Category Archives: Training

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.

 

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!

There’s a hole in our schedule

We were supposed to have been beginning a mid-life refit onboard the Thomas G. Thompson, however it was decided to postpone the refit for one year. This ship is one of several that works under UNOLS scheduling. UNOLS is the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (Click HERE for link) and our schedule is determined by a central dispatch type arrangement. If you are a scientist with a project in the Caribbean, they will schedule ship time for you on a ship that will be in the area. If you are working in the North Pacific, they will schedule time for you on the nearest ship and so on. Since we were “scheduled” to be in the shipyard now, we didn’t get put on the schedule. Later once it was decided to postpone the shipyard, the ship’s schedule was filled in as best as possible but we still had a six week gap at the dock.

We have been getting very familiar with our painting skills, cleaning, maintenance, etc. They are also doing some training. Next week there is one of the local maritime schools coming in to do Fast Rescue Boat Training. I won’t be able to make that because I’m getting sent out on the Clifford A. Barnes to help out for a short trip. I will get to take a course later.

We normally would be in the South Pacific at this time of year, but instead we will be getting spanked in the Gulf of Alaska over the winter. Stay tuned for a report. We have some other things to do first.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Radar Class this week

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Back at “skool” this week for Radar

Observer Unlimited.  Having used radar quite a bit over the years, I was pretty confident however plotting on paper has me spinning.  Its all coming together gradually.  Thankfully we have an excellent instructor.  Again:  I highly recommend Compass Courses.