Home and Gone

Hey everybody! I made it home! Here’s a picture of the sweet little supply boat that brought me in to the dock.

I wasn’t home long. Wednesday- Saturday and then gone again.

Sorry I haven’t been able to keep up with the blog. I worked over for a week on the Epic Explorer. The same little dive boat I worked on last summer. This hitch I was there for 2 weeks as mate and then another week as galley hand. Once I started working in the galley, I really didn’t have the internet access to be able to blog.

I got home late Tuesday night, too tired to do anything but go right to bed. Wednesday I was still super tired. I was completely out of it from being up all night to being up in the daytime like a normal person. All I got done on Wednesday was sorting through the mail and paying the bills. I was pretty much a zombie all day. Thursday I went up to Houston for a meeting of the Nautical Institute.

I like to keep up with what’s going on in the industry and I go to those sort of meetings if I can. The NI has a couple of interesting projects coming up. One is a course to train navigation assessors which I would really be interested in (except that I’m still broke and can’t afford the fees).

I saw a bunch of people I knew there. One of them was the director of the maritime program I am teaching for this week at Lamar State College in Orange, TX. He scared me for a while, not sure if the class would be held, but they came through Friday morning.

So Friday afternoon I drove up to Orange to meet everyone and go over some things, pick up the course materials so I can get ready to teach the class. I’m a little surprised at how different it is from the same class I’ve been teaching at San Jacinto. All these courses are US Coast Guard approved and so have to cover the same basic material. I’m having to study just as much or more as my students will!

That kept me busy most of the day yesterday. I also got a hair cut, did laundry and had to run to the store for a few groceries since I ran out of milk. I’m still trying to get used to my change of schedule. I’m still tired and falling asleep by dinner time, but still too much to do!

Now I’m back up here in Orange. I’ll be staying here until class is over on Friday. Tomorrow morning I’ll be up at 6 am, they have breakfast here at the hotel (for free), so I’ll have a chance to have some coffee and eat before I run over to the school. I want to try to be there by 0730 and start class by 0800.

I’m not sure how many students I have yet. I think it’ll only be 1-2. That makes it harder to stick to the schedule since they plan for lots of students with lots of questions. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes with this new program.

Heads Up

I’ve been trying to keep up with the Just Jot It January challenge, but since I left to head offshore it’s been getting harder and harder. The internet was out most of the day yesterday and due to my upcoming change in position, I don’t think I’ll have access to blog again until I get home. It might not be until next Wednesday. 🙁

I was supposed to be getting off and heading home tonight. Last night the office called and asked if anyone was willing to work over. No one was. So I stepped up.

After crew change tonight, I will go from being mate on here to being galley hand. So, I will change watch from working noon-midnight, to working 1800-0600. Instead of standing watch on the bridge, I will be washing dishes, laundry and sanitation.

I’m sure I can handle it. 😉

JusJoJan: Contemplation

I’ve been participating in Linda’s Just Jot It January challenge. I know I’ve been offline for a few days. It couldn’t be helped. I haven’t had enough internet access to get to my blog to post anything. I finally managed to get my computer hooked up (had to pay $32 for 750 mb) and have a little time to use it. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to get on ’til I get back home.

I have still been ‘jotting’ various things every day, even if not online. Things like log book entries, positions, JSEAs, safety observation cards, etc. Does that count? 😉

I joined the vessel in Cameron, LA at about 2300 Thursday. We headed offshore the next morning and we’ve been busy working since then. Early this morning a cold front came through and the weather offshore kicked up pretty quickly. The divers can’t work in rough seas and so the decision was made to return to the dock and wait on better weather.

We arrived back in Cameron this afternoon. We had to shift ship a couple of times due to other boats at the dock. Now we are hunkered down for the night. It’s been freezing cold (literally) and we’ve even had snow! Right now I’m looking at a snow covered white parking lot (instead of the usual grey mud).

Today’s prompt for JusJoJan is “contemplation“.

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed working at sea was the time we get for contemplation. It’s just natural when you’re standing watch at night, looking out at nothing but the black waters and amazing star filled sky.

You wind up thinking about all kinds of things. Deep thoughts. Having really involved discussions with your watch mates. Thinking over all the things you want to do with your life. Thinking about all kinds of ways to solve the worlds problems. 😉

You might be surprised at how many famous people are former seamen, other than Mark Twain : Peter Falk (Colombo), Jack Lord (Hawaii Five-O), Woody Guthrie, Oliver Stone (and many more). A seaman’s life gives you lots of time to think. Unlike so many other jobs today, most of which run you ragged without a minute to yourself.

I love working out here. I miss it when I’m home. I only wish it was still the way it was when I first started out. They’ve taken all the fun out of it. So many BS rules and regulations. I don’t think I’m going to be allowed to continue to work out here much longer. It’s just getting too hard to put up with the BS.

It’s been a balancing act for a while now. Ever since I had to come back to work in the Gulf of Mexico from overseas, I’ve been chafing at the bits. I just want to be able to do my job. Now, it costs me a fortune to keep all the various ‘training’ certificates up to date.

Another thing, I don’t do (illegal) drugs, but it violates every principle I believe in to submit to a piss test in order to go to work and yet even that is now becoming obsolete. Companies now are starting to require a hair follicle test! That is just completely unacceptable!

Here’s something to ‘contemplate’… How can such a minute amount of any substance (9 nanograms) possibly have any effect on your job performance? How can the test results with such a low level of any substance have any possible effect on your job performance a month after you’ve used that substance? How about 3 months later (piss test can detect)? How about 12 months (which a hair follicle test can detect)?

Simple answer: it can’t!

