Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dockside Availability Complaints

So after 42 days straight of blogging, I guess I decided to take 42 (or more) days off. I think that may be because I don't like to complain, but this inport we're in the middle of a dockside availability and have a few things to complain about. Nothing major; definitely first world problems but inconveniences all the same. And I don't even have the worst of it.

Here's the story (EO -- you're doing a great job managing the dockside! This whiny section of complaining has nothing to do with your efforts, and everything to do with how bad maintenance availabilities suck.):
Our dockside availability has about 30 work items associated with it. I don't know the details about all of them. The ones that have the greatest impact are work on the sewage system and the boilers. We don't have potable water on the ship right now, not because our potable water system is down, but because we don't have anywhere for the gray water that comes from sink and shower drains to go because the gray water system is tied in to the sewage system, and since the sewage system is down, so is gray water (for the particularly engineering savvy readers out there, I know I didn't get the details quite right...I think forward gray water goes into the sewage tank, but aft gray water goes somewhere else, but since the majority of the shower and heads are up forward, it's kinda a moot point).

No potable water and sewage means no toilets, sinks, showers or drinking water onboard. We have a bank of four porta-potties out on the pier. For our crew of 82 people and the gaggle of contractors that are working on the ship. There's a note on the inside of each porta potty saying something to the effect that one porta potty can accommodate 10 people for a 40-hour work week; excessive use beyond that may create poor conditions within the facility and they may have to be cleaned more frequently. Given this estimate, our four porta-potties can handle 1,600 man-hours a week. We have at least eight people onboard for duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week...that's 1,344 hours right there. Estimating that about 20% of folks are on leave on any given day, we have 59 crew and about 15 contractors using the porta-potties during the work day. Our posted workdays are about 6.5 hours long (we work trop hours inport), but I know about 20% of the crew stays for a full (at least) eight hour work day. This is another 2,600 man-hours of potential porta-potty use. And we have about 10 guys that live aboard the ship, adding another approximate 1,275 hours of use. All this adds up to a whopping 5,225 hours of porta potty pressure...I think I've just convinced myself that we really need to have the facilities cleaned every other day instead of just twice a week.

The Rent-A-Johns have foot powered sinks for washing our hands. Very sanitary.

We also have two blue shower boxes on the pier for crew's use. I have used them a couple times, post workout. They have plenty of hot water and good pressure. But sometimes you have to go out to the generator to turn on the lights, and last time I used one, I ended up flooding out both showers in my box because the drain wasn't working. I'm lucky -- I use them for convenience after a run...guys that live onboard use them every day. Trundling out to the pier every morning for a shower, with your spit bag and towel in hand has got to get old! And I just realized, there's no mirror in the shower boxes to help with shaving. I wonder where they're doing that...

The galley is also shut down. No easy breakfasts onboard when I've forgotten to think ahead. No coffee break treats. No lunch ready and waiting at the end of the workday. Total PITA.

The contractors are also working on testing and renewing the a/c system onboard. Apparently, one day this week, they'll have to run all the fan coil units (FCUs -- the a/c/heating units in each space) on high to test the system. I checked the weather report for this week. Highs in the 50s and low 60s. And we get to run the a/c on high all day. Break out the foul weather coats and wool watch caps. Really? We couldn't have done this last week when the temps were in the high 70s?

And here are the things I'm thankful for to balance all the complaints:
-- That our dockside availability is in our homeport, which means we're home for a nice long time that includes lots of major holidays.
-- Our crews' patience with the discomforts of the dockside. They are putting up with it, with minimal amounts of complaining.
-- The "For Official Use Only" signs on the porta potties, intended to keep public foot traffic or transient use of our porta potties to a minimum...the signs mean I'm always giggling a little as I go in to use the head.
-- Tug Boat Tony's Bagel Shop. They opened up right across Water St right around the time we got back inport. A few weeks later, we shut down our galley. They have been our back up for easy, quick and yummy food since then. They even open about half an hour early each morning to make sure we have a chance to get breakfast before our workday begins. And they're nice, friendly people.
-- The dockside availability itself. We're getting a lot of much needed maintenance done, even if the specific details of how that maintenance gets done kinda sucks. It'll help keep our ship operational and in the fight when we get back underway.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Day 42

Well, I did it. It wasn't particularly graceful or grand, but I set a goal and I accomplished it. 42 days straight of blogging once a day. Some posts were better than others. Some were barely posts at all.

