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! 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Comfort me with mountains

I tried, truly I did; tried to like Florida, to tough it out like I promised myself I would. But at the end of the day I'm just a western girl - there's no fighting it. Nothing could describe the flood of relief that came over me when I finally said "enough" and decided to initiate the transfer to Valdez. Part of it felt like quitting, but another part of it felt like I was giving myself permission to stop wearing myself down for this job, and that was definitely good. In a way the little a/c nightmare was the last straw. I will trade the heat, humidity, swamps, sand and gators for mountains, snow, cool air and orcas. When I fly up to Valdez in two weeks, I expect it will be warm and dewy (but not hot) and the sky will stay light all night. It will be a good time to start because I can learn the operations of this new division without having to endure extreme cold right away. I will work for four weeks and then have four weeks off, a regular schedule with little guesswork as to when I might be off or when I will have to drop everything and get on a plane, and even the pay will be less sporadic, because they operate on an ATO system where the same amount is disbursed every pay period whether you're on or off the boat. And best of all, no more Jacksonville. No offense to Jax natives, but it's just not my bag.

I had a little guilt when I let my bosses know I was leaving. They are definitely struggling to keep people; I'd wager it has something to do with the 2/1 schedule, or the fact that they keep saying that new LNG-powered ships are going to replace the Jax-based boats and barges by 2017. But some of the best career advice I ever got was from a friend of mine in SF bay, who essentially said "you don't owe them" - you must look out for your own best interests. You earned that license, your company didn't give it to you, you need them more than they need you. I appreciate all the opportunities my employers have given me, but this advice has helped me to avoid feeling guilty when I find I need to jump at a chance to make my own life better. I don't think that this change will mean the end of all my struggles, but I do think I will be a lot happier.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tugboat Camping

The air conditioning got fixed in San Juan but it was only temporary - three days from Jacksonville the pipes broke again and we had no more spares. It was so hot in my room I could barely breathe, much less sleep. What was left for me to do but drag my entire bed out on deck?

Sleeping under the stars and waking up to the brilliant columnar clouds and blue horizon was more enjoyable than I expected it to be. In the end, an extremely unpleasant situation yielded something really beautiful. 

When we reached the dock at last, we were planning to switch over to the Defender, but when the engineer fired up the generator - the AC there didn't work either! It might have been that he couldn't figure out why it wasn't starting because he was somewhat punchy - we were all totally sleep deprived, nobody had been sleeping except for between sundown and sunup. They had us slated to work all day yesterday but the captain refused. Instead they put us in hotel rooms to get some actual sleep and cool off. They tore out and replaced the entire AC system, including the air compressor, so that it won't shake itself to pieces again. We crewed up early this morning to take the Adventurer to the fuel dock and since I was off watch I got to go back to bed once we were on the boat. Being cool and dry while sleeping is a luxury I will never take for granted again.