Sunday, March 30, 2008


Oh how one weekend can change your life. Last week I was a mere first aid provider, able to help if needed but on a limited, Samaritan basis. Now, after a mere 20 hours, I'm a certified Wilderness First Aid provider, legally obligated to provide assistance wherever I believe it is due, and trained in splinting, traction, basic examination, and CPR, to be performed if i'm further than a 1-hour trip from a hospital, and provide information to EMTs and other hospital personnel in the form of a legal document. Crazy, huh? This training is vital for shipboard personnel who will be working with clumsy children on boats, as typically we're anywhere from 2-15 hours from land, let alone emergency care.

How does this training compare to other forms of first aid training i've received in the past?

WFA vs Red Cross First Aid: Heaps more information, more invasive techniques, more responsibility, more focus on resourcefulness, using what's laying around, than using what comes in the ready-packaged first aid box. less focus on industrial accidents, more focus on climbing falls and the forces of nature. Focus on grim reality of the effectiveness of CPR in the field without access to a defibrillator. Proper techniques for moving, lifting, immobilizing, rolling, and transporting people with suspected spinal injuries. Ruling out spinal injury. Triage.

WFA vs Workplace First Aid: see red cross, and then add "call for help, but don't just hang out with the victim until help arrives. They may not be able to get to you. Continue to monitor and record vital signs, figure out how to get the victim(s) to safety as gently and safely as possible." Shipboard, we hauled some people off the deck by tying them to the gantline and flying them to the dock, complete with 6' long femoral traction splints, a deck box lid-turned-backboard, and
lifejackets tied to immobilize the head. Sure beats carrying 'em.

WFA vs Lifeguard Training: less focus on water rescues, but without the whole water thing many of the techniques are the same, just heavier--use the victim's arms as bracing for the head, clear the core before focusing on extremities, always do your best to remain calm. Sensitivities to heat and cold are emphasized. Same emphasis on responsibility, except without the pay-for-safety emphasis on legal liability. Less by the books--backwoods usually means "not equipped with a floating backboard strapped to your chair" so you must rely on your own innovation and resourcefulness. It also means "you may be the only person around who's capable of assisting any number of people, so learn the value of triage. If it comes down to it, dead means dead." Lifeguards always have at least one other lifeguard to call for.

Daunting, no?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Everyone has something that plagues them. Whether it's bad luck at poker, bad luck in relationships, or the actual plague, there's something that pretty much everyone can encounter and gripe "this Always happens to me!" Some consider this phenomenon one's curse, an individual burden placed upon the shoulders of each person at birth that they will continue to endure until they find a way to defeat it. Maybe there is a way for all of us.

My personal curse has one name but many faces. Plumbing. No matter what, no matter where I am, the pipes suck. It never seems to be my fault--the clog in the toilet has been building up, the water heater was already on its way out, the leaky hole in the ceiling is a known problem, the mold has been growing for years, the last resident just took showers without water pressure--but somehow thanks to my lucky timing I wind up having to deal with the faulty plumbing.
I arrive on the scene and instantly the quietly nagging problem explodes. sometimes literally.

I feel I should mention that I have been effectively using a plunger since I was 5 years old. I've known how to re-light a pilot since i was 7. I have fixed so many different varieties of flushing mechanism I'm amazed the wheel hasn't been re-invented. I've honed my "toilet overflow" senses to a fine point and have water-shutoff reflexes like a ninja. I've been hit numerous times with clots of rust-colored water and have scrubbed myself like a cast-iron pot after manually digging out particularly unappetizing blockages.

I have taken so many cold showers I could cry.

The annoying thing is, I do not have a "Can-do" attitude. I tend to evaluate most problems from the perspective of "is it my fault? is it my problem? can anyone else take care of it?" before moving to handle them. It's amazing, though, how few people know how to do those simple stupid things that I wind up doing--in hotel rooms in Paris at 4am, in the haunted cellar at midnight, after the hired plumbers have come and gone--all standing nearby, helplessly watching, asking what things are.

