Sunday, April 06, 2014

Oil Spills and other fun things

Now I know what you are thinking. What kind of an asshole writes a blog called "Oil Spills and other fun things"? Me. I do. Because oil spills can be fun. A friend of mine who worked on the BP spill said it was the best six months of his life.

I recently worked at two spills, one oil the other latex. It was a very interesting experience, and for the most part it was fun. For the other part it was mostly boring. Because apparently for everyone who actually does something at a spill site there are four other people standing around watching them do that thing.

One of them is a safety person. Safety people are like those nerds in high school who aspire to be hall monitors. They get to be in charge of the safety rules and being in charge of safety rules gives you a lot of say in what and how people can do things and it gives you the right to chastise people.

One of these morons was on my boat and he took safety very seriously. Except when he was doing ludicrously unsafe things. Like the time he grabbed a gasoline fuel hose and started dragging it into the boat to refuel. Without asking the captain (me) if I wanted to refuel. Or if it was a good idea to fuel the boat while it was still running. And not tied up. Because we were still in gear.

Or the time he asked me if the bilge pump was on. Because he turned it on. Two hours before that. And forgot to turn it off. So it ran dry for two hours and likely burned out. And the boat sank two days later. (For the record I left the jobsite that evening to go home and I told the Captain relieving me about the problem. Boom, exonerated.)

So, yeah he was an absolute asshole. But he was just an annoying asshole. There were other assholes. They mainly were fat as fuck white guys with stick legs who seemed born surly. They were generally in charge of the worksite and there seemed to be as many of them as there were safety people. These asshats went to meetings and tried to figure out ways to advance themselves and fuck over other people at the jobsite. Ruthless.

The best people there and the hardest workers were the black guys and the mexicans/mexican-americans. These guys would bust their asses for very little money for 12 hours a day and still be laughing and smiling.

Aside from the people, an oil spill is an amazing thing to see and experience. The scale and cost was unbeleiveable. And all the companies that respond and have "environmental" in their name could give two shits about the environment. Every meal is served with half a pound of styrofoam. Id guess there is more fuel burned than was spilled. Communications were horrendous. No one knew what anyone else was doing. Some of the work was done so incredibly poorly that it actually would have funneled oil into the areas they were ostensibly trying to protect.

Some of the people trying to work together on boats could not find a VHF channel to talk on because some of the boats didnt even have VHF. Despite the amount of safety people there and the emphasis on safety, they sent us out at night alone to do difficult work in shitty weather. The only conceivable reason they did this was so we would fail and would get kicked off the job, resulting on more work for their company.

When we actually went out and did the job and finished our 18 hour day and the helicopter saw we had done the work and reported it to the bosses, we were lauded, which made some people mad. Consequently when a boat sank for no reason it was hard not to think it was sabotage. When that same boat and the company that owned the boat got kicked off the job, maybe someone decided to sink one of our boats?

Anyway, Im not going to name any names because the company I worked for actually seemed the most capable, and they were good guys. The guys I had on my boats, and that we worked closely with were good guys, and even though no one reads this blog much anyway I wouldnt want there to be any repurcussions for them. So yeah. Oil spills are definitely interesting work. And I had a lot of fun.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


I’ve been through a divorce. It sucked. Of course it sucks. I mean people are afraid of all kinds of things, zombies, death, strangers,…pretty much everyone is afraid of something in their life that is marginally likely to happen. Me, I’m afraid of car wrecks, pretty much am convinced I am going to die in a car wreck. But no one fears divorce. Why? Everyone should be afraid of divorce.

Seriously, if I said there’s this monster that is going to attack you. Flip a coin, heads you get the monster, tails no monster. And if you lose its going to take at least half of your money, your kids, your house. Its going to make you have to deal with lawyers, the fucking court system, and very likely going to make someone that at some point you thought you loved into a fucking evil crazy bitch who hates you and you hate them and they want you to die and they do everything they possibly can to make you miserable, and will continue doing so that for the rest of your fucking life.

