Monday, January 5, 2015

Off The Ground

I feel like this is the first time since getting off the boat that I've been able to think clearly, been able to breathe. Some days it feels like my life is being held together with zip ties, nothing solid or certain or remotely comprehensible. I totally underestimated how difficult it was going to be to cull my belongings, a mountain of minutiae that I haven't been able to rustle up since at least college, never quite having had enough emotional space, or the luxury of time. What's throwing me the most is the birthday cards from my parents that I've kept over the years, holiday cards and notes full of well-wishes from old family friends or relatives who are no longer alive; pictures of me as a child with my grandparents; a note to my mother from my father; my first tiny tooth in a tiny box among the accumulated shadows of a lifetime up to this day. What do I do with things like that? I'm afraid I don't know. But all of the junk I've kept, that I have no idea why I kept - that's been easy to toss. You could supply a small country with the boxes full of God-knows-what that I dropped off at the Goodwill last weekend. So it will continue until I have a living space that contains only what is useful. Unnecessary clutter stifles creativity.

And now I'm on a plane headed to the Bay Area to celebrate Russian Christmas and see my parents, brothers, and best friend. It felt good when the plane left the ground; like an invisible hand closing around my rib cage, lifting me straight into the sky, into something new. I didn't know how I'd like the idea of this quick excursion south, but I'm thinking it will probably be a good thing.

The weeks of my last hitch, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, were helpful; I've been struggling to get on top of the Valdez routine, and I was also expected to start taking on training chief mate responsibilities as well. It was a reality check for me, as it ended with a rather painful and very beneficial eval from a captain I trust and respect. Armed with a clearer view of where my energies need to be directed, I think I can go back and start my next hitch with a little more enthusiasm for the opportunities that wait for me in Valdez. Working in Alaska has made me so happy; truly I have nothing to be afraid of.

I wrote down a few thoughts here and there last month, and I wanted to post them but couldn't bring myself to step up and talk to the outside world. I'll share them here soon.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Two Moon Bay

I can't believe it's the first of December already. Tonight we're heading out to Port Fidalgo to anchor up in a charming spot called Two Moon Bay (right next to Snug Corner Cove, no joke) where we will help to facilitate a barge crew change out in the sound in the early hours of tomorrow morning. 

The snow is finally starting to stick - it's been dry and unseasonably warm in Valdez so far. I've been looking forward to snow this whole time, with nothing to show for it! But I know it will not disappoint - talk to me again in a few months when I'm shoveling drifts of snow off the deck every day. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


The call came yesterday morning. I was on the Stalwart, waiting for an inbound tanker and getting ready to do my last ship line job before switching over to the Tan'erliq on crew change day - the port captain called the boat and I was summoned to the wheelhouse to take the call. I don't even remember what he said; something like we've completed processing paperwork for the new chief mate position, and you've been awarded it! I almost fell down. The captain was five feet away from me so I had to hold my breath to keep from squealing like a teenager but I allowed for a couple ecstatic hop/skips before calmly replying into the phone an appropriate "wow! That's fantastic, thank you!" And then I got back to my day, heart light and brain struggling to focus on the moment at hand. I wrote an email to the office asking for confirmation, because I was convinced I hadn't heard correctly. But it's been confirmed; I've been promoted to chief mate. It'll be a few days before I know what boat I'll go to next, but until then I'm happily settled in as second mate on the mighty Tan'erliq (that's pronounced Ten-AR-lik, in case you've wondered) and I love the people I work with, so I'm in no hurry and looking forward to whatever happens next. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Too much. Too much has happened since October 1st, more than I care to endeavor to write here. Guess I'm afraid to get bogged down trying to tell the mundane details of my life and boring everyone to death. But I'm back at work and I've been on the tug Stalwart in Valdez for a week and a half now - the Stalwart is in charge of crewing and running the line boats for ship jobs so I've been operating the line boats daily and standing a floating watch, which essentially means I have no set hours and all I do is sleep, eat, and work. I haven't written in my regular journal in months, and this schedule is stifling my resolve to get caught up. Also I find, ironically, that being miserable produces a lot of prose, while day after shiny, happy day makes for a pretty boring blog. Thankful that I've enjoyed the latter for a while now; however, I've been far from productive as far as writing is concerned. And I really want to continue the discussion of work and life at sea!

The few details from October that I feel warrant elaboration are my best friend's wedding in Saint Paul, MN, followed by a quick trip to Chicago. We enjoyed perfect weather for the occasion and wonderful fall color, especially in the charming city of Saint Paul.

The dress that I made!! Held up nicely.

On to Chicago...

And in the first week of November, I went back to my hometown to gather everything I own (for better or for worse) and move it from California to Seattle.

The move in particular is huge for me personally because this is the first time in five years that I've had my name on an apartment lease. Since I quit the life I was living at the end of 2009 and took off for the vast, wild north, I've surfed couches, stayed with family, lived on boats, and at times even slept in my car. I had no use for a permanent home! I've been living much the way numerous mariners I've met lived at some point in their careers, without ties to bind or roots to hold them down. I knew all along how lame it was going to be to pay rent again one day (as Jake likes to tell me, "welcome back to the real world"), but it's pretty amazing to have a space of my own, and to have all my things in one place - even if about seventy percent of it needs to be given away. Going through the detritus of untouched decades squirreled away in the dark corners of my mother's house - coming across childhood toys, photographs, college textbooks, love letters, clothes that I won't ever wear again, sewing patterns, shoes (and shoes, & more shoes) - let's just say it was quite a trip.

