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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 link has been updated.

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’

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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.

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