I learned a few things, as I have with most goals. It's easier for me to motivate myself when it's for someone else besides myself. There were nights where I simply didn't have anything to say, but knowing I had other people to answer to if I didn't get one spit out made me buckle down and say something, even if it wasn't overly insightful or interesting.

I had another goal this patrol -- to train for the Battleship 1/2 Marathon on 8 Nov. The training schedule had me doing a circuit work out twice a week, running moderate distances (three to four miles) twice a week, increasing mileage on Sundays, up to 10 miles, and then a rest day on Monday. The most I ever ran underway was five miles. I did it once. It sucked horrible ass. It was blazing hot, even at 0900. I could run at most 30 laps around the flight deck before I had to stop for water. I had to run 170 laps, which I did, but it took me over an hour. I'd run 10 laps in one direction, 10 laps in the other direction, and call that one rep. 5 miles meant eight reps plus a five more laps in each direction. Dreadful boring. It blew. I did it once and then barely ran anymore on the flight deck. Thankfully by then we were pulling into GTMO for port calls, so I could use their gym and treadmills. Even with the air conditioning, the most I ran at GTMO was six miles. I was supposed to be up to 10 miles by yesterday. There were only a few days where I justifiably had an excuse that it was too rough out. The rest of the time, I was just too lazy. I was training for myself, and I couldn't maintain the discipline to keep to my schedule.

It's a good thing to know about myself -- that it's easier for me to do stuff for other people. I don't know how much I'll work on changing that. I think it's a pretty good character trait to have, but I can also recognize that it doesn't always serve me well or to my own benefit. It's ok to be selfish once in a while.

I had a couple of favorite posts.  The one about gremlins still makes me giggle when I think about it. I'm pretty happy with the one about all the little oddities I've gotten used to being underway. The one about the guys doing yoga on the flight deck gives me hope. The one about making mistakes keeps me honest. And the one about chicken -- I'm pretty certain that one changed the menu the next day. We were supposed to have Indian curry chicken for dinner. I emailed the post to SUPPO the evening I wrote it, saying please feel free to share with our FSs (Food Service Specialists) because I thought they might enjoy it. They made two types of Thai chicken curry for dinner -- spicy and mild. Both were excellent, and I ate too much.

Some of the descriptions I used make me think I know a thing or two about writing. "Sunsets at sea will always live in my soul." "We were children of the sea, reveling in her glory." "The bale of suspected contraband sits imperiously on the wardroom table like a prized trophy." "Did I really just write a post about writing a post about nothing?" "I have box of stevia packets for my morning tea sitting on the shelf above the couch in my stateroom, that must have done a cartwheel down to the floor as it showered all the little green packets over the floor like leprechaun confetti." "The only difference between the sky and the water was a subtle difference in density." CO told me his favorite was "Like a noxious fart in a stuffy room."

Which brings me to the fact that I in no way succeeded in this challenge on my own. The emails of encouragement I received were wonderful. Mike K, whose son is OPS on a Portsmouth WMEC sent regular emails that thanked me for my efforts and let me know my readership was bigger than I thought. I'll get to those posts on what Department Heads do -- though I might be a little out of touch with their actual moment to moment challenges. Maybe I'll ask for a guest post :) I got an email from Richard E (no, not that one) which said my posts brought up a lot of good and bad memories from his time underway, and congratulated me on my selection for O5. JKR even sent me a note saying he was reading my posts. I'm always awed when anyone in the CG community tells me they've read my blog for however many years. It happens more often than I expect and from the most unforeseen quarters, but is always a welcome surprise.

CO took a bold chance on giving me free reign with my posts. He read the first two or so, and then let me go ahead with whatever I had to say. He asked me to wait a few days to post "Disruption" simply because he didn't want to interfere with any disposition discussions that were taking place at high levels. He shared the blog link with his family...I think it sparked some discussions with them, when I wrote about full power trials after we had already experienced our generator casualty. I'm not the only one for whom engineering is a mystery.

