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. πŸ™‚

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.

WISTA Sista’s- Santa’s Helpers for Houston’s Seafarers

Tonight was the annual get together of the Houston-Galveston area WISTA Sista’s to ready the Christmas care packages for our local seafarers. The Houston Pilots let us use their facility to organize the assembly of the boxes.

One side of the room had tables filled up with supplies for the shoe boxes: pens, mini-flashlights, pads of paper, snacks, candies, razors, hats, gloves, toothpaste, cards/envelopes, calendars, tissues, etc.

The other sides tables were filled with supplies for the assemblers (us)! πŸ˜‰

Trays of cheese and crackers, sliced turkey and salami, pickles, olives, fruits and dip, sandwiches, tiny little cheesecakes, sodas, coffee and wine. πŸ™‚

A few of us filled up the boxes, while others wrapped them up and tied ribbons. I’m not sure how many we made up, but we filled up 2 trucks by the end of the night. Half will go to Houston, and half to Galveston.

I’m not that much into Christmas. I usually work over the holidays. In fact, up until the last 2 years of this horrible downturn, I’ve worked every Christmas but 2 over the last 40 years! It’s great to be home with friends and family. To enjoy all the holiday spirit, traditions, good cheer and company.

Out on the ship, it’s hard to deal with the holidays sometimes. You miss all that’s going on at home. You may or may not have communications with your family (some ships still have no internet access for the crew and cell phones usually don’t work unless you’re in port). Most ships try to do something special for Christmas. They’ll set up a tree, put up some decorations and cook a special meal. Santa may even show up at the ship! πŸ˜‰

You have no idea how much difference these little shoe boxes can make to a ships crew at Christmas. I’ve seen guys break down and cry. It does make you feel good to know that someone out there is thinking about you. Someone who you don’t even know, that wanted to make sure you had something special for Christmas.

I’m hoping I’ll be back at sea by Christmas! I don’t know if I’ll see Santa this year, but I know that there are people around the world who care for the seafarers (not just Houston, I know Freeport’s seaman’s center does and other seaman’s centers do too).

PS- WISTA is an organization of women in shipping and transportation (there are men members too). We had a couple of students from Texas A&M tonight (male and female). We had women who work in insurance, logistics, trading, piloting, training, and sailing. The maritime industry covers a lot of ground, there are all sorts of jobs on shore and on the sea.

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. πŸ™‚

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.

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 Β 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. πŸ™‚

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 aΒ MSCΒ (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.