Check this out

This is a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier).

This tanker crossed our bow the other day when we were anchored. 

Just for perspective she was approximately 0.4 nautical miles away.  You can see just to the left of our forward mast the pilot boat alongside for a size comparison.  This ship is twice the length of the vessel I'm on.  She is 332 meters (1088ft) compared to our 182.5 meters (600ft)!

What also makes her very different is that she only carries crude oil.  I spoke with her officers and they were going to load 900,000 barrels of crude.  That is 37.8 million gallons (0r roughly 151.2 liters) of crude oil!  Considering that you can refine more than 1 barrel of product from 1 barrel of crude oil we are talking about A LOT. 

This vessel was able to take a full load in just over 24 hours!  We will potentially have a 15 hour longer cargo evolution! 

When I think about how many vessels this size are transiting the worlds oceans and how much product is really being moved it really puts things in perspective.  I personally drive an SUV....I think I have a 15 gal tank....but if you assume I have a 20 gal tank I'd have to fill up my 4Runner 1.89 million times to use 37.8 million gallons of gasoline!!!  If I fill up my tank more than once a week (5 times a month) every year for 80 years I'd use 4800 gallons.  393.75 SUVs could fill up for 80 years with this tankers load! 

All is right with the world

You'll be happy to know that it is not the wild wild west out here.  Young Second Mate's are not allowed to sass-mouth.  The law of the sea remains intact....the Captain is still in charge.  I received my very first letter of warning.  For the record....I've never been to the principals office.  I graduated from Maine Maritime Academy with not one demerit to my name.  My shipmates assure me that this a rite of passage....that everyone gets one or they just aren't salty.  I think they are just saying that so I don't start roaming the passageways at night looking for a fire axe.  I almost cried....but then I didn't....because at the end of the day there is still 'NO crying on tankers'!

dark and cloudy

There is always some point in my rotation where I get dark and cloudy.  Today was that day.  I start thinking too hard.  I get worried that I'm not using my life for good.  I think what really happens is that the romance wears thin and reality sets in.  I'm sitting at anchor on a tanker with over a million gallons of jet fuel - for what?!  I'm not serving a greater cause!  I'm not adventuring!  I'm not trying new foods and meeting new people!  I'm simply waiting for vacation - and again, for what?!  So I can rush off to my union school and upgrade my license!  Then what?! 

I've been reading some other maritime-y blogs.  I read things like 'oh how I love the smell of epoxy' - you do?!  I say, if you can smell epoxy it means the space isn't properly ventilated!  Are you sure you aren't actually high off the smell of epoxy?!  If I'm honest with myself I realize that I'm just jealous.  I want to be able to complete a rotation without hating my job by the end of it!  By the time my vacation is up I'm getting itchy feet...I never understand how I can want to come back to work knowing that in 90 days I'll be dark and cloudy!

It's not just that the romance is's the people.  When I get dark and cloudy there are people that I can't even look at without getting irritated.  Today in the mess deck I had a melt down - those of you who know me know that there is no stopping me once I get started (I'm like my Mother that way).  I overheard the Captain having a discussion with the Steward....the conversation went like this:

Capt:  Are people eating the beans?

Steward:  No not that much....

Capt:  What do you think about laying off the beans for awhile?

Steward:  Okay.....

Capt:  How about making a little pasta instead.

The Captain then came into the mess deck and I pounced:

Me:  Did you just tell the Steward not to make beans?!

Capt:  No....

Me:  Yes you did!!!  I HEARD you!!!  You said 'LAY OFF THE BEANS!!!'

Capt:  No....I said lets make a little pasta!


I'm looking around the room and everyone is just staring at me like I've really really lost my then I address the crowd:

Me:  You guys are all thinking the same thing except I'm the only one with the balls to say anything!!  Beans are a FIFTY CENT meal!  I know for a fact that there are people who eat the beans EVERYDAY!  Beans are a protein and pasta is a carbohydrate!  We are ADULTS we should be able to eat beans when we want beans!  The Steward is not going to make beans and pasta!  You mark my words there won't be any beans tomorrow!!!!  *I look around the room with accusation in my eyes*  Thanks for backing me up you guys!!!  Just wait until you want beans and there aren't any!

Cheif Engineer:  I think you guys are all full of beans!


