Friday, August 21, 2009

This is Odyssey, signing off

This should be my last post before LOS when my satellite comms drop out for about a week.  We're currently steaming West in excess of 11 knots and as we leave the Angolan coast, we are also steaming out from under the footprint of the satellite I've been using to communicate with the outside world for the last 10 months.  Because this move to the other side of the world is decidedly, very last-minute, we won't get access to the next satellite for at least a week.  Paperwork, you know?  So, sometime next week, or early into yet the next, we'll pop back into communication with the rest of humanity and the World-Wide Web.

I walked out on a deck this morning to have a look around while draining my first cuppa joe.  It was dreary and grey.  Sea the color of blued steel, faded, like the barrel of my old rifle on a cold November morning.  Grey skies and the air so thick, you can see it.  It felt sad and lonely up there so I came back in, quickly.  I think it's likely just me, not looking forward to the loss of communication.  I'm going to miss calls with my wife, LP in the background yelling, "I love you!", to get out of actually having to talk with her father on the phone.  Going to miss the Internets, too and all you guys.

Well, this is it.  I'll see you all on the other side, hopefully about one week out of Trinidad. 

"Be safe and be happy today-tomorrow might be a real pisser."  -me, right now

"So long, Earth. Catch you on the flip side." -Jack Swigert at lunar LOS,  Apollo 13

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ear of the beholder

Kublai asks Marco, "When you return to the West, will you repeat to your people the same tales you tell me?"
"I speak and speak," Marco says, "but the listener retains only the words he is expecting. The description of the world
to which you lend a benevolent ear is one thing; the description that will go the rounds of the groups of stevedores and
gondoliers on the street outside my house the day of my return is another; and yet another, that which I might dictate
late in life, if I were taken prisoner by Genoese pirates and put in irons in the same cell with a writer of adventure
stories. It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear."
Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino, 1972

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Correction: It might hurt a little...

So a quick Internets search gives me several options to calculating the optimal FAT BURN heart rate.  My elliptical machine was totally full of shit.  The correct rate is definitely above that of mine while sleeping and seems, in fact, to be a decent workout that I can feel after an hour.  I even get to sweat.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This won't hurt a bit...

So I started back on the elliptical machine.  It has a computer.  I choose FAT BURN.  I program in my height, weight and age and it tells me what I need to do to burn fat the most efficiently.  It tells me to lay down, close my eyes and relax.  Really.

From here to Bogota

Yesterday was a rare, good day.  After a lot of worrying about getting more work for my ship, we got a job.  It involves a nice, long steam across the pond, stops in Brazil and Trinidad and then finally, working in Columbia-somewhere I've yet to work.  The excitement spread throughout the crew and everyone seemed in a good mood.  Charts and maps were pulled out and poured over.  Stories were traded.  Everyone began to speculate on crew-x and whatnot.  Not a bad day at all.  I even began looking up flights from Cartegena and Bogota...

Today, reality sets in and the work begins.  The one thing that stands out is that by several accounts, including some famous guy who sailed around the world, is that we are going to work the roughest waters in the world.  It seems we had a ship nearly capsize there a few years ago.  I thought Argentina and South of New Zealand were the worst:(

Monday, August 17, 2009

Midnight wake up

Dead freaking tired this morning.  Was awoken at 1am by a phone call from PW.  Possible emergency so the adrenaline was pumping, big time.  Thankfully, it was not an emergency, but I ended up emailing back and forth with my oldest daughter for an hour.  After that I couldn't sleep. Too keyed up from the possibility that something bad happened to my family.  Out here, you cannot help but be painfully aware that you are 12,000 miles and several days away from home no matter what happens and that if you have to DO anything, you only have a phone and email at your disposal.  Even after 12 years, it's scary and frustrating and stressful.

Anyway, I'm just thankful that everyone is safe and well. The mood onboard is tinged with hope.  The market is in pretty bad shape and we were looking at an extended period with no work, but it looks like we have a good shot at work in Brazil and relatively soon (few months).  Right now any work is good, but Brazil is an added bonus, especially for me-it would get me back to the western hemisphere for the first time in years...


