Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life and times at sea on a US Merchant Ship

Life Aboard the Baffin (Baffling?) (Buffoon?) Strait
Starting 12/19/08: Enroute from Diego Garcia, BIOT to Singapore

This is a weak attempt to chronicle the weird, odd and just plain strange goings ons aboard this ship. Excuse my ramblings, especially if I wander about a bit. There is so much that goes on here. And I will be in and out adding to this magical mystery tour as the days, weeks and months go by.

The MV Baffin Strait (BF) is a supply ship for the Navy base out in the Indian Ocean. Diego Garcia is the exact location. You join the ship in Singapore. Which is good for the company, for once you start to figure out what a bad situation you have put yourself into, the ship is out to sea and on the way south of the equator. Kind of a modern Shanghaiing…..

Ships that are halfway around the world and stay there are usually the worst examples of shipping. By the time your comprehension of your situation starts to become clear, you are a several thousand dollar plane ticket from home. There aren’t a lot of sailors that can immediately afford to eat that kind of expense.

Plus once you get home, you would have to start looking for a new job quickly. The need to make up for the air travel back home might lead you right back into another bad choice. By the time you have enough money to easily pay your way home, you are half way (or more) through your hitch. So you suck it up and say, “I have found another place to which I won’t be coming back.”

I am now on my lunch break out here. It is hot and humid with scattered showers. That is pretty much my weather forecast until I get home. I work from midnight to 4am on the bridge as a lookout/helmsman. After getting relieved, I jump in the rack (bed) and nap until 7:20am.
Then, it is up for breakfast and turning to (showing up at work) at 8am. We do a little interior cleaning of the ship, then hit the deck for the day’s project. We have a coffee break at 10, then lunch from 11:30 till 1pm. Since I stand a night watch, I only work from 1pm to 3pm in the afternoon. That gives me 9 hrs to exercise (where?!!), read, eat, clean up and sleep. I wake up at 11:20pm to get ready for the midnight watch and do it all again.

All of this morning has been spent in a place called the Bosun’s locker. The Bosun’s locker is where most deck equipment/tools are stored. Most of the time, it is a decent sized room. Here, it is the size of a small closet; a small closet with no ventilation in the tropics. I have been attempting to organize this little space. It’s hot but there are worse jobs that I could be doing out here.

Like yesterday, for instance. We had just completed five days in port. It was relatively calm there. It seems like that would be a good place to do vertical work: i.e. climbing aloft and chipping/painting the masts. The other alternative is to do it at sea while the wind is blowing, the ship is moving and sea gulls are looking for target practice. Well, guess which one was chosen. Now, guess who the lucky one was!

2:30pm: I am off the deck for the day! Finished the sweatbox operations and was able to knock off a little early. But a fat lot of good it does me now. We are advancing clocks one hour tonight. So I lose 40 minutes of rest time now and 20 minutes of my watch gets cut short. (A brief explanation for the uninitiated: On ships, as we cross time zones, we retard or advance our clocks. We have two advances and two retards (Ha! I said retard!) each roundtrip. This is accomplished by taking/adding 20 minutes to each watch until you have an hour.)
4-8pm watch retards/advances 20 minutes
8-12pm watch retards/advances 20 minutes
12-4am watch retards/advances 20 minutes
Voila’! Clocks have changed an hour. So, anyway, clocks will be advanced 40 minutes tonight taking away some of my off time. But I get it back on the return trip.

Somehow, the vertical job on the fore mast got transferred to another AB out here. I spent all morning yesterday getting the tools together, running extension cords and all that fun. After lunch, I shimmied on up (didn’t like it) and tried to get started. All the way at the top and the damn thing doesn’t work! @$%#*$^&. A co worker is using the same extension cord, so I know we have power. We do a bit of trouble shooting and it is the grinder. Grrrrrr. Didn’t think that I had to check every piece of equipment before I used it. My bad, guess I do.

Another hour passed trying to find an operating grinder that wasn’t being used. That wasn’t happening, so they tell the other guy working there to give me his grinder. LOL. He doesn’t like it. (Hell, I will give mine up in a heartbeat.) So, they give him the whole job and send me back to do something else. So, no climbing for me…for the moment.

This ship is really something else. As most of you will know, I spent the last year doing fire and safety inspections on offshore and onshore facilities; fire extinguishers, life boats and all that is included. So, coming on here, I naturally look around. Alarmingly, quickly, I found several extinguishers that should be condemned! I informed the chain of command and received the “oh yeah, we will get right on it” speech. Well two weeks later….. I will let the reader guess.

Lord, help this ship if there is a true emergency. The fire mains to the forward part of the ship (bow) have just recently been repaired. The crew is small and under equipped. The fast rescue boat would probably be anything but that.

For the moment, (Richard knocks vigorously on wood), our gyro compass and autopilot work. Our magnetic compass doesn’t! And that is our main backup.

We have repeaters on each side of the ship that also have our gyro heading on them. You use them to keep an eye on the heading while outside the bridge itself. They don’t work. So, I can’t use them to take a fix from the sun or moon to get our gyro error. Plus, the fact that we don’t have the tools (azimuth circle) to shoot a proper azimuth.

That’s enough for now. Wow four pages to start off…..Hmm, could be interesting. It is time to get cleaned up and get ready for bed. Midnight minus 40 minutes comes early.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a Risk Management Officer's dream. Impressed with all the new terms I'm learning...azimuth circle?1?? Never heard of such, but am impressed you know how to use one. Good Luck! You're little sis!