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sha1406032813sha1406033434sha1406033401I’ve been working in the G.O.M. for the last 16 months or so and regularly find myself making that long transit from the Dry Tortugas to the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River.  The trip is more or less a great circle extending 400+ nm.  The first few times I made the crossing I noted that I would have an extreme “crab angle” due to the influence of the current known simply as “The Loop” aka a parent source of the Gulf Stream.  Sometimes I’d be steering upwards of IMAG162815 degrees into the current in order to make good my charted course and struggling to make any real speed.  Sliding across the Gulf is the rule.

There’s little doubt that this is old news to the guys who have been working the gulf for years, but it was a real surprise to me.  I mean, I expected different, but not to this degree.  Banging up against the Gulf Stream makes for slow going, no real mystery there.  And running with the stream is amazing in that your speed exceeds anything you thought the boat could do…but the loop?

The “Loop” is a current in the Gulf  of Mexico and flows at greater or lesser velocities as the seasons change.  It is known to meander widely and is formidable enough to knock more than 3 to 4 knots off your speed.  Meander is a gentle way of putting it, one watch you’re cruising nicely, next you’re wondering if the wheels fell off…  It’s seems to be all over the place, but with satellite imagery and telemetric magic it can be tracked.  And if it can be tracked it can be planned for.  Soooo for  those of you who know all about this, need read no further unless you’d like to proof my work.  In which case I will gladly accept any additional clarifying data you’d wish to provide.

The information one needs in order to visualize and to take advantage of / or steer around this current  has been available, but the resource (available in the form of “pilot charts”) only gives a general overview of the current by the month.  Honestly, I didn’t find them all that helpful.

My colleague gave me this link that provides just the kind of data you can use.  The site is paid for by our tax dollars and in my opinion money well spent.

You’ll need to make certain your security settings in your browser allow java applets to run.

The initial page gives you the overview which you can select a geographic area and what you’d like to see.  If you just want velocities, click it.  If you want to save the data as an image, select .gif format.  The smaller the geographic area, the easier you’ll be able to interpolate the lat and lon grid.  (I use MS Paint to overlay the more detailed lat/lon grid, it’s a bit tedious but yields an reasonably accurate grid to pick off waypoints)).

Note the red grid over the gulf.  you can resize it as you wish and pick the day average as well.  I usually use a 3 day average.  Once you’ve made your selection choose .gif if you want to save the image.  After that, you can eyeball the route you want to take and then identify the waypoints you’ll need to hit to go around the adverse current or to take advantage of a following current.

 

gom site

This will assist in selecting a course around the higher velocities and hopefully save some time on your next transit.  Sometimes a few miles out of the way can save more than a few hours, an all important option when it’s close to crew change.  After all that is the most important consideration….just sayin’

As you may have read in previous posts I wanted to try the “online experience” for my radar renewal.  It did not go well.  I signed up paid $225.00 and received my study material and then proceeded to work myself back up to a passing proficiency for rapid radar plotting.  I took a couple of months, made an appointment at the nearest Prometric Testing center and believing I was ready, scheduled and sat for my renewal.   All went well up to this point.  The facility is clean, well organized and strict.  I arrived early and was processed quickly.

The exam was straightforward enough.  Once you get settled in at your exam station, the computer program is loaded and a timer promptly begins with your radar scenario.

There was the first part of roughly ten questions regarding theory and then the plots.  I had no difficulty with theory and scored 100%.

You get two shots at the plotting section.   It’s a normal three target screen, you need only identify the “most dangerous target” and proceed with your plot.  I must add the timer is a bit unnerving.  If you fail the first time it gives you the opportunity to select and proceed with a second chance/ different set of plots and you fly or fall at the end of the scenario.

I failed both my attempts on the exam and felt more than a bit embarrassed seeing as I had never not passed what we’ve all come to see as a less than useful skill since the advent of A.R.P.A. and modern radar systems.

I must admit that the failure was likely my fault due to my time management (or lack thereof) and perhaps a careless error.

The plots are “time sensitive” and you’re only allowed three minutes to solve for NTCPA and new course.  I overran the time limit first time out.  After the exam I noted in the instructions on this particular exam that there was no specific time for MX expressly indicated.  The instructions for MX or “time of execution” were included in the practice instructions but absent in the actual exam instructions.

This isn’t an excuse, since after the fact I  found the instructions in the practice material clearly indicated that the exam’s execution point was to be at 12 minutes.  I missed that somehow.

Okay, so I failed.  I was more than a bit upset, I have never failed this recert but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

No amount of post failure negotiation was sufficient to convince the proctors of the center to help, and the online school was adamant that in order to retest I’d have to pony up another $225.00 and reschedule.   I didn’t elect to take them up on it.

Instead I called SUNY Maritime and scheduled my one-day renewal at a “brick and mortar ” school.  I paid the fee ($325.00) and practiced the material they sent and showed up in the Bronx for the recert like I’ve done in the past.

The experience was easier in that I had an instructor on site that understood the material.  He could see which of us in class were comfortable and possessed the skill set and helped guide those who were a bit shaky during the morning practice session and boosted their confidence level.  That alone means a lot to anyone who’s uncomfortable in exam situations.

You’re not handed the cert,  it’s challenging and you earn it.  But that said, having the class in a place where it’s a familiar curricula helps.  Online courses are fine, but you’re strictly on your own at the center.  After you are scanned, frisked and asked to empty your pockets no one can or may assist you in any way.

I passed SUNY’s recert program as expected and left to deal with the gauntlet that is the NY area’s traffic to get home.

In closing, if you’re absolutely certain and speedy with rapid radar plotting you should give the online experience a go.  If you’re like me, go to a school where an instructor can kick you back inside the lines of competency and get you through this “every 5 year P.I.T.A.”.  I have a couple more times I have to submit to this ordeal and you can be sure it will be at a “brick and mortar” school from here on.

In keeping with the continuing U.S.C.G. compliance updates for the S.T.C.W. Convention you may now have your renewals “post-dated” and virtually eliminate what has been referred to as “license creep”.  Read this notice carefully as it only applies to renewals.

It’s one of the few really good things coming out of the convention.

STCW_publication_final_rule_24Dec13

Here’s a little light reading for those of us in the industry.  The final rule will bring US mariners (kicking and screaming) into compliance with the IMO convention.  More info to come once the NVICs start flying.  Expect confusion, anxiety and more training requirements.  The best way to survive this transition period (ending with full compliance expected in 2017) is to pay close attention to the next batch of NVICs.

Then, open your calendar and your wallet ’cause this is going to sting..

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I’m beginning my radar renewal process a bit early this time using the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School Distance Learning Program.
When I wrote the last article describing this new way to handle training and re-certification I said that I would be giving this a try as my renewal date approached.

I should say that my first attempt at finding and registering for the course was slightly side-tracked by the fact that I thought I would be using the Prometric portal.  Well let’s say that after a few calls to an endless loop of phone menu items and toll free calls including one to somewhere in southeast Asia, I found my way by calling  the Calhoon MEBA School directly and spoke to a nice young woman named Lisa Mc Neil.  (410-822-9600 ext 322).  I was able to ask all my questions and get answers from a real human being and I was set right in short order.

So here’s the deal as I understand it;

Any mariner can apply for their radar re-cert with this school, you do not have to be a member of MEBA.  Follow this link to their home page, hover your mouse over the “Online Courses” menu item and check out the drop-down menu.  Read everything then fill out your application, select your course and pay the lady.  You’ll receive an email with confirmation and then you’ll have to allow a day for processing the order.  You will receive an email confirming your registration and access to the study material and also (more importantly) your login and access to the instructors for any questions you might have (via email).

In the information link it states you have a month, but the conversation I had with Ms. McNeil made it clear that I could study longer if necessary and not have any problem.  Ms. McNeil can offer more info if you need more time.

Once you have registered and been accepted you will be given the key to the online course material and practice with it as often as you like.  The online course and testing material comes from the same source used at the Prometric Center on your exam day.
Clipboard01Okay so you’re ready to test.  The scheduling process is email based and finding the exam near your home becomes your next step.  Here’s where the Prometric System comes into play through the Calhoon website.  
Select “Locate a Test Center” and follow through the menu to filter it down by country, state, etc…

Select the course;

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Search the nearest test center;

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Select the center you want;

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Check for available dates

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So that’s what I’ve got so far.  I will report back after I’ve completed the process and let you know how it went.  So far I’m on track.

It’s been a few months and the weather conditions down here in the Gulf of Mexico continue to offer a diverse experience from one voyage to the next. Here’s what we had to deal with for a day and a half just before the Thanksgiving Holiday.  What you’re watching is what an ATB is designed to do, ride weather that would keep a conventional tug and barge hove to on a slow ahead engine or weather bound all together.   We don’t necessarily enjoy this kind of ride, but the fact the ATB tolerates this kind of weather and is still able to make a respectable amount of headway is testament to the effectiveness of the design.

 

The Nicole L. Reinauer heading for Tampa, Florida on a stormy day…. from Bill Brucato on Vimeo.

