Tag Archives: testing

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

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!

Testing equipment under pressure

A couple of buildings up the hill from our dock, the University of Washington has the oceanography building. In early December, the oceanography department threw their annual Christmas party. While there, one of my friends that works in the building and showed me the pressure vessel. The building was built around the pressure vessel.

The vessel is basically three stories deep and when fully pressurized can produce over 10,000 p.s.i. (pounds per square inch). Just about any type of instrument that is designed to be placed on the ocean floor is first tested in the vessel as long as it can physically fit.

Not only is the vessel available to science and engineering departments, but outside companies can also rent time at very reasonable rates.

It’s hard to photograph something like this as most of it isn’t visible. It is a cool perk of the job to see cool stuff like this.

The top of the pressure vessel with the cap (plug) off.

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The plug goes in and makes a 1/4 turn to lock in place.

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The top of the vessel showing the locking grooves.

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When they come up to full pressure, they do it at night and clear out the building of personell in case something fails. If it were to fail, there probably won’t be much left of the building.

So there you have it. More posts soon.

The End Is Near…………Or Is It?

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For a week and a half (since Monday last week), my application has been marked on the NMC Website as “being evaluated PQEB”.  Since I’m not currently at sea, I check the website daily to see if any progress is being made.  Yesterday I called to see “WTF”.  They said they were waiting for my legacy file so they could review it and I should call back in 2 or 3 days.  Later in the afternoon, I recieved an email stating that further information was needed and that I have 90 days to respond (I have been expecting this).  I called as soon as I got the email, trying to get someone to email or fax whatever information they were requesting, so that I didn’t have to wait for the letter to come in the mail.  The lady on the phone said that the email I recieved was auto generated and there had not been a letter issued to me and there was nothing for me to respond to.  OK, I will have to wait.

This morning I called again, just to be sure, and they said there was a letter issued to me yesterday (wtf?) and to hold on while they located it and read it to me.

My application was approved for AB and for 100T N.C., however, I am being required to take a test (module #221) at the USCG before my license can be issued.  With a few phone calls I was able to find out that going from Inland to Near Coastal is the reason for the added module. So I spent a few hours tracking down exactly what is involved in #221 and for what reason I need this test.  Turns out that I have already taken and passed this module with my first license in 2009 and most of #221 was covered in the AB class I took a month and a half ago.  The module covers deck general, deck safety and environmental.  I feel like I could take the test cold turkey and do just fine, but will study over the weekend to be sure.  I don’t want to go downtown any more than needed.

I then went through a couple of rounds of email with the NMC to get a letter to test. You can’t just show up and expect to take a test. First you need an approval letter, then an appointment, then a test. At least I hope it works like that – I haven’t been there to test yet, so I’m not sure what else might happen.

As I get started on this career path, I do sense a pattern regarding the CG.  It seems that redunant testing of subjects comes up quite often (see my earlier post regarding RFNPW).  If any of you mariners out there, can confirm this for me or set me straight, please do.

Hopefully, with a little luck, this will all be completed next week (my part at least) and the thing will get approved to print, printed, approved to put in an envelope, put in an envelope, approved for postage, postage added, approved to mail, and mailed to me.  (They should hire me to build some really wicked flow charts for there website).

I would like to thank Capt. Richard Rodriguez at the Bitterend Blog for his quick and accurate answers. In addittion to providing license training for mariners in Washington State through Zenith Maritime, Capt. Rodriguez also publishes his blog daily.