Sunday, April 20, 2014


That's it, pure providence is the only reason I'm here right now instead of at work. When I got sick a month ago and missed crew-up, my first fear was that I was going to miss Easter. For the Russian orthodox, Easter is the most important holy day of the year, and a more festive celebration than most people realize. So I wrote it off, until it started to look like I could actually make it. When it was clear that we were getting in on Saturday the nineteenth, I couldn't believe my luck. At 3 pm eastern time yesterday I was getting off the Sentry in Jacksonville and heading for the airport, and after two flights with a connection in Charlotte, I landed in SFO at 10:40 pm. I took bart to the civic center and caught a cab on Market (my driver was from Belarus and orthodox as well, so we chatted in Russian on the drive to the outer Richmond) to my hotel room to change into a dress and then to church at half past midnight for the all-night service, which went until 4:30 in the morning. At five am mom and I returned to our hotel room for a nap until it will be time to get up again for noon mass and a day of parties. The sound of our footsteps echoing against the silence of the empty streets filled me with a kind of wonder - silence like this I haven't heard in more than a month. 

I couldn't help thinking this is the most enchanting city I know as I showered off yet another cross-country flight and listened from my open window to the sparrows waking up full of song in Sutro Heights Park, watching the pale blue light of morning kiss the outlines of cypress and eucalyptus trees overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I made it, and today I don't care about anything else. 

Христос Воскресе!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Two Feet In

Around the new year I was really struggling with whether to stay here on the Puerto Rico run - I wanted a job on the west coast so I could be closer to home and not travel so much for work. I could work in Valdez, or go to the ATBs and live on a nice big boat and have my crew change right there in Martinez every month. I had all these ideas about what I could do to be happier at my work and was coming up with reasons to leave, none of them very compelling and most of them conveniently crafted to serve my discontent.

Then one day I read this great little piece on relationships by Wendy Strgar that talked about having one foot out the door; how people, when they are unhappy with their current situation, come up with reasons to leave and constantly focus on an "escape hatch", this sort of "I could be much happier if..." mentality that takes their focus away from the present and robs them of the chance to grow by fully committing to making the best of what they have. It hit me then that the same concept could easily apply to a career. And I was that person with one foot out the door - I wanted out, and my job performance and attitude were suffering because I was never fully focused on the present moment; I was always thinking about how I could get away from this and move on to something better.

Suddenly it became clear that I would be happier if I made the conscious decision to stay and commit to excelling in my current position. As soon as I came to that conclusion, it was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I stopped complaining and emerged from the depressed only-half-here twilight I'd been living for months. This decision changed everything. I could work on a newer boat and enjoy more comfort and updated amenities, but the truth is I really like towing; it works for me. And even though they're old, I love these boats - they're powerful and sturdy, and everyone knows them. I have friends in their fifties who worked on these Invader class tugs for Crowley thirty years ago, and I'm really proud to be part of that legacy. So for now I've got both feet planted firmly in the present and I'll do great things with what I've got.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Blogging in bed

We're off the coast of Florida - close to Boca Raton - and I just got off watch. There was a mean easterly blowing at thirty knots when I went up at midnight and after half an hour of position reports and abstracts, and updating the gps with a new route (no Providence Passage, yes old Bahama channel) it was so rough and I was so nauseated I thought I was going to lose it. But somehow I maintained and after two hours of sitting still and sipping gatorade, I felt normal again. The deck hand sat nearby quietly for most of the watch and nobody said much of anything. Usually he's a big talker but I wasn't able to respond with much enthusiasm for a while there. 