When I arrived on Taney, the water heater was broken. It was soon repaired, however, and pleasant enough showers ensued. Then the temperature became intermittent. Now the drain, which worked fine yesterday, is backed up like I-95 on a friday afternoon, so i took my shower standing in a lake. I can only imagine that soon enough the knobs will fall off in my hands and it will start pouring blood. And i'll probably fix it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ex-Menace to Society

Teddy was neutered this weekend. Everything went fine and he is happy and healing well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Humans on Wheels and Pre-K Minimalism

There's nothing quite like walking down by the Aquarium on a clear, bright weekend. The tourists come out in force--all shapes, sizes, and hues of humanity jostle for position in line to watch sharks and dolphins swim around in circles as they while away the monotony of their wait for death. People pack into the square and the surrounding attractions--historic ships, historic buildings, historic ice cream shops--all determined to be rewarded for enduring the endless lines, their own families, and the incessant nagging of beggars with a day of fanciful fun. All sadly forced to bring the Baby or Aunt Ruth along, complete with their appropriate wheeled accessories, filling everyone with good karma and the barely-suppressed dread of hauling them through minimum-handicapped-accessibility-requirements-met attractions for the rest of the day.

I'm not a big fan of the Disneyworld approach toward fun. Queuing for an hour for a two-minute ride is hardly a just payoff. Being herded through turnstiles and crammed into the sweaty armpit of a furious father of three screaming toddlers for the better part of a morning just to find that the attraction has broken and closed while you were in line leads to a ticket price's worth of frustration. The mass-market appeal of vacation getaways leads to the mass market amassing on once-secluded islands, dumped off of city-sized cruise liners, bringing along all the BS they were trying t leave at home--lines, beggars, and street entertainers willing to turn tricks for you and your children for a measly $20.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the one form of panhandling I find even more annoying than the toothless junkies rattling their change is the middle-aged pedophiles who squeak out disturbingly phallic balloon animals and cram them on your children's heads. You've seen them--anywhere there's a historic monument, youth attraction, or family-oriented exhibit, these obnoxious failed clowns are sure to settle upon the ticket plaza like flies on carrion. What makes them? I don't know. I can't know what level of derangement leads to Balloon Animal Guys without becoming one, and even I'm too stable for that.

These chain-smoking, child-molesting, pancake made up promenade performers take all kinds--some unicycle, some juggle, some just stand at the center of an interesting bricklaying pattern and shout--but their product is consistent: brightly-colored sausage links twisted into shapes that vaguely resemble household items, particularly with the addition of sharpie-drawn cartoon eyes. I'm sure countless books and instructional videos have circulated over the years to lead the plastic-snapping novice out of his mother's basement and into creepy, tourist-tormenting obscurity, but I doubt that many of them discuss the deeper and far more valuable function of this dumpster-doomed venture--youth exposure to post-modernist art.

Yes, friends and strangers, much as I hate them, balloon animals do clearly fit the criteria for minimalist sculpture--they strip away all the frill and detail of a composition to reveal its essence, its purest form. The muscle, hair, and slobber of a heeling golden retriever are reduced to a yellow dog-like contraption, complete with floppy ears and a distinctly Disney-knockoff feel. Still-life portraits of fruit can be implied by tying red, yellow, and purple tubes to your triplets' heads to resemble an apple, a banana, and a bunch of grapes. Even the subtle humor of ancient dramatists can be evoked with a few tight bends attached to a man's belt. Okay, maybe not so subtle, and maybe not outside the Aquarium. But at Fantasy Fest or something. Fact is, what brings momentary delight to your child's eyes at the completion of a balloon objet is not the air-filled tubes or the creepy guy blowing on them--its the rest of the composition that their minds have filled in for them. To you it's some clear plastic, the static off of which is gradually making your preschooler's hair stand on end. To the child its a kitten, exactly as it's meant to be. The child sees the negative space, the kitten that the lines left out, fluffy and pink and perfect.

