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  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. 🙂

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)?

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!

 

This Is Where I Work

When I work.

This is the kind of ship I’ve been working on most recently. This video was taken on the DS-4. I used to work on the DS-3 and DS-5 and a couple of other sister ships. Sisters, meaning they’re all built to the same basic plan.

These drill ships are technological wonders. They’re very capable and fairly comfortable ships to work on. I would go back in a NY second! I keep hoping the price of oil will go back up. There will be no work for me or anybody else out there until it does. According to reports, there are around a half million people out of work due to the low price of oil.

I read the news every day to see the price of a barrel and how many rigs are working. So far, the price has recovered from around $26/bbl to around $50/bbl (just dropped back down to $47 last few days). The ON SHORE drillers have been taking advantage of the situation and are drilling like crazy!

They have already returned a couple hundred rigs to work. Every time they do, they put downward pressure on the price of a barrel of oil. That only delays offshore drilling from starting up again.

At this point, I’m wondering if we’ll EVER be able to go back to work. it is not cheap to drill for oil offshore. They’re not going to do it at a price of only $50/bbl. The companies that work offshore can’t work without making a profit. That means oil must be over $60/bbl and it has to stabilize there before any of us see steady work again. (IMHO).

I know, most people are happy to get cheap gas, I would be too if I was actually getting it as cheap as it should be with price/bbl so low. And if so many people weren’t out of work because of it.

If I could find some other type of work that was in any way comparable, I would be doing it. There’s nothing like offshore. There’s nothing I’d rather do than be a mariner. I’ll just keep hoping things get better before I’m forced out for good.

Work

Finally! I’m going to work tomorrow! 🙂

It’s only a temp job. Maybe not even a week. But it’s the first real job I’ve had since I went as AB on that delivery job down to Colombia last August.

I’ll be going out as 3rd mate/JDPO (junior dynamic positioning officer) just to relieve someone who had to leave unexpectedly.

I hope, really really hope this is the start of something good!

Underway

I’ve been pretty busy for the last few days. We got on the ship and left pretty quickly. I really wish we could have stayed a little longer. It was a beautiful little island. Here’s a photo I took from the bridge so you can see what I mean.

Port Louis, Mauritius

Port Louis, Mauritius

I’ll post more pictures later, as soon as I can get caught up with everything here at work. I still gotta admit, no matter how much things have changed for the worse out here, there’s still nothing to compare to the view from my ‘office’ windows. 🙂

Achievement: Master Any Gross Tons

Here’s my entry for the Daily Posts’ Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement challenge.

Master Unlimited license from the US Coast Guard

Master Unlimited license from the US Coast Guard

It might not seem like such a big deal just from looking at it (the old style was much more impressive), but it took me over 30 years of steadily working towards my goal to get one. I admit, it’s not usually THAT hard to get. It doesn’t take most people that long to get one (if it did, they wouldn’t be able to run all the ships we have running around the world).

This license shows the world that I am capable of running ANY ship, anywhere in the world (or at least that’s what it did mean before they started up with the new rules, there are some few restrictions now).

I know the usual path is for a person to go to one of our maritime universities. You can go to one of those schools and come out in 4 years with a bachelors degree AND a maritime license.

If you have the means to go to a 4 year university like that, you will come out with a 3rd mate license (or 3rd assistant engineer) and then you only need a year of sea time to get a 2nd mates license. One more year of sea time and you can get your Chief Mates license (along with a test). One year sailing as Chief Mate and you can get your Unlimited Masters license. So, you can become an Unlimited Master in only about 10 years, or even less if you’re lucky with finding the right kind of work.

That is the way MOST people get their license. I was not able to do it that way. First of all, I couldn’t afford to go to school for 4 years. I had to work. You can’t work offshore AND go to school. It’s really hard to be in 2 places at the same time!

Some people are able to go to Kings Point, the US Merchant Marine Academy. If you can get into that school, its FREE! I did try, but I was too fat to pass their physical. Then I tried to get in the Navy. Same problem- too fat.

So, I went to a 2 year program instead. I moved to Texas to go to the Ocean Marine Technology program at Brazosport College. It was a 2 year program that when you finished you would get an Associates Degree in Ocean Marine Technology AND both an AB (able body seaman) and a QMED (qualified member of the engine department).

It took me 5 years to finish, (and to my regret I never tested for the QMED so I can’t work in the engine department any more).

