Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uphill. Both Ways.

I've got to be quick. I'm on the library's computer, and someone has it reserved in less than 30 minutes. My laptop got a virus late last week, and I'm hesitant to use it very much until I get it cleaned up...hence the library's computer. Grrr.

I went to the dump to recycle a bunch of moving detritus yesterday. I got lost. It was raining. I jammed my finger...really hard. It still hurts today. Still have half a dozen trips to make to get rid of the rest of it. The mini doesn't hold much at any one time.

I sent an email out yesterday, with some feedback (euphemism in this case for being a little whiny) to the folks that are responsible for responding to casualties for us. We're still trying to work out our leaky fuel tank. With all the reorganization that the CG is going through lately, I'm still trying to learn exactly who is who in the new zoo. I miscalculated, and sent the email one level higher than I really should have, since I was trying to keep my "feedback" low key. So I pissed one or two people off by being a squeaky wheel.

Sometimes it's uphill. Both ways. Barefoot. In the snow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Curtains

I'm not sure if I've got too much time on my hands, or if I'm keeping a family tradition alive.

The beautiful weather that we've had in Hilo disappeared under rain clouds today, which is much more typical weather for windward Hawaii. It gives me an excuse not to be outside, hiking, biking, snorkeling, swimming or not learning to surf. So this morning, I made new curtains.

Or sort of...I took an old sarong that had a hole or two, cut it in half, hemmed both sides, and then rolled it over for a tab for the curtain rod. Not very complicated. In fact, I think I probably did a much more involved project when I was in fourth grade.

But somehow, I took a great sense of satisfaction from making my curtains. Maybe it was that I can look at those curtains and know that I spent an hour (embarrassing that it took so long) and fashioned them. Or maybe it was working on my grandmother's 1929 Singer treadle sewing machine. It's been in storage for about a year and a half, and not used in probably five years before that. Still works like a champ, especially after my mom sent it for conditioning a few years ago.
The story I've been told about the sewing machine is that Grandma got it as a gift when she finished nursing school. It was always a source of curiosity and treasure-hunting when we visited as kids. So many cool buttons and snips of patching material to sort through. All that stuff is still in there now. I even found a hand-stitched pin cushion, carefully wrapped in plastic, with a note in my grandmother's writing labeling it, "pin cushion, made by Nancy Mundy (age 4)." My curtains show about the same level of sophistication.
Not sure if this is really bl0g-worthy material. But I think it's cool that (a) I made curtains and (b) I made them on this wonderfully useful antique that my grandmother used eighty years ago.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Return to Homeport

As a sometimes big boat sailor (BOUTWELL and HAMILTON), the words, "Return to Homeport," are usually spoken after three months of hard, monotonous days that are only occasionally interspersed with a few days of hectic madness when the ship gets a drug bust and gleeful port calls in tropical places. At least that's the way it was on my Eastern Pacific patrols.

On patrol boats in Hawaii, "Return to Homeport" usually means we've been out cruising for two or three days, and we get to pull in for a few hours or a few days.

This time, KISKA returned to homeport after 198 days. You've all heard me whine about the aggravations of our "extensive drydock," so I'm not going to do that again here. This post is all about how amazingly glorious yesterday was.

How come it is, that regardless of how much planning is done to take care of all the details, there's always a manic worklist right before something big? All this last week was ridiculously busy, capped off on Thursday, with a workday that ended around 5:30/6ish for most of the crew. We got a lot done, though. Including anther tsunami watch for about an hour due to the tremor near Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Yesterday dawned clear and calm (photo from BSU Honolulu, looking towards downtown). I'd been watching the weather for days and was optimistic about the lack of trade winds and forecast for the channels. When the trades are strong, the channels can get pretty fetched up; it's not unusual for the Alenuihaha Channel (between Maui and the Big Island) to be 12 to 15 feet with swell and wind waves...which means we're beam-to (taking the waves on the side of the ship) for about 40 miles, or four hours. Yuck. I'm sure I'll have some pictures of that somewhere down the line. So I'd been watching the weather for days.

We went to Pearl Harbor first thing in the morning for an ammunition onload. The pier we had to get to was in a part of the harbor that I had never been to before. The sense of history in Pearl Harbor is inescapable, especially with hulks like this peeking out of the brush. The course in had a couple of sharp turns and it was really fun. XO said it was like a slalom course.

Makin the approach to the pier look easy, XO was set up for success with the lack of wind and current. Our linehandlers on the other hand...well, let's just say it's a little embarrassing for the guy who threw the heaving line, not realizing he was standing too close to the bow, to watch as the line got all caught up in the jackstaff (flag pole on the bow). I admit I laughed. It did take us an unfortunately long time to get that line to the pier. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast," (thanks, Mr Brook), yeah, we've got to work on that.

