Sunday, May 29, 2016

Happy Dance in the Wheelhouse

Well, the designated examiner never did show up to the last boat. Five hitches with fill-ins and long days on the mate's watch, and I wondered -- not for the first time -- if I would ever be done.

The good news is that I got to work with some terrific guys, and I got to practice my boat-handling. A lot.

The better news is that this past watch I got shunted over to another boat, one with a DE (and a bunch of other cool guys), and on day three of this past hitch I completed my TOAR. In 20-kt (gusting to 30) winds.

It was nerve-wracking. And exhilarating. And a huge relief when I was done.

My company's policy is that a port captain comes down to the boat and quizzes me -- maybe even observes me work -- before making it all official. That still has to happen. But so long as I'm even halfway on the ball, that part is pretty much pro forma.

Even then, I'm not done. We operate six or seven different classes of boats, and I'll need to get signed-off on at least one, preferably more, before I can start building seniority as a mate. The first one (twin screw flanking rudder, where I've been the past six weeks) should go really fast, and I've already made a good start on the last one (the formal z-drive assessments).

So, there's still a lot to learn. But, now, I am completely confident that I can do it. More importantly, so is my DE, and he's been doing this for 35 years.

Getting my TOAR done, finally, was a great moment. There was an even better one, though, this last hitch.

I caught an inbound tanker, coming alongside on an unfriendly quarter in a narrow channel. It was a one-tug job as it was a smallish ship with a bow thruster.

There also was 20 kts. of wind on the beam, and then the bow thruster took a crap.

For me, that meant a lot of maneuvering, from push to pull at various angles, jockying the ship into position at the dock.

When we were done, the pilot called me on the radio: "That was a really fine job. Thank you. You're very easy to work with, and I hope to see you on the next one."

That. That right there.

After my number one priority of not getting any of my guys hurt, and my number two priority of not banging up my boat, getting the ship to the dock safely and efficiently without unduly worrying the pilot is what it's all about.

The Joy is Back (Six Weeks Ago ...)

Entonces, so am I.

Coming to the end of the second watch (Again, folks here call their hitches "watches." They call their duty shifts "watches," too. It's only occasionally confusing.) on a new boat -- my fourth in the past six months, and I'm getting lots of wheel time.

This watch I've handled four dockings soup to nuts. Coming alongside an inbound ship at somewhere between six and eight knots is one of the more challenging things we do here; well, it's sometimes challenging to do it gently and on-target and timely, anyhow.

It's the first chance I've had to do that since I was on the big Z-Tech last year. So far so good.

Another really fun evolution is maintaining a 90(ish)-degree angle while a ship is backing down, often at over a knot. At higher speeds astern it's only possible by maintaining a "cheating angle" and balancing fore-and-aft thrust while twisting the tug. Kinda basic twin-screw stuff, but going sideways, and either pushing or pulling on the ship or being careful to do neither.

Flanking rudders -- and this boat has them -- theoretically should make it easier. Fat, square sterns -- and this boat has one of those, too -- don't. I found out yesterday, too, that if you get enough water moving across the flanking rudders fast enough, they're going to stay there until you come off the throttles. I'm guessing the steering pump is a little underpowered.

There is no permanently assigned DE on this boat, so my TOAR languishes at just under 90 percent complete. Same place it's been for the past two months. Hopefully one will parachute in next watch. In the meantime, I'm happy to take advantage of the opportunity to practice.