söndag 23 december 2012

The Handover

Regurgitating this time from Tonkin Bay onboard the Superstar Aquarius where I am working as 2nd Officer. There is lots to do and almost no time for play here. Almost. But I'll be going home soon. Disembarking next call in Danang, Vietnam, where I will be flying to Ho Chi Min and then further on to Paris and Stockholm.

When disembarking after a turn, it is common practice to brief your reliever of the general situation onboard by way of a Handover Note. In the handover, you write what you consider to be important for your reliever to know in order to perform the duties of his position. My reliever's name is Pan Tao. We call him Tony. This is what I wrote in my handover to him:


Welcome onboard Second Officer Tony Pan!

It's quite hard to flush the toilet in our cabin. I mean, you have to use both hands and push really hard. The repairman has looked at it and made some adjustments but lately it has gotten even worse. However, there is a trick, a special technique you can apply to flush the toilet. Simply follow this procedure:

A few days before you must eat proper, healthy food in order to charge your body with energy for the attempt. Do not diet or perform strenuous exercise during this time as it might deplete your energy reserves and thereby diminishing your chances of success. Strenuous activities include sexy time, my friend. Women are well known for their succubus qualities so it is best to stay away.
A few hours before you must try and center, find harmony. In order to fully flush, you must gather all your chi from within and let it converge at the very essence of your being. It also helps to pray a little to the God of your choice. Myself, I use Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. I find that he gives me the divine presence and "oomph" I need to achieve complete flushness. Now, I know you're Chinese so you'll probably go for Buddha. I'm not saying don't try it, but I doubt it will do any good. The guy is just too mellow.

At the actual time of the flushing, make sure you are alone and have a banana nearby for quick protein recharge afterwards. I also put an isotonic beverage in the shower to gulp down during the Post-Flush Scrub and Cleansing (PFSC). You'll loose copious amounts of fluids sweating of course, but you should also mentally prepare for a time of intense crying as the emotions flow over you in the hours after the event.

When you feel ready, close the toilet lid and place yourself facing the toilet. In front of you, you will see the wall mounted flush button, Take a deep breath and put your right thumb at 2 o'clock and your left at 10 o'clock on the button. Put your right foot against the shower wall behind you and face down. (Now, there is a crack in the wall there, try to avoid it if you can. It happened at the beginning of the contract when I had not yet perfected the technique. Obviously my alignments were all out of sync!) Now close your eyes. Try to empty your mind of all thought. Focus. As you collect yourself, take long deep breaths and refill your thoughts with flushing images. Try to see it with your minds eye. Let it play like movie on the insides of your eye lids. See it happen, see the bowl emptying, see it refill with water. Let tension build up inside you, all the positive energy, the love, the beauty, the laughter, the singing, all those things that makes life worth living. Let it blend with hatred, misery and death to become a massive force of concerted emotions. As your body starts to heat up, it grows closer. And you will know when the time is right. It will feel so natural, I promise you, you will have no doubts in your mind. And then. Pull the energy up all the way down from your feet, let it travel through your pelvis, up through the chest, feel it spiral out through your arms. Aaah the raw power! Enough to make a man GO MAAAADAAARRRGH! Your body is trembling now, every muscle turbo charged from this superheated mesh of beautiful light and terrible darkness traversing through you. Demonic laughter fills your belly, your tongue splits in half and your eyes turn red like the blood. Let every muscle count. Let loose the energy through your thumbs and as you push the button you scream kiiiYIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEHHAAAARRRGH!
.....and flush.

Or you can call the repairman again so he can take a look at it. That's also an option, I suppose.

By the way, I changed the chart correction procedure quite radically and threw away all your stuff. But you'll figure it out, I'm sure.