If you aren’t afraid of divorce you are stupid. I’ll just come out and say it. I mean we all get into relationships and have them end. Break ups suck to be sure, but you don’t have to hire a lawyer. You are not at the mercy of the courts. You just are miserable for a bit. Divorce is a whole other animal.

When you think about it objectively, it’s probably the worst thing that happens to at least half of us in our lives. What else is there? Sure death leads the party of shit none of us want to happen, but we don’t really have a choice in that. Divorce, we all had a choice. We decided that we wanted to run that fucking gauntlet. Everyone that gets married makes the bet that they are not only going to be a coin flip away from the worst thing that can happen to most people in their life.

But the odds get even worse because most of the married people I know are fucking miserable. Say there’s even twenty percent of the married people who are really happy, that’s not that many people who are married who are either happy or not divorced. So if you put it like that, everything gets worse. A coin flip for married people to get divorced. Then of that remaining 50%, you get 20% that are maybe happy, so out of every 100 people that decide to get married, 10 will win that lottery and be happily married. 10. Read that again 10. Ten.

What other fucking thing would so many people do that has such shitty odds of working out? Cross the street, 10% chance of making it? Not doing that. I mean what are the riskiest professions in the world ? Fishing? Being a lumberjack? That’s like 1 in 10,000 chances of getting injured or killed. I guarantee you marriage and divorce cause more people to commit suicide than those two professions put together.

So why do we do this? More importantly why the fuck do gay people want to get married? I am all for gay marriage. I mean why should they get to be the only ones that are happy and have disposable income and when they have kids and break up they don’t have to go to the fucking courthouse like a goddamn criminal and hire some scumbag lawyer.

But really, I mean I could care less if gay people want to get married. I’m concerned that anyone wants to get married. What the fuck is it anyway? Really what is marriage? I think its one of those things that in another hundred years we will look back at and wonder why anyone ever did it? Like remember 100 years ago when people were petrified of marijuana? Now we know its pretty benign. It’s like the opposite of that. We all think marriage is this thing we should do, that it’s this good thing for us and for society. But it’s not. It’s fucking rotten.

You know how you can tell it’s a shit idea? Look at the people that think marriage is a great thing? Look at the assholes that think marriage is all about a man and a woman and the gays cant do it because we think its morally or biblically wrong. These are the same fucking people that in grade school were the hall monitors. These are the people that want and need rules to make sense of their own miserable existence. The rest of us have divorce for that.

But seriously, divorce sucks. It really sucks. You think you love someone and they go and start fucking their dance teacher and they want to leave you for this scumbag and you want to kill him and you’ve got these kids and the whole thing is costing a you a fortune. So you try to make up for it by drinking too much and going out and sleeping with some really ugly women just because you can, then you date some really hot but fucking crazy chick and the sex is amazing, way better than during your marriage, and you vow not to get involved, just keep fucking this crazy chick like a rabbit but then you fall in love with the sex and she has emergency open heart surgery and needs a place to live so you let her move in but it turns out she is addicted to Ritalin which you didn’t know and she’s violent so you kick her out and she breaks into your house one night and threatens to kill you, so you have to call the cops and your kids are looking down from the top of the stairs at you while you talk to the cops.

Or something like that. I dunno, I think I heard someone had something like that happen to them once.

Anyway. So divorce sucks. And I’m like the 1% of people who actually get along with their Ex. People come up to me all the time and talk to me about their divorce because they think because I get along with my Ex that we must have done something right. And I am sure we did. But I also know if we weren’t married it would have been a hell of a lot easier to get to this point. So people always talk to me about their divorce. And really it’s pretty awful. I always think to myself, “Well you wouldn’t talk to me about your abortion like this, what makes you think I want to hear about how fucking miserable your Ex is”. Because 90% of the time that someone is telling me about their divorce they are telling me their Ex is a royal dick or douche and they are miserable.

I KNOW! You should have come to me before you got married!

But that doesn’t work either. I’ve tried. I have a friend who is getting married. He tells me one night that he’s going to propose to her. So I say what anyone who has a fucking clue would say, “Give me half of your money right now.” And of course he’s like, “What? Why?” And I say because I’ll take that money and I’ll put it in an index fund and give it back to you after this chick that you constantly bitch about not giving you blowjobs and never wanting to have sex divorces you because she finds out you fucked some whore while you were on a business trip and you are miserable and poor and you are going to thank me.”

