Category Archives: Licensing

Sikuliaq, tugs, shipyard and training

I’ve been home since just before Thanksgiving and enjoyed a nice holiday season with the family and got a lot done around the house too.  

Shortly after Thanksgiving I took a Vessel, Company and Facility Officer Course at PMI in Seattle. 

 Right after that I flew to New York City, rented a car and drove about an hour and half North along the Hudson River to complete my TOAR ( towing officer assessment record) on a very old diesel electric tug named the Cornell.  The program is offered by Diamond Marine Services and helps mariners like me who have a good chunk of their toar complete but are having a hard time getting the time at the wheel to finish the maneuvering portions.  In my particular case, the tugs I work on mostly tow freight barges from Seattle to Alaska.  When we pull into port, the chief mate, second mate and ab’s are all up on the barge to make her fast.  Only the captain remains aboard to maneuver the tug (sometimes the captain and chief mate trade roles).   It could take years before I could knock out all of the assessments, especially since we don’t do many of the maneuvers often or where I could break away from my job to get time to do them.  Diamond’s program lets you complete all the maneuvering with their tug and deck barge.  

As soon as I returned from New York, I turned in another application at the USCG in Seattle .  It took nearly 2.5 months to get my new MMC in the mail as they were so backed up with mariners trying to beat the rule change deadlines at the end of 2016.

I did one quick little overnight tug job from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada and back in January to deliver a barge to a shipyard:

Seattle, the Emerald City (evening):

Vancouver, Canada (very early am):

Mt. Baker along the way:

In early February, I was scheduled to work at Vigor Shipyards (formerly Todd Shipyard) for one month onboard the Thomas G. Thompson. She’s in getting a full makeover and re-power refit, re-pipe, paint, and many other upgrades. Shortly after getting my schedule all figured out, I received a call from the University of Alaska to make a relief trip on the R/V Sikuliaq.  I had to change my shipyard stint from one month to two weeks.  Trust me when I tell you that two weeks was plenty!  The ship is all torn apart and a ton of work to get done.  It was interesting to see the progress being made.  It will also be interesting to see if it will be done on time or not.

Shortly after accepting the relief gig on the Sikuliaq, I got called by my tug company to make a run to Dutch Harbor for roughly 35 days.  It’s their slowest time of the year so when I told them I found some relief work they were totally cool with it because they had several people to try and keep busy.  When I return in April they should picking up steam and probably keep me super busy over the summer.

So shortly I’ll be leaving home to join the Sikuliaq.  She’s got an ice class hull designed for science trips in the Arctic.  I’m meeting her in Hawaii and taking her to Newport, Oregon stopping by Musician Seamounts for some project that I’m not yet sure of.  She’s 261′ long, 55′ wide and was launched in 2014.  Until recently, she had a terrible reputation as having a awful ride.  A problem was discovered with the ships roll tank and once that was corrected the ride has improved dramatically according to those I’ve talked to.  We shall see.  Here are some more pics:

Everyone be well and I’ll try to keep updates rolling……..if the internet works.

Seattle to SF Bay; Spirit of Sacremento Salvage

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A couple days after arriving home from Alaska, my phone rang and the office called and wanted me on a tug Southbound to SF Bay two days later.  I was home just long enough to mow the grass, clean out the gutters, do a few honey do’s and repack my bag.

Our job consisted of towing the gigantic derrick crane barge, D.B. General, to SF Bay where it would be used to salvage the derelict sternwheeler “Spirit of Sacramento”.   She had seen better days and has quite the storied past including being previously owned and used in a film by John Wayne.  Read more of her history here: Spirit of Sacramento.

