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couldn't hurt to lie down for a quick nap - I set an alarm and bedded down with my backpack and chart tube filled with out-of-date charts of Prince William Sound.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! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

There's a foot in my mouth

I made a bit of a gaffe yesterday. While doing a barge assist job with one of the small line boats, I made a comment to the people present (crew members whom I do not know very well, save one) that made it sound like I'd rather be working somewhere else. Goodness knows that isn't what I meant to convey, but the surprised looks on everyone's faces made it clear my comment was not well-received. Nothing I could say after that seemed to help the situation, so we just moved on.

I thought my moment of indiscretion could be a useful thing to share with younger sailors who are new to the maritime industry, or even a reminder to those with years of experience: be careful what you say at work. Making it sound like you don't appreciate what you have, or worse, talking about how you are planning to move on to something better, is bound to create nothing but resentment toward yourself. You are talking to people who have built their life around this work, just as you have, and they are not likely to appreciate statements like the one I made yesterday. It may have been in the heat of a discussion, in which case be it ego, anger, or just plain hubris that causes my mouth to run away, but still it wasn't the time or place for it. My worst trait is my way of speaking rashly without forethought - just ask most of my friends and anyone in my family - and I get in trouble for doing it all the time. So let me say: play your cards close to the vest and mind those around you, because someone's ruffled feathers can mean a dark spot on your reputation which, being easily perpetuated by the ever-turning maritime gossip mill, can be difficult to erase.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Another home

I came here because I hoped for the feeling of homecoming, the relief of being closer to the west coast, a respite from the oppressive tropical sun; and because I feel it is a part of the world where I can, without hesitation, invest precious energy into my work and the people around me, a concept which always eluded me when I worked in the south. 

Nothing here has disappointed yet. It's been a little over a month at work in Valdez and I've been in raptures ever since I arrived. Never has a hope or a choice I've made exceeded my expectations so thoroughly. Every day when I rise to the cool air and fill my lungs with the delicious fragrance of Alaskan summer, I thank the universe for allowing me to witness the beauty of this place. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Generally speaking, being fit and healthy and working on small oceangoing vessels do not usually go hand in hand. On tugs there are space issues that tend to limit the possibility of bringing workout equipment to work and storing it onboard, and unless you are particularly dedicated to calisthenics or bring a jump rope or weights or something, there aren't many options. Down south I took to walking the deck in the evenings and doing sit-ups in my room. One night while doing push-ups and planks I pulled a muscle in my ribs and a few hours later on watch the pain sent a wave of nausea over me so intense I curled up in a chair for the next twenty minutes, unable to move. It was perfectly clear that a) I was more out of shape than I've ever been in my life and b) I have no idea how to work out efficiently (warm up? who needs a warm up when you're doing planks?). As someone who had been involved in team sports most of my life, I was desperate. 

    Stern deck spin class: green mountains and jumping salmon make for a lovely view...

Then I came up here and ta-da!! No more will I boredom-eat junk food and skip meals trying to make up for it! No more will I mope around when I go home because none of my clothes fit me. I'd be lying if I said one of the biggest draws of Valdez wasn't the fact that they have workout equipment on just about every boat in the fleet. Add to that real cooks who are dedicated to serving healthy, balanced meals (I'm talking kickass salad bars and not a deep-fryer in sight). We have a lovely stationary bike recently purchased by the company for this boat, and I've been trying to use it daily. It's the worst when you're so out of shape that you want to quit ten minutes in because your heart feels like it's going to explode... But you have to start somewhere. Allow me to encourage other mariners to stay on top of their fitness, even though it's really hard when you're going to sea. The poor diet and lack of exercise tend to compound with bigger problems, and you don't want to be dealing with health complications ten years down the road!

Friday, July 11, 2014


It's hard to believe how much has happened in the last few weeks. From a new physical and work test to multiple drug tests (I had to submit hair for a drug test for the first time - I thought they'd need a few strands but turns out they want a whole lock of hair. When the girl in the clinic came at me with a pair of scissors I freaked out, not gonna lie) to the flight over the mountains, looking down at the tops of glaciers, and walking around Valdez at 9 pm and thinking it was the middle of the day, I got what I expected and a whole lot more. 

On crew change day we got on a giant Voith Schneider tractor tug called Tan'erliq which took us out to our boats in the outports where they stand by several response barges for days and weeks on end. I was in love with the Tan'erliq but it was short lived, because after we made the crew change on the Sea Voyager in Port Etches (the bay just north of Cape Hinchinbrook) we headed up to a little spot called Outside Bay on the southern side of Naked Island in the middle of Prince William Sound, where two boats called Guardian and Bulwark are at the moment babysitting an oil spill response barge and a lightering barge, respectively. I'm on the Bulwark now which is an Invader class tug just like the boats I've been sailing on out of Jacksonville. They might be the same type of boat but the feel here is totally different. It might be the wood-paneled bulkheads and carpeted state rooms or the absence of acrid fried food smells (already I've met two amazing cooks - both ladies - who have brought back my belief that it's possible to eat healthy at work) or the fact that when I look outside I'm met with evergreen forests and wraiths of fog, but this little boat feels more like a cabin in the woods. It's what I remember of working on tugs in Alaska a few years ago. It's where I came of age, and just being here makes me feel safer somehow. I'm happy to be back. 

It's definitely quiet out here and boredom is a hazard. But I have plenty to do and a lot to learn because even though it's still Crowley, the way they do their paperwork is quite different and I'll have to get used to a different style and work schedule. But hopefully soon we'll go into port to do some tanker assists and I'll get the chance to run a line boat!