Because I have tried. I have tried to talk people out of marriage, and they always think I’m an asshole. One of my good buddies’ fiancĂ© said she didn’t want me at their wedding. She literally said to me, “Just because you couldn’t keep your wife happy doesn’t mean you should ruin our wedding.” Its true too. She was right about that. I couldn’t keep my wife happy. For the record she couldn’t keep me happy either.

But I went to the wedding anyway and sure enough, she is crying on my shoulder the night before telling me she’s not sure she loves my buddy. And I’m like “I know! But if you weren’t getting MARRIED, you wouldn’t have to face this arbitrary and contrived situation where you have to commit to being with this asshole person for the rest of your life even though we already know it only works out for 10 people in 100, 50 of them get divorced, 40 are miserable.

But no, people keep taking those odds and going for it. Why? It makes no sense at all. But I’ll tell you what, that girl I just told you about got married to my buddy and they have two kids and they just might be the 10%. Good for them. It has to happen to someone right?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shrimp are telling us we don't know shit.

Not many people will know or even care that the Gulf of Maine Shrimp fishing season is being cancelled this winter. Aside from the fact that most people do not even really know what Gulf of Maine shrimp are, the fact that the season is cancelled barely registered in the local news. And once again I find myself wondering why no one knows or cares about the sad state of affairs in our local fisheries. Gulf of Maine shrimp are important for a number of reasons – the very least being that they are among the most succulent tasty shrimp you can find.

Gulf of Maine shrimp were considered to be a healthy stock as little as four years ago. In fact, as other important commercial fisheries were in crisis, the shrimp were looked upon as a potential lifeline for fishermen – specifically day-boat inshore fishermen. GOM Shrimp are fished near to shore in the lean winter months when the smaller boats cannot head out to fish the deeper offshore waters where many species migrate to in the winter. Even though they don’t fetch a big price at the dock, it was enough to help many of the most sustainable fishermen through a lean winter.

Yes those fishermen will suffer (as will those of us who look forward to the Shrimp season). And maybe some of those fishermen will go out of business. Some people argue maybe they should. Maybe there should only be enough fishermen to catch enough fish to keep the fish populations healthy. But, the GOM shrimp closure is yet another species in trouble that follows a very disturbing trend.

As in other fisheries, such as Cod, we have recently been told that the populations are rebounding and fishing effort can increase only to find in a very short span that not only aren’t the populations stable and increasing, they are in crisis. What this is telling us is that the science is wrong, the fishermen are wrong, the regulators are wrong. Everyone that should know what is going on doesn’t know shit.

They could be wrong because the scientists are missing data, they could be wrong because of the hubris and greed of fishermen, they could be wrong because regulators don’t have the teeth or the stomach to drive men from their livelihoods. Maybe more frightening than any of those scenarios is the possibility that we are all wrong because the ocean is changing in such a way that species are not able to thrive. Be it global warming, ocean acidification etc., etc., ad nauseaum the only sane conclusion is that we, humans, are fucking up the oceans in ways we do not understand and cannot predict.

Overfishing suddenly seems like a simple problem. Stop fishing and the fish come back. But its no longer that simple.

We do have success stories in fisheries. We have success stories in management. In New Enlgand though, the blueprint is eluding us. And worst of all, no one seems to know or care.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Summer Loving

It was brilliant, hot and way too short. Summer came and went again in a blur. I avoided my house and things like blogs for months. There were plans that never happened and unplanned things that were fantastic.

There was a night when there was no wind at all, the water was warm, mid or upper seventies. A lady friend of mine came out for a boat ride but didn't go very far as the boat had almost no fuel. So we sat and drifted on the tide, looking at the few stars you could see. I jumped in the water naked and air dried in the warm humid night air. Hours slipped by.

Finally at four in the morning we went in to catch a couple hours sleep before work the next day.