So we crewed up at 2300, loaded and stowed all of the stores and supplies for a midnight departure from the yard.  The chief engineer was struggling with one of the Caterpillar engines running for around 20 seconds and then shutting down.  It was determined that a sensor had gone bad and he went about changing it out.  Once the repair was completed the same problem persisted and the port engineer (now onboard) and the chief decided the issue was more complex and in the effort to remain on schedule we would take another tug instead.  We spent the next couple hours shifting all of our personal equipment and clothes, groceries that had already been put into the freezers / reefers and boxes thrown away, ships supplies etc to the new tug.  It was a huge undertaking for a quick departure and everyone was spent.  Then we got underway for the 2 hour run to Seattle to get fuel.  We arrived about the time I should be getting off watch and we fueled for about 4 – 5 hours.  Then we met our barge as it was brought out of the river to us.  We made up and got underway and I managed about a 60 minute nap before my next watch.

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Transferring all of our stuff to the Polar Ranger.

I crashed after watch and skipped dinner to get caught up on some sleep.  On my next Midnight watch from 12-0400 we were just approaching the western end of the Straights of Juan De Fuca and the forecasts offshore really weren’t looking good.  As my watch ended and I racked out, we turned the corner into the Pacific and proceeded to get our asses kicked.  Forget about sleeping as all effort was spent just holding on.  During the next watch at noon I shot al little video.  The seas and winds had come down quite a bit at this point but we were still getting worked.  

After the storm of the first night, the weather was awesome!  We put out the hand lines hoping to catch some fresh albacore on the steam south, but didn’t get a nibble.  

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We had several encounters with massive swarms of porpoises swimming with us and playing in our bow wake.  It is a fairly common thing to see these guys while underway in the ocean.  

It took us three days to get to SF Bay and we pulled in under the Golden Gate in perfect conditions.  It’s always cool passing under the bridge, Alcatraz and the skyline of SF.  We towed the barge up the Sacramento River to Vallejo, which is where Cal Maritime is located.  We dropped our barge off to the contractor so they could complete rigging the crane for the salvage job.  The next morning two Westar tugs came and got the barge and took her upriver to the job site.  We were bummed that we wouldn’t be able to be involved with the operation or even see it.  The contractor said they would be back in three days so we laid at a deep water site across the river from where we delivered the barge.  It was another contractor who offered to let us tie up at their facility as it has sufficient water depth.  They also gave us keys to one of their yard trucks!  That was totally cool of them and allowed us to get out around Vallejo a little bit.  A note about Vallejo…….it’s a pretty run down rough area.  Don’t plan a family vacation there…ever.

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So what’s an AB supposed to do while tied to a dock and the sun is shining?  Break out the painting shit and get to work.  We also serviced all of the on board safety equipment and ran the emergency dewatering pump.  

On our last day of waiting, myself and the second mate, took the truck over to Cal Maritime for a tour.  The mate is a graduate of the Maine Maritime workboat program and I probably looked like his father.  The people at Cal Maritime were very gracious and gave us a full tour even though I made it clear that we weren’t going to be enrolling.  I think the most fun I had was wearing my new “Hawespipin Ain’t Easy” shirt around the campus.  The shirt was a gift from a fellow maritime blogger when I passed by mate exams earlier this summer.  Please go check out his selection of shirts and get one for yourself from Workboatwear.  The campus of Cal Maritime is really nice and the facility is really nice.  It’s too bad the town doesn’t match.  We toured the engineering labs, simulators (weren’t in operation), the classrooms, the training ship “Golden Bear”, the bookstore and had a nice lunch in the cafeteria.  When I was getting out of high school I had no idea an option like this existed.  For a young person wishing to go to sea, I would suggest this type of route.  It will give you a huge head start over hawespiping along with a degree.  

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Three days later our barge returned and the contractor crew spent some time stowing all of their gear and lashing everything for us to tow her back to Seattle.  The trip north was uneventful and the weather was superb.

All in all a great trip with a great crew and it ended up being a total of 14 days.

 

Sweet Baby Jesus – Hawsepiping Ain’t Easy!

Breathing a huge sigh of relief as just a couple of hours ago, I passed my re-take exam for Terrestrial Navigation with 100%!  That completes my exams and calls for some beverages.

