DAY 33: Arrival San Pedro
The ship pulled into the Port of Los Angeles at some ridiculous time in the morning, well before sunrise. Then I had a full day of work to do before Ana could drive over and pick me up. Here’s a picture of her down at the dock, looking to pick up a sailor:
We ended up rushing back to the apartment for a few minutes before we headed out to the movie theater and saw 2012, starring John Cusack. It was good fun in the way that only an end-of-the-world drama can be.
When it was over, we went to the bookstore so I could stock up and make sure I wasn’t going to run out of reading material for the next month on board. It’s amazing how small a couple hundred dollars worth of books can be.
When we’d finished shopping, we drove back to the apartment, Ana cooked me up a nice steak dinner (complete with asparagus* and a nice bottle of wine), and then got hardly any sleep at all.
*to guarantee funny-smelling pee.
DAY 34: Pierside in San Pedro
Today we had a Coast Guard inspection team on board to renew the ship's certificate of inspection. The whole thing went smoothly enough, but the funny part was that half of the inspection team knew my wife. I guess the Coast Guard really is a small world.
The minor hiccup for me came when one of the inspectors started going through my charts and publications and started asking for a particular publication I couldn't find. Everything else was perfect except for this particular book which he insisted everyone had and I was certain I’d never heard of. It all worked out well in the end when I finally realized what he was after despite the fact that he didn’t know what it was called.*
Today we also got a couple of cadets on board. These are students from the US Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point who are spending a year out at sea learning about the industry first-hand. There’s one assigned to the deck department and another assigned to engineering (in accordance with the license they’re studying for) where they’ll do intern-level work.
Once we were finished with the COI, Ana came down to the ship and picked me up again. We headed over to a shop called Safe Navigation so I could pick up a few charts to update the outfit I have on board the ship. We made a few other stops that day, then we caught up with Kitty Maer (our wedding photographer) for dinner.
*The inspector was asking for “the list of distress signals,” when in reality the book is called “International Code of Signals.” It got worse. “I know there’s not much sense in having a book like that,” says he, “since you guys have to memorize most of that stuff to get your license.” For a solid thirty minutes I thought I was completely retarded. Then I figured out it was him, not me.
DAY 35: Departure San Pedro
After the past couple of days, it was a bit tough to drag myself back to the ship at some ridiculous hour in the morning so we could shove off and head to Oakland. I reported on board at ten minutes to three in the morning in preparation for a 0400 departure. By the time I walked into my room, my phone was already ringing. The Chief Mate was calling to tell me that I was late and that we were going to be leaving as soon as we could.
In the scramble that followed, we managed to get everyone up and on station, let go all lines, and we let go our last line by 0353. Not bad for a planned 0400 departure.
It also happened to be my sister Sheryl's Birthday, so while we were still within cellular range of the beach, I got a chance to drop her a text message to say happy day.
DAY 36: Slow, Foggy Arrival in Oakland
Today started, like all of my days on board, in the middle of the night. The night was nice and calm and the weather was clear and bright. Everything went pretty smoothly and it was a pretty decent ride.
Then everything went wrong. As we approached the San Francisco Entrance sea buoy, visibility dropped down quite a bit. Then the sailors trying to open the sideport so the pilot could come aboard called to tell us that the doors wouldn’t open. As a result we had to turn the ship around, put the wind and waves on the other side, and open the other sideport.
Once the pilot was on the bridge I went back up to the bow and watched the fog get thicker and thicker as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. A few minutes later we were approaching the Bay Bridge and visibility had dropped down to almost nothing.
Ever since the Cosco Busan collided with the Bay Bridge, it’s been the policy of San Francisco’s Vessel Traffic Service to put a stop to all ships moving in the Bay whenever visibility drops below a mile. As a result, we got to drop the anchor just under a mile west of Treasure Island.
I called my cousin Desmond, who lives on the island and he went out and snapped a picture of me a few hours later. Here I am on the bridge wing (wearing a bright orange knit cap):
We spent the next few hours waiting for visibility to improve. The fun part about the waiting was listening to all of the bitching and moaning from all of the idiots who made plans, appointments, or air travel plans as early as noon on the same day the ship was due to pull into port. I’m not sure what they could’ve been thinking.
