of thousands of dollars). I’ve worked so hard to pull myself up the hawsepipe to earn my license. For what?

I’m going to work as a deckhand. Same as I was doing when I first started out over 40 years ago. It’s depressing. I’m getting really discouraged. I thought earning the license would help me get a decent job. A good career. Just to get thrown out like last weeks garbage. It’s sad.

But at least I can still get out there and earn some sea time. Every little bit helps. I just hope I can hang on until things pick up again offshore.

Catching Up on Paperwork

It’s been a slow day today. I’ve been catching up on all kinds of things I’ve been putting off. One big one was filling out the forms for a ‘qualified assessor’ for the US Coast Guard. My boss at San Jacinto Maritime sent the request out a couple of days ago. I was too tired after work at Maersk to get into it. So, completed and sent now. At least I hope it’s finished to their satisfaction.

This qualified assessor thing is just one more example of how the USCG is making it harder every day for people to work in the maritime industry. I swear, if I had any idea that this industry would wind up so strangled with rules and regulations I would’ve listened to my grandmother and been a doctor!

When I first started working on the water, it was so nice. It was perfect for me. I could go to work, anywhere in the world, with decent pay and benefits (including health care as long as I was working at sea). I could dress comfortably, not have to dress in any kind of uniform. I could look like anything I wanted (dress in shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirts). I could talk like I wanted (no such thing as PC back then). I could just do my job and everyone was OK with that.

No more. Those days are long gone.

When I started, you went to the Coast Guard and got a Z-Card. It was good for life. As an ordinary seaman (deck, engine or steward), you didn’t have to do anything to get one. Just fill out the application, pay a few bucks and that was it.

Oh god, I long for those good old days! Now, you can’t even consider going to work on a boat unless you’re willing and able to spend a shitload of money and weeks/months of time! Just take a look at those checklists on the National Maritime Centers website! Not that there’s any real reason for any of this so- called ‘training’. It’s only all about the money!

Yes, that’s it! The USCG, the schools (of course) and the politicians will all insist it’s about ‘safety’, but I’ve yet to see some real proof that any of these extra expenses (all on the backs of the seafarers) has done anything to improve safety. Instead, I believe it has actually caused a decrease in safety, due to driving out more experienced sailors from the industry.

Another reason: since everyone now has to attend “basic safety training’, the employers feel like their new hires have been ‘trained’ in basic safety. They send them out to the ships imagining that they’re prepared to do their jobs with no incidents. They imagine those new hires have learned enough in a week long class to keep them from ever having any accidents at sea. Yeah, riiiiight.

They’ve cut crew sizes down to ridiculously low levels so the old timers don’t have the time to teach the newbies what they really need to know. The basic safety class is a joke! We were all much safer before that class was forced upon us and people became so complacent because of it!

Who in their right minds wants to spend thousands of dollars and weeks of their vacation time taking classes that don’t even teach you anything new? I can’t imagine anyone who would. Yet, that is what we are all saddled with in this industry these days.

Yeah, the schools love it. it’s wonderful for them. They have plenty of money to lobby the politicians to force us all to attend ever increasing training requirements. Meanwhile, us poor sailors have no representation. And how can we argue against ‘safety’?

Do you think I’m the only mariner who feels this way? I can guarantee you that there are a hell of a lot of us out there who are thinking the same way. Just not a lot who are willing to say it online where the companies will see your ‘bad attitude’.

Too bad. I’m going to keep on saying what I think, here on my blog. Online, and whenever the subject comes up. I am not politically correct, I think the whole PC thing is a big reason the country is going to hell and I’m not going to shut up. I’d love to see a real, honest discussion on some of this stuff.

Who in the maritime industry is going to come out and admit that this whole STCW required ‘training’ scheme is nothing but a devious plan to force ‘highly paid’ American sailors out of the work force?

