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. 🙂

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.

Five Days in New Orleans

I decided to make one last big effort to find a decent job. I flew up to New Orleans to attend the Workboat Show and search for work. I picked up my rental car and made my way down the bayou. First stop was at GOL in Raceland.

I was able to talk to the hiring manager there (he was an old friend), but they had no work since most of their boats were still laid up, so I said my goodbyes and continued on down Bayou Lafourche.

I stopped in at every boat company I could find: Alliance, Cheramie, C&G, GIS, L&M Botruc, Odyssea, Jambon, Chouest, Candies, and more. They all told me pretty much the same thing (except for one old boy who still insisted they ‘don’t have facilities for women’). They had so many of their boats stacked up and good people laid off. They had long lists of people they were hoping to get back when things picked up.

I picked up more applications and moved on.

By the time I got back to New Orleans and turned in my car, it was already dark and I was ready to check into my apartment. Yes, I rented an apartment (through hotels.com). It was really nice. It had a separate bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen/living room. It even had a washer/dryer in a closet!

I had a full kitchen with a full sized stove, oven and refrigerator, all the glasses, dishes, etc. Coffee maker and coffee, a blender, spices, etc. All I needed to cook a nice meal. Too bad I couldn’t find a decent grocery near by.

I spent the rest of the evening working on applications, emails and enjoying the view from the rooftop over the skyline. It was cool to watch the fog roll over the lights from the skyscrapers.

In the morning, I headed over to the Convention Center for the Workboat Show. I picked up my badge and a list of the vendors and sorted out my priorities. I tend to concentrate on electronics (DP systems, radios, ECDIS, charts, etc), crewing/employment agencies, and training/education providers.

I always make a point to go by and visit people I know who are there with booths too. This year, a lot of them were missing. The show seemed smaller to me this year. I suppose because of the long lasting downturn in the industry. It’s already been more than 3 years now. 🙁

I did get to meet Captain Edgar Hansen from the TV show the Deadliest Catch, and I attended an interesting “Dock Talk” about women in the maritime industry: why aren’t there more women out here, what can we do about it, and why should we? Wish it was better attended, but at least someone is thinking about it.

I met up with an old friend for a couple of hours and we caught up on things as we wandered around the isles. We had a quick lunch at the food court (I do not recommend the BBQ! $3.50 for a bottle of water was a huge rip-off IMHO). I continued on visiting the vendors after my friend had to get on the road and head back home.

During the day, I was invited to a couple of parties. That’s where the best networking goes on. I’m not into partying nearly as much as I used to be, but I still hate to pass one up. I went to the LOC party at the World of Beer. It was pretty nice. Not too crowded. They had drinks and snacks we could order. Their tacos were pretty good. Plenty of beer. 🙂

I ran into a few friends there and met some new ones. It was nice to hear what everyone has been up to. The party ended fairly early, so I wound up going with a friend to the Texas A&M party at the Fulton Alley. That’s a cool place. It’s a bowling alley, with a bar. Drinks, snacks, music, etc.

Funny, but I ran into another old friend. Another captain I used to work with was there with his wife. They were in New Orleans for business and happened to be at the party. They live in the next town from me here in Texas. 🙂

I didn’t stay late, but I did meet a couple of guys who were telling me about a ‘sure thing’ job. I had already applied there, but considering what everyone was telling me; ‘go in person and you’ll get hired’, I started re-thinking my plans for the next couple of days.

Thursday I slept in a little bit later and then had breakfast across the street at the Ruby Slipper. It was really good and I was stuffed by the time I finished. I walked down to the Convention Center and then spent the rest of the day wandering around and talking to all kinds of people there. I ran into some more old friends, met some guys from Oceaneering (where I used to work) who hollered at me about my shirt, spent some time talking to the crew at Oceanwide (where I still work when they have any).