This does not, by the way, excuse balloon animal hawkers pounding the pavement outside my house. If I want to visit the drugstore on a Saturday afternoon I should not have to fight my way through the swarm of plastic pirates with inflated parrots to get there. I sympathize with the parents who hadn't planned ahead for their child to covet the glistening gems in the artist's pouch, counting the money they're going to wind up blowing on whimsical nonsense that their brat will pop, lose, or dislike within minutes, watching the balloser pick his target and home in. My parents had the strength to say no at the time and I hated them for it...briefly. Then I got to see the turtles and it was all okay.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Warm Bread in the Morning, Warm Sugar in the Evening

Ah, the smells of Baltimore. Each morning as I begin work the scent of the nearby H&S Bakery wafts over the docks and we're all treated to the aroma of warm yeast and steamy baguettes. Until we remember that most of what they bake is buns for McDonald's hamburgers and that they're probably loaded with preservatives and garbage, just for the sake of being sold in McDonald's. But the smell is wonderful and invigorating, particularly after a hot breakfast on the Lady Maryland and a cup of coffee.

During the day the smell fades--often after a twenty-minute period of the smell of burnt toast--and for a while we smell diesel, brackish water, garbage, and ourselves. Marlin (a type of marine-grade twine) smells like a clean barn or a freshly-changed hamster's cage; pine tar smells like Worcestershire sauce. Epoxy smells bad.

In the evening the wind changes and we're treated to eau de Domino Sugar, whose factory is visible across the river. My brain has linked its pleasant aroma with the smell of hot fresh peanut butter cookies, but deep down I know they're actually different. Its just the brain has a limited number of receptors for olfactory memories and its doing its best to categorize it as it understands.

And the Taney has come up with some even weirder noises to startle and confuse me with--currently a pipe join near my mirror is making an eerie popping noise, which always gives me visions of all of my stuff suddenly being doused in rust-colored seawater. Oy vey, my housing-included lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

the jib is up

i'm so punny. But seriously, folks, today marked the completion of the mains'l rig and the majority of the jib rig on Skipjack Sigsbee, and for two people, one of whom is learning sailing from a theatrical point of view, I think progress is acceptable. It took the crews of three boats to haul our massive 40' boom from its winter storage site and haul it into position at perfect head-bonking height on our mast.

I spent about half of last week about 70' in the air at the top of my mast, shackling large wooden blocks into position and running line through them while learning the functions of the line systems I was installing. I'm starting to get the hang of the communication style onboard, though it doesn't as yet come naturally. Captain and crew always repeat whatever command they've just received, verbatim, in order to confirm that they got the whole command and they'll get right along to doing it. This technique is helpful given the long distances between crewmembers and the tricky interference that the wind tends to provide. Moreover, if the commandant fails to hear your echo, s/he will repeat it until the echo is provided. If you're new and forget, you start thinking everyone around you is hugely impatient--you're tying the knot as quickly as you can... There's all sorts of terminology and technique that too many years of theatre training are conflicting with.

For instance: on stage, all directions are in reference to the stage floor, from the perception of the actor. Barely anyone alive has missed the concept of "Stage right" but it becomes second nature after a while. Likewise anytime a batten is being flown away from the stage, you say the line is Going Out, when it comes back its Coming In, holes in the stage are called Traps, and most of the fabric hanging around is referred to as curtains or rags. When a line is secured to the pinrail you say it is Locked, and if a line is too heavy or out of balance you add weight to the counterweight system to make it easy to handle. When changing out weight on the weight rail you make sure all hands stay clear below, you empty your pockets and tie any needed items to yourself, and if you drop anything you shout "Heads!"

On a boat, all directions are in reference to the boat deck, and are absolute. Barely anyone alive has missed the concepts of Port and Starboard, but I nevertheless have to turn my back to the stern and make the little L's out of my fingers to remember where I'm supposed to be. Likewise anytime a line is hauled away from the deck, you say the line is being Hauled Away, and when it comes back it is being Eased Off. Holes in the deck are called Hatches, and most of the fabric hanging around is referred to as sails. When a line is secured to the pinrail you say it is Fast, and if a line is too heavy or out of balance you get more people and pull harder. When being hoisted up the mast in a bo'sun's chair frequently your haulers are right below you, you empty your pockets and tie any needed items to yourself, and if you drop anything you shout "Stand Out From Under!"

Last week marked a number of accomplishments for me--i learned Mousing (a method of securing shackle bolts with wire), i entrusted my own life to my own figure-8 follow through in a fairly straightforward line transfer at 70', I found the enoch pratt free library central branch (way cool!) and even visited a local free art gallery (the Walters). They had free cookies in the sculpture garden. I also got to paint Sigsbee's trailboards. They're very pretty.

This week has brought its own accomplishments and failures--Sigsbee is about ready to sail, and she's looking pretty sweet, but I'm still a doofus who has a hard time remembering the difference between a halyard and a topping lift. I know every inch of my boat, from the tip of the bowsprit to the four feet of boom that overhang the stern, and the fuzzy lightning rod at the top of the mast, but i can never remember where the lineman's pliers go when i'm done with them. In the process of learning hundreds of new things, at least a few dozen fall by the wayside, and unfortunately my brain lacks discrimination when it comes to forgetting the important things.

Yesterday during deck wash i tripped over a partially-invisible line and proceeded to slip in a soapy puddle, crashing unceremoniously into the bowsprit and causing my entire back to make a delightful "prrrrrit" noise. Its just sore, a day and a half later, but that was pretty scary. The treacherous line has since been moved to its permanent home and is no longer a threat. Skipjacks are work boats, and on account of that as much allowance as possible has been made in their design to ensure their easy and efficient use. And that means limiting the tripping hazards.
Life aboard Taney is going okay. I've figured out that a regular 3:30am alarm is actually delivery trucks to the Hard Rock Cafe next door and not warnings for the ship at all. And the shipkeeper is easy enough to avoid if you schedule your departures and arrivals right. In all, its interesting and fairly quiet, once you figure out how to make it so.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

parties, hangovers, and staying warm

What do you do, exactly, with a drunken sailor early in the morning?

Well, a sober person drives her home and she sleeps fitfully as alarms go off at random times throughout the night, and then at around 6:30 the youth activities coordinator comes on over the shipwide PA to wake up the boy scouts on the bunks in the forward crew berths and she holds a pillow over her head until the overwhelming patter of little feet is no longer audible, and then at 11am she forces herself to get up, shower, and go to the post office.

not as exciting as the song makes it out to be.

What led to this pathetic state? The last day of work for said sober person (don't ask me why she stayed sober--i had nothing to do with that) that ended in a visit to the crew's home bar--One Eyed Mike's--and a party back at her house. I met her flatmates, which included three adults, one pregnant belly, two dogs and a kitten, and along with three captains, another mate, a captain's wife, and a keg of leftover local brew, I proceeded to make a complete ass of myself. I think. I do recall having a very poignant and helpful conversation with my captain, who was about as drunk as me, who reassured me that i shouldn't worry about being included in this crowd, as they've all been friends for eons and it was a good sign that they'd invited an outsider to their party at all. These people had a gorgeous townhouse--all hardwood, with a fun clawfooted tub and a peaked skylight in the bathroom, a spacious floorplan and a tidy yard--and if anything was broken i'm sure it could be mended. I appreciated their generosity immensely--not only did they provide everyone with beer--"it may be a little flat, which is why we've got to get rid of it." "hey, if flat equals free!"--but they also made snacks and a little dinner, going even to the extent of making a vegetarian option. that's generous, especially seeing as I think we kinda invaded without much forewarning. I'm not privy to the specifics, but as it all started with an open invitation at the bar...