My sister sent wonderful emails that gave me good ideas and let me know she appreciated my sense of humor. And my Uncle Heathen was my trusted agent, faithfully posting my daily musings. Thank you, Uncle H, for being so diligent about working with our (constant) connectivity challenges.

Here's the thing. Anyone can do this -- write a blog about their personal interactions in a professional Coast Guard setting. One of my ex-boyfriends said he didn't see the point of reading books (I should have known at the time he said that, it wouldn't work out) because he could write stories just as good as the authors. Only he didn't. He just said he could. Half the battle is just plain showing up and doing it. It doesn't always have to be grand. Sometimes it just has to be.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

First Day Back

I'm not really sure what I did today, but somehow it's nearly 8 pm and dark out. I definitely made time for some of my favorite things...lingering over froofy coffee at a breakfast of homemade oatmeal with dried fruits and nuts mixed in. Walking through an art market in downtown Wilmington. Reading a book while sprawled on my couch. Browsing at a garden center, and coming home to put all my new plants in the ground. The backyard has a new fig tree, the side garden has a stevia plant and a few rainbow chards scattered about, and the porch planters are prolific with pansies. Lunch was a decadent affair -- garlic knots, pizza with pancetta, arugula (arooooogula), and fresh tomatoes -- lingered over with a cocktail.

I had some chores to do also. Bills to pay, business to attend to (like filling out all the obnoxious paperwork to replace my phone that I dropped on the asphalt a couple weeks before we left), dishes to wash, and yard accouterments to put back in their place after Juaquin didn't make an appearance in NC. And antibiotics to give to Lucy. We're going to fight over her taking her pills for another two and a half days. If the only frustration she gives me is that she doesn't take pills well, I have a very sweet kitty. She even forgave me quickly and started to purr after I shoved the last one down her throat with the kitty pill popper. Oh, and she chews my ear bud cords when I leave them out, which is really my fault because I should know better.

So all in all a great first day back. I'm following CO's orders to get some rest and charging my batteries before we get back into workdays later this week. I keep forgetting it's Sunday, though. It feels like a Saturday, especially since tomorrow is a holiday too. Maybe I'll figure out what day it is by Friday.

I will get to responding to all the emails of encouragement I got over the last six weeks. Just not tonight. I've spent enough time on the computer today.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


We returned to homeport (RTHP) today. It was about a week earlier than we had originally planned because our NR1 SSDG (ship's service diesel generator on the starboard side) tried to eat itself a little more than a week ago...catastrophic failure that we could not have predicted or really done much about. I'm a pretty shitty engineer, but I walked by the generator on one of my trips through the engine room, and it was pretty obvious that it wasn't going to work again without a lot of work.

It was an early morning; reveille was at 0515. For some reason, I woke up at 0415 and couldn't go back to sleep. After a quick breakfast, I headed up to the bridge. The first part of our transit up the river was going to be in the dark, so I wanted to make sure my eyes were adjusted, and I had plenty of time to figure out what all the lights were -- background lights on shore, buoys or navigation aids, or other vessels. Reveille was so early because it's a huge risk mitigator for us to moor at slack water. If we miss it, we have the possibility of facing a multi-knot current. And the general rule is that one know of current acts on the ship like 30 knots of wind. So, it's best for us if we get to the pier when the river is not trying to have her way with us.

Another risk mitigator we used this morning was to have a tug on standby for our transit up the river. If we had lost our NR2 SSDG when we were within 100 yards of shoal water on either side, it could have been a pretty bad scene. We have an emergency generator, but it can't power everything we usually have online. So, having the tug nearby made it a little less risky to not have the redundancy of two SSDGs.

For all our planning, we had a pleasant transit up the river, with the barest of floods pushing us along. OPS timed our arrival perfectly, and we made our approach right at slack water. ENS J.B. and OPS did an amazing job of mooring us up with grace and skill. All the entering port chores were taken care of in fairly short order, we had quarters, and liberty was granted by about 1020.

I'm always a little nervous returning. What has changed while we've been gone? Will my car start? Did the house flood?