I’ve said so from the very first time I heard of it decades ago. Intended or not, that is the result. McCain and his flunkies calling for the end of the Jones Act will simply put the last nail in the coffin. I’d like to see Trump say to hell with the IMO and the STCW along with all the other things he says he’s getting rid of.

Maritime Monday for October 30th 2017: Lumber Hooker

Here’s the latest maritime news from Monkey Fist and gCaptain. There’s always something interesting in the mix. This week I really liked the Halloween story of the Boston “Ghost Ship Harbor”. I love that kind of stuff!

The articles about the Voyageurs, the Enigma machine and the code breakers was all pretty interesting too.

Check it out…

Europa, later SS Liberté, was a German ocean liner built for the Norddeutsche Lloyd line (NDL) to work the transatlantic sea route. She and her sister ship, Bremen, were the two most advanced, high-speed steam turbine ocean vessels in their day, with both earning the Blue Riband.  more Leave it to Boston to create a […]

Source: Maritime Monday for October 30th, 2017: Lumber Hooker – gCaptain

A Speck in the Sea

I’ve been reading some good books lately. A Speck in the Sea by lobstermen John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski is one of them.

Subtitled “A story of survival and rescue”, it tells the story of how John fell overboard late one night and the subsequent search and rescue efforts.

I’ve always loved reading stories of disasters and survival. I like to see how people react to unusual circumstances and imagine what I might do if something happened to me. I read about nuclear wars and EMP attacks, alien invasions, the zombie apocalypse, global pandemics, environmental destruction and the more likely (for me personally) disaster at sea stories.

A Speck in the Sea is one of those.

As the Anna Mary motored out from Montauk late one night, John stood watch while his parters slept below. Instead of waking them up as planned, he decided to let them sleep a little longer and started to prepare for the fishing grounds instead.

One small ‘oops’ and he was over the side. In the middle of the night. In the North Atlantic. With nothing but the clothes on his back. With no one aware of his situation.

The book does a great job of telling the story from both sides: John tells what he’s thinking and doing while he’s bobbing around in the cold dark ocean. Anthony and the Coast Guard tell us what’s going on as they discover John’s missing and their reaction. The entire community gets involved. Yes, they would. The seafaring communities are still like that.

As a fisherman myself, with a brother who’s still trying to make a living out there, I could immediately relate. I admire John’s resourcefulness and will to survive. I’m not so sure I would react like he did. I have a much more pessimistic outlook on life. Still, it’s nice to know that it IS possible to survive.

If you’re into sea stories, or in how to survive the unexpected, you might like this book. I recommend it. 🙂

Frustration

I am just steaming right now!

I FINALLY got a call for a real job! First one in ages, and after talking to them for a few minutes, they eliminate me because I don’t have one, (just one), of the multitude of newly required certificates of “training’.

You want to know which one? It’s a fairly new one, called “T-HUET”. T-HUET is supposed to be a less involved iteration of the HUET. HUET is a less involved iteration of the BOSIET.

I have the HUET, in fact I just renewed it. I also have BST (which has also been repeatedly renewed). They have not taught anything new in either course in the last 20 years.

ALL of these courses cover almost exactly the same stuff! But the companies now are insisting that you need to spend the thousands of dollars and weeks of time to take ALL 3 of them! Of course, THEY will no longer help pay for any of this. YOU need to spend all YOUR time and money on this stuff!