I just got done reading a book called The Help.  My favorite maid in the book was one point in the book Minny says, 'I tell myself, Tuck it in, Minny.  Tuck in whatever might fly out my mouth and tuck in my behind too.'

I really need to tuck it in too.  I have no idea how I'm not fired.  I have a problem with sass-mouthing just like Minny.  Being dark and cloudy is no excuse for a melt down over beans....but really, it's my only excuse!

The bean incident spread through the ship like wild fire.  Everyone heard about it by coffee time.  People were coming up to me saying things like: 'thanks for sticking up for us Mate!'  and 'if I was there I would have backed you up!'.  Unbelievable.  This is what I'm talking about!  The fact that the bean meltdown is headline news is pathetic.  I really need to get off this floating trailer park.

Post Thanksgiving Musings

We are still at anchor!  We got a little closer today...we shifted from the outer anchorage to the inner anchorage.  I am definitely getting stir crazy.  It's kind of funny when you feel stir crazy on a ship....if we got underway today I'd still be here tomorrow!  What is the difference really?! My garden isn't doing so hot (not that it has ever really thrived).  For awhile I thought my sweet potato was going to go Jumanji on me....but now it has brown spots.  I try to talk to the plants when I water them (today is day 108 but I swear I'm not really crazy) today I said, 'if you don't start to grow I'm going to chop your heads off'!  One of the little old Japanese ladies at my church attributes her gardening success to this method.

Super Dhow

When we departed Kuwait we saw what we refer to as a 'super dhow'.  In reality, this is the traditional dhow.  Since they were historically used for longer sea passages where they transported true cargoes they needed to be much more seaworthy than the coastal fishing vessels.  It is rare to see large dhow's (since most of the commercial cargoes can be transported on modern vessels) - and since we've started referring to the fishing boats as dhows - we call this a super dhow.  This is by far the best example I've ever seen.  It was beautifully maintained.  I just wish I could have seen it with it's sails up! 

Anchor the tanker

I was one of the more naive cadets at Maine Maritime Academy.  It wasn't that I was less interested or less gung-ho than my classmates it was just that for some reason I was always on the tail end of the learning curve.  I think it was a classic case of not knowing what I needed to know.  It seemed like my classmates could slice through the masses of information and then ask the right questions.  I just never seemed to be asking the right questions....I would listen to my professors tell sea stories and impart sea going wisdom with a somewhat detached interest.  I was excited about the opportunity for adventure and I think more than anything else this ensured my success in school.  I remember very little of what my professors taught.  For some reason I remember this with favorite Captain told me that going to sea was basically 'hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror'.  After five years sailing I wish I could call him and say, 'Man - you weren't kidding'! I've been at anchor for two days which, could potentially turn into two to three more.  'Anchor the Tanker' is a phrase that can set the whole ship talking....Does this mean we're not getting the next contract?  I wonder if they'll reduce the crew size?  Are they going to get repair work done?  Are we going to break watches?  It leads to uncertainty.  Ships and their crews love routine.  Anchoring the tanker for me as Second Mate is awesome.  It means I get caught up on chart and publication corrections.  I can clean out drawers and get computer work done.  However, for other crew members it can mean breaking sea watches and switching to day work...and then re-setting watches at a moments notice.  It can mean a critical component is disassembled thinking time was available for a repair...and then scrambling to piece it back together when word comes that we can proceed to our berth.  The real reason that crew members don't like anchor time is that it invariably leads to hours and hours of boredom.  The days seem to melt together.  There are no close encounters with fishing boats....funny radio chit chat.....or brightly lit rigs to punctuate your day.

I thought about walking about the deck on a photo safari but instead, I decided that I would pretend that I saw some dolphins (that seems to boost my spirits like nothing else).  My Mom says that bored people are boring an only child I can self entertain like very few others.  So today I looked at all my old dolphin photos and exercised my imagination.  I thought that since nautiemermate is officially a dot com it deserved a dolphin photo - I was upset that I had to leave the other ones behind at blogspot.