I found myself going through the “library” aboard and rediscovered an article written earlier this year for Marinelink regarding a “quandary” for AT/B’s, as the phrase was coined.  I thought it was just so much bullshit when I first read it and I had to every intention to comment.  The comment piece fell by the wayside for a while but I’ve renewed my interest so here goes.

It’s clear to me the term “quandary” was meant to generate a response from the industry and perhaps create a bit of drama.  And even though it has taken me until now to comment, I’d like to add my view and I offer my opinion as Master of one of the aforementioned “quandaries”..

Captain Jeff Cowan, (whose experience regarding AT/B’s remains in question for me) pontificates on the ill-conceived and imminently dangerous existence of AT/B’s in place of ships in the Jones Act trade.  He has drawn parallels that make a “sour grapes” spin sound complimentary.

I read with a good deal of glee the direct and articulate (see what I did there?) response from Mr Bob Hill of Ocean Tug and Barge, and thank Marinelink for publishing Mr Hill’s comments in their entirety.

I believe with all due respect, that Captain Cowan has missed the boat on this one (pun intended).  I have been working on one of Mr. Hill’s AT/B’s since 2003 (see the page header).  We were in the New England trade for many years and this last spring joined our sister unit the AT/B Christian F. Reinauer in the Gulf of Mexico to trade between Louisiana and Florida.  I have no illusions of what these units can and cannot do.

So let me address Captain Cowan’s assertions here;

My boat normally carries a 7 man crew, we have room for 10.

As far as STCW requirements; we are all STCW certified since the charterer requires it.  And yes Cap, we operate more than 200 miles offshore.  It’s a nearly 420 nm long trip from SW Pass to the Dry Tortugas on a great circle route, twice as long if you try to stay within twenty miles of the coast.  The inshore route is held as an option, though rarely used.

We moor with 8 lines, more if necessary.  A two man deck crew generally has it done in 15-20 minutes.  There isn’t any port/facility we call on that requires more than eight mooring lines.  I have witnessed one of the large Crowley 750 class moor and they take an hour or so with a dozen or more lines.  I can’t state with any certainty that’s the norm or the exception.

My company has had a Safety Management System in place since the late 90′s

We are S.Q.E. rated through the ISM Code and ISO 9001 and have been since 2004

We have 3 service gen-sets and one emergency gen-set all 99Kw, whaddaya think this is?

Since we’re talking Jones Act Shipping we’re not dealing with ISPS

Yes I will acknowledge the crew size could be larger.  The requirement for a greater number of people on board will have to be mandated by the charterers since the USCG and US Congress are unable or unwilling to force the issue.

I don’t have any illusions as to why this issue garners the attention it does from the “upper level license” community.  The Jones Act tanker trade is being somewhat eclipsed by AT/B’s, but not completely.  So let’s just settle down..

Since my AT/B unit was assigned work in the Gulf of Mexico I’m seeing a lot of AT/B’s working in the Gulf and I do mean a lot.   I’m seeing state-of-the-art rigs trading in Tampa, Jacksonville Florida, New Orleans and Port Everglades.  Bouchard (conversions), Reinauer (design-built and converted units), new Crowley designs, and OSG behemoths all taking bigger bites of the coastal trade away from tankers in the 350+ bbl range.  Crowley just completed building 17 new AT/B’s at a total cost of $1 billion USD, that ain’t small change.  AT/B’s are and will continue to be the future, but the tanker won’t be disappearing any time soon.

It’s true that for the most part we burn less fuel, we have fewer crew members (something we didn’t have a big say in), and yet we’re getting charters from the big guys on a regular basis. (As a point of order here; the majors don’t put their eggs in risky basket if you catch my drift.)

That’s not to say we’re not getting tons of rules; in addition to the rules quoted by Mr. Hill being satisfied to just build an AT/B, we’re tasked with tons of procedural and operational (ahem) guidance from our charterers.

We’re being inundated with terms we were more or less oblivious to a decade ago.  SOLAS, ISGOTT, OCIMF, SIRE, ISM, SMS, all these acronyms are in our daily lexicon and we’re subject to the same standards as ships in many cases.

A Cat 1 SIRE (similar to a full blown colonoscopy) is an audit that is generally reserved for ships, my rig has had more than a few of them so far.  We’ve tried to explain to the auditors that we’re not a ship with precious little success.

Here’s a Sample SIRE Report, how’s that for a fun-filled afternoon?

Captain Cowan cites the delays associated with tug and barge operations and the added time and costs that come with it, again I call b*llsh*t.  We are chartered with a clear statement of expected speed we’ll average and delivery times we’ll make.  The customer is well aware of what they are buying, if it was unacceptable we wouldn’t be so busy.

We don’t sail into storm systems, the customer wants all his cargo, not just most of it. We take a beating like everyone else if we get caught but we’d rather not.  Everyone knows it comes with the territory.  Ask anyone who has sailed through a hurricane and I’m damn near certain they’ll tell you to a man they’d rather not do it again.

The Scandia/North Cape was a single skin barge lost in a storm nobody should have sailed into.

The Valdez (with a crew of 24 plus) was not a total cargo loss, a large volume of her cargo spilled in Prince William Sound, but certainly not all of it….everyone seems to think the ship went away after the grounding.  It kinda did, the ship was towed to California, repaired, renamed and placed in service again with a different name.

Do we need to mention the Costa Concordia?

Those of us who are running these rigs are not breaking any rules, we’re doing our jobs.  And we’re doing it with “lower level licenses” in many cases.  Now I’m not particularly fond of the term but I can accept that there has to be a distinction.

Tankers run aground and spill cargo just like barges.  A detail frequently overlooked in this kind of argument is that a total loss means everything ended up in the water (and it’s a rare occurrence), let’s coin the phrase correctly shall we?  Double bottom technology isn’t perfect, but it’s helping prevent bad things from becoming disastrous.

With the number of disasters in the news these days concerning ships breaking in half, catching fire, sinking, colliding, and grounding; there aren’t many stories where I see someone claiming how much safer ships are.   The fact is that any vessel that puts to sea must assume risk.  Weather, training limitations and sometimes dumb luck are involved to make or break a journey.  We like to believe dumb luck has little influence on the outcome but anyone who has piloted their way unscathed out of a zero-dark thirty fog-bank in heavy traffic knows better.

I doubt that the ship drivers are worried at all, it’s the writers of blogs and magazine articles needing something to write about.  Nothing like creating a tempest in a teapot for a little entertainment.

If we’re going to discuss things in a constructive manner let’s agree that there’s little room for half truths.  After all this isn’t Fox News is it?

Something blue….

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/64272630″>The ATB Nicole L. Reinauer in the Gulf of Mexico April 2013</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user16373025″>Bill Brucato</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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A line tow ready to head upriver, his length overall is about 1,500 feet and maybe 120′ wide.

I have to admit I’m a bit of a tourist these days.  My latest assignment has my boat trading between New Orleans and Florida.  As I write this we’re waiting to get a loading berth in the NORCO terminal just above the Crescent City.

While I’ve been around tugs and tows my entire career I’ve never had the experience of seeing a Mississippi river tow built and then sailed by the massive towboats that navigate the lifeline of the mid-west.  It’s busy work and takes a lot of blood and sweat to put together.  It can take a day or two to build a “line tow” by small workhorse towboats that are in constant motion picking up, shifting and rafting up a fleet of 28 or more barges carrying anything from coal to grain to whatever.  The towboats that move the finished tow are huge and wide with a good amount of horsepower in the engine room and the pilothouse.

Listening to these boats receiving their marching orders is interesting, the numbers and types of barges vary from boxes to rakes and keeping track of where they are placed and how they are delivered is complex but well understood.  It reminds me of how my Dad used to get his orders moving railroad floats for the New York Central when I was a boy just riding along.  The numbers of each unit are conveyed in a boatman’s shorthand, concise and exact.

The volume of traffic here is amazing. Ships, sea-going and river tows are everywhere.  Huge cranes off-loading dry cargo, flotillas of barges are almost everywhere along the riverbank.  The anchorages are along the river and tightly packed.  Our anchorage here in Ama one of many.   We set our anchor within a few dozen yards of the unit ahead of us and settle back.  The river current is constant so we lay parallel with the bank.  It’s a bit unsettling to be this close to the guy ahead of us and the one behind us, but the anchor holds and it’s kinda cozy.

The radio chatter is flavored with a bit of a patois and it’s amusing to hear some of the exchanges between the pilots and operators of the boats working here.  Courteous and occasionally colorful these fellows use phrases that catch your attention.  In a conversation between a couple of units this morning the dialog went something like this;”I’m up-bound approaching the turn, what would you like?” If you could hold up there I’ll be around here shortly”, “No problem cap, I can do anything but disappear.”  You can be sure I’ll be using that one someday.

It’s not news to anyone that’s the least bit familiar with the western rivers that the “line tows” are massive floating collections of cargo larger and longer than any ship afloat.  To listen to these units making their way is a study in “cool and calm”.  When I encountered my first big guy, I was impressed  with the way he seemed to manage his charges so effortlessly.  I quickly recognized that these men were supremely gifted boat handlers and to underestimate them would be foolish.

For the time being, I’m going to enjoy the experience and absorb as much as I can from the mariners that work in this corner of the country.  These people have a skill set that rivals any you might find in the Northeast.