Hawespipin ain’t easy.  Don’t ever forget that.

Have a great weekend.

T

Summer Happenings

Returned home from the South Pacific at the end of April and have been nonstop since.  Here are some notes about what has been happening.  I told myself to not wait so long between posts and keep this blog more updated and will try to in the future, especially since I can’t use the slow internet excuse now that I’m home.

So here goes:

A couple days after getting home, I went to Westport to run halibut charters for my friends Mark and Merry at All Rivers and Saltwater Charters.  They have built their business into a year round sport fishing operation with the main focus being on tuna during the summer on board their four Defiance 29 Pilothouse boats.  They also run salmon, bottom fish, halibut, ling cod, and river fishing trips.  They have some very reliable, professional captains and I fill in occasionally to allow them time off for weddings, days off, etc throughout the season when I’m not at sea on my regular ship.

The way the season works is there is a deep water halibut opener every Sunday and Tuesday until the overall area quota is caught.  In recent years this means maybe a total of 3-4 total days of halibut fishing.  This year, we fished Sunday, Tuesday, the following Sunday was blown out due to weather, and a final Tuesday.  Then the season was over.  I had originally avoided committing to the final Tuesday in anticipation of a 5 day research vessel trip onboard the Clifford A. Barnes.  I had been contacting the Port Captain over and over to get confirmation the trip was a go but had no reply and no firm plan ( turns out he was in Korea) so I went ahead and committed to run a charter on the final Tuesday halibut opener.   Shortly after committing, I was also confirmed to run the research cruise starting on Wed (be onboard 0630).  I finished the halibut trip, finished receiving payments and hauled ass for home (3 hour drive), got home a 2230 Tuesday night, repacked my clothes and gear, crashed out and my wife drove me to Seattle at 0530 Wednesday morning.

This was my first trip as captain of the Barnes and took place at the Elwha River near Port Angeles (also where the Port Angeles pilot station is for large ships entering Puget Sound).  The marina is very tight and is where one of the three Westport Yacht factories are located ( recently purchased by the Chouest Family).  There are usually a few Westports parked in a already packed marina.  The long time Barnes captain of 27 years was on board to walk me through the boat, answer questions but mostly to train me how to maneuver this old girl.  She was built in 1965 as a USCG Ice Breaking Harbor Tug and has a fairly deep forefoot and nearly flat stern.  Captain Ray says “she handles like a salad bowl with a too small rudder”.  I took her from our home dock in Lake Union, through the Ballard Locks and out to Port Angeles.  Our pre-arranged moorage spot ended up being directly behind a 125′ Westport Yacht with two more parked across the narrow fairway behind us (where we would normally turn).  To ice the cake, the opening day of halibut season in this area was during our stay, which meant a whole bunch of small boats coming and going, coming and going to the fuel dock adjacent to our berth and just adding to my trial by fire.  After a couple of days of tutoring me on the finer points of the Barnes,  Captain Ray headed home and left me and my mate, Ken, to run the rest of the trip,  everything went fine and I really got a pretty good feel for this old girl.

The cruise itself was an extension of an earlier project monitoring the effects of removal of two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River and studying the sediment flows from the river mouth into the bay.  It is the third time I’ve been able to do this cruise in the last few years and the change each time is extraordinary.  On the evening of the forth day (Saturday evening) the science party disembarked choosing to drive back to Seattle instead of steaming on the Barnes (8.5 knots cruising speed) approx 9-10 hours. Ken and I departed around five in the morning and arrived back at the UW around 1400.  Ken’s family picked him up within minutes of getting tied off and I hung out for a bit until my buddy Mikey arrived.  We went downtown, parked, found a killer sports bar and ordered some grub and cocktails and went to the Key Arena (former home of the Seattle Supersonics – fuck you very much NBA) and went to The WHO Concert.

Yes THE WHO are old.  YES they still rock and put on an amazing show.  Check that off of my bucket list, before they kick the bucket.  Got home around 0030 Monday morning.

