Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sea, sofa, so good

The last few days have been hectic. The fog from the last post did give us a
night off at Houston, but the night blew in a nasty cold wind from the north
that killed the fog and made me hate the cold again with a new intensity.

Another problem with cold fronts, ( apart from the aforementioned basic
problem that they are bloody cold), is that they bring bad weather with
them. The above picture of the houston channel, was the last day of good
weather that we had for the past week and by the time we had dropped anchor
in the Mexican oil fields two days out of Houston, the northerly swell has
started to roll in. It ended up dragging our anchor and forcing us out into
the Gulf of Campeche to fight it out with the sea. I don't think you ever
win with the sea, and we came back battered a couple of days later when she
calmed down a bit.

The problem with the hands on bigger ships like ours, is that we really
are a bit spoilt. So when the sea does get rough enough to make us
uncomfortable, we get really uncomfortable. I had thought that my cabin
furniture was firmly bolted to the deck, but a bout of particularly bad
rolling woke me up to a crash in my day-room in the middle of the night. As
I rushed in there in my boxers, my sofa, which is usually a rather inert
object, hurtled itself from the other end of the room right into my nuts. I
think its for the best that I'm already a dad.

Next morning did see the sea in a better if still disgruntled mood, a
dazed bunch of crew and a rather sheepish sofa.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Boxed in at houston

Woke up today morning with a thick fog blanketing the Houston ship channel.
We will be done with the cargo in a few hours & if this doesn't lift, we
should have a few hours to ourselves. Its sunday out here and it really
looks like a sunday sent by god to eat a few hot pakorahs and samosas with a
cup of steaming tea.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My latest joke

What did Mao say when Dalai Lama shouted "Free Tibet!" ?

"OK I'll take it."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Good riddance to bad wires

Anyone sailing on oil tankers has grappled with fire wires. Fire wires, also referred to as (ETOPS- emergency tow-off pennants system) must have seemed to be a swell thing to the guy who came up with the idea. The concept is that if there is a fire onboard an oil tanker or the terminal when a tanker is tied alongside, the oil tanker is to keep wires ready hanging overside on the sea side. Shore tugs will simply tie up to these wires and pull the ship off the jetty to safety. Thus in an emergency, there would be no confusion such as tying up the tugs and all that.
Well apparently it worked out well only in theory. Firewires (38mm in dia and about 120 m in length) are the crappiest piece of gear that is found on modern oil tankers. And we have our share of crappy gears. Everything about the fire wire from stowing, to deploying to adjusting it is a pain. All we ever got out of the fire wire was trips, bruises and a filthy mouth.
Apparently, word does get around. In 2007, OCIMF asked LR to carry out a risk assessment for fire wires in the industry and the results surprised even me. Apparently, fire wires have been deployed on tankers since 1967. And in that time they have not been used even once. Not once. On the other hand, fire wires have caused about seventeen hundred minor or major injuries in that period.
Thanks to this study by LR, OCIMF has finally stopped recommending the deployment of fire wires. Also they have amended the SIRE VIQ accordingly. This is great news. 1967 was a long time back so by the time the terminals and loading masters decide that its allright not to rig the wire, it might be a fair amount of time. But still, it is a beginning and hopefully soon we'll have one less thing to swear about at sea.

If you are interested, you can read the Risk assessment by Lloyds out here. Its an interesting read.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'm sorry Mama

For the last few days, the people of Texas were focused on the case of a teenager who shot a police man in the stomach when the cop tried to break up the burglary. Eventually after a chase when the kid was caught, he had three words to say to the TV cameras, "I'm sorry mama."

Eminem said in his song with the same title,
"I'm sorry mama
I never meant to hurt you
I never meant make you cry
But tonight, I'm cleaning out my closet."
It really is a privilege to sail on ships and de-facto be parts of the lives of people in different corners of the world. But the more you look at the differences, the more you are reminded of the universality of emotions and the crushing weight of a mothers sorrow. And how we all need to apologise to it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vincent the patchy-white-skinned Pimp

Vincent is a pimp. He really is. Its not like the time I got drunk and
called Mr Verma, my social studies teacher a pimp. Vincent really is a pimp
and gets distressed at the thought that people might mistake him for someone
facilitating sex out of the goodness of his heart. I met Vincent in a
crowded bar in Mexico. Crowded bars are a great place to meet men. Some of
them are pimps. A few of our crew were having drinks there and someone
pointed me out as the captain. I'm not sure what Motion picture or TV series
they show in Pimp school, but Vincent has a very high regard for captains.
Vincent has in his head a vague plan involving a flotilla of ships filled
with Mexican prostitutes sailing to the farthest corners of the worlds
engaging in debauched acts in international waters. I think he has that in
his mind because he told it to me over his second drink. Its hard to
understand what Vincent is really thinking because you can barely see him.
He unfortunately suffers from that disease in which your skin gets those
white patches that then spread all over your body till you become all white
and stuff. That thing. It is unfortunate because Vincent tries to cover it
all up with wearing full sleeves in a sweltering heat and by hiding his face
behind all sorts of hand gestures. Infact he is so uncomfortable that at
those rare moments that he is shaking someones hand and flicking the ash
his cigarette at the same time, everyone respectfully looks at their drinks
till one of his hands is in place.

Vincent explains that he is a freelance pimp. That means that he simply
makes a profit from references, and doesn't need to maintain an exclusive
clientele, or girls or hit around any women. He says that is a very
convenient. Principally because it is very difficult to hit around Mexican

Every company is required to have core policies that guide them in
everything that they do. I have diligently looked through all the policies
onboard and have not come across any policy that requires me to tell pimps
that I cannot let my ship be used as launchpad for boatloads of sex crazed
low cost prostitutes in nations with favourable forex conversion rates. I
have thus maintained silence on this issue. In all honesty, if Vincent ever
does give me a written request, I promise to forward it to the HQ. But in
the meanwhile, Vincent is a friend.

Vincent meets you at the boat jetty and takes you shopping. He haggles with
the cab drivers and the shopkeepers and takes you to quaint eating sea side
joints where he then translates the menu and orders the most awesome sea
food such as shrimps Diabla and the local cocktails such as the "Torito" .
All while describing in most vivid details how he could get you in bed with
women whose current loss of virginity might be actually doubtful. I am not
sure if you have ever shopped or had dinner with a similar topic being
spoken, but it sure beats watching seagulls fight over a fish thrashing
around in its dying throes. Vincent also has stories to match any
situation. You might get into a taxi with him and he would resume his
conversation with, "One time, I was in the taxi with another captain and
three of my friends, ..." and other such stories, too outrageous to be
anything but true. Taxi rides in Mexico are disappointingly short.

If you do ever feel indebted to him for these services and hesitatingly ask,
"Vincent, would you mind of I gave you some money."
Hiding his face behind a set of complicated hand gestures Vincent replies,
"If it makes you happy."

When things make people happy, Vincent becomes very happy.