Many of these entries will be retroactive posts from my trips to sea, which last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. I generally can’t post as I write as there is no internet access on the boats. But in order to share my stories all the same I post entries after the fact and indicate the date on which they were written – here they are.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Today is my second full day aboard. I am working with a great crew; most of these guys have at least 20 years of experience on tugs. I trust them all, they know a great deal about towing, and they seem to appreciate having me on board, which makes a difference when you’re looking at several weeks at sea. This trip is expected to take 2 or 3 weeks – not a long time when you’re talking about ocean towing, but it’s long enough for my first time ever working as a cadet.
My first couple of days aboard have been uneventful so far. I am on this vessel as an ordinary seaman/observer, which means I’m cleaning and performing routine engine room checks during my watch, and doing little to contribute to cargo operations, such as making or breaking tow or working on the barge. Mostly I just look and learn. Yesterday I watched for the first time as my crew made tow (connected the barge to the tug). I was fascinated – I have never seen anything like that before. The process isn’t complicated, but it is involved; I don’t know enough technical terms to properly recount every step – all I can say is when the mate tripped the pelican hook on the stopper wire holding the surge gear to the deck, and the chain went crashing off the stern of the boat, I was in complete awe. That chain weighs literally tons, and the sight of something so heavy moving so fast, capable of such destruction, impressed me deeply.
We left the Puget Sound last night, headed north by way of the inland passage through the islands off the west coast of Canada. The scenery is beautiful, the temperature is dropping, but the weather has remained calm. I am enjoying life on board very much, but that is mostly because I haven’t had the chance yet to get seasick. I’m a little worried – when that day comes, I’m sure I will not be a happy camper.
I am on the 4-8 watch, so I’m awake and working from 0400-0800 and 1600-2000, with 8 hours of rest in between each watch. At the moment I’m occupying myself in my off time by writing in the wheelhouse, occasionally resting my eyes and taking a look out the window at the incredible scenery. There isn’t much to see at the moment, just endless trees and snowy peaks in the distance – we are passing through a channel called Lama Passage, between Campbell and Denny Islands. From here we will go through Bella Bella into Seaforth Channel, which will take us into Milbanke Sound. At that point we will be exposed to the weather in the Gulf of Alaska. Until now we have kept to the inland waterways, and have yet to sail on the open sea.
I’m sorry I didn’t write anything down during the days leading up to our departure from Seattle – there was a lot to tell, including my apprehension at the prospect of sailing off into the Gulf of Alaska on a tugboat with six dudes. But everything prior to crew-up went smoothly, including travel from Oakland to Seattle on Monday, January 11th, as well as a physical exam, 2 drug tests (they used the wrong form the first time) and a work test that Tuesday. The work test consisted of lifting and carrying varying amounts of weight, climbing ladders, coiling and pulling lines and wire, testing my flexibility and strength and such. It was a rigorous test but I actually kind of enjoyed it.