Shortly after noon the fog cleared up a bit and I went up forward to heave in the anchor. The view was pure San Francisco:
Fun nautical tidbit: to give you an indication of how much chain there is between the anchor and the windlass, the end of each shot* of chain is marked. In theory, the detachable link which connects one shot to the next is painted red and a number of links on either side of it is painted white corresponding to the number of shots* that are out. In theory it should look like so:
To keep you from letting all of the chain spill out into the ocean, the second to last shot is painted yellow and the last shot is painted red.
In practice, it actually looks like so:
Those flecks of white paint are on the third shot, which was just coming up out of the water as we were heaving in.
Meanwhile, a couple of the guys use a fire hose to wash the mud and gunk off of the chain as it comes in:
Once we were moored, I still had a couple hours left to put together the voyage plan to take us to Dutch Harbor.
As luck would have it, as I was leaving Southern California bound for the San Francisco Bay Area by sea, Ana was going the same way by air. She had a presentation to give in Petaluma for work and managed to stretch the trip out for an extra day so we could spend some time together. So once I was done with my day’s work, she was waiting to pick me up on the pier.
We ended up stopping at a bookstore in Marin County to kill a bit of time with a nice cup of coffee and a chance for me to take care of a few chores online. In that time, Ana stole my festive gingerbread cookie and denied me the only taste of Christmas I would have this year.
Here is what a nefarious gingerbread cookie thief looks like mid-thievery:
Later that evening, we caught up with the Herman Clan to celebrate Matt and Chris’ birthdays. A good time was had by all, but for some reason much of my dinner ended up migrating to someone else’s plate. Weird.
Here's a mildly embarassing shot of (from right to left) Matt, Chris, and Rose's shoulder:
Once we’d left the party, we headed over to my folks’ house to collect my dogs and visit for a few minutes. Then it was time to go back down to the Heart of Gold and pass out for a while.
*A “shot” of chain is a length equal to fifteen fathoms, or ninety feet if you can't handle a more navular conversion.
DAY 37: A Saturday That I Noticed
As I was leaving the ship yesterday, the 3/M pointed out to me that it was a Friday. Since we were stateside, that meant that there were Port Relief Officers* who would be taking the cargo watch on deck and we could take the time off if we wanted to, just so long as we were there before the ship was due to depart. Since the sailing board was posted for a 1700 departure, this gave me all sorts of time to waste before trekking back to Oakland.
After sleeping in for quite a while, it was time to harness up the dogs. They looked all too eager to get up and go somewhere:
Then we headed over to the folks’ house to drop off the puptards. As we were getting ready to leave, Mom and Rose showed up, and we ended up dragging Rose along for breakfast.
After all of that, it was time to drive back down to Oakland and drop me off at the ship. I got there with plenty of time to run through all of my pre-departure checklists, only to find that our departure had been delayed by a couple of hours.
When we did finally shove off, it was in the midst of a spectacularly clear night with a great view:
This time I was actually able to see the bridge as we were leaving the Bay:
Next stop: Dutch Harbor.
*Port Relief Officers, also called “night mates” are one of the other benefits of being in the union. These are licensed deck officers who take night and weekend watches on union ships in US ports. It gives the ship’s officers a chance to go out and relax a bit. It also gives guys who are waiting for work a chance to pick up a few hours’ work and a few dollars’ pay while they’re waiting for ships. I like this deal.
Day 38-41: Northbound
The transit from the Golden Gate to Dutch Harbor, Alaska was pretty uneventful. I’m still standing the 12-4 watches as usual, but now I have the deck cadet coming up to learn how to stand the watch in the afternoons. If nothing else, trying to remember all of the finer points of celestial navigation so I can teach them to him has been helping the time go by faster.
In addition to the deck cadet, I’ve also got a new helmsman. This is his first trip as an AB, so he doesn’t have a heck of a lot of experience. Still, he seems to have everything pretty well figured out. If nothing else, he’s not as foul-smelling, ignorant, or obnoxious as the last guy I had to stand watches with.
