Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Week and a Half

Here’s a run-down of what’s been going on since my last post. This is a ridiculously long post…but it’s been a busy couple of days.

Coming back in from the tsunami evacuation, we moored up at the Hilo state pier. Radio Bay was still overly surgy from the tsunami; it was too dangerous to try to figure out the currents with just one engine just to risk parting lines to the pier as the surges settled down. The Harbormaster in Hilo, Elton Suganuma was gracious enough to give us some pier space where the cruise ships normally moor up. But if we were going to be there past Monday, we would have to shift piers, because a cruise ship was due in very early on Tuesday morning. We’d already done one single engine unmooring/mooring, so I was pretty confident about being able to make it safely over to the next pier.

That was Saturday.

Sunday progressed fairly normally, until about 6 pm, when the winds picked up. We started getting gusts up to 30 kts in the harbor. And the surge got ugly. The OOD (Officer of the Deck = 24-hr live watch onboard ship) called me at about 11 pm, saying that we were starting to part lines. We were chafing through the chafe gear (thick canvas and padding designed to protect the lines from wearing on the deck fittings) and then working through the lines themselves. We had parted three lines when the OOD called.

I went into the ship at that point, figuring I wasn’t going to sleep at all at home, so if I wasn’t going to sleep, it might as well be on the ship. It was mostly to make myself feel better…there was nothing I could really contribute by being there. Not like I was gonna be able to single-handedly stop the surge.

By Monday morning, we had parted five lines. We were starting to run out of lines, so the Boatswains’ Mate Department started making more as quickly as they could. At this point, we had 13 lines over to the pier. Normally, we keep eight lines over: two breast lines, one fore and one aft each doubled up, and two spring lines, one leading forward and one leading aft each doubled up. The extra lines were two extra breast lines each fore and aft and one storm line leading far aft.

The weather didn’t let up at all on Monday, so when we went to shift piers at about 5:30pm once the barge had cleared out from the pier we were going to, the winds were at about 20 kts sustained, quartering us on the dock at the pier we were already on, and directly onto the beam to the pier we were going to. I hope that makes sense to readers…simplify it to say that 20 kts of wind during any mooring adds trickiness. Thankfully, there was a tug boat underway that had been assisting with helping the barge away from the pier, and BM1 O’Brien suggested that we contact the tug to have them stand by if we needed assistance. Great recommendation!

Getting underway from the pier went well. We were able to get the stern away from the pier fairly easily, giving small shots ahead on the port-side engine (the only one that works, don’t forget) while heaving around on line 1 with the capstan. The theory was that, if we could get enough of an angle off the pier to swing our stern through the wind, it would catch us and assist us getting set up for the approach on the new pier, which was at a 90-ish degree angle from the original pier. It was a good theory…putting it into practice wasn’t quite so easy. We alllllmosssst got our stern through the wind, but it was stubborn, so it didn’t quite make it. So, we asked the tug to come alongside, and make off to our port side to help push us into the new pier. Worked wonderfully. And then we were safely made off to the new pier.

But safely is a relative term. The surge at the new pier was just as bad as at the previous pier. We had discussed different options before shifting piers: getting back to our mooring in Radio Bay was discarded because the cut was so windblown that I wasn’t willing to try it on one engine with all forces pushing us forward (reduces effectiveness of rudders/steering); anchoring in the bay was ruled out because of the possibility of dragging anchor in the sea conditions, and getting underway was ruled out, because what if something happened to our remaining engine and then we were stuck out to sea in really crappy weather conditions without any propulsion…ugh…no good choices at all. So surging at the pier sounded like the best option.

We sat there the rest of Monday night, all day Tuesday, and through about half of Wednesday, waiting for our part. We didn’t part any more lines…we had 13 lines over again, including three of the barge hawsers that were on the pier that reduced the movement of the ship, sometimes more abruptly than felt normal. But we did pop six fenders.

The part finally arrived at 2 pm on Wednesday; we were underway by 4 pm. Thank goodness!

Now, let’s talk about that part we had been waiting on. We located it on Friday, it didn’t ship out until Tuesday, we received it on Wednesday. The Friday to Tuesday part bothered me. So in our CASCOR (casualty correction), we said: [Support Unit] THEN CONTACTED [Supply Unit] TO SHIP THE REQUIRED PART THAT WAS HOUSED IN THEIR INVENTORY. THE PART WAS BOXED AND DELIVERED TO [Supply Unit’s] SHIPPING DEPARTMENT ON MONDAY MORNING. THE SHIPPING DEPARTMENT FAILED TO SHIP THE PART ON MONDAY...UNIT REQUESTS AN INFORMAL INVESTIGATION TO THE DELAY IN SHIPPING A CAT4 PART. UNNECESSARY DELAYS CAUSED BY SUPPORTING UNITS AGGRAVATES DIFFICULTIES ALREADY INHERENT IN RECEIVING PARTS DUE TO OUR REMOTE LOCATION.