By 1700 my feet were getting sore and I was getting tired. There were more parties to go to, but I really wasn’t feeling up to it. I took a detour through the Riverwalk next door and wound up eating Chinese food from the food court while watching all the traffic on the river pass by.

I walked down the river to the Hilton and then cut across to Harrah’s casino. I figured I’d play a few games of video poker and head home. I didn’t win, but I didn’t lose much and was home by 2200 and to bed not long after.

Friday morning, I picked up another rental car and headed over to Covington to see if they were right about going in person. I was lucky to get to talk to someone in person and we had a nice talk. Of course, they had a lot of their boats tied up too, but they do have at least some work and I’m still hoping they’ll be able to find something for me there.

It was a gorgeous day and I decided to stop for a picnic before heading back over the bridge into New Orleans. I picked up supplies and headed over to Fontainebleau State Park. It was such a nice day, sunny and cool, light breeze. I had the whole place practically to myself. The lake was calm and sparkling in the sun. The beach was inviting, but I wasn’t dressed for playing in the water. 🙁

I walked around the pond, looking for alligators (didn’t see any), and then drove over to check out the old sugar mill. Interesting history to read about. It got me interested to visit the nearby town of Mandeville, but it was getting late and I decided that would have to wait for another time.

I made it back to New Orleans in time to meet another friend for dinner. We had a nice time catching up over dinner by the river and then hit the casino for a couple of games. He had to get back home and I was ready to quit, so I headed home for the night.

I wanted to hit the Ruby Slipper again for breakfast Saturday, but the lines were halfway down the block on both sides! Instead, I went for beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the Riverwalk (much closer and much less crowded than the main one at Jackson Square). After my beignets and cafe au lait, I walked over to the Roosevelt Hotel to check out their famous Christmas decorations.

I had thought about having a drink at the bar, but the place was packed so I didn’t stick around. I took a walk over to Bourbon Street since I hadn’t even seen it yet this whole trip.

Glad I hadn’t tried! They’re doing construction all the way down Bourbon Street. The entire street is blocked off and you have to stay on the fenced in sidewalks. I can only imagine how that would be, packed full of rowdy loud drunks with nowhere to puke! Yuk! I’ll skip Bourbon Street til they finish up the construction!

I did finally get to try out my membership in the Bourbon of the Month Club. I sat at the bar at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House and watched the oyster shuckers at work. I don’t like oysters, but it was pretty entertaining to watch anyway.

 

After I finished my taste, I got to see the fresh shrimp being delivered, straight from the boats to the cooks. Nice, big, fresh shrimp. I really ought to try getting into seafood again. Seeing all that in New Orleans makes me think I’m really missing out.

By now, it was just about time for the Christmas Parade. I always try to see that when I’m in town. The Krewe of Jingle really puts on a great parade. They have some really cute costumes and dance troupes. The marching bands and miscellaneous characters all add up to make a fantastic show.

I always enjoy my time in New Orleans. There’s always something going on that’s fun and interesting. But I always wind up coming home to chill out for a while too. That’s what I’ve been doing since I got home Saturday night. 🙂

 

Bourbon Street

Maybe tomorrow. I’m too tired after 3 days of getting up early and 2 straight days of constant walking at the Workboat Show. I’ve been on my feet from 1000-2200 for the last 2 days. Stayed up late last night for the usual company sponsored parties. I’m not used to that anymore. 🙁

I should have more stories tomorrow. Stay tuned. 😉

Knocking on Doors

I flew into New Orleans Tuesday morning and picked up my car. I got on the road around 1030 and headed for Bayou Lafourche. It took about an hour to get there.

I spent all day knocking on doors at every boat company I could find (about 20 of them). First stop was Gulf Offshore Logistics right as you turn off the highway to head down the bayou. I filled out an application and waited to speak to someone about the job situation.

Turns out, it was a friend of mine who I needed to speak to. I forgot that he had changed jobs and went to work at GOL. We talked for quite a while and tho they weren’t hiring right now, he did at least offer me a little bit of hope.

