Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Sea Voyage Part 4D: ...and Back Again

DAY 77: Great Circle North

Today we’ve been headed North to get some distance between us and a low pressure system that’s rolling across the Pacific and causing all sorts of foul weather. Even though we’re on this course to avoid nasty weather, it’s been a bit unpleasant. The ship has been pitching and rolling in the perfect corkscrew motion to get over half the crew seasick.

I like seasickness. Not the actual being seasick, because I’d imagine it’s pretty uncomfortable. I like the fact that other folks get sick long long before I do. I take it as a sign that I’m a superior mariner; a symptom of belonging on the water.

DAY 78: Not Much to Talk About

The elevator has been inoperative since we were in Chiwan and a Chinese scrap metal dealer, thinking he was trapped inside when it stopped for a moment, beat the crap out of the inside of the elevator and destroyed the control panel before anyone could pry the doors open and drag his crying, screaming, little body out of it.

Now we’re stuck taking the stairs until we get to California where the spare parts are waiting. These are the stairs:
Fortunately, my room is only two decks from the pilothouse. Here’s a shot of my room:
2M Stateroom
It’s pretty cozy.

That reminds me: when I started this job I mentioned what looked like a cupholder above the toilet paper dispenser in my room as an illustration of how well appointed the space was. Here’s what it looked like:
TP Cupholder

I was wrong. It is not a cupholder. I didn’t figure it out until I used the head in the ship’s hospital and found one with all of its parts intact and in place:
Head Ashtray

It’s to hold the ashtray. I guess that makes some sort of sense.

DAY 79: Time Changes

This ship is kinda fast. Fast enough that you can almost get jet lag with all of the time zones we cross in not too much time. In order to keep up with local time, today we rolled the clocks ahead by three.

There’s no good way to do this that will make everyone happy. To make it a bit more equitable, we break it into three one-hour time changes. On this ship they happen at 1400, 1800, and 2200. That way each of the watchstanders gets to enjoy one shortened watch. The cook gets an hour less to prepare for dinner, and the day workers probably get an hour less sleep, but it’s the best option all around.

The only other bit of excitement for today was a fire and boat drill.

DAY 80: Still Going

The weather predictions have been getting pretty interesting lately. There’s a handful of low pressure systems that will be building up and crossing our path as we make our way across the Pacific. We’re following a great circle route, so most of them will pass well south of us as we near the Aleutian Islands. At some point though, our course will veer back to the south.

For now it looks like we’ll pass between two major weather systems. This seems to change every time we get a new updated weather report though. One report will have a couple of storms passing right across the top of us, then the next has us scooting comfortably between them.
It’s still far enough away that we can’t really do anything about it yet, but it’s going to be interesting.

DAY 81: A Duplicate of Day 80

Today we crossed the International Dateline. So while yesterday was Wednesday the 10th of February, today is too. So I’ve come back from the future. Still no jetpack...

By now we're way up in the northern latitudes and about to start bending around to the right and angling for Southern California. It's pretty up here:
Late Afternoon in the North Pacific

DAY 82: Will Navigate for Cash

The deck cadet has been having trouble with his celestial navigation homework. He’s going through the process just like his professors probably told him to do it, but somehow he’s just not quite able to fix the ship’s position using celestial observations.

To be fair, it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Celestial navigation isn’t exactly brain surgery, but it does require a bit of knowledge and tremendous attention to detail. You can teach someone the essentials in a couple of afternoons, but the only real way to become proficient at it is through repetition.

The other day we were talking about it and I decided to add some incentive to his plight. Here’s the plan:

1. Weather permitting, we’ll each make three observations of the sun during the afternoon watch.
2. Having made the observations, we’ll both go ahead and reduce them to lines of position (LOP) using the altitude-intercept method.
3. Whoever manages to establish the more accurate LOP (using the GPS as the reference) two out of three times, wins $5 for the day. We’ll tally this up when we get to San Pedro.
I like this plan because it gets me back into practice with the sextant. I used to be pretty good at this type of work, but by now it’s all rust and cobwebs. I’m overdue for clearing the dust off of that part of my professional qualifications.

Today was the first day we were competing. Here’s a winning shot of me taking an observation of the sun:
Sextant = Sexy

Navular, isn’t it?

By the time we each reduced our first observation, my LOP was about 7 miles off from the GPS position. The cadet was a little over 30 miles off. On the second round, I was just about 7 miles off again and he was still over 30 miles off. On the third round, my LOP was within 5 miles of the ship’s position, but I’d already won the day’s match.

Once I’d plotted my third LOP, I stopped to look over the cadet’s shoulder as he was working through the calculations to reduce his observation. I noticed one particular error (there’s about a thousand ways to get the math wrong) and, when he corrected it, his third LOP was also within about 5 miles of the ship’s position.