When I got out, I started working in the offshore oil field. I worked my way up from ordinary seaman, to able body seaman, to 1000 ton mate, to 1600 ton captain.

I started the OMT program in 1978. I was able to work my way up to 1600 ton master by 1986. It was NOT easy. I had a couple of strikes against me from the start. One, I was female and things were VERY hard for women trying to work offshore in those days. Two, I was fat. The job description is ABLE BODY seaman. Most people did (and some still do) discriminate against me for both of those reasons.

When I got my 1600 ton masters license from the Coast Guard, they gave me an unlimited 2nd mates license along with it. Like an IDIOT I gave it back to them! I had not asked for that license, simply because I didn’t feel completely confident in my ability to do that job. I didn’t want to be thrown into a situation where I might screw up and hurt somebody.

The Coast Guard officer who had just given me my license was shocked at my decision. Apparently no one else had ever given back their license they had earned before. But I was told that I could come back and get it at any time, whenever I wanted it.

BIG MISTAKE! The USCG changed the rules re: licensing without telling me (or anybody else). That was against their own rules, they are required to publicize it any time they want to change the rules, to prevent just exactly what happened to me!

When I did feel confident of my skills to run the bridge of a large ship, I went back to the USCG to ask for the 2nd mates license I should have already had. They informed me then that they had changed the rules and I could not have it. I would have to stop sailing as master/mate and go back down the ladder to sailing as AB in order to get a THIRD mates license!

WTF??!! I would have to go 2 steps down the ladder to earn again what I was already owed! I would have to work for a minimum of 3 years as AB to get that license back! So, I sucked it up and went and found a job as an AB on a ship large enough that it would count towards getting back that 2nd mates license I had already earned.

I was lucky to get a job with SeaRiver on their tankers. I spent a few years running up the West Coast to Alaska. I really enjoyed the job and they helped me get my third mates license. The only problem with them was, they told me they would NEVER promote me to third mate due to the fact that I was an “alcoholic”.

WTF??!! Yeah, I had a DWI, way back in 1982. When I asked for a promotion it was 1998 or so. Yeah, they consider you PERMANENTLY an alcoholic if you’ve EVER had any problem with it. WOW!

Considering their experience with the Exxon Valdez and the fact that they threw Captain Hazlewood under the bus to get the focus off of their company POLICY (which REALLY caused the accident), I can totally understand their reasoning. So I just quit. People told me I should have sued them over that, but it really wasn’t worth arguing with them about it to me (and I would have had to win millions since for sure I would have been black-balled).

For some reason, I decided to listen to my grandmother and go back to school. I had a bunch of money saved up. It was gone in 2 years. I had to go back to work. I took a job with Coastal Tankships as 3rd mate. I asked them in the interview if they had any problems with me being ‘an alcoholic” due to my long ago arrest for DWI. They laughed and basically welcomed me on board. 🙂

I had a great time working for Coastal as 3rd mate. I had some really great ABs that helped me learn how to be a good Third mate. I would have stayed there forever. But Coastal sold out to El Paso and they scrapped all their ships. 🙁

I had seen the writing on the wall since the buy-out and had already applied to Oceaneering. It took them over 6 months to actually hire me. It worked out well, since it gave me the time I needed to study and pass my Second mate exam. Talk about STRESS!

I passed the tests and got my Second mates license in January 2002. On February 1, 2002 the STCW 95 amendments went into effect. Whew! In by the skin of my teeth!! I had been hearing rumors of this huge change in the rules, but nobody had any real knowledge of what was going on. Even the USCG, who would be in charge of enforcing these new rules had NO idea when I asked them about it in November 2001 when I was applying to take the Second mates exam.

The problem (again) was that they didn’t notify anyone of what the rules were or how they would affect us. It is a rule that they HAVE to do that. They didn’t. So, I got ROYALLY SCREWED (again)!

I should have been able to simply get my 1 years sea time as second mate and then sit for my Chief Mates license. Since they changed the rules (again), I would now be forced to (re)take a dozen classes (each of which cost a minimum of $1000).

So, yes, I TRIED to protest. I wrote to everyone from the local USCG office to the President. No one was willing to consider my arguments (the fact that they did not follow their own rules, the fact that I had ALREADY taken each and every one of the required classes). All I got from any of them was that the USCG thought the rules were the rules and had to be followed (never mind the fact that THEY broke the rules)!

In the meantime, while I was trying to protest, I started taking the courses whenever I had both the time and the money together. It took me over 7 years and $50,000 (not counting the lost income I should have already been earning) to complete the courses so that I could apply to test for my Chief mates license!