Some of these boats have a cell signal repeater in the forepeak, which is why I am on the internet in my room now. Makes it less of a cave down here. Soon we'll be crossing the stream and heading down Santaren channel toward Cuba. I'm passing out with my meclizine and water bottle and hoping to wake up near Bimini later today feeling a little less queasy. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Missed Connection

I was supposed to crew up last Saturday, but when I got food poisoning the night before, I was so incapacitated that I missed the boat altogether; I had to spend three extra days in Jax in a hotel room but made the best of it by making time for dinner with a favorite friend on monday, and I even babysat my boss's adorable baby daughter while he and his wife moved house! It could have been a lot worse. Now I'm with a new crew and I think it will be a great trip. There is a massive low off the North Atlantic coast so we'll try to avoid the worst of it by taking the old Bahama channel. See you in San Juan.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Celestial II

I came back to Seattle on the first of March to take celestial navigation for the second time at PMI, because even though I took it once before more than two years ago, by the time I was ready to take license exams in the fall of '12 I had forgotten everything I had learned about celestial a year prior and instead of testing for a 500-ton mate oceans, I settled for just the 1600 near coastal. I knew at the time I was making a mistake taking the easy way out, especially considering that my current job requires that I hold an oceans endorsement. But in January I applied for my 1600-ton ocean master and now I am waiting for approval to test, so it all evens out in the end. Because the government shutdown last October created a huge backlog in coast guard license application processing, I have no idea how much longer I will have to wait for that letter to arrive; I had a few friends who had applications pending while the furlough was happening, and I can't imagine how frustrated they must have been!

Thanks to the awesome people at PMI, I'm definitely ready to tackle at least the celestial navigation problems. The next month of work, starting with a routine crew-up this Saturday, will consist of daily shipboard study - crunching nav problems, polishing up on rules of the road, staring at Murphy's books every afternoon - and I'm hoping that by my next crew-off date I'll be calling West Virginia for an appointment to sit for exams at the Seattle REC in April. Since I'm never home to actually receive the mail, the PO box I share with my mom (de facto personal assistant and unsung hero) will be closely watched for a letter from the NMC.

I'm not very good at studying on the boat; it usually feels like enough work each day to do chart corrections and voyage plans and collision avoidance and keep an eye on the tow wires and the barge, plus spend an extra hour most afternoons learning how to fill out the endless paperwork that we have to turn in at the end of each trip. When I get off watch I usually want to go to my room and do nothing. I've never understood how some guys manage to study for license exams while they're out on the boat, but I'll have to figure it out because I don't want to lose any more time leading up to this license upgrade; when I had the sea days to sit for my mate's, I stalled out on several unfinished projects for school and lost several months!

A note on the newest class of workboat cadets at PMI: what a great group of like-minded people. I got to talk to them at their orientation on March 3rd in Seattle and give them a little advice. I remember myself in their position four years ago, and it sounded to me like each one of them has a solid opportunity at each of their respective companies to learn what they need to know and succeed in their on-the-job training, as well as to make new friends in the classroom. I am so excited for them and wish them the best of luck.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


That's right, this girl is hitting up FOUR airports today!! I get to go home and escape the last leg of the trip, even though it's going to be a hell of a long day. Better than a hell of a long week, which is more what I'm used to. I'll be reporting from the other end of the country in ... I don't even know how many hours. Between four time zones and three different flights, I don't dare try to do the math. I'm sitting at the gate in the San Juan airport surrounded by sunburned Americans heading back to Atlanta and beyond - I need a drink and some unlimited internet access. Also a place to charge my phone, because I've been glued to it since 3:30 this morning. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014


It's not my typical way to rant on this blog as I did in my last post - sorry, back to work. Things haven't been bad out here, we've had lots of sunshine (I've found that the best weather in the caribe happens in the winter, unsurprisingly) and huge fish!

We're on our third boat in three weeks. When we switched boats a week ago in PR, I forgot my personal coffee stash on the Defender and had to drink folgers for two nights before I gave up. I made a run to the store in Jax yesterday and I just had a cup of real coffee for the first time in a week, it's like straight-up crack in all the best possible ways. Wide awake here. 

We're on the Patriarch now; this boat has been in the yard for over a month, so everything is covered in a layer of grime and I've got six weeks' worth of chart corrections to do. I will get off the boat when we get to San Juan and fly home to take celestial (again) and do license prep for my 1600 ton master. Bring it on!