[gallery] We just left Kuwait after a brief port stay.  We docked at the Sea Island which is a little out of our norm.  It was an interesting docking with a brisk wind coming from dead astern and a gorgeous sunset.  The Pilot was a very friendly fellow.  This morning we left much earlier than expected.  I threw on my boiler suit (which is what I wear when I'm too tired to figure out how to match my clothes) and dragged myself up to the bridge.  We had the same friendly fellow who was bright eyed and bushy tailed.....AND HE HAD BROUGHT ME A PRESENT!  It was in a beautiful handmade paper bag.  It was a little acrylic diamond that had Kuwaiti crude oil in the center.  The diamond has a stand so that you can prop it up and admire it more easily.  The Pilot also brought the Captain some traditional sweets which we got to munch on.  Normally I leave Kuwait thinking 'whew!  We're outta here!' but today I left thinking 'wow!  I got a present!' was great.


A couple of nights ago I stepped out onto the bridge wing and there was a large halo around the moon.  It was by far the most spectacular halo I've ever seen.  Halo's are caused by moonlight refracting off ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.  I grabbed my camera thinking it would be futile but boy was I wrong! 

After I realized I was actually going to be able to get some photos I went crazy. 

With so much moonlight I was even able to snap a photo of Orion!  

 I ran up to the flying bridge and layed on the deck to get our mast in a shot.  Because the camera was on such a slow shutter speed you can see the arc our radar left next to the mast.

The clouds combined with moonlight and stars made it look shimmery and kind of nebulous like the milky way.

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What a night!


It felt like Christmas!

I had a friend of mine dispatch a goodie box.  I did a bunch of online shopping (tsk tsk - I know) and I sent all the items to her house.  She then consolidated it all and sent it out.  It had new work boots - which were PINK!  I was so excited about those boots....but it turned out that they were a little too big...which is one of the hazards of online shopping with no means of returning things.  I also got new work pants - I like Carhartts a lot.  I got TONS of tea - some decaf and some regular.  I got a bunch of trashy romance novels....I go for the smuttiest I can find.  I got some computer software.  She had sent a long a few homemade goodies as well - a laptop sleeve that was sooo beautiful! [gallery]

The day after I got my box I was withdrawn and moody.  I couldn't figure out what had me so bummed out!  Then I realized I was bummed because I knew there wasn't another box coming.  I had been looking forward to my box so much more than what was actually in the box!  It felt like there was nothing to keep me going - nothing to look forward to.  It just goes to show it's the little things in life.  I rallied and I went for a walk out on deck.  I did a couple laps around the ship and on one of my last laps I saw a dolphin....and I decided that seeing dolphins was just as cool as getting a box (but I think I was just trying to make myself feel better - I'm already planning my next box).


Last night I came up to the bridge and took over the watch....made a cup of tea....and headed out onto the bridge wing to feel some wind in my hair.  I was watching the sun get oranger as it got lower and was thinking about heading in to grab my camera.  Then I noticed all the I grabbed my camera...their were literally too many to count!

A Dhow is a traditional Middle Eastern sailing vessel.  It is very rare these days to see Dhows actually sailing - almost all that I run across are motoring.  Historically they were used to trade and transport items like fruit, dates, mangrove timber, etc.  The Dhows I see are mostly fishing.  They can truly make a watch miserable.  They are extremely unpredictable.  They can cross your bow 3-4 times before finally choosing a side and idling their engines to let you pass.  They steam from fishing trap to fishing trap - if your vessel is going to get near their gear they'll try to edge you off by getting as close as they can and then stopping.  This sometimes means them stopping dead ahead of you with very little warning.  At night it can be very difficult to ascertain their intention because they don't typically use running lights and may have a hanging lantern that they turn on when you get too close for comfort.  Sometimes it is impossible to tell if their tiny light is just that...a tiny light relatively close by or a large rig 30 miles away....they reek havoc on depth perception!  I have many times had sudden outbursts on the bridge that sound like this "FREAKIN' DHOWS!!!!  MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!!!".  Sometimes they'll flash lights in the direction of their gear....but you definitely can't count on it.  As I watched them make a sunset mass exodus from the port I realized that they were all on their way to zig zag and weave back and forth of some other poor tanker mates bow.

The thing about the Dhows is that you have to feel sorry for them.  There are usually about 3-4 guys working on deck but I've seen as many as 8.  They most likely don't own their gear and having a ship your size destroy even one fishing trap could really set them back financially.  I can't even imagine what their living conditions are like onboard.  I'm sure there is no flushable head or water to shower with.  Sometimes you'll hear them calling on VHF pleading 'ship captain, ship captain....pleeeaassseee.....alter course to starboard....please ship captain please....i'm flashing you...can you see me....please captain...'  It can go on that way for quite some time.  However, they very rarely have a means of providing you with their own position let alone your position.  Sometimes it's impossible to tell if the fishing boat you see up ahead is the one making the call.  In dense traffic it really becomes difficult to maneuver for fishing boats that may or may not be calling.  When I see a fishing trap I do my best to avoid it because ultimately you are affecting someones lively hood.