Best of luck!
2/O Gunnar


I was going to write some more about the actual work related stuff but I don't have time. How do people find time to do stuff?

torsdag 31 mars 2011

The pseudonym

I just now finished reading “The Murmansk Jester” by Jens Henrik Jensen. Man, I hope he writes under a pseudonym because this was the worst reading experience I’ve had since the student loan repayment plan came in the mail. You hear me, Danish guy? Your book sucks, ok! I’d use it to wipe my ass but I’d feel too damn dirty after. It has all the ingredients of a good time waster. The Agency is in there, a tough but soft, cool but warm, rough but sweet, righteous old worn out CIA operative who “just wants to go fishing” etc-yada-yada-yada-yeah-whatever. Then there’s murders and torture and stuff, some psycho killers, very promising indeed! You’d think there’s something there. You’d think he’d whip up some bad-ass Léon-Usual-Suspects-Da-Vinci-Codyness. But no! Oh no, instead it’s cliché-bad-80s-action-movie-time. It starts off by them putting the best friend in a coma. Then a crazy old woman, a fortune teller, tells him to be careful after reading his palm. No really, she does. Then we have the ol’ Russian ex- spetsnaz being betrayed by GRU and that whole thing. The bad guy also has an evil shrill laugh, aaaand, get this! He wears a high hat and walks around with a raven on his shoulder!

Who do you think you are, Jensen? You think you can get away with that totally un-ironically? Well, maybe the whole book is, like, super-ironic. Like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. (Stolen from Ed Byrne http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT1TVSTkAXg, is he wonderful or what?)

Folks, it’s getting to be about that time when I get off this ship and go back home. I’ve had some good times here. Some really good times. I mean, I’ve had some what-the-hell-is-going-on-moments as well. But it’s been my first turn as an officer and I’ve come out of it in pretty good shape, I think. That, in my mind, is a major stepping stone since I’ve been wanting to do this for 15 years!

Like always when I go home after an intense time like this I tend to lose focus a bit. Here, I’ll paint you a picture: There’s the sofa. That’s me on it. That’s me saying “Yeah I know my balls are showing. You got a problem?” But not only that, the ol’ writers block kicks in. I think it’s because I don’t need it like I do right now. I promise will at least try to start working on my next novel “Savage Roughness”, the story is all there in my head. It’s about this guy, Colt Favreaux, a lone-gunman-type private detective worn out by booze and dames. I want it to start off with something like “I was in my office, feet up on the table, when she walked through the door…

I’ll probably write under a different name too.

Last thing. There’s this new expression out there I want you to start using as soon as possible. When something is good you don’t say “This is good!”. You say…..”Chocolate saouse!” (See? It’s “sauce” put not pronounced “sauce”! Pronounced like “house” or “mouse”). Like Snoop’d say it. For advanced usage, squeeze in an almost silent “eh” before each word. Eh’chocolate eh’saouse….But I don’t think you’re ready for that yet.

onsdag 23 mars 2011

The airport mood

Airports are depressing places. People are either completely stressed out or bored out of their minds. I’m usually a bit of both. I don’t have evidence to support this but I think the reason people buy such large quantities of alcohol at airports is because everyone instinctively wants to get drunk and dull the senses. I’m guilty as well. I just bought a bottle of champagne. But that doesn’t make sense at all now that I think about it, champagne makes me want to geddup'n'dance! Ok forget my theory then. Maybe it’s the prices …

I’m at Schiphol airport, Holland. Next to where I’m sitting is one of those flat escalators, transporters for people who are too late to walk. Every time someone passes the sensor at the end of the ride, a friendly voice comes along and says “Mind your step!”. A lot of people ride that transport. At the other end of the terminal another more stern voice keeps telling passengers they are delaying the flight and that their baggage will be offloaded if they don’t come to the gate immediately. It’s an empty threat, everyone knows that.

It’s not all bad, I’m having the Mind your step!” best cup of coffee I’ve had since I left home 6 weeks ago. The instruments for coffee-making onboard “Mind your step!” left a lot to be desired. I also see a lot of attractive women everywhere. Which is nice. And I’m on my way home, which is fantastic. Plus I’m wearing an awesome hat. “Mind your step!” But I still feel strange, a little sad. Perhaps it’s because I’m going back to unemployment, once again I’ve done a pretty decent job, once again I’ve been denied an extension. Instead they replace me with a tiny, scared little guy who’s never set his foot on a Ro-Ro deck before. And I had to train him. “Mind your step!” Whoohoo. I am tired. The fatigue hit me two days ago when it dawned on me I was going home. All of a sudden the body started resisting and refusing to pick up the pace when I needed it to. I started forgetting things too. I’ve been breaking the law for rest hours a lot lately trying to teach the new guy the ropes.

