It has been a while since my last post, so it is time to end radio silence and fill in everyone on what has been happening in my climb of the Hawespipe.
Last Sunday I left rainy, cloudy Seattle and headed to Houma, Louisiana to take a RFPNW Course. RFPNW stands for Ratings Forming Part Of A Navigational Watch and is a STCW requirement for Able Seaman to serve as lookout or helmsman on bridge of a vessel.
The flights to New Orleans was uneventful and I picked up my rental car for the week. A tiny little Toyota Yaris! It probably looked pretty funny with me being 6’4″ driving around in this little shoe box. The car got insane mileage and the most I was ever able to fill up was 9 gallons (after driving over 350 miles). Here is the car:
The place where I was staying only allowed check in after 3PM and before 7 PM, so I followed the bayou South through Galliano and Golden Meadow. The little bayous are full of shrimp boats, houseboats, older supply vessels, tugs and everything in between. The larger channels had many shipyards and it was not uncommon to see multiple vessels under construction, vessels being refurbished or other jobs like painting or inspections. The terrain here is flat as a pancake so getting a feel for where I was took a map and gps. The tallest elevation I found all week was a bridge over the Mississippi River. Because of the flat terrain, it was hard to see where all of the little waterways connected, where the bayou came close to the road, etc. You would be driving and all of a sudden turn a corner and see a tug boat pushing a load right next to the road. Totally different from the area I’m from! There were several amazing plantation style houses with the huge oak trees that had huge sweeping branches. Here is a picture taken through the car window. You can see a little bayou (back home, I’d call it a creek or small river). If you look closely you can see a shrimp boat just out of the photo and further down some other boats tied to the bank. This went on for miles. It was not uncommon for a boat to be tied up just a few feet from the side of the road:
The further South I went, the more the marsh areas took over and the backwater bayous surrounded by trees and bushes disappeared. You could actually see into the distance. I came to a long toll bridge that leads to Port Fouchon and Grand Isle:
The bridge was something like 8 miles long and as I neared the end, I could make out Port Fouchon in the distance. The first thing you come to near the bridge’s end is a little community of houses, most with their boat tied up alongside or under their house. All of the houses, building and even the school (just down the road in Grand Isle) are all built up about 15′ to allow for storm surge to pass without flooding the building. I could dig having my sportfish yacht you the back door:
The thing about Port Fouchon is that is absolutely clear that this is the epicenter of the Oil and Gas Industry in the United States, save for maybe the refining part around the Houston, TX area. This place was hopping, even on a Sunday with platform supply vessels, construction vessels, crew boats, trucks, cranes, and all of the other stuff buzzing around. Many other areas of the country have gas and oil, but the regulations prevent the drilling and the industry that comes with it. Louisiana has definitely embraced it and the amount of industry, commerce and jobs that support that industry are evident just about everywhere you turn. I drove around a little bit and snapped some photos:
I think one of the boats I snapped a picture of is the boat New England Waterman work aboard. Be sure to check out his blog.
The time was clicking away and I decided I better start heading back to the place I was staying. With all of the wandering and goofing around taking pictures, I didn’t realize how far I had ventured and that it would take some time to get back before the deadline of 7pm. Heading back, the clouds built and then opened up with one of the those downpours that last about 10 or 15 minutes and then end. I made it to the place (a bed and breakfast poplar with traveling mariners – many of you mariners will know the place without me mentioning the name) and it looked like no one was around. Finally the proprietor came to the door and said “What are you doing here?” in a way that indicated that perhaps I had done something wrong or otherwise pissed her off. I said “I have a reservation” and she went on to tell me that she had given away my room when she couldn’t get a hold of me. This was completely inaccurate, as my phone works fine and I had made and received several calls from home and friends since landing in Louisiana and she may check her records better. This was all happening in a downpour and the though crossed my mind to load my things and go to a regular hotel. Just then she said bring in your bags. Everything worked out to be just fine and I never really figured out why she would say something like this to her customer. About an hour later, I heard her ragging the next guest as he arrived as well. Over the next few days and I got meet some of the other mariners staying there, it seems they all had a similar story. Here is a picture of the B&B where I stayed:
So I had a few days to do some travelling around the region and I made several trips to different areas. On one day, I was driving down the highway and passed an Ginourmous Bass Pro Shops. I turned around at the next exit and stopped by:
I was walking down an isle checking out some of the stuff and two ducks flew by me so close I could feel the wind and they passed me. They live in the store and I saw them walking around a couple of times. My kids would like to visit here. I stayed about an hour and then carried on.
On Thursday and Friday I took the RFPNW course at Fletcher College in Houma. Their marine division is located in an area surrounded by more shipyards. Right behind the school is a shipyard with a large supply vessel under construction. Here is the school and a little bit of their equipment and surroundings:
The RFPNW Course was from 0700 to 1600. There turned out that there were only three students that showed up. Because of the small class size, the class zipped by and we were out early the first day. After we took lunch break, we went a checked out the simulator that we would be using on Friday morning. The simulator cost $770,000 and is built by Konesberg (sp?). Outside of the windows is a screen that wraps around 180 degrees and when the controller enters a program or training scenario is shows on the screen. The graphics are kind of like an early version of a Playstation, but the way it moves with the swell, handling of the ship, radar, etc. you really felt like you were in motion onboard the vessel. Here it is on Thursday without being turned on. You can see the screen through the windows. I peeked my head out of the window and looked down near the floor and there were a series of projectors around the outside of the house:
Friday we arrived, took a test of the material we learned on Thursday with 25 questions. We then each had one hour in the simulator. The master gave helm orders and we had to repeat the orders and control the ship as directed. There was a some extra time built into the hour to allow you to get the feel of the vessel. The simulated vessel is a 630′ x 115′ container ship and we were entering San Francisco Bay. The ship is similar in size as the Exxon Valdez. Coming from small boats, handling a large ship is totally foreign. I wish we had more time to play around with this system.
Here is the simulator turned on and you can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance:
Here is the control station where the controller was running the scenario. At one point he came into the simulator and was talking to me while I was trying to steer a straight course. He looked up at the screen and said I’m going to go turn down the swell. It had been building and was hitting me on the stbd. quarter. The floor was solid, but with the picture moving in the swells, your brain tells you that you are at sea and I could feel the swells. I looked at the floor a few times to verify it wasn’t moving (like you might see at Disneyland or somewhere like that).
After the simulator training was done for each student, we were issued our certificates, and all of the RFPNW control (assessment) sheets. I could have taken this course near home for little bit less money. If I had, I would then be required to get 180 days of sea time after the course with 90 days over 200 tons and the other 90 over 100 tons. By taking the course / simulator at Fletcher, the sea time is reduced to 60 days over 200 tons. It doesn’t take much to figure out what a huge benefit that is. I am now in search of a job on a vessel of at least 200 tons to complete the sea time requirement. Once I have the sea time to go with the certificate, I will send all of it to the USCG and be able to add the RFPNW Endorsement to my credentials.
The last few pictures I took out the car window on the way to the airport on Saturday. It would be just my luck that Saturday was by the most sunny, clear day of the whole week and the day I had to come home. The photos are of the swamp trees with the moss hanging off of them. I thought it was pretty cool, but not the best photos out the window of a moving car.