My car did start, though OS3 J.S. and MK3 J.B. both had difficulties picking their vehicles up from long-term parking. The house wasn't flooded, but the circuit breaker had flipped off in the garage, so the chest freezer didn't have power for an unknown length of time. I lost about 1/2 a gallon of strawberries and four cups of sour milk I use for pancakes. My smart tv had a lobotomy -- I can't use the apps on it for some reason now, despite having reset all the programming. I picked the Black and White up from the vet. Lucy was in a cat fight while I was gone, and my roommate had to take her to the vet about two weeks ago because she wouldn't take her pills. The vets and techs all love her, but it was time for her to come home, stitches and all. And my car tires all had low air pressure.

It took me about 45 minutes to go through all my mail. I finally got my merchant mariner's license renewal. And lots of credit card advertisements.

I did laundry. And took a nap on my couch. And went out for an amazing dinner at one of my favorite seafood restaurants in the area. Here shortly, I'm going to go to sleep in my very own bed, that doesn't move around on me, in a room that is blessedly quiet.

Underway is exciting and fun. But I'm pretty glad to be home too.

The Lingering Effects of Scattered Thunderstorms

We rode through some scattered thunderstorms last night. The wind picked up quickly and rain pelted down like a bucket was overturned. 

I woke up at about 2330 (or 11:30 pm) wondering why it felt like I was riding a bucking bronco, and why there were ghosts in my stateroom rattling their chains. It took me a few minutes to come out of my sleep-laden mental fog to realize that we had run into some weather. I lay there for a few minutes thinking maybe the chain rattling would go away. But it didn't.

I called the bridge and asked them to send the BMOW down to where we store the secondary tie downs for the helo. They're metal chains with hooks on the end that we use to secure the helo on deck when we're not expecting to use it for a while. But when we don't have a helo onboard at all, they live hanging up in a space that is on the other side of a 1/8th inch thick metal bulkhead from my stateroom. They don't usually clang around; we have to be pitching in just the right way for them to start making noise. And they weren't consistently making noise last night -- just enough to keep me from getting used to it and being able to fall back asleep.

The BMOW, HS2 T.W., made his way outside -- I think it was probably during a downpour, but I didn't realize that at the time. And worked some magic to stop the chains from clanking. 

But the ride was still rough. Or at least a different kind of rough than we've mostly been used to this patrol. We've had a lot of days in the trough; last night we were pitching up and down. It's a very different sensation. And it stayed rough on and off throughout the night, until about 5 am.

Most people I talked to today experienced the same lack of sleep. I got great descriptions of the various positions people woke up in, trying to keep themselves in their racks. 

But now, I'm a little more worn out than I really should be at 1830. I'm looking forward to an early night tonight.

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

Friday, October 9, 2015

Qual Boards

With limited time left underway for this patrol, we are trying frantically to cram as many qualification (qual) boards in as possible. Qual boards are oral boards, where the member seeking a qualification is grilled in a round-robin style by other members who are already qualified in that watchstation to determine the unqualified member's level of knowledge and judgment. Some qual boards have four qualified members asking questions, but I've also seen up to eight members sitting on a board.

Qual boards are the culmination of a lot of hard work by the members to learn new job skills, everything from helmsman and lookout to coxswain, throttleman, Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOW) and Officer of the Deck (OOD). They've stood one-in-three watches for anywhere from a week to two months, depending on which qual it is. They've studied the manuals, asked questions, been peppered with questions, done drawings, gotten sign offs, demonstrated their practical knowledge and in many cases, been through a pre-board. We train our own workforce -- we must be thorough to make sure new people are learning the right way to do things.

For the first year Ensigns, they have all just been through their first board experiences. ENS E.L. successfully completed both her inport and underway EOW boards -- a huge accomplishment for a Student Engineer. ENS J.W., ENS L.R. and ENS E.H. all took and passed their inport OODs boards within the last two days. 

I led the boards for the three newly qualified inport OODs. We have a bank of questions and scenarios from which to draw, based on ship's particulars, general Coast Guard policy and our own experiences from things we dealt with as OODs back in the day, or phone calls we've taken since then. It is hard, sometimes, to ask a good board question, trying to get the answer you're looking for without giving away too much information. And after a couple boards, the questions have to change because our folks are good shipmates and share their board experiences with the other unqualified members. 