Oh hey, lookit that! There we have some delicious KLM flight attendants dressed in blue. I love flight attendants. For a number of reasons. It’s the little dance they do with the emergency exits and seatbelts before takeoff. Then they smile and bring you something to drink. Haha … Some of you are unsure if I’m being sexist for comedy or not. The rest of you know…

It’s funny how well this works for me. The writing. I sat down feeling airport-sad and lonely but now I’m feeling wonderf “Mind your step!”….CAN THEY OPEN UP THE GODDAM GATE SO I CAN GET OUTA HERE!!!.

söndag 20 mars 2011

The smuggler

Outdoor World - Bass Pro Shops is the best store in the world. I want to buy everything. I can’t believe I don’t own a crossbow! What kind of a man doesn’t own a crossbow? A weak one, surely. The place is huge, we’re talking Wembley-big, with products related to being out in nature…the American way. For example, appropriate gear for, let’s say, taking a nice springtime walk in the woods, is the following items:

  1. A huge truck to get to the woods.
  2. A huge trailer behind the truck carrying a huge boat in case you see someone you’d want to think you’re going fishing on a huge boat, not taking a lame-ass walk like a bitch.
  3. Solar powered Espresso maker.
  4. At least seven knives of different sizes.
  5. Ice climbing gear including oxygen tanks.
  6. Handguns for mosquito protection.
  7. A crossbow for hunting deer like Robert De Niro.

It makes sense to have a big truck now, doesn’t it? You’re gonna need the space. If you’re ever in Baltimore take time to visit this store/amusement park. I bought some barbecue sauce, apple cinnamon flavor, and a Dr Pepper marinade. I’m a winner.

Right now I have a pleasant, delicate problem. I have 8 bottles of delicious alcohol to transport home to Sweden from Liverpool. I wanna smuggle it. I really want to smuggle, I’ve never done that. Never been a smuggler. Smuggling to me is the most sophisticated of crimes, I just wish I had a sophisticated slender femme fatale travelling with me to run interference. We’d pull a Silverado Shuffle with a Danger Mouse Twist followed by a Berkley Old Fashioned. They’d never know what hit ‘em. But as it looks now I’ll put the bottles in a suitcase and try not to sweat. I’ll probably end up in a Mars Penal Colony, sold to a huge Betelgeusian X'org Lord for two packs of smokes. That happens all the time and nobody ever talks about it.

fredag 18 mars 2011

The undesired event III - Event harder

A Belgian man told me to “Schniff it!” today. Three of us were in the elevator wondering whether the laundry bags lying on the floor were coming from the cleaners or were, in fact, on their way to the cleaners. This was the advice he gave me. It’s the little things, isn’t it?

We’re in Antwerp. Nothing exciting happened on the way here from Liverpool. Even the feared Marine Inspector that had come onboard to audit us was nice. I’m a bit disappointed at him actually, I’ve heard stories of carnage and spiked babies, but he said it was all “quite good”!

I fear I’m losing interest about the whole Baltimore event but I’ll try to conclude as best I can. So back to the story. I ran down to deck 4 again where I met Henrik. He had been in the gym wondering why we were departing already. Then he saw the lines break and thought it was probably a good idea to go out. I screamed at him to follow me and we ran to the forward station. It’s about 250 meters and when we got there I was completely out of breath. The wind was coming in hard from the starboard bow, strong enough to blow you over the side. Ednel, one of the other ABs, was there already trying like hell to release the anchor break for it to freefall down to the bottom. But it was slow moving so we started helping him. Eventually the anchor started falling but then the break automatically tightened again. It was actually designed this way to prevent the anchor chain from stampeding out completely. We got some more chain out, about 4 shackles, or 110m, and it started tightening up. We released the other anchor as well but it wasn’t necessary. By then the port anchor had taken hold and we had already drifted aground. It turned out later that we were only resting against a very steep mud bank so it wasn’t that bad. No actual damage to the hull. After a while 4 tugboats arrived and they pulled us back to the berth where we moored using what was left of our lines. The US Coast Guard came onboard. Sometimes they can be a bit rough for no good reason. This time you’d think they had a reason to be pissed but they were quite nice, reasonable even. They came to the forward station to check out the broken lines. One of them came up to me and asked me if I had been scared. What an odd question I thought, but I figured out what he was fishing for and answered that “No sir, quite the opposite. I was focused and in control.” It sounds so cheesy when I write it now but those were my exact words. And what’s even more crazy, it was true.