While off watch, I have been doing my best to catch up on my reading. I’ve also started tinkering with a few paper models to help pass the time and pave the way for my next costume project when I get back to the workshop. This one is the title character from a Star Wars based video game called Republic Commando. I may have made the helmet a bit too big, but it’s a good start:
Other than that, I spent most of the trip North catching up on some of my chart and publication corrections and trying to get a bit more sleep than I’d been getting along the California coast. I figured I’d need the rest. Among other things, we received word the night after leaving Oakland that winds at the Coast Guard station down the road from our pier in Dutch Harbor had gotten up to 180 knots. Then the next day, the captain got an email with this picture of the crane at our terminal:
So we weren’t going to be able to use our own terminal. Instead, the plan was to go to another container pier around the corner and offload there. Fun.
The only other thing worth mentioning was me getting used to the new Chief Mate. It’s always interesting when there’s a new boss and this one has been no exception. I didn’t really get a chance to interact with him until the first time I was turning over the watch on the bridge.
When he walked in I said “hi,” just like anyone might.
“Don’t talk to me.” He replied.
After taking his time looking over everything on the bridge to make sure it was all just so, he came over to explain what I need to do in order to be ready for him to take over the watch. He went on to explain that he was probably going to be telling me a lot of things that I already know over the next few weeks.
“I don’t know you,” says he, “and I’d like it to stay that way.”
Wow. It’s going to be a long month.
Day 42: Return to Dutch Harbor
We arrived in Dutch Harbor dark and early and we were all fast alongside the pier by about six in the morning. The last time the ship pulled into Alaska I was under-dressed and ended up freezing cold and soaking wet. This time I overcompensated and ended up sweating while I was out in the weather. I’m sure I’ll get it right sooner or later.
Since I had half a notion that I should go out and see what the town had to offer, I decided not to take a nap. Instead I went ahead and ambled back into my room to kill a couple of hours before heading out. On the way I told the deck cadet to stop by and get me when he goes ashore. Then I went back to my room and started reading and tinkering with a few projects.
I lost track of time and when the cadet finally showed up it was just after 1030 in the morning. I was going to have to take the watch on deck in just over an hour, so I didn’t really have time to head out. Oh well. I’m sure there will be a next time sooner or later.
While I didn’t get a chance to go out into town, I did manage to snap a picture of one of the funny-looking local seagulls:
At the end of the day we ended up leaving the pier just after dark. It was raining and chilly, but I overdressed again and I ended up nearly overheating while standing out in the weather.
Maybe I won’t get it right sooner or later…
Day 43-48: Another Roundabout Trip to Japan
From what I understand, between the high latitudes and the foul weather, the Bering Sea only gets visible sunshine fifty days per year. Even though it was December, we had sunshine almost every day as we were making our way across the top of the Aleutian Island chain to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Then we headed South and the weather continued to be unseasonably pleasant. I really can’t explain any of that, but here’s some nice pictures:
Of course, “unseasonably pleasant” still allows for snow, driving winds, and so on. The waves stayed small for the duration of our passage though, so it was at least easy to get some rest when the time was available.
While all of this is going on, I’ve been trying my damnedest to figure out a nice way to deal with the new Chief Mate. This is his first trip as a Chief Mate and he seems pretty thoroughly overwhelmed by all of the things he’s responsible for on board. Whenever I ask what’s wrong or offer to help, his worries manifest themselves in odd ways.
When he takes the watch on the bridge, he seems to be in “gotcha” mode all the time. It’s as though I’m going through an inspection twice a day every day. That would be fine, but the things he chooses to harp on me about are some of the most pointless, trivial details imaginable.
I think it would almost be funny watching him scramble and freak out about things. Then I think there’s always the chance we’ll have an actual emergency to deal with sooner or later. Then it stops being funny.
It’s still gonna be a long trip.
Somewhere along the way, the Chief Steward assembled the ship’s Christmas tree:
Otherwise, the transit from Dutch Harbor to Yokohama was pretty uneventful.
Stay tuned for another whirlwind tour of East Asia...