I FINALLY got it and then had to get a minimum of 6 months sea time sailing AS CHIEF MATE. It was really hard to find a position as chief mate and so I did just get the bare minimum. I was able to use a full year sea time as Second mate to fulfill the requirements for Master.

I got my Masters unlimited license in December 2011. I was SO happy. I could hardly wait to get outside the building and shout YEAH! FINALLY GOT IT!!

If you click on the link, you can see what these license USED to look like.

printcert.pdf

Rambling On: Crew Change, Korea, and the Frontier Discoverer

I made it to the airport! I was only out a short time this trip, but going home still feels as good as ever. I was out on the Deepwater Pathfinder. It was a pretty good hitch, even if it was shorter than usual.

I was a little frustrated over the weekend with not being able to get a flight out of New Orleans til early evening. Hard to believe there wasn’t an available flight til almost 1800!

Turns out there is a big golf tournament going on in Houston and all the flights are booked solid.

I was lucky to get a flight at all!

Really, it worked out that I was on the late flight since the weather was foggy with a cold front between us and the heliport. I didn’t get to the airport til almost 1300. At least I wasn’t panicking about missing my flight. 😉 It all worked out in the end.

So, I should be able to catch up a little bit here over the next few days and get ready for my trip to Korea. It’s only about a week away, YEAH!

I really have no idea what to do there other than the travel writing/photography workshop I’m going to Seoul for. I haven’t had time or internet availability to do any research. Anybody have any suggestions? I have a couple of weeks before the class and a week after.

I was thinking I might go down to Busan to visit the company I used to work with when I was on the tuna boat. The new captain on the ship I just got off mentioned that they have a good maritime university in Busan. That sounds like it might be worth checking into.

I’m hoping to go see an old friend I used to work with at Oceaneering. He’s an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) mechanic. When they brought our boat to the Gulf of Mexico to work, he was able to get a transfer to Korea and has been working there ever since.

I would have LOVED to do that too, but Oceaneering only had one vessel over 1600 tons and so they didn’t have any other jobs to offer me. Being a ships officer/DPO doesn’t make for an easy job transfer when there isn’t any other ship. I felt I had no other option but to leave at the first opportunity.

Too bad, they sent the ship out of the Gulf only a couple of months later. When I found out, I was sad I didn’t stay longer. The job I took instead turned into a disaster and I didn’t even stay for the whole trip. 🙁

I hated to quit that job. It sounded so perfect when I decided to take it! I had never really been interested in drilling since it always seemed so BORING. Sit in one spot for months on end, never moving, never really doing much ‘SAILING’.

But this one seemed to be a great option. It was supposed to work in Alaska in the summer and Australia in the winter. I would actually get to do quite a bit of sailing. 🙂

But when I got to the ship, I felt a little queasy. Not because I was seasick!

The ship was in bad shape. It was old. It was rusty. It had issues. LOTS of issues!

It was basically an old ship (built 1966!!) that they had cleared off the topsides, then stuck a new house and a drilling rig on top of it. It had not been taken care of properly. I was not comfortable with it at all.  Bad news. 🙁

I’m not any sort of safety nazi, not by a long shot, but I was really concerned about the condition of that ship and the lack of concern for all of the ordinary things we seamen look out for.

I stayed on there as long as I could, hoping that things would improve. I finally had to leave after only 3 weeks. I couldn’t stick around knowing the problems that were bound to come up. No job is worth my license I’ve worked so long and hard to earn, or my life! This one was seriously putting both at risk.

I couldn’t figure out WHY they would want to bring an old piece of sh*t like that up to work in the pristine waters of Alaska, KNOWING Greenpeace would be all over them.

Turns out, they DID have all kinds of problems on the trip to Alaska and since. They’re presently back in Asia in the shipyard (again) and all plans for Alaskan drilling on hold (again).

I wonder if that was the plan all along? If they had a nice, new, fully functioning rig would there have been such an outcry? Would there have been so many problems? Would the oil companies all have put off their plans to follow the success of this adventure in Alaska?

I don’t know, but I think if they had a better ship/rig, they would be drilling by now instead of still spending a fortune in the shipyard. Was all this a case of trying to save a few bucks by using old, worn out equipment? If so, they sure messed up on THAT decision!

Is she, or isn't she aground? I'm sure glad I got off when I did!

Is she, or isn’t she aground? I’m sure glad I got off when I did!