Anyway. this ship is freeeeezing. My hands, normally dexterous at the keyboard, are stiff and unresponsive. I've been burrowed in my bed all morning, shivering and drinking coffee, trying to stay warm against all odds--i'm in a solid steel ship with no insulation and a pathetic old heating system, floating lazily against the pier with all the doors open for tours. They've hung plastic strips to block some of the wind, but the cold air still slips in with little opposition. i found a way to run an ethernet cable from the router two rooms down into my room thanks to the wonder of huge, gaping holes drilled in all the walls, so while the cable just barely reaches the end of my bed, i'm not huddled on a filthy bare mattress in the room i had originally found a jack in. (a wireless router would be hilariously useless aboard Taney).

And now, some random thoughts:

hours of using a buff-master to de-burr the deck of an historic skipjack vibrates the nerve endings of your hands into really enjoying the feeling of soap. washing my hands has never been more fun!

leave it to the wonders of the universe to provide you with three interviews one week after starting a job. three interviews...from companies you applied with back in October.

the weather in Baltimore yesterday was bizarre and beautiful. I sat at a red light in town, surrounded by yellow skies, with a hailstorm pounding my back window, with a clear, dry windshield and a view of a gorgeous full rainbow.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Filth can be Fun: Discuss

The past three days have been invigorating, demanding, and almost universally pleasant. My captain rocks and, at least for now, has been patient with my utter lack of knowledge, ability, or short-term memory. My body aches and I'm consistently and completely coated in grime, but it feels good to work again.

Dude, I work on a sailboat.

Sigsbee's maintenance and restoration is going fairly well so far. I've been painting, scraping, sanding, buffing, cleaning, and bunging since minute 1 and the time has flown. Photos will follow as soon as my loving mother sends me my camera battery charger. (i left it in the bathroom. it was one of those sorts of move.) Kate and the other winter crew had torn out the entire quarter deck and replaced it, and I had the honor (and backache) of sanding it flat with a 10" buffmaster. The effect was incredible. What had been a maze of cotton cord, blue tape, and sheets of plastic became a gorgeous, honey-colored deck. Sigs is still under her winter tent, and removing that will be a bitch i'm sure, but I think we'll have help. Both Lady Maryland and Mildred Belle have been disrobed and are getting more engine/student preparedness work done by their current crews.

I spent much of today cleaning assorted steering parts with diesel fuel and a grill brush. it was dirty, stinky work, but kinda fun. Afterwards I used a bung cutter and, i shit you not, filled bung-holes. Turns out a bung is a little wooden cork that you cover in epoxy and tap into deck recesses to cover hardware. all fasteners on deck must be protected from corrosion, so they're countersunk deep into the decking slats, then covered with the same decking material. I had to try and keep the woodgrains aligned (i think that was just aesthetic, but i could be wrong) and managed to completely coat the hammer head in epoxy paste and forgot about it. i'm a big help. I just hope that when Kate gets annoyed enough to slap me that she doesn't have epoxy on her hand.

Things are going fairly well on the home front. an Australian man of indeterminate age has moved in across the hall from me--his hair is, self-described, impressively matted. when he takes his hat off the nesting pheasant clicks her beak in annoyance. He seems nice, in that cocky way Australian ex-pats tend to be. At least its someone else to talk to. The shipkeeper, a willfully ignorant and easily confused elderly Austrian lady, complains constantly and frequently tries to Jesus-ify me. I avoid her with something approaching terror. She tried to convince me that true Atheists don't really exist--"come on, you recognize some higher power--maybe not the Judeo/Christian god, but a God nonetheless--like the Force?" I could tell her Evangelical minister had suggested using this tactic to witness to the godless--to try and lure them into a false sense of security by admitting "yeah, i guess there's something out there making it all work, yeah, like the force" so that she could spring her trap by saying "God is that force!" but I replied with "no, there's no proof of any universal cohesion. Indeed, there's no proof of anything, least of all your or my existence. Its possible we're fleeting manifestations of the troubled subconscious of a fourth grader in some far off galaxy. There is no rhyme, reason, or meaning, to anything--there's no higher objective or anything in control, there's nothing causing anything to happen except the infinite circumstances that have led us to this point, and that's just fine. it gives the individual the power to make their own life, safe in the knowledge that it is universally insignificant."

