Chapter VII - S/T Overseas New York

Chapter VII - The Officers and Crew

In which the Cadets meet the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Way back in mid-December, an unpopular middle-aged professor warned us "not to fraternize with the crew." Way back in early January Anthony and I decided that the crew aboard the New York was a great source of knowledge and a big part of the enjoyment we'd get out of our time at sea.

In all, 28 people were aboard. When we boarded that was 27 male and 1 female sailors. (The woman, for the record, was a very capable and well-respected 2nd Mate.) The officers make up 10 slots on the crew, and that number never changes, i.e. no licensed person gets off the ship without another coming on to relieve him or her. The balance, less two cadets, make up the unlicensed crew. This number varies as people come and go if the company cannot find relief for the departing sailor before the ship heads back to sea.

Three departments form the heirarchy of a ship: Steward, Engine, and Deck. On a tanker, the steward department exists to assure that the other two are watered and fed, and it contains just three people - steward, cook, and GSU (General Steward Utility). The Engine Department takes care of the plant and all of its accoutrements. This requires the duties of 5 officers and 3 QMEDs (Qualified Mechanics Engine Deck) and is really the most difficult labor. At the top of the chain is the Deck Department, which is in charge of getting the ship from point A to point B and transfering cargo at both places. Although I would not classify this as difficult labor, the hours are dreadful and deckies get almost no port time since they are busy running the cargo transfer whenever the vessel is in port. There are 5 officers, 6 Able-Bodied Seapersons, and 1 DEU (Deck Engine Utility) in the deck department.

On paper, the crew is pretty straightforward. In real life, 1400 miles from anything, the crew is a little different. For the most part, thanks to the Jones Act, English-speaking Americans work on these ships. That can sometimes get goofed up due to the union at hand - the Seafarers International Union, or SIU. The GSU rooming next to me was a case of union power...he was 20 years old, from Saudi Arabia, and forced to sea by an uncle who is high up in the SIU. When he arrived, it became brutally obvious that he neither spoke any English nor had any practical experience doing anything. During the first few minutes aboard, I had to ask him to unlock my side of the shared head. Incredulous and not understanding a word I said, he barged into my room through the outer door and conducted a thorough investigation before deciding that the other door in the bathroom did, in fact, open into my room. Six weeks later he burned his hand removing the filter of a perking coffee maker, refused treatment for 4 days and was put ashore (fired) in Valdez, entering the realm of lost-time-injuries and bad jokes. It was later discovered that rather than changing sheets on the officer's beds as he was supposed to, he had simply been adding another fitted sheet on the mattress. The Captain had 8 bottom sheets the day after he was put ashore.

Apart from this ugly case and a few large, unpleasant, over-friendly, dirty sailors that came or went during out term, the crew was a well-kept, well-behaved, well-liked bunch of guys. They offered knowledge, encouragement, and occasionally a soda or candy bar to us just for doing our jobs. Some were life-time sailors, others were on their first or second trip to sea. Each shipped out for a slightly different reason, from many different halls, and with many different goals. Don, the most respected AB, was maybe 45 years old with no aspiration to move up. He had mastered his position, acquired seniority (which translates to the best jobs), and was learning Spanish on this cruise. A single man from Oregon, he was very happy to work hard but equally pleased to take time out to show a green cadet the art of tying a surge line. Don the First Engineer, on the other hand, was 4o years old or so, making well over 100 grand a year and qualified to sail as Chief Engineer and make almost double that - in 6 months each year. He knew the plant like the back of his hand and was generally acknowledged to be running the show down below. Married with three kids, he would qualify as the most likeable man aboard in my book.

If you tried to fit a trend to the personalities at sea, you'd decifer in no time at all that the defining trait in almost all of these people is that they have fractured home lives. Most were separated or divorced, and among those that had been divorced, most had been at least twice...the Captain 4 times. Tony really summed things up the best when he said "man, going to sea sure ruins your social life."

That's it for now. Back to the top.

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