And now I'll be here in Valdez until December 27th. I've got more than a month to go, through Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm not unhappy about it; rather, I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in work, making strides with my training, enjoying my first snowy winter since I sailed on the Barbara Foss towing the Aquatrain from Prince Rupert to Whittier - earning extra holiday pay! And really, I'd be nuts to complain about this view.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My New Year

For me, the year starts over in October. That may be because I was born in October, but I think it's mainly the idea of newness that comes with the onset of cool weather, that "back to school" feeling. The sheer weight of change and the thrill I feel at so much possibility overwhelms me - and the possibilities do seem endless. In the fall you can reinvent yourself, become the person you want to be, renew your relationships, steep yourself in nostalgia or meet new people who promise to become lifelong friends. I've done all these things and more in the last few weeks, thanks to the decision I made a few months ago. 

I love the warmth of summer, but the cold northern air makes me feel alive; it clears my head and brings me to my senses. It's beautiful and utterly inspiring. Welcome to October. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer 2014

Tuesday, September 16

My summer effectively ends today. A month ago I couldn't get a flight out of Valdez and needed to get home to my plans which had already been cut short when I opted to stay at work an extra two weeks. Determined to be in Oakland rather than Valdez on Thursday morning, I booked a ticket on a flight leaving Anchorage just before midnight on Wednesday August 20th and hitched a ride from Valdez with my friend - another girl who is also a second mate and who was already driving to her home outside of Anchorage. Her chief mate, who lives all the way out in Maine, also rode along. We drove the Richardson highway to a small town called Glenallen before turning west and into the beautiful Matanuska Valley toward Cook Inlet. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were hot, still in our work clothes. At one point as we passed another one of countless lakes near the highway, she hit the brakes even before asking "do you guys want to go swimming?!" Of course! The answer was obvious and unanimous. So we went swimming in the perfectly cool water with the most magnificent glacier-carved mountains as our backdrop and my first time venturing into the Alaskan interior was marked by fun and new friendship.

I was so exhausted from the day and the midnight flight from Anchorage to Seattle that when I arrived at my gate at 5 in the morning to fly to Oakland I was sure it couldn't hurt to lie down for a quick nap - I set an alarm and bedded down with my backpack and chart tube filled with out-of-date charts of Prince William Sound. Only when I woke and sat bolt upright, heart pounding, thirty minutes after my plane was supposed to leave the ground did I realize that I had woken up to my alarm and promptly turned it off, rolling over to continue snoozing and sleeping straight through my boarding call. I had missed my plane. 

The next few minutes dragged as I panicked and scrambled to collect myself and my belongings, gasping for air and probably totally freaking out the people who were sitting near me. I pulled out my phone to find the next Alaska air flight leaving for Oakland: not until noon. I had a box of frozen halibut just hanging out at baggage claim waiting to be picked up and a train to catch, so noon was not an option. I bought a Southwest ticket for 9:10 and flew standby on the sold-out 7:55, getting myself to Oakland at 10. I got a rental car (forget the train), picked Jake up from west Oakland bart, and after stopping at Brown Sugar Kitchen for lunch (the chicken and waffles are bomb! Go there!), we drove to Tahoe for a visit with dad. 

Jake flew home to Seattle at the end of the weekend and I stayed in Tahoe for another week. When it was time for me to go down to Napa, I managed to continue my travel snafu by missing my bus out of Truckee - I thought it was a train, so while I was waiting for a train I missed the bus. Dad was in Reno playing handball and wouldn't be back until late so I discovered the Tahoe regional transit system and for $3.50 got myself back to Tahoma for a pizza and some beers and spent one more night in Rubicon. 

The next day I made my *bus* and went home to spend time with my mom and brothers and finish my best friend's wedding dress. She gets married next month in St. Paul, Minnesota and I will be there four weeks from this Thursday via Anchorage and Chicago O'Hare, all going well. I can't post a picture of the dress because it's a jealously guarded secret until October 18th but Jaime loves it, so I'm off the hook. 

I flew up to Seattle last Friday to spend at least a little time with Jake before coming back to work. Today I flew up to Anchorage and at the moment I'm back on the highway with my friend heading to camp tonight somewhere on our way to Valdez. We're laughing about how excited we are to camp, not thinking about how we'll be working for 4 weeks on the other side of tonight. A camping trip should ease the transition back to life on the boats, no? 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Today was the most event-filled day I've had since I've been here. We got underway from the dock this morning at 7 to do an ice report for the next inbound tanker. Once we called in the ice report to the VTS and turned around at Bligh reef to head back to Valdez, the captain decided we should practice man-overboard maneuvers, using a small white buoy thrown in the water as the "man" and trying to get alongside for a rescue without running him over. I'm loving the chance to learn how to run a Z-drive (more on that to come) and getting better at it. 

When we returned to port just ahead of the inbound tanker Alaskan Legend, I went on one of the line boats (we have two here; they are little conventional tugs used for running lines from the ship to the dolphins at the dock, as well as other odd jobs, from barge assists to mail deliveries) to run lines on the bow and stern of the ship. The weather was calm and the sun was out for the first time in a week, so it was a perfect day for training. 

After dinner, during which the captain commended our CMA cadet for 90 days of good work aboard the Aware (he's been here all summer so he was teaching me the new routine of this boat when I got here a month ago), the chief engineer allowed me to service one of the auxiliary generators, something I've never done but always wanted to learn. There were four different filters to change out, two for oil and two for fuel, plus he showed me the process of pumping out the used oil and replacing it with new oil, repressurizing the system and checking that everything is buttoned up before running it to check that there are no leaks. It was fun and different, a great way to end the day. 

I'm out of here and headed home in just one day and a wake-up! Six weeks has gone so fast!