Out the door 0630 to head to Ballard to Crawford’s Nautical School for a license prep course.  Crawford’s has been in operation since 1923 in some form or another and is family run and owned.  Crawford’s differs from many other prep courses that offer similar training.  They operate on a four week rotating schedule with week A being rules of the road, B being Nav Gen, C being Deck Gen and Deck Safety and week D being Bridge Resource Management (BRM).  Then you self study from home or in class until you feel you are ready to test at the Coast Guard for your appropriate license level (smaller license levels can test at Crawford’s).  I’m working on my 1600 Mate Near Coastal license.  I sat in on the four weeks of classes with the only variation being that instead of doing week D (BRM) I went to a different classroom with a few other students and studied Terrestial Navigation since I had already BRM.  T-Nav includes navigation along coasts by dead reckoning, taking bearings from known points such as lighthouses, buoys, prominent land features, etc., figuring distance traveled with speed by wheel or RPM, tide and current calculations and things like vessel intercepts, and hurricane avoidance. It also has some celestial navigation included like azimuth of the sun or star, amplitudes of the sun and sunrise / sunset calculations.  For my license level the T-Nav module (test) is 15 questions and I can only miss one in order to pass.  Another major difference that is different at Crawford’s vs. another school or course, is that once you pay the course fee, it is good for one year.  You can come and go as you like or as your work schedule allows.  This is really nice for the working mariner, however you must be diligent and stick to a plan in order to finish.

While in class, my regular ship, the Thomas G. Thompson passed our window on the way to the shipyard for the next year.  Seattle Times did a nice write up here TGT heads to yard.

If anyone plans to test or upgrade their license, I highly suggest reading the following post from fellow blogger Crewboat Chronicles detailing the process.  I referenced this post many times through the process and found it extremely helpful.  Read it here:  Hawsepipers guide to applying, studying, passing Master / Mate 500/1600

My original plan, prior to actually taking the course, was to take the four weeks of courses and then study from home for about a month before testing.  Once we got into the meat of the program, it became apparent that I would be much better off with instructors from Crawford’s assisting me.  To get to Crawford’s takes almost exactly 45 minutes to drive from my house.  That’s with no traffic.  This is Seattle, there is traffic.  Slow, painful traffic which turns my drive into at least 1.5 hours each way.  To compensate for the traffic, I started leaving home at 0500 and staying at class until 1900 each day.  This also allowed me to study alone for a couple hours in the mornings and evenings and really get a lot done but have assistance for questions during the day.  It worked awesome and I made a tentative plan in mind head to test this coming week.

Then my port captain called and needed me to run two five day trips on the Barnes back to back.  This cut my plan down by one week.  I didn’t want to try and take a couple weeks off from studying and then try to re-enter and have to make up ground, so I decided to try and take the tests Wed, Thurs and Fri just before the Fourth of July so I called the USCG and scheduled testing times at their local regional exam center.  When I scheduled with them, they put me on the schedule, but they said call back Monday and confirm with Bill ( he runs the testing room) as he would be returning from vacation.  On Monday when I called Bill, he said no testing on Friday because they were getting early liberty for the 4th of July, but that I could instead test on Tues, Wed and Thursday.  That cut my study time by one more day.  The tests are given in modules and for my license I need 6 modules.  You have to take a minimum of two each day and they must be done on consecutive days.  If you pass four, you are locked in and can come back at any time in the next 90 days to complete missed modules.  Miss three or more and you must do a full re-take of all 6 modules.  When my study schedule was reduced, I made a tactical decision to focus all of my effort on four modules: rules, t-nav, nav gen and chart plotting.  I would leave deck gen and deck safety for last and didn’t spend any time studying them.  Not at all how I would have liked to approached the exams, but shit happens.