Sunday, August 16, 2009


Sleepy today.  Took a muscle relaxer last night before bed and I cannot seem to fully wake up this morning.  Weather is overcast and cool, very nice for Africa.  Still working on getting out of Angola and down to Namibia.  Latest rumor is that we might pick up some work in Brazil.  Beats West Africa by a mile, but it would take us a few weeks to steam across the Atlantic...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Health care reform alternatives

Found this to be interesting, informative and thought-provoking.  Got it from an Adam Savage tweet this morning.  I don't stand too far away from most of his views, actually.  I think Mr. Mackay has presented a few common-sense, low-cost/no-cost solutions to some (not all) of the problems with our current health care system-inexpensive, largely painless alternatives to a (potentially) bureaucracy-bloated, government-controlled, mess. As for the end of his column, I have no plans to give up my red meat, chili dogs and twinkies for granola.

"...and I shall grind whatever grist the mill requires"

Another day in paradise.  Paperwork, computer maintenance are the tasks of the day.  Wishing we would head for Namibia, but we still have some testing and gear retrieval to accomplish, first.


Came across a website dedicated to one of my favorite authors.  The author is a regular, DAILY, participant on the discussion boards!  I cannot convey in words what a delight this is!!  Many of the books I read are of the world-building, sci-fi genre, where the reader is required to invest more than bit of grey matter in order to understand the underlying physics and natural laws that govern the universe the story is set in.  The particular series I'm talking about is so well-written that in addition to the time and thought invested in understanding the universe, I've found myself emotionally invested in the characters, over the years and I've been reading this series for over 10 years (15 books, 7500 pages worth).  What a treat it is to have 10 years of questions, now answerable.  Post a question and the author usually responds in a day, or two.  That kind of dedication to your fans is pretty much unheard of, especially from an author of over 50 novels . I am pleased as punch:)


The thyme-scented coffee makes me gag in the morning...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Parsley Sage Rosemary and Folgers

My day starts bad.  I wake up 3 hours after my shift begins.  Bad. Bad. Bad.

I go for coffee.  Open the cupboard where the instant coffee and fixins are and it smells like spaghetti, or something...

Make coffee, take Malarone and head out back for a smoke.  Take a drink of my coffee and it smells strongly like pizza, or spaghetti...
Back to the cupboard, I start digging around and....the makeshift sugar jar WAS a jar of THYME, now used for sugar.  Good Times.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tired and grumpy

Another day in paradise.  Woke up exhausted and I've been onboard less than a week.  This place saps the energy out of you at first, due to your body fighting the constant rocking of the boat and the pressure of the job that ramps up as soon as your opposite departs on crew-x day.  Thank god for coffee, as the Malarone I'm taking for malaria is also wiping me out and giving me nightmares all night.  Malarone, coffee and a smoke-breakfast of champions!


Yesterday, the sat comms began to noticeably deteriorate.  They are shit, now.   I've been able to get through checking, replying to email and Twitter and managed to read most of the my usual blogs in Google Reader, but it took hours.  Still working on communications to and from the office.  Priorities.


Was thinking today that I'm supposed to be a geophysicist-one of those geeks who sits at a desk fiddling with his pocket protector.  As someone mentioned to me the other day, I'm the exception to every rule.  Instead of a pocket protector in my button down shirt, I'm sitting here in bright orange work pants and ratty T-shirt with a six-inch boat knife strapped to my leg.  I'm prepared to gut my computer like a fish if it gives me the slightest error.  I'm contemplating taking a break from the chair to head out back and strip barnacles from the in-sea gear with a heavy rope and my trusty knife.  Later this week I start getting re-certified in crane operations, rigging and slinging.  Swinging 20-ton loads around with a 60 ft crane on a rolling, pitching ship is....interesting, I guess you could say.  Next month I head off to get re-certified in HUET and prepare myself to get out of a helicopter after it crashes into the sea, flips upside-down and sinks underwater.  That and FIRE fighting.  I loves me some fire. 

