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)! 😉

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

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! 😉

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.

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.

Another Day on the SLou

I’m still here. I haven’t been able to keep up with the blogging since last weeks crew change. Pretty much the entire crew changed out. The only ones left were me, the medic, the crane operator and most of the galley crew (3 guys). There are only 20 of us total on here now. Usually, there are about 200.

We have a new captain. I was made MSL (marine section leader), which is basically the oilfield way of saying Chief Mate. The problem with that is that I was sent out here to be a DPO, with a contract and pay as a DPO. There is a whole ‘nother level of responsibilty that I have now, that I didn’t plan on and don’t really want. Especially if I’m not going to be paid for it.

It’s hard trying to keep any vessel in shape with a minimal crew. This is not just any vessel. I would say it is fairly unique. I have been here for about 3 weeks now and I’m still getting lost when I go below decks! It’s a lot more complex than a ‘regular ship’.

They have 4 engine rooms (2 engines each), with switchboard rooms for each engine room. They have separate pump rooms for the drillers, ballast, drains, etc. We have 4 separate thruster rooms (2 thrusters each). They are all the way down, practically at the bottom of the ship. There is another level below with just ballast tanks and pumps.

I was down there this afternoon, wandering around, checking some items for the PM’s (preventive maintenance) that still needs to get done. The ship is round, so you go around in circles to check each thruster room. I did fine with that. The problem was when I wanted to go back up to the main deck. The thrusters are on the 3.5m level. The engine rooms are on the 28.5, 32.5 level (up from 0). The cargo elevator that usually runs to access those spaces is broken.

I found out that you can’t easily get out of the thruster rooms without climbing up a 20′ vertical ladder with a hatch to open on top. I thought about trying it, but my arms and upper body strength is not something I feel too confident about.

We did PM’s on the HiPAP (high precision acoustic positioning) transducer poles this morning. My bosun (on here as roustabout) had a heck of a hard time climbing out of that space. It is a loooooong way down! Vertical ladders are tough enough even you are in good physical shape.

My DPO and roustabout were both worn out after 3 times up and down those ladders. Both of them are young and look to be in pretty good shape. I figure the valves are on the 0 elevation level, so it’s about 75 ft straight up. My arms would be jelly!

I tried 2 different ways to get out of different thruster rooms before I finally wound up back where I came down. I wasn’t going to try opening a hatch while standing at the top of a vertical ladder and nobody around to help. I went back up that way. I was pretty pooped by that time.

I’ll update this later with pictures. I’ve been having a hard time with my computer getting anything done online, so it might take a little while. Hang in there. 😉

Work?

I went to Houston yesterday. I had a work day scheduled up there. Yep. One whole day of work scheduled for all of July. Wow.

It went well.

I caught up with my friends there. We’re all in the same position. Everyone is doing whatever they can to get by. Spending all our time looking for work and scrambling for whatever part time gigs we can scrounge up.

This morning I got a call. Actually two calls. For real work! Yes, work in my field. On a boat. The pay is less than a third of what I was earning at my last job. It’s only for 2 weeks but could possibly turn into something longer term. I don’t know for sure yet if I’ll get it. But I told them I was definitely interested.

The second call was about a container ship. I’m interested, but a little concerned about that one since I’ve never worked on a container ship before. It shouldn’t be that different, but as captain, I will be held responsible for every single thing that happens on board, and there is a hell of a lot that could happen. I just don’t want to get thrown under the bus.

I’m waiting to hear back from both of them, but making plans to leave early Friday morning just in case. If I do get the job (either of them), I probably won’t have internet access to keep up with the blog so expect that I probably won’t be able to post every day.

Not that I have been posting every day anyway, but at least while I’m home I do try to. 😉

I’m Back!

It feels like much longer than it was, the 27 days I was out there without internet. I was so grateful to have even a few days of real work again! I was hoping for more, but things are still very, very slow offshore. Every one of us on board was so thankful to have a job after a long dry spell.

Too bad, but the company finished up all the work they had lined up and so laid me off on Saturday. There was some talk about more projects coming up in the near future, but nothing definite.

I can survive another couple of months off of that job. I have a class lined up to teach the week of June 25th. Maybe by the end of the month something else will come up?

The price of oil is still under $50/bbl. Until that changes, I don’t see much hope of a decent job. But even a few days every now and then will be enough to get by on. I know most people are thrilled at the low price of gas at the pump (tho it should be about $1 less going by price/bbl- all that extra is taxes!).

I would probably be thrilled too if it didn’t wipe out my entire profession. Every sector of the maritime world is tied to the offshore sector and the price of oil. When it’s low and the offshore sector shuts down, people migrate to deep sea, towing, fishing, etc. Shutting off any options to do anything else on the water.

Shoreside jobs are a total waste of any mariners skills and training and don’t come anywhere near offering even the worst pay/benefits we earn on the water (and it’s not all about the money either).

I’ll spend the next couple of weeks catching up on things I’ve been putting off: exterminator, dentist, house cleaning, oil change, car wash, doctor, painting projects, taxes, etc. All kinds of fun stuff like that. 😉

Hopefully, I can keep things interesting with some stories from the recent past. 😉

Still Out Here

Tomorrow will mark 3 weeks offshore and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I will get to stay out here even longer.

Usually by this time, I’ve about had enough and I’m itching to get off the boat and go home. Take a nice, long vacation somewhere. This trip has been the first real work I’ve had in a loooong time, so I am not in quite the same frame of mind.

The only thing I could wish for out here is a little better situation with the internet, but oh well, we all just have to deal with it…

I will stay out here for as long as I possibly can. Especially since there is no telling how many more months I might have to wait until I can find another ship.

I know most people are happy that the price of oil has been so low for so long. I would be too, if my career didn’t depend so much on it. Sadly, the US Merchant Marine is almost totally dependent on the offshore (oil) industry. We have less than 100 deep sea ships left and probably half of those are shipping oil.

When the Gulf of Mexico slows down and lays off crews, it affects the entire US Merchant Marine. Sadly, US mariners are not wanted in most of the rest of the world. Everyone is afraid we are going to sue them I guess. 🙁

Internet Today?

Amazing! My computer is actually working for the first time in weeks!

After working on the tuna boat in the South Pacific with extremely limited internet (I would have to wait til we got to port to go ashore and check email), I swore I would never again work on a boat without it.

Well, sad to say, things have been so bad offshore that I am very, very thankful to be out here with or without internet! I just feel frustrated with not being able to keep up with the daily blog posts (or at least weekly). 😉

I don’t know how long the internet will stay on, or how long I will be able to keep working. I’m hoping both will continue for a long time. 😉

I’d like to write more about what we’ve been doing out here, but want to at least let you all know I haven’t stopped posting just because I don’t want to keep communicating with you. 🙂

I hope you’ll stick around for more posts (whenever I can get to post them). 🙂