The first day of testing you must take Rules first and then it is your choice which modules to do next.  I missed one on Rules.  Then I took t-nav because I wanted to get it while it was fresh in my brain.  I could only miss one…I missed three.  Ended the day 1 for 2.  Went back to class (5 miles away) and studied until 7 pm.  Thursday I started with the chart plot (15 questions can only miss 2).  I missed two and passed!  Then did nav-gen and passed.  Ended day two 3 of 4 total.  Day three I now must pass at least one of the final two subjects ( the two subjects I really haven’t studied at all).  Passed them both!  Ended five for six.  A huge relief!  Then I reported to the Barnes and spent a couple days provisioning and loading gear.

We had a successful first day and made it to our anchorage and experienced a trip ending mechanical failure.  We organized getting the science party disembarked with our small boat the next morning  and have made plans for a tow back for repairs.  The good news is that crab season just opened and few of the crew had pots and a cooker onboard so we had a fresh crab lunch yesterday while logistics were being worked out for our tow.

Repairs so far seem like they should go pretty quickly and we will be on schedule for our next trip.  This current trip will likely be rescheduled shortly after.  I will work in a week of study and go pass that last module.

Whew, that was a long post!  Everyone be safe and have a good summer.  More news coming soon!

T

Freedom and other happenings

Free at last!  I had three weeks of at Christmas after a 4 month hitch.  I then reported back on for another 93 days, which turned into 104 days due to a mechanical issue.  I can’t complain too much because it is what I signed up for.

There were definitely some low points along the way.  Both of my wife’s grandparents passed away while I was at sea.  They were married for 73 years and passed about a month apart and were a huge part of our lives .

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Last week my oldest girl’s dog, Whopper, had to be put to rest due to liver and kidney failure.  He was a key part of our family and will be dearly missed.

Our ship goes into the yard for a mid-life refit starting in June.  The yard is period is scheduled for 10 months, but likely will be longer.  Our girl in getting new power, new unified bus, new plumbing, paint, bridge configuration,  furniture,  hvac, and a long list of other things.

So the long hitches were to make some extra money, bank more comp time, and rack up as much seatime as possible.

In a couple weeks I will be starting a license prep course at Crawfords Nautical School in Ballard, WA for 6 weeks.  Then I’ll go take a test at the USCG for a 1600 Mate ticket.

In the meantime, I’ll be running a couple 6 pack halibut charters out on the coast and attending to my wife’s honey – do list and just enjoy being home for a bit.

When I get a little downtime, I’ll get a few posts up about our adventures.

T

Hittin’ the books & moving up

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Once we landed at the docks in San Diego early last month, I’ve had only one week at home with nothing scheduled to do.  The rest have been spent in class rooms.

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The first course was GMDSS, which deals with high seas and safety communications.  The first week was all theroy, frequencies, law, etc.  The second week was all hands on the vhf radios, mf / hf radios, satellite communication equipment, etc.  Luckily, there were only three students in the two week class so we all got lots of practice.   By the end of the course I was ready to sit in a corner and stare at a wall and drool.  My mind was turned to mush.  Thankfully I passed and don’t need to sit through that torture again.

The next course was a course to upgrade my license from 100 Ton – 200 Ton Master.  I could have simply taken a test at the USCG office in Seattle, but felt better going to Compass Courses in Edmonds, WA to learn the required items and take the test at thier facility.  I could have simply skipped this license level, but it was such a low hanging fruit requirement wise, that it was stupid not to reach out and pick it.
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Next up I will begin a two week Medical Care Provider.  This is the last required course needed on the USCG’S checklist for me to upgrade to 1600 Mate Near Coastal.  There will be more courses down the road, but now I’ll be able to focus on studying on taking a major test later this year.

I’ve also got to complete the OICNW assessments (officer in charge of a navigational watch).  There are 86 assessments required and I’ve got something like 23 remaining.  

So that’s the state of my union licensing wise.  Having a blast love watching the ball move forward.  There is light at the end of the tunnel!

There are some really cool adventures coming in the future, do stay tuned!