Just in case any CG-readers hadn’t seen it already.

The response I got back was via email: “It is not good practice to be throwing units that give assistance under the bus. If you felt this strong about the service you received you should have kept it in house and dealt with it through me. The [Supply Unit] does outstanding work in regards to support to the units. You would have waited much longer to receive this part through the stock system or through the vendor. The vendor quoted us two days minimum to Houston and another day to Hilo which would have the part arriving sometime Thursday at best.
I understand this was frustrating for you and the crew. It was frustrating for everyone involved in getting the part to the cutter, but we all make mistakes and this message post was unprofessional.”

Ouch. And whoops! But I can take, as well as receive feedback. Upon thoughtful consideration of the email, I realized that he was right…we did go a little overboard with our frustration. I think my MKC said at one point that it was the process that was important…our frustration, if we mentioned it, was just whining sea stories. And I agree; every part to every unit is important. It shouldn’t matter to the support system that we’re getting thrashed against the pier as we wait for a part; it’s more relevant just that we’re broken and they need to get the part to us as quickly as possible. However, our lack of professionalism got some high-level attention and there was a corrective action taken.

I received the official response back today… “A WAREHOUSE SHIPPING LINE FAILURE OCCURRED DUE TO A LACK OF FAMILIARITY SURROUNDING THE SHIPMENT OF NON-INVENTORY MATERIAL USING A [XXXXXX] DOCUMENT. TRAINING HAS SINCE BEEN CONDUCTED FOR ALL EMPLOYEES ON THIS PROCESS. IN ADDITION, THE [UNIT] ESTABLISHED CHECKS AND BALANCES TO ENSURE THIS TYPE OF FAILURE DOES NOT OCCUR AGAIN.”

In retrospect, we should have given the Support Unit a heads-up that we were about to throw somebody under the bus, and given them the opportunity to correct the problem before broadcasting it to the entire cutter fleet. I need to light candles, not lob Molotov cocktails.

That takes us through Wednesday. Thursday, we had some Homeland Security tasking that went off smoothly, and set us up timing-wise to do some fishing vessel boardings. Just as we were securing from our tasking, there was a good boarding candidate right in front of us. I love it when the plan comes together. So we got the boarding team together and over to the boat. The seas were a little bumpy, and I was doing long figure eights next to the fishing boat, as they continued their transit to Honolulu with the boarding team onboard.

And then this horrible noise started. Grinding, grumbling, loud, teeth-rattling vibration coming from the engine room, but transmitting all through the ship. The Ninjaneers sprang into action, followed their initial actions and had us come to all stop. We did some more troubleshooting and ended up locking the starboard shaft in accordance with our Casualty Control Manual. Needless to say, our operations were over for the day. It was something of a challenge to get our small boat back with a locked shaft. We had to go down swell, which reduced our maneuverability to the point that I could not keep a steady course, but continually turned a slow right arc.

I had never moored with a locked shaft. It was a good ship-handling evolution, though very tense. We had Station Honolulu’s 47’ Motor Life Boat assist us. One thing about KISKA’s crew that continues to inspire me is their ability to work as a team; during this evolution, our ability to work together expanded to include the true professionals from the Station. I stopped shaking from the adrenaline about 15 minutes after we got all lines over.
So, out goes the next CAT4 CASREP, the second in less than a week. We got divers to check underneath the boat for anything entangled in the shaft or any damage to underwater appendages. Neg res (negative results). That would have been an easy answer. We got underway the next day, Friday, to see if we could recreate the problem.

Now, let me say a few words about gremlins. They’re little bastards. They get into systems, and only show themselves at the most annoying times; but then when you go looking for them, they sneakily hide themselves away and there’s no getting at them. I’ve thought about getting a gremlin tattoo, but I can’t quite decide what the little f’ers look like, and I don’t know where to put it…maybe on the bottom of my foot, so I can crush them every day. Gremlins are a fact of life on ships, though, and you learn to live with, if not respect them.

Needless to say, when we got underway on Friday, we couldn’t recreate the vibration. I could see the little bastard gremlin, snickering away in his hidey hole, plotting his next evil appearance. So, we went back into an operational status, pending the reoccurrence of the vibration.

Saturday was a quiet day inport. We needed it.