During my first voyage here one of our river pilots came aboard to relieve his colleague who had met us at the entrance to the river eight hours earlier.  As we shook hands and in a big voice he said “Cap, your day just got better”, better indeed.

More to come.

My first voyage to the Mississippi River was a fine fair weather trip around the Florida Keys and across the Gulf of Mexico.  I shot a few pictures and learned a few things.  More on that later.  For now, some photos..

Thanks to a book recommended to me by Kennebec Captain and my time spent reading it, I have found the words to express my frustration with Zero Tolerance Safety Programs with a couple of quotes.

“The point of risk management is not to prevent failure, for that is impossible. The point is to have a plan ready to manage and control failure when it inevitably comes.” 

“This may in fact be the real story of human and societal improvement. We talk a lot about risk management a nice hygienic phrase. But in the end, risk is necessary. Things can and will go wrong. Yet some have a better capacity to prepare for the possibility, to limit the damage, and to sometimes even retrieve success from failure.”

“When things go wrong, there seem to be three main pitfalls to avoid, three ways to fail to rescue. You could choose a wrong plan, an inadequate plan, or no plan at all. Say you’re cooking and you inadvertently set a grease pan on fire. Throwing gasoline on the fire would be a completely wrong plan.
Trying to blow the fire out would be inadequate.
And ignoring it “Fire? What fire?”would be no plan at all.”

These quotes are not my own, they are from a book (linked above) and a commencement speech.  I believe they illustrate perfectly what and how we should think about risk management as a practice.  The message we frequently get from management is the same old saw; “zero incidents, accidents, errors”.  While this has a nice ring to it and is a worthy goal, it’s not humanly possible and we know it.

Planning for failures that might occur however, is well within the realm of possibility.  Evidence of this kind of real world thinking is represented by our Vessel Spill Response Plans, salvage plans, voyage plans, operations manuals and training curricula.   These documents all articulate what to do “when” something happens or “if this happens, then”.  They are general in nature since it’s impossible to prepare for every possible permutation of events and write a specific procedure for each.  It’s left to our training and judgement after that.

High Reliability Organizations

A High Reliability Organization is one that while highly trained to avoid failure, is keenly aware of the cues that arise announcing an impending one.   The thing that makes them so reliable is that they are prepared and mindful enough to catch a bad series of events while they’re still “curable”.   But it’s not just their awareness, their resilience in the face of an event it’s how quickly they can get the situation under control and continue using the plans set in place for such an incident as a guide.

It’s not making a blanket statement of “incidents won’t happen because we don’t want them to”, it’s the real world.  The message is clear to me, coupled with proven safety procedures we need to recognize that, and prepare for WHEN things to go wrong.

The business of towing is full of risk, it’s why tug boats have fenders.  It’s a contact sport.  A sign on the bulkhead stating zero, zero and zero isn’t telling me how to accomplish it.  And you can bet Harry Potter’s magic wand is out of the question.

The ability to meet and assume that risk is tied to practical and relevant training standards.  The conflict between zero incident safety programs and reality is that if we were to eliminate all risk, nothing would get done.  Something in that statement seems to make some eyes glaze over and disconnect from the conversation.

Ships are safe in the harbor, but ships are meant to go to sea.”.

Someone has to take risks to make things happen.  Sailing across the ocean, space exploration, flying out of La Guardia Airport during bird migratory season.  None of these things happened because risk was eliminated, it was addressed and planned for.  If you think all risk can be eliminated and still see progress you’re kidding yourself.  By seeking that end you’ll find that you are paralyzed by every threat, real or imagined and taking a step ahead will never happen..

This is a good piece of reference material for future safety meeting topics and just for general safety awareness.  Thanks to gCaptain for forwarding the link.

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Blue_Christmas

‎”Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea–on, on–until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

After a hurricane, an election, a Nor’easter and a nightmare we’re still hanging in there for the last gasps of 2012.  The Mayans were wrong, some minister down in the Bible Belt was wrong (a couple of times) and now were preparing to leap from the fiscal cliff as soon as we croon the last notes of Auld Lang Syne.

Once again the schedule has me and my crew aboard for the holidays.  Every other year we are aboard.  We “swing the hitch” every year by putting in a three week hitch right around Thanksgiving that effectively reverses which holidays we’ll celebrate at home.  We could do a week and a week, but the amount of traveling we’d have to put in at the busiest time of the year is prohibitive.  Our crew change day is Thursday, and Thanksgiving (if you’ve been keeping track) is also and always a Thursday.  We’ve looked at trying to swing the hitch at different times of the year but because of the Thursday crew change, it has to be around the Thanksgiving week.  It doesn’t work any other time without forcing an additional disruption in time on and off.

It’s not difficult to put in three weeks, some guys work a three week rotation as a normal hitch, some work a lop-sided four weeks on and two weeks off.  And some (I shudder) have no schedule, they work until they have to quit to get off the boat.  Something that would make me consider an alternate career choice.  Something like a chocolate chip brownie/cookie shop in Colorado next door to the local “smoke” shop maybe.

At any rate, I was home for Thanksgiving so that’s really enough for me.  No running and driving and wrapping etc.  And after three weeks of kicking back at home my Missus is sweet to say she ‘ll miss me when I go back to work.  I’m almost certain she’ll breath a sigh of relief when she doesn’t have to deal with me bumping around the house messing up her “stuff”.   She needs her alone time too.

The boys have got a beautiful prime rib dinner ready to go for tomorrow with enough pie and cookies to spike your insulin levels off the chart.

Operations continue as usual.  We’re looking to be en route to Baltimore on Christmas day and so it goes…

The radios are chirping holiday greetings with each passing arrangement and we’ll be changing crew soon after the holiday.  A few tugs are decorated with (illegal) holiday lights (shhh) and the harbor is still recovering from the hurricane’s impact.

My crew and I wish all a safe and warm holiday.  May our next “trip around the sun” bring better days.

11/7/12 The fuel terminals are slowly opening up more berths for transferring gasoline and heating oil to barges.  Limited function is available, vapor recovery is sporadic.  Electrical power to pump to barges is extremely limited.  Even though more berths are open, few in any are completely operational.  It’s downright eerie that the terminals usually brightly lit are dark and spooky with a minimum of lighting available.

As the Nor’easter begins to settle in around us, we are safely and securely moored in Carteret waiting to begin loading.  I think it’s safe to say we’ll be here for the duration of this weather event.

We took the long way around Staten Island from Bay Ridge Anchorage this morning and the destruction of the southeastern coast of Staten Island and the lower Arthur Kill was widespread and nearly total.  Any exposed marinas were basically wiped away.  Their storage yards had boats of all types scattered like a toddler’s toy box.  So many boats were perched on the bones of the old piers that line the lower Kills above Perth Amboy.  It looks as if they were skewered and up on pikes.  Debris, oil sheens and mangled unrecognizable structures were visible all along the lower end.  I don’t need to post pictures since you can’t escape the photo record on TV or any of the social media.

11/6/12 Very little refining capacity is in use, the suppliers are mainly relying on pipeline transfers from the Colonial and Buckeye pipelines and off-loading refined cargoes from ships at anchor here in the harbor. After laying at anchor since 0200 on the 3rd, we’re slated to get a loading berth tomorrow morning and commence taking on 105,000 barrels of gasoline for a New England delivery. We’ll be getting underway after things settle down and not before.

Lower Manhattan remains shrouded in darkness tonight..

We’re waiting for things to open up with precious little hope that it will be any time soon.  If the article below is any indication, it’s going to be a while before NY Harbor is moving much product at all.

Excerpts Re-posted without permission;

(Reuters) – full article linked here

REFINERY OPERATIONS

Phillips 66′s 238,000 barrel-per-day Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey, has already had its power restored, but a source familiar with plant operations told Reuters on Friday that the plant could be weeks away from restarting, due to heavy damage caused by salt-water flooding.

“A decision regarding when the refinery will be able to resume crude oil processing operations will be made once all assessments are complete,” the company said on its website on Saturday.

Phillips 66 said it had resumed fuel supplies “on a limited basis” from its Linden refined products terminal to wholesale customers late on Friday.

As of Friday, Hess Corp’s nearby 70,000-bpd plant in Port Reading, New Jersey, remained shut down. A company spokesman, Lorrie Hecker, did not report any change early on Saturday but said the company would give an update on operations later in the day.

Hess has used generator power to resume operating Port Reading’s truck rack, and marine operations there have resumed on a limited basis while an assessment of the factory is carried out.

State and federal authorities have been accelerating efforts to remedy fuel shortages. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a waiver to the Jones Act, allowing foreign oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico to enter Northeastern ports; Cuomo, New York’s Governor, waived tax regulations on tankers in New York harbor; the Department of Energy lent 2 million gallons of heating fuel from its strategic reserve to the military; the Environmental Protection Agency waived clean diesel requirements in New York City and Pennsylvania. An earlier clean diesel waiver was issued for New Jersey.

Colonial Pipeline, a key oil product supply line to the Northeast, has resumed shipments at 700,000 bpd, or near full capacity.

“Gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and home heating oil are being resupplied, but until customer terminals fully recover, it won’t be at the normal rates. Nevertheless, Colonial’s main pipeline into northern New Jersey is back at full operational capability, bringing nearly 30 million gallons of fuel a day to that region,” the company said on its website.

Buckeye Partners said on Friday its main terminal in Linden was reconnected to its power supply and fully operational by noon on Friday; and Magellan Midstream Partners restored full operations in Delaware and Connecticut.

Below is a list of refineries, fuel pipelines and ports impacted by the storm:

COMPANY PLANT CAPACITY (bpd) STATUS PBF Energy Delaware City, Delaware 190,000 Operations normal. PBF Energy Paulsboro, New Jersey 180,000 Operations normal. Hess Corp Port Reading, New Jersey 70,000 Shut down. Remained without power as of November 2. Truck racks and marine terminal operating on limited basis with generator power. Philadelphia Energy Solutions Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 330,000 Reduced rates. Both crude sections restarted at Point Breeze as of October 31. Company said on November 2 it would be back to normal schedules this weekend after delays in crude deliveries. Monroe Energy Trainer, Pennsylvania 185,000 Operated throughout storm. Back in full service as of November 1 though not at full rates due to maintenance overhaul. Phillips 66 Linden, New Jersey 238,000 Shut down. Could be weeks away from restarting due to heavy damage from salt-water flooding, source familiar said. Phillips 66 says power has been restored, but has not provided timeline for restart. Imperial Oil Ltd Sarnia, Ontario 121,000 Returning to normal service as of October 31 after power outage.

EIA REPORT ON STATUS OF TERMINALS

COMPANY LOCATION CAPACITY STATUS Colonial Pipeline Linden NJ Open 11/3/2012 Hess Groton CT 812,185 Shut 11/3/2012 IMTT Bayonne NJ 16,000,000 Shut; expected to reopen by next week-Macquarie 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Carteret NJ Seen ready to begin petroleum product movements in 24-48 hr 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Perth Amboy NJ 3,543,388 Seen ready to begin petroleum product movements in 24-48 hr 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Philadelphia PA 11,878,462 Open 11/3/2012 Kinder Morgan Staten Island NY 2,959,700 Seen ready to begin petroleum product movements in 24-48 hr 11/3/2012 Magellan Midstream Wilmington DE 2,842,000 Open 11/3/2012 Magellan Midstream New Haven CT 4,000,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Bridgeport CT 1,290,000 Open with reduced operations 11/3/2012 Motiva Brooklyn NY Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva Long Island NY 222,000 Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva Newark NJ 1,113,000 Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva New Haven CT 1,600,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Sewaren NJ 5,000,000 Shut 11/3/2012 Motiva Baltimore MD 1,100,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Fairfax VA 360,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Richmond VA 210,000 Open 11/3/2012 Motiva Providence RI 1,458,000 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Paulsboro NJ 90,800 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Linden NJ 2 of 8 truck bays open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Virginia Beach VA 40,000 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Dumfries VA Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Piney Point MD 5,403,000 Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Andrews AFB MD Open 11/3/2012 NuStar Energy Baltimore MD 832,000 Open 11/3/2012 Phillips 66 Riverhead NY Open 11/3/2012 Phillips 66 Tremley Point NJ Shut 11/3/2012 Hess Brooklyn, NY Expected to open soon 11/3/2012

FROM DOE: Global Partners Inwood NY Expected to Restart 11/2 11/3/12 Motiva Long Island NY Shut 11/3/12 Global Partners Newburgh NY Open, Expecting Deliveries 11/3 11/3/12 Global Partners Oyster Bay NY Open 11/3/12 Castle Port Morris Bronx NY Open 11/3/12 Gulf Oil New Haven CT Open 11/3/12 Schildwachter Oil Bronx NY Open 11/3/12 Hess Pennsauken NJ Open 11/3/12

OTHER TERMINALS IN NEW YORK HARBOR AREA

COMPANY LOCATION CAPACITY STATUS BP Products North America, Inc. New York, NY Harbor 53,000 Unknown BP Products North America, Inc. Carteret, NJ 1,445,000 Unknown Buckeye Terminals, LLC New Jersey, NY Harbor 4,000,000 Unknown Carbo Industries, Inc. Long Island, NY 5,900,000 Unknown Castle Port Morris Terminal New York, NY Harbor 846,000 Unknown Center Point Terminal Company New Jersey, NY Harbor 1,018,300 Unknown CITGO Petroleum Corp. Linden, NJ 3,669,250 Unknown Getty Terminals Corp. New Jersey, NY Harbor 1,018,300 Unknown Getty Terminals Corp. Bronx, NY 23,000 Unknown Global Companies, LLC Long Island, NY 104,200 Unknown Global Companies, LLC Long Island, NY 325,700 Unknown Gulf Oil, Limited Partnership Linden, NJ 568,374 Unknown Hess Corporation New York, NY Harbor 533,933 Shut Hess Corporation New York, NY Harbor 646,334 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 5,961,000 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 4,900 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 579,619 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 608,000 Shut Hess Corporation New Jersey, NY Harbor 1,689,000 Shut Kinder Morgan New York, NY Harbor 2,959,700 Unknown Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals, LLC New Jersey, NY Harbor 7,542,619 Unknown Lorco Petroleum Services New Jersey, NY Harbor 476,190 Unknown Metro Terminals Corp. Brooklyn, NY 207,000 Unknown Motiva Enterprises, LLC New York, NY Harbor 50,000 Unknown Motiva Enterprises, LLC Long Island, NY 222,000 Shut NuStar Energy, LP New Jersey, NY Harbor 4,116,000 Unknown NuStar Energy, LP New Jersey, NY Harbor 340,000 Unknown Sprague Energy Corporation Long Island, NY 80,263 Unknown Sunoco Logistics Partners, LP New Jersey, NY Harbor 505,457 Unknown

PIPELINES, PORTS, TERMINALS, KEY POWER RESTARTS

* Colonial Pipeline, the 825,000-bpd conduit that ships fuel from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast, said it had restarted a large section of Line 3, its Northeast mainline that runs from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Linden, New Jersey, on Thursday. It also resumed deliveries at its key Linden junction to a connected Buckeye terminal.

“While Colonial’s pipelines and facilities were spared significant damage, many of the terminals in the Linden area will require days if not weeks to fully recover,” it said.

* Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, one of a handful of companies operating dozens of oil terminals and storage tanks that are critical links in the supply chain, said it should resume shipments from its New York and New Jersey terminals in the next day or two. Other operators have indicated they should be able to resume shipments as soon as power is restored.

* The storm damaged four diesel storage tanks at Motiva Enterprise’s terminal at Sewaren, New Jersey, and two of them leaked fuel into the Arthur Kill waterway, which separates Staten Island, New York, from New Jersey.

* Royal Dutch Shell said on Thursday that all of its New York borough terminals were still down. Its Shell-branded network was 84 percent open in Connecticut, 47 percent open in New Jersey, 62 percent open in New York and 83 percent open in Pennsylvania.

* NuStar Energy said on Wednesday that its Paulsboro, New Jersey, terminal was back in operation, but that damage assessment showed significant high-water damage to the marine and storage terminal. In Maryland, NuStar’s Piney Point, Andrews AFB and Baltimore terminals were all back in operation, the company said on its website. NuStar said its Virginia Beach terminal was back in operation, as was its Dumfries terminal, also in Virginia.

* Buckeye Partners said its main New York Harbor area terminal in Linden, New Jersey, had been reconnected to its power supply and was fully operational by noon on Friday. As of November 3, Buckeye has restarted all of its operations, according to DOE figures. The company is supplying jet fuel to the three airports in the New York City area.

* Hess Corp’s Port Reading terminal has used generators to resume truck rack operations, and marine operations have continued on a limited basis. Rack operations have also resumed at the company’s Bronx and Roseton, New York, terminals, but operations at the company’s other New York Harbor area terminals remain suspended due to flooding and power outages.

* Phillips 66′s Riverhead Terminal on Long Island has reopened and its Linden, New Jersey, terminal reopened at 2 p.m. on Friday.

(Reporting by Joshua Schneyer, Janet McGurty, Edward McAllister, Selam Gebrekidan and Jonathan Spicer in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Slowpokes

 

Susan Clark, Ship Captain, Pilot, Crosses Final Bar.

I applied for my TWIC card renewal last week to take advantage of the “extended expiration date” price hoping that the bloody thing will die a quiet  and ignoble death before I have to renew it AGAIN.  Overall a very simple procedure.  I didn’t have to drive anywhere and I paid with my credit card.

I’m happy to report I have already received  my notice that the card is ready, AND in less than a week.  I pick it up in a couple of days.  Nice.

Call the TWIC Center at 1‐866‐347‐8942, Mon–Fri, 8AM to 10PM Eastern, hang on the phone for what feels like a week and a half and you’ll finally get hold of a really nice person who will actually do something for you!

I’m including the notice that was originally on the TWIC site (of course their site’s link is broken so I found it elsewhere).  You’re welcome.   TWIC Expiration Policy Bulletin 06-14-2012 530pm hg (2)

 

As a followup to this little note;  After being notified by email that my new EED TWIC was ready to be picked up, I made my appointment in Elizabeth, N.J. on the TSA website.  I showed up early, provided a fresh index fingerprint and pin, and I was out of the building in less than 15 minutes.  Just like that, $60.00 and three more years added to my first expiration date.