This is the email I just now sent off to the recruiter:

Just for your information: 
T-HUET 
Course Outline
Procedures at Heliport
Helicopter Safety Equipment
Types of Helicopters used in the Offshore Industry
Dangers associated with Helicopters
Helicopter Safety Procedures
Preparation prior to Emergency landing
Emergency landing on Land
Surface Evacuation into an Aviation Liferaft
Escape from a Partially and Capsized Helicopter
In – water Survival Procedures
Helicopter Winching
HUET
Course Outline
Procedures at Heliport
Helicopter Safety Equipment
Types of Helicopters used in the Offshore Industry
Dangers associated with Helicopters
Helicopter Safety Procedures
Preparation prior to Emergency landing
Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET)
Emergency Breathing System Exercises
In -water Survival Procedures
Helicopter Winching

I don’t know why they don’t add the following to their description of their HUET course since they DID cover that same material. The only thing they did NOT cover that they say they do in the T-HUET is: 

  • Surface Evacuation into an Aviation Liferaft- (we DID do this in the HUET course)
  • Escape from a Partially and Capsized Helicopter- (this is the exact same thing as what the HUET course describes as Helicopter Underwater Escape Training)
  • Emergency landing on Land

Do these companies SERIOUSLY want to eliminate pretty much ALL experienced mariners from consideration because they don’t have 10 minutes of ‘training’ differing in a course (that is only for the insurance company that has no clue about what ANY of these courses cover anyway)?

Do they really expect someone who has been out of work for months or years to pay hundreds of dollars for another course when the ONLY difference is at most a half hour talk about emergency landing ON LAND??? We get that same lecture every single time we fly, wether to go to work in the helicopter or flying to vacation. I would think it is 100% memorized by everyone in the country by now! 

So now it is not years of experience and who can do the job, but who has the largest stack of certificates (most of them completely irrelevant to the job at hand). That is really sad. 

I am perfectly willing to wait and ride the crew boat in if they are not willing to put aside that 10 minutes! I think it’s NUTS to throw someone out of a month of work because of some ridiculous ‘rule’ like this!

And you can feel free to pass this email on to Oceaneering (and any other company with the same stupid rule!). Just in case they REALLY believe there is some inherent advantage to their insistence on T-HUET, please do send them the facts, the ONLY difference is 10 minutes about emergency landings ON LAND! 

Hope I’m not burning my bridges here too, but some things just have to be said! 

Jill Friedman

MASTER MARINER (35+ YEARS OFFSHORE EXPERIENCE). 

Do you think that was a little excessive? I don’t, I really don’t. I am getting SO fed up with the amount of complete and total pure BULLSHIT these companies are putting us through. Just in order to go to work for them.

Does anyone really think that after almost 50 YEARS spent working at sea, that 10 minutes, or even if I really push it, 2-3 hours of instruction, will make ANY difference to ANYTHING out there? If anyone does, there is no other word for those people than “INSANE” or “STUPID”. And yes, I am specifically talking to everyone involved in insisting on requiring these so called “training’ certificates!

They’re expensive and they’re USELESS! I know it and you damn sure OUGHT to know it!

How many mariners have you heard gushing about how much they learned in one of those courses? How many have you heard thanking the heavens that they’ve been forced to waste their vacation time in one of those classes instead of spending their time enjoying it the way they EARNED the RIGHT TO?

I can count the number of mariners who’ve felt that way on one hand, and after working out there for so many years, I know a LOT of mariners!

This whole certification rigamarole is just one more unnecessary burden. It’s not as if it’s all that great offshore anymore. They’ve cut and they’ve cut and they’ve cut some more. Yeah, things were finally getting pretty nice out there. Back a couple of years ago when the price of oil was sky high and they needed us badly and so were finally willing to offer us decent pay and conditions. Up until the price of oil dropped like a rock.

Now, we’ve dropped right back to where we were decades ago. Lost pay, lost benefits, lost time at home. Increased workload, increased forced ‘training’ and costs associated with all that, loss of freedom, loss of opportunity.

I used to think this was the best job in the world. It really was, way back when I started. Now, nah, not so much. Yeah, I still do personally consider it the best for me. I really can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be than out on the ocean somewhere. Sailing to some obscure foreign port with adventures awaiting.

Sadly, there’s not too much of that on offer anymore. It looks to me more and more that my days of sailing the seven seas are about over with. After so many years of fighting to get my license, it’s become all but worthless these days.

