Thursday, April 24, 2008

How To Survive At Sea (Ish Willing)

Today's post is going to be a pretty lazy one from my point of view, but hopefully interesting as well. I plan to take advantage of Ish's generosity and ego and ask him (when he sees the post) to fill in the bulk of the post in the comments section.

As stated before, the Sarcastic Weasel has a cruise in his future. Obviously not a fun cruise with show girls, all-you-can-eat buffets, and wave pools, but a cruise on an ONR owned vessel to do some vibrational monitoring using wireless sensing devices.

What I am hoping that Ish will provide, is a handy survival guide for someone of no rank or status (i.e. a grad student) who will be on a Merchant Marine run vessel for a week (or slightly longer). There are things I need to know like, what is the hierarchy, who should I definitely not piss off (besides everyone), what sort of bribes the crew are susceptible to (or do bribes make one appear weak), what kind of unwritten rules should I be aware of, what terminology should I brush up on, is scotch allowed on board, and with relatively light duties, just how the hell does one pass the time for 7-9 days in a big metal box?

Depending in Ish's schedule, level of apathy, and computer access, hopefully, the fun part of this post will arrive soon.


ish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ish said...

(Formatting in original comment all effed up, so reposted)

OK, the first thing you should know, which you probably already know is that everyone on board has volunteered to be away from their family and everyone they know for several months. This means that usually they are "loners" or at least moderately comfortable with being alone. If you met them on the street, it is unlikely they would have much to say, however this will be somewhat different on the boat.

The first few days naturally, you'll be a FNG (and even worse, a land-lubber FNG) so you won't talk to many people. But because everyone is somewhat starved for human contact (and sees the same 4 or 5 assholes everyday), new people are actually interesting, especially if they're different from the other people on board. Like I said before, most are naturally loners, but being at sea, you find after a time that you just need to talk to people.
Sociability is a distinctly human trait I think.

Scotch is certainly allowed (and possibly required), though because of regulations you may have to hide it. But rest assured, you won't be the only one doing so. This being a military ship (even though its civilian crewed) I'd suspect it won't be quite as open, but its hard to say. I've never actually sailed on an MSC contract, so I couldn't say for sure.

The typical hierarchy is the Master (captain), then Chief Mate on down through the rest of the mates. The Chief Engineer is the head of the engine department, but the 1st is the guy who does everything, so you'll probably be interfacing with him mainly. Obviously its a good idea to not piss off the department heads, and especially avoid annoying the mates or the deck department guys, as they are the most likely to have conversations with the captain and as such can cause problems. The best way to avoid annoying the deck guys is just to stay out of their way, especially not walking through mopped floors and such. Its all pretty self-explanatory. The other guy to not piss off is the cook. This being a military operation, there may be several, but don't piss any of them off. There are likely some arcane rules about galley procedure, and every ship is different. So just ask the Captain when you sign on or ask whoever is working with you or does ship familiarization with you how to handle meals. Quite frequently there is a table in the officer's mess and seats at the table that are the Captain's and Chief's chairs. Even though they'll be kidding when they give you shit about it, you still don't want to be sitting in that chair. Another thing to watch out for is meal times. Don't be late or you'll piss off the cook, and then the cook will bitch at the captain, and then you're back in the shit.

Two other guys to be aware of are the Bosun and the Porter. The Bosun is the head of the unlicensed in the deck department. Consider him to be like the foreman on a work crew. He'll be responsible for issuing tools and supplies and assigning work on most boats, so he's good to know. The Porter (or BR on some ships) is responsible for making up rooms. Policies are different for every ship, but even if he isn't responsible for cleaning and making up your room everyday, he will be the guy who knows where to find clean linens and such.

A note on pronouns: The majority of sailors are still men, but there are more women sailing every day. So some of the these people may be women, but its still relatively unlikely.

Other guidelines. Don't slam doors or have conversations in the hallways. The majority of the people on the ship work shifts (terminology: Watchstander) and so have to sleep at odd hours. You'll observe lots of people who don't obey these rules, but don't be one of them.

Other terminology: You've been around boats, so you know bow and stern, port and starboard, forward and aft. Midships is just what it sounds like.

Walls are bulkheads, Ceilings are overheads, floors are decks. Stairs are frequently called ladderwells or ladderways. The bathroom is the head, the kitchen is the galley, the dining room is the mess. The place with all the windows on top is the wheelhouse or bridge. Otherwise you'll probably figure it out from context.

Most ships have a pretty good film library, and a selection of really crappy paperbacks. Most people pass their time making up rumors and seeing how long they take to come back to them, or playing other social engineering games, so keep your guard up. Or join in the fun. Topics of conversation are pretty wide-ranging, as sailors tend to get engaged in lots of different pursuits with their life on shore.

If I think of anything else, I'll append.

I LOVE YOU said...