Anyway, I'm feeling very reflective and wondering how I ended up out here in such a weird fucking job.  All I ever wanted to do in life was genetically modify humans, go into space, or pound on rocks with a hammer-not this shit.  I'm not complaining, mind you, just wondering how fate managed to dump me out here off the coast of West Africa instead of a regular, 9-5 existence.  My only real complaint is that I miss my wife and children and friends, terribly.  OK, maybe also the sometimes really shitty food, or the fact that I can't drink milk for 7 months/year.  Some green vegetables that aren't brown would be nice once in a while, too.

Still, as Tony Robbin's tweet today says "When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left." - Sufi quote.  My spirit rejoices in the fact that I have a job at all, in these tough times.  I hope you all are healthy, happy and at peace on this fine day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Musical Statistics

Adding some tags, loves and tracks to my library (all 49 pages of the shit) and I end up wasting time, cruising my musical neighbor's sites for tracks to steal.  At one site, I find a group and on their discussion board a post links this.  Funny. Shit.

Still wrapping up things here in (off of ) Angola.  Deleting 10 months of work off  the system is seriously depressing, though.  All that work, one click and *poof* its gone:(

The crane is working overtime, right over my head.  Hard to concentrate with the freaking howling of the hydraulics.  Got my music turned up LOUD and its just not helping.

This trip there was one other American onboard.  She's leaving today, leaving me as the resident Yank.  Things are going to get tougher.

Finally, the British Chief Mechanic on here brought me back a book he picked up years ago, oddly, when he was passing through the states.  Its about a corporate manger-type who goes to the big house for manslaughter and chronicles his time in the joint.  Its dark and funny and twisted and I highly recommend it after reading the first 237 pages non-stop last night till 1am.  Go get yerself some "You Got Nothing Coming"

Even more odd is that my opposite, who is also British, also just left me a book in the cabin we both occupy.  Its also about a guy who does time in prison, but in Thailand, for drugs.  I'm suddenly wondering what these British guys think of me...I mean, I haven't seen the inside of a cell in fucking years, dawgs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fine drinking establishments around the world

Screwing around in FB today. Noticed I've been to 402 cities in 35 countries. I've been freaking everywhere, seen nothing, done nothing but fly in, eat, sleep, and drink in bars, then fly out. Been to some damn fine bars, though...

Speaking of that, I am reminded of this little place next to a dirt airstrip in the jungles of Myanmar that I stopped in for a coffee and a cheroot, in hopes of toning down a bastard of hangover. They gave me shots of some sort of home-made hooch that you drink out of a large insect shell. Made me sort of not right in the head, like a .45 caliber slug. Not that drinking in the jungle at 6am is going to set things right in yer noggin...

And so I wonder. Do you know what a cheroot is? Cheroot is one of the distinctive icons of Myanmar. These cigars are made with a blend of tobacco and fragrant wood chips, then rolled up using a dried green leaf called the 'tha nat phet'. After adding a filter made of corn husks, the cheroot is ready to rock. They are mostly handmade by women in the Inle Lake region, but can be found everywhere in the country. I certainly had no trouble bumming one off of any local I met. They are by far the most wonderful smoke that doesn't alter your brain chemistry that I've ever had the pleasure of.

And I have missed them, terribly, ever since leaving Yangon in a panic, where I think the small handfull I had were taken by some soldiers who wanted to use me as their very own American-made punching bag. That, or I dropped them in my rush to get out of their makeshift boxing gym. I remember asking everyone I met in Suvarnabhumi Airport ( I escaped Myanmar to Bangkok) for one, but none were to be found. A girl in the airport massage parlour (legitimate! I had back issues!) gave me a little Chinese cigar from a wooden box, but it wouldn't smoke because of these little, round holes in the leaf wrapping. She told me they were worm holes...

Welcome to the jungle

Some days I really love my job.  Not often, but some days it's like juggling.  I throw up 15-20 tasks and bang out 2-3 minutes on each one before it hits the ground, non-stop for 12-15 hours and then another day has passed in the blink of an eye. Today started like the beginning of the GnR song Welcome to the Jungle, with Axl screaming.  The shit just ramped up to fever pitch in like 30 seconds when I walked into my office and I was off like a fucking rocket.  I wish I could shoot up a load of java instead of having to stop to drink.  I've begun the prep work for upgrading my computer system.  Its going to be one big, bad motherfucker in about 2 1/2 more weeks.  If it works, anyway.   You know where you are?  You're in the jungle, baby.  You're gonnna die....


