First Few Days On the St Louis Express

I joined the St Louis Express in Houston at the Barbours Cut Container Terminal. I got there around 1030 at night after driving around looking for the ship for a while. The ship didn’t get in til 1900 and they told me to get there soon after.

I was excited to join my first container ship, so tried to get there soon after 7, but as usual things got in the way. Turns out, I really shouldn’t have showed up ’til morning anyway. I had to find a spare room to spend the night in, then move in the morning when the guy I was relieving got with me.

view from my cabin, starboard side looking forward

view aft from crane #4

So, first thing we did was get me checked out in the crane. I’ve run cranes before and do fine with them. These cranes are way up off the deck. I’ve tried to count the rungs on the (straight) ladders, but keep losing count. We have 4 large cranes onboard. The climbing up and down has been killing me! I hate to admit it, but I may not be able to handle this job for another month if it consists of so much up and down climbing. ๐Ÿ™

I haven’t even been here a week yet and I’m already worn out! I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into by signing on as a dayworker. “AB Maintenance”. On the other ships I’ve worked on, they just did the usual maintenance work. The big difference here is the cranes. I’m really concerned about my ability to do that part of the job. I hate to be a crybaby or a quitter, but I really can’t afford to take any chances. Especially now, when I’ve been out of work for so long. It’s already been over 27 months with just a few little 1-2 week temp jobs every few months to keep me going. I can’t afford to get hurt.

Other than crane ops, I’ve been doing a lot of greasing. I have my little green bucket filled with rags, grease gun, screwdriver, pipe wrench, WD-40, and crescent wrench. I carry it around in the mornings from 08-10 and work on greasing and exercising all the movable parts on board. So far, I have only got the aft mooring winches and roller chocks done since I usually only do that work from 08-10.

After the morning break, the Bosun (the boss of the deck crew) has had me chipping with the AB on the catwalks. We take off the gratings and crawl around underneath and get as much rust off as we can with the needle guns and air chisels. After coffee in the afternoon, we clean up the mess and the OS paints everything with corroseal. Next we prime it, then paint. It’s a big project, but gives everyone a chance to get overtime.

walking up the main deck port side

lots of ship traffic S Florida

We left Houston 2200 Sunday (night). The weather was cool and the seas were calm. We had a nice ride across the Gulf of Mexico. I was hoping to see the Florida Keys when we passed but they were too far away.

We got to Savannah this morning around 0900. It took a few hours to run up the river and dock. We spent the night at anchor due to fog and the weather was still pretty grey and misty. We were all fast by 1130.

coming up the river to Savannah

First thing we had to do was to move all our cranes out of their cradles and hang them over the offshore side. If not, they’ll interfere with the dockside cranes loading the containers onboard. Same with the pilot ladder (it’s attached to an accommodation ladder).

we’re docked just forward of the first containership in the photo

After lunch, it was back up in the crane. This time in crane #4 to load some crates into the engine room. They have a large hatch right behind the accommodations. It opens up right over the engines. It’s pretty cool to see all that machinery. My first day, I was in the crane and we had to change out a part for the engine. Someone mentioned it cost about a half million dollars. I’m glad they told me afterward!

So far, the sailing board is still set for midnight tonight. We’ll be off to Norfolk and then after that, on across the ‘pond’.

passing downtown Savannah, tug coming alongside

I’ll post more later. My new smart phone and it’s ‘mobile hotspot’ seems to be working OK so far, but we still have to be in cel phone range for me to use it. As soon as we left Galveston, we lost signal and only got it back on arrival this morning.

Shipping Out

Well, I’m off! I’m leaving soon to join a ship. I’ll meet her at Barbours Cut on the Houston Ship Channel. It’s a container ship, so probably won’t be in port for very long

I don’t know much yet about what I’ll be doing or for how long. All I know is, we’ll be going to Northern Europe and I should be gone anywhere from 35 days to around 70 days since they don’t crew change overseas. I’ll probably get off in the same place I got on after we make a couple of round trips.

Here’s a picture of the ship I found on google.

I hope I can get some better photos while I’m out there. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m not exactly looking forward to crossing the North Atlantic in the middle of winter, but I’ve been hunting up all my old winter clothes from when I used to work in Alaska. Hopefully the weather won’t be too bad.

If you want to keep track of where we’re going, here’s a link that’ll show you where the ship is located.

I’m told the ship doesn’t have internet access (for the unlicensed crew- I’m pretty sure they have it for the ship itself). I’m told it does have email. Because of that, I finally broke down and bought a smart phone. I’m hoping I can get my computer to work through its hotspot so I can keep in touch here.