I've been able to walk up to a few of them.  All of their bows are painted white and a lot of them have very intricate motifs with scrolling artwork and eyes.  Thank goodness their bows are painted white because from a distance it is the only way to tell which is forward and which is aft!  Without the white bow you would never be able to tell which direction it was headed and therefore whether they planned on crossing your bow or stern.

As I watched the sky soften and the Dhows pass by I sipped my tea and thought 'thank God for anchor watch'!

Steaming to Bamboola

a solid read

About a month and a half ago I saw this book sitting on the chart table.  The Chief Mate had borrowed it from his brother and was reading it again after many years.  The Mate was discussing with the Captain what a classic it was.  My little ears perked up- classic? - I'm a book badge shiner.  I like to be able to say that I've read's not the most altruistic form of reading but there it is.  So I ask the Mate if I can read it.  I read about 10 pages and then totally stalled out.  It was sooo boring!  He would ask me every few days how the book was going.  I'd act cool and make some vague remark about how I was taking it slow...all the while I was cringing inside.  I finally picked it up again with a promise to myself that I'd persevere.    After another 15 pages the tide turned and I was engrossed.  It was great!  It was full of character sketches of shady shipmates and shenanigans (both ashore and aboard).  It always amazes me what life at sea used to be like - without all the rules and regulations we're faced with today - and it also amazes me how little things have changed.  It was full of maritime history and I learned a ton.  I came up to the bridge last night to relieve the Chief Mate....I was raving about the book....he looked at me and said 'You're still reading that book?!  If I didn't know better I'd think you were retarded!!!!"  I had to laugh and fess up that I had been lying through my teeth about my slow progress.  It's a book well worth the read.

I Heart Filipino Sailors

deck ninjas

No one has perfected the art of being a deck ninja quite like Filipino sailors.  In the blazing Middle Eastern heat you'll find them totally wrapped up with not an inch of skin showing.  My watch partner on the right has started giving deck ninja lessons and we now have a new breed of ninja evolving.  I particularly like the dust mask on the outside of the face wrap.

East Channel

We anchored last evening off Doha, Qatar.  We're now underway into Mesaieed's inner anchorage where we'll be anchored overnight before shifting to the berth.  We take the East Channel inbound which is for deep draft vessels and requires a pilot.  Upon departure we'll take the West Channel and pilot the vessel ourselves. 


I came up to the bridge to see the sun getting lower on the horizon making the water a rich gold just as we passed buoy E-05. 

le jardin

Some of you may remember my past blog entries about the mini garden I have started on the bridge.  There is good news and bad news.  The bad news is that all my plants died.  The good news is that I have sprouted a sweet potato and it's thriving!  I also acquired some basil plants (we ordered basil for the galley and it came potted).  The basil is struggling a bit.  If all else fails I'll just have a jungle of sweet potato vines on the bridge.

Who is Voldemort?!

I recieved an e-mail first thing this morning that said: 'You kinda lost me in today's blog, I got confused with titles and cover names and really what was going on... But I enjoyed the creativity of it all!'

That is like parent teacher conferences....your teacher has just told your Mother that you are lazy and stupid and then to soften the blow she says you have a great imagination.

Here is a brief recap (because I really don't want to be so creative you don't know what I'm talking about!):

Voldemort was the evil wizard in Harry Potter.  He was soooo evil that people didn't say his name and called him He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.  Our Steward (who is the person in charge of the galley....which includes all the ordering and well as hospitality....linens and cleaning) was fired.  The Steward reminded me of an evil wizard so I named them Voldemort for the blog....because I don't want to get in trouble for blogging about people.  Our Chief Cook (who is directly below the Steward in the hierachy of things) had quit about a week ago because they were tired of working with the Steward (probably becuase they reminded me of an evil wizard and I don't even work in the same department!).  That meant that there was no one to cook!  The Bosun (he is in charge of the unlicensed deck department) and I did all the cooking for three days.