But wait a minute here, you say. Focused? In control? Didn’t you, like, say fuck and stuff? I did. But I also fucking did stuff. And I’m actually quite proud of myself and what I did. I thought I’d be all crying in a corner. And besides, I wasn’t alone. Henrik was fucking awesome. Ednel too.

Yeah-ok-great who’s bored? Meee! This was truly a piece of shit, apologies for that. Tune in to the next one though. Promises of nudity.

lördag 12 mars 2011

The undesired event - Part deux

I’m not sure, dear reader, how well you understand ships and shipping. I’m sure you have some idea about it, probably about as much as I know about dry-cleaning. I know you go in there and leave your clothes. I know they come back clean. But I don’t fully understand the process in between. How do you wash clothes …dry? If someone can explain this to me I would greatly appreciate it. In return I will tell you a thing or two about ships.

When the ship is moored there is no watch kept on the bridge and no engine running. Starting the main engine to get forward propulsion is not done in a flash, there are steps to be taken, checklists to be checked and other technical things of that nature. And if you get it started it doesn’t necessary do any good unless there is room to maneuver. Now maneuvering a ship is done slowly and carefully using the propeller, the rudder, the thrusters and perhaps a tugboat or two. The captain always have a plan for how to get the ship from where it is to where he wants it to go. "Ok, I’m gonna pass that buoy, that’s where we’ll connect the tug. Then I’m gonna put the rudder hard to starboard and we’ll swing, yeah. I’ll use the thruster there probably and we’ll get closer etc."

Minor things can be corrected along the way, there is a margin for error, but the basics have to go according to plan or the ship will end up elsewhere. Now the thrusters on this ship are very useful and very powerful. The forward thruster has 2000hp and the aft one, 2500hp. But the ship is huge and when strong wind hits the side it’s like a big sailboat. Except it only goes sideways and there is no gin&tonic.

Where were we? Oh yes, the lines had broke and I was spouting profanity. Ok.

I ran up to the aft mooring station again only to see the spring line break right before my eyes. Like a rubber band, it flew right across the mooring station over the winches and crushed a light fixture on the opposite wall. The starboard stern line broke next. I decided not to go near the other lines. I looked out over the side and saw the stern ramp moving towards the edge of the quay. Oh no.

You see, the stern ramp is lowered and is resting on the quay. The ramp, on this particular vessel, is large. It’s one of the largest, heaviest ship ramps in the world actually, weighing around 500 tons. If the ship gets away from the berth and the ramp is dropped It won’t be good. It won’t be pleasant and happy. It won’t be little suntanned children laughing and chasing butterflies in a summer meadow. It will be the screeching sound of breaking metal, the screams of terrified stevedores and steel wires breaking and slicing through stuff you wouldn’t think could be sliced at all. If you’re lucky it will cause major structural damage to the ship and major financial damage to the shipping line. If you’re lucky. So I said fuck again.