It may work. It may not. I won’t know til I get onboard and have enough free time to mess around with it. I’ll probably try to go ashore every chance I get anyway, just no idea of how that will go yet either. I’m going out as AB Maintenance. That means I’m not a watch stander and will be working days.

Of course, I wish I could’ve found work as an officer, but after more than 2 years of trying I really can’t wait for one of those jobs to open up. I have to take anything that I can get and thank goodness the SIU at least has some AB work for me. None of the officers unions did. It will be a real different hitch for me.

Hope you’ll stick around for the adventure. ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

Another Trip to Houston

I was up in Houston yesterday. I don’t go up there any more than I have to. I usually plan to do everything I need to in one trip. It’s ‘only’ an hour and a half drive, but with traffic it seems longer.

Yesterday I did a little shopping, stopped by the SIU to see if they had any work coming up, and finished up at the WISTA event.

Turns out, the SIU did have something for me. They called me this morning with good news. They had a ship for me!

Now I have to go back up there and do some paperwork. Hopefully I will ship out about this time next week. ๐Ÿ™‚

I don’t really know anything about the job yet (except that I’ll be going as AB maintenance- not watch standing). I’ll find out more this afternoon.

Time Flies

Whew! I’m back home again. I actually got home late last night. I left Corpus Christi at 1830 and drove home in the dark. It took about 3 hours. The drive to/fro almost seemed like the longest part of the hitch!

It was nice to be back aboard a ‘real ship’. I mean something that treats the crew like actual sailors. Not like the offshore sector where they treat us all like a bunch of retarded imbeciles. Restricted to the ship for the entire hitch (since we’re all a bunch of drunks and dopers). Of course, we’re too stupid to figure out how to dress ourselves and OMG, we can never be trusted with a knife!

The USNS Mendonca was a big ship! Almost 1000 ft long. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that much walking and climbing stairs. Even to tie up, we had to move between 2-3 ย decks to get to all the lines.

USNS Mendonca

I was only there for 6 days total. Just enough time to get the ship ready to sail, go out for a day of sea trials, and then secure the ship again. The time flew by. We spent the first day learning our way around the ship, training, etc. We did our fire and boat drills, launched the FRC (fast rescue craft), and took in some of the lines. They had the ship secured for hurricanes, so there were a lot of extra lines out.

We left the dock with a 4 tug escort, made it under the bridge with just a couple of feet to spare, and proceeded out through Corpus Christi Bay. We dodged a little rain shower. It gave us a nice rainbow over the bridge to watch on our way out. I couldn’t have asked for better weather: nice and cool- in the 70’s, low humidity, light breezes, calm seas. A really nice ride.

rainbow over the Corpus Christi bridge

We returned to port early the next day. I was on the wheel for arrival (4-8 watch) and got to steer through the jetties and up past Ingleside before I was relieved. We had 3 pilots on board. One was a deputy pilot, in training. The other was training her. I’m not really sure what the 3rd one was there for.

We passed the USS Lexington (the Blue Ghost) and the Texas State Aquarium before passing under the bridge on our way in. The Lexi was still all made up for Veterans Day, flags flying everywhere.

USS Lexington

We proceeded up the channel to a spot where we could turn around so we could tie up starboard side to the dock. Just like when we left. it took us a couple of hours to get everything secured and then we had the rest of the day to finish up testing things for the sea trials.

Saturday morning we cleaned our rooms, packed up and then tidied up the house. Swept, mopped, emptied the trash. All the usual sanitary stuff. We were done by lunch and then just on call in case they needed us. We hit up the captain after coffee to get signed off. Lots of paperwork to sign.

Again, nice to be on a ship where they take care of travel arrangements, give you a discharge, let you choose how you want your pay, and even set you up for your next ship (if you want to go).

It was my first ship with the SIU. All in all I was pleasantly surprised. I have a few things to do before I can leave again, but hopefully I’ll get another one just as good next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

PS- the photos are all from my iPod in this post. I really need to break down and get a smart phone! Any suggestions on who’s got the best plan for someone who travels like me (and hopes to get back to work offshore soon)?

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 aย MSCย (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.

Able Bodied Seaman- #AtoZChallenge

I only just found out about the #AtoZChallenge yesterday, so I’m going to try to catch up. Today is already the day for “F”!

I’ll make mine today for “A” and “B” with Able Bodied Seaman.

I’m a sailor, a professional mariner. I’ve pretty much spent my entire life at sea, since I was a little kid growing up on my dad’s 1910 staysail schooner. I decided after high school (on a sailing ship) that I no longer wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a ship captain!