The onload was over in 20 minutes...barely enough time for me to review the outbound trackline. We were out of Pearl Harbor by 9 am.

And it was Flat. Ass. Calm. when we got out. We rarely see days like this in Hawaii, maybe a dozen or so a year. This is the Kaiwi Channel between Oahu and Molokai. Glorious! And it was like for almost the entire transit. The Alenuihaha got a little choppier, maybe one to two foot wind waves, and a weird mixed northwest and southeast swell that made it a little googly. But if ever there was a day to have good weather, yesterday was a great day for it!

We transited the 212 miles between Honolulu and Hilo at 25 knots the whole way. It felt like we were only doing 15 knots.
Now, before someone accuses me of squandering resources going fast just for the sake of going fast, let me explain my rationale. First there's the weather. Trades were supposed to be back today. Hmm, a two-hour flat-calm channel crossing v. a four-hour get-your-cookies-tossed-all-around channel crossing...I know which one I'll go for every time.
And two of our watch stations (Officer of the Deck and Quartermaster of the Watch...the two positions onboard for making sure the ship doesn't hit another ship or bad things like rocks and shoal water and actually gets where it's going) are port and starboard, which means that there are only two people qualified in each position. XO and I are OODs, and I had to drop my BM1 down to the QMOW rotation so I had two people there. Port and starboard sucks because you stand six hours of watch on, and then have six hours of watch off...not nearly enough to ever get enough sleep. So, eight and half hours of transit v. longer transit, that's an easy choice.

And I had never transited into Radio Bay to our home pier. And it's tight. There's a rock wall about 30 yards off the trackline with a pole sticking out of it, so you can see where it is at high tide that MKC likes to call the "can opener." And we've got to back into the pier. That's all something I'd really rather not do after dark. My night vision and depth perception pretty much suck. So, daytime harbor transit v. barpatting offshore or anchoring 500 yards away from the pier overnight, while port and starboard...another easy choice.
Risk management, it's all about the risk management.
As we got around the northeast side of the Big Island, we were turning for 25 knots, but making more like 27. It didn't seem like we had a following sea, but the swells were still kinda mixed so it was hard to tell. We brought the engines all the way up to see how fast we would go. Here's proof that we got over 30 knots. Whoooppeee!!






We didn't stay going that fast very long. We were getting close to Hilo and had to make preparations to enter port, which included our navigation brief and the very important singing of Happy Birthday to MKC. I don't think he was very amused.

The transit through the harbor was beautiful. The sun was setting over Mauna Kea, and it was clear enough to see the top. And it wasn't raining...proof enough that we had some weird weather going on. It always rains in Hilo.

So that was the trip home, all eight and a half hours of it. Not even the newly discovered leak in the fuel tank (into the forward sound locker) or a hiccup with our communications equipment could dull the feeling of relief and triumph and homecoming.

Today...yoga, farmers' market, and snorkeling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sea Trials

So sorry about the technical difficulties over the last couple of days. Hopefully I've got it sorted out now.

I’ve finally got the chance to write about sea trials. Well, actually, I’ve finally got the pictures from sea trials on my computer and can now show pictures instead of just blabbing about them.

But sea trials were fantasticawesomeamazingstupendous! The weather was beautiful, with barely a breeze out of the northeast and not much of a swell at all. We took our time, knowing that most every system had been touched and that there were lots of new people onboard. We got started out of Barbers Point Harbor at just a few minutes after 10 am, with a couple of riders from the shipyard onboard.

Here’s our Project Manager, Mike…big guy in a little itty bitty life jacket. Tee hee. He brought another guy with him that puked after about an hour underway. Tee hee…Actually I *know* better than to laugh at anybody who gets seasick.

We had some pretty significant discrepancies with our navigation systems because stuff had been down for so long. But both Barber’s Point and Honolulu Harbor are very easy harbors to transit, with solid visual ranges through the narrow choke points. I was concerned about our navigation systems, but I knew it wasn’t a deal breaker that would prevent us from getting underway. So away we went.

This is my XO and FS2 prepping to cast off lines. We did propulsion tests early in the morning, to make sure the main diesel engines (MDEs) were properly hooked up and would clutch in the way they were supposed to. They did, but it’s a nerve-wracking scenario, especially on a 110. Class A and B 110s clutch in with enough power to go nine knots…that’s a lot, especially when you’ve got four lines over to the pier. And there’s a delay on the clutches, which is individual to each ship. On my last ship, port ahead and astern and starboard ahead were all about three and a half seconds, but starboard astern was barely two and a half to three seconds. And KISKA’s throttles were changed out right before the ship went into drydock in April. So I wasn’t really sure what the delays would be.

Turned out the delays were a solid five and a half seconds all around. I’d count to five in my head, think we were going too long, and then wait another split second, get anxious and tell the XO to declutch. We did that about four times on each side before I took a deep breath and let XO go with it. Eventually, we got satisfactory shaft tests. But we did them again once we were ready to go, just to make sure and for the practice of doing them.