Who in their right mind would want to sail as master these days? When every meaningful decision is made by some bean counter on the beach? Yet YOU and ONLY YOU are the one held responsible for the results of those decisions. When you have NOTHING to say about them?

That license you worked so hard to get will be taken from you. Without it, you can’t work ANYWHERE! On top of that, they will probably fine you a lot of money (millions), and then throw you in prison just to make sure that bus runs you over reeeaally good.

The companies need you for your license (by law) but refuse to pay you for them now (see my last job). They treat you like shit and expect you to lap it up like you were slurping down an ice cream Sunday (with a cherry on top)!

The longer it takes me to find a job, the more frustrated, cynical, depressed and angry I get. I think it’s just sick that a company in need of good workers would turn someone with my qualifications and years of experience away simply because they lack one simple certification. Especially when that particular piece of paper is so completely worthless! I worked for that company for 5 years, they KNOW I am perfectly capable and will do them a good job!

I’ve probably just burned my bridges with them and a bunch of other companies office people with this rant. Well, so be it. They need to hear it. For damn sure I’m not the only mariner who feels this way. I guarantee I’m saying what most would say about the situation. These companies need to wake up and get their heads out of their asses and THINK for themselves for a change! STOP sucking up to the god damned insurance companies and their suck-ass lawyers and do the RIGHT thing for once! Stand up for their companies and their people instead of cowering behind the threats of the paper pushers.

God DAMN I wish people in the USA would grow some balls and start acting like the free people we brag to the world about!

I really wish I could afford to start my own boat company. It would be so nice to work for a company that was run by people who really understood the business and was willing to stand up for their employees. I don’t see any like that around anymore. It’s a real shame.

TAMUG Job Fair

So, I went to the job fair at Texas A&M Galveston (TAMUG) last Friday. I was hoping to meet recruiters from a few maritime companies. I wanted to get my foot in the door with companies that were actually hiring for shipboard crew.

Sad to say, there were very few companies there that fit the bill. There was a total of 39 tables representing different companies. Included in that total were 2 of the maritime unions (MEBA and the AMO), who I had already been in contact with. There were inland (towing) companies like Kirby, ADM-ARTCO, and G&H Towing. I don’t have a towing endorsement, so can’t work for them. 🙁

There was a large contingent of schools offering graduate studies. Not only TAMUG, but SUNY, Houston Baptist University and UT. The other big group was shoreside: port operations/logistics and engineering. Companies like Ports America, Diversified Port Holdings, GAC, Fracht, Lone Star Maritime, Savage, Orion Group, Sabine Surveyors, Norton Lilly, Oxbow Carbon, Kiewit, Shell, Kinder Morgan, Jaeckel Mund + Brun, Watco, and Biehl. The only one of this group that had any possibility of work for me was the Army Corps of Engineers, but they had much more for engineers than for deckies like me. 🙁

There were a few outliers. Companies that I was a little surprised to see there, wondering what they had to do with maritime. Then I remembered that TAMUG does have more programs than just license track. The Houston Police Department had a table, so did Sherwin Williams (paint), Moody Gardens and the Peace Corps (those last 2 I would be very interested in IF I didn’t have bills to pay).

So. Out of a total of 41 different companies, I talked to 12, after immediately eliminating the others as completely irrelevant to the kind of work I’m looking for. I want to continue working at sea. I want to get back out there- spending my time watching the ocean instead of a river of traffic. I don’t like working in an office, I never did. I hate wasting hours every day driving back and forth. I really still love working offshore and don’t want to give it up.

I was hoping to talk to Subsea 7. They have some really nice vessels and I really enjoy the kind of work they do. I finally got to talk to their representatives (after waiting in line for the crowds to thin out). They told me they would probably be able to offer me a position in Houston, but they had nothing to do with hiring for offshore. That was all done overseas and mostly for foreign crew. 🙁

Stolt Tankers pretty much the same thing to say. Nothing to offer for onboard work. 🙁

I spoke to the reps for both NOAA Officer Corps and NOAA Marine Operations. Sadly, NOAA Officer Corps requires you to pass a military physical. I tried that when I was only 17 and wanted to join the navy. I have’nt been able to lose any weight since then, so surely I won’t pass the physical at 30+ years older.