The first step on that long, hard road was to become an Able Bodied Seaman (AB).

Back when I started, you could just find your way down to the docks and schmooze your way into a job. People were willing and able to give you a chance, let you learn the ropes on the job. Of course, being a female back then (and even now) made things much more difficult. “You’re a girl, girls can’t work on boats!”, “Girls can’t be captains!”. For me, it was easier to go to school and get my AB ‘ticket’ (merchant mariners document) that way.

Now, the Coast Guard has changed the rules (in order to comply with the IMO’s STCW regulations), it is no longer possible to just work your way up. You MUST go to school! You MUST spend at least one week and a few hundred dollars to get ‘trained’. And there are usually more requirements, that is just the bare minimum.

To become an AB, you’ll need to accrue a certain amount of ‘sea time’, time working aboard a vessel. You’ll need to get certified as a Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch (RFPNW). You’ll need to be ‘assessed’ by an ‘approved assessor’. Then you’ll be allowed to sit for a test (after paying a couple hundred bucks in fees for background checks, TWIC, etc).

You’re tested on all sorts of things: rules of the road (not at all the same as the ones you learn to drive a car!), seamanship, knots and splices, how to launch and recover a lifeboat, safety, fire fighting, cargo operations, steering a ship, helm commands, etc. All this applies to the “able” part of being a seaman. Before you are an “able” seaman, you are just an ‘ordinary’ seaman (OS).

You’ll also need to pass a USCG specific physical by an approved doctor and also a drug test. This is where the “body” part comes in. There are a few specific things they will fail you for- color blindness being a big one. There are quite a few more they will make you jump through hoops over.

The main issue I’ve had with them over the years is my weight. The physical specifies that if you are over a BMI of 40, then the doctor can ask you to show that you are ‘fit for duty’. They will make you climb the stairs, or lift weights or do certain things that are listed on the physical form they are filling out.

I have been fat since I was 13 years old. I’ve always been able to do anything I need to do physically (tho I admit, I have not needed to run any marathons!). I’ve tried pretty much everything to lose it, even having my jaws wired shut. Nothing has ever worked. I’ve pretty much accepted that I will be fat for the rest of my life. BUT, I have not and never will accept that my weight precludes me doing my job as AB (or mate, DPO or captain)!

I once saved my mates a** by spotting a discrepancy while loading tanks. Saved us from having a major oil spill. He later thanked me by telling me I “would make a great AB someday”. I asked him what he meant since I was actually sailing as AB for him at that time. He said that “AB means ‘able body’ and you are way too fat to be considered able bodied”.

WOW!

 

Color Your World: 28 Almond

Today’s color for Jennifer’s Color Your World challenge is: almond. Here’s a reference…

A lot of these colors look alike to me- almond, apricot, peach, desert sand- mango tango and burnt orange- copper and antique brass. Can you tell them apart? I sure have a hard time! Why do they need crayon colors so close together nobody can tell them apart unless they’re studied under a microscope?

I always thought part of the fun of drawing/painting/being creative was learning to blend the colors you had to make the ones you wanted. I’ve been trying to learn to paint lately. I sure as hell don’t want to go buy every color I might need to make a painting come out. That would cost a fortune! I’m learning the color wheel and how the different colors relate to each other.

It’s a challenge to make just the right color to make your painting ‘pop’. It’s fun too. Here’s an example of what I mean. I painted this a few years ago, when I was working as an AB on the tankships running up the West Coast to Alaska. Of course, I didn’t bring any paint with me. I scrounged around in the paint locker til I found what I needed.

I made that whole colorful undersea scene with only a few colors of deck paint. I know I had black, white, signal red, yellow, international orange, green and blue. That was pretty much it.

I must sound like an old geezer, ‘well sonny, back in myyyyy day, we used to color with only 8 colors in the box!’ I actually got the 64 crayon box later when I was growing up, but did I ever use all of those colors- nope. Does anyone use all of the 120 colors this challenge is based on? I think I would have a hard time using up a whole box of crayons myself. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway, here’s my entry for the challenge color of ‘almond’…

I took this photo in November while I was traveling around Turkey. I had a great time wandering all over Istanbul and Cappadocia where I took this photo of one of the many ancient rock churches at Goreme. It was a lot of fun scrambling around amid all this history, seeing how the people lived and worshipped all those years ago. I only regret that they didn’t allow any photography inside (even without flash). I really would have liked to have got a few shots of the beautiful frescos inside. I’ll just have to be satisfied with the internet. ๐Ÿ™