9 degrees

Friday 1/26/07

I flip on the radio in the pickup. WNYC says it’s 9 degrees. Ugh. I think the crew would benefit from sugar and caffeine propulsion. I’ll pick up extra coffee and donuts. I call Ernie and ask how many guys are coming in. Eight he says, quite a drop from Mussel Men day. I pull in to the dock at 0730; it sounds abandoned. The cold affects sounds making them small and tinny. I give a coffee to Machine, to two Hispanic guys who look to be engaged in make-work near a bucket fire, and to Freddy the burner. Ernie is already too busy to stop for coffee. Does that guy ever get any rest?

The good news is that I can’t see my breath in my bunkroom. The oil-filled electric radiator kept the worst at bay once the potbelly went out. Note to file: I could have slept on board. The galley situation is otherwise. No dish washing today! As I pour, the water freezes to slush in its gallon container and freezes hard to the sink on impact.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I had a metal fabricator make a new chimney section to replace a corroded one above the galley stove, a cast iron “pot burner” that runs on diesel and I’m told makes the galley roasty toasty. However, I was too busy to pick up the new chimney part before we dry-docked; and though we got it before the cold snap, it wasn’t made correctly and had to be returned. My hopes of diesel-baked cookies are dashed for now, along with any chance of easily heating dish- and hand-washing water. I’ve realized it’s not the cold that is the big hassle, it is the effect on water that is the big drag. I can’t pour water down the galley sink drain for fear of freezing it shut. The portasan (cheerfully promoting itself with “We’re #1 in removing #2) is OK except for night visits up a gangway at 20 degrees while wearing pajamas. I resort to a bucket aboard, with salt water to deter freezing.

The cold has cascading effects on all systems. I have two camping stoves that run on butane aerosol cans. All the cans seemed to peter out early until it occurred to me that they were de-pressurizing in the cold air of the galley. I now keep a few cans on my desk in my potbelly-warmed cabin and bring them to the galley for each use. My cabin is acquiring a mountain man décor as a growing number of things are stored there so they don’t freeze, harden up, or become uncomfortable if cold: all my clothes, computer, cameras, batteries and chargers, butane, water (potable and non-potable), the honey, hand lotion, and contact lens solutions (no necessary chemical action below certain temperatures I’ve learned).

My ears perk up when Ernie says there are guys working in the caisson, the floating door that caps one end of the dock. I head over and down a steep ladder. What a great place to work today! A cozy, riveted bubble out of the wind. I find two cheerful fellows turning bolts and chatting in a language I don’t recognize. Armando and Nonoy, mechanics, Philippinos, there to replace an 80 year-old pump in the 156 year-old caisson. Armando is a big fan of photography, and upon hearing that I used to work as a photojournalist, offers volunteer mechanical services on the Whalen. Thank you! We have quite a laundry list of mechanical things needing repair.

The caisson is really a boat, elliptically shaped like a double-ended canoe with rounded ends. Pipes through its core allow the dock to be flooded, a row of valves inside down the center, controls the flooding of the dock (takes 2-3 hours). Once the dock is flooded, the caisson is pumped out (takes 1 hour) by the large pump Armando and Nonoy are replacing. When empty, the caisson floats and is swung open. A vessel enters the dock, the caisson is swung closed, and pumped full again until it sinks in position. The 285 foot dock is pumped out (3-4 hours) by a cast iron monster housed in a subterranean brick room at the head of the dock.

It’s tough to repair the exterior shell plating of the caisson as the dock is in constant use (there is a severe shortage in port of repair facilities for workboats), so the crew plugs leaks at the sides with “the sausage” a long dangling tube of plastic filled with plastic and sand.

There is little visible progress on the Whalen today. The crew has shrunk with the cold; and most work is about planning the attack on the bottom. There is nothing major. Charlie Deroko’s survey of last January very accurately assessed the hull as essentially sound. The yard is eager to move on the steel work; there is a New York City fireboat waiting to come in right after the Whalen. However, the yard is also reluctant to move the blocks under the forepeak until Bobby the dockmaster can assess the load on the boat there. Now I hear he’s not available til Monday. Bow work stops; and the focus shifts to cutting the holes in the bottom for the two spudwells, the sleeves that will hold the spud (internal piling) that will allow the Whalen to “dock” in places without a dock. This brings a new man on the scene Roach, the fitter. He’ll be doing “the penetrations” which leads to some joking with Ernie due to Roach’s prior line of work as a male stripper.

Fitting the spudwells requires precise calculations. The ship should not ride on spuds at a diagonal, so we have to determine the future trim of the boat (the tilt from bow to stern) and then cut the perforations to match that trim. You can’t use a plumb bomb to place the bottom hole because the boat could be leaning one way or another. Turns out that her trim when setting on the blocks looks about right (which has her keel almost dead level.) This trim makes much of the ullage trunk (raised center deck over cargo tanks) almost flat and more easily walkable, and tips the boatdeck (deck above the galley and cabins) down enough so rainwater should run off better. However, putting the spudwells in for her current trim means that we’ll have to get her bow down once she’s back afloat. ow

I discussed changing the trim with Our Anonymous Engineer last year; but for lack of ship plans, we couldn’t calculate how much weight was needed. Thanks to this docking, we’ve learned that a forepeak full of water, plus the two cement blocks achieves this trim. I’ve got to measure those blocks so he can estimate the cement weight, the water weight he can calculate by forepeak volume.

However, if we refill the forepeak with water, we should protect those steel surfaces. That means blasting, painting, and installing zincs there. I’ll have to talk to Ernie and likely Joe Eckhardt, the chief estimator, and see if there is budget to at least blast and paint now. We can do the zincs ourselves. owH

The work in Dry Dock 1 peters out early; the cold is exhausting. There will be no night shift, and I’m looking forward to this first long, uninterrupted evening so I can catch up converting notes to blog posts. But first, I’ll stop by Gary Baum’s carpentry shop to get some kindling, look in on my 26’ powerboat in Red Hook, and then type away.

I’m bustling around the tanker tidying up, multitasking as ever. While talking to Tim Ventimiglia, our museum designer, I decide to take the poo bucket up to the portasan. I have my cellphone wedged between ear and shoulder; and right after I think this is not such a good idea, the phone falls into the bucket. Shit! Literally. Another digital failure…for purely analog reasons. I have a flashback to a book I once saw near a bookstore cash register where they keep those little impulse-buy items: “Women who do too much.”

I wipe the phone off with 409 to sterilize it and race to the Verizon store to get the data off it before it crashes, the life is flickering out of it. I try getting it replaced for free (“this phone is really crap, it drops calls…) and maintain a straight face throughout. It has in fact been a crap phone during it’s 2 months in my hands, but I don’t succeed. A hour plus and $260 goes down the tubes at the Verizon store. The workday ends not with a bang but a wimper.