Thursday, October 29, 2009

Job Hunt 2009

For those of you who don't know, in the midst of all of the random projects I've been working on I've also been looking for another ship. Well after months of waiting, I've got one. Here's the story:

Finding a job is a fairly straightforward process. You go to the union hall, put your shipping card in the basket, and wait for the noon job call. At noon, if there's a shipping job available, the dispatcher takes all of the shipping cards and puts them in order. They are arranged first by seniority group or "book" and then by the age of the card within each book.

There are four different membership books. They are called simply "A-book," "B-b00k," "C- book," and "D-b00k." I am the other type of union guy called an "applicant." This means that I'm even more junior than the most junior book member. So when the dispatcher calls a job I have to hope that there are not book members in the hall that day. If there is a book member in the hall, I have to hope that they pass on the job so I can get it. That's the bad part.

The good part is that among applicants I have a shipping card that dates back to when I signed off the M/V Moku Pahu back in August of 2008 and shipped out for Afghanistan. This puts me in line ahead of all of the other applicants. Essentially I'm on the top of the stack on the bottom shelf. This continues to be the case until I actually take a shipping job. Then, when I get back, I get a shiny new card and I'm at the bottom of the stack again.

Being first in line among applicants is a bit of an advantage. The trick is: if a job comes up and nobody takes it, I have to decide if I want to take it or if I'd rather gamble that there's something better still that nobody wants.

About three weeks ago I made this gamble and almost won big. There was a 35-day gig as 2/M (Second Mate) aboard a containership belonging to American President Lines. I forget the name of the ship. I decided to skip that job because there was always a chance something better would come up. 35 days makes me enough cash to get by for a little while, but 120 is enough to pay the bills for the whole year. It was a gamble.

The following week word got out that there was a 105-day 2/M job coming up aboard the APL Thailand. This would be perfect. Unfortunately, by Friday that week, there was already a book member who had flown up from Long Beach specifically looking for that particular job. Oh well.

The job was called on Monday and he got it. Then, by 1500 that afternoon I got a call to let me know that there was a chance that job would be available again and I'd have to be sure to show up the next day when it was called.

It turns out that that rumor was incorrect and I was back to waiting again.

With Halloween looming on the horizon, I was tempted to blow off the job call for a week or so. On the other hand, with massive debt looming on the opposite horizon, I was compelled to go. This week Monday I walked into the hall and there was a memo posted which stated that Matson Navigation Company was likely to break out two more ships in the coming week. This meant they'd need two 2/Ms and two 3/Ms (Third Mates), all of which were jobs I'd be qualified for. Pay would start Thursday. Clearly, unless a whole bunch of book members decided to ship out at once, I was about to get a ship.

On Tuesday I walked in to see the biggest crowd I've ever seen at the hall. Usually there's as many as four or six guys who show up for job calls. This day there was something like twenty. The Matson jobs I was expecting weren't posted yet, but three other jobs were. With all of the sudden crowd lined up for work, it was obvious that I was just going to have to take the first thing that came my way. If I'd gone ahead and tried to gamble that I could get a better job later, I'd've lost.

By the time it was all done, I ended up walking away with a 70-day job as the 2/M aboard APL Phillipines. Here's a shot of the ship:

For those of you who don't know much about ships, those boxes on the deck are the same 40-foot long containers you see behind big-rig trucks on the highway. This will be the largest ship I've ever sailed aboard and my first time on a container ship.

I'm about to lay aboard to get a quick runaround and figure out where everything is. Tomorrow we'll leave and I'll start my 70 days. I'm told the next stop will be Dutch Harbor, Alaska* and then a whole host of ports in the Far East. The ship will make the same trip twice in my time on board and I should be back sometime in early January.

I'll post updates on this little adventure as often as I can. Stay tuned...

*Dutch Harbor, Alaska is the port that shows up all the time in that stupid "deadliest catch" TV show. Keep an eye out for me in the background.

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