When I first started asking about how an OOD would deal with a report of a sexual assault, I got a not quite by-the-book answer. The very next board, the boardee gave a text book answer because the first member had given a good passdown on what questions were asked so they could be better prepared. 

A lot of questions are scenario based. What would you do if...a ship mooring alongside hit us and gashed a hole in aft steering? ...if a member didn't show up for his scheduled duty day? ...if a winter storm was coming? And the scenarios always happen at 2 am or on the weekend. I asked our last board candidate tonight why all the scenarios were at night or on the weekend. He answered correctly, that is -- when he's "alone and unafraid" and has to take the right initial and immediate action while he waits for one of the command cadre to answer their phones. 

Boards are exhausting for both the board members and the boardees. But, after having just finished three in two days, I'm really proud of how well our folks are trained. I've had the opportunity to question them in detail about how they'd handle themselves in a number of different situations, and I'm impressed at how well they've prepared themselves for their new responsibilities. Not to say they know everything they need to -- guaranteed they'll learn more in their first three days of qualified watch as they have in the last three months of breaking in -- but their hard work shows, and I think they'll be good representatives of the ship and command. 

Congrats to all our newly qualified members!

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

Thursday, October 8, 2015


WMEC usually means Coast Guard Medium Endurance Cutter; just like WHEC usually means Coast Guard High Endurance Cutter. The "W" is a Coast Guard designator that came into use early in the US's involvement in World War II (1942 to exact). There are different schools of thought about why the "W." My favorite is because it wasn't being used by the Navy for anything else.

But everyone who has ever served on either a WMEC or a WHEC knows that there is another, truer meaning of those acronyms. WMEC = We Must Eat Chicken; WHEC = We Havta Eat Chicken. I suspect that FRC (Fast Response Cutter) is really short for Frequently Receiving Chicken, NSC (National Security Cutter) means Now Serving Chicken and OPC (Offshore Patrol Cutter) will be Offering Prime Chicken or maybe Often Preparing Chicken once commissioned.

I do not eat chicken when I'm not on a ship. Maaaybe every once in a very long while I'll get Thai green curry with chicken or chicken pad thai, but I usually opt for shrimp or tofu if given the choice. I don't buy it at the grocery store and I don't order it in restaurants. If I'm at someone's house who serves chicken, I will politely eat it and tell the cook how delicious it is so I'm not rude about it. But left to my own devices, I avoid chicken when I have a choice. Except chicken wings...I got addicted to those damn things when I was OPS on HAMILTON. It was a survival technique since we had chicken wings every single Saturday night at Pizza Night underway. 

I get why CG cooks serve it so much. Chicken is relatively affordable, healthy and can be prepared in any number of creative ways. Just last week we had buffalo chicken sandwiches, baked chicken, lemon garlic chicken, chicken nuggets (two kinds) and bacon chicken wraps. This week was savory baked chicken, grilled cilantro lime chicken, Indian curry chicken, chicken wings and the ever generic, grilled chicken for those who prefer healthier options on pizza night. Other favorites include chicken parmesan, chicken alfredo, fried chicken, chicken fajitas, chicken salad sandwiches, and chicken quesadillas.

Just to be clear, I am **not** bashing CG cooks. We have *great!* cooks. Who care about the quality and healthiness of the food they prepare and serve. They're trying to please 76 different palates three times a day -- that is a nearly impossible task. Our cooks on DILI do a great job, even when we get crappy produce in theatre or run out of milk two days before our next port call. We have biscuits and gravy every Wednesday morning -- yet another glorious reason to love Hump Days (FS3 B.S. knows to put my two over medium (eggs) on top of the biscuits, and then add the gravy over the whole thing with a heavy hand -- divine!). Taco Tuesdays are a total mainstay; though we have Mexican Mondays when we're inport because we have afternoon workouts on Tuesdays and people were grumpy about missing Taco Tuesday. Seafood Fridays (Fish Fridays sounds better, but it's not very accurate) are still a thing. And every Saturday is Pizza Night. 

But by now in the patrol, I am heartily sick of eating chicken. The open-faced turkey sandwiches on the menu for lunch tomorrow -- now that's a different story!

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer