Friday, February 20, 2015

Move On Up

Yesterday was my first official day as chief mate. The regular C/M on the crew opposite mine got injured at home and personnel asked me to stay on two extra weeks to fill in for him; I couldn't say no. A lot of friends here and back home are very happy for me, but I've come to find that there are some people here who are extremely disappointed - even angry - that I took this position so quickly. They feel there are others who have been here longer who deserve it more than I do. To my mind it's less about deserving and more about qualifications and timing. Few people here have much concept of what I've gone through to get where I am, and so I guess it could be easy to assume I haven't worked hard enough to deserve this. I can't say I'm surprised, but it is a bit of a shock to be resented so bitterly. 

The truth is that my choices and the path I've taken over the last few years are the reason I was given this opportunity, and I can't apologize for that - I won't, because it would be unfair to others who struggle to attain goals similar to mine. In the end, wonderful as it is, this is still simply a job and I'll do it proudly to the best of my abilities. I can't let someone else's reality become my reality; that just wouldn't make any sense. No one has the right to dictate your life and the ones who try are wasting their breath. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015


So I learned a new word today; at about ten this morning a nasty wind kicked up, blowing ice crystals off the snow-covered mountains from the north down across the bay at storm force speeds. My captain called this a williwaw, which I looked up and found defined as "a sudden violent squall blowing offshore from a mountainous coast". That's definitely what I saw during today's wind storm. Apparently he used to hear this word a lot in Dutch Harbor to describe the winds that descend upon Unalaska bay, throwing around shipping containers and knocking over huge dock cranes. I heard of this very thing happening when 100-mph winds hit Dutch just a month before I came to Alaska for the first time five years ago. I wasn't so sure what I was getting myself into then!

We were supposed to take fuel this afternoon but there was no way we were going to deal with lines and fuel hoses in 50-knot winds so instead we were put on an Alaskan tanker undocking as a fourth boat, using all available power to get the ship off the berth. I'm in the wheelhouse in the dark now and the squalls are still coming. It's gone from northerly to easterly and is now blowing out of the south and southeast, and the barometer has dropped sharply since this morning. I'm hoping that it calms down soon, because the sound of the wind is unnerving as it rocks us against the barge where we are tied up at the container terminal and makes the stacks hum like a pipe organ. 

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.