Monday, August 10, 2009

To burp or not to burp

My beloved cooks made me a pepperoni and onion pizza tonight.  Sadly, they had no mushrooms, but the za was perfection.  Ate seven large pieces.  Having trouble breathing.  Walking is out of the question.  Burping is good.  Wishing I could pass gas.  "Just one thin mint..."  

Somebody call

Time for the leaving...

So, next up for The Pirate's ship is Walvis Bay, Namibia.  Extended port call and drinks all around.  I'll be off the coast of Angola for another week, then clear the country and a few days steam to Walvis Bay.  A lot of work to do between here and there, remains though.  Deploying, testing and retrieving gear, final reports, shipments, repairs and all that rot, but it feels damn good to be leaving Angola behind.  Its been 10 long months here and none of it has been pleasant.

Here we go again

Slightly more than half way through the commute.  I had decent flights to Luanda this time.  Spent most of a nine-hour layover in London Heathrow at the Yotel.  Luxuriated in fours sleep and two showers.  Had a great seat on the plane to Luanda.  Arrived at 4am, spent 3 hours in the immigration cage, an hour in an office across the street from the airport and I'm now in the cage at the quay.  We're waiting for some sort of food in a box and for our supply boat to dock.  Looking forward to a 20-hour steam out to the prospect and my ship.  Word is that we are nearly done here in Angola and will be steaming to Nambibia, soon, where we'll spend time drinking before heading home, again. 

Luanda is much the same as I left it.  Dirt, dust, crumbling adobe and mud bricks.  Tin held down by debris and small children sitting in the dirt playing with garbage.  Stray dogs and traffic jams.  Soldiers and women carrying goods on their heads.  I will not be sorry to leave this place.

Made it to the ship.  Spent a total of 6 hours between the airport immigration lounge and the cage on the docks.  Overnight we steamed to the prospect and I actually strung together 8 hours sleep before and after dinner. At one point, I began to dream that somebody was in trouble...I could hear them yelling "help me!" as if from a great distance, a faint calling.  Slowly, I woke up.  I could still hear him.  "Help me."  "Please help me."   "Its hot in here."   W.T.F?   I could hear one of the crew pleading for help.  I sat up and looked around the darkened metal container I was sharing with eight other guys.  Suddenly, I hear the captain in the bunk below roll over and swear.  He gets out and starts giving the unseen chap in distress a rash of shit.  Turns out one of the crew had locked himself in the containers makeshift bathroom and could not get out.  He was slowly baking to death inside there.  For the next 20 minutes I lay in my bunk, pissing myself laughing as they tried to extricate him.  Eventually, they had to tear the door down to get him out.  The poor guy emerged in his boxers and socks, dripping with sweat and still looking more than slightly panicked. I drifted back off to sleep, still chuckling.

Later, not long after I woke, showered and sat out on the back deck, evidently another crew member did the same thing and once again the door had to be removed to get him out.  Good times.

Anyway, we eventually reached the prospect and my ship, took a short ride over in the jet boat and after a short handover, I headed out on the back deck to deploy gear where I got a decent workout, barnacle juice in my eye and then shuffled off to sauna and to sleep the sleep of the dead.

I woke up for my first full shift a full hour late this morning.  Not good.  Mucho java before I head back out on deck and start playing with winches and reels and tensions measured in tens of tons.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Swing and a miss...

As usual, the combination of office pukes and Angolan Immigration have managed to screw up crew-x.  I'm still home...

Sitting at the dining room table drinking coffee on my last full day at home. I head for Angola tomorrow.  It's a beautiful morning and I can hear my girls talking and giggling upstairs, still in bed.  Number one son is still passed out cold.   All I have to do is pack, charge batteries, get a haircut, book a Yotel cabin at London Heathrow, print my travel documents and take care of a few loose ends around the house. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane...

Just found out I am not leaving for Africa in 4 days.  I'm leaving tomorrow morning due to visa issues:(