I went on down through Raceland, Cut Off, Galliano, Golden Meadows, and back up to Houma. I got the same story everywhere I went. They had 20 boats total and 15 were stacked (just making up the numbers of boats but the ratio is what matters). No one was hiring at this time.

One company even showed me their (long) list of previous employees they would be calling first when things did start to improve. A couple of places said they thought they might start doing a little bit of hiring after the first of the year.

I didn’t get to see every company I wanted to. I missed Harvey Gulf and Hornbeck. Those were two of the most important ones I wanted to see. I have heard they are actually hiring. I just ran out of time. It was 1630 by the time I got through and too late to get back to New Orleans and over to Covington.

I met a couple of people yesterday who gave me some encouragement about that. One recently got hired at Hornbeck. He basically told me I had to go in person. If I did that, he was pretty sure I would get in. So… I am thinking I should blow off the last day of the Workboat Show and go over there Friday morning.

I spend all day yesterday at the Show. I met up with my old friend Captain Bill who was also looking for work. We met up with some old friends and former shipmates who were working the Show. We had a quick lunch at the food court (BBQ which was awful!). Bill had to leave early so we said goodbye and I continued wandering around the amazing amounts of boat stuff on display. 🙂

During the day, I talked to quite a few people about the situation offshore. Everyone agreed 2017 was done for. Most were hopeful that 2018 would be better. Some were more pessimistic and thought it would be 2019 or later (or even never).

I’m not sure I can manage to hold out for another year. I think most mariners are in the same boat. It has just become too hard to keep our credentials current. The IMO, USCG and the companies have decided it is imperative to continually load us down with super expensive, shore based “training”.

Renewal started out fairly easy to comply with. We just needed to do a couple of things like take a physical and renew RADAR every 5 years. Now, we still have to take a physical (but every 2 years-minimum), we still have to renew RADAR every 5 years, but we also have a slew of other requirements to renew our mariners credentials. Without those we can not work anywhere on the water!

That’s not even to mention all the ‘training’ the companies require. They all want different versions of the same course and refuse to accept the same training from anyone other than their approved providers! All of those courses are required to be renewed every 3-4 years too!

I can state for a fact that unless you are working on the water, there are very few jobs (I can’t think of a single one) that would both pay you enough and give you the time off you need to take all those courses. So…. how is anyone going to be able to go back to work in 2018, 2019, 2020 if they are not already working now?

What Are the Odds?

I hate to be so gloomy all the time. I do have to admit I’m one of those people who sees the glass as half empty. Lately it’s been harder than normal to keep my spirits up. I’m not used to being unemployed and broke. I don’t like it. I really, really don’t like it.

This morning I got a call from one of the temp agencies I work with. When I got the message I thought “oh great, I finally got some real work”. When I called them back I found out they needed me to be there tomorrow! I could’ve cancelled out the last part of my trip without losing too much. I could’ve been there late Friday, but they had to have someone tomorrow.

Of course! I am leaving tomorrow for the Workboat Show in New Orleans. I’m heading over a day early so I can head down the bayou and visit a few boat companies in person (since the online applications don’t seem to be doing any good). The job wouldn’t pay enough to cover the expenses I’ve already paid for (and can’t get back). I’ve worked there before and already know the drill. Sadly, I had to turn it down.

So few jobs around, and I’m so broke I’m hardly ever doing much. What are the odds that an actual job comes around at the exact same time I can’t take it due to previous engagements?

End of a Long Weekend

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. I did OK. It’s not like I’ve been working so hard all this time and needed a break. Still, it was nice to have some time off where I knew no one would be calling me for work, nothing to do with work would be open (so useless to call), and I could take the time to catch up on other things.

I spent Thanksgiving with friends. They cooked a big turkey (in a greaseless fryer- it turned out nice and moist). They had ham too, and roast vegetables, mashed potatoes, mani-mahi, broccoli rice casserole, hot rolls, and a half dozen desserts. I’m still eating leftovers.