The cooking turned out to be fun but required a little creativity (which apparently I have spades of).  For example there were four boxes of Pollock and four boxes of Tilapia not one box of Salmon!!  I mean really...I've never bought a filet of Pollock in my life and in Hawaii Tilapia can live in sewers and gutters. 

Having to think of something reminded me of Lemony Snicket because there is always something.

To make a long story short:  I had fun in the galley.

Little Miss Sunshine....the fact that my Harry Potter analogy got lost on you is soooo disappointing....

Everyone's got their something...

Last week our Steward got the boot.  Our vessel was already short a Chief Cook.  Going to the Captain’s office and behaving like a bafoon so that our vessel sails with no one in the galley puts you in my ‘Voldemort Evil’ category.  While many things were said aboard the vessel about the state of affairs very little was said about ‘He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’ (referred to from here on out as Voldemort).  Having Voldemort aboard was a traumatic event for almost the whole crew.  Talking about how psycho Voldemort was just dredges up painful memories.  Buh-bye.   When Voldemort first left the vessel we were still at the lay berth in Fujairah.  That worked out pretty well because we could get to the Seaman’s Center for our meals.  However, for the last three days we’ve been on our own.

The Bosun would get up early and cook breakfast an then start prepping lunch.  I’d join him at around 0800 and would mostly cut veggies or make a side dish.  I couldn’t get too much done because I needed to be on the bridge by 0945.  I’d stand my morning watch and then head back down to the galley.  I’d cook dinner with the Bosun from 1200-1700 and then I’d hightail it to the bridge for my 1800-2400 watch.

Like I wrote earlier we served oriental chicken and a stir-fry our first dinner.  Lunches consisted of a taco / burrito day, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers and other relatively simple items.  However, I’m going to make a bold statement and say we really went all out for dinners.  Our second night was pasta with a meat sauce (made by the Bosun) and eggplant parmesan (made by me).  Last night was roast turkey in a light gravy (made by the Bosun) and baked tilapia in a mayonnaise pesto sauce (made by me).  We got rave reviews!

I’ve said over and over agina that I’d love to be Steward for one rotation.  Food on ships is something that I complain about NON-STOP.  Every time I come back to work I gain 10 pounds – and I’m not being overly dramatic.  At home I eat so well!  I strive to fill my fridge with as much locally grown and organic foods as possible.  I consistently eat delicious and wholesome fresh foods.  I’m not the kind of person who can have a bag of cookies in the house and not eat them.  The ship is a constant challenge for me.  Fried foods, deserts at every meal, huge portions – the list could go on forever.  Plus, I stand watch in the cargo control room – right across from the galley!  The mess deck has a constant supply of chips, cookies and other fattening munchables.  Where was I going with this?  Oh yeah…I’ve always wanted to prove that a steward could bake the fries – not fry them….could  roast the veggies – not steam them in butter….could have a dynamite salad bar….you get the idea.  After my brief stint in the galley I really feel that it’s simply a matter of truly caring.  Caring not only about your job performance but also about your shipmates!

I can also say….it’s physically exhausting!!!  My body aches!  My back is creaking and groaning.  A day later and my dogs are still barking!  I feel like I’ve been tank cleaning and bilge diving for a week straight!

While it was a little stressful to not have a menu plan it was also a little fun to figure out what we could ‘whip up’ (I use this term lightly because cooking for twenty-one was more like ‘quickly mass produce’).  The freezers and pantry were well stocked (albeit with some staples missing…and really, do we need four boxes of Pollock?!).  Voldemort left us in a weird veggie state….tons of hearty’s with no lettuce.  All in all it turned into a fun (not to mention hot & sweaty) learning lesson.

During the past few days I've been thinking of the movie Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Misfortunate Events- one of my all time favorites.  This movie fell into my lap by accident about two years ago when I didn’t think things could get any worse….and then they did.  (Actually, it was here on this same good ship…)  Lemony Snicket gives a brief narration that I go back to over and over again:  “Dear reader, there are people in the world who know no misery and woe. And they take comfort in cheerful films about twittering birds and giggling elves.  There are people who know that there’s always a mystery to be solved.  And they take comfort in researching and writing down any important evidence.  But this story is not about such people.  This story is about the Baudelaires.  And they are the sort of people who know that there’s always something.  Something to invent, something to read, something to bite and something to do, to make a sanctuary, no matter how small.  And for this reason, I am happy to say, the Baudelaires were very fortunate indeed.”

There is ALWAYS something!  I love it.