There were sunrises on trips to Maine and back on the tugboat, and sunsets. There was a vicious line of thunderstorms that threatened to spawn a tornado. I was headed back to the mooring when an alert came over my phone warning of the danger. I could see the line of rain and waited to the East hoping it would slide to the North as storms so often do in this area. I fished a little to kill some time when the wind suddenly shifted the boats in the harbor behind me in circles, filling quickly from one direction before suddenly shifting 180 degrees.

A wall cloud formed and began to drop from the sky. A fish suddenly hit my line and pulled yards of line out of the reel before I could stall its escape. Just as suddenly the wind began to blow me into the rocks. The fish made another run around a large underwater boulder as I backed the boat from the rocks, the clouds above me dropping and spinning.

I tried to pull some line back from the fish, which I could feel was a large one but suddenly the line snapped and another gust came from another direction. The few people on their boats were flying full speed through the harbor to get ashore. I did the same and ran back into the sheltered end of the harbor, my too large wake knocking boats that under any other circumstances would have made me ashamed.

I tied up to a dock and just as I wrapped the last cleat a furious downpour began. The drops so large the splashes were the size of normal large raindrops. The wind abated but the rain continued. Twenty minutes later it was gone. The tornado never touched down.


It reminded me of a day on Lake Winnepesaukee. I saved up a few thousand dollars from a paper route, and after flirting with the idea of buying a powerboat, I settled on a small Laser-esque sailboat. Before buying it the salesman had promised I could rent one for a day to see if I liked it. I suppose I was 12 years old.

I took my sister and my cousin with me on this test sail. Neither of them really knew anything about sailing, but I was pretty a fairly adept sailor. We headed out under clear blue skies and a light breeze, headed for open water. Behind us Bald Peak's treeless crown towered above us like the pate of an old man paternally overlooking the quaint scene.

As we turned to head back, the wind shifted and we faced the prospect of tacking into the wind to gain the small cove where the marina was located. And before we made much time, a black cloud emerged from behind the towering Bald Peak. Again, the wind rose, this time clocking 90 degrees forcing us to adjust sail and really just try to not capsize as gusts began to buffet us.

Fresh water waves rise more quickly than do salt water waves and they also grow larger and steeper. We were soon being buffeted by waves and wind and being blown downwind, now far away from the cove, at least a couple of miles from the marina.

As I fought to control the tiller and the mainsheet, my cousin had a massive freakout. She was pretty well known for her massive freakouts about matters trivial and not. She became completely unnerved and I had to scream at her to just hold on and do what I say and otherwise shut up.

After what seemed like a hours we began to be blown onto a beach. The problem was that there was a line in the water to prevent boats from entering the swimming area. There was no way for us to get over it without lifting the centerboard and the tiller, but each time we did we would get blown away from the beach toward some rocks. We would recover some lost ground and try to find and angle to get us over the rope and onto the beach.

We finally did manage to get over the rope and land the boat on the beach whereupon two or three people came running from a nearby house and helped us drag the boat up away from the crashing waves. My cousin was bawling, my sister probably too. It hit us all then how cold we were and we all began to shiver uncontrollably.

The family that helped us brought us into their house and gave us hot chocolate and placed a call to the marina to tell them we were OK. After some time the storm cleared and the marina sent a boat over to collect us and the boat. Everyone said I was a hero for keeping the boat from capsizing. I didn't think it too remarkable. It just seemed like there was no choice but to try to persevere.

I never did buy that sailboat. I'm not even really sure what I did with all that money I had worked so hard to save. I still obsessed over boats and do to this day. Or rather I obsess over the water and the ocean.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Melancholia, the flower of spring.

Spring is melancholy. Melancholy, to me, is an enjoyable gloom. A sadness that reveals but doesn't steal. Like the clouds and cold that can enshroud New England for a week straight, send cold and fog in from an ocean unrelenting from the beat down of winter winds it somehow still allows the flowers to bloom, the trees to magnificently go from gray to green in two short weeks. The word itself sounds more like the name of a flower than a word that describes sadness and gloom. Melancholia.