Sunday we got underway; there were five fishing vessels returning to port, and the day lined up perfectly to board four of them. We think we caught a bad guy, a vessel that said they had a US Master, but may have just used him as a poseur. Case package should be submitted soon, and we’ll see if the lawyers agree.

Monday we stayed inport, getting a lot of good logistical stuff taken care of.

I’d been watching the weather all weekend long. We were due to head back to Hilo mid-week, and the trades have been up and strong which makes for snotty channel crossings. Not much to be done about it, ‘cause you can’t change the weather, but it’s good to know what we’re in for.

Tuesday we got underway to help out a CG LT with his graduate research, calibrating an HF radar that will help to monitor and predict currents. Good to improve search and rescue drift models. The weather was not good; winds were gusting to 30 kts. Our original intention was to depart for Hilo just after finishing the calibration, but the weather was bad enough that I decided to wait until Wednesday morning to see if the weather calmed down any.

Wednesday morning was still ridiculously windy, but I was anxious to get home, so we set out. The gremlin got bored and decided to come out to play. Gnarly, bad, ugly vibration started up again when we were about half-way through the Kaiwi Channel between Oahu and Molokai.

So here we are, back in Honolulu, investigating the vibration. The support guys are all over it and we hope to know more by the end of today. I’m not going to speculate yet on what this means. But here’s hoping for the best.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

is a blog containing an account of of a US licensed master that arrived aboard a fishing vessel to discover that the fishing master was the real skipper and he was just a figurehead. Doug Pine's account might help your understanding of practices to look for on ostensibly US flagged fishing vessels that are in actual practice run by foreign nationals.

Uncle Heathen said...

Don't I remember a shaft problem when you first came out of drydock? I know you know all that, it just seems more than coincidental. See you soon.

Anonymous said...

LT,

I continue to follow your blog, and truly admire the professionalism and dedication shown by you and your crew. It is reassuring to see the same spirit 25 years after my cutter time... Hang tough, shipmate.

So, you put someone on notice for a crappy supply chain after you were forced to hazard your vessel unnecessarily while waiting for a spare part. As a taxpayer and part-owner of the KISKA, I have to say... good on you. If you had done worse to your ship than ruining mooring lines, the fall-out inevitably would have been on your shoulders alone, and much worse than a barb in a CASCOR.

Bad enuf the entire fleet is in the condition that it is. You are a great example of a professional who takes responsibility for her actions, so don't apologize for others.

Best regards from Alaska,

KL

Santa Maria Blog said...

Thank you for being human.

It's an honest assessment when someone realizes what they are saying is right, but how it's said could be taken so wrong.

As a person who is fascinated in how things work in both my profession and in other services, I prefer the raw coverage you are offering.

Jeff

Just A Girl said...

No updates on the condition yet. We're still trying to figure out what is causing the vibration.

Uncle H, yes, we had shaft problems coming out of drydock, but it's still too early to know if the two problems are related (this is me trying to be politically savvy).

Anonymous 1, thanks for the info on Pine's blog.

Anonymous 2 and Jeff, thanks for the words of encouragement. It's a little awkward for me to receive the praise. Especially when I know that what I write here is the super-cleaned up version of my learning curve, where I don't mention the rant on the bridge wing about interferences or the mean things I mutter under my breath when I trip over another stumbling block. I limit the crew's exposure to that stuff as much as I can, but it's still there. Let's just say it's a process, and the blog is the distilled version.

Someone I admire and respect recently told me that he likes the honesty shown in my posts. If it's that much of an anomaly to be honest in a public forum, it makes me wonder how long I can continue to be honest before I share too much. I try to always look at both sides of any issue, and remain professional, confronting processes not people. But it's a thin line to travel. And I'm really not all that politically savvy, despite my aside to Uncle Heathen above.

So again, thanks for the words of encouragement. But you're getting the best side of me, and it's really the crew that's doing all the work :D

Anonymous said...

You write very well and I feel you show the "human side" of Command. I'll be following your blog regularly!

D7 YN2

Azulao said...

Boy, amazing the organizational culture that allows you to send an email like that at ALL!!! I have been dealing with a half-assed dipwad who gives bad information, contradictory information, and no information -- wasting hours of my time. Can I send an email asking for an "informal investigation" as to why information is not available, or in fact why this nitwit has a job? No. I have to wait until the situation is resolved and then send an overly polite, suck-uppy email to the dipwad's boss suggesting that perhaps an upgrade to the unit website is in order. Throw under the bus, huh.

So, did you figure out the gremlin?

Anonymous said...

The URL to Doug Pine's blog "THE DEADLIEST, UH, MAKE THAT THE DULLEST CATCH" seemed to get dropped from the first comment. You can find it at thedullestcatch.com.