"The fucking ramp is gonna fucking drop fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!" The f-word started flowing out of me like winter sickness. I have to lift the ramp! I started running up the stairs to the ramp maneuvering station, the “crows nest”. It’s 6 floors up and when I came up there the door was padlocked! "Fuckfuckfuckinglockfuck". We have to lock everything in port nowadays because stowaways tend to get onboard and hide in the different compartments. Even the compartments where you cannot, will not, hide because it is useless as a hideout and you would be discovered instantly if you tried to hide in there, have to be locked. So I spent another 10 seconds fishing out my key and opening the lock. Well inside, I find the checklist for lifting the ramp. It’s not easy like pushing a button. No you have to start pumps, change levers, wait for lights to come on, before you can actually start lifting. I was completely surprised when I read the “Ramp to Up” sequence on the checklist! I started lifting and the ramp bounced off on one of the bollards on the quay. By this time the forward part of the ship had drifted out but the aft part was still quite close to the quay forming an angle of about 60 degrees. But when the ramp lost traction the aft part also started drifting out.

I heard the captain say we had to release the anchors and that he was having problems releasing them from the bridge. Oh COME ON! "Fuckfuckfuckinganchorfuckfuckfuckfuck"

Minor detail I perhaps should mention. I lied a bit before. Sometimes there is a gin&tonic. But there wasn't one at this particular time. Had there been one, I would have drunk it. I would have swallowed the lemon and smoked the straw. It would have been nice.

tisdag 8 mars 2011

The undesired event - Part I

As a part of our management company’s policy we are required to report things out of the ordinary that happen during the operation of the ship. This is a way to make sure problems come to the surface, are dealt with in a professional way and are properly documented for the future. Basically it’s a pain in the ass is what it is. Happenings are categorized differently. I won’t go through all the categories but here are a few:

  1. “Accident”. Accidents are bad. If we have an accident this means someone or something breaks which usually is very expensive or very tragic depending on who you ask. Because some of what we do can be dangerous, we are a prepared. We have a hospital full of sharp scalpels and fantastic drugs.
  2. “Near miss”. This is when something happens but not quite. It nearly happens. (Does anyone remember the Tage Danielsson “Harrisburg” monologue?) What I mean is that there’s a risk for something horrible to happen (See point 1), but it’s avoided in the last second because someone does something unhorribly and rectifies the whole thing. Clever people argue that this isn’t technically a “near miss” at all, that something isn’t nearly missed, it should in fact be called a “near hit”. (When I say clever people I mean Mr Smartass MacCleverPants. Nobody likes him….in spite of his cheerful Scottish manor) They take it even further though. There’s something called a “potential near miss”. I just don’t know.
  3. “Undesired event”. This is the most fun one since it can be used for anything. For instance, I overslept. I desired to wake up but it didn’t happen. Undesired event. Someone farted in the elevator. I desired fresh breathable air. I was denied. Undesired event. High wind caused all the mooring lines to break and the ship to drift away from the berth and go aground. Undesired event.

All these happened I’m afraid. The smell in that elevator…

Ok, I want to tell you more details, I need to, because this is one crazy thing that happened, not the fart, the breakaway, and I have to process it somehow. Here we go:

I was on watch in the cargo hold the first time the wind hit. We have to be down there to keep an eye on the stevedores, make sure they’re doing their job properly. I heard one of the ABs say on the radio that we had drifted out from the berth and that the aft lines were making a horrible noise. My heart started beating and I ran to the ramp to look and I saw that we indeed had drifted out, the stern was maybe a meter out and the forward more like three. It had been sunny and calm a while ago but now the wind had picked up with rain and hail coming down. I ran up to the aft mooring station to see if there was anything I could do with the lines there. But they were making that weird cracking noise and if there’s anything I’ve learned about mooring lines is that when they start to stretch you stay away from them. They can cut through flesh and bone like butter when they snap. So needless to say, I kept a safe distance. By then the captain was up on the bridge and had started the fore and aft thrusters to push us back towards the berth. We came back in eventually. Everything was fine. We added an extra line forward for good measure but it didn’t feel necessary at all. The wind had died down completely. The sun came back out.

I hurried back to work and got busy scolding a foreman for letting everything fall to pieces while I was gone. 15 minutes later I heard the AB say the wind was back and we were drifting out from the berth. I didn’t feel any urgency this time and I heard the captain say in a very calm voice that he was on his way up to restart the thrusters. I started walking back towards the ramp when I heard another AB scream on the radio:


I may have said “fuck”. I may have said it more than once.

To be continued…