That shut her up. and it was fun to spit out. I'm like a mastery-level challenge for god-botherers, and she's not even a journeyman. (It wasn't like I brought it up just to abuse her with it. She suggested I come to church with her, as I'm new to the area, so I could meet some people and have a church to go to. I reluctantly admitted that church wasn't my scene, knowing that it was opening a big heavy, spring-loaded door.)

Oy, i have a huge splinter in my finger. I think its metal. Its probably historic.

I work on a sailboat!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Welcome to Baltimore. Here's a parking ticket.

I've moved. I've found coffee shops with wifi. I've gotten settled in and am working on building a niche for myself in Baltimore's grassroots arts scene. I've got a horrible bed, but a bed nonetheless, in a private stateroom in my new floating home--a home with reasonable rules and a constant flow of tourists during daylight hours. There's really nothing quite like feeling like a demonstration of how a sailor might have eaten a bowl of cereal back in the '40s. This morning found me in the chiefs' galley, munching happily away on my organic soy crisp, occasionally being interrupted by a tap on the glass door by a visitor who wanted to know if the refrigerator was real.

The ship is old and the paint is peeling in places, the floor is absolutely a popsicle, but the shower is hot and there's ample storage for all of my clothes and crap. I'd upload photos but i realized last night that i forgot my camera charger, so i may have to send home for it. I bought a rug today--i just couldn't bring myself to put my socks on every morning balancing on my slippers. I'm located at the absolute center of Baltimore's historic tourist district, and within easy walking distance of a Whole Foods, cafes, restaurants, bars, libraries, and shopping i could never afford. I'm next door to the Hard Rock Cafe, the national aquarium, a waterfront mall, hotels, Filene's Basement, and millions of screaming babies. Prime residential area? Probably not. But its interesting to be at the hub of everything.

Several young people manning the cappucino machines around here have mentioned that they visited my place of work on school trips in their elementary days. Living Classrooms is apparently a well-reputed local institution, which is awesome to hear. I hope I'm cool enough for them. I start tomorrow, in what looks to be a painting/scraping/cleaning position, if the antics of my captain on Friday were any indicator. We'll actually start sailing after Easter, and I think i'll feel more like a ship's mate at that point.

Sheezus its cold! But it's dry and clear. SC was having a bizarre spell of cold humidity, by which i cannot abide, just on principle. The weather is honor-bound to adhere to certain rules of decorum, even in the south. If it is cold, it should be dry or raining, not humid.

Anyway. the pier manager told me to load my stuff aboard between 11pm and 9am, when ticketing was not enforced and i could draw my car up next to the ship. So I went out of my way--for hours--to comply. I parked my car 20 miles away, in Owings Mills, in a free parking deck, and took the subway into town. I had my orientation and then wandered aimlessly for the rest of the day, meeting people and essentially running into things, with just my purse and my coat. At 10:30 I got back on the train, rode out to its end, and collected my vehicle. I pulled into the lane by the ship at 11:14pm, hauled all of my stuff aboard by myself as quickly as possible, put it in my room, locked the door, and returned to my car. it was 11:36. I'd received a parking ticket for $52 at 11:32 for "parking on the sidewalk and impeding the movement of pedestrians." mind you, this lane is wide enough for two cars to pass easily, and indeed the meter maid may well have driven up in a car to ticket me and drove past. If a pedestrian were to need that amount of space to not be inconvenienced, that pedestrian would be too heavy to stand up without his femurs shattering. Moreover, there were no pedestrians in the area, on account of the closure of everything a pedestrian might feel inclined to visit. And its clearly stated on their pier policy that they wouldn't do it. So the pier manager printed off their policy information and a map of the area, and has written me a letter on company letterhead to the effect that I was doing exactly what I should've been and kindly-stick-it-in-your-nose, but i have to go contest it in traffic court. Welcome to town. Here's your summons. I don't just want the ticket to be dismissed. I want a formal apology. I want the judge to say "Sorry about that, we're really nice people here, welcome to our fair city, have a book of clip-out coupons to local businesses."

Is that too much to ask?