So, that’s that! The NOAA Marine Operations was really only interested in hiring engineers (tho they held out hope that they may hire a few ABs).

Trident Seafoods had a table. I talked to them since they were hiring for all crew. I have worked on fishing vessels before. I grew up fishing for grouper/snapper in Florida. I was mate on the catcher/processor Ocean Peace in Alaska a few years ago. I was captain on a tuna purse seiner in the South Pacific. But- they were hiring people who were comfortable working out on deck. At this stage in my life, I’m not really up for that any more.

So, my only real possibilities were the 3 shipping companies that were still willing to hire Americans to sail on their ships. Crowley, Keystone Shipping and Ocean Shipholdings. All of them told me the same thing: go online and fill out the application. UGH!

I am so tired of filling out those online applications. No one ever does anything with them. They all ask the same questions. Most of them completely irrelevant to the job you’re applying to. Things like your high school courses and grades. Who cares what you did in high school 30+ years ago? Who cares about your employment history 30+ years ago?

But those online forms won’t let you skip a question. Or answer it with something it doesn’t expect or ‘approve of’. It gets frustrating after filling out dozens of their stupid questions, you’re almost finished and then the whole thing crashes and you have to start all over again. DAMN!

The thing is, all 3 of those companies actually hire through the unions!

I have been an applicant since November 2016 with the AMO. I chose to join that union (over the others) because they have an online job board. You don’t have to sit in the union hall day after day waiting for a job. You can actually do something with yourself while you wait for work. All the other unions still insist that you go and sit in the hall so you can’t do anything useful while you wait.

The AMO has called me twice. Both times with jobs I am not really qualified for. The first time, the job was already gone by the time I saw the notice and called to inquire about it. The second call was on the day I was leaving to go to work.

What I’m finding out about the AMO is that you basically have to find your first job yourself. After that you finally get to use the online job board (and start paying dues). So they’re really not much help until after you’ve already found a job. After that, I guess they’re helpful when you’re looking for work in the future.

So, I am now planning to go to see what I have to do to join either of the other 2 officers unions (MMP, MEBA). I already signed up to the unlicensed union (SIU– they promise they have work). I am would prefer to work as 2nd mate, but don’t know if they really have any work or not.

I am supposed to have 2 days work/week in Houston for the next 3 weeks. It’s not much, but it helps pay the bills. Better than sitting in the union hall and earning $0/day. I guess I’ll wind up sitting there pretty soon if something doesn’t happen with oil.

I keep hoping the price of oil will go up and the offshore oilfield will go back to work. The news looks good one day and then bad again the next.

I really would just like a real job again. At least long enough so I can pay off my bills and then retire the next time this happens! 🙂

Going to Galveston

Tomorrow Texas A & M is having another job fair. I don’t know how much good it will do to go, it seems like I’ve already done this more than once. But I’m going to go again anyway. I’ve printed up a bunch of fresh resumes and hoping there will be someone there who is actually hiring.

I have had a little bit of good news lately. Maersk has courses scheduled for every week this month. That’s more than they’ve had in over a year. I’m scheduled to work for all of them, so I should be able to get at least 7-8 days of work this month. (whoo-hoo!).

I did get a call from a recruiter today. I had already sent my information to the company he is working for tho, so I don’t have much confidence that anything will come of it. My only hope is that they haven’t sorted through their heaps of resumes to reach mine yet (tho it’s already been almost 2 weeks since I sent it in. 🙁

Maybe I’ll get lucky at the job fair tomorrow. Hoping the fact that it’s Friday the 13th doesn’t jinx me.