After pigging out and needing a nap Thursday, I’ve spent the last couple of days just piddling around the house. I went through a big pile of t-shirts to sort. I finally packed some away and put others in the yard sale pile. I put a bunch of stuff away that got messed up while I was gone last week (I still can’t find half of it). I’ve caught up with the mail, bills and phone calls.

Now I’m getting ready for a trip to New Orleans for this years Workboat Show. I’m so frustrated and depressed about the situation with work. I think this is going to be my last hope. I filled out a few online applications (again) for nearby boat companies. They say they are hiring.

I’ve rented a car and will drive down the bayou and try to find someone to talk to. It’s become almost impossible to talk to a real person when you’re looking for work these days. Everyone gives you a computer to talk to: “leave a message” and someone will get back to you. Except they never do.

I hear through the grapevine (and also their own ads) that Hornbeck (HOS) and Harvey Gulf are hiring. I plan to hit up both of them. I’ve got plenty of resumes printed out and will be trying to talk to anyone I can who might have some work going on.

If this doesn’t work out, the only thing left for me to do is go back to the SIU as an AB. Wasting the 40 years I’ve spent working my way up and earning my license. What a shame!

I feel like one of the old horse and buggy drivers when Henry Ford came out with the model T. I can see the complete destruction of my livelihood on the horizon. Like them, I am not at all happy about it!

I have been trying my best ever since I got laid off (Sept 2015) to find work. I’ve been trying all kinds of things to bring in extra income. I’ve been teaching at San Jacinto Maritime. I’ve been working as a role player at Maersk Training. I’ve been trying to sell my art (writing/photography/painting) anywhere I can.

I’ve been applying to jobs in every sector of the maritime industry. I’ve tried to find work as a math tutor. I’ve tried to find work in the safety industry since that is a huge part of what I do every day anyway (but learned I would have to sell myself- body and soul- for a $14/hour job). Sorry, no way! I might be down, but I will NEVER be that self destructive as to submit to that level of control.

Hair follicle tests?! What kind of idiots do they think we are? These tests can have NO possible connection to anything going on at the job. I’ve asked over and over- PLEASE tell me how something I might’ve done last YEAR could possibly have anything to do with the job I’m doing TODAY? Of course, they have no answer. They’re wrong and they know it. Those people have NO right to strip our constitutional rights from us. In the name of safety or any other reason.

I am getting pretty desperate. I was one of the lucky ones. I was halfway prepared for this downturn. I’ve been through 3 big ones before. I’d saved as much as I could and paid down my debts as much as possible. I had a pretty good stash in my savings account. Of course, after 2 years with no real work, that savings account has been seriously depleted.

It sucks not even being able to get unemployment. Especially after being forced to pay into it for over 40 years! It would be nice to be able to get some help when I need it. But noooooo, ONE job out of all those years was with a foreign company, so I get zero return on all that money I’ve paid in.

Even so. I did my best while I was working to save and invest. I bought rental property and paid off as much as I could. I’m lucky. That has been my only income for the last 2 years. It’s not much, since the expenses on the property is actually still more than the income I get from it, but it still helps a lot.

I’m thankful I have even that little bit of income. With the little bit of work I get from Maersk and San Jacinto, and a week offshore every now and then, I’ve been able to survive. Barely. I can understand how people get so desperate they will sell their soul to get a miserable paycheck, but I thank god I don’t have to do that. I swear I will die before I EVER submit to their insanely stupid, unconstitutional, illegal, useless hair follicle tests!

I wish more people were able to stand up for themselves. Maybe we could stop this abuse if they were. But, then again, the powers that be are ALL about control. That is ALL they care about and they will do whatever we allow them to get away with.

I hope by going to New Orleans I’ll be able to find something. It’s getting really, really hard to keep trying when it’s been so long and nothing’s happening.

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! 🙂