A busy windy day…..

So far, September has been kinda quiet.  Except of course for the howling we can hear from folks trying to fill up their cars for an early leaf peeping tour at over $4.50 a gallon for gas (Still happy about that Land Rover’s mileage?).  There’s a good reason why the prices are spiking right now.  The suppliers are slowing their refining capacity for gasoline and ramping up their heating oil production to meet this winter’s anticipated demand.  It’s their annual changeover kids!

Of course what that means to you and me is that we wait for gasoline to be made, sometimes for days.  We end up sitting waiting for the product to become available.  High demand, low supply….see what’s happening here?  It’s not that they don’t have the means to make it, it’s that they aren’t making enough of it.  Tugs and barges are lined up like Carter era motorists waiting for their turn at the pump.  It’s not some evil plot, the changeover happens every year about this time.  The difference is this year the prices are so freakin’ high YOU noticed.

So hang in there kids, the prices will come down.  Not as much as you’d like, but they will come down.  So, in order to ease the blow I’ve posted some photos of my local hangout here in Bay Ridge Anchorage.  I know, not much comfort there but I didn’t tell you to buy that 12mpg SUV did I?

The industry continues to drag itself into the modern age when it comes to licensing and renewals for the certificates we all need.  I recently read of a course offering that will save some money and make a radar renewal a bit more convenient, I hope.

Calhoon MEBA Engineering School has announced a program that will allow you to study online for your radar re-cert and then travel to a satellite exam center to test.   As far as I know, it is available to all with payment, not just the MEBA membership.  I have no direct knowledge of how well this works or doesn’t.

I just had a chance to look this over this morning and believe I may take advantage of this in 2014 when I’m up for renewal.  Presently the quoted $235.00 price is reasonable when you factor in the ever dwindling amount of brick and mortar schools that offer this course in reach of most candidates.   I know I’d rather avoid a five hour round trip to my nearest maritime academy for what amounts to a 10 question quiz.

We all know the one day radar renewal course is actually a practice session in the morning and an exam after lunch.  You have to show up ready to test, you either pass or fail.  If you fail you’re given a price for the extended renewal course and you’ll need to re-test at the end of that.  Add three days plus expenses to the total.

The USCG REC’s do not offer the tests anymore and haven’t for quite a while.  You’re forced to pay and attend an approved “school” and get your cert.  The classes offered invariably run from the full five day soup-to-nuts class to variations of the renewal curriculum anywhere from one to three days.  Add lodging, meals, gas and tolls and it can add up to a sizable chunk of change.

The online course touts its unfettered access to instructors and the benefit of studying online at your leisure.  The course provides a nice radar emulator which does a good job of presenting a radar screen and target advance in real time.  All the forms you’ll need for plotting are available and are shipped within a day of payment.

This is what sells the program; You then can schedule the test near your home using the Prometric Center Locator.

You make an appointment and can show up ready to test without feeling rushed or unprepared.  Not everyone will have the benefit of a testing center inside of fifty miles, but a lot of us will.  If nothing else, it’s an option.

To see if the offering will be convenient for you, check your proximity to a testing center , select “locate a test center” and select radar observer re-certification online.  Select your location from the drop-down menu to find a test center.

Just thought it sounded like something worth checking into.  Anyone with direct first hand knowledge is welcome to add what they feel is relevant.

You will find this link takes you to the AWO’s page and form for submitting this request to our representatives in Congress to direct the TSA to eliminate the “second trip” to the TWIC centers we all know and love.  Take a minute and send in your opinion.  It’ll do us some good, save fuel, and make the TSA a better agency.  (choke) Just kidding on the last part….

http://capwiz.com/americanwaterways/issues/alert/?alertid=60534536

Urban harbor/commercial waterway kayaking has become an issue and it’s not just me who’s noticing it these days.  See this article in the W.S.J.

It’s been a couple of years since I was working on a conventional tug.  I’ve been in the ATB world up to my eyeballs for the last eight years and I look at these temporary duty assignments with a mixed view.  Although I love getting back to basics and exercising my skill sets, nothing grates on me worse than having my boat in the yard and me not being there to get the things I need done “my way”.

That said, I can’t worry about two boats at a time so the focus is presently on my current assignment, the tug Franklin Reinauer.  So named for one of our late founding fathers and built for the company in 1980 or so.  Not a large tug by today’s standards but still a little bulldog of a boat.  She’s equipped with a nice little tow winch and a decent amount of horsepower.  A five man crew and enough work to keep time flying by at a respectable rate.  With quarters a lot tighter than those on the Nicole, she’s kinda tiny really but comfortable in a cozy kind of way.  Really cozy once you get in the upper house, basically a box on a stick.

Not so long ago she was one of the coast boats.  Making runs anywhere and everywhere towing up to 70,000 bbl barges.

The view from the Franklin’s upper house of the RTC 28′s notch…

The work is now mostly assist work with an occasional barge delivery in either Newtown Creek, Jamaica Bay or Sewaren NJ.  We made a trip to each during my few days aboard with a surprise or two.

Surprise number one; It turns out is that Newtown Creek now has a community of sailboats moored along the creek’s crumbling bulkheads outside of the Pulaski Bridge, I can’t help but doubt they’re costing the boat owners anything in the way of dock fees.  It’s more than a bit amusing to me that it’s becoming a mecca for gypsy boat owners finding cheap wharfage for an expensive hobby.  I hate to see what might become of these opportunists when a windy day and breakaway scow have their way with their fiberglass hulls.  I can just imagine the splintering sound of hulls under the bow of a runaway 300 ton scrap scow.
Surprise number two; Who knew that scrap yards harbored statuary?  The picture of a few (recovered?) statues lining the wall of the reclamation center in Greenpoint.  Very artsy.  And finally, no real surprise to find that small vessels still insist on taking the same draw of the Jamaica Bay Subway Bridge as an inbound tow (with a fair tide).  Even if they’re law enforcement, some things never change.
 

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I expect to be back in the ATB world soon, until then I’m enjoying my little piece of regular tugboating immensely.  I especially liked nursing a light barge in push gear across Coney Island Channel this morning.  I had almost forgot what it was like “sweet-talking the tow” across the channel when a swell was running.  Good stuff.

Somebody likes me….

As a blogger for the last couple of years no one is happier to see when someone has subscribed to my blog. Everyone can agree with that statement. In the last few weeks, I’ve been “followed” and “subscribed to” by a clever fellow named…you guessed it “Someone”.  Someone apparently believes he or she needs to remind me I’m being followed, frequently. Okay, duly noted.

10,000 comedians out of work and I get this guy. I mean, it was kinda’ funny the first 2 or 3 times. But really, a few more reminders and you’re a stalker. So, since I’m feeling a bit worn out from swinging on an anchor in the Gulf of Mexico for the last week I will acknowledge your devilishly clever humor and grant the attention you seek. Since Paul B isn’t feeling so hot (feel better Paul) why don’t you  stalk Kennebec Captain  for a while, he’s really a much better sport than me.

BTW Kurt, you’re welcome…. ; )

A.I.S. Changes

In spite of the many things that drive us to distraction when it comes to USCG policy letters sometimes the boys get it right.  There was a small hitch in the A.I.S. regulations that proscribed tugs with tows ahead or alongside from indicating that distinction via their A.I.S. transponders.  They were strictly limited to either being a light tug or towing in excess of 200 meters.  Now the realities of A.T.B.s and hip tows have been recognized.  The new code “22″ is for vessels pushing ahead and  A.T.B.s.  Up to now we (the A.T.B.fleet) had been broadcasting true “length overall” when underway and in due course received a letter telling us to cease and desist, well now we’re legal.  Read on;

http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/AIS/USCG_AIS_Data_Encoding_Guide-120104_2.pdf

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy Thanksgiving

Like many us I am working the holiday this year.  It’s fortunate that the weather has cooperated and served up a crystal clear early morning and provided us with a sunny transit in Delaware Bay’s upper reaches and the C&D Canal’s meander.  Nothing in particular stands out about the trip, it was just a picture perfect ride.  I couldn’t not take the video.

My crew and I wish you all a healthy, happy holiday season. Wherever you may be spending it, enjoy.

Daylight and clear weather, the perfect combination for making a transit of Chelsea Creek in the last days of autumn.  The remains of the old bridge at Chelsea Street are still an issue, very narrow and not yet gone.  When the removal of the old bridge’s bones is completed, this will be a cakewalk.  But for now, the Chief Mate gracefully completed an uneventful and slick passage of this tight and challenging draw.  It was a pleasure to watch, maybe you’ll think so too..

Kinda sad really.  The quintessential American icon got little if any press attention.  No big parade of tall ships, no speeches of note.  Just a beautiful display (presumably put on by the Grucci family, I’m not sure if it was their work).

The one thing that matters (to me anyway), I was there.  25 years ago I was there for her 100th.  Doesn’t seem like it, but alas it’s true.  Only difference was then I was towing the fireworks and got THE front row seat.  Even better, my family was aboard for the night’s events and we won’t ever look at fireworks the same way.