Unlike depression's unyielding black face, melancholy has a heart. Sadness not despair. An embrace not a death grip. Maybe like the feeling of waking up to see the skin of a sleeping lover, the afterglow of a fun night stained by a reality of complexity, that it wont work in the long run, that maybe you are the one who knows this already.

So it is, the clouds spit out rain that doesn't seem to make sense, all around is wetness. The blooms of the trees are now dropping wet and heavy on the sidewalks, turning from vibrant flowers already into decay. A slippery decay at that. The sun appears at brief instances, unable to force itself through the swift unstable clouds. The clouds themselves seem unsure of what is going on so they flutter by quickly renaming themselves.

There is something very Victorian about melancholy. An existential gloom, the parody of progress tainted by the wholesale destruction of the environment. Is it worse now, this digital freedom that is unsparingly, uncaringly seizing control of our lives and experiences?

No answers come from it. Some decent questions perhaps. The sun will come out and summer will take over all lacking in nuance and refinery, bluntly assaulting the senses. Melancholy will slip out to sea on the backs of broken clouds, unprofound in its presence and uncherished in its absence.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Rotting Ocean

It was a quick jerk like talk,
can't I do what I want for once?
Fine, sorry, go. Go ahead.
She turns and is gone,
a wake of recrimination, guilt spreads slowly.

There is nothing for it.
I'm going out.

Out by the ocean, by the park, by the bar, the church.
I will have to walk more for those words.
The river passes out with the tide.
Rounding the point, the wind hits my face.
Cold and rotting ocean, always rotting.
It is your thing ocean, rotting, rotting to live.

A haze covers the sun, the chill grows.
Out very far a small speck of a boat is heading out still.
Out is a good place to be.
Five crows play,
weeds pile on the beach,
a gull looks on bewildered.

A wave comes, rises, peels cleanly around the point,
growing smaller until it reaches the beach
where it turns to nothing.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Education of Emotion and Great White Sharks

Most people just outright fear sharks. Even in extremely irrational situations, people who fear water often fear sharks. Even people who say they dont fear sharks, I think really actually fear sharks, they just rationalize the fear away.

I know I used to do that when I lived in Northern California and surfed at a beach that has at least two documented shark attacks as well as a few other nearby shark attacks. I used the rationalization that I faced more danger driving to and from surfing than I did in the water to ease my fears.

There were certainly times that I felt uncomfortable in the water. One time, in the fall which is sort of known as the shark season, I surfed the Russian River Mouth. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous evening, flat calm, beautiful sunset, head high waves just peeling down a sandbar, and seals. Tons of seals. Seals everywhere, popping up in front of you as you rode a wave, splashing behind you as you waited for a wave.

I was with a guy I kind of knew and I caught at that time what was the best wave of my life. I literally got barreled right up to the shoreline. The wave ended and I was standing on dry beach. I kind of freaked out and did a little dance. But I remember distinctly feeling a vibe and decided to leave before it got too dark.

But still, the emotion was one of cool rationalization. Playing the odds. Then I moved to New England and I didn't give it any thought until in the last couple of years the shark population has either grown because the seal population has grown or we are just becoming more aware of it.

If you look at this shark tracker website you can see that Great Whites, at least the three that are tagged in the North Atlantic live in and around some of the busiest beaches on the East Coast. It would appear that we spend quite a bit more time with these sharks than we may have realized.

And, last year a man got bit off a beach on Cape Cod.

I am older now, and the cool rationalization may not be as effective as it once was. I decided to stop surfing the Cape. But I still surf in Rhode Island even though I know Great Whites are there too. I don't doubt that they are up around where I live now too. There are a lot more seals than there used to be, and Whitey isn't as afraid of cold water as I am. So now in some sense even though the odds are lower, I am letting fear dictate where I surf.

But the odd thing is that now that I know these sharks are out there, in some ways I feel more comfortable with their prescense. Seeing how the sharks travel huge distances really makes me feel respect for these animals. In some ways even though I have modified my behaviour to avoid them, I might feel less bad about being attacked by one knowing more about them.

I mean what is worse: being attacked by a Great White Shark, or being killed by an asshole in a great white Hummer?