13 August 07

Zen and the art if Tramps

I am the Second Mate, and this is a tramp. For the uninitiated: the Second Mate (2/M) is the navigation officer, it is my job to make sure the charts and pubs (again for the uninitiated: maps at sea are called charts, reference books are called pubs short for publications) all corrected for the parts of the world that we will be sailing. Every week corrections are issued by the NGA (National Geospacial Inelegance Agency - they were once called NIMA - National Imagery and Mapping Agency, before that DMA - Defense Mapping Agency, before that CGS - Coast and Geodesic Survey, every few years they reduce the quality of their services and change their name, so don't worry, they are just the agency in the US that makes charts, in the UK, Her Majesty's Stationary Office has produced the charts and pubs for 300 years and the quality only gets better, I guess when you are more worried about your name than the products you produce it shows, who'd-a-thunk? Ok, I'll get off my soap box.) Where was I? Oh, yes, these corrections are issued and it is my job to look through them each week and see if there are any that pertain to the charts that we will be using and every week there are a couple of dozen that I need to apply. Some times this means erasing a buoy on a chart, other times it means drawing the symbol for a shipwreck on some rocky shore where some poor bastard made a bad decision. These are called "chart corrections".

Chart corrections sound fun right? You get to draw little pictures of buoys, ship wrecks, fish (meaning fishing grounds), rocks, windmills, etc., actually it is fun. It is also very time consuming. Which brings me to the second term that I need to define: tramp. There are basically two ways to run a ship: as a liner or as a tramp. A liner makes regular stops picking up lots of different cargo in one port and dropping it off at other ports along her regularly scheduled route. If you want cargo moved from Xingang PRC to Oakland USA, then you find a ship making that route, shove it in a container and the ship will be happy to haul if for you. Lots of companies run liner service and guarantee that a ship will be leaving a given port every Friday and calling another given port two weeks later.

The other way you might run a ship is as a tramp. A tram does not have regularly scheduled routes, she plys the waters hither and thither going wherever there might be cargo to carry off to some other port. If you have 34,000 tons of wheat to move from Portland to North and East Africa, or 30,000 tons of sugar to move from the Hawaiian Islands to the Mainland or say 20,000 tons of scrap metal to move from Red Wood City USA to Masan S.Korea then you want to find a tramp. Put your cargo out to bid, select a ship and draw up a charter (sailors have special words for everything charter = contract for carriage of goods by sea).

The Moku Pahu is a tramp. Last time I was on this ship we hauled wheat to North and East Africa, we are currently hauling sugar from Hawaii to Crockett, California, and last week the Captain asked me to come up with a passage plan to sail from Red Wood City to Masan because the company was pursuing a charter for carrying scrap metal there. So I wrote up a passage plan, then pulled all the charts and started correcting them. Some of the charts have not been used in 10 years and need many, many corrections so I figured I should get a jump on it. Today the Captain called me just before I got off watch and asked for mileages for San Francisco to Seward Alaska, Seward to Nawiliwili Hawaii, Nawiliwili to San Francisco, and said that I should push the Korea work to the back burner for now. Well it was a lot of work that I don't have to do but it is also a lot of over time that I don't get to earn.

When I sailed around the world on this ship last year our route was as follows: SF Bay, Portland, Long Beach, Panama Canal, Lybia, Suez Canal, Sudan, Kenya, Singapore, Nawiliwili, Kahului (Hawaii), SF Bay, that is 11 passages. Because the company kept pursuing different charters I made about one passage plan that we didn't use for each that we did. Each time the company would say they were thinking about sending us somewhere new and folks asked me if I thought we were really going to this or that port I'd respond "I'll tell you when we get there". So when the Captain said we were going to Korea, I said, "Ha! I've seen this before. I'll believe it when we hit the dock in Korea". I wrote a route and figured out what charts we would need, then wrote up an order for those we didn't have and started correcting those we did. I never got excited about going to Korea (I like Korea, they have great tea there!) because I never really believed that we would go there despite the insistence by the Captain that it sounded very final. Perhaps one might get excited about a particular port or perhaps they might feel trapped because suddenly the ships schedule will keep them away from home for a month or two longer than they had planned. Some people begin deciding what they will do in whatever port the latest rumor from the office lists as our destination. It takes some effort on my part, though with time it is getting easier, to release myself from hope, desire, and despair when thinking about my time on the ship. I surrender myself to the ship and her schedule. My bills at home are paid, I have enough books or studies aboard to keep me entertained for however long the ship may stay at sea. There is nothing that I can do to change the schedule, and there is no good that will come of my worrying about it.