I submit this little bit of video taken from a vantage afforded by my spot in Bay Ridge Anchorage that night and a new cell phone that shoots amazing video. (check out the difference in quality starting at marker 00:00:29)

Happy Birthday Lady Liberty, it was a grand.

Sea Cruise..

The bluffs of the Atlantic Highlands become visible at about 40 miles on a clear day, our home port is not far away.

This was my view from the pilothouse this morning as we approached Sandy Hook Channel after making a trip to points south this last week.   A long voyage coming to a close after many long days at sea with little to do but steer a course and plot positions, one watch after another.

Our last voyage was from the Port of New York to Port Everglades Florida with the first leg completed in just over four days and kind of remarkable in that we had a surprisingly pleasant trip past Cape Hatteras both ways.  The weather was rainy and stormy on our way “down the beach”, but the seas weren’t rough and the thunderstorms we witnessed were just freakin’ spectacular.

I never get tired of seeing a show of lightning that streaks light across miles of sky for as far as the eye can see on a horizon that is impossibly far away.  The sky just seemed incredibly huge as we sailed down the coast.  The atmosphere was clear enough that we could see stars above the thunderheads 40 miles away with bolts of lightning weaving and darting through massive formations.  We had a lightning show every night from Port Everglades to Baltimore, awesome.  I wish I had a proper camera to have taken pictures of what we were seeing at night.

Cape Canaveral 25nm to the west.

Miles and miles.

Overall a voyage of nearly 2200 miles delivering to two ports along the way.  First stop was Port Everglades, then on to Baltimore to complete the delivery of our cargo.

A round trip of 2200 nautical miles(roughly 2500 statute miles), about nine days underway time plugging away at an average of 10 knots(11.5 mph).  It went from balmy temps to hot and steamy to raw and chilly in the span of a few days.

Standing the watch. Cape Canaveral to the west

Blue as can be.

We sailed 14 degrees of latitude south and 7 or so degrees of longitude west and back again.  We rode home on the eddies of the Gulf Stream in the bluest water you could imagine.  (Think of a brand new pair of dark blue denim jeans, that color.)  We covered the coast from Sandy Hook to Port Everglades then back up to and through the entire length of Chesapeake Bay, C&D Canal, Delaware Bay and then up the Jersey Coast to Staten Island where we now sit loading our next job for Providence Rhode Island.  We sure do get around.

We were “incommunicado” for most of the trip due to our distance offshore.  Our sat phone and sat-comm systems (reserved for company communications) were our only regular contact with shore-side for a good deal of our trip.  But lacking cell phone service and (of course) internet was a pleasant respite from the “always connected” way of life.  It gets quieter, nice.  The points along the trip that have fringe coverage near Hatteras and Canaveral  allow for a quick call home if you catch the right tower at just the right time.  But mostly it’s a “no service” situation until you’ve closed on the beach near Jupiter Inlet or Palm Beach southbound and Chesapeake Entrance northbound..

New York City from sea

A beautiful trip but a rare one as well.  One doesn’t generally get a round trip past Hatteras with near flat seas both ways.  I’m sure we’ll pay the piper somewhere down the line.  Of that I am certain.

On September 11th 2011  I didn’t  tune in for the network “memorials” to drag my soul through it all over again.  It’s enough to have lived that day once.

I mourn the losses my friends and neighbors suffered and the harm it has done to my own family.

I am pissed that we’ve spent so much of our time and a trillion or more dollars so many thousands of miles from our shores chasing human garbage.

I am saddened by the losses our armed forces and their families continue to suffer in the name of National Security, I honor their sacrifices.  I can’t thank them enough.

I remember when the towers were nearly complete.  I watched from my hometown on Raritan Bay as they reached their apex.  They were readily apparent on the horizon.

Later on as a young deckhand, I helped deliver the construction materials that would become Battery Park City.

I clearly remember the vista the observation deck afforded me, my wife and my young daughter that evening in October 1984 when it was so clear at dusk you could almost see forever.  The city scape looked like a gilded scale model.

I was part of the Statue of Liberty 100th Anniversary Celebration in 1987 and had the duty of towing one of the many firework barges the Grucci Family had set up for an unbelieveable show.  I’m spoiled on fireworks forever.  I remember how during the show the reports from the shells echoed in and around the towers as we held station at the foot of the South Tower .

I remember where I was when the unimaginable occurred.  My “where was I” story isn’t worth telling compared to so many others.

I’m still in awe of how the New York Maritime community was able to evacuate more than 500,000 people in about nine hours from lower Manhattan.  It’s amazing how so many people were taken to safety in such a short time.  (During WW2, the Dunkirk Boat lift took nine days to move over 338,000 troops from the coast of France.)

No I didn’t need to watch it happen again, I haven’t forgotten.

 

 

A kick in the ass…

I recently received word from a former AB/Deckhand of mine that he is now the newest Captain in our fleet.   He used the above header in a thank you note for my pushing him to go for his license.  The  “kick in the ass” (as the phrase is coined) is the advice given someone with recognized talent to do what’s necessary to move up off the deck and into the pilothouse.

All of us, no matter how long we’ve been in the industry have been given (mostly unsolicited) advice on how we should either advance or abandon our ambitions.  Some folks are suited for the work a tugboat demands and some are better off staying ashore and getting into the regular “nine to five” lifestyle.  For those who adapt and excel at the job it’s not unusual for the older men to start encouraging, cajoling or insisting the deckhands with obvious talent “go for their license”.  I was subject to this “kick in the ass” and have kicked a few myself.

Some guys procrastinate while others take the bull by the horns and get it done.  The motivation for advancing is usually monetary, why work on a boat and not make the most money you can?  You’re here anyway, you might as well pull down the big bucks.   I’d like to think it’s more than the motivation of what collecting a few more “Benjamins” brings, I’d hope it’s also the sense of accomplishment that follows a determined effort to advance one’s career..

After hearing it enough, he did.  He studied, passed, practiced and excelled.  I had no doubt that he would. He’s one of those people who “get’s it”.  After having him as my senior deckhand for so long I was glad to see him move on to bigger and better.   I didn’t want to lose him as my senior guy on deck, but you gotta let’em go…

He put in his time as a tug mate on various tugs and was recommended for promotion by no less than three tug masters.

I have to say that I’ve taken a good deal of pride in the fact that I was part of  his process. I have no doubt he’ll be kicking some ass of his own.

Congratulations Mike.  To quote Michael Stipe of R.E.M., “Welcome to the deep end”.

As rough as a lot of folks had it with Irene, I was impressed with how well most of the metropolitan area O.E.M.’s had things under control.  Well, as much control as you can have in a hurricane.  The unprecedented shutdown of mass transit in NYC and the evacuations initiated in anticipation of this storm were well executed and laudable.  So many times our elected officials are caught flat-footed when Mother Nature inflicts her wrath, thankfully we had the time to prepare and make amends for past mistakes.

We’re extremely fortunate that the storm was downgrading as it reached the tri-state area.  A lot of low-lying areas suffered dramatic flooding and wind damage but our little anchorage was relatively quiet except for a couple of dragging anchors and a  couple of close quarter situations when one vessel would swing into the circle of another.

The first indications of clearing began late in the afternoon and progressed to the point where we could get moving again after a long 4 days of waiting.  This video is just a small sample of how it looks to us as the anchor comes up into the hawse and we turn southbound for our discharge port.

Some folks suffered little to no effect while others lost everything.   The season for crazy weather is far from over, hopefully this will be the worst we see this year.

I’m just glad to be moving and grateful to see another day.

Condition Zulu; My morning watch starts dark, gray and windy.  We’re anchored and holding well with 4 shots in the water.  With the barometer at 983mb, temp 65f and heavy rain the winds are gusty but they’re not anywhere near hurricane strength right now.  The TV news is calling for the worst of the storm to hit this area between now and 0800.  I hope to be able to get some video of the eye’s approach, and that’s only if I don’t have more pressing concerns by then.

Why the Hell do newscasters think they need to stand out on a windswept street corner during a heavy weather event?  It strikes me as being about as idiotic as you can get.  Is the producer trying to get rid of their “meteorologists”?  They’re standing in 40-50kn winds telling you not to try and stand in 40-50kn winds.  I don’t wish them harm, but maybe if a billboard or two flew by their “perch”, maybe they’d get the message.

So far only one unit (that I know of) dragged last night in our little piece of the river.  The tug and light barge got caught in a heavy gusting easterly and ended up against the bank under the Palisades.  No blood, no foul…they were able to get free and head up to a spot up off Hastings, NY.  As far as I know they’re anchored and holding.   We’re at a respectable 23′ draft and don’t suffer the wind’s sheering effect as much.  It’s good to be deep.

We’ve just about finished swinging to the incoming tide and the wind is howling a bit more often .  I’m setting up my camera now so I don’t have to mess with it later, I’m hoping for some decent visibility.  I’m also hoping my truck doesn’t end up floating away into the Kill Van Kull.

The barometer is starting to fall ever so slowly as the main rain bands approach my little piece of the river.  We’ve slipped a little more anchor wire for a longer rode in anticipation of the forecasted easterlies.