Then I made the mistake of the day. I told him to check his work on the other two to make sure he hadn’t made the same mistake. It turns out he had. Once he reworked them both, they were both just outside of 5 miles off from the ship’s position. With my little bit of assistance he beat me today, starting him off with a $5 lead.

Good for him. For now…

In other news, we advanced clocks another three hours today. The ship is now on California time. That, and the weather's starting to take a turn for the worse:
Heavy Weather Begins

DAY 83: A Touch of Weather

I’m not sure if I’ve remarked on it or not, but since I’ve started this job the weather has been surprisingly benign. At worst it’s been a bit cold in some of the places we’ve gone, but other than that there really hasn’t been anything to complain about.

Until now that is.

Ever since we left Yokohama we’ve been watching the satellite images and weather forecasts tracking a handful of low pressure systems rolling across the Pacific Ocean. For a while it looked like we were going to pass right between a couple of them, but in the late hours of last night one of them slowed down and we were stuck with the choice of stopping altogether or just slowing down a bit to cut across the tail end of it.

The ship’s schedule being as vital as it is, the decision was made to cut across. How bad could it be, right?

During my morning watch things were pretty comfortable. It wasn’t until sometime after breakfast that the seas started to really heap up. By the time I went up to take the afternoon watch, it was downright ugly. We had swells that were hitting us on one quarter and wind waves hitting us on the other quarter. They were taking turns grabbing the ship and knocking it off course to one side and then the other. The combination had the ship pitching, rolling, and yawing in an amazing sort of 3-axis corkscrew motion perfect for making a mess of everything. Just about the same time we start to settle out and ride smoothly, another heaping swell shoves us sideways and starts the whole thing all over again.

Here’s a quick video clip I took from the pilothouse:

I realize it doesn’t look all that rough in that clip, but bear in mind that the ship is over 900 feet long, the window the camera is looking through is about 100 feet above the water, and those waves are upwards of 30 feet high. The whole thing makes for a bit of a wild ride.
Heavy Weather Continues

The ship has been rolling as much as 30 degrees to either side. It’s bad enough that we’ve slowed down to a crawl and turned the ship so that the largest of the waves hits us square on the stern. This way the rolling is minimized and there’s less likelihood that any of the cargo containers will break free and fall overboard. During my watch we did end up with one briefly exciting moment where the ship started some synchronous rolling and we had to put the rudder hard over to break the cycle before something snapped.

I’m loving it.

While motion like this makes it nigh unto impossible to sleep, I haven’t gotten the slightest touch of motion sickness. Meanwhile, much of the crew is incapacitated. I took a moment before bed last night to put away the few things I had sitting out on my desk in my stateroom, so when my watch ended everything was pretty much where I’d left it. This strikes me as a hallmark of a capable and competent mariner.

With that in mind, walking past the Chief Engineer’s office brought and oddly smug sort of smile to my face:
Heavy Weather Chief Engineer Office

I can't get too smug though. While my stateroom remained largely intact, it turns out that the filing cabinet in the hospital wasn't bolted down. Why not? I couldn't tell you, but I'm responsible for the hospital, so this is my bad:
Ship's Hospital Mess

DAY 84: Channel Fever

I suppose I still haven’t quite adjusted to the time changes, because for no reason at all I can’t sleep. I should be able to sleep. I haven’t really had any sleep for the past two days, but somehow I’m still not feeling especially tired.


The weather’s started calming down a bit. Here's a winning shot of a squall line as it passed us by:
Squall Line
In other news, today I bested the cadet at celestial navigation. So we’re even now. With a bit of luck we’ll have clear enough skies to make observations tomorrow too. I’d hate to think we’d made a wager and no money got to change hands.

DAY 85: Last Day in Transit

I still can’t sleep for some reason. The weather was pretty crappy today, so the cadet and I are still tied on the whole celestial navigation thing. Other than that, today was mostly spent finishing up some paperwork, updating some of our navigation pubs, and making tiny bits of progress on a few projects in my stateroom.

On an unrelated note: this was supposed to be a 70-day job. With the shipyard side trip added in, a couple of weather delays, and the Captain asking me to stay aboard for one extra day to help out with some VIP tour group the day after I was supposed to pay off, it’s looking like I’ll be on board for a full 90 days.

Tomorrow we'll be in San Pedro. After that it'll hopefully be an easy week and I'm done with this job.

Stay tuned...


  1. Actually, I love the picture of you with the sextant.

    and yeah, those seas blow...but the stateroom picture made me giggle.

    ...uh. My verification word for posting this? Felatio?

  2. I don't have anything to do with the selection of the verification words. You've got the good people at Google to thank for that.

  3. So you claim. And here I was thinking it was a subtle hint from you....