I want to know why any company should be allowed to tell you what you can and can’t do 3+ months before the day you’re working for them. Why can they dictate what you do on your time off? On weekends, your vacation? I want to know why so many people seem to believe these piss tests/hair follicle tests have anything to do with safety. I want to know why people are insisting since they have to take a drug test, everybody else ought to have to take one too. Just because you’re getting screwed, lets make sure everybody else is getting screwed too? Wow! Why isn’t everyone insisting that all drug tests have nothing to do with job performance, safety or anything else except CONTROL?

I want to know why Americans, who supposedly appreciate freedom are so accepting of this ‘slavery’.

It’s not, you say?

What else would you call it when a company refuses to honor your RIGHT to do what you want on YOUR time? Are they paying you 24/7? No, they’re not! Are they going to backdate your paycheck for the last 12 months before they hired you when you pass their tests since you have given up your RIGHT to live your life the way YOU choose and instead are following their rules? No, they are not.

I tell it like it IS. They want to OWN you, body and soul!

Contemplate that!

Looking For a Ship

Not just the title of a pretty good book! I’m back home, rested up and back on the job of looking for a job.

I’ve already called all my usual agencies (C-Mar, Oceanwide, CLS, Northstar, Spencer-Ogden) and no one has any work now or for the foreseeable future.

Some linkedin contacts have mentioned a couple of places overseas. I’ve been trying to contact them, but so far no response. Looks like the situation is still the same. Thousands of us out of work, resumes stacked til filing cabinets overflowing and still no hope of work any time soon.

The price of oil has been flirting with $60/bbl over the last week, but it’s still not enough to get anyone moving. We keep hearing ‘next year it will be better”. It’s 3 days away from ‘next year” and I’m hoping like hell it really will be better!

I don’t know how others are managing to survive. Well, yes I do, most of them have families to help them out. They’re lucky. The younger ones have mostly left the industry and found something else to do. They’ve let their documents lapse and won’t be able to come back. Of course, they didn’t have all that much invested in this industry yet anyway. There’s a huge difference between an AB and an unlimited master as far as costs (and everything else).

I’m heading up to Galveston today to move my art. The gallery where it’s been showing is moving (they’re having their own problems) and all artists are being asked to help move. Looks like it won’t be on display again til late January, maybe February. Just another way to try to survive!

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.

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.

Catching Up on Paperwork

It’s been a slow day today. I’ve been catching up on all kinds of things I’ve been putting off. One big one was filling out the forms for a ‘qualified assessor’ for the US Coast Guard. My boss at San Jacinto Maritime sent the request out a couple of days ago. I was too tired after work at Maersk to get into it. So, completed and sent now. At least I hope it’s finished to their satisfaction.

This qualified assessor thing is just one more example of how the USCG is making it harder every day for people to work in the maritime industry. I swear, if I had any idea that this industry would wind up so strangled with rules and regulations I would’ve listened to my grandmother and been a doctor!

When I first started working on the water, it was so nice. It was perfect for me. I could go to work, anywhere in the world, with decent pay and benefits (including health care as long as I was working at sea). I could dress comfortably, not have to dress in any kind of uniform. I could look like anything I wanted (dress in shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirts). I could talk like I wanted (no such thing as PC back then). I could just do my job and everyone was OK with that.

No more. Those days are long gone.

When I started, you went to the Coast Guard and got a Z-Card. It was good for life. As an ordinary seaman (deck, engine or steward), you didn’t have to do anything to get one. Just fill out the application, pay a few bucks and that was it.

Oh god, I long for those good old days! Now, you can’t even consider going to work on a boat unless you’re willing and able to spend a shitload of money and weeks/months of time! Just take a look at those checklists on the National Maritime Centers website! Not that there’s any real reason for any of this so- called ‘training’. It’s only all about the money!

Yes, that’s it! The USCG, the schools (of course) and the politicians will all insist it’s about ‘safety’, but I’ve yet to see some real proof that any of these extra expenses (all on the backs of the seafarers) has done anything to improve safety. Instead, I believe it has actually caused a decrease in safety, due to driving out more experienced sailors from the industry.

Another reason: since everyone now has to attend “basic safety training’, the employers feel like their new hires have been ‘trained’ in basic safety. They send them out to the ships imagining that they’re prepared to do their jobs with no incidents. They imagine those new hires have learned enough in a week long class to keep them from ever having any accidents at sea. Yeah, riiiiight.

They’ve cut crew sizes down to ridiculously low levels so the old timers don’t have the time to teach the newbies what they really need to know. The basic safety class is a joke! We were all much safer before that class was forced upon us and people became so complacent because of it!

Who in their right minds wants to spend thousands of dollars and weeks of their vacation time taking classes that don’t even teach you anything new? I can’t imagine anyone who would. Yet, that is what we are all saddled with in this industry these days.

Yeah, the schools love it. it’s wonderful for them. They have plenty of money to lobby the politicians to force us all to attend ever increasing training requirements. Meanwhile, us poor sailors have no representation. And how can we argue against ‘safety’?

Do you think I’m the only mariner who feels this way? I can guarantee you that there are a hell of a lot of us out there who are thinking the same way. Just not a lot who are willing to say it online where the companies will see your ‘bad attitude’.

Too bad. I’m going to keep on saying what I think, here on my blog. Online, and whenever the subject comes up. I am not politically correct, I think the whole PC thing is a big reason the country is going to hell and I’m not going to shut up. I’d love to see a real, honest discussion on some of this stuff.

Who in the maritime industry is going to come out and admit that this whole STCW required ‘training’ scheme is nothing but a devious plan to force ‘highly paid’ American sailors out of the work force?

I’ve said so from the very first time I heard of it decades ago. Intended or not, that is the result. McCain and his flunkies calling for the end of the Jones Act will simply put the last nail in the coffin. I’d like to see Trump say to hell with the IMO and the STCW along with all the other things he says he’s getting rid of.