We’re at 1005mb ( a drop of 3mb in the last hour) and 66f.  Squalls are starting to come through with greater frequency.  No heavy wind yet, easterly about 10-15kn..

Fog then rain then clear.  More later.

So it begins…

Waiting for a gal named Irene.  She’s got attitude and no mercy for anyone foolish enough to get in her way.  Kinda like putting yourself between a crowd of shoppers and the front door of the Super Walmart on double coupon day.

Sitting and waiting isn’t too awful bad, here the calm before the storm.   As she gets closer to the Greater New York Metropolitan area we’ll have increasing rain and wind that will make staying at anchor an interesting exercise.  With the amount of wind we’re expecting we’ll have the maximum amount of anchor wire we can safely slip out and not allow ourselves to drag over the flats on the Jersey side or the wall on the Yonkers side.

We have a lot of company.  At least a dozen tug and barge units are shoe-horned into the anchorage from the George Washington Bridge to Dobbs Ferry Landing.  Not exactly inside the charted anchorage, but deep water and good holding ground.  No one will be allowed in the NY Upper Bay or Gravesend Anchorages after this afternoon, all ships have been ordered to sea.  The “Staying in Port” form for us has been filed and we’re one of dozens of units that have or will drop the hook in the Hudson from Yonkers to Albany to wait out the storm.  Alas, my truck sits in Port Richmond and exposed to the predicted and imminent tidal surge. Sigh..

So we sit waiting.

I can’t resist a good photo op.  I wanted to catch the sunset with the Verrazano Bridge in the frame when I noticed the Vane Brothers tug “Wye River” with his tow outbound for sea .  I can’t decide which photo I like best just yet so I’m posting all three.

The Graving Dock

The bottom of Graving Dock 5, Old Brooklyn Navy yard....

"Shipyahd Kitteh"..

A view from below.

And from above.

Kayaks, redux.

My last piece was generated from a rant I expressed in my pilothouse on my last trip down the East River heading for an anchorage in New York’s Bay Ridge Anchorage 21B.  Generally, my postings originate as rants that are rendered raw and then tempered with a good bit of editing for language and content.  I don’t just go off and shoot from the lip. Usually.

Of course, my professional perspective is what I draw on and my opinion is given full sway, it’s my blog after all.  But since my last post I’ve had some feedback that puts a neat spin on the ultimate aim of the article.  Education, for me as well as others.

A rather brave young woman decided to upbraid me for what she believed were insults to the Kayaking Community.  She was right on the money on some points and I give credit where it’s due.  She provided a couple of links I had not previously seen and found them to be really thoughtful and comprehensive in their advice on mixing recreational traffic with commercial vessels here in New York.

So in the interest of passing along the lesson of “you’re never too old to learn”, I wanted to recognize these organizations for working to make everyone safer in the pursuit of their particular vision of happiness.

The first one I’d like to share is one that includes enough information to rate as a must read for any recreational boater seeking to play on the waters of New York Harbor, or any busy waterway for that matter.

I Boat NY Harbor  The content of this site warms this lil’ old  tugboatman’s heart.  It’s comprehensive, articulate and clear and I ‘m glad someone has thought to do such a thorough job.  Kudos.

Safe Harbor.US Listing educational videos and notices of the events taking place in the harbor and good concise articles relating to interacting and avoiding close encounters with the behemoths that ply the waters of N.Y. Harbor.  The video catalog alone is worth a click.

I think it bears mentioning that the State of New York doesn’t recognize paddled craft as “vessels” subject to the rules as we understand them, that’s a big WTF as far as I’m concerned. This story just boggles the mind.

Everyone on the water has to have an understanding as to their responsibility when they take to the water for any reason.

And for now I’ll close with a thank you for the comments I’ve received.  Be safe.

Really? Kayaks?

photo by J. Milton

Who’s the mental midgit that came up with the idea of kayak tours of the East River’s waterfront?  There’s a growing trend of flotillas of multi-colored kayaks and canoes in all the wrong places in the recent past.  Not long ago I read an article somewhere extolling the beauty of the New York skyline from a kayak and all I could think was, “Hey Jackass, that’s what the Circle Line boats are for”.  Kayaks aren’t meant for a commercial waterway.

A quick Google search reveals quite a few sites for kayaking in the New York City area.  I visited a few of these sites and saw little in the way of educating kayakers to the danger of playing in the midst of commercial traffic, although to their credit they do keep novices quarantined in protected coves or basins to start. These stalwart if misguided souls that venture into open water relate how awestruck they are by the experience of New York Harbor kayaking, but I don’t think they’ve given serious thought to the environment they’ve entered.  We’re just a quaint backdrop to their vistas. Awestruck is what they will be when they’re caught in a back eddy off Hallet’s Point and I come around the corner in a full slide…but I don’t think the word can begin to describe the feeling they’ll have.

The sites I visited expressed no caveats or understanding of  how dangerous we are to them.  Yeah I get that the waterways are public, but do you really think that a ship is going to be able to wait for your pals to catch up to the group?

With kayaks paddling along in the East River, jet skis blasting by with more than two riders, water skiing on the sea plane approaches off 23rd St on the East River, NY., fishing in the channel, chasing tugboat wakes on jet skis, it’s going to get real ugly.  It all adds up to a situation where recreational boaters end up in the midst of heavy commercial traffic and they just don’t get it.

So here it is, the 4th of July weekend and I’m watching kayaks paddling up the East River off the Brooklyn piers and along the ferry slips of Lower Manhattan as I make my way to Bay Ridge Anchorage.  I mean really, kayaking on the East River!  C’mon already, you’re so low to the water that you’re barely visible to traffic at half a mile.  With no less than a dozen ferries and tows tossing wakes and flying by at a fair clip a disaster is only a matter of time.  God help you when you’ve finally figured out why you made such good time up the river only to find yourself paddling you ass off against the current to get back to your expensive SUV before dark.  Are you having fun now?

Every day during the recreational season boaters submit themselves to potentially fatal exposures and are completely oblivious to it. Thousands of pleasure seekers take to the water and expect their days to be just like the catalog pictures they perused before they bought their boat. Carefree and sunny days afloat without a care in the world, just bring enough sunscreen, granola bars and water.  No concern for proper radio etiquette or the correct channel to call for a radio check…jeez if they even have a radio.  Hell, most don’t understand a GPS unit enough to relay their position when they do get in trouble.  Kayaks? They may have a flashlight or even a small strobe, riiiight….another bouncing glittering light lost in the city’s skyline.

There’s an urgent need to educate the recreational boater and identify the issues that commercial traffic faces in everyday operations and that information should be spread far and wide with notices of “no-play-zones” enforced to minimize the dangers the recreational community is up against by being on the water along with the commercial community.

I submit that these enterprises should at least make an effort to have their presence announced or perhaps provide some sort of radio equipped motor escort on their little jaunts.  At least there would be someone to talk to.

For the life of me, I can’t seem to wrap my head around this kind of nonsense of playing in a commercial waterway, you might as well be playing hopscotch in the truck lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Here’s an offer, if you or your friends are part of this madness, drop me a line.  I’d be willing to address the issue of education with your group (for carfare and lunch, gratuities will be accepted).  You’ll be safer for it and so will I.

The Queen Mary 2 makes for sea approaching the Verrazano Bridge

On a breezy Tuesday Night, outbound.

Watch the bump….

Tugboats or towboats (whatever you prefer), share the fact that they go bump. More than a little and most of the time. It’s dangerous work and always has been.  That’s why they’re wrapped in rubber all the way around. The first time a new crew member steps on the boat we want to impress on them to be aware of their handholds at all times. “One hand for the boat, one hand for yourself”.  You definitely have a responsibility for your own safety.

The bump can come at any time of the day or night, in any weather, fair or foul. Getting “waked” by a passing boat or a hard contact under the bow of a container ship or maybe laying up alongside a raft of barges, it always has the potential to be a substantial impact.  Adding a little twist to that is the deckhand will usually be a couple to a few hundred feet away from the wheelhouse and may be out of our direct line of sight.  A radio in one hand and the other holding on during the approach is the rule.

If you give the facts their due, all that rubber wrapped tonnage has to make contact with unwrapped tonnage to do its job. It’s our raison d’etre. Sometimes the bump is gentle, sometimes it’s hard enough to jar a few fillings loose. The “bell-ringer” happens frequently enough that it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Someone is always training, but it’s not just the novices that score a hit every now and then.

The boys working the decks of boats doing scow work are accustomed to the bump. Scows don’t get all that much TLC, they’re built for the banging around they get. They bump and grind more than Gypsy Rose Lee.

Ship work involves getting “up close and personal” with the walls of steel that seem to pull you in with their own special kind of gravity. We really don’t want to land hard on a ship, but….

Even though oil barges are built with substantial steel framing and double hulls, we try very hard to avoid banging them around.   All that “explosiveness” should give one pause….not to mention the liability of opening one up anywhere.

Timing, weather and skill play a part in it all. But even the best boat handler’s have a hard bump now and again. It’s part of the job, tug boating is definitely a contact sport.