The transit out of Barber’s Point was easy. We passed a tug on its way in, and that was it. There was brief moment of WTF when XO tried to shift steering down from the open bridge and couldn’t get it. Turned out it was operator error, and we figured it out. We may have confused a tanker coming up from the south a little bit with what aspect we were showing, but he was far enough away not to really be an issue.

All the systems tested out okay…until we got to the Oily Water Separator (OWS), which is a particularly sensitive piece of equipment in the Coast Guard recently. We had to barpat (go back and forth) a couple of times while they tried out different things. So I took a nap. Beautiful day, clear skies, no traffic, yummy lunch…what else was I supposed to do? Except my wily crew got photographic evidence…yikes! :)












Once the engineers figured out there was more wrong with the OWS than they could fix right then, we stretched our legs a little, and came up in speed. When 110s go, they really go. It’s so much fun going fast. Here’s our rooster tail at 25 knots.

At this point, I had a canary-eating grin I couldn’t get off my face.







But we couldn’t go fast forever, and we were approaching Honolulu Harbor. I asked to make the call to Aloha Tower, WHX-528 who controls traffic in the harbor, to request permission to enter. I made the call dozens of time when I was on my last 110 as XO, but there was something particularly cool about getting to call as CO. We were granted permission (it was a little anti-climatic), and then shortly we were on our approach to the pier.

XO did a great job of mooring up. There was some debate about where exactly we needed to go on the pier, given the placement of a huge Yokohama fender. But we figured it out, and got there.

And we didn’t waste anytime getting the soft patch off to start the generator change out. This picture is taken from the open bridge, looking down into the engine room...which you normally can't do.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Settling In

I've had a busy couple of days even though I'm not at work. But I have a HOUSE!! It's a cute little 2 bedroom cottage just three blocks from downtown. Easy walking distance to restaurants, shops, the FARMERS MARKET!!, yoga studio and the library. And about three miles to the ship...definitely bikeable. It's an older house that has been reasonably well taken care of, but the paint is chipping and the kitchen show signs of 20 years of renters. But a good cleaning and plenty of new shelf liners make all that manageable.

My arms and legs are covered in bruises from moving all my furniture in. I have too damn much stuff! A lot of it is really beautiful stuff (my Persian rugs look *amazing* in the living room), but some of it is stuff I haven't seen in 10 years. I'll probably spend the next eight months that I'm here integrating the last decade of my life, with paperwork and books that have been scattered over four locations for quite some time. Waialua stuff meet Virginia stuff meet San Diego stuff meet Bahrain stuff. I'll be making some trips to Goodwill.

I've really enjoyed spending these last few days in my new home. But it is a little odd being away from the ship. The crew is still very busy getting stuff done. There's range dates, casreps to follow up on, a small boat to break in, generators to replace, a tsunami to prepare for, weigh ins, SGLI updates...wait a second...a TSUNAMI!!

You've probably heard of the earthquake that shook Samoa on Tuesday. My heart goes out to the people whose lives were devastated by the quake and the following waves. I'm so proud that the Coast Guard is participating in the relief efforts.

But here in Hawaii, we had to make preparations in case the tsunami came this far. The easy response for ships under a tsunami threat is to get underway. Out to sea, the waves are much less noticeable so it's safer for ships to be away from shore. So there's two difficulties that KISKA faced when we got word of the tsunami warning. The first was really just more *my* problem...I wasn't there, and there was really no way for me to get back quickly enough. My XO did a fantastic job of making preparations and talking to the right people. But the ship would have gotten underway without me. Kinda a squigjy (pronounced skwid-jee) feeling, especially not having the time to mentally prepare for it. It's one thing to provide a planned professional development opportunity for my XO to take the ship out on his own when there's a commitment that I must be ashore for (like a CO's conference), but it's another thing entirely to be enjoying a few days of househunting time, and get the call that the ship is getting underway without me.

It makes me feel superfluous.

The second problem we faced was that, well, we didn't have any generators, which means no power, which means not being able to get underway under our own power. So the plan was to use the Station small boats as tugs, and then pass the tow to another, larger ship once we were out of the harbor. Second problem solved.

Thankfully, the tsunami watch was downgraded to an advisory that kept the beaches closed until the next day, and we didn't have to get underway.

But it was a good mental exercise for me. Tsunamis can happen at any time, with very little warning...not like a hurricane, where we can see it coming from a week away. If I thought that I always had to be available to the ship every moment of every day for every emergency, I'd never get to take any time off. That's no good-for anybody. Which also means that while my position is very important, *I*, me, Charlotte, am less critical than the position itself. My XO is very capable at standing in as the crew's leader.

Of course it's always better to have the CO there, but it doesn't stop the world from turning if she's gone.