A deckhand has the primary risk to fall victim to a hard contact if he doesn’t have an eye on what’s happening and have a firm grip on something. The easiest way to go swimming (or worse) is to be approaching the berth and you’re on deck with your head up your ass dreaming of crew change, cold beer and warm women.

If you take the time to examine the way things happen it should come as no surprise that when you’re about to land alongside a couple of moored units they are not necessarily laying tightly packed together. There will be some slack in their lines, especially if the other units have been laid up for a tidal cycle or two.

Even though you’ve made the initial landing “eggshell safe”, once your first line is out and wrapped up the force of the tug working ahead or astern will now move ALL the barges until everything fetches up. Think “billiards”, one contacts another and so on until all the lines have taken up the strain.

It probably won’t be the initial contact that gets you, it’s the after shocks that are the killers. After some time aboard a tug and if you’ve really honed your “situational awareness”, you’ll learn that when two or more large steel boxes are in close proximity, there will be bumps (note the plural). The sometimes fatal mistake occurs when one forgets that simple fact.

In bad weather you’d probably (hopefully) have a keener awareness of how dangerous things are since footing becomes difficult in heavy snow or visibility is challenged in darkness, rain and wind. Work vests can restrict movement, safety glasses may be fogging and diesel exhaust will impair your vision, all good reasons to be cautious.

Fair weather dockings would seem to be of less concern, but you should be holding on anyway since you can be lured into that false sense of security by the balmy breeze and not notice how quickly the boat is closing with the berth.


Bumpity, bump, freakin’ bump.


I’ve been holding off posting because I’ve been kinda busy lately.  My boat has been assigned a new run that transits the coast from New York to Fort Lauderdale, then to Baltimore via Chesapeake Bay and back to New York.  The trip is just over twenty-one hundred sea miles and covers offshore and inland routes.  The one thing that was surprising was how easy it became getting used to the absence of internet and phone contact.  It’s not so great that I can’t speak to the Missus everyday (something I’ve really gotten used to) but it’s not too awful bad being away from civilization for a bit of time.  We have a couple of communication blackouts on the way that last from one to two days at a time.  The watch is busy and the time goes by.

It’s really a beautiful trip even though the weather can make things a bit interesting. In my career I have been working the New York Harbor and New England ports as far north as Bucksport Maine and south to Norfolk Virginia,  Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay and River.  Lots of nice little runs that were just long enough.  In the last three months I’ve been past Cape Hatteras 7 times.  The last few months have been interesting in another way, I’m getting a taste of what my deep sea brethren experience, but on a much smaller scale.

We’re seeing how very alive the ocean is and have had quite a few “escorts” along the way.  We’re seeing the US military conducting practice runs using all kinds of equipment and have been treated to a couple of high speed “fly-bys” courtesy of the US Navy.

We’ve been getting a taste of the Florida sun while the Northeast is still being gripped by the last gasps of winter.  Of course there wasn’t really all that much basking going on to speak of, we’re under 200 gross tons and that means 6 hour watches are the rule.  Work the watch, catch some sleep, work the watch again, every day.  At the end of two weeks we’re ready to head for home.  The round trip without delays amounts to about eleven days or so, delays can add a certain tension as crew change approaches.

We’ve been fortunate that the schedule hasn’t been upended all that much, but it evens out eventually.  I don’t really worry about crew change until I can determine with some certainty that we’ll be local or not.

Trying to catch a connecting flight dragging a sea bag and brief case has taught me to travel lighter than I’m used to.  A good backpack can carry everything I need without having to check a bag.  If I have to go to a different vessel, I have enough to keep clothes on my back and brush my teeth for the duration.

By the way, we have a new system on board,  “WxWorx on Water” by XM Radio.  This little device connects via usb cable to the boat’s laptop and collects weather data from a satellite system that allows us to look at weather buoys and reports anywhere we wish.  It takes the guesswork out of  the coast run by giving us real time data along the route.  Satellite photos, fronts, waves, wind, even what fish are being caught along the way.  Nice.  It’s not like a true weather fax, but it’ll do.  I’d rather read the professional estimate of expected weather than to try to make a determination based on isobars and wind feathers alone.  I’d recommend this system without reservation to anyone making extended voyages. The weather radar and buoy features alone make it worth the price.

That’s it for now, getting underway from Baltimore for New York, damn it’s chilly up here…..

It’s a regular occurrence, we take the novices aboard and get them oriented.   We show them the pointy end (the bow), the port side rail, the starboard side rail,  and then the not so pointy end (the fantail) all the while extolling the virtues of remaining within those boundaries, no swimming without authorization if you please.  We teach them the basic chores and how we want them done, and then try to imbue them with our knowledge and experience so that they too will eventually be equipped to think and act as a full share member of the team.  We are keenly aware that until they’ve got some time under their belts we’ll need to coddle, cajole, and harangue some of these hopefuls in order to keep them from killing themselves or anyone else on our watch.  The entire crew is involved.

One of the many questions asked by newcomers to the trade is; “What do I need to know right out of the gate?”.   In an effort to clear up the mystery, here’s the first few things a new hire should commit to memory as he or she steps aboard the tug (or any work boat) for the first time.

Welcome aboard.

tugrichardk2

The Tug Richard K , shifting at Standard Tank in Bayonne NJ photo by Capt J. Brucato 1979

The first thing you need to know is that working on a tugboat is a real job, you can’t fake the proficiency you’ll need to survive. The environment is dangerous and demanding. Learning on the job is traditional and training new hires is a common practice for us, we expect it to take some time.

We prefer that you have no experience at all, it’s easier for us if you have no bad habits that we’ll need to overcome. If you’ve been fortunate enough to graduate from an academy please keep in mind we don’t need to hear how smart you are, you’ll need to demonstrate your intelligence and learn what we teach you.

Please know that we won’t ask you to do anything that we ourselves haven’t done.  We know how to get you up to speed and you’ll either learn to follow orders, or end up “back on the beach”.  After that the next thing you’ll learn may well be when to say, “Ma’am, do you want fries with that?”.  If you want the job, pay attention.

No one expects you (as a novice) to know what is expected when you step aboard a boat to work for the first time. If you’re lucky enough to have scored a job with a tugboat outfit, there are many things to be learned  but, before you’ve stepped aboard the one thing you should have already mastered is your manners.

Report to the captain and show him your paperwork.  Although the atmosphere on a tugboat is less formal than what you would find sailing “deep sea”, you would do well to remember that the Captain is not your buddy, pal, father, friend, or peer, he’s the Boss, be prepared to show him respect.

Listen carefully to what you’re told and find your room and bunk.  Introduce yourself to your new shipmates.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that you should pay particular attention to practicing good hygiene habits.  The tight living quarters on a tug are tough enough, we don’t need to put up with your funk.  Flush and wipe the bowl if your aim is bad.  Wipe out the sink, no one wants to see globs of your toothpaste floating around the drain or splattered on the mirror.   Make sure you always clean up after yourself,  learn how to change a toilet tissue roll, your Mama ain’t here.

Keep yourself and your work area clean and orderly, and before you handle any food whether you’re making a sandwich or starting dinner, wash your hands.

Find out what your responsibilities are in an emergency, check the Station Bill for your duty assignment during drills and emergency response. Learn and remember the location of all the emergency equipment on the boat, you’ll be expected to know how everything works in short order. Pay attention during the drills.  You’ll be shown what everything is and what it’s called, your task is to memorize it so you understand what you’re being told.

You’ll be assigned a watch. Get out of bed when you’re called for the watch, don’t try to catch “just 5 more minutes”, we’re not your personal snooze alarm. You’re expected to show up a few minutes or so before you’re due on watch. Napping on watch is forbidden.You should be properly dressed, fed, sufficiently caffeinated, and ready to work.

Showing up prepared to work “properly equipped” means a deckhand should have a work knife in his pocket or on his belt and be wearing a good pair of work boots and gloves, sneakers don’t really cut it. During your first tour you should keep a list of the items you’ll need to fill out your gear for the next hitch. Like a better set of rain gear, boots, glove liners, etc.

If you don’t understand something, ask.  Common sense (while not so common) is second only to showing respect for your shipmates and vessel. That includes pulling your weight and respecting the privacy of others. Like I said, good manners.

mvc-034s

“Crossing the table”, towing a ship out of the graving dock in Bayonne Shipyard

You are here to work, put the cell phone, Ipod, and laptop away until you are off watch. You aren’t here if you’re on the phone or whatever.

Practice, practice, practice your line-handling. The only way to become proficient is to take a lot of throws at bitts and cleats. Every deckhand breaks in the same way by throwing lines on the fantail. The exercise isn’t all that different from a hundred years ago, it’s a rite of passage for all of us. We’ve all done it and I can assure you it’s not about strength, it’s about technique and finesse. “It’s in the wrist”.

These are just a few of the things you’ll be expected to do once you step aboard. Remember, there are no stupid questions except for the one you didn’t ask.

You only get one chance at making a good first impression and if you show us you’re ready and willing to learn, we’ll be more than happy to teach you everything we know.

By the same token, if for one minute we get the idea you’re trying to blow smoke up our ass or just trying to get away with the least you can do, you’re done. Then we’ll find someone else who’d like to earn $45,000